Roberta and Mark Buchanan are nature enthusiasts who are always eager to share their outdoor experiences with others. Roberta is a retired educator with a passion for birding, and Mark is a retired engineer who enjoys photography.
Fall is a spectacular time to paddle! We were fortunate to have a picture perfect day to canoe through the Sydenham River Nature Reserve.
The water levels were very low (see below) which meant getting out of our canoe often but both the weather and the water were very warm. In the spring the water level is high and there are rapids and a swift current to contend with so this would not be the time of year for novice canoeist to paddle through the Reserve.
Picturesque scenery was the word of the day and we enjoyed an interesting array of flora and fauna as we paddled.
The Sydenham River Nature Reserve is home to an incredible 34 species of mussel, 11 of which are listed as at-risk; making it the freshwater mussel capital of Canada! Freshwater mussels are the longest-lived invertebrates. They are living water filters moving as much as eight gallons of water per day in through their siphon and over their gills to get oxygen and food. This makes mussels exceptionally vulnerable to water pollution so the importance of keeping the Sydenham River and its ecosystem protected is of paramount importance.
Mussels move by extending their foot out of their shell and into the river bottom, then they retract the foot and pull themselves along. In the photo below you can see the furrow that this mussel has made as it moved to a new location.
One of the highlights of the paddle was visiting the huge Sycamore tree that is in the reserve. Ontario’s largest recorded Sycamore tree, near Alvinston, measures 263 cm at breast height.
The biodiversity found in the Sydenham River is impressive and we were thrilled to see so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies (including the American Rubyspot pictured below), waterfowl (a pair of American Widgeons are pictured below), and many other birds (the Bald Eagle pictured below flew past us several times and landed along the river to watch our progress).
Ontario Nature organized a wonderful day to thank both Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists for their generous donations that helped make the purchase of 193 acres along the Sydenham River possible. On September 17th members of both clubs were invited to visit the site and enjoy a hike to the largest Sycamore tree in south-western Ontario, tour the south side of the property to look at the great variety of flora and fauna (led by Larry Cornelis, a member of both Nature Groups and driving force behind the acquisition of the property), and to hear from experts about the many species of fresh-water mussels that are found in the Sydenham River.
This property is now known as the Sydenham River Nature Reserve and is an incredibly important land acquisition that will forever protect the many endangered species that are found in and around the Sydenham River.
Justin Nicol, co-president of Lambton Wildlife and a member of the Sydenham Field Naturalists thanked Ontario Nature at the end of the day for the opportunity to hike the property and for providing a wonderful lunch in a beautiful setting.
Below is an excerpt from the Ontario Nature Website:
Thanks to you, the Sydenham River Nature Reserve is a reality. Ontario Nature has purchased a spectacular 193-acre property – forever protecting one of Ontario’s most biodiverse waterways. Located in the Carolinian Life Zone, this new reserve brings Ontario Nature’s province-wide nature reserve system to 25 properties and more than 7,000 acres.
The new reserve saves a ribbon of extraordinary diversity of plants and animals in a region that is under intense pressure from development driven by hosting 25 percent of the Canadian population.
The reserve represents some of the provinces best remaining examples of imperiled and vulnerable habitats. An almost two-kilometer stretch of the Sydenham River winds through the middle of the property. Representing Ontario Nature’s first riverine reserve, the property is teaming with life:
- 23 species at risk including birds, plants, reptiles, fish and, of course, freshwater mussels;
- 34 species of mussel, 11 of which are listed as at-risk provincially or nationally making the property the freshwater mussel capital of Canada;
- Two-thirds of Canada’s non-marine reptiles including the at-risk eastern spiny softshell turtle; and
- Half of Ontario’s bird species breed in or pass through the area during migration.
In 2014, two member groups – Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists – alerted Ontario Nature about a special property on the mussel-rich Sydenham River that was up for sale. After some initial discussions and exploring the property, in February 2016 Ontario Nature signed an agreement to purchase, pending raising $860,000.
The new Sydenham Nature Reserve was announced on December 19, 2016 after those funds were successfully raised. Many individuals, foundations and organizations gave generously in support of this effort. Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists were instrumental in the fundraising, and now share the responsibility to steward the property with Ontario Nature.
