Barrie’s Lake – a wetland worth saving

This past weekend (September 24-25th, 2016) I was part of a BioBlitz at Barrie’s Lake. A BioBlitz is a gathering of scientific professional and hobbyists to inventory the flora and fauna of a natural area.

Barrie’s Lake is an 88-acre wetland in North Dumfries bordering on the city of Cambridge. Bernice Beal who is better know as “the turtle lady’ owns 83 of the 88 acres of wetland. Bernice bought the wetland some 15 years ago and that is pretty much when the battle to protect this wetland and its inhabitants began. A battle that among other things caused Bernice to purchase and additional 10 acres of land to prevent a gravel company from blasting for gravel too close to the lake.

As an Authorized Wildlife Custodian I became aware of Barrie’s Lake last year after questioning the large number of injured turtles coming to me from the Roseville Road area. Bernice, her daughter Sue and a group of like-minded locals have been doing their best to prevent turtle road casualties for years. Some of the not so lucky ones end up as ‘guests’ at Hobbitstee. Despite everyone’s best efforts, hundreds of turtles get killed each year on Roseville Road.

I finally made it out to Barrie’s Lake in person not long ago. I was traveling around returning turtles back to their habitats after they had recovered from injuries sustained as a result of above mentioned collisions with cars and I was very taken by what I saw.

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me getting ready to release a Snapping Turtle at Barrie’s Lake

Barrie’s Lake was officially surveyed and designated a provincially significant wetland in 2004, but has not been resurveyed since. After speaking with several scientists I also learned that the wetland surveying is not intended as a full species survey like I had previously assumed making me think that a BioBlitz would be a great idea.

Over the years however scientists have visited Barrie’s Lake and particularly the migratory birds have been well documented. A recent survey of Shorebirds found a variety of 9 shorebirds and that list included Least Bitterns. Least Bitterns are listed as Threatened on the Species at Risk Ontario List, giving them and their habitat extra protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Over the years many other birds that are listed on the Species at Risk list have been spotted at Barrie’s Lake. Among them are the Bank Swallow (threatened), Bald Eagle (at risk), Barn Swallow (threatened), Chimney Swift (threatened) and after this weekends BioBlitz we can add the Rusty Blackbird (threatened) to the list.

The wetland also has been found a hunting ground for Bald Eagles, Osprey, Merlins and a variety of other birds of prey.

During the BioBlitz I had the pleasure of watching a large flock of wood ducks land, while the Sandhill Cranes took flight. It was amazing to watch the Belted Kingfishers dive for fish and the multitude of turtles bask. There was still a variety of butterflies busy visiting some wildflowers while many dragon flies practices their air-acrobatics.

 

 

One of the other great features of Barrie’s Lake is the presence of an Oak Savanna. Oak Savanna’s are not common in this part of Ontario. An Oak Savanna differs from an Oak Woodland by the openness of the trees. A lack of density allows for the trees to spread out in width and this creates a very unique landscape.

The presences of Wild Cranberries and Tamaracks are good indicators that Barrie’s Lake is a Fen. Fens are rare in Southern Ontario. They are very sensitive to slight alterations in pH and dependent on a certain nutrient consistency.

During the BioBlitz it was noted by experts that there is very little to no buffer zone  between the adjoining farmland and Barrie’s lake. The subsequent leaching of nutrients into the wetland will cause a change in the nature of the wetland, which in turn will effect the water, vegetation, and inhabitants of Barrie’s Lake. To permanently protect Barrie’s Lake this should be rectified.

Realistically Barrie’s Lake and its inhabitants are constantly threatened by human encroachment from all directions and with each small victory another threat materializes. No amount of laws, designations or mitigation seems to be able to protect this sensitive wetland and its inhabitants from further harm. Our laws intended to protect amazing natural gems such as Barrie’s Lake appear to be full of loopholes allowing for circumvention of protection for the sheer purpose of profit.

