Every spring for many years now, LWI holds a group camping outing on Pelee Island. 2016 was the first year for myself and Roberta attending. Pelee Island is an easy 1 hour and 30 minute ferry ride from Leamington. The campground is located only a few kilometers from the ferry dock and is well situated for making forays to the various corners of the island.
By late Thursday the LWI group camping site was well populated with tents, dining shelters, pop-up camper vans and one truck camper. Some members come as early as Tuesday, with most departing back to the mainland on the Sunday. A total of 21 campers attended, with ages ranging from elementary school up to ?? Most campers in the group brought bicycles, as the island is relatively small and quite flat. For some outings we did choose to drive, in order to facilitate moving to other locations depending on bird concentrations or lack thereof. We enjoyed group hikes, campfires, late night owling (successfully calling in screech owls!) and great camaraderie. The atmosphere at the campsite was very relaxed and driving on the island is slow and easy; everyone waves at other vehicles.
The island is a mix of agricultural land, vineyards, and protected conservation lands, each with its own unique habitat. I thought the best way to describe the nature aspects of the trip was to show some photos. 2016 was a record turnout for this popular LWI outing and we hope 2017 will be even better. I have split my photos into two posts; the first will be general nature photos, and the second post will focus on bird photos. Enjoy!
May, the best birding month of the year is just around the corner and that means it’s time to plan for the annual LWI Pelee Island camping trip! Every spring, a group of LWI members camp out on the island, enjoy the outdoors, take in the island sights, and most importantly enjoy extraordinary birding opportunities. Some of the activities from past years include: Calling in screech owls, evening campfires, participating in the Island birding competition: The Annual Botham Cup Bird Race, attending the Pelee Island Annual Springsong birding celebration evening banquet hosted by author Margaret Atwood.
If camping is not your thing and you still want to participate in the outing, there are numerous Bed and Breakfast places on the island, and you can still connect with the LWI campers for outings and other activities.
To help you plan here are some things you should be aware of: LWI reserves a group camp site, a large open, grassy site with a few picnic tables and no shade. The site doesn’t have hydro or water. Everyone in the group shares the picnic tables and the fire pit, and we pitch our tents in various places around the site and leave our vehicles close to the campground road. It’s a 2-3 minute walk to the washrooms but there are nice hot showers there, and a small campground store too. This LWI event is family friendly and the campground does not permit alcoholic beverages on the premises. The cost is $4/person/night payable to the campground office when you arrive.
The island is only 12.5 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide, so getting around by bike is possible. The island is very flat, however not all the roads are paved. It takes about 4 hours to bike the perimeter of the island. One of the benefits of being with the LWI group is that many of the campers have good knowledge of the island from previous years and they know the best birding spots. You can join in on the group birding hikes or take off on your own to explore.
The ferry to the island does book up quickly so reserve your trip early, the cost is $16.50/vehicle plus $7.50/person (each way).
The average daily temperatures in May are around 18 degrees, with nighttime lows running around 10 degrees. The island temperatures tend to be a bit cooler than the mainland so pack accordingly.
Hope you can join LWI for all or part of this great weekend of birding!
Felicia Syer lead the walk on the Howard Watson Nature Trail on a beautiful Saturday. We had large enough turn out that at times we blocked the trail. Tony, the chair of the Bluewater Trails committee was there, and he did a good job keeping our group from being run over by passing bikers.
Felicia highlighted many of the tall grass prairie plants that grow along the trail. This habitat is very rare in Canada and not that common in Southwestern Ontario. Here she is showing us a stiff-leaved goldenrod.
Another significant plant is the wild lupine, a host plant of the now extirpated Karner Blue butterfly. We saw a plant that had just finished blooming.
The people who joined our walk had a variety of interests, some wanted to identify the rare plants and others wanted to learn about what was potentially edible. Many had binoculars just in case an interesting bird happened to fly by. The Howard Watson Trail provides many benefits to the residents of Sarnia and the surrounding area. It combines recreational opportunity, a connection to nature and a habitat for native plants and animals. We should continue to protect and appreciate this asset.