This riverside property is a largely-wooded biodiversity oasis in a landscape dominated by cash crops such as corn and soybeans. It forms part of the Carolinian Canada Sydenham River Signature Site, so designated because it was identified as a critical natural area. There are major challenges conservation organizations face in sustaining the ecological connections and biodiversity along the river corridor.
The reserve is open to visitors and Ontario Nature is already planning to create new trails so that the public can explore this extraordinary landscape without damaging sensitive flora and fauna. The best way to explore the property is by canoe. If you have any questions, please contact Ontario Nature at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-444-8419.
Point Pelee National Park is a spectacular park to visit in any season, especially known for its spring and fall migration and its incredible biodiversity. Seven Lambton Wildlife members were fortunate enough to camp there from September 6th to the 9th.
Where to begin …. The best place to begin is to say a big THANK YOU to Paul Carter who did an outstanding job organizing the camping trip. His expertise, along with the expertise of Larry Cornelis, was truly appreciated by everyone. Each time we have the opportunity to hike with Paul and Larry we learn so much!
You will notice that in the photo Paul and Larry are sitting in red Adirondack chairs. The Red Chair Experience began three years ago in Gros Morne National Park, and it is a way of connecting Canadians with nature in our country’s most unique and treasured places.
During our stay we were lucky to see many of the species of flora and fauna that Point Pelee has to offer.
We saw numerous monarch butterflies, which was encouraging because we all know that these butterflies are struggling as a species (keep planting those milkweed!).
We were treated to many other butterfly species including Common Buckeye, Giant Swallowtail (caterpillar photos below), Red-spotted Purple, Painted Lady, and Crescent.
A highlight of the trip was seeing numerous five-lined skinks! These beautiful animals are Ontario’s only lizard species. They have scaly skin like all lizards and are fast, agile and prefer warm, dry habitats.
Dragonflies and Damselflies
There are a great number of species of dragonflies and damselflies in Point Pelee National Park. Two notable ones that Paul pointed out were the Carolina Saddlebags and the Lance-tipped Darner – both lifers for us! Some of the more common ones included orange bluets (?), twelve-spotted skimmer, and Common Green Darner.
We were surprised to see a Melanistic Garter Snake just outside the canoe rental shop at the Boardwalk trail. The melanistic color morph is a relatively common color morph that occurs naturally in the wild. Another great find was a Northern Water Snake – if you look closely at the photos you will see that it had recently enjoyed a meal.
We were treated to a number of wonderful bird sightings that included both migratory and resident bird species. It is hard to beat seeing fledgling birds. The first photo is of a fledgling cedar waxwing that one of the campers spotted at the Cemetery entrance. Other birds included immature and adult Bald Eagles, Osprey, Magnolia Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, and Wild Turkey.
There is so much to enjoy at Point Pelee National Park – we hope that seeing some of the beauty of the park will inspire you to visit it soon!
If you plant it, they will come…
LWI members were privileged to be invited to visit the Enbridge Solar Farm, in Sarnia, on June 21st to observe how the restored tall grass prairie habitat has attracted rare bird species. Resident expert Larry Cornelis led this 3-hour outing. 28 members, including Larry, participated. The group included novice through to very experienced birders. Weather was ideal: clear, sunny but not too hot.
The Enbridge Solar farm is the largest in Canada and has a total of 257 hectares covered with 1,300,000 solar panels, enough to power 12,000 homes on a sunny day. Due to electrical grid limitations there will be no more panels installed on this site. The remaining 188 hectares of the Enbridge property have been designated for conversion to tall grass prairie and these areas were the subject of our visit. The very secure property is normally inaccessible to visitors so this was a unique opportunity to see these large grassland areas close-up.
