I often find myself looking for reasons to escape the neverending “buzz” of my life in busy Toronto and explore incredible nature destinations in neighbouring Durham Region.

Second Marsh in Oshawa was recently brought to my attention as somewhere with great trails, beautiful landscapes, and a wonderful place to spot wildlife—particularly birds.

So, I figured, “why not” try out bird-watching? Second Marsh is a 137-hectare coastal wetland in southeast Oshawa, Ontario. The combination of Second Marsh with the adjacent areas of McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve and Darlington Provincial Park represents nearly 400 hectares, one of the largest publicly accessible waterfront spaces in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Before I packed my gear for my little excursion, I reached out to James Kamstra, a senior ecologist and naturalist with a deep connection to Second Marsh since 1971.

He shared valuable insights gleaned from decades of experience, highlighting the marsh’s significance as a haven for diverse bird species, and the ongoing efforts to preserve its ecological balance.

James gave me some pointers about making the most out of my visit to Second Marsh, and I’m pleased to share them with you—in addition to my own experience as a first-time visitor and novice birdwatcher.

According to James, Second Marsh is one of the most extensive remaining marshes along the north shore of Lake Ontario, containing a mix of marsh, swamp, lake bar, mudflats, forest and surrounding fields at a prominent location along Lake Ontario.

What really drew me in was that Second Marsh has a fantastic network of trails that gives hikers and birders easy access.

The best place to park and gain access to the marsh is the McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve parking lot at the eastern end of Colonel Sam Drive.

Within a minute of entering the conservation area, I was met with the sounds of songbirds and waterfowl, and spotted several swans and Canadian geese in the bay.

A few minutes on the trail heading westward, I arrived at Greg’s Pond, where I saw some adorable baby geese with their parents, a sleek marten, and some chickadees that eagerly ate out of my hand.

Moving ahead, I meandered along the trails, moving south towards Lake Ontario. The landscapes of Second Marsh are so beautiful and peaceful, and though there were some visitors, I didn’t run into many people—quiet time is something I really value, so it was absolutely perfect.

Remembering my notes from James, I made my way to Cool Hollow Trail, located at the southeast corner of Second Marsh. There, I got comfortable on the sandspit for a little bit to enjoy my coffee and a snack, while watching all the wildlife in the marsh with the crashing waves of Lake Ontario behind me.

Here is where I saw the most birds: swans, geese, ducks, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, robins, terns, hawks, blue jays, cardinals, and even a heron! Forgive me if this seems vague; I am, after all, a novice bird watcher, that’s for sure.

I did bring along my camera gear and got some great shots of some beautiful birds, but I definitely have to develop some skills for capturing wildlife; typically, the things I photograph are food or cityscapes.

Grateful for James’ insight for checking out Cool Hollow, I decided to pack up and continued my journey, heading north in search of Bob’s Boardwalk trail. On my walk, I passed by the old GM Viewing Platform.

According to James, the platform fell into a state of disrepair a few years back and was removed. It’s really a shame because where it’s placed would be such an incredible view over Second Marsh.

Friends of Second Marsh, a registered not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to the preservation of Second Marsh and its natural ecosystem, is currently fundraising to raise $500,000 over the next five years to replace viewing platforms, improve trails and signage, install washrooms, and other stewardship initiatives.

Finally, after getting sidetracked by a silly little beaver and a failed attempt at photographing some swallows, I made it to Bob’s Boardwalk—which could definitely use a loving upgrade. However, its broken-down moss-covered boards created a magical feeling of being lost in an enchanted forest.

Altogether, I had a fabulous time at Second Marsh and look forward to returning with my bicycle to better explore the west side of the marsh that’s connected to the Waterfront Trail and, according to James, has some more incredible views of the nature reserve.

Maybe I’ll even do a guided walk to help me develop my bird-watching skills! For a beginner birdwatcher, a guide can spot, identify, and provide life history information about birds. A knowledgeable guide can also offer interesting context about functional importance and historical changes in the marsh. If I’m lucky, I’ll get James as my guide.

Driving back west along Colonel Sam Drive, I made a quick stop on the north side of Colonel Sam Drive opposite the Second Marsh Road sign to check out the Harmony Pond Raised Viewing Deck.

Its panoramic view of Harmony Pond, a prime spring and autumn habitat for waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds, was the perfect little addition to finish my day at Second Marsh.

If you’re considering visiting Second Marsh, which I urge you to do, be advised that there are no bathrooms. The nearest public washrooms are located in Lakeview Park and Darlington Provincial Park.

My adventure at Second Marsh proved that birdwatching isn’t just for retirees—this mama of four can vouch for that! Here’s to more birdwatching escapades and the delightful surprises nate has in store!

By: Erin Horrocks- Pope