After a recent win to prevent the building of a cell tower Bernice and her family are now faced with the threat of a proposed development of the Cambridge side of Barrie’s Lake, which will negatively impact this very sensitive wetland.

However, we need to continue to strive for and celebrate each small victory. This weekend was a success. We cataloged many species of Flora and Fauna for future use while we enjoyed the beauty and peace at Barrie’s lake.

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A tail of turtle releases and humanity at it’s worst…

Last weekend I decided to combine business and pleasure. Two of the turtles at Hobbitstee where ready for release. One needed to be returned to Mildmay and the other to Tobemory.

We decided to combine business and pleasure and planned a weekend away so that we could enjoy the two gorgeous National Parks located near Tobemory. I rarely have time to do things like this, so I was very excited.

The first turtle release was amazing. That turtle had been at Hobbitstee since September of 2014 and he was in really bad shape when he arrived. He had returned to murky water after having been injured and he had a raging infection. I spent months battling this infection and it took everything and the kitchen sink to safe his life, but he made it and I released him back into the waters of his home.

Snapping Turtle released in Mildmay
Snapping Turtle released in Mildmay

The second turtle’s injuries where less serious, but it was still delightful to release her into a very nice wetland really close to the GSP coordinates given to me by the finder.

Midland Painted turtle release
Midland Painted turtle release

With both turtles released it was time for us to have some fun. Finding a campsite proved to be a bit of a challenge, but we managed. The next morning we started on the list of things we wanted to see and do. High on my list was Singing Sands because I had hopes of seeing a real life EMR. As the only venomous snake in Ontario they are really rare and an endangered species, but there is a somewhat healthy population on the Bruce Peninsula. My hopes where squashed rather quickly.

As soon as we arrived at Singing Sands I was horror struck. The tiny parking lot was milling with way to many people who all where trying to pile on a tiny stretch of beach and in the process they where actively trampling all the gorgeous orchids and other sensitive plant that grow there.

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We walked down the boardwalk conveniently put there so you can enjoy the wetlands opposite the beach. Although I enjoyed seeing the unique flora and fauna I was once again disgusted with peoples behavior. Children left unsupervised where running around through the wetland away from the pathways and boardwalk to chase/catch frogs and in the process obliterating the delicate little orchids that grow there. I bit my tongue for as long as I could, but eventually had to tell the kids to stop doing that.

The throng of humanity present there seemed utterly oblivious of their surroundings. The surroundings that make Bruce National Park so unique. It left me feeling sad. I don’t understand how or why people go there and try their best to destroy what made them come there in the first place. My heart goes out to the Canada Parks staff who have to witness this carnage day after day.

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orchid

It wasn’t long before I simply could not take it anymore and had to leave.  I had to battle utter stupidity to make my way out of the parking lot. We had to forgo the other amazing sights of Tobemory due to the insane # of people waiting for the boats and swarming the hiking trails which really takes the fun out of it for me.

I am sad to say I could not leave Tobemory fast enough…

I write this to remind people to open their eyes and look around. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, but please enjoy the beauty of nature and try not to be an invasive presence in it. Teach your children to respect their surroundings and observe common sense such as staying on designated pathways so that you are not ruining the experience for the next person to come along or even generations to come.

Our Turtle Project needs your help

Every year we have done more and better with our turtle project. Last year we worked with several agencies and where successful in getting turtle crossing signs erected in a sensitive wetland area. We are continuing to work on getting more of these signs erected.
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We successfully assisted a variety of injured turtles and we also hatched turtle eggs we recovered from a gravid turtle female killed on the road.
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These hatchlings where recently released and in doing so we where able to somewhat reduce the genetic loss of the breeding age female who lost her life on her way to lay her eggs.

With some of the funding we received from Imperial Oil we where able to purchase a new incubator. Turtles mostly lay their eggs during the month of June, so we ask that if you see a recently deceased turtle during the month of June that you collect it for us (please wear gloves) and get it to us asap. We need the whole turtle and the exact location where the turtle was found. The dead turtle needs to be kept at what ever the temp is and should not be refrigerated.  We are hoping to recover and hatch as many eggs as possible to help our ailing turtle population.

