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Amherst Island, located in Lake Ontario, is a renowned destination for bird watching enthusiasts from all over the world. The island is a natural habitat for a diverse range of bird species, making it an ideal location for bird watching. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most exciting bird watching spots on Amherst Island, including the Owl Woods, the sand beach, and the bird sanctuaries.
The Owl Woods
The Owl Woods on Amherst Island is a must-visit location for bird watchers. This wooded area is home to a variety of owl species, including the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl, and the Eastern Screech Owl. During the day, visitors can hear the birds’ hoots, and at night, they can observe them hunting. This location is a favourite spot for birders who want to see and hear the owls in their natural habitat.
Amherst Island’s sand beach is a popular destination for bird watchers, especially during migration season. Birders can spot numerous species of shorebirds, such as sandpipers, plovers, and terns, among others. It’s also common to see gulls and waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, along the beach. The sand beach offers a unique opportunity for visitors to observe and photograph birds in their natural habitat.
Amherst Island is home to the Martin Edwards Reserve maintained by the Kingston Field Naturalists on the eastern end of the Island. This reserve protects the island’s wildlife and provide a haven for many bird species. Visitors can observe a variety of birds, such as warblers, finches, and sparrows, among others, in their natural habitats. Birds on the reserve are only viewable from the road as the property is not regularly accessible to the public.
Annual Bird Count
Every year, Amherst Island hosts an annual bird count. The count takes place in December and is conducted by volunteers from various birding organizations. During the count, participants observe and record every bird species they see on the island. The annual bird count is an essential event for bird watchers, as it provides valuable information about the island’s bird population and migration patterns.
Bicycling on the Island
Bicycling on Amherst Island is natural. Many an Island romantic has commented why would anyone want an automobile on any Island.
It is questionable whether Amherst Island is included in the Thousand Islands, or if there are 1001. One thing is certain, Amherst is different. Intermediate in size when compared to Wolfe and Howe; it is just a little more “off the beaten path.”
“The roads of Amherst Island wind along wind-swept coastlines and cross lush farmlands. Happily the lack of development pressure has left a legacy of old stores, farmsteads, and churches. So light is the traffic that even driving for its own sake becomes a pleasure….”Ron Brown , Backroads of Ontario. Hurtig Pub, 1984
Most of the island roads are gravel, yet those with any adventurous spirit should visit and pick a favourite picnic spot. There are more shoreline roads on this island than all the other Thousand Islands combined.
In Kingston start at City Hall and proceed west on Ontario St, right (north) onto West St. Quickly followed by left (west) onto King St. Proceed on King St, turning right on to Portsmouth Ave. Turn left (west) onto Princess St. and proceed over the railway overpass. Turn left on to the Taylor – Kidd Blvd. This is one of the newest routes out of Kingston. It is wider and quieter than Bath Rd (Highway 33) at time of writing. There is the disadvantage of missing the shore ride and eastern gate to the Loyalist Parkway. However, we strongly recommend avoiding Bath Rd (see below). Turn left (south) on to Highway 133 and you reach Millhaven shortly. Turn right (west) and very soon left to the Amherst Island Ferry Dock. The return trip so far is 50 km. It is not cheating to drive to Millhaven, saving your time and energy to fully explore Amherst Island. The ferry leaves Millhaven at 30 minutes past the hour (ie. 9:30, 10:30).
Head south off of the ferry to the four-way stop. Turn left (east) and start the meander about the eastern half of the island. The rest of the island deserves exploration. Directions are too complex to give – so you are on your own. The fishing village at Long Point and the Sandy Beach opposite Nut Island are appropriate destinations.
The Loyalist Parkway (Bath Road) is a scenic alternate route to Millhaven. It is excellent during off-peak times.
Thomas Sylvester, Loyalist Roots: Cycling Tours of the Kingston Area Third Edition, 1998, Curbside Publishing, Cloudbanks, South Shore East, Stella, Ontario, K0H 2S0, tel: (613) 389-1320.
