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.