Saturday, February 18, 2017
Mountsberg Conservation Area covers 472 hectares of which 202 are covered with a water control reservoir. Since 1994 the park has featured a Raptor Centre which is home to a collection of 15 birds of prey. Horses and sheep call the farm home along with bison and elk. There’s also a play barn for the kids to enjoy and a Maple Syrup festival in the spring. Sixteen kilometres of hiking trails criss-cross the park and allow you to experience the abundant wildlife. There is a $7.50 fee per car and you have to put it into an envelope so be sure to bring correct change or plan to make a donation.
Archibald (Archabald on the County Atlas below) Cameron moved from Perthshire in Scotland in 1833 and settled on 100 acres of land. His son, Duncan bought the property adjacent to his and Donald purchased two parcels of land next to these.
Duncan Cameron purchased the 100 acres to the east of his father’s lot and started his homestead there. In 1857 he built a stone house and a barn, both of which remain today. The house has an odd window on the second floor which was shaped like a simple diamond. The county atlas shows how close to the house the Credit Valley Railroad was constructed when the Milton line was extended to Galt in 1879. The Duncan house remained in the family until James Cameron, Duncan’s son, passed away in 1962. The farm changed hands a couple of times and was purchased in 1964 by The Halton Region Conservation Authority. They built the dam in 1966 and the Wildlife Centre in 1974.
Near the barn is an observation tower which looks out over the Mountsberg Reservoir. Bronte Creek was dammed and the reservoir has since been stocked with fish. Bass, Pike, Crappies, and Perch can all be caught in the shallow waters. The former Credit Valley Railway crosses the reservoir on a berm that previously passed through a farm field. The lower section of the reservoir has been drained for the winter.
On the north side of the tracks, just east of the house are the remains of the family lime kiln. It was built shortly after the house, likely around 1860, for the use of the family. Limestone was common in the area and settlers would load it into a set kiln like this one. Wood was packed around it and burned for several days until the limestone was broken down. The limestone was broken into lumps around 2 inches in diameter and layered into the kiln along with the fuel. It would take about a day to load the kiln and then it burned for three days. After two days of cooling down, it could be unloaded and the lime separated from the waste. Lime was used in the making of soap as well as construction materials.
The first Earth day took place on April 22, 1970. Since that time it has grown into an international event that takes place in 193 countries around the world. In 1990 Earth Day 20 was celebrated and in Mountsberg Park the Plant-A-Tree program contributed the small forest on the north side of the train tracks, across from the Cameron House. These trees are doing quite well a quarter century later.
The Raptor Centre at the park is home to many birds that have been rescued locally and are incapable of survival in the wild. The Great Horned Owl on the cover photo is one of two in the park. These owls have a grip ten times as tight as that of a human and talons that can hold with as much as 200 pounds per square inch force. They are known to take prey that is up to three times their weight and this includes skunks, opossums and even other raptors.
The Gyrfalcon, seen below, lives in arctic and sub-arctic regions and is rarely seen in Southern Ontario. This is the largest of the falcon species with the females weighing up to two kilograms. Their diet contains mostly of other birds including ducks, gulls, and geese but they also enjoy lemmings and hare.
Rough-legged Hawks are the only hawks in Ontario that have feathers on their legs extending down to their feet. It weighs about a kilogram, with the female being slightly larger. They are a northern bird and live mainly off of small rodents like voles and lemmings. They can be occasionally be seen in Southern Ontario during the winter.
Broad Winged Hawks live in large forests and prefer small rodents for their prey as they only weigh about 500 grams themselves. They are relatively small among the hawk family but congregate in large flocks known as kettles in the fall to migrate south for the winter. A kettle of broad winged hawks can contain up to 1000 birds
Takenya is one of two red-tailed hawks at the centre but she sits up and pays attention when you call her name. One of the trainers suggested that the birds don’t actually know their names but as the picture below shows, she would turn her head and stare right at you when you call her.
American Bison, often called Buffalo in error, are kept on the farm. As we approached they moved across the field but soon returned to stand by the fence. The largest of the five already had a broken horn and was clearly guarding the smaller ones. It routinely stood between me and the smallest one so getting a picture was quite difficult. I wasn’t sure if it was my red coat or the imminent arrival of the ladies with the food buckets that had their attention but after feeding they went for a run around the pen. They can reach speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour.
Mountsberg has extensive hiking trails as well as the dam that are yet to be explored. This is a park that will require more than one visit.
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