Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Some Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent, Part 4 (Mitchell's Bay North)

Moving a little south of the Bear Creek Unit of St. Clair NWA described in Natural Areas of C-K, Part 3, but still staying along the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, we come to the Mitchell's Bay North Lake Shore Nature Trail. It has only been open since the fall of 2015.

My first recollection of this site is a result of giving a colleague an aerial tour of the shoreline of the district in April of 1989. As we flew by, it really stood out. It was a private marsh, and to enhance it for waterfowl nesting, a 'cookie cutter' dredge was used to increase the openness and edge of the site. Note the black soil beyond the wetland. These are very rich soils that developed from the tallgrass prairie and/or wetland vegetation, depending on the lake levels, in historic times.
Fast forward to 2017, and the aerial view, compliments of Google, has the site looking like this.
It isn't the same scale as the previous photo, but I set it like this to show the length of the trail, as marked by the blue line, and also to show it relative to Mitchell's Bay and Bass Haven. Some of the squiggly lines depicting open water that were present in 1989 are still visible today. But some additional work has been done.

Parking is limited to where the 'X' is, as well as along one side of the gravel road.

There is a well marked, fine gravel trail marked in blue, which leads along some of the canals and in the wetland part, leads to a higher spot overlooking the part of the lake called Mitchell's Bay. The sides of the berms have been restored to tallgrass prairie, which would have been dominant here at the time of settlement, depending on the lake levels.



The abundant flowers of the tallgrass prairie are wonderful for attracting butterflies and other insects.
Clouded Sulphur

Little Wood Satyr
 Without trying too hard, I've recorded at least 15 species of butterflies to date. There are possibly another dozen that could occur. One of the rarest ones I've seen here is this next one, known as a Little Yellow.

As you can see from the map above, there are several channels through the site. With a few logs strategically placed, there are great opportunities to see water birds as well as reptiles and amphibians basking.
 Bullfrogs used to be extremely abundant in the marshes along this side of Lake St. Clair, and at times in the evening, their chorus could be almost deafening. Unfortunately in the last couple of decades or so, their numbers have dropped dramatically. There are still some to be found however.
Bullfrog

This next photo was taken from the very end of the gravel trail, and it is elevated a bit to give a better view. Off in the distance to the right, is the south end of the Walpole Island First Nation.
From here, you can often see various water birds, especially when the young have hatched and they are swimming about exploring their territory.
Common Gallinule

Pied-billed Grebe

Mute Swan
 Mute Swans can be quite abundant at times, and sometimes more than 100 are visible across the bay towards Walpole, especially in the late summer and early fall. This adult with the young, known as cygnets, were raised here. Unfortunately as photogenic as this species is, it is not native to North American, and therefore an undesirable species of natural areas to say the least. They are very aggressive towards native waterfowl, driving them away and interrupting the nesting activities of native species.

This next photo was opportunistic during the late fall of 2017, when I was able to photograph these two swans: a Mute Swan on the left and a Trumpeter Swan on the right.

Given that Mute Swans are quite aggressive, you would hardly ever see them tolerate being this close to a Tundra Swan, the sometimes abundant swan that migrates through in the spring and the fall. However Trumpeter Swans are about the same size as a Mute Swan, sometimes slightly larger, and they will not be scared off by the Mute. In fact at one point this Trumpeter Swan was seen aggressively chasing the Mute! Trumpeters are native species, that according to many authorities, used to breed in this area. (There are differing opinions on this, but I believe they were historically native to this area.) They were wiped out of the east back in the 1800s and early 1900s, and up until 2-3 decades ago, were limited in North America largely to some of the larger wetlands and lakes of the far west. But a reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swan was initiated in the 1970s in the north central part of Ontario. The population has gradually expanded elsewhere in southern Ontario, and we are now seeing a handful appearing in some of the larger wetlands here in Chatham-Kent. It used to be an extreme rarity to see them here at all; now it has become an annual event. Hopefully some will become permanent residents and re-establish a breeding population.

Other birds appear feeding in the area, or just passing through. There have been ~130 species of birds recorded along this trail to date, not bad since it has only been accessible for a short time, and birders hardly ever visit. In fact of all the times I have been at this natural area, I have only seen one or two other people there. It is definitely a great place to see lots of wildlife in a quiet setting.

Great Blue Herons do not nest here, but do so a short distance away at Walpole.

Northern Harriers, a.k.a. Marsh Hawks, probably nest in some of the larger wetlands along Lake St. Clair, and may be seen hunting over the cattails.
 On some occasions, the view across the wetland can be a terrific spot to capture an attractive sunset.



Next up will be the Mitchell's Bay South Lake Shore Trail.




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