Lambton Wildlife conducted an intense biological survey at Mandaumin Woods on June 20th, 2015. Local experts, with the help of Lambton Wildlife members, set out to record all living species at the site.
Here were the resulting numbers with links to a list of each:
Thirty-eight people gathered on a cold Sunday morning in February to enjoy the many waterfowl that visit the St. Clair River during the winter months. Our first stop was at the Bluewater Bridge where we were treated to a good view of the peregrine falcon that flew past and landed on the bridge. Our scopes came in handy and some of the participants had great success with “digiscoping” (using your camera/cellphone to take a photo through the scope). We saw a pair of cackling geese which was the highlight of this first stop!
I think the funniest event at this stop was when two walkers stopped to ask our large group, with scopes and binoculars pointed out toward the lake, “What is coming?” My response was met with the most incredulous look I have ever witnessed … as my response was “we are looking at ducks”. At this point he paused and said “What?” I said again “we are looking at ducks … and geese.” He replied with a chuckle and said “Well, there are lots here.” And continued his walk. I guess it takes some getting used to the idea that a group of people are willing to brave the cold wind to stand and look at ducks and geese!
Further down the river we stopped at Guthrie park to observe the dabbling and diving ducks around the warm water outflows, the ice-taxiing gulls, and eagles staging their hunt at the head of Stag Island. Then, without warning, thousands of birds took to the air from their water rafts to put on an aerial orchestra. Was it an eagle or a boat that caused the commotion? We weren’t sure, but the fleeting moment was spectacular!
We continued to enjoy the day with several stops along the river, ending at a great little restaurant in Sombra. Although we saw bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, swans, and lots of waterfowl I think from the reactions of the participants I would have to say the highlight of the day was the lesser black-backed gulls!
A big thanks to Paul Carter for leading the group and making sure everyone had the opportunity to see the different birds and explaining what to look for when identifying different species.
Here is a partial list of bird species we enjoyed throughout the morning:
- Peregrine Falcons
- Cackling Geese
- Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks
- Herring Gulls
- Northern Cardinals
- Canada Geese
- Hooded Mergansers
- Bald Eagle
- Common Goldeneye
- Common Merganser
- Lesser Black-backed Gulls
- Greater Black-backed gulls
- Red-tailed hawks
- Mute Swans
- American Black Ducks
LWI was fortunate enough to have been invited to the Sarnia Solar Farm for a winter bird count! Expertly led by Larry Cornelis, the day was a great success. A total of 22 species were sighted over a four hour period with spectacular views of short-eared owls. At one point eight short-eared owls flew up and were flying over our heads … it was an unbelievable sight to witness a murder of about 40 crows mob the owls as they dipped and dived around one another. At one point a red-tailed hawk joined in the flock but didn’t seem to be taking sides!
Here is the full report from Larry Cornelis:
Winter Bird Survey, January 2, 2017
- Sunny, light breeze, 0c to +4c
- 9:00 am to 1:15 pm
- Walked 6 km, drove 16 km (total party mileage)
- 20 participants, organized by Larry Cornelis RTL
This is the 3rd winter bird survey at Sarnia Solar conducted by RTL staff and the second survey that local birders/members of Lambton Wildlife were invited to participate in. Twenty participants were lead by Larry Cornelis. The weather was excellent and a very thorough survey was conducted.
The tall grass prairie sites and abandoned fields at Sarnia Solar provide excellent habitat for grassland bird species and raptors. This was reflected in the number of raptors observed on this survey. Of note were the 12 shot-eared owls. Short-eared owls are in decline and are classed as a ‘species at risk’ ranked ‘special concern’. The grassland-like habitats provide the highest ecological values for the 1100 acre site. All wildlife species that inhabit grasslands are in decline with many classed as species at risk.