The highlights of the outing were multiple sightings of Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows. Both rare species were observed in the tallgrass prairie rehabilitated areas and these birds are evidence that restoring habitat does have the positive outcomes expected. Other bird species observed were: Killdeer, Brown-headed Cow Bird, Willow Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Savannah Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Eastern Kingbird, Turkey Vulture, Cedar Waxwing, Meadowlark, American Crow, Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron, Grasshopper Sparrow (3), Clay-coloured Sparrow (7), Mourning Dove, Common Yellowthroat, Starling, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker, Catbird, Indigo Bunting, Red-tailed Hawk, Robin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Kudos to Larry for organizing and leading this activity, it really was an awesome day! A special thank you to Enbridge for allowing us to visit the property and for planting this habitat. Indeed it is encouraging for all naturalists to see the relatively short term effects of planting tall grass prairie. Imagine what might be possible when other land areas are restored in this manner.
There are some wonderful nature trails near Port Franks that are worth a visit. The trails wind through the large Lambton Heritage Forest and there are a couple of ways of accessing them. The first trail we explored starts out from Outer Drive. There is a 911 address sign for the trail, number 7101, and the trail access is located on the north side of the road just before the road curves sharply to the right. At the time of year that we walked this trail (early June), there were plenty of mosquitoes, so apply repellent generously before heading out. Consider using one which also helps to protect against ticks. The trail is easy to moderate, with a few slopes, and forms a loop that’s perhaps 1.5 kilometers long. Most of the wildlife we sighted was on the first half of the loop, the section to the left. There is a nice bench to sit and relax on at the midpoint. The trail also connects to another trail that we didn’t fully explore. (more…)
As the date of the 2107 Pelee Island camping trip approached, all the poor weather forecasts suddenly changed to show pleasant conditions for the entire duration of the trip! A wonderful group of 20 LWI campers began arriving on Thursday for a great weekend of birding. Lake Erie was smooth for the 1.5 hour long ferry ride aboard the SS Jiiman from Leamington.
Many of the campers had been to the island in previous years and some were visiting the island for the first time.
As a group, we moved around the island to observe the migrating birds, with an occasional detour to the bakery for vital nourishment (see earlier post photo). High water and waves kept us away from Lighthouse Point (on the northeast corner of the island) for the first two days, but by Saturday the winds had shifted and we made it to the point to see some interesting birds. Some of the best birding of the weekend came on the beach at Fish Point early on Friday evening, with numerous warblers hungrily eating up insects that were being warmed by the sun right along the edge of the beach. A great looking Lake Erie sunset on the same beach capped off a perfect day.
Migrating shorebirds were also located in some farm fields where large pools of water had accumulated. The group was thrilled to get quite close to a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers, with Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlins mixed in.
Such were the abundance of birds on the island that we even observed warblers from the comfort of the campsite, including Yellow-rumped, Black & white and Northern Parulas. Other notable birds observed included Summer Tanager, Night Hawk, Red-throated Loon, Indigo Bunting, Red-headed Woodpecker, and we even heard a “Whip-poor-will”!
The time seemed to go by quickly with each day’s activities beginning at 7:00 AM, and when it was time to pack up and catch the next departing ferry it seemed like the excursion had been too short. Well, there is always next year!
After seeing multiple e-Bird alerts for the Dickcissel, we headed out in the morning on Friday for a short drive south to try and find this rare bird. We found the birds on McCallum Line just a bit west of Brigden Road. (more…)
On May 7 the newest Nature Reserve for Ontario Nature was officially opened! Lambton Wildlife was instrumental in making this 190 acre purchase possible, primarily due to the hard work of Larry Cornelis, and through a large donation from LWI.
The property is situated near Alvinston and includes a significant portion of the Sydenham River which is one of the most biodiverse habitats in North America. The Sydenham River Nature Reserve is home to several species at risk, some of which are found almost exclusively in the Sydenham River. More information about the property can be found here: https://www.ontarionature.org/protect/habitat/sydenham_river.php
Below are two of the opening speeches giving some insight into the tremendous importance of this Reserve.
Felicia Syer-Nicol, co-president of Lambton Wildlife, spoke on behalf of LWI:
On behalf of Lambton Wildlife, we’d like to express how thrilled we are to have been part of the purchase of the Sydenham River Nature Reserve. We are so thankful to Ontario Nature, the Sydenham Field Naturalists, and many other donors that made this possible. With the huge list of species at risk and unique situation along the Sydenham River, this property was a hidden gem in Lambton County that couldn’t have been uncovered by anyone other than Larry Cornelis, one of our greatest advocates for nature. We’re just going to quickly explain who Lambton Wildlife is for those of you who don’t know, how we became involved with this project, and what we hope for the future.
