Stories to Tell

Conservation Areas are full of adventure and are just waiting to be explored! There are so many great stories to tell about visits to these natural gems, and we have shared some of our experiences and the experiences of others with you on this page. We encourage you to browse through the stories below and then Step Into Nature with family and friends to create your own ‘story to tell’!

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Mountsberg: Where Imaginations Take Flight

When my 11-year old daughter told me she was interested in birds of prey, I decided to schedule a trip to Mountsberg Conservation Area. Located just minutes off Highway 401, southwest of Milton, Mountsberg is a 472 hectare park and home to a variety of birds and animals, both wild and tame.

Our main purpose in going to Mountsberg was to see the birds, so upon arriving we headed straight to the Raptor Centre. We were lucky to walk up just as a live show was about to begin in the large, fully-enclosed outdoor theatre. For over thirty minutes we were amazed as the bird handler shared with us the life stories of three different birds of prey and how they came to be at Mountsberg: an impressive adolescent bald eagle named Pawgwa, an endearing little American Kestrel named Bean, and a stunning Barn Owl named Jazz.

Mountsberg offers two live birds of prey shows daily at 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm throughout the summer, and on weekends and holidays during the fall, winter and spring. Each show features three different birds, depending on which birds are on their best behavior that day. Almost all of the more than thirty birds of prey who call Mountsberg their home have permanent injuries, such as Pawgwa who has a badly healed wing and will never be able to fly properly, which makes them non-releasable. Others, such as Ellie the Turkey Vulture, were imprinted on humans at a young age and would not be able to survive in the wild on their own.

My daughter was struck by the beauty of the birds as they perched only a few feet away on the gloved-arm of the bird handler. Her favourite raptor was the American Kestrel, but I was most taken with the Barn Owl. Jazz’s soft speckled feathers and heart-shaped face provide irrefutable evidence that mother nature is both an exceptional engineer and talented artistic director.

“Look how pretty Jazz is,” I commented when she first appeared. My daughter was too lost in her imagination to reply.

 

But even more spectacular than seeing the birds so close, was seeing them fly directly past our faces. More than once Jazz almost brushed me with the tips of her wings as she soared silently past. From perch to glove and glove to perch, the handler moved constantly to ensure everyone had the experience of sitting under the shadow of a soaring bird of prey.

 

In addition to learning the unique histories of each bird, the handler shared an abundance of facts about each species presented. We learned that Bean, the American Kestrel, hovers above its prey much like a humming bird and that Jazz, the Barn Owl, has such keen hearing she can detect the beating of a mouse’s heart. In fact, after taking in the later show as well as the early show, my daughter was a fountain of facts that she took great delight in telling her younger brother that evening. Who can resist sharing over dinner that turkey vultures actually pee down their legs to keep themselves cool on hot summer days and vomit on their enemies in acts of self-defense?

 

“Do they really throw up on their enemies?” my eight-year-old asked with a glint in his eyes.

 

“The really do,” my daughter confirmed. “But don’t get any ideas.”

 

Between shows we walked among the many shade trees and through the outdoor Raptor Centre to meet more of the birds who live there. The birds stay year-round in large, protective outdoor cages so even though the day was hot, it was a pleasant experience to get up close and personal with Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Peregrine Falcons, Barred Owls and more. In all, Mountsberg has 14 different species of native birds of prey. Some are as large as adult Bald Eagles which can have wingspans as wide as six to eight feet and some, such as the Eastern Screech-Owl, are only six to nine inches in length.

 

After leaving the Raptor Centre we took a walk along one of Mountsberg’s many hiking trails that wound through a refreshingly cool scenic forest. Along the way we saw two black Percheron horses and their foals and after that, a herd of bison off in the distance. The hiking trail ended at a boardwalk. We crossed over an expanse of wetland and out to an observation blind, where we had a chance to observe wild Osprey flying to and from their large stick nests perched high on posts above the water. We even saw one Osprey return with a fish in its beak. While walking across the wetland, we saw butterflies and dragonflies, frogs and turtles. The dam and reservoir, which was build for flood protection and stream flow regulation for Bronte Creek, is part of a Provincially Significant Wetland that provides habitat for a wide range of plants and animals.

 

In addition to live birds of prey shows, Mountsberg boasts a working barn with a huge loft area where children are invited to climb and play, paddocks of the usual farm animals such as goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and even a rabbit or two hopping free. They offer hiking and skiing trails, interpretive lookouts, and special events such as the very popular Mountsberg Sugar Bush maple syrup festival in March and April.

 

If you would like to have your own ‘nose to beak’ experience you can either visit the Raptor Centre yourself – they are open until 4 pm daily – or book them to come to your community event or even your classroom. Mountsberg’s various educational programs and summer camps engage children and help foster an appreciation for wild habitats and wild creatures.

 

If you know somebody who loves wildlife, especially birds of prey, and you think they might like to know why Turkey Vultures have bald heads, which raptors have specialized vision so they can see where mice have urinated, or even what Ellie’s favourite treat is, then plan a trip to the Mountsberg Conservation Area.

 

Even those who didn’t know they were enraptured with raptors will soon be converted.Mountsberg Conservation Area is only one of seven conservation areas that are popular outdoor destinations owned and operated by Conservation Halton. In addition to the main parks, they also have other conservation lands with unlimited opportunities to enjoy nature. Altogether, Conservation Halton owns more than 10,000 acres of natural lands that are publicly accessible year round for recreational, family or educational activities. For more information on Mountsberg and Conservation Halton’s many parks, go to www.hrca.on.ca and look for Parks and Recreation.

There are more than 250 conservation areas across Ontario, many which offer heritage sites, hiking and water activities. Most conservation areas are close towns and cities and easy to access. To find a conservation area near you, go to www.ontarioconservationareas.ca

Christina Kilbourne is an avid outdoor enthusiast and writer. She is the author of four novels, including Dear Jo, winner of the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award , the 2010 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award in 2010 and the 2010 British Columbia Red Cedar Award. She lives in Bracebridge with her family and various four-legged creatures.
 

 

 

The wild Osprey in their nest. If you watch long enough, you will see them swoop down over the water.



Pawgwa is an adolescent Bald Eagle. It will take Pawgwa up to 5 years to acheive the full colouring of an adult Bald Eagle.

Teddy is a sweet and gentle Barred Owl. Teddy has been at Mountsbert since April 2006.

Jazz comes in for a landing! Jazz is quite unique; her father was a European subspecies and her mother was an American subspecies, so she has characteristics of both.

Jazz’s soft speckled feathers and heart-shaped face provide irrefutable evidence that mother nature is both an exceptional engineer and talented artistic director.

Ellie, the Turkey Vulture, was near death when found in her nest by hikers who decided to take her home and keep her as a pet. Due to her young age when she was rescued, she became imprinted on humans, making her non-releasable.