Killarney Provincial Park is one of my favourite places to camp because it is home to much lauded species such as black bears, wolves and moose, to name a few. It’s close to five hours away from my home in Cambridge, Ontario and requires a commitment to travel to: packing all my camping gear, warm clothing as well as hours spent in the car.

Last weekend I made my first visit of the year excited to have potential wildlife encounters. My son, Owen – a graduate student  at the McEwen School of Architecture in nearby Sudbury –  joined me.

After pitching our tents in my favourite spot we went looking for wildlife along the one road that bisects the region.  

My favourite campsite. It is here on this very site that I had a couple of bear encounters in 2016. An adult bear woke me up at 2am possibly to scare off the orphaned cub which had taken up residence forty metres away for three days.

I have often seen wildlife here. Apart from an adult bald eagle the first day, a juvenile bald eagle plus a fox the next, we drew a blank. I vowed to go back in coming weeks. 

The juvenile eagle flying across the pond in Burwash, Ontario 

Yesterday, I left my home intending to drive in search of the American kestrels near Paris, Ontario but after just ten minutes into the countryside I spotted two sandhill cranes on someone’s front lawn. I stopped the car and watched them for half an hour. Although rain was in the forecast I lucked out as I waited for them to fly.

To my surprise, a Northern Harrier turned up hunting rodents along the fence line. After the cranes flew past me the landowner happened to be passing by in her car. She told me I was welcome to go into her field to get a closer look at the harrier. I was so grateful that she did.

A sandhill crane taking off from the hillside yesterday.

Northern harriers have owl-like faces but are members of the hawk family. They have an extraordinary flight pattern, floating up and descending quickly and then suddenly changing direction. Unpredictable creatures. These fields are on a hillside which offered me the perfect vantage point.  This was an adult female and she flew up and down coming closer and closer. I was able to capture these images of her approaching me.

I was delighted to find this harrier and will now include some of the images in my upcoming ‘Birds of Prey’ presentation to the Woodstock Field Naturalists Club next week. 

After incurring the expense of a trip north to Killarney – with little to show for it in the way of pictures – the irony of driving ten minutes and finding these birds was not lost on me. Wildlife is always closer than you think.

I should add that spending time at the campfire with my son, chatting while sharing a bottle of Australian Shiraz beneath a star-filled sky, was the highlight of that Killarney trip. You don’t get many experiences like these.

The autumn weather has been unusually mild so let’s hope we can all enjoy the outdoors for weeks to come.



    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks Jim. Ironically, I came across another female harrier – possibly the same one – today about a kilometre from where I encountered the one in these images. This time the light was really, really good and she looked right at me. At first I thought it was a juvenile Cooper’s hawk. But after looking at the face looking at me, it was clear she had unique markings that are found on the face of a harrier. They look like both owls and hawks.

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