The secret wildlife of Canatara Park

Cardinals are one of many birds that can be found year-round at Canatara Park.

Vanessa Hrvatin

Before gassing up the car and driving to Point Pelee, there is somewhere closer to home that offers equally incredible wildlife: Canatara Park.

“Some say Canatara Park is like the Pelee of the North,” says Sarnia’s Eric Marcum, active birder and president elect of Lambton Wildlife Incorporated.

“Canatara is also much smaller than Point Pelee so the variety is truly remarkable.”

On average, about 150 bird species are identified annually in Canatara.

Among Marcum’s memorable sightings was a western tanager, which has been spotted no more than a handful of times in Ontario.

He’s also spotted a prairie warbler, of which there are only an estimated 300 breeding pairs in Canada.

Marcum is hoping to create a Canatara bird checklist in the near future.

He developed an interest in birds during a field course he took in junior high school. Since moving to Canada from the U.S. he has spent countless hours in the park, along with other members of Lambton Wildlife, recording birds based on sight and sound.

“The thing that makes birding exciting is that you don’t know what you’re going to get from one year to the next,” he said.

Of course birds aren’t the only things to watch for in the park. The endangered Butler’s garter snake was relocated from Point Edward’s waterfront in 2012 to allow for new development.

Southern flying squirrels have been spotted on several occasions. Wild turkeys also call Canatara home, a species that was reintroduced to Ontario in the 1980’s after being extirpated by unregulated hunting.

Scattered leaves provide a colourful display of the park’s equally extraordinary plant diversity, including white pine, sugar maple and beech trees. Lambton Wildlife is planning to put placards on trees to allow for easy identification.

The park offers a spectacular nature experience right here in Sarnia, says Marcum.

“There aren’t a lot of green areas in Sarnia. But Canatara to the golf course is a nice green stretch for bird migration and wildlife in general,” he says.

“You never know what you’re going to come across when you’re out in nature.”

Lambton Wildlife is the largest nature group in Southwestern Ontario. Those interested in learning more or sharing their expertise can visit www.lambtonwildlife.com and the “Lambton Wildlife” Facebook page.

Sarnia resident Vanessa Hrvatin is a recent Queen’s University graduate pursuing a career in science journalism