Twenty three LWI members ventured out on a cool fall day to walk the nature trail on the Fairbank Oil property just outside of Oil Springs. Larry Cornelis led the hike and the group was fortunate to also have the property owners Charlie Fairbank and Pat McGee accompany us to provide some wonderful stories about the history of the property and the oil industry, as well as to explain the various oil production devices and artifacts found along the trail. Charlie’s ancestors were prominent in the oil business dating back to the first oil wells.
The Fairbank property sits above the large oil field that spawned the oil exploration and extraction industry in the mid 1850’s, and the field continues to produce oil to this day from numerous wells located all over the property. Many small oil pumps are visible along the trail, dutifully moving up and down to pull the crude oil up from a depth of close to 400 feet. The unique aspect of the Fairbank approach to oil extraction is that many of these oil wells are using technology from the 1800’s. The site is being considered as a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Charlie had recently returned from Ottawa where he made a presentation in support of the application.
The trail entrance, with parking, is located on Gypsy Flats side road just south of Oil Springs Line. The well-maintained trail meanders through prairie and riparian areas along Black Creek. There are numerous signs indicating sections of the trail that are named for historical figures from the local oil industry. A sturdy and attractive bridge crosses Black Creek and we were told that birds nest under it each year. Larry Cornelis has conducted wildlife surveys on the property over several years, with many species being observed. Although not many birds, insects or animals were seen on this day, it’s certain that in spring and summer there would be lots to see. Tallgrass prairie species have been planted in many of the areas of this trail, with plans to continue to naturalize the property.
It’s a breath of fresh air when generous people allow the public to access their property and enjoy the natural beauty that resides there. We appreciate the creation of this nature trail and encourage all LWI members to visit.
Further information about the history of the local oil industry can be found by visiting the Oil Museum of Canada, located a very short distance from this nature trail. https://www.lambtonmuseums.ca/oil/
November Indoor Meeting: Non-raptor bird species need our help too and Fascinating Freshwater Mussels.
At the last indoor meeting of 2017, we learned that sick or injured songbirds and waterfowl will soon benefit from a local non-raptor species rehabilitation clinic being constructed by Erica DiMuzio. To offer our support, Mike Kent, on behalf of LWI, presented Erica with a donation of $1,000.00. I was really inspired by Erica’s passion for helping wildlife in such a direct way. Best of luck with your new centre, Erica!
LWI wrapped up its 2017 line-up of indoor presentations with guest speaker, Erin Carroll, Manager of Biology at the St. Clair Regional Conservation Authority (SRCA). Having attended the Sydenham Nature Reserve Celebration in September, where Erin gave a hands-on, river-side presentation about Freshwater Mussels, I knew a more in-depth indoor presentation on the same topic would be interesting.
Who knew that experts come from all over the world to Lambton County to study mussels? With 34 species of freshwater mussel, no other river in Canada beats our very own Sydenham in mussel diversity. It’s pretty amazing that we at LWI helped play a role to conserve part of it!
To say these creatures have a unique life-history would be an understatement. Erin showed a video where adult freshwater mussels ‘lure’ their host fish with parts of their soft, fleshy body that look convincingly like prey. For those of you who missed the indoor meeting, I highly recommend searching ‘Freshwater Mussel Lures’ on YouTube so you can see this for yourself.
Erin also discussed the importance of mussels in the Sydenham River, each of them filtering an amazing ~1 litre of water per hour. She and colleagues at the SRCA conduct surveys of the Sydenham, where mussels and other indicator species also help them to paint a picture of our river’s health.
While, our native mussel populations do face threats such as increases in water salinity (much of which is from road salt), invasive species such as the zebra mussel, and water pollution; the news isn’t all bad in the Sydenham. Erin shared that in recent surveys by the SRCA, a new species record for this area was made, and one species not seen her in 50 years was observed.
After Erin’s talk, I was definitely excited to get out and spot some freshwater mussels. If you were too, there’s a free APP that was developed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Toronto Zoo called ‘Clam Counter’ that helps you identify your neat finds in the field, right from your phone. You can also report your sightings to help the organizations working to protect Canada’s freshwater mussels.
Here in Lambton County we are off to a great winter birding season! On November 22nd we were treated to a Harlequin Duck sighting! The picture doesn’t do it justice. It was out in the lake in the company of 2 goldeneye ducks and in front of about 600-800 redhead ducks. We know it was around the following day too, from e-bird reports.
The Harlequin Duck is uncommon in Lambton County, spending most of its time on the west and east coasts. Just about every year, one or two will be seen in Lambton County.
We enjoy canoeing on the Sydenham River in the spring and summer, but probably our favourite season for paddling this river is autumn. This year the month of October had warmer than normal weather and we took advantage of a forecasted picture perfect day with no wind and sunny skies for our last paddle of the season. Heading upstream (north) from near Wilkesport, the north branch of the Sydenham River begins where Black Creek and Bear Creek merge. Either of these tributaries is interesting so we paddled both. Trees on the riverbank were showing their fall colours and leaves floated on the river going neither north nor south as there is very little current this time of year. Temperatures were comfortable and the bright sun sparkled on the water’s surface.
