An Eventful Day at Ministik

Ministik Conservation Lands is our hardest natural area to access. If you're familiar with the Ministik Bird Sanctuary, you can access EALT's land from our north boundary. But there is no easy access to direct the public to - which I learned this past September when my lab Willow and I tried to follow a trail outlined by an avid geocacher.

Willow would have happily crossed this wetland with enthusiasm, I on the other hand, decided to turn around.

Willow would have happily crossed this wetland with enthusiasm, I on the other hand, decided to turn around.

Thankfully, our friendly neighbour to the south allows EALT staff to cross through his farmyard to access the land for management purposes. So that is what I did this past Friday. I headed in all the way to the north boundary, and worked my way back south. My mission was to check on our geocache, clean out 19 nest boxes, and check up on the natural area. 

I marvel at the fungus on this stump every time I pass near it.

I marvel at the fungus on this stump every time I pass near it.

Our geocache is located near a windmill, which gives the northeast corner a great deal of character. Naturally, I stopped to take a video.

Much to my excitement, a small group of swans flew over - so I took a video of them as well. This was the first of many that flew over during the day; a continuous special treat.

When cleaning out nest boxes, it's good practice to stand to the side and knock on the box before attempting to open it. Any number of creatures could be stirring inside. By box #7, I had slacked on this rule. I opened the box, only to jump back in surprise, screaming at the top of my lungs. After my initial shock, I was pleased to have found two snuggling flying squirrels peering out at me. It must have been a rude awakening for these gentle nocturnal creatures.

Flying Squirrel sheepishly peering out of its home.

Flying Squirrel sheepishly peering out of its home.

I slowly closed the door on their house. Needless to say, I did not waiver on the "knock first" rule for the rest of the day.

I moved on to a different area well off the beaten trail, along a series of wetlands, where 6 nest boxes were located. My trusty assistant, Willow, was exploring nearby when I heard a loud yelp. I thought for sure she had met her first porcupine. I immediately started calling for her to return and then suddenly, up on the hill behind me, an explosion of yipping and barking commenced - a coyote calling to others. I could hear Willow crashing through the bush towards me, but I called even louder and with more haste, to make sure she didn't get sidetracked.

Seconds after Willow reached my feet, a coyote started yipping 30 yards to my left. Then the one on top of the hill responded, another one further to the left, and then a fourth to my right. I started yelling to make my presence known. They continued sounding off in every direction. After much more noise from both parties, the coyotes fell silent. 

I decided it wasn't safe to have Willow running free anymore, so I put her leash on. After one more bout of yipping calls, the coyotes quietly disappeared into the trees. We continued to make our way along the wetlands, cleaning out each nest box.

I was happy to return to the truck, take a break, and move on to our last area for the day. It had been an hour or more since I last heard the coyotes, so I decided it was safe to let Willow off her leash again.

She exuberantly ran wild to make up for lost time (but sticking closer than in the beginning of the day). I was moving much slower than her at this point. Located in the cooking lake moraine, there is barely a flat inch of terrain at Ministik. The wetlands are all hummocky (never ending lumps) which are quite tiring to traverse all day.

As I slowly lumbered towards my 3rd last nest box of the day, I heard a sudden thump and part of a tree seemingly came to life and flew away. I fumbled for my camera but knowing I wouldn't capture a photo, just paused to watch the majestic Great Horned Owl fly away, over the hill, out of sight. What a beautiful moment.

I went over to investigate what made the thump sound. It was the back end of a hare - the owl's midday feast.  

Note the owl droppings to the left - sorry about the photo, but this is all I was able to capture of my encounter with the owl. 

Note the owl droppings to the left - sorry about the photo, but this is all I was able to capture of my encounter with the owl. 

Finished being sidetracked, I looked over to the nest box I was to clean, to find a curious figure peering out to see what all the fuss was about.

Red Squirrel residents in a waterfowl box. No need to clean this one out!

Red Squirrel residents in a waterfowl box. No need to clean this one out!

The owl sighting certainly lifted my spirits and I excitedly made my way to the final two boxes. The very last nest box had a couple of beautiful Ruffed Grouse tail feathers inside, used as nesting material.

Ruffed Grouse tail feathers used as nesting material.

Ruffed Grouse tail feathers used as nesting material.

What an exhilarating day! Willow and I were both thoroughly exhausted, but only Willow was lucky enough to nap when we made it home. I was much too busy excitedly telling everyone my stories from the day!

- Stephanie Weizenbach, EALT Outreach Coordinator