by Shannon Wilmot

Birders visiting the Point Pelee area this summer may be disappointed, say local naturalists. Last June, trees and other vegetation at North Dike, which forms the north boundary of Point Pelee National Park, were destroyed in order to drain a clogged ditch.

A portion of North Dike falls within the park, and local naturalist Alan Wormington says it is a popular spot for birders. More than 30 species breed here, including willow flycatchers, eastern kingbirds, northern cardinals, yellow-billed cuckoos, mourning doves, yellow warblers and indigo buntings. “Birders would often go birding up on top of the bank – it was excellent,” he says.

The Town of Leamington authorized the dredging following complaints from neighbours that the ditch was full and needed to be cleared. Concerned for the well-being of the habitat and wildlife of the area, and that clearing out the ditch could be in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, Wormington began contacting local officials and other federal wildlife agencies.

Gary Colgan of Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Division says an officer visited the site when the work was half completed to ensure that it was not in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act. The officer reported no active nests or other evidence of breeding in progress, and work continued, leaving birders and other naturalists to find new locations to visit. Colgan stresses that his office takes all complaints seriously and encourages Ontarians who have concerns about breeding birds in their area to contact their local Canadian Wildlife Services’ office.

Wormington, who believes a full environmental assessment should have been done at North Dike, says local bird enthusiasts continue to be upset. “I feel several acts were violated including the Species At Risk Act. Parks Canada’s mandate is to protect the environment, but something went wrong here. This site was [an] excellent 2.7-kilometre strip of trees and thickets that was right beside Pelee Marsh. It was just a great place for birds.”