Pelee Island: A Trip to Inspire

By |2019-06-10T17:25:57-04:00June 10th, 2019|The Egret Article|

Pelee Island: A Trip to Inspire

Written by Andy Paul for The Egret – Issue 35 – Number 2

It is my humble opinion that one event is second to none when it comes to Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club field trips: the annual overnight trip to Pelee Island, organized and led by long-standing member and past club president Dave Kraus. Whatever your interest, the trip guarantees participants an opportunity to slow down, relax, explore and learn. Add some delicious food, comfy accommodations and friendly company, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time. And that’s just what was had at this year’s 24th annual Pelee Island field trip, which took place the weekend of May 4-5. (Yup, that’s right: 24th annual!)

Upon arriving at our destination aboard the 59-year-old Pelee Islander (the brand new Pelee Islander II was docked for repair work), we checked in at the landmark Anchor and Wheel Inn and enjoyed a fine lunch. Bellies full and binoculars in hand, our eager group was ready to board the bus and head off around the island. We didn’t have to go far to encounter our first amazing birds of the day. Just steps from the doors of the inn, among the freshly budding trees, we were greeted by a variety of beautiful birds, including cedar waxwings, purple martins, Baltimore orioles and numerous warblers. Most notable was a hooded warbler — a threatened species with a bright yellow plumage and black around its neck resembling a hood. Excited by our initial birding luck, and unsure of the surprises that lay ahead, we boarded our bus and began to explore the island further.

Hooded warbler
A hooded warbler spotted by ECFNC members during the first day of the 2019 Pelee Island field trip. Photo by Cecilia Heuvel

Our next stop was the Kraus family habitat restoration property. There, we embarked on a casual walk in the meadow and created wetlands of this 37-acre unique parcel of land. What a treat it was to see, first-hand, the benefits of Dave’s stewardship efforts over many years to re-naturalize this old farm field. Along the walk we stopped to view one of the many snake hibernacula and passed by numerous bird nesting boxes that have been erected. One of the highlights of the walk was a surprise encounter with a woodcock nesting in the tall grass at the edge of the laneway. Equally surprised by us, it flew up from its nest revealing three eggs, then quickly returned to its nesting duty once we had moved along. Another highlight at the property occurred just as we were boarding the bus. Across the dirt road, in the grass at the edge of a large neighbouring farm field, was a male bobolink showing off its bold colours before flying off over some trees.

American woodcock
Spotted in the grass at the Kraus family property on Pelee Island, an American woodcock sits on its nest. Photo by Cecilia Heuvel

Lighthouse Point Nature Reserve is where we headed next. Much of the trail along Lake Henry Marsh was under water, but that did not deter the group as we had come prepared with rubber boots. For our efforts, we were treated to the sounds of green frogs and the smells of the newly emerging spring vegetation. Where the trail merges with the shoreline, we walked along the narrow beach to the old lighthouse at the northern-most tip of the island. The calm sound of the waves breaking on the beach and the invigorating fresh lake air were a delight to the senses and were cause to take a little pause. But onward we soon went, back on the bus and back to the inn for dinner, before heading out to our last destination of the day.

The last stop was at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Red Cedar Savannah ESA. A short walk into the property along its wooded, meandering trail brought us to the section of open savannah just as the sun was beginning to set. Crossing the savannah to the far wooded edge of the property, we paused to admire our quiet surroundings and the brilliant sunset before us.  Within a few minutes, we were treated to the calls of a great horned owl or two, making this a truly peaceful, magical moment. But one last surprise came as night fell and we approached our waiting bus. Directly above us, just steps from the bus doors, we heard the glorious call of an eastern whippoorwill and were able to watch the bird as it fluttered around on the tree branches directly above us. It was a great way to end our first day on the island.

The sun greeted us early on the second day of the trip. After a hearty breakfast from our hosts and a casual flyover by a scarlet tanager, our group of eager naturalists was off again. Our first stop was at the Pelee Island Bird Observatory banding station and Fish Point Nature Reserve.

