While the park is much quieter during winter, with both fewer people and animals around, in some cases it is actually a better time of year to see some very charismatic animals. Fox, Coyote, Owls and Eagles are all easier to see in winter than other times of the year.
Fox at the Park
One of the reasons that animals are easier to see is that there is just less greenery to hide behind. No leaves on the trees and bushes have animals standing out more. If there is a blanket of snow on the ground it can be even easier to pick out animals as most stand out better against the white.Best of all, the snow can be read to find tracks and areas where animals are hanging out. Another reason animals are easier to see is there is less food available, often concentrated in small areas, which will also concentrate the animals. The biggest food source here in winter is Lake Ontario itself. The lake is full of fish, mussels and other invertebrates, which attract ducks, which in turn attract owls and eagles. The importance of the lake is particularly noted in those extreme cold events, such as we had over the holidays. When all other water freezes, Lake Ontario remains open. This lake is always the last of the Great Lakes to freeze and the last bit of Lake Ontario to freeze is the deep waters off Presqu’ile. Lake Ontario has not frozen completely over since the 1930s.
So the first place animal watchers should check out is the lakeshore. Owen Pt, Chatterson Point and the Lighthouse are all easy to get to. One can scan the water to look at winter dusks such as Long-tailed Ducks and Common Goldeneye. Some Mute Swans usually manage to stay around and other species of waterfowl can be present as well. It is these ducks that the Snowy Owls and Bald Eagles hunt or scavenge while at Presqu’ile. Any reasonable perch, a post, tree, high snow bank, lighthouse or buoy out in the bay could have one of these predators on it. Snowy Owls are regular every year but often stay well out on Gull Is and take more effort to find. In addition to those birds a Snowie has been regular along the Presqu’ile Bay shoreline and is often seen down at Calf Pasture. This is also a good place to scan the bay ice for eagles, particularly when the ice starts breaking up.
Bird feeders are also another source of concentrated food. The Friends of Presqu’ile maintain a large feeder at the Camp Office parking lot. This is popular feeder for feeder bird and people alike. Being closed to the parking lot, many people use their warm cars as a blind and photograph the chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, woodpeckers and other birds provide a constant avian parade to the feeder. And what bird feeder does not have its squirrels?Up to 12 Eastern Grey Squirrels can be seen sitting under the feeder at once. Eastern Grey Squirrels of course come in black and grey forms and 12 gives a pretty good sample size to see what the ratio is at Presqu’ile. It runs about 3 to 1 in favour of black. Sometimes you can get an odd one as well, like the white-tailed “black” squirrel that was around the last couple of years.
Squirrels at the Park Bird Feeder
Of course this concentration of food goes one step further with the birds and squirrels being of interest to other predators. Sharp-shinned Hawks often swoop by bird feeders looking to pick off a songbird or two. More likely at Presqu’ile, the camp office feeder and area around it is a good location to spot a fox. He comes for the squirrels. A few years ago a park employee stationed at the Camp office regularly saw a fox picking of squirrels that tried to escape a rush by climbing the bird feeder instead of a tree. Of course it has a squirrel guard on it and it could not get very high. The fox merely had to jump and chomp. This year I have seen a fox around the feeder a couple of times but without any drama.
Presqu’ile remains open all year, with the loop road and select parking lots kept clear of snow. You are welcome to come in and try your luck at winter wildlife spotting. Just remember a valid vehicle pass is required while in the park and can be purchased at the pay and display machine at the main gate or why not drop into the office during normal business hours and pick up an annual pass – cheaper in the long run and it makes searching for wildlife at Presqu’ile any time of the year an easy decision.