Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent, Part 14 (Clear Creek Forest)

Clear Creek Forest is one of the most recent additions to the provincial park system. It has an interesting recent history, being privately owned up until a few years ago. I first encountered this impressive woodland in the early 1980s, when I was the regional coordinator for the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. I had been roaming around looking for places to find breeding birds, and came across this site, which had an unofficial trail into it. I wandered along the trail and was immediately impressed with the condition of the forest. It was relatively untouched and had an assortment of impressively large trees, especially along the trail which followed along the top of the bank overlooking a creek and floodplain.
There was a project called Significant Natural Areas of Kent County underway at the time. We added this site to the project, and gradually its importance became better known. It was part of a much larger natural area of varying vegetation types and conditions, stretching all the way to Lake Erie. This length of an area, complete with one of the better examples of what was considered a cold water stream, was unusual in C-K.

Eventually the owner of the property, who lived in Michigan, passed away, and the executors of the estate were trying to decide what to do with it. There was an interest by local environmental groups and individuals to see it retained in its natural condition and together with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, managed to acquire this site. It became regulated as a provincial park in 2014, classified as a Nature Reserve. Some signs like the following identify its provincial park status. There are no staff on site; however it is under the administration of Rondeau Provincial Park.

The most accessible area is the part north of Hwy 3/Talbot Trail, near the corner of Duart Road and Cochrane Line. There is a small parking area marked on the next photo by an 'X' along the roadside across from the entrance to the trail, which is shown as the blue line.
As mentioned, there are some impressive trees in part of this site. Most of them are species typical of the hardwood forests of southwestern Ontario, and include American Beech, Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, Basswood, Bitternut Hickory, White Ash and several oak species, although the ash trees have been almost obliterated due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer.
One of the largest American Beech trees in Ontario is here. It is close to a metre in diameter.
The forest floor is rich with spring wildflowers.
Dutchman's Breeches
Large-flowered Bellwort
Wild Blue Phlox
Mayapple
Skunk's Cabbage...not common but present in the early part of the season
Wild Geranium
There are birds, of course, both migrants and breeding species. It has not been birded heavily, but even so there are at least 117 species of birds known for the site to date. Warblers are a highlight in the spring, most of which are migrants.
Black-throated Blue Warbler


A possibly breeding warbler is this next one.
Ovenbird
Baltimore Orioles are well represented.
Eastern Towhee is certainly present in various parts of the park.
Pileated Woodpeckers are present in small numbers. A pair had a nest right beside the trail a year ago.
 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are seldom seen, but it is prime habitat for them.
The more extensive woodland area is sought after by Wood Thrush, a declining species and officially at risk.
Blue-spotted Salamanders, and their Red-backed Salamander relatives, are found throughout the higher quality forest but seldom seen as they spend the majority of their time underground or under logs.
On the north side of Cochrane Line is a very different part of the park. It is an old gravel pit complex, and there are several ponds, some of which have been there for several decades. I remember swimming in one as a teenager back in the 1960s. This next photo is of one of the largest ponds.
At the upper level of the site is another pond, which has more trees and shrubs around it.
There have been a couple of new ponds constructed in the area, which will gradually develop into something more valuable for wildlife.

With so much water present, it is a great spot for dragonflies. This first one is a Halloween Pennant.
 This next one is a White-faced Meadowhawk, which is chowing down on a midge type of insect.
The open areas have many later season flowering plants, and are popular with butterflies.
Common Ringlet on Black-eyed Susan
Hickory Hairstreak
Clear Creek Forest is a valuable addition to the provincial park system, and a worthwhile site to explore in Chatham-Kent at any time of the year!


This concludes the Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent series as per my presentation earlier this year at the Chatham Public Library. However there are other natural areas which were not covered at that time, and I hope to expand this theme to include some of them in the future.













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