Pelee Island
Field trip participants, including leader Dave Kraus, second from the left, walk to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory banding station. Photo by Andy Paul

Rubber boots were a necessity to get to the banding station, but sloshing through the mud was fun nonetheless. We were greeted by the resident ornithologists, who were busily checking the collection nets. Then we watched as they banded and released a small (and particularly cute) house wren. Careful exploring around some of the logs in the area revealed a couple of small-mouthed/blue-spotted salamanders. These populations of salamanders on Pelee Island are among Canada’s most rare and were a privilege to encounter during our visit.

Salamander
A small-mouthed/blue-spotted salamander sits on a log. Photo by Cecilia Heuvel

The Fish Point Nature Reserve trail never disappoints, especially on a warm spring day. As we walked along the trail under the cool canopy of trees, we passed some of the unique flora and fauna that make this place so special. From hop trees to white trilliums, from prickly pear cacti to a huge bullfrog at the edge of the lagoon, it really was delight to experience. The southern-most part of the island, where the trail gives way to sand spit and dunes, was the perfect place for a rest. Just a short rest, however, as there was more exploring to do.

A quick stop on the side of the road at Mill Point Shore was the perfect place for our next sighting. We jumped off the bus and walked along the large, flat rocks that cover the shoreline for only a couple of minutes before spotting a Lake Erie water snake basking in the sun. Satisfied with our encounter, we continued a little farther down the road to the Stone Road Alvar Reserve — home to perhaps the best quality alvar habitat in southwestern Ontario. In lieu of seeing the likes of blue racers or giant swallowtails, it was the chinquapin oaks that were the stars of our brief walk through the alvar.

Water snake
A Lake Erie water snake basks in the sun at Mill Point Shore. Photo by Cecilia Heuvel

Another fine meal at the inn and a quick visit to the island bakery (I visited three times over weekend!), and we were heading off to our final destination of the day: Sheridan Point. There our group enjoyed a leisurely, final stroll. We walked down the road from the remains of the old winery, along the steep edges of the abandoned quarry, toward the shoreline and then back. Several birds, some salamanders and a painted turtle later, we had reached the conclusion of our island tour. At the West Dock we boarded the trusty Jiimaan and enjoyed a sunny ride back to the mainland. Some members were caught napping in their seats, as the rest was surely welcomed by everyone.

All in all, the 24th annual Pelee Island field trip was an exceptional event — for many reasons. The opportunity to experience the beauty of the island’s natural landscape, for one. And the chance to observe some unique and fascinating animals, for another. (The final count was 104 bird species!) But there was more to it than that. What made this weekend trip such a special event was the time spent with the genuinely kind people in our small group and the sense of naturalist passion shared with each other. It truly was a trip to inspire. Next year will be the 25th annual Pelee Island field trip. If you haven’t attended this event, or just haven’t been to the island for some time, I encourage you to attend. You’ll be happy you did.

Pelee Island Trip Bird List

May 4-5, 2019

(Compiled by Ian Woodfield)

