Of Birds and Wine and Island Time!

So which island will it be?

You may recall, we left Barb with 19 possible island destinations to ponder last week.

After she saw how many choices she had on both sides of the border, Barb decided that she’d like to begin with an adventure on an American island before venturing into Ontario. That left her an even dozen Great Lakes Basin islands from which to choose a destination.

Barb also clarified that she would, after all, be fine with no additional island activities beyond hiking, biking, and water sports. . . . On second thought, she said, she’d be perfectly happy to just sit on an island shore and watch the water move. (I’m guessing now Barb may have had a harder week than even she suspected.) Despite her lowering of the bar, I decided to pursue the ideal destination for her first Great Lakes island escape.

Checking in with her Sunday, she said she enjoys both getting out in nature and visiting gift shops, and her husband Nick is with her when it comes to the nature part, so I felt confident we could narrow the dozen to the one perfect island. Barb also mentioned she liked the look of Beaver Island in my “St. Patrick’s Day” posting. So I asked her another battery of three island-related questions.

You may want to consider these questions and the ramifications of your answers in planning your own Great Lakes island escape!

Are you interested in bird-watching?

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Great blue heron off shore from Inscription Rock on Lake Erie’s Kelleys Island

A number of Great Lakes Basin islands fall along one or the intersection of two migratory flyways (the Mississippi Flyway and the Atlantic Flyway). Millions of birds–including many who you’d otherwise not see in the area–migrate through the Great Lakes region.  Early May and late September into early October are ideal times to be on a Great Lakes Basin island to catch the migration excitement.

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Turkey vulture perched in a tree on Kelleys Island, OH
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Turkey in Kelleys Island Cemetery

“Birding” is an addictive, inexpensive, and easy activity to pursue. You don’t even need one of those distinctive “birders’ hats,” you know the ones. Your identification results may be improved by a pair of binoculars and a bird guide (or app). But all you really need is to stay still in one (likely) place (ask islanders for suggestions of where that place might be), and keep your eyes open.  As you can see here, the birds you see on an island may not always be the ones you expect.

If Barb and Nick were particularly interested in bird-watching, I would suggest they reconsider crossing the border to pay Ontario’s Pelee Island a visit.  The three ferry-accessible Ohio Lake Erie islands–especially Kelleys Island with its numerous nature preserves–are good spots too.

Your ideal month for heading to an island?

Since Barb and Nick haven’t gotten hooked on birding yet (being nature lovers, their island visits may increase their odds of future involvement with the pastime), my next question had to do with their calendar. When–what month–were they interested in embarking on an island adventure?

Depending on what island you pick as a destination, some months may be better than others for a visit.  If you’re interested in hiking or biking, you may reap the fewer-tourists-and-car benefits of spring or fall. If you plan on swimming, the Great Lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes Basin will be warmer in July and August.  I’ve been swimming in Lake Erie, however, as early as the week before Memorial Day an as late as October 10th.

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In Lake Superior or north, further down, on the St. Lawrence River, the islands wake up from winter later.  On Wellesley Island, in New York’s Thousand Island Park, the Wellesley Hotel and Restaurant opens for business Father’s Day weekend. Never suspecting, I arrived the very quiet weekend before and discovered Minna Anthony Common’s wonderful Rock Ridges Nature Trail. I might have missed it altogether if more island activities had been vying for my attention.

Some of the best island times may be had during an islands “off-season” calendar. Just make sure the ferry’s running before you head for it. Pelee Island’s ferry just began on Friday, April 1st, and we went over to open our cottage on Pelee Island.  We had a rare experience for “cottagers” while we were there.  Although we did not have snow blanketing the ground as folks on the mainland did Saturday afternoon, we did experience a total “white-out” later as we pulled out onto West Shore Road after dark. We were leaving the house of our friends, Lynn and Ron Tiessen, after having enjoyed bowls of chicken chili served in the vicinity of their wood stove’s warmth and gotten caught up after the winter months.  We pulled out from their driveway and into winter; the road was there and then it wasn’t. (Note: You, too, may be able to experience the Tiessens’ hospitality as guests at their rental cottage or B&B, Lake Muse— minus the white-out, of course!).

We woke up to less wind and a quieter lake Sunday, but the front’s passage had left its mark with more than just a scraggly covering of snow . . .

