Southwest Ontario: Exploring The Beauty Of Nature

Rondeau Provincial Park lies about a one hour drive east of Point Pelee. We arrived in time for the 7:00 am walking tour with Reuben who led a group of 15-20 birders on Harrison Trail where in actuality, very little walking was required. The trees were full of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Chickadees and more. In fact, Reuben warned us about “Warbler’s Neck’, one of the consequences from looking up into the trees for a prolonged period. But it’s one of those pain/pleasure joys, as you spot one colourful songbird after another. Back at the Visitors Centre, there are bird feeders so that nature lovers and photographers can take out their point-and-shoot cameras or their huge zoom lenses and tripods, and get up close and personal with Baltimore Orioles, Blue Jays, Hummingbirds, Cardinals, chipmunks and other drop-in visitors. It’s one of the more popular park attractions.

Rondeau Provincial Park
Rondeau Provincial Park

In the afternoon we took a leisurely drive through Blenheim, Simcoe and Port Dover which led us to the tiny town of Normandale. Brenda Bennett, our extremely personable host greeted us with smiles when we arrived at the Normandale Century Inn. After showing us our accommodation, she introduced us to some of the local craft beers produced by the Rambling Road Brewery Farm in the hamlet of La Salette, only 20 miles to the north. Refreshing and delicious! Homemade dinner at the Century Inn was a true treat, complemented by activity at the bird feeder just on the other side of the dining room window. And after a comfortable night’s sleep, we left bright and early to meet Garret Reid of Long Point Tours, down the road at Turkey Point, for an excursion to the tip of Long Point.

We received our introductory talk at 6:1 5 am before boarding a zodiac for the 25 minute trip to the tip of Long Point Provincial Park, accessible only by boat. On the way Garrett noted his roots in the area where his family has lived since migrating from Pennsylvania in 1792. And once arrived at the tip we found ourselves in yet another bird(er’s) paradise.

While we spent about four hours at the tip, we wandered less than two kilometers and in the process saw close to 90 species of birds, including Red-headed Rondeau-ParkWoodpeckers, a variety of Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, Red-eyed Vireos and Bobolinks.

We even had the opportunity to visit the Tip Research Station and watch the staff collect and band birds.

But it’s good to know that the trails at the tip of Long Point, along with the wetland, the sandy beach and the lighthouse (you can even order a picnic lunch for the excursion) all add up to another one of Southwest Ontario’s hidden adventures and photographic must-sees. We celebrated the success of the trip with a lunch of delicious fresh, Yellow Perch tacos at the Sandbar Restaurant back at Turkey Point. While the use of the senses comes into play for birders, especially hearing and seeing, the other senses of taste, smell, touch and even the sense of humour, play a big part in exploring Ontario’s Southwest.

We had the opportunity to meet some of the creative artisans from the region and each spoke passionately about mastering quality taste experiences that come from the heart. Pilgrimages might include Chocolatea in Ingersol with their Lime and Basil creation, described by owner Cindy Walker as “life in your mouth”, or the Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas with their iconic Dead Elephant Ale, or a dining experience at ‘sixthirtynine’ in Woodstock where Chef Eric Boyar talks of his connection with local farmers that results in ‘backyard-to-fork’ freshness.

Chocolatea in Ingersol
Chocolatea in Ingersol

And these guidelines seem to extend to other Southwestern Ontario establishments from The Combine in Simcoe to Mountainoak Cheese in New Hamburg, and on to Cooper’s Hawk Winery in Harrow. Southwestern Ontario is not your typical travel destination. Like the migratory song birds looking for a value-filled oasis to rest and seek nourishment, human visitors will find a good dose of the same pleasures in the parks, small towns, cities and eateries.

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