Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pelee Island Part 1

At the western end of Lake Erie is an archipelago of islands, and the biggest and only accessible island on the Canadian side is Pelee Island. Due to its location, the island is probably the most unique spot in Ontario for flora and fauna. This, combined with with its excellent location and topography as a stopover for migrant birds make it an extremely attractive destination.

After I was done at Rondeau on May 20, I drove to Leamington and picked up Peter Mills, my friend and coworker from Algonquin Park, for nearly 3 full days of hardcore nature geeking on the island. We had an incredible time. Here are some of the highlights, photographic and otherwise. I'm splitting the trip into two posts in a rather arbitrary fashion, although this post is mostly snakes and butterflies while the next will mainly involve birds (including a couple nice rarities, so stay tuned!)

Eastern Fox Snakes are reasonably common on the island, and we were happy to find this medium sized individual on the rocks along the shore. This was the first snake of any species we found after arriving, and one of 4 Fox Snakes we would see. 

The rocky shorelines favoured by this species also seemed to be a favourite of three species of Swallowtail butterflies that were drinking from the puddles.

This is a Giant Swallowtail, Ontario's largest butterfly.

Along with the Swallowtails, this American Snout was the highlight of the butterflies seen. The caterpillars of both these species feed on trees much more widespread in extreme Southwestern Ontario (Hackberry for the Snout and Hop Tree and Prickly Ash for the Swallowtail), and so are found in limited numbers farther north.

In my 21 days in Southwestern Ontario I did not see a single Monarch butterfly. There have been incredibly few sightings so far this month despite good weather, with only 3 I've heard of in Ontario. A stormy fall migration and logging on the Monarch's wintering grounds in Mexico seem to be to blame for the low numbers. Hopefully it's just a short term trend. I'll certainly be appreciating Monarchs a lot more this summer.

I want to skip back to snakes now, and for good reason. The first Europeans to visit the area called the archipelago something like "The Snake Islands" due to the abundance of the reptiles (I read this in the Island Museum and can't remember the exact name). Although development has greatly reduced numbers and diversity, the abundance of snakes on Pelee Island is still very impressive.

The most frequently seen snake is the Lake Erie Water Snake. This species has an extremely limited range but reaches impressive densities in this area where we regularly had five or more in view at once basking on shoreline rocks or sticking their heads out of the water like miniature Loch Ness Monsters. 

At one point as we walked along the shoreline we startled a Water Snake that was holding onto this Round Goby, which it immediately released as it escaped into the water. This introduced fish is exceedingly abundant in the Great Lakes and now constitutes over 90% of Lake Erie Water Snake diets.

The rock shorelines preferred by the water snakes were also favoured by a number of shorebirds including Sanderling. Although this aptly named little sandpiper is usually found on sandy beaches, a few were picking at whatever the waves were washing up on the rock. This picture depicts this species' characteristic constant movement.

That's it for this post but there's much more to come both from Pelee Island and Rondeau!

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