Lambton Wildlife is a non-profit, volunteer organization that is dedicated to the conservation, preservation, and protection of the natural environment in Lambton County. We organize outings to different natural areas throughout the county, invite experts from throughout southern Ontario to speak at our meetings through the winter, and have a young naturalists group for children and youth. We also have a dynamic website where we have several active writers contributing nature sightings and information for public education. We own two properties in Lambton County, the Karner Blue Sanctuary in Port Franks and Mandaumin Woods just outside of Sarnia.
Just over a year ago, Larry Cornelis told LWI about this unique property for sale on the Sydenham River just outside of Alvinston. We knew that as a club, we didn’t have the finances to purchase the property, nor the man power to manage it on our own. Along with SFN, we contracted John Urquehart to speak with ON Nature on our behalf. We are so thankful to ON Nature for taking on this project to fundraise and successfully acquire this property.
We’d like to give special acknowledgement to Sydenham Field Naturalists, a small but mighty club that fundraised a large amount of money for this project. As for our contribution, a large portion of it came from a donation from the estate of Robert Bell. This gift has gone a long way for conservation.
Going forward, LWI and SFN will be sharing the stewardship of this property with ON Nature. Mike Kent, Roberta Buchanan, and Dick Wilson will represent LWI, Larry Cornelis will represent both clubs, and Taylor Jones from SFN. This group is just in the beginning stages of their work, but we look forward to seeing the process unfold: from baseline studies to a management plan. We hope to see opportunities for our members to be engaged in habitat projects, bioblitzes, and educational tours.
It really is a special thing to protect a forest like this in Lambton County. The list of species at risk for this property is incredible, but even those species that aren’t at risk: the huge sycamores, swaths of Virginia bluebells, and many other woodland plants are hard to come by in this region. With less than 9% forest cover in Lambton County (most of which is logged every 20 years or so), the protection of this property is significant. We are so happy to be stewards of this property and we thank everyone here for their contributions to its protection.
Kevin Thomason, President of the Board of Directors for Ontario Nature gave the following speech:
Thank you to everyone for joining us today to celebrate this very exciting achievement for nature conservation.
We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Attawandaron (Neutral) and Wendat peoples.
Today, this area is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island including Walpole Island First Nation,
Chippewa of the Thames, Aamijiwnaang First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames, Munsee-Delaware Nation, Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.
We are grateful to have the opportunity to convene on this territory.
My name is Kevin Thomason and I am the President of the Board of Directors for Ontario Nature.
Many of you here today are Ontario Nature members and we are so very grateful for your ongoing support.
Since 1931, with the support of our members, we have been protecting wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement.
Ontario Nature is built on a strong foundation of commitment and love for natural places and wildlife that is shared by a province-wide network of groups and individuals. Together with more than 150 local grassroots community conservation groups, we are Ontario’s Nature Network, a strong voice for nature across the province.
We are joined today by two of our member groups who have been instrumental in creating this spectacular reserve – Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists. Indeed, this project would not have materialized had it not been for the tireless efforts of the volunteers in these organizations.
Thank you for identifying this opportunity, for engaging with the community, for your fundraising efforts and for your own contributions to the project.
Thank you especially for committing to act as the Sydenham River Nature Reserve’s stewards, which means caring for this special place and the species that inhabit it for the long-term.
We are joined by several of our other Nature Network groups who also gave generously towards this project. Welcome to the members of Essex County Field Naturalists, Nature London, Nature Guelph, The Ingersoll Nature Club, and Waterloo Region Nature.
I’d like to thank our local ‘experts’ who are sharing their knowledge about the reserve and wildlife with us today: Erin Carroll, Biologist with the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority, Todd Morris, Researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and last but not least, Larry Cornelis, with the Sydenham Field Naturalists and Lambton Wildlife. Larry deserves a special thank-you for the role he played in making this Reserve a reality.
