When reminiscing on Point Pelee National Park, I return immediately to my last night under its Carolinian canopy, a campfire throwing short-lived lashes of light into the crushing dark of surrounding vegetation. Sharing my company was interpretation coordinator Andrew Laforet, a Parks Canada staffer setting up a small speaker on the nearby picnic table.
He explained that playing birdsong is a dicey business, causing nearby birds unnecessary stress by convincing them an intruder has entered their territory. But tonight we would risk only a few seconds of audio in order to start things off, as staffers alone are occasionally allowed to do.
He clicked play, and the low, authentic hoot of the Great Horned owl was cast into the evening, accompanied only by the roar of Lake Erie. We waited, patiently, to see if our momentary indiscretion had paid off, which of course it had.
A couple of minutes later we were rewarded with a return hoot from the west, so distant that I could barely hear it. A short while later another hoot joined in, this one much closer, perhaps just beyond the campground. Then there was a third, a fourth, a fifth and so on.
“I think you’ve gotten them started,” I said to Andrew.
“The trick is shutting them up,” he replied.
He was right. I stayed up in my oTENTik most of the evening, mesmerised by the multi-species chorus taking place just beyond its firm fabric. To my knowledge, they hooted all night, and the next day were replaced by songbirds, enriching every moment with a new melody.
Point Pelee is our second smallest national park, but it doesn’t feel that way. Home to beaches, dunes, savannas, marshes and outstanding deciduous forests, all crammed into 15 square kilometres, whole new worlds await anyone with a bike and the courage to explore.
From Camp Henry – its 24 oTENTiks were made available to the public for the first time in 2018 – one can pedal to the southernmost tip of Canada, the very end of this peninsula park which is farther south even that northern California. On a fine and clear day, it abounds with shorebirds and allows an easy walk to the very edge of our homeland, swallowed at your feet by fresh water.
If however, you pedal north, there wait marshes with a boardwalk showcasing carnivorous plants which consume unsuspecting insects, nesting Black terns which are a species-at-risk under provincial law and extremely difficult to find, Mute swans, Great Blue herons, waterfowl and myriad reptiles holding these waters, traversable on rented canoes.
Do away with direction entirely and race down whichever trail suits you, as I did much of one afternoon, and you will brush shoulders with the biodiversity making Point Pelee famous. My bike came to a sudden, skidding halt on several occasions, allowing a troop of Wild turkeys to pass over the trail, admiring a skittish group of deer within view through the trees or pulling out my camera to immortalize a passing bird, its momentary flash of plumage evidence enough that I had never before seen this species, and was not likely to again.
This park’s privileged position on two major migratory bird flyways and a decidedly southern latitude has made it rife with Canadian rarities both plant and animal. It is the ideal destination for lovers of nature, young and old, and for those with excess energy to spend on its trails, which can take you as far in this park as any car. There’s quite simply no place like it.
Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author based in the Maritimes.
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