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mute Swan
  3. Wood Duck
  4. Mallard
  5. Blue-winged Teal
  6. Hooded Merganser
  7. Common Merganser
  8. Red-breasted Merganser
  9. Wild Turkey
  10. Pied-billed Grebe
  11. Double-crested Cormorant
  12. Great Blue Heron
  13. Great Egret
  14. Green Heron
  15. Turkey Vulture
  16. Bald Eagle
  17. Northern Harrier
  18. Red-tailed Hawk
  19. Common Gallinule
  20. American Coot
  21. Black-bellied Plover
  22. Killdeer
  23. Spotted Sandpiper
  24. Solitary Sandpiper
  25. Lesser Yellowlegs
  26. Dunlin
  27. American Woodcock
  28. Bonaparte’s Gull
  29. Ring-billed Gull
  30. Herring Gull
  31. Morning Dove
  32. Great Horned Owl
  33. Common Nighthawk
  34. Eastern Whippoorwill
  35. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  36. Belted Kingfisher
  37. Red-headed Woodpecker
  38. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  39. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  40. Downy Woodpecker
  41. Northern Flicker
  42. Least Flycatcher
  43. Eastern Phoebe
  44. Great Crested Flycatcher
  45. Eastern Kingbird
  46. Blue-headed Vireo
  47. Warbling Vireo
  48. Red-eyed Vireo
  49. Blue Jay
  50. American Crow
  51. Purple Martin
  52. Tree Swallow
  53. Barn Swallow
  54. Black-capped Chickadee
  55. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  56. Brown Creeper
  57. Carolina Wren
  58. House Wren
  59. Marsh Wren
  60. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  61. Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  62. Eastern Bluebird
  63. Swainson’s Thrush
  64. Hermit Thrush
  65. Wood Thrush
  66. American Robin
  67. Grey Catbird
  68. Brown Thrasher
  69. Cedar Waxwing
  70. European Starling
  71. Black and White Warbler
  72. Orange-crowned Warbler
  73. Nashville Warbler
  74. Kentucky Warbler
  75. Common Yellowthroat
  76. Hooded Warbler
  77. American Redstart
  78. Yellow Warbler
  79. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  80. Palm Warbler
  81. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  82. Black-throated Green Warbler
  83. Canada Warbler
  84. Eastern Towhee
  85. Chipping Sparrow
  86. Field Sparrow
  87. Vesper Sparrow
  88. Song Sparrow
  89. Swamp Sparrow
  90. White-throated Sparrow
  91. White-crowned Sparrow
  92. Dark-eyed Junco
  93. Scarlet Tanager
  94. Northern Cardinal
  95. Red-breasted Grosbeak
  96. Bobolink
  97. Red-winged Blackbird
  98. Common Grackle
  99. Brown-headed Cowbird
  100. Baltimore Oriole
  101. Purple Finch
  102. House Finch
  103. American Gold Finch
  104. House Sparrow

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Reflections on a Forest Therapy Excursion

By |2019-06-10T17:21:51-04:00June 10th, 2019|The Egret Article|

Reflections on a Forest Therapy Excursion

Written by Phil Beaudoin for The Egret – Issue 35 – Number 2

Brunet Park
Brunet Park was the setting for a forest therapy session guided by Jessica Middleton on May 15. Photo by Ellen van Wageningen

A healthy ecosystem is a powerful place for people to congregate.

The experiences that occur within a human being when immersed in biologically diverse places hold a world of health that needs to be investigated for our personal awareness of the various meanings we carry in relation to the landscape.

Jessica Middleton understands this very well.

At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, while a fading rain was making its last mark upon Brunet Park, Jessica guided a group of 10 participants using her recently acquired training from the Global Institute of Forest Therapy (GIFT).

GIFT is a non-profit organization that seeks to create a healthy relationship between people and the environment by teaching and providing excursions into green spaces that improve our sense of connection and relationship to nature.

For everyone present, it was their first time taking a tour with a guide from GIFT, making it a new notch in the local repertoire of ecological awareness. The session started with group orientation, followed by an overview of basic considerations when navigating wild spaces.

Using a calming and sonorous voice, Jessica guided us into the first activity of the evening, known as an “invitation.” Closing our eyes, we were encouraged to slowly turn around in silence to search for a direction that most appealed to us. Scanning north, east, south and west, we felt the significance of each trajectory and landed upon an orientation in which we wanted to stay.

This was one of the multiple subtly mind-altering experiences that we would participate in throughout the night. To close one’s eyes and slowly turn, while the dimming sun dampens a singing spring landscape, is a very eye-opening means of finding new spaces within one’s perception while interacting with the outdoors. I became distinctly aware that our bodies wholeheartedly sense the magnetic forces in our surroundings, perhaps with similar emotions experienced by migrating birds. Opening our eyes, we could see where each person in the group was now oriented. Each of us had a unique direction we were facing.

Gathering us into a quiet sharing circle, Jessica produced a talking stick from the ground to be passed around to whoever wished to speak about what they sensed. In hushed and subtle awe, each person expressed how they felt, creating a type of mildly mystical space, for it is

not often that one closes their eyes to slowly spin within a group of people under the wash of winds and natural sounds of an Essex County landscape.

