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/
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/
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.
The Pinery Provincial Park is a fantastic place to spend the day with friends and family. The park has so much to offer year round that is it easy to find different things to do each time to visit. Let’s take a tour of the park in various seasons.
The Old Ausable Channel
This is just a taste of the landscapes that the Pinery has to offer. Check out later posts that will show you some of the wildlife, mushrooms, wildflowers and other plant life you can expect to discover at the Pinery.
Go and explore the park yourself! What are your favourite things to see and do there?
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!
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…)
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!
Spring is such an incredible time of year. As you walk through Mandaumin Woods in the springtime you will be treated to so many wonderful sights and sounds.
Stop and listen to the number of different bird songs that are all around you – spring is a time when birds are migrating through Mandaumin woods and it is not unusual to see 20 or more species in a single outing! One of my favorite groups of birds are the Warblers. These colorful little birds find refuge in Mandaumin Woods as they find their way to breeding grounds further north. I have yet to find a nesting pair of any species of Warbler in Mandaumin but there certainly could be Yellow Warblers nesting there.
No other birds can match the song of the thrush. I have seen 3 different species of thrush at Mandaumin Woods but it is during the spring breeding season that their beautiful song echoes through the woods.
Other bird species abound in Mandaumin Woods – I was once chased, quite incessantly, by a pair of Indigo Buntings. They had built their nest quite close to the trail and they needed me to move along much quicker than my usual ambling pace!
Probably the most striking bird that can be spotted in Mandaumin Woods is the Scarlet Tanager. What a stunning bird!
Then there is the spectacular display of color provided by the spring wildflowers. Is there anything more beautiful than a forest floor covered in trilliums in full bloom? The constantly changing forest floor will keep you coming back week after week to enjoy the many wildflowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer.
On Sunday, 25 people braved the damp and cool weather to join Nick Alexander for the first of his two spring walks in Mandaumin Woods. Nick shared a wealth of information about the trees and plants found along the trail that winds through the 25-acre LWI property.
Nick provided many details on how to recognize the plants and tree species that he showed the group. Some of the plants and trees that he pointed out included:
Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, Goldenrod, Toothwort, Bellwort, Witch Hazel, Redbud, Leatherwood, Prickly Gooseberry, Black Current, Hepatica, various sedges, Shagbark Hickory, Blue beech, Ironwood, Sugar Maple, Basswood, Trout Lily, May Apple, Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Leeks, Wood Anemone, Wild Ginger, and Spice Bush.
The trilliums were in full bloom throughout much of the woods, mostly the white variety with a few red ones intermingled.
Interestingly, a yellowish colored trillium was spotted; upon later investigation it appears that this was a sub-species of red trillium!
Nick found many saplings growing and identified them and explained what characteristics will identify that particular tree. He pointed out that many of the plants found in Mandaumin are indicative of a high quality woodlot and Nick also noted the relative absence of weeds and invasive species. There’s little doubt that all the participants came away with improved knowledge of the native flora of Mandaumin Woods.
Well done Nick, we appreciated the learning experience.
Nick has scheduled another spring walk in Mandaumin Woods for May 14, at 1:00 PM. He expects more wildflowers to be in bloom for that date. Wear waterproof footwear as some of the sections of the trail are quite boggy.