Considering that Pelee Island is within 5-6 hours drive of millions of Canadians, it is surprising how many people have never been there. Perhaps that includes you. One of the problems is that you can't just drive to it on a whim. It takes planning and reservations on a ferry.
My first recollection of Pelee Island occurred in the late 1950s, when I went to the island by ferry with my grandparents, who were making a day trip on business. Little did I know at the time how much I would have to do with Pelee Island later on. I have never figured out exactly how many times I have been there, but it is safe to say that during my 36 year career with OMNR, I probably visited Pelee Island over 200 times. Some years it would have been just 3-4 times, whereas in other years it would have been more than a dozen. Some were day trips, some were for 3-4 days. Some were supposed to be day trips, but in more recent years when the weather looked like it could go south, one had to be prepared to wait an extra day....or sometimes two.
One of the main ferries for years was the Pelee Islander. It doesn't handle a large number of vehicles, but it is low and can go through some pretty impressive wave action. I recall on one occasion coming back in a November gale, having to hang on to the underside of my seat for a good part of the way back to keep from getting tossed out of my seat!
The current main ferry is the Jimaan, which is Ojibwe for Little Canoe. (This is a smaller version of the Chi-cheemaun, which is Ojibwe for Big Canoe, and goes from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island.) It is fairly high and the wind can make it very challenging for some of the ship's captains to swing it around in the harbour as it needs to, to get moored correctly.
On windy days, especially when it is brisk from the east, it is particularly challenging. This next image shows some moderate wave action on the east side. It didn't seem to be all that strong, but apparently the ship's captain did, and so I was stuck on the island for another day and a half. I was prepared, fortunately, and spent some useful additional time.
There were many reasons to go to the island over the years: leading nature tours, doing inventory work at one or more of the island's provincial nature reserves, participating on the Christmas Bird Counts, doing site inspections at properties for which there were development applications, assisting with biological research, etc. etc. We often said that Pelee Island, at ~4000 hectares and easily the smallest municipality in our entire district, had by far, the most complicated issues in the entire district when it came to natural heritage and species at risk. In fact the current provincial Endangered Species Act, 2007 came about in part because of the immense number of complicated issues pertaining to species at risk on Pelee Island, and I was involved with virtually all of them.
Life was never boring!
One of the most interesting parts of the island is Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve (FPPNR). From the air, it looks like a miniature Point Pelee, and is shaped by similar forces of wind and water.
Here is what it looks like from the end of the vegetation, looking south. It is a prime location for numerous gulls, terns, cormorant and shorebirds. The little sliver of land at the water's edge on the far right is Middle Island, the southernmost land mass in Canada. I will describe it a little bit in the next post.
The first display of spring wildflowers in late April are carpets of Dutchman's Breeches, out before the leaves on the trees are very far along.
It is getting more popular amongst Ontario birders and others. An active Heritage Centre on the island has a sightings board which is helpful for birders scouring the island for birds to add to their checklists. And one well-known Ontario birder spent several spring migrations on the island monitoring reverse migration for his M. Sc. Good planning, Ken!
With the increased number of birders exploring the island, and having immediate access to posting sites like Ontbirds, it attracts even more birders. This is all good for the local economy, as it gives island residents a reason to protect and enhance the wonderful natural areas rather than exploiting them.
Spring birding can be fabulous, which is one of the reasons I led some nature tours to the island in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Songbirds and in particular warblers are well represented.
|Prothonotary Warbler (female)|
Note the triangular wetland which is part of FPPNR, and is separated from Lake Erie by a narrow barrier beach. This wetland is known as Fox Pond.
Turtles used to be very common in Fox Pond, including Blanding's Turtle.
The wetland has deteriorated to some extent, as the lake breached the barrier beach a few years ago during a period of high water. It is still, however, home to some rare plants, including this Leafy Blue Flag (Iris brevicaulis). It used to occur on the Ontario mainland in Essex, but I believe the only extant records in Canada are currently on the Erie Islands, including FPPNR.
More of the Pelee Island story in a future blog post......