Research and monitoring
Point Pelee National Park
The marsh is Point Pelee’s largest habitat and is home to six different species of turtles, all of which are at risk. Habitat loss, predation and human impact are the major threats to turtles. To help turtles, we created a nest protection program, to reduce some of these threats.
During the month of June, a female turtle looks for sandy soil to lay her eggs. She digs a hole, lays and covers her eggs and then leaves the nest to return to the marsh. The nest is not protected by the adult, and is vulnerable to predation by animals like raccoons. To help protect the nests, Parks Canada staff place boxes made out of wood and wire to keep predators out, while still allowing warmth and moisture to reach the eggs, crucial to their development.
This wee warbler can be found in Point Pelee’s swamp forest during the late spring and summer months. If you are not looking carefully though, you might miss it, as there are only two recorded mating pairs suspected to nest in the park. Despite being small in size, the Prothonotary warbler can be recognized by its bright yellow body, olive green back and grey wings and tail. It nests in naturally created cavities, such as the hollowed out trunks of dead trees, and tends to avoid settling in forests smaller than 100 acres. It finds protection by nesting over the standing waters of the swamp forest where its predators – like snakes and racoons – will have more trouble finding it.
In 2007, the Prothonotary warbler was accorded protection under the federal Species at Risk Act and Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, after a steady decline in the population over the previous 40 years. In 2008, just 10 pairs were recorded in all of Canada. Parks Canada is taking action to reduce some of the threats to the Prothonotary warbler and to encourage them to nest in the park.
Nesting options in Point Pelee National Park
The loss of breeding habitat caused by invasive insects and the draining of swamp forests across Ontario significantly impact this warbler’s ability to find suitable nesting spots. Point Pelee National Park has helped mitigate this threat by installing nesting cavities over standing water in the swamp forest to attract this species and increase nesting opportunities.
Nesting cavities are monitored by Resource Conservation staff three to four times a week during the breeding season to collect data on the number of Prothonotary warblers in the park and their nesting locations. This data helps Parks Canada and Bird Studies Canada understand the needs and threats to this species at risk.
This rare bird is one of the hundreds of bird species that visit the park each year. However, its population decline demonstrates how rapidly changes to the environment can affect the species that have called Point Pelee home for decades.
Best place to spot the Prothonotary Warbler:
Woodland Nature Trail
In an effort to create a safe overwintering site, Point Pelee has constructed four artificial hibernacula throughout the park. Built from the decommissioning of old building foundations and old septic systems, the hibernacula provide snakes access to dry, safe cavities below the frost line to spend the winter. To date, monitoring has shown at least two adult Eastern Foxsnakes have emerged from the newly constructed hibernation sites.
After emerging from a hibernaculum in the spring, female Eastern Foxsnakes are on the lookout for a place to lay their eggs. Female foxsnakes seek out nesting sites with high humidity to keep the eggs from drying out and to protect them from predators like raccoons. Natural sites, conducive to nesting, such as rotting cavities of fallen trees and abandoned rodent burrows, can be hard to find. In summer 2019 the park will be creating some artificial nest areas for Foxsnakes. These artificial nest areas will consist of decomposing leaf piles and woodchips near restored savannah sites where there is plenty of sun to keep the eggs warm.
Research and monitoring on Eastern Foxsnakes has been taking place in the park for nearly 40 years, however these snakes are shy and hard to find. Snake Fungal Disease has been confirmed in several of our endangered Eastern Foxsnakes at Point Pelee. With this new threat, the importance of monitoring the Eastern Foxsnake population at Point Pelee is growing. Point Pelee is working with Ontario Nature to launch a new pilot monitoring program in several areas of the snakes’ Ontario range. Over time, it is hoped that this study will capture enough data to determine if the population is rising or falling in the park.
Share your sightings!
If you see an Eastern Foxsnake during your park visit, report your sighting to the nearest park staff.
If you see an Eastern Foxsnake outside park boundaries, report your sightings to Ontario Nature.
The southern ﬂying squirrel is one of the two species of ﬂying squirrels found in North America. The southern ﬂying squirrel is much smaller, has a white underbelly, and is more greyish in colour than its counterpart, the northern ﬂying squirrel.
The southern ﬂying squirrel is nocturnal - it sleeps in holes or tree cavities during the day and is active at night. Their large dark eyes assist with the squirrels’ night vision. At night, the southern ﬂying squirrel gracefully glides from tree to tree using its gliding membrane or patagium, a fold of skin that extends from the wrist of the front leg to the ankle of the hind leg. Flying Squirrels are omnivores, their diet includes fruits, seeds, acorns and nuts, as well as insects, fungi, and birds’ eggs. Like most other squirrels, they love to collect and hoard piles of nuts and acorns for future use.
Bringing them back
Southern ﬂying squirrels are native to this region and to Point Pelee National Park. However, due to a combination of human activities, the southern ﬂying squirrel disappeared from the region and the park by the 1940s. Scientists believe they disappeared due to a loss of habitat, predation by domesticated cats, and the geographic isolation of the park.
Point Pelee has made great efforts to reintroduce the southern ﬂying squirrel, and the protection and maintenance of the ecological integrity of its habitat has allowed its population to stabilize.
Over a two-year period in 1993 and 1994, working with researchers from the University of Guelph, the Friends of Point Pelee and Pelee Island Winery, Point Pelee National Park successfully reintroduced ninety-nine southern ﬂying squirrels to the park. Continued monitoring of their health and population by park staff every other year will determine the survival of the gliders of the night.
The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only native lizard and lives right here in Point Pelee. They are easy to identify –black with ﬁve creamy- yellow lines running down the length of their bodies.
While visiting Point Pelee, you may ﬁnd a skink basking in the sun. Skinks are cold-blooded and rely on the warmth of the sun to warm themselves up.
When they are young they have bright blue tails. As skinks get older, their tails fade into a bronze colour. If males are ready to mate, they will have bright orange jaws and chins.
When skinks are being chased by a predator, they can actually separate their tail from their body. The separated tail can act as a distraction to the predator as the skink runs away. Five-lined skinks are able to grow back their tails, but only once! For this reason, it’s especially important not to pick up skinks you may find basking in the sun.
Skinks like to nest under logs that are moderately decayed, typically found in savannah habitat – where there is open space, sun and sandy soil. Females lay anywhere from two to ﬁfteen eggs at a time. Each egg is about the size of a jellybean.
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