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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22nd Annual Pelee Island Trip

By |2016-04-11T16:12:41-04:00May 1st, 2016||

Trip is Full!

Leave at 10:00 am Saturday from Leamington Dock aboard the M.V. Jiimaan (be at the dock by 9:20 am). We will return to Leamington Dock by
5:45 pm Sunday.  We will likely see: migrating waterfowl & warblers, wildflowers such as trilliums & phlox, basking turtles and snakes, bullfrogs, historic sites, and hear a chorus or two of American Toads, to suggest a few of the many enjoyable experiences on Pelee Island in spring. We should also get a chance to visit the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO bird banding station) and some of the recently acquired Nature Conservancy of Canada properties: Red Cedar Savannah ESA, Stone Road Alvar ANSI, Brown’s Point and woods, and Brown’s Road Alvar. We will have plenty of time to walk, observe, and relax on the excursions to some of Pelee’s most beautiful natural habitats, including: Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve, Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve, the Stone Road Alvar Complex, Sheridan Point ESA, and many other stops along the way.

Contact Details:

 

Dave Kraus phone: 519 825 7491
email address: david.kraus@publicboard.ca
text: 519 257 8674

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