The Sydenham River Nature Reserve is widely recognized as a conservation priority due to the number of at-risk species recorded there and its contribution to natural forest cover in a landscape with only eight percent remaining.
Located in the Carolinian Life Zone, the Reserve represents some of the province’s best remaining examples of vulnerable habitat for numerous species at risk, several of which are found almost exclusively in the Sydenham River. The nature reserve forms part of a vital habitat core along one of southwestern Ontario’s few remaining green corridors.
We have already begun work in collaboration with conservation science experts to survey for species at risk and also map invasive species that may present a threat. An aquatic survey last fall confirmed the presence of 15 species of freshwater mussel!
In the upcoming field season, Ontario Nature staff, field naturalists and experts from the Field Botanists of Ontario, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority will be on site to conduct further inventories and mapping.
This information will be used to write the management plan which will ensure that habitat requirements for species at risk are addressed and that the impacts of invasive species are mitigated.
This field work will also include gathering the information needed to develop the ecological restoration plan for the agricultural fields on the property, and to design appropriate trails and signage for sustainable visitor use.
Some priorities include:
Restoring agriculture lands within the reserve to natural cover to create more core habitat for area sensitive birds such as Cerulean Warbler and Easter Wood Pewee, both species at risk;
Creating turtle nesting habitat to ensure healthy populations of at-risk species in and adjacent to the reserve;
Planting riparian zones and stabilizing the river banks to ensure healthy and diverse mussel and fish communities;
Building a new canoe access trail so that people can visit and enjoy the reserve without disturbing or damaging the sensitive flora and fauna.
The success of this project was thanks to a community of nature lovers. I would like to thank Donna and Kathleen Clements, the former property owners who made sure that property was sold to Ontario Nature and turned into a nature reserve.
I would like to thank Paul and Sarah our local neighbours here who have opened up their driveway and property for us to cross today. In the future most access will be on the Eastern side of the reserve and we ask that you respect their privacy and property, however please enjoy things here today and we thank them for their hospitality!
I would also like to give a special thank you to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, as administrators of the Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program.
Thank you to Environment and Climate Change Canada for investing in conservation.
Thank you to Lambton Wildlife, the Sydenham River Field Naturalists, Essex County Field Naturalists and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada for their generous gifts.
Several foundations donated significant gifts to the project including:the Echo Foundation, the Gosling Foundation and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
I would also like to thank our excellent corporate partners Mountain Equipment Co-Op and Aecon Utilities.
Finally, I would like to thank over 500 Ontario Nature members who responded to our urgent call to protect this spectacular natural area.
I’m so very pleased to officially welcome you to the new Sydenham River Nature Reserve!
This year, to commemorate of our 50th Anniversary, Lambton Wildlife sponsored five Lambton County Science Fair Awards. The Lambton Wildlife Inc. Natural Environment Award was presented to students in the Lambton County Science Fair whose projects best demonstrated a keen interest in Nature and the Environment. The projects could include nature, biology, conservation, ecology, or other related disciplines and have an application to the conservation, preservation, and protection of the natural environment.
Lambton County Science Fair was held April 7 and 8 and over 125 aspiring scientists from Grades 3 to 12 took part. We were lucky enough to be the judges for the Lambton Wildlife Awards and it was so wonderful to hear each of the students express their concern for the environment and the importance of conservation and protection of the natural world.
It was a difficult decision, but in the end the following were selected as the award winning projects in three age categories; Grades 3 to 5, Grades 6 to 8, and, Grade 9 and 10. Congratulations to all the winners and good luck in future competitions.
Marin Feniak (Grade 5) From Ducks to Trucks (using duckweed as a source for biofuel)
Safia Deol (Grade 5) Innovative Solar Energy Absorption: An Improved and Efficient System
Lanna Iacobelli and Annabelle Rayson (Grade 6) Oil Be Damned: Ferrofluids to the Rescue (oil spill clean-up methods)
Madhumitha Parthiban (Grade 9) Veggie Fuel (using vegetable oils to produce biodiesel)
Mavi Deol (Grade 10) A Novel Filtration System to Reduce Carbon Dioxide from Car Emissions