Wild geraniums
Wild geranium blooms in Brunet Park. Photo by Ellen van Wageningen

The next activity involved a very slow-paced walk in silence as a loose group around the park’s open hilly interior. We were to sensorially take in the surroundings by any means we saw fit and reflect on how the various sensations made us feel: seeing the season’s new plants forming; breathing in complex aromas; watching the ground below our feet slowly go by as each element of the scape slid and created an internalized animation of the local green-space aesthetics within us.

This very simple task gradually turned into a dilation in each person’s sense of connection to the fresh life around them. Jessica’s words about these moments of observation are ones of innocence, gratitude, playfulness and calmed investigation. Although she is an accredited scientist, she does not use scientific terminology for these circumstances. This emphasizes the very subtle, yet potent, effects of what being immersed an ecosystem does to people in the most philosophical of respects, magnifying what we know about ourselves and how a human being feels when altered by the natural elements.

Twenty minutes into this portion of the evening, our group was scattered across the south line of the park’s interior, lurking in and out of the underbrush, obtaining various perspectives and moments of appreciation, to be brought back to the sharing circle to follow momentarily. I had veered off into the bush at this point, fascinated by theorizing about the plethora of life forms there, when a barefooted man and his companion, fellow group members, appeared behind me, drawn by some mutual magnetism to this part of the terrain, him barefoot, walking through thick muck by choice and reveling in each step. A couple of toads began to bound about us, like the culmination of all things stone and inanimate, brought to life by years of camouflage and study of the forest floor. We observed one of the toads for a short while, seeing all its visual qualities; a subtle summary of the forest’s characteristics. Releasing it, we meandered uphill to reconnect with the group.

Here we passed around a pine cone and shared our experiences, having grown noticeably more trustworthy of our environs, not using extensive amounts of speech, but still sharing the signs and symbols we felt to be important to share. At this point, a tapestry of naturalistic intelligence and inspiration continued to expand between us, maintaining our respect for the energetics of the ecosystem, while affirming the bond that exists between people who seek to learn from these qualities. A sense of the landscape’s personality and power seemed to increasingly manifest in these times, as if our group became progressively inspired and intelligent from the environment’s forces.

The next invitation activity involved finding a tree of our own choice, and spending time with it in reflection of what types of thought manifest in our minds while interacting with it. This is indeed a classic means of bonding with the landscape — an oldie but a goodie. We were encouraged to ask a question in the presence of the tree, to put our hand upon it, and feel its effects.

American toad
An American toad sits on the forest floor at Brunet Park. Photo by Ellen van Wageningen

Perhaps there are certain questions that cannot be answered without the presence of trees or are more easily resolved by their presence. Whatever it may be, like socializing with fellow human beings, a tactile relationship with a tree seems to produce a state of unique awareness, like an intelligence service provided by any faculty of civilization, not unlike a handshake without words, in which we derive intuition and data that helps to provide meaning in our lives, informing the betterment of our general speech and representation of life’s forces.

Following another convening as a group, we meandered toward the southwest and landed upon the roaring silence of two streams intersecting, where we took time to quietly reflect on what came to mind in that moment. Not surprisingly, our group was highly inspired by the circumstances, as if the cascading waters caused a heightened state of osmosis between ourselves and the surrounding forest, wherein the loud fluidity with which the water was expressed transferred its complexity into our emotions, creating a great satisfaction. Here the forest seemed generally happier, and so were we, giving me the impression of our proceeding dialogue to be something like prophecy, reinforcing my belief that the sound of water somehow provides a significant stream of consciousness for the forest as well as people, like some profound music that has been translated and transcribed since time immemorial, only to be reaffirmed in its significance upon being heard once again.

Following another walk, we gathered to relate subtle revelations of what we had been observing, from the sounds of toads, the appearance of deer, to the sounds of the trees. A sense of identity and strength had manifested in the group, as if a greater sense of ecological relationship was conjured and present, like we now belonged to the majesty of Brunet Park, one of our many wild spaces that are the gateway to all things non-human, containing a vast book of the earth’s physiological history that must be read and internalized to properly digest our sense of place.