Other highlights were the 30 robins, 1 bald eagle,1 great blue heron and 1 northern flicker. This was an increase of 5 species over last winters survey. Other observations included 1 jack rabbit, 2 white-tailed deer and numerous meadow voles.
Larry Cornelis RTL
Canada Goose 21 Great Blue Heron 1
Short-eared Owl 12 American Kestrel 1
Red-tailed Hawk 10 Rough-legged Hawk 3
Northern Harrier 4 Bald Eagle 1
Pigeon 75 Downy Woodpecker 4
Northern Flicker 1 Blue Jay 1
Horned Lark 3 American Crow 80
Black-capped Chickadee 8 White Breasted Nuthatch 3
American Robin 30 European Starling 250
Snow Bunting 3 American Tree Sparrow 50
Dark-eyed Junco 1 American Goldfinch 9
22 species 571 individuals
Join Lambton Wildlife for one of their oldest events. The day starts by meeting at Centennial Park parking lot at 9am (most northerly lot). The group will then head south along the St. Clair River in search of open water and the ducks, swans, eagles and falcons that may be found there.
Paul Carter, the day’s leader, will identify and provide you with many opportunities to observe an abundance of mallard ducks, various diving ducks, gulls, and hopefully some eagles and falcons.
Be sure to pack your scope, binoculars and/or camera!
The winter bird survey at the Sarnia Solar site will be held Monday, January 2, 2017. Meet 9:00 AM at the Sarnia Solar Site located on Churchill Line. Larry Cornelis will provide instructions and will coordinate the event. All are invited to participate; dress according to weather conditions.
Bring your binoculars, waterproof boots and something warm to drink!
Contact: Larry Cornelis (519 339-8785; email@example.com)
Serious planning and commitment for the Lambton Wildlife spring camping trip to Pelee Island begins on April 1! April 1 is not the first day to sign-up, nor is it the first camping day. It is the first day that a camper can make a car reservation to the Pelee Island car ferry Jiiman. Space on the ferry is at a premium and it is very important to reserve a spot. Vehicle space fills quickly. The Jiiman is a 200 foot vessel capable of carrying 400 passengers and 40 vehicles. Once the ferry reservation is made, you have about five weeks to wait before the big day.
The official camping dates run from Thursday to Sunday. Some campers arrive on Tuesday and stay until Saturday. Others come and go as their schedules permit. The most popular schedule seems to be to leave Leamington on the Thursday at 10:00 AM and arriving on Pelee Island around 11:30 AM. People put in time in different ways on the ferry. Some choose breakfast, in the cafeteria, at the stern of the vessel. Some will sit in the forward section chatting or taking a nap. The brave will be on the open stern deck taking in the view. This year going to the island and riding on the sunny stern was a chilling experience, as a north wind was blowing. Once the ferry’s speed matched and exceeded the wind speed, riding the stern deck was very pleasant. Net effect of North wind and sailing South was no wind and no wind chill!
Disembarking the ferry is a quick and efficient process. Moving off the dock, campers proceed to the campground. The campground is on the east side of the island and is about 8 km from the ferry. LWI camps in one of two group camping areas. Our group camp site is very basic! It is an open area with a fire pit and a couple of picnic tables. It is surrounded by forested areas on three sides. Washrooms are about 150 m away and have flush toilets and showers. Not much more is needed by our crew. Campers choose their own spot within the area and set up camp. Some camp in tents and a few have camper vans. The most campers that we had at any one time this year numbered twenty-one. Many were returning LWI campers and at least a few were first time campers with the group. Camper ages ranged from teenagers to an unreported upper end. Saturday night high winds rocked the tents for a number of hours. Only one casualty. A smaller tent was blown over. No one was inside at the time.
The weather wasn’t great, but on the other hand, it was never wet. Nights were cool, but no frost or snow as had happened in previous years. The wind was only a minor issue. In a previous trip to the Island, camping was extended an extra day due to high winds. That year, the winds exceeded the safety standard that allowed the ferry to sail. Everyone was really disappointed that they could not leave Pelee Island on time.
