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).
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!