Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Skunks' Misery

Skunk's Misery is, in spite of its name, a fascinating place to explore. The majority of its several hundred hectares sits in southwestern Middlesex County, but some of the natural areas in immediately adjacent Chatham-Kent, Elgin and Lambton have been included by most people who are assessing natural areas.

There are various explanations as to how this natural area got its name, but they are rather vague and I'm not certain which story is the most correct, so suffice to say I will leave it to your imagination.

Skunk's Misery is a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest as well as a provincially significant wetland. The huge area and relatively intact forest that includes large areas of interior forest, not to mention harbouring a large number of species at risk, are cause to celebrate the continued existence of this site. A little over half of it is owned by the county of Middlesex, the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority or Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT). The rest is privately owned. There are a few unofficial trails through some of the publicly owned sections.

I was recently contacted by representatives of the TTLT to see if I could help them locate an endangered orchid on a property that they are in the process of acquiring. It seems I was the last person to see this orchid back in the mid 1990s. The property has had some changes to it since then, mainly some timber harvest. So earlier this week I met two representatives of the TTLT and off we went to see if my recall would get us to the right place to find this endangered orchid.

Anyone with any experience at Skunk's Misery is well aware of the hordes of mosquitoes that inhabit this upland/lowland forest complex. It is usually fine until early May, but after that all bets are off. If you are prepared for the onslaught both mentally and physically, they can be endured, but if not......

Getting organized at the roadside was a hint of the potentially challenging conditions we may be facing in surveying the interior, as those pesky winged creatures sought us out. But prepared and undaunted, we entered. And surprisingly, the mosquitoes were not as bad inside the woodland as they were at the roadside! It was a normal day temperature-wise, but I attribute the lack of mosquitoes inside the woodland to the extremely dry conditions of the spring in recent weeks. Standing water was almost nowhere to be found; areas where normally one would need rubber boots to get through, one could walk through in running shoes with no fear of wet or even damp feet.

As a side note, a recent media article suggested that the Black Fly should be the national insect. I disagree. While Black Flies can be be amazingly annoying, their season is relatively short, typically only a month or two, and even then primarily in areas where there is fast flowing water. The highly oxygenated water is critical for their reproduction. Mosquitoes, on the other hand are much more widespread across the country, and are active for a much longer period of time. So if there ever was an attempt to establish a national insect like there is currently to establish a national bird, I would think that the mosquito should win in a land-slide....but not necessarily because of popularity.

Back to Skunk's Misery. There are some sizable trees here, since portions of it have not been harvested for quite a few decades. The large Tuliptree in the image below measures about 158 cm in diameter.

We did manage to get to the spot where I recall seeing the orchid. But much to our chagrin, there was no evidence of it. Maybe the changes to the forest in the last couple of decades were the reason; or maybe we were a tad too early.....perhaps if we return in a couple of weeks, it may have appeared. But given the amount of rainfall in the last few days, I would expect the mosquito population to have exploded to gargantuan numbers.

This was one of the more pleasant visits to this natural area, due to the lack of mosquitoes. In several hours I only had a few dozen mosquitoes harassing me. Even after we had completed our search for the orchid, I decided to explore other areas without fear of losing too much blood. I didn't even bother with repellent.

There were other things to take note of on this site visit, although with the profusion of leaves out, birds were more likely to be heard than seen. Things like Hooded Warbler, which Skunk's Misery is known for, as well as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Scarlet Tanager were all heard.

Butterflies were present in small numbers, including several Giant Swallowtails.

Giant Swallowtail resting on Mayapple

Spicebush Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were also observed, but they were on a mission and were definitely not sticking around to satisfy my photographic tendencies. The usual mix of Red Admirals and Question Marks were seen briefly. A few Juvenal's Duskywings, on the other hand, were more cooperative, although they are quite small and challenging to photograph.
Several female Common Whitetails were zipping by, and one hung around for a few moments as shown in the next image.

We missed the majority of the spring wildflower display, but there were things like this Large-flowered Bellwort still to be seen.

Skunk's Misery is always worth a visit!


  1. Lots of good stuff in Skunk's.
    I guess I will have to go for a visit this coming weekend!

    1. Go for it, Blake.....I hope to see a post on your blog in the near future featuring SM.

  2. So... you never told your readers whether you found the orchid you hoped to..?

    1. Hi Jennifer...thanks for your visit. Actually I did indicate that we didn't find the is in the paragraph immediately following the second photo. However it may not have been all that clearly stated there.