Coming around the first bend in Bear Creek, we spotted a group of Wood Ducks in the water under an overhanging tree. They didn’t notice us and we were able to glide closer and see what we believe were first fall males along with adult males and females. It was a great juxtaposition between the young and mature males: the juveniles are colorful, but their feathers look scruffier. The adult male however is a gentleman of distinction; beautiful colors and smooth overall. Before we got any closer than 60 meters the group took off and headed upstream. We saw them again from a distance, but then they were wary of us and we never got close again.
Great Blue Herons were abundant on both creeks; we observed at least five individuals, all immatures. These birds typically enjoy having long sections of the river to themselves and in some cases they clearly didn’t appreciate the proximity of other Herons, vocally scolding the heron who encroached into their range. We were lucky enough to watch a Great Blue Heron catch a fish; close enough (40 meters) for decent photos but far enough not to disturb the bird. The herons stand motionless, and then lunge into the water with startling speed to snatch an unsuspecting fish.
The Herons also put on quite a show in flight, with their plumage reflecting the bright blue sky and fall colored leaves in the background. It’s amazing to see the way individual flight feathers are used when the bird is landing.
Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb this “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers as they preen. Applying the powder to their underparts protects their feathers against the slime and oils of swamps.
Great Blue Herons are excellent fishers. They exhibit great patience, standing very still in shallow water or on the shore, waiting for a fish or frog to stray too near. Sometimes the Herons stand on one leg, which doesn’t appear to affect their ability to remain motionless.
For the most part, despite the near silence of a canoe, it’s hard to approach ducks much closer than 75 meters and the Mallards we saw were no exception. At the first glimpse of the boat they would burst into the air in a flurry of water drops and wingbeats.
Along the riverbanks we observed numerous small birds, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Robins, a few different species of Sparrows, American Goldfinch, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays.
After five hours of paddling up and downstream, we were back to where we put in, a Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead in a cloudless sky making his trademark shriek. Another awesome fall canoe trip was over. We highly recommend canoeing the Sydenham; it’s truly a hidden gem of Lambton County. For more information on this river and how to locate the boat launch site, please refer to our post from last year: http://lambtonwildlife.com/blog/natural-areas/paddle-the-sydenham-river/
Christmas Bird Count
Participate in the Pinery / Kettle Point CBC and help count all the birds in the count area and stay for the chili dinner and compilation at the park visitor centre.
Contact Tanya Berkers
So what is a Christmas Bird Count and how do you get involved?
First, the CBC or Christmas Bird Count (not the Canadian Broadcasting Company) is an annual event held…well around Christmas.
Lets just go to the Bird Studies Canada web site where they can tell us all about it.
LWI members have been involved in counts for years. There is a count in and around the Pinery, the Kettle Point Count that LWI birders often attend. There is a also a US count, the Port Huron Count, which covers part of Sarnia through to Mooretown along the river. This count was originally set up between the Bluewater Audubon (Port Huron) and Lambton Wildlife Incorporated. Counts are done all over the province; the Wallaceburg Count is just around the corner. As a matter of fact there are 8 counts within 100km of Sarnia!
So what’s it like? Fun! Educational! …Cold!
Usually you sign up by email with the coordinator. If you know any other birders, ask them to come with you and send in your names. If you are hoping to go with more experienced people, just ask the coordinator if they can add you into an established group. The number of people going varies greatly.
Usually you meet at a common spot – like the Visitor Center at the Pinery. The areas are divided up and off you go to count all the birds you see and hear in your assigned area. Each Count area does it differently. Sometimes you may meet for lunch, other times mid afternoon for a supper. This is when all the sightings are discussed and the tally sheets are handed in for the coordinator to do their magic and turn it into the official report. This yearly report of birds in a fixed area is a great way to take part in citizen science. It’s a fantastic way to meet other birders, and I always learn something new!
Come on and join us this year- you’ll be glad you did!
Dec 17, 2017 Port Huron ( Port Huron/Sarnia) contact Janet Fox firstname.lastname@example.org
Dec 27, 2017 Wallaceburg CBC contact Steve Charbonneau email@example.com
First comes the text…purple sandpiper Kettle Point…then the draw in of breath… “can I do this?” I have a full day of housecleaning, laundry, grocery shopping….. But it’s a PURPLE SANDPIPER! I’ve only ever seen two before, in 10 years of birding…and they were both in Niagara Falls! And I’m off work today!!! What are the chances it will be here on my next day off? Purple Sandpiper… not going to chance it! I look at my husband “off you go” he says “find your bird”. Text to Deryl in the car…’15 minutes’.
And yes it was worth it!
Thanks to LWI members Deryl Nethercott who sent the text and George MacDermid who let me stand in his back/front yard to see it!
November 27 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Social gathering to start at 7:00 pm. Join other members for refreshments. Presentations will begin at 7:30 pm.
How long can a mussel live? How many species of mussels have been found in the Sydenham River? How many are species at risk? Erin Carroll, manager of biology with the St. Clair Conservation Authority, will explain the significance of mussels. They aren’t just clams.