In The Field: Rondeau Park

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Photo by Aimee Coury.

In spring, at the heart of a peninsula called Point aux Pins, the forested swamp fills with blue, red, and yellow birds like gems in the dark trees. The spare beaches of its outline bulge with the heavier bodies of shorebirds. In spring, Lake Erie is high and the peninsula is vibrant green, buzzing with the return of living things. Mayflies rise from the water, leopard frogs crowd footpaths, and over 300 migrating bird species break their journey at Rondeau Provincial Park. The wood warblers — a family of tiny, sweet-faced migrants — have been blessed with clear voices and colors we don’t even have names for. They are the celebrities of the bird-watching scene, their groupies typically older in wide-brimmed hats and dangling binoculars. Twenty-one warbler species have been documented in Rondeau Park during migration, while another 17 stay the summer and nest here.

The peninsula itself is a body of change. In geomorphology terms, it’s a “crescentic cuspate sandspit” formed by centuries of converging lake currents eroding sand from other parts of the Erie shore and depositing them here. In the beginning, grass seeds carried by wildlife and wind took root in the sand and held it in place. Dunes formed and the peninsula grew. As years passed, generations of dune plants died and decayed in the sand, bringing fertility to the soil. Trees took root and dips between old sandbars in the heart of the peninsula filled with snowmelt and became a forested swamp. Insects thrived there. Birds following the lakeshore during spring migration noticed the long finger of land and stopped to rest and gorge on the insects. Some were red, yellow, and blue like gems. The peninsula is still transforming with every wind storm and high wave, every mood swing Lake Erie has to offer.

Twenty square miles of inconstant land jutting into a lake with a dirty environmental record may seem like a low priority on the list of North America’s preserved natural places. Here’s why it’s not: Rondeau Provincial Park protects one of the largest continuous plots of Eastern deciduous forests in all of Canada. It contains a huge variety of wildlife habitats in one compact area—dunes, prairies, savannas, freshwater marshes, and a large shallow bay. More than 800 vascular plants and 515 wildlife species have been recorded on the peninsula, making it the most species-rich area in the country. Approximately 80 percent of the species on Ontario’s endangered species list can be found at Rondeau. A few miles’ drive from the peninsula in any direction shows that no other wilderness remains in the region — nearly every acre has long been converted to farmland or housing. A refuge in every sense of the word, had Rondeau not been protected all those years ago, the world today would be a little less lit up with the songs of its tiny bright creatures.

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