4. Westmeath Provincial Park
Westmeath Provincial Park is a treasure of untouched Ottawa River beach and dune habitat. The park is unmanaged, so entry is free. ATV's and motor bikes are not allowed. The northern area of the park is actually a peninsula enclosing an inland wetland complex and open water bay to the south named Bellow's Bay. The narrow entrance to Bellow's Bay is from the east. Canoeists and kayakers can access the bay or the beach from the Westmeath municipal dock 1.7 kilometres to the north. The beach is flooded by a high Ottawa River in spring.
The peninsula is forested with a large area of Red Pine forest and elsewhere with mixedwoods. Over 2 miles of sand dunes, beach, grasses, shrubs, Red Maple and Burr Oak create a variety of habitat which makes birding and botony interesting along the Ottawa River. Foot access to the park is either along the main entrance road by the locked iron gate (this entrance is 5.5 kilometres south of Westmeath on Westmeath Road, County Road 12), or walking along the beach from the west after parking at the end of Sand Point Road. Keep in mind the distance from Sand Point Road to where you would get to the beach on the park road is 2.5 kilometres.
After using the main entrance, a first stopping place is the field 100 metres into the park. You will find this field by going west (left) when you start to encounter Red Pines. A couple of paths lead into the field. The first pioneering population of Delaware Skipper in Renfrew County was found here. Also dragonflies such as Hallowe'en Pennant can be common here in mid July. A bear was seen eating berries in this field once on a naturalist club field outing. A few Clammy Ground-cherry plants can be found.
On the road again you pass through some low mixed forest where birds such as Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruffed Grouse, Least Flycatcher. On your right is a meandering river where Wood Ducks can be seen. The road passes an area of open water on your left and a Silver Maple swamp on your right (1.5 km. from the gate). An Osprey nest is visible off to the left. The road forks after the swamp. The road does a loop around the peninsula. By taking the right fork, you can follow the north shore of the bay and there will be several paths that take you down to the water. There is a lot of Poison Ivy in the park, so pay attention where you walk. Listen for Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Goshawk and Broad-winged Hawk.
Bellow's Bay is a mix of open water, emergent vegetation, wild rice, marsh grasses and cattails. The Bay is a staging area for waterfowl in April when Trumpeter Swans (once), Eurasian Wigeon (once), Lesser and Great Scaup, Redhead, Northern Shoveler and Ring-necked Ducks and others have been seen, sometimes in large numbers. In summer, Black Tern, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane and Northern Harrier can sometimes be seen in the Bay or along the Ottawa River. Dragonflying in all areas of the park can be very good.
Follow the road as far east as you can go (about 1.8 km.) then turn north and west and look for the road that heads down to the beach and the Ottawa River. By going straight, you would end up back at the Silver Maple swamp and eventually the iron gate at Westmeath Road. The loop road around the peninsula is long, so take water, lunch, bug dope (the biting bugs in May and June can be bad!!)
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