Twenty one tours are described, varying from St. Lawrence Lowland sashays to Canadian Shield experiences. The book was written with the perspective of why to bicycle rather than how. The network of quiet rural roads and Kingston’s hospitality has combined to make the Kingston area a favourite weekend destination for cycling groups. 44 pages.
The Kingston Area: A Fishing Hot Spot
The waters of Lake Ontario and its tributaries around Kingston have been known as fishing hot spots for many years. Bass, Musky, Pike, and Walleye abound in these waters. But did you know that Kingston is fast becoming a major fishing destination for European anglers? What’s that, you say! — What do they know that we don’t? World class Salmon and Trout fishing can be had in Kingston waters and around Amherst Island! Lake Ontario’s increased stocking programs, improved water quality and a large number of fishing charter services have contributed to the sudden interest in our area’s fishing opportunities.
In Europe fishing is at a premium; there are few public fishing areas. Most fishing takes place on property owned by private fishing clubs. The clubs have long waiting lists and high membership fees; in fact it’s not uncommon to pay $2000 per year for the privilege to fish. No wonder Europeans are flocking to Kingston to take advantage of our low cost fishing resources.
The first few warm days of spring signal the start of the fishing season. As water temperature begins to rise in the shallows, Smelt start their yearly migration to the rocky shores to spawn. Lake Trout begin to arrive almost immediately, taking advantage of the more favourable water temperatures and the abundant bait fish schools. Limit catches of scrappy Lake Trout 6 to 10 pounds (2.8 to 4.5 kg) can be caught on nearly every trip out. Larger individuals reaching the mid to upper 20’s are not uncommon. In early June the water temperatures reach 50 degrees F (+10 oC) and the Lake Trout begin to descend into the depths, searching for colder waters.
By mid-June Chinook Salmon or Kings begin to arrive in ever increasing numbers. In July and August the Kings begin to feed aggressively; they will eat their own weight in baitfish per week, gaining up to 1 to 1.5 pounds in a single week. Now is the time to catch a trophy Chinook Salmon! Running battles can last over an hour, with high speed surface runs that can leave your heart pounding even after your salmon is in the boat. Salmon average 20 – 25 lbs (9 to 11 kg). Larger specimens in the mid to upper 30’s are caught frequently, and even a few monsters in the low 40’s are taken during the season.
Brown and Rainbow Trout are also caught in large numbers during this same time frame. Lake Ontario boasts record Browns caught in the high 30’s. Kingston has been a Brown Trout stocking site since the mid 1980’s. Nicholson Point and Parrot’s Bay are two of the best fishing sites in the area, easily reached by small boats. they have become popular with local fishermen and -women as well as anglers from all over Ontario and Quebec.
The waters around Amherst Island offer a diversity of sailing in pleasant rural and remote circumstances. To the north, between the Island and the mainland are the sheltered waters of the North Channel. The open waters of Lake Ontario lie to the south. The Island has a range of anchorages providing pleasant shelter depending upon wind and lake conditions.
A sail around Amherst Island is approximately 25 miles, so unless you are particularly energetic you would probably want to do it in stages and experience some of the bays and coves which you would otherwise pass by. If you are going from, say, the Toronto area to the Thousand Islands for holiday, consider taking the North Channel going east, and leaving the Island to the starboard going west.
Approaching the Island from Lake Ontario, the western entrance to the North Channel is through the Upper Gap, leaving Prince Edward county to port. If you are well out on the lake, use the twin high chimneys of Ontario Hydro’s Lennox Generating Plant located on the mainland directly opposite the entrance of the gap. You will pick up a red buoy about 1.5 miles south of Grape Island, located immediately off Drain’s Point on the Island.
Once into the gap you have a choice for an anchorage. Prinyner’s Cove, two miles west on the north of Cressy Point, Prince Edward County, has been a long-time favourite with sailors. On summer weekends, you may be in the company of 60-70 boats. There are limited facilities ashore but a pump out is available. This mile long cove affords excellent protection except from the north east.
