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).
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…)
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…)
A large flock estimated at 500 of Lapland Longspurs was observed on Moore Line in Lambton County on April 26. The birds were foraging in the stubble of agricultural land. The number of birds is more evident when they fly up together. These birds should be well on their way to the far north by now.
One of the things that the LWI blog posts can be used for is to share Lambton County wildlife sightings with other LWI members. The LWI community is always yearning to know as much as possible about nature in Lambton County, and when you see something interesting it might be nice to write a brief post. Of course providing information on the exact location of nests or vulnerable things should be avoided.
Here is an example short post based on a sighting that we experienced back in September:
Yesterday, while on our way to Hawk Cliff, we spotted two fox kits sunning themselves in the grass along the side of highway 80 near Alvinston. We stopped the car and turned around and were able to snap some photos, before one of the pair trotted off, while the other paid little notice to us. Their behavior suggested that they may have been orphaned or separated from their mother.
Looking at their coats they weren’t as luxurious as we would have expected an adult fox to be and they look a bit skinny, but perhaps this is consistent with being adolescents and the season. Maybe some other LWI members will spot this pair too. If you are in the area of highway 79 and highway 80 intersection, keep a look out!
If you want to post a Lambton County wildlife sighting, please send it with any photos attached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org