GeoTrip to the North Shore of Lake Erie, Ontario’s Banana Belt
By Andrew Malcolm
Photography by Mary-Marta Briones-Bird
The GeoTrip to Lake Erie’s North Shore was timed perfectly; the weather was beautiful, the trees were bursting with a spring bloom, and Long Point was alive with birds in the middle of their annual migration to the Boreal Forests. A full school bus of alumni eagerly left Toronto to explore what is often a forgotten part of Southern Ontario. Professor Emeritus Tony Davis led the trip, sharing his expertise and enthusiasm for the physical geography and ecology of South Western Ontario. Davis made the Journey as much a part of the trip as the destination, explaining the physical geography that led to the formation of the escarpment, the historical shoreline of Lake Iroquois, and the changing agriculture as we drove from clay based soils to sand based soils. As wind turbines came into view, he explained the changing energy industry in South Western Ontario, and the possibilities for fracking, a controversial method of removing natural gas from the crust that is used in the US but not currently practiced in Ontario.
Our first stop was the Long Point Bird Observatory, the oldest organization of its type in North America. The observatory is run entirely by volunteers, and two of these volunteers gave the group a tour of the nets and cages that are the traps for birds, and the lab where the birds are banded and released. The volunteers skillfully handled the birds with a bander’s hold, where the bird is incapable of any movement, which for birds means they will not attempt to struggle, and sometimes a photographer’s hold, where the bird is restrained by the legs, allowing them to move, but still without harming themselves. Although time was taken to allow the group to observe each bird and learn a little about the scientific methods, data collection, and data analysis, typically this is a speedy process; the birds are transported from the nets in cloth bags to the lab, where volunteers spend as little as 12 seconds identifying, measuring, weighing, and banding them before they are released, and the observatory can band up to 500 birds in a day.
After eating a lunch on the beach of Long Point, the bus drove the group to Backus Woods, one of the finest examples of Carolinian forests in Southern Ontario. Davis drew our attention to skunk cabbage, growing in swamps with giant, prehistoric-like leaves; tulip trees, which had large trunks that grew straight up for 30 meters, and only at this height extended branches into the canopy; stumps of chestnut trees, long ago wiped out in the wild by chestnut blight, a disease inadvertently introduced in 1904; the echo of a pileated woodpecker, the largest in North America; and a number of other specimens in the very diverse forest.
UTAGA organizes GeoTrips to help alumni stay engaged with the department and each other. There are many ways to stay in touch with the department and learn about future Alumni events, including our listserv, geoplan, and the website. Alumni of this group were very grateful to Tony Davis for volunteering to lead this trip—it would be hard to find a more knowledgeable or entertaining speaker for a journey through South Western Ontario.