Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 6 April 2018

Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent, Part 12 (Erieau Rail Trail)

The Erieau Rail or Marsh Trail is another excellent area to explore and it is just a short distance away from the previously described natural area, McGeachy Pond. Both are shown in the following image. McGeachy Pond is the triangular area along the lake in the upper part of the image, and the Erieau Rail Trail is shown as the linear blue line. This is part of the Waterfront Trail system.
 It is sometimes noted as the Erieau Marsh Trail since the trail goes by marshy areas at the edge of Rondeau Bay. The trail is actually on an old railroad bed. The railroad connected Chatham with Rondeau Bay more than a century ago, when at the time it was believed that Rondeau Bay would be an excellent shipping port since it was so well protected from a more turbulent Lake Erie. However it was eventually realized that Rondeau Bay was too shallow for the increasingly large ships so its role as a major shipping harbour quickly fell out of favour. Nonetheless, the railroad bed ended at Erieau, and ships and barges could enter the harbour to that point. The railroad through Erieau was located on what is now a boulevard between the two one-way streets. I remember as a kid, seeing piles of coal which had been unloaded at Erieau. Now that spot is a trailer park and marina for mostly recreational water craft.

The railroad was abandoned several decades ago, and became an unofficial trail for hikers and birders. It was only a few years ago when it became an official trail thanks to many local residents, stewardship groups and the like.

It is notably different from the McGeachy Pond area, with a greater amount of treed area along the trail. That makes it especially good for attracting migrant birds. The following four species of warbler are examples of birds that occur only as migrants. To date there are 194 species of bird that have been recorded here.
American Redstart
Black-and-white Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
There are many other bird species that use it as either a breeding or feeding location.
Eastern Towhee
 A pair of Great Horned Owls are often seen, and occasionally nest in the immediate vicinity.
Great Horned Owlet
Marsh Wren
Swamp Sparrow
Yellow Warbler
The adjacent wetland makes the trail an ideal spot to see water birds.
Common Tern
Great Blue Heron
Red-winged Blackbird
 Some water birds are very furtive, such as the Sora, a member of the Rail group (and therefore fitting along this Rail Trail). They are more often heard than seen, and even when they are seen it is usually only a brief, partial look like this next one.
 On occasion, they can seem to be quite bold. I watched and photographed this one from the observation tower for an hour in 2017, and it was apparently unconcerned about my presence.
A larger and less common rail species is the Virginia Rail.
Part way along the trail is an observation deck, giving excellent views of the adjacent wetland and this corner of Rondeau Bay. This next image was taken from the observation deck. There is a small pond right below the deck, and in late summer one can see a cluster of pink flowers at the edge of the cattails.
 The pink flowers are those of Swamp Rose Mallow, an rare species in Ontario, but relatively widespread around high quality wetlands here in the southwest.
 There is a Wood Duck nesting box at the edge of the pond, but so far all I have seen using it are Tree Swallows.
With relatively little open area along much of the trail, it doesn't seem to have the same diversity and abundance of butterflies like the McGeachy Pond area has. But species that like more wooded areas, such as this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and others, can be found.
It is a good spot to find the Eastern Fox Snake, an endangered species in Ontario. While it can be a large snake, well over a metre in length, it is not dangerous. It moves slowly and may vibrate its tail in leaves to sound like a rattlesnake if it feels threatened, but is quite harmless. Even though they are there, the chances of seeing one is not very high.
It is a wonderful spot to see a diversity of wildlife along a relatively short trail, and has many photo opportunities from sunrise on.
Sunrise looking north east from the observation deck











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