I know this is asking a lot, but we really need your help with this as we lack the funding, resources and man-power to drive all over to pick up dead turtles.

Keep in mind that we can not and will not touch (and neither should you) actual active nest sites no matter how inconvenient the location of those nests may be. Doing this would be a violation of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act as well as the Endangered Species Act. 7 out of the 8 species of turtles we have in ON are on the Endangered Species List.

As always we also ask you to be on the look out for turtles on the road. They need help crossing, but please don’t risk human lives in doing this. Make sure it is safe for you to pull over and get out of the car. Please cross turtles in the direction they are going and don’t move them to a different location or turn them around. They are purposely going somewhere and disrupting them is not helpful.

If you find an injured turtle we can help. Thanks to some of the Imperial Oil funding we will be able to rehab more turtles this year as we where able to add some much needed housing for larger turtles like Snapping Turtles. Please do not leave an injured turtle by the side of the road and do nothing. Call us, Call he local humane society, animal control or another wildlife facility. Our turtle population is declining and each specimen counts. Never transport a turtle in water (they might drown).

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Even if the injuries on the turtle look really bad, please don’t just leave it to die a slow painful death. Turtles are able to recover from some really serious injuries, but if they can’t they deserve a humane end.

The turtle in the picture below was dropped off at a vet clinic. The vet in question was going to euthanize her because he thought the injuries where to serious. He opted to give us a call and we where able to help her make a full recovery.

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Another problem turtles have to deal with is fishing hooks/lines. They get tangled in the discarded line and some of the larger turtles have a habit of swallowing baited hooks. Fishermen, please take your discarded line with you and please don’t just cut your line when you snag a turtle. Research has shown that prevalence of swallowed fishhooks increases with size.

This means that often it is Snapping Turtles who get hooked and in rare cases Spiny Softshell Turtles (only because the species it self is rare). Snapping Turtles are listed as special concern and the Spiny Softshell Turtles as threatened on the endangered species list.

Removing a fishhook from a large Turtle is not an easy thing, but I would still urge you not to simply cut your line as that could mean a long and slow death sentence for the turtle.

Luckily the fisherman who caught the Spiny Softshell in the picture knew what to do and she was helped by Dr. Sweetman from the Downtown Vet Clinic in Windsor. He surgically removed the hook and she made a full recovery.

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If the hook is swallowed and you are willing to take a change you can get the Turtle to bite down on a stick and use curved pliers to remove the hook by bending it back the same way it went in, but keep in mind that a Turtle neck can stretch a long way and that a bite can result in a serious injury.

The best way to hold a Snapping turtle is with one hand under its carapace (bottom shell) and using the tail to stabilize the turtle. Never pick a Snapping Turtle up by it’s tail as this can actually cause spinal injuries and causes a great deal of pain to the turtle.

If you need to transport a turtle a good size plastic tote or other type of box will do. Never transport a turtle in water (they may drown), make sure that there is air holes and that the turtle can’t tip the box or push the lid of.

If you can’t get the hook out because it is to deeply embedded or the turtle is uncooperative never hesitate to contact an Authorized Wildlife Custodian near you. We have the skills, tools and resources to deal with cases like this.

And lastly..we need funds to expand our turtle project. $350 buys us another incubator (and yes we need a couple more), $500 buys a Snapping Turtle Enclosure and $100 buys an enclosure for a smaller turtle. These are all things we will use for many years to come. $1000 buys the medication to take care of one injured Snapping Turtle, $45 buys and x-ray, $10 will feed a turtle for a day, so as you can see all donations count. In return for your donations we will send you a tax receipt and you will have the satisfaction in knowing you made a difference.

 

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us. chantal@hobbitstee.com or 519 587 2980