The alternative is Wemp’s Bay which you may well have to yourself. A delightful rural setting on the west side of Amherst Island, there are only a few houses on the bay which has a good sand beach at its head and a sandy bottom extending out some distance. The swimming is lovely here, and a great spot for standing on the bottom to scrub your waterline. Do not stay overnight unless the forecast assures you that the winds will be from the N-E, N or NW or NW. One caution, be aware of the shallow area to starboard as you proceed towards the head of the bay.
Amherst Bay and Long Point Bay located on the east of Wemp’s Bay are pleasant alternatives to Wemp’s Bay. These bays are open to the southwest but careful manoeuvring can provide you with shelter from strong prevailing winds. Amherst Bay, west of Nut Island, can be entered by running down a line between the red buoy south of Grape Island and the opening over the bar at the north side of Nut Island. Shallow areas lie of either side of this line. Some shelter from the SW can be obtained by nudging up to the NW shore of Nut Island.
Within Long Point shoal draft sailboats can find a protected area on the north side of the federal dock which is on the east side of this bay. Once a thriving commercial fishing area, this spot is largely deserted with a few cottages and abandoned fishing paraphernalia – signs of another era. Caution should be exercised when entering each of these bays, which like, Wemp’s Bay, have good sandy beaches.
Along the north shore of the Island are several pleasant anchorages, all providing excellent protection from the prevailing SW winds. All face the NE and can become quite a wild ride at anchor should a strong NE wind build up overnight.
Going along the North shore from W to E, the first point of shelter is Barry’s Bay, just west of the former village of Emerald. You may prefer to continue E about three miles to the much large Kerr Bay, being careful to pass by the unmarked Berdan’s Shoal just east of Emerald, and, further on, Kerr Point Shoal which is marked with a green spar. Kerr Bay has a mud and sand bottom, a heavily wooded area on the north side and open fields on the south. There will often be a dozen boats in on a summer weekend evening.
Between Kerr Bay and the Amherst Island ferry dock lies Wright Bay which provides limited anchorage. The west side of the ferry dock is available for short periods, giving access to the village of Stella. There is a public launch ramp on the west side of the dock for landing tenders.
Stella Bay is a popular anchorage. The water at the entrance is deep so the pitch of the bottom tends to be steep making anchoring in some spots a challenge. There are houses around the bay and this is as urban as it gets on the Island. A public dock on the south side of the bay provides access to land however no overnight docking is permitted.
Approximately one mile east of Stella Bay lies Preston Cove. This is an excellent small anchorage with a good bottom for anchoring and affords good protection from the west and northwest. There is a telephone cable running across the bay to the mainland that you will want to avoid catching in your anchor, but if you are well inside the cove there should be no problem. About a quarter mile east of Preston Cove the water become very shallow and sailboats must give the island a wide berth.
All of the anchorages on the north shore are exposed to the northeast winds. If the weather hits hard from this direction, you are only a short distance from the mainland . Parrot Bay would be good place to weather out a storm from the NE.
The Brothers Islands are the next point of interest. One can sail with ease between the west and Centre islands but do not attempt to go between the centre and east islands, or between the easternmost island and Amherst Island. The Amherst Bar makes it impossible to sail in a direct line from Amherst Island to Kingston. Good day anchorages lie off the north side of both the Centre and East Brothers.
From the ‘Brothers’ it’s five miles east to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and seven miles to Confederation Basin in downtown Kingston.
If instead of heading east, you decide to proceed through the Lower Gap into Lake Ontario refer to your charts to avoid shallow areas. There are no protected areas on the south side of Amherst Island which is exposed to the prevailing Southwest winds.
Good sailing, and hope to see you in the waters around Amherst Island.
Overnight dockage in the area is also offered by:
- Loyalist Cove Yacht Club, Bath (tel: (613) 352-3478)
- Collins Bay Marina, Collins Bay (tel: (613) 389-4455)
- Kingston Marina, Kingston (tel: (613) 549-7747)