The group is usually on the road birding around 6:30 AM. A lot of birders would make their first stop at Fish Point, at the southern end of the island. The structure of this outing is really flexible. You go where you want, when you want, with whom you want, for as long you want and how you want. Returning from Fish Point, the crew would usually travel along a swampy area a short distance from the Fish Point entrance and paralleling the west shore of the island. The Prothonotary Warblers nest in this area. A few other warblers were seen, but sightings of the Prothonotary Warbler were unsuccessful this year. After exploring the swamp, it was probably around 9:00 or 9:30 AM. Time for a big decision! Do we bird WinVilla or do we stop at the bakery for coffee and pastries followed by WinVilla? Either way, we will eventually stop at the bakery. Birding continues until lunch time when most return back to camp. Lots of birding sites left to visit before the day is over. Sites include The Lighthouse, Paul’s Secret Spot, Bob’s Hole, Stone Road Alvar and every road and ditch on the island.
On occasion, the sites that the birders visit have more to offer than just birds! Bob’s Hole and the surrounding trees provide a great birding spot. Bob’s Hole is an old quarry that is filled with clear blue water. The day we visited, it was populated with hundreds (Yes, Hundreds!) of American Toads. Mating season had arrived and everyone was visiting Bob’s Hole. Lots of singing and swimming about.
Each year, during our trip to the island, there is a birding competition called the Botham Cup. The Botham cup contest runs for 24 straight hours. It starts at noon on Friday and ends twenty-four hours later, at noon on Saturday. The contest is for teams of birders that try to identify as many birds as possible in the twenty-four hour period. Identity of the birds can be visually made or by bird call. There are two categories in the contest. The first category is the Green category where birders compete without the use of a powered vehicle. They can move around the island, as much as they wish, as long it is by bicycle or by foot. The other category is the non-Green category where birders can drive their car around the island from one area to the other. Winners of the contest are announced at a fund raising banquet held on Saturday night. Margaret Atwood, a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist and environmental activist, is the hostess of the banquet. Margaret arranges to have a Canadian author as a guest reader. This year, Miriam Toews was the guest. Proceeds of the banquet support the Pelee Island Heritage Centre.
Getting back to the Botham Cup – two teams from LWI were entered this year. Paul Carter and Lori Clancy entered in the Green contest. Melissa Levi and Sean Jenniskens entered the non-Green category. Birding was tough this year due to cool temperatures, north winds and even perhaps to the earliness of the season. Finding birds was difficult. Both teams identified seventy-seven birds in the twenty-four hour contest period. Neither score was good enough to win the division. The winning team recorded one hundred birds, well below the average of about one hundred and twenty-five. The prize for winning the contest was getting the winner’s name on the Botham cup. The Larry Cornelis and Paul Carter team have been winners of the Green contest in two previous years. Their names are on the Botham Cup.
Sunday marks the end of the trip. Those that need to get back to their homes early Sunday afternoon rise early to break camp. The earliest ferry leaves at 8:00 AM and arrives in Leamington around 9:30 AM. Most birders catch the noon ferry. Those really not wanting to leave will wait until the 4:00 PM ferry.
The fifth camping trip to Pelee Island was once again a huge success. The event is already being considered for 2017. See the LWI outdoor program early in 2017 for details – looks like it may be May 4th to May 7th.
Join Lambton Wildlife for an evening walk at the Lorne Henderson Conservation Area outside of Petrolia. Discover how easy it is to see and walk under the natural light of a full moon and use your other senses to experience the nocturnal world around you.
So enticed by that invitation, and the news that this moon was the brightest full moon to be seen for the next 18 years , 35 adventurous people joined Donica Abbinett on her moonlight walk on November 14th at Lorne C Henderson Conservation Area. (more…)