Timiskaming is rich and varied in bird habitat. For a general overview of birding in Timiskaming, see the Birding in Timiskaming page. The following is a list of areas that are popular with birders locally, either because of a high density of species, relatively easy public access, habitats that are locally unique or scarce, or some combination of the above factors. You will find this list fairly short. There are a number of reasons that this is so. Because of the prevalence of natural areas throughout Timiskaming District, most people who enjoy watching birds here choose to do so as an adjunct to their other outdoor activities wherever they happen to find themselves. Good habitat is virtually everywhere. As such, Timiskaming birders generally do not feel any great need to regularly seek out special areas to hone their observation skills the way that birders in southern Ontario or other heavily developed landscapes do. Because of the prevalence of habitat, the birds themselves are well distributed and do not need to cram themselves into small patches of suitable habitat. Also, since the human population density of the area is low to begin with, Timiskaming does not have a large number of active birders. Consequently, birding here is generally more of a solitary pastime than a social one, and there is thus little need for places to regularly gather. Nevertheless, some Timiskaming birders will find the following information useful.
Timiskaming has a fair amount of natural swamp and wetland habitat of various kinds. Most of it, however, is relatively inaccessible to the birder, especially if you don't own a boat. The great value of Hilliardton Marsh is that it makes a variety of wetland habitats easily accessible from the berms surrounding the "cells", and without even needing to get your feet wet! Another advantage to the birder is that the water levels at Hilliardton Marsh are artificially manipulated in such a way as to create a consistently good mix of open water and marsh vegetation. This means that there is always suitable habitat for the greatest possible number of wetland bird species. In contrast, many natural wetlands are temporary, such as the small marshes around old abandoned beaver ponds. Hilliardton Marsh is, without a doubt, the best place in Timiskaming to see most wetland loving species, such as ducks, rails, herons, bitterns and migrating shorebirds, and the upland areas around the berms are also good places to see many songbird species which like shrubby edge habitats. Black terns have become a regular breeder in the marsh - the only place in Timiskaming where they can regularly be seen.
For a complete checklist of the birds that have been documented at Hilliardton Marsh, see HERE
In early 1991 Ducks Unlimited began planning the construction of Hilliardton Marsh with an initial project design of three cells. For the most part, the marsh was to be constructed over developed farmland that had been artificially drained, thus recreating wetland habitat from areas that once were natural wetlands prior to their agricultural development. Shortly after construction began in 1993, sufficient funding was received to not only finish the initial project, but allow for the creation a fourth cell, which was split into subcells 4a and 4b. Pumping stations between the cells are used to separately regulate water levels in each cell. According to Doug Brooks, (Former Ducks Unlimited Representative), the marsh investment, without man-hours, was over one million dollars! Of this, $250 000 was for the land and $750 000 for construction. The funding was raised by Ducks Unlimited Canada, Eastern Habitat Joint Venture, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Environment Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. To govern development and use of the marsh, Ducks Unlimited created a Public Advisory Committee, which is made up of teachers, hunters, naturalists, and other interested individuals.
With the current four cell design, the total area of the marsh is 725 ha, consisting of 516 ha of upland habitat and 209 ha of flooded wetland. This creates a large enough wetland complex to attract significant numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migrations, and is a regionally significant staging area for some species. Many species also stay to breed in the marsh. All four cells are surrounded by berms that can be walked, though sometimes not easily. Unauthorized vehicle access to the berms is prohibited. Although the berms make access much easier than to most other places where these types of wetlands naturally occur, be cautioned that they are not actively maintained trails. Low usage means that for much of the spring and summer the berms are covered in a tangle of chest high grasses and other open meadow species, including significant amounts of thistle. This means that the berms themselves are often relatively undisturbed areas that are used as nesting sites for geese and ducks. It also means that some stubborn determination is necessary to see very much of the marsh at certain times of the year. The easiest area to access is the open water areas of cells one and two immediately adjacent to the main parking lot. Although there is a constructed blind that was initially intended to be wheelchair accessible, lack of trail maintenance means that even this can be a bit of a struggle to get to at certain times of the year, even for an able-bodied person. The berms become more passable around mid August when increased traffic associated with duck banding and recreational activities usually increases.
Birders should be aware that hunting is permitted in the marsh in the fall on certain days of the week throughout the waterfowl hunting season. Hunting is restricted to Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The season generally begins September 1 for geese, with hunting for ducks and other migratory birds beginning September 10. The season usually continues until December 15. Parking space is reserved for hunters on hunting days, though after the end of September you will not find much competition for parking space. Hunters are not permitted to hunt from the berms, nor discharge a firearm within 500 meters of highway 569 within Hilliard Township. The main entrance to the marsh is at the north boundary of Hilliard Township, so this 500 meter rule applies to cells 3 and 4 only. Please refer to the signage at the main entrance for additional details.
