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East Coulson Swamp Nature Reserve

A late fall scene of the wetland at East Coulson Swamp Nature Reserve. The property provides habitat for a wide variety of animals including red-shouldered hawks. Photo: Harold Atwood

Every piece of land has a story.  Sometimes it’s a tale of fortunes made and lost or historic efforts great and small.

For green spaces, sometimes it’s a story of overuse and recovery but often it is a celebration of dedicated individuals who cherish the natural values of the land.  This is one of those stories.

The red-shouldered hawk was once common in southern Ontario, but suffered a decline several decades ago.  Through conservation efforts this magnificent raptor has made a strong comeback.

Its recovery owes much thanks to famed author Margaret Atwood, who donated 87 acres of wetland and woodland near Bass Lake in Oro-Medonte Township to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

An adult red-shouldered hawk is a relatively large raptor and is recognized by a pattern of heavy dark bands on its ample tail and by its broad wings.  The adults have rufous shoulders although this is not always visible from below.  Underneath, the body is a pale, robin-red colour.  Red-shouldered hawks often hunt from a perch in a large tree in search of rodents, insects, and small birds.

The property donated by Atwood is known as the East Coulson Swamp Nature Reserve.  This provincially significant wetland with a dense wooded area provides a safe haven for red-shouldered hawks to breed in.  Surrounded by upland forest, as well as the headwaters of the Coldwater River, this area is also an important habitat for fish of cool streams, such as brook trout.

The East Coulson Swamp Nature Reserve is set within the forested hills of the Oro Moraine.  The reserve is also precious to many other species, which are fast losing their habitats due to increasing residential developments and aggregate extraction.

An additional 18 acres was purchased to consolidate a large block of forest habitat with adjacent properties owned by the County of Simcoe and the Orillia Fish and Game Conservation Club.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada needed a partner to assist in caring for these lands.  It approached the Couchiching Conservancy, and in 2003, the two organizations signed a stewardship agreement for the property.

The Couchiching Conservancy monitors the reserve to ensure the land is maintained in its natural state and that the biological diversity is preserved.  A volunteer property management team visits the reserve on a regular basis to record any changes or update the flora and fauna inventory.

The best time to visit the East Coulson Swamp Reserve is in the spring and summer when the resident amphibian populations are most active.  As well, a visit to the deep forest will reward the visitor with the sights and sounds of summer birds such as scarlet tanagers, wood thrush, and a wide variety of warblers.

The property is located on Bass Lake Side road, between Line 10 and Line 9.  Look for the Nature Conservancy of Canada sign on the north side.  Further details on this property and others are available in the Properties section of our website.

The Couchiching Conservancy would like to thank the Atwood family for the ongoing support of our conservation efforts.

*Don’t forget your friends and family this holiday season.  We have Christmas cards and Protect An Acre gifts; contact us to find out more.