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Pelee Island’s west shore April 3, 2016 after the wind of the night before brought Lake Erie onto the island. Hen Island (aka “Old Hen”) floats on the horizon.

Barb specified June or August as the ideal months for Nick and her to head for an island. By June, most of the islands are in full swing, a swing that continues through August.

A visit to an island winery, perhaps?

Besides birding, a number of Great Lakes Basin (GLB) islands are known for the fruit of their vineyards, once it’s pressed.  As the GLB islands are surrounded by the water, the island air is influenced by the more temperate water temperature, slower to chill and slower to warm up.

Summertime . . .

And perfect for the growing of grapes.  No surprise that a number of GLB islands have a history of grape-growing and wine-making.

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Kelleys Island Wine Co., a three-generation winery

Had Barb and Nick specifically been interested in visiting Great Lakes wineries, they’d have a number to choose from on both sides of the border.  Of the 19 islands under discussion, the Ohio islands of South Bass Island and Kelleys each have wineries, as do Ontario’s Pelee Island and Prince Edward County.

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Howe Island B&B’s winery with the St. Lawrence River in the background

In fact, after sipping some of their wine at “happy hour,” you can even sleep right next to a vineyard at the Howe Island B&B–one of the most hospitable B&Bs I’ve ever visited and located right on banks of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

But visiting an island winery wasn’t at the top of Barb and Nick’s list.

For Barb?  Kelleys Island in Lake Erie in June!

I’d recommend Barb and Nick start relatively close to home for their first island trip.  And that they go in June.  That way, they may be able to fit in a trip to a second GLB island in August.

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One of the Kelleys Island ferries

The Kelleys Island ferry leaves from Ohio’s Marblehead Peninsula–just a two-hour meander from Barb and Nick’s house–for a quick twenty-minute crossing to Kelleys Island.

Writer and yoga instructor Kim Haas and I spent some time on Kelleys in the month of June, and it was perfect!

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Vi’s Island Treasures on Kelleys Island, OH

Once on the island, Barb and Nick will find themselves with both gift shops (sorry, Nick) and plenty of nature to explore.

Kelleys Island is a GLB island where they might also just catch themselves bird-watching or find themselves whiling away some time on the porch of a lovely winery where white twinkly lights illuminate the dusk.

However, if you plan to sleep on an island in June, you should be making reservations to do so now.  Mark and Robin’s Eagle Nest B&B is the place that was recommended to me on my first visit to Kelley’s Island.  Located near one of the nature preserves, my experience there was one of real island hospitality (and I’m just one of many happy guests!).

Kelleys Island is a great place to indulge in many GLB island delights: hiking, biking, and water sports, for sure.  Bird-watching (“Nest with the Birds,” May 19-21), wine-drinking (“Spring Wine Fling,” April 23), beach-combing, and picture-taking, certainly.

And should you eventually change our mind about sitting on the shore, watching the water move . . . there’s plenty more to entice:  Inscription Rock, the historic Old Stone Church, the Kelleys Island Historical Museum (with another gift shop, Barb!), a variety of good restaurants (and a small brewery as well as the winery), the Glacial Grooves, Herndon Sculpture Gardens (where the photo with the statue at the beginning of this post was shot) . . . and that’s just for a start!

Stay tuned . . .

Perhaps we’ll have a 2016 Kelleys Island adventure of Barb’s featured here later this island season.  Or perhaps, one from me.  I realize I’m a tad jealous of Barb’s opportunity to experience Kelleys Island for the first time.  I’m going back!  What are you waiting for?

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A relief of a pictograph on Inscription Rock, one of the many pictographs on the rock, believed to be created by the Erie Tribe on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie

2 thoughts on “Of Birds and Wine and Island Time!

  1. Barbara E Weber says:

    Maureen, thanks for doing all the footwork for my vacation! I’m excited to visit Kelleys Island this summer, hopefully in June, but maybe August. I need to get on it right away so I can find lodging before they are all booked. Bon Voyage dear friend!

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  2. Maureen Dunphy says:

    You’re welcome, Barb! By the time I hit upon your destination, I was looking forward to a return to Kelleys Island. Would love a “full report” upon your return. Hope you have a wonderful time!

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