Are you an avid birder? Do you have a keen interest in nature and science? Do you want to learn?
The Thunder Cape Bird Observatory is a great place to visit!
Visiting The Thunder Cape Bird Observatory
Located at the tip of the Sleeping Giant, the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory has served as a bird monitoring station since 1991. The Sibley Peninsula (Sleeping Giant) is bounded by the highest cliffs in Ontario. These cliffs create a natural migration trap. Especially good for waterfowl, raptors, and passerines. The Thunder Cape Bird Observatory sees hundreds of bird species every year!
The Thunder Cape Bird Observatory associates with The Ontario Bird Banding Association. It is also part of The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. The Observatory runs from late April and until the end of October. Peak bird migration occurs in the spring and fall. There are lots of activities at the Observatory. Volunteers identify, age, sex, weigh and band caught birds with an ID number. Also, visual monitoring, and Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) take place.
At the site, there is a cabin with a bird banding station, a sauna, and further back a watchtower. In the clearings around the banding station, mist nets are set up. A heligoland trap is used to catch birds for banding. In the fall, mist-netting is used at night to catch Northern Saw-whet and Boreal Owls.
Depending on how busy it is for staff and volunteers, you can sometimes get a great site tour and banding/identification lesson when you arrive. The staff and volunteers are very friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. If it is too busy for a tour and learning, the Thunder Cape is still a really interesting place to visit!
Getting to the Thunder Cape
Getting to the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory can be a trek! Hiking is the most popular way of getting to the Observatory. The hike to the observatory is about 12 km from the trailhead at backcountry parking lot. The hike roughly traces the shoreline through the dense forest. The trails are fairly wide with rocky and sandy or muddy bottom for the most part. To start the hike, follow the Kabeyun Trail 6 km, past the turnoff to the Sea Lion, to Tee Harbour.
Continue from Tee Harbour and hike another 5 km, past the Talus Lake Trail and Lehtinen’s Bay campsites. Before you complete the 5 km you will encounter a boulder field. Take your time in this section, especially if it is wet out. After the boulder field, the trail climbs over the tip of the Sleeping Giant’s Feet. This section is steep and can also be treacherous in wet conditions.
Once you are over the tip of the feet it is a short 1.5 km hike to the Observatory. Look for the wooden observation tower to the east. The whole hike to the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory and back is about 24 km. For most people, this is a full day or two days with an overnight at the Tee Harbour or Lehtinen’s Bay campsites. Make sure to pack according to the conditions.
Bike and Hike
This is a good option if you want to save some time and have some fun biking the trails. You can bike from the trailhead at the parking lot right to the beginning of the boulder field. You could probably do it on any bike in most conditions but a mountain bike makes it way easier, especially if it is muddy. The terrain is bumpy and some of the hills are steep. Lock your bike up and continue on foot. Depending on where you lock up, the whole bike and hike to the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory is 16 – 18 km of biking and 6 – 8 km of hiking. For most people, this is a half day to a full day. It is also fun to camp and make a weekend of it. There are many other trails to explore by bike.Make sure to pack according to the conditions.
By far the quickest and most thrilling way to get to the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory. Sail Superior is now offering trips and shuttles on the Superior Rocket, a Zodiac powerboat, to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The Rocket trip directly to the Thunder Cape takes about 1 hour. If you would like to hike from Tee Harbour the Rocket trip is just over 1 hour.
Experience the crystal clear waters and magnificent vistas of the world’s largest freshwater lake. Ride out past the Welcome Islands. Cruise by Pie Island and back towards the Sleeping Giant. Spot the resident Bald Eagle on Hare Island. Follow the shoreline under the 1000 foot cliffs. This trip is really incredible!