Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 25 September 2015

A new hiking & birding trail in Chatham-Kent

For anyone paying attention to the local media, you might already be aware of this new trail, which opened on September 19. It is officially known as the Mitchell's Bay North Lake Shore Nature Trail. As some of you will know, there is already a Mitchell's Bay Lake Shore Trail, which extends from Angler Line north to the village of Mitchell's Bay. There are plans to connect these two trails at some point, but for various reasons, that hasn't happened yet.

For more on the media coverage on the opening of this trail, read the article here.

A couple of days ago, I went to check this new trail out, getting some photos in the process.

But backing up a bit, this first photo is what part of it looked like in April, 1989. Given that it was taken in that era, it is a scanned image, of course. I was giving some new regional MNR staff a tour of the MNR interests along the tri-county area shoreline, describing the various features that they should be aware of or would find interesting. Even back then, I seldom went anywhere without my cameras and various lenses, so I rattled off several rolls of film over the three hour tour.  While passing by the eastern shoreline of Lake St. Clair, I noticed this property which really stood out. Had aliens visited it, leaving these strange shapes and lines as a hidden message visible only to viewers from the air? No, it was a wetland that had cookie-cutter equipment on site to create a more open wetland through the dense cattails, which is more conducive for wildlife in general and nesting waterfowl in particular. Little did I know at the time that I would be involved to some degree when this property would become open to the public for hiking and nature appreciation!

Trails have been a higher priority for the municipality in recent years. This is the latest result of the municipality of Chatham-Kent, along with the commitment and support by two local families in particular (the Cadotte family and the Allen family) and various community groups to make this trail available and open to the public.

Note in this first link the trail map from a publication put out by Chatham-Kent Recreation showing the location relative to Mitchell's Bay, and the configuration of the trail itself. The south part of it goes along a dyke which separates the agricultural land from Lake St. Clair, while the other part goes into the wetland itself.

Ontario NativeScape has been instrumental in the design of the trail through the wetland, as well as the restoration of prairie vegetation along the drier raised section of this trail. I was asked to provide ideas, text and photos for several natural heritage education signs for the trail. They are being prepared at this time, and will eventually be installed at various points along this trail.

There is only one access to this trail at the moment. It is at the corner of Winter Line and W. Lewis Line. An official parking lot has not been created yet, so one has to park along the road side.

With this trail's location along the Lake St. Clair shoreline and in a coastal wetland, there is bound to be some interesting wildlife, especially birds, that are recorded as time goes on. On the day I was there, I didn't see anything all that unusual, but did see expected species such as Great Egret, Common Gallinule, Green Heron and a dozen or so warblers feeding in the willows near the beginning of the trail. Here is my ebird list.

 This is a great area to see Great Egrets. There is a regular nesting colony or two of them at nearby Walpole Island, just a short flight from this trail, so birds from that colony are frequently seen feeding in this vicinity.

The trail itself is a wide gravelled pathway, making it accessible for hikers as well as wheelchairs. The vegetation along these slightly higher sections of the trail are predominantly tallgrass prairie, or will be once the restoration has matured. This is a wonderful thing, as at the time of settlement, depending on water levels in the lake, the shoreline and adjacent areas would be either wetland or tallgrass prairie. In fact a huge portion of the former Dover Township, where this trail is located, was tallgrass prairie according to some of the earliest surveys. It is also very productive agricultural land, and was easily converted so there is virtually no natural tallgrass prairie left. Re-establishing a bit of tallgrass prairie vegetation is perfect for this site.
 Most obvious at the moment is Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) as well as Tall Sunflower (Helianthus gigantea).
 With the sunflower in prime condition, their bright yellow flowers are a-buzz with bees.
There are numerous channels through the wetland, and varying water levels, providing habitat for herons, waterfowl and other waterbirds as well as turtles, snakes etc.

 These logs will provide excellent basking opportunities for turtles and snakes.

Painted Turtle basking

 Bullfrogs are by far the largest frog in Ontario. I remember being amazed by the intensive chorus of their 'jug-o-rum' call on a late spring evening in some of the Lake St. Clair wetlands, but they have been in serious decline throughout their range over the past couple of decades. Retaining quality wetlands are very important to their survival.

 Towards the farthest point of the trail, in the section going through the wetland, there are larger ponds.

At the farthest point, there is a raised mound to get a better look at the marsh closest to the lake. That is Walpole Island First Nation in the distance to the right.

Although wildlife can be seen from the trail, sometimes they are seen on the trail.

Leopard Frog

Differential Grasshopper
Some hikers who came along just as I was leaving had even come across a young Eastern Fox Snake, an endangered species. The lands adjacent to Lake St. Clair is one of the hot spots in southern Ontario for this beautiful creature.

Eastern Fox Snake (photo taken previously)
So put this trail on your list of places to explore in Chatham-Kent. Whether you are birding or just wanting to see a different part of the municipality and go for a hike, it is a very welcome addition to the trails and natural areas in C-K!


  1. Allen, this is fantastic! I hope this trend continues not just in C-K, but throughout SW Ontario. I am intriqued by these trails, and have watched their development in such places as Oakville and around Hamilton Harbour over the years. In both of those locations, they now have a world-class trail system. But its funny how much resistance there can be to such trails, with some thinking that its just a waste of time and money. But once completed, it is amazing how much use they have. And in contrast to what some may think, these trails actually increase the value of homeowner's properties since having a trail nearby is a definite plus, not a negative. On a sad note, ERCA was going to place a trail along the old railway between Leamington and Wheatley. But they made the mistake of announcing their plans BEFORE actually obtaining the land, and then the area farmers flipped out and demanded the land for themselves (which is exactly what happened). A total disaster, since that rail line was extremely lush with an amazing diversity of flora and fauna -- but now it is mostly gone!

    1. Thanks Alan...and you are right in that a good trail system is a positive thing for a community and adjacent landowners. There are other trail possibilities in C-K in the making, so stay tuned.......

  2. Very nice, and I wondered what was going on over there! At least some positive things are happening in C-K.
    I will have to check it out someday.

    1. Yes hopefully this trail will get well used and receive lots of positive feedback from folks....I expect you will be a regular here!

  3. This is wonderful Allen!! I will have to check this out when I am home for Thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Tianna....good to hear from you. Do check it out! And Happy Thanksgiving to you!