Hilliardton Marsh has become a hub of local birding activity. Banding of song birds is carried out every year during the spring and fall migrations. Owl banding takes place at two different locations in the marsh every fall, and duck banding takes place in late summer and early fall. The marsh also has over 50 duck boxes for nesting. Additionally, there are a large number of bird houses scattered throughout the marsh for a variety of song birds, and a 40 foot high osprey platform. Buildings and walkways have been constructed at various locations in the marsh, some with the assistance of students in the T.E.R.R.A program from Timiskaming District Secondary School in New Liskeard.
Note that in May of 2002 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources created a new Conservation Reserve in the remaining crown lands to the southeast of the Hilliardton Marsh Ducks Unlimited project. The Conservation Reserve is comprised of disconnected pieces of crown land scattered through Ingram, Pense, Hilliard, Brethour, Harley and Casey townships. Unfortunately, they designated this newly created protected area as Hilliardton Marsh Conservation Reserve. This is not the same area as that normally referred to locally as Hilliardton Marsh. To make matters more confusing, the Conservation Reserve appears on updated maps of the area, but the Ducks Unlimited project generally does not. Please consult the map to the right to clarify the location of the Hilliardton Marsh Ducks Unlimited Project. There are no plans to do any development in any of the pieces of the newly created Conservation Reserve, and therefore most of the habitat within them will remain largely difficult to access for birders.
To learn more about the Hilliardton Marsh and its ongoing education and research programs, please visit the Hilliardton Marsh website, at www.themarsh.ca
Kap-Kig-Iwan is a small but charming park whose centrepiece is the rushing Englehart River. With a series of white-water rapids, rugged rock outcrops, deep ravines and a wide diversity of vegetation types within short walking distances, it is as enjoyable a spot as any in Timiskaming to go birding. The park is located just off Highway 11, two kilometers south of the town on Englehart on Kap-Kig-Iwan Road. There is currently no overnight camping in the park, though former campground areas are still evident. A day use park fee applies to any visits to the park. Although the park brochure says that there are no black flies, that is just wishful thinking, and you'll find your share in season once you get onto the trails.
The park lies at the northern edge of the Little Claybelt. Although the park is in the Boreal Forest, it also contains tree species characteristic of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest to the south. Northern trees such as aspen, birch and red and white pine stand alongside more southern varieties such as white elm and black ash. Combined with the dramatic topographic changes, the result is a richer diversity of habitat than can be found in most other areas in Timiskaming of similar size. Notable features include the black ash-balsam poplar bottomland south of the river (which is enriched by annual alluvial deposits, providing for a prolific ground cover), the associations of mosses and vascular plants located at High Falls, and the black ash-elm flat east of the old group camping area, which is well known locally for its spring flowers. The vegetative communities associated with the calcareous boulder and limestone/shale islands in the river are also of interest.
The easy access afforded by the park's system of well maintained hiking trails is one of the features of the park that makes it attractive to local birders. There are three main hiking trails, as well as several smaller trails to the falls and the lookout points. Hiking in the park often involves climbing and possibly crossing wet terrain, so visitors are advised to bring suitable shoes and clothing. Numerous scenic lookouts in the park also provide opportunities for the birder to experience the forest canopy from above - a very helpful vantage, especially at such times as during the spring warbler migration.
Every spring, the flooded fields south of Belle-Vallée in Casey Township are teaming with waterfowl, and with them often come the large diurnal raptors. The Kirkland Lake Nature Club has made a trip to Casey Township an annual pilgrimage on the second weekend of April for many years. A typical day birding this area in mid to late April will yield significant numbers of the following species: Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Pintail, Black Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Yellowlegs, and Killdeer along with many of the gulls and early songbirds. Occasionally one may observe other species such as Greater Scaup, Northern Shoveler, Tundra Swan, Snow Goose, Sandhill Crane, Glaucous or Great Black-backed Gull and Northern Shrike.
Keep in mind that there is very little crown land in this area. Do not trespass and view only from the roadside. Pay attention to other traffic. Driving slowly along or stopping to have a closer look while other traffic is in the vicinity will only cause aggravation. Development Road in particular receives a great deal of traffic, as it serves as a New Liskeard bypass and is a popular commuter route, so try not to dawdle or pull well off to let traffic pass. Shoulders can be very soft at this time of year, so be very careful pulling too far off to the side. A good strategy is to find a place to pull over and let any vehicle pass as soon as you notice them coming up from behind you regardless of where you happen to be at the time, so that you can resume a spectator's pace after they've gone by. If you cannot do so, please be considerate and resume normal traffic speed until you can safely let them go by. The birds will still be there even if you have to drive around the concession. You may want to avoid Development Road during morning and evening commuter times.
The timing of the peak of activity will vary from year
to year depending on the progression of the spring melt, the amount of spring
rain, and the timing of the southern winds that bring in the flocks of waterfowl
with them. It is a good idea to check often at this time of year, as
conditions and the mix of species will often change considerably from day to
day. Some species, like Tundra Swans or Snow Geese, may only be present
for one or two days per season, if at all. Keeping track of the weather
while making frequent spring visits will greatly assist in deciphering and
appreciating the pulse of the spring waterfowl migration, and is a thrill to
experience year after year.