The evening closed with a short time of personal meditation, followed by drinking tea made from lemon balm and stinging nettle. A group of coyotes howled in the distance as we shared parting reflections of gratitude, emphasizing a sense of recognition for the landscape as an entity unto itself and leaving us with a ringing sensation that only quality time spent socializing with the outdoor environs can produce.

For more information about forest therapy sessions, contact Jessica Middleton through the Ojibway Nature Centre.

Jessica Middleton
Jessica Middleton shares tea at the end of a winter forest therapy walk. Photo by Take Hiro

Another Participant’s Gratitude

I have been reading about forest therapy for the past three years and am very interested in both the experience and the process. The May 15 experience with Jessica was so energizing while also calming and rejuvenating. Part of that experience was a gift from the beautiful forest area of Brunet Park, with its majestic tress, flora and fauna all doing what nature does best, but the other part of the experience was due to the mindful and gentle relationship that our guide Jessica created with all of us.

She created an atmosphere of acceptance and welcoming through the seven invitations, reflections and tea ceremony — all of which celebrated our relationship with the earth and its beings.

I as one of many, am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such an experience and look forward to doing so again in the future.

— Deb Albonaimi

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Planting a Tree for Mom

By |2019-06-10T17:20:08-04:00June 10th, 2019|The Egret Article|

Planting a Tree for Mom

Written by Ian Naisbitt for The Egret – Issue 35 – Number 2

I planted a tree today. I know it doesn’t look like much now, but I followed the routine I have learned to give the slight sprig a good chance of survival. I dug a bigger hole than the pot the sapling was in, broke up the soil-clay mixture from the hole, unpotted the tree and placed it in the hole. Then I replaced the soil in the hole and lightly pressed it down. I made sure to return all the dirt over the potted soil. A tree wrap was placed around the base of the tree. I walked over to the mulch pile and filled up two empty pots with wood chips, spread the mulch around the base of the tree and made it look like a “wood chip doughnut” – the centre lower than the outside.

Tree planting
The tree planted on May 11, 2019 at Windsor’s former wood disposal yard. Photo by Ian Naisbitt

A teensy twig, eh?

Our community tree planting on Saturday, May 11, was sponsored by Forests Ontario, the Essex Region Conservation Authority, the City of Windsor and the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup. The site being restored to natural habitat is the former City of Windsor wood disposal yard on Cherry Blossom Drive, off Ojibway Parkway. This location is adjacent to the Black Oak Heritage Park and, fortunately, the existing forest will provide native seeds to enhance the naturalization of the city’s former yard. There is enough room at this site to keep our community partnership busy planting trees for a decade!

Even though the location was off the beaten path, over 50 community volunteers showed up to plant a tree for Mother Earth. Since it was the day before Mother’s Day, we planted one for our mom too.

“Celebrate Mom or any of the amazing women who strengthened your roots and made you grow strong and healthy by planting a tree in their honour.”

What a wonderful day to participate in the morning tree planting experience. This was a family event. Young children joined their mothers and grandmothers. Dads were there too. Mother Nature cooperated by providing sunshine and saving the rain until later.

In Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis describes an encounter between his principal character and an old man busily at work planting a tree.

“What is it you are doing?” Zorba asks.

The old man replies: “You can see very well what I’m doing, my son. I’m planting a tree.”

“But why plant a tree,” Zorba asks, “if you won’t be able to see it bear fruit?”

And the old man answers: “I, my son, live as though I were never going to die.”

The response brings a faint smile to Zorba’s lips and, as he walks away, he exclaims with a note of irony: “How strange – I live as though I were going to die tomorrow.”

We plant trees today so future generations will enjoy a hike in the cool shade of the forests we are creating.

I planted a tree today: our future forests.

Tree planting
Volunteers plant trees at the City of Windsor’s former wood yard. Photo by Gina Pannunzio.
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