NeilyWorld  Birding Ottawa - Favourite Outlying Sites


AMHERST ISLAND

Spring: ****  Summer: **  Fall: ****  Winter: ****

        Please take note of the following statement issued by Chris Grooms, President of the Kingston Field Naturalists:
In accordance with the wishes of the landowners of Owl Woods, the Kingston Field Naturalists would like to state the following conditions for visiting this privately owned property. Many of you have heard of and many of you have observed the disturbance to owls caused by large numbers of people visiting the Owl Woods on Amherst Island. This privately-owned nature reserve became popular a few decades ago when a small pine plantation was discovered to be a daytime roosting site for a number owl species. The owners of this property graciously allowed birders and interested people to enter their land to view and count the owls during their migration and the winter each year. Since then, many people have enjoyed the Owl Woods and benefitted from the unique, close-up contact with nature. It has been a great educational and inspiring experience for all.
These days, it is not uncommon to have well over 100 people visit the Woods on a weekend day. Somewhere along the way the drive to see an owl for a bird list or to snap that perfect picture has out-stripped the sense that this rare site and its inhabitants should be revered and respected. As has happened with many popular natural phenomena, people have begun to threaten the object of their affection.
The Kingston Field Naturalists have been aware of and concerned about these developments for some time, and with the property owners, are working towards solutions. The intention is to find ways to reduce the impact of people on the owls to a level that permits the Owl Woods to afford the owls the protection they need and continue to serve as a nature education experience for people. Failure to soon bring the situation under control may well mean that the owl woods could be closed to visitors by the owners.
You can help the situation in several ways. If you have been to Owl Woods in recent years, consider being satisfied with that experience and not visiting for a while. Donít come just to tick your year or winter list or get another photo of an owl. Because of the pressure on the owls, the landowners would like people to stop posting owl observations from Owl Woods on ONTBIRDS. Please respect this request; do not post reports from Owl Woods.
         If you do visit the Owl Woods follow these simple rules as set out by the landowners:
                 The reserve is open only from sunrise to one hour before sunset.
                 Do not spend more then two hours in the reserve per day.
                 Absolutely no dogs are allowed.
                 Keep a minimum distance of five metres from owls.
                 Be silent; speak in whispers.
                 Do not linger in front of an owl more than a couple of minutes.
                 If you cause an owl to fly, do not pursue it.
                 Do not bait owls with rodents.
                 No flash photography allowed.
                 No sound devices allowed.
                 Do not remove branches or vegetation.
                 Stay on the existing trails. Persons entering roped-off areas will be prosecuted.
                 Report harassment of owls to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
         Independent Directions to this Site: Amherst Island is approximately 2.5 hours south of Ottawa and 16 km west of Kingston, Ontario. Take Highway 417 from Ottawa west to Highway 416 (exit 132). Follow 416 SSE 80 km to Highway 401. Turn right onto 401 and go 128 km to exit 593. Exit south on County Road #4 (formerly Highway 133) and proceed 9 km to Millhaven on Lake Ontario. Turn right or west on Hwy 33 (Bath Road), watch for the ferry dock in 200 metres. A round-trip on the ferry costs $8.00. It leaves every hour on the half-hour from 7:30 AM onward. The first ferry in the morning is an exception leaving ten minutes earlier than thereafter, at 6:20 AM. There are no gas stations on the island, so make sure you have enough before crossing.
Map of Amherst Island
Map of Amherst Island
         Site Description and Birding Information: This small island in the St. Lawrence River is one of the best places anywhere to see owls. Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl are all resident and breed on the island. During the winter they are joined by several Snowy Owls and sometimes Boreal Owl. Regarding the latter, it is seen nearly every year. It is possible January through early April, but especially in February. There are distinct peaks here close to their usual four year cycle. The all time peak was in the winter of 1995-96 when the top counts reached 7 birds from March 18-27. Another peak season came five years later in 2000-01, when up to 5 birds were seen from January through early March. In the winter of 2004-05, a bird was found on November 22 and two birds (sometimes 3 in March) were seen regularly from Dec. 20, 2004 to at least Apr. 1, 2005. Numbers of Short-eared Owl are augmented in winter, with up to 30 seen rarely. During migrations Long-eared and Saw-whet Owl numbers increase considerably.
