Beyond the Zoo

If you fancy your wildlife with a hefty side of nature, it’s time to head to Hamilton Halton Brant. The region’s unique geography, including the Niagara Escarpment, vast Carolinian forests and the Grand River, make it a literal breeding ground for a diverse range of animals, birds and reptiles. That, combined with an enthusiastic community of conservationists committed to inspiring future generations of nature lovers, has resulted in some very unique (and very fun) ways to interact with the region’s wildlife.

Douglas G. Cockburn Raptor Centre at Mountsberg Conservation Area, Milton

The Douglas G. Cockburn Raptor Centre is currently home to 15 different species of native birds of prey, including eagles, owls, falcons, hawks and vultures. The over two dozen birds that call the Centre home each have a unique story, as many have experienced injuries that have left them incapable of surviving on their own in the wild.

Birds of Prey shows, which are held daily during July and August and on weekends and holidays during the rest of the year, allow visitors to see the birds up close and ask the staff questions. Photography enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Centre’s one-hour Raptors In Focus workshops, where Raptor Centre staff work with the feathered ambassadors to enable participants to take truly one-of-a-kind photos. This year’s Raptors In Focus workshops will be held on June 4, July 10, August 13, September 11, October 15 and November 13. Make sure you register in advance.

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Hide and Seek Trail, Crawford Lake Conservation Area, Milton

Crawford Lake’s Hide and Seek Trail is an engaging and fun way to bring the important issue of endangered wildlife species to life for young children. Larger than life wooden carvings of endangered species, including the Hooded Warbler, Jefferson Salamander, Monarch Butterfly and Snapping Turtle are located along the trail. After your hike, walk the boardwalk around the lake and watch the turtles paddling in the water. If you have older children, consider hiking the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, which runs between Crawford Lake and Rattlesnake Point Conservation Areas. Be sure to look up and watch the turkey vultures soar on the thermal currents created by the Niagara Escarpment. The prehistoric-looking birds can glide on their six-foot wingspan for up to six hours without flapping a wing!

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Hendrie Valley, Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington

Royal Botanical Gardens’ nature sanctuaries are home to 277 types of migratory birds, 37 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 9 amphibian species and 68 species of Lake Ontario fish. Spend a few hours exploring the Hendrie Valley walking trails and you’re sure to encounter some of them. At the South Pasture Swamp, keep an eye out for beaver and muskrat. During the spring and fall at Grindstone Creek, watch for seasonal fish spawning of herring, spottail shiner and salmon.

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Grand River

Spending a few hours paddling on the Grand River is a fun way to have a float-by wildlife sighting. Look up and watch for Great Blue Herons, eagles and osprey. Look down and watch for snapping turtles, bass and trout. Look to the shore and beyond into the Carolinian forest that borders the river and you may be rewarded with a sighting of a beaver, muskrat, fox or deer. Local outfitters, including Grand River Rafting and Grand Experiences, make it easy to get out for a few hours on the Grand on a canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard or river raft. They provide all the gear you’ll need and give you the choice of a guided or unguided trip.

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Horseback Trail Rides, Oakville

Keep an eye out for deer, coyote, hawks and falcons as you explore the tree-lined fields and forests that surround The Ranch’s horse farm in Oakville on horseback. The one-hour trail rides are suitable for any level of rider ages 10 and up. For a truly unique experience, organize a group of 10 or more for a private Twilight Ride, where you’ll return at dusk to a campfire and cook-it-yourself BBQ.

Eramosa Karst Conservation Area, Stoney Creek

Wild turkey, coyote, white-tailed deer, meadow voles, Red-eyed Vireos, Indigo Buntings, Savannah Sparrows and the Red-tailed Hawk all call the Eramosa Karst Conservation Area home, but the geology is so fascinating here it’s easy to forget to watch for them. The Eramosa Karst contains examples of 16 different karst features, including soil pipes, sinkholes, sinking streams, dry valleys and a 335-metre-long cave. Plan a trip for an awesome day of exploring.

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Apps’ Mill Nature Centre, Brantford

If you have a carload of children to entertain, Apps’ Mill’s eco-adventure birthday party programming is a great option, even if no one is celebrating their big day. A guide will spend an hour taking the kids (ages 6 and up) through a themed activity like Fins, Fish and other Creatures, Creepy Creature Hike, Nature Tracker, Awesome Bug Hunt or Birds of a Feather. Following the activity, you can explore the Centre’s mature forests, fields and wetlands. For just $135 for up to 12 children, it’s an afternoon of animal fun that’s more affordable than a trip to the zoo.

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Bruce Trail

The Niagara Escarpment is home to 300 species of birds, 53 types of mammals, 36 species of reptiles and amphibians and 90 types of fish. Hiking the Bruce Trail, which runs along the Niagara Escarpment, is a great way to spot some of them. If you’re bringing kids along,  download a copy of the Bruce Trail Conservancy’s Biodiversity and Me booklet before you set out.  The booklet’s fun activities and checklists will turn your hike into a fun scavenger hunt for birds, animals and plants along Canada’s oldest and longest footpath. Great family-friendly Bruce Trail access points within Hamilton Halton Brant include Limehouse Conservation Area, Dundas Valley Conservation Area, Crawford Lake Conservation Area, Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, Royal Botanical Gardens and Mount Nemo Conservation Area.

Don’t keep your Hamilton Halton Brant wildlife spotting to yourself. Tag your photos with #NatureUnexpected and share the excitement of your next animal-filled adventure.



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