Sydenham River Nature Reserve Tree Planting
On October 5, twenty enthusiastic naturalist from Lambton Wildlife Inc. (LWI) and Sydenham Field Naturalists (SFN) planted more than a thousand tree seeds, as another step toward restoring Sydenham River Nature Reserve (SRNR) to its natural state. Oak, Hickory, Beech, Ironwood, along with other tree species were planted; all from seeds that were gathered from SRNR. The purchase of this property, by Ontario Nature, was made possible by the generous donations from both LWI and SFN. Both LWI and SFN continue to support SRNR by being stewards of the property, and with on-going donations towards its restoration.
Monday, January 28 is the LWI Annual Member’s Photofest
Four LWI members will be showing off some of their favorite nature photos at our Member’s Photofest Night. Past events have been a real treat as we all get a chance to view some of the amazing images our members capture during their forays into natural areas. It’s a natural way to kick off our first indoor meeting of the New Year, so please plan to attend. Social time begins at 7:00 PM.
What a beautiful day for a paddle! The weather looked threatening but by 9:30 it had cleared up and the sun even came out. We began our paddle at the Wilkesport Boat launch and a few minutes after leaving we were lucky enough to see a muskrat swimming along the shore.
Where the Sydenham splits into Bear and Black Creek we stopped and talked about the numerous species that can be seen along, and in, the river – several of which we were lucky enough to see on our paddle. There are 34 species of Mussels that have been found in the Sydenham River (11 of which are on the species at risk list) – more mussel species than any other body of water in Canada! The Sydenham also has 83 species of fish, many of the turtle species that can be found in Ontario (all of which are at risk) and many bird species.
As we talked about the importance of the Sydenham River a Green Heron flew right toward the group – it was a great sight as usually these birds fly away from you, not toward you! A little further down Bear Creek we spotted the Great Horned Owl – which we got to see several more times – what a treat. We also saw several Map and Painted Turtles, muskrats, Great Blue Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, and many other bird species.
Everyone who came out enjoyed the paddle. A big Thank You to Dawn Mumford and the Wallaceburg Canoeing Club for providing canoes for the outing.
(Photo credits: Tricia Mclellan and Paul DeLaDurantaye)
I’ve been lucky enough to join on with the stewardship team for the Sydenham River Nature Reserve. On Sunday morning our group went out on one of our 3 annual visits (spring, summer, fall) and here is a quick blog post to give folks a feel for what this sort of work entails – and to recruit for any other interested volunteers! The purpose of the visit is both to submit our observations on any changing conditions on the property, keep an eye out for increases in invasive species, any fallen trees, and flooding; and also to document wildlife that we encounter. On that front we were very successful, documenting a total of 43 bird species including cerulean warbler, blue-winged warbler, scarlet tanager, and noting various evidence of breeding. We also added to on-going lists of plants and insects found on the property.
The day started out with a walk down a tractor lane-way past a farm field, where we stopped and listened numerous times for birds and watching for evidence that they are not just migrants, but potentially singing on breeding territory. A scarlet tanager pair with female making trips back and forth from a cluster of high branches carrying nesting material was noted, providing strong evidence that they are readying to breed. Cerulean warblers could be heard singing but they were so far up it was impossible to get views despite forays from the main trail.
From there we hiked straight up towards the fork and west into the large field; the sun was hot on our backs as we hiked clockwise around the field listening and watching. In past visits we have travelled along the ravine system around this field however this time we stuck to the field, getting good looks at butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects including shiny green tiger beetles. Also noted, seemingly out of place in the hot field, was a wood frog.
Once we reached the north edge we left the hot sun in favour of the cooler forest and made our way towards the river, looking for evidence of turtles, aquatic mammals, birds, and insects along the river. As we travelled we also carefully lifted up bark and wood to look for snakes or salamanders and rocks along the river to look for insects. One such rock turned up the alien-like dobsonfly larvae shown below; and what might terrify some people delighted our group of nature nerds.
The river yielded good looks and listens to other bird species including yellow throated vireo, mourning warbler, and american redstart. We also noted water conditions and took GPS coordinates of a tree stand that had been used for past hunting before we headed back out to the main path. Once back, we again heard the buzzing of cerulean warbler song and this time were rewarded with great views.
We finished the tour and back to the cars to stop over on the north side of the river for some lunch and further listening and viewing. Throughout the walk and lunch there was a lot of interesting discussion around restoration. Because the SRNR is a very new Ontario Nature reserve, there is restoration required, much of which centers around some small farm fields on the property which need to be converted into wildlife habitat. A restoration plan with numbered objectives was created by the experts at Ontario Nature, fed by lots of input including BioBlitz events in 2017, steward reports, and of course their own site visits. Talking with the stewardship team has given me a better understanding about the pit and mound techniques planned, drilling/broadcasting seed, and the succession ecology which will eventually yield the final desired ecosystem. Vernal pools and mounds will allow the best use of water resources by establishing means for the floodplains to hold and retain moisture for longer periods of time. It will be exciting to watch things develop over the next few years.
Although these properties are stewarded by local nature clubs, they are owned by other organizations; in this case SRNR is of course owned by Ontario Nature. This beneficial relationship allows the resources and structure of larger organizations to support ownership and large initiatives but still have some local on-the-ground oversight completed by passionate local individuals. The steward team is consulted as a source of information but can also help with fundraising and advocacy.
There are a lot of engaging ways to get involved in Sydenham Field Naturalists – joining one of our property stewardship teams is one of these ways! SFN stewards 5 different properties and needs people of all different levels of experience who are committed to visiting the properties, making observations, and providing recommendations. Stewardship groups can offer a unique opportunity to learn and contribute to citizen science, even for those like myself who are still learning many of the plant and animal species.
Written by Taylor Jones, Sydenham Field Naturalist
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 email@example.com 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!