         Other raptors congregate here in winter to take advantage of the common and sometimes abundant meadow voles. Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks are common, with good vole years bringing 30 or more of each. Northern Harrier and American Kestrel are just slightly less common. A Northern Goshawk sometimes culls the Long-eared Owls. A Red-shouldered Hawk was found here one winter, far north of its usually winter range limits (Massachusetts - Ohio). One or more Northern Shrikes usually winter here.
         To get to the "Owl Woods", after getting off the ferry, take the first left (east), drive 3 km along the north shore road (Front Road) to the southbound road called Marshall 40-foot Road (directly across the Front Road from the 2320 sign). Proceed 1.3 km south to the S-curve in this road. Look for a sign, erected by the Kingston Field Naturalists (KFN), here at the beginning of the trails. Walk northeast on the trails. These woods are particularly good for Northern Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl from fall to spring. Be sure to check the large clumps of cedar that you can walk into the centre of, scanning them from the inside looking out. This lets you see the silhouette of the Saw-whet Owls hiding there. Look carefully, they can be hard to see. Christmas Bird Counters here have tallied as many as 8 Saw-whets Owls (in 2000, 7 in 2003) and 20 Long-eared Owls (in 2000 & 2003) in the Owl Woods. A peak of 26 Long-eared Owls was counted on Jan. 21, 2007. In late March and April listen at dusk for American Woodcock. Singing Sedge Wrens have been found along the portion of 40-Foot Road leading to the southern shore, along with Savannah and Vesper Sparrows.
         To see Short-eared Owl, turn right when leaving the ferry dock and watch for large open fields. These owls will come out here at dusk, sometimes in good numbers.
         The Kingston Field Naturalists (KFN) have a property at the eastern point of the island. Note: Because of liability issues, visitors to the KFN property at the east end of Amherst Island MUST be accompanied by a KFN member. For KFN contact information or how to become a member, please visit the KFN Website. From the ferry, drive 200 metres to the stop sign in Stella, turn left (east) and follow the road to the extreme southeast corner of the island. Park at the cattle corral and enter the KFN property by crossing the fence at the stile. It is good for waterfowl and shorebirds. A late summer visit can produce Lesser Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Baird's, White-rumped and Stilt Sandpipers along with the more regular fare. Later, Long-billed Dowitcher and numerous ducks including Redhead, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Red-breasted Merganser, as well as Lapland Longspur may be found. Rarities such as Snowy Plover, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Tricolored Heron and Snowy Egret have occurred here. A Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow was found in the reedy area at the base of the spit of land that separates the second and third ponds (Oct. 7, 2003) and at least 6 were located in the sedge area on the west side of the ponds (Oct. 1, 2004) and 3 on Oct. 3, 2004.
         A number of Tundra Swans winter at the northeastern corner of the island, an offshoot of the adjacent Wolfe Island flock of hundreds.
         A new resource for Amherst Island is the website of Alex & Karen Scott, longtime resident birders, who have reported many of the sightings used on this page. Click here to access their site.
         Rare birds reported from Amherst Island include Tricolored Heron (May 10-17, 1988 - KFN area; May 29, 2010 - KFN area), Forster's Tern (May 1988), Gyrfalcon (Feb. 1988; Jan. 24-26, 1991; Mar. 19, 2005), King Eider (Dec. 26, 1990), Red-bellied Woodpecker (Feb. 19, 1989), Common Eider (Jan. 8, 1991), Ross's Gull (?2000), Eurasian Wigeon (Apr. 26, 2002; Apr. 23, 2007), Snowy Plover (May 25-27, 2002), American Avocet (Oct. 3-11, 2003), Western Sandpiper (juv. - Oct 1, 2004), Great Gray Owl (40+ birds in the 1996 invasion - to Apr. 29, 1996; one Jan. 14 - Mar. 9, 2005), American White Pelican (May 30, 2005), Cattle Egret (May 5, 2006), Marbled Godwit (May 1-5, 2007), Summer Tanager (May 25, 2007), Lark Bunting (May 27, 2009 - KFN area).
Return to Favourite Outlying Sites.    Return to Birding Ottawa Table of Contents.


Ottawa to Amherst Island Map
Ottawa to Amherst Island Map


Long-eared Owl in Owl Woods
Long-eared Owl in Owl Woods


Saw-whet Owl Napping in Owl Woods
Saw-whet Owl Napping in Owl Woods


Snowy Owl along the Road - Feb. 9, 1991
Snowy Owl along the Road - Feb. 9, 1991


Copyright © 2000 - 2010     Larry E. Neily
Last update:  July 22, 2010