“If you look over to the right along that far shore, you can see a pair of swans on the nest,” Rachel, my Parks Canada guide, indicated from the stern of the canoe.
“Wow! Can we get the canoe in position so I can get a good shot of them?”
She said we could and so we paddled a bit closer – not too close, as the protective parents may become very ornery if they feel you’re too close – and swung the canoe around so the bow was pointed toward the nest and I had a clear shot.
It was a bit tricky as the wind was quite strong, pushing us along the surface of Lake Pond, one of several fairly shallow but large ponds located in the northeast portion of Point Pelee National Park. A thin strip of sand separates the ponds from Lake Erie, and they often feel the effects of the winds blowing off the lake. In this instance, the effect was amplified by the fact the lake level had risen to the point where the lake water had actually flooded over the beach and into the ponds.
That contrasted with the state of the water where we put our canoe in, just beside the marsh boardwalk. As we paddled out from the shore into the calm marsh waters, we spotted a pair of eastern kingbirds sitting in a willow tree along the edge of the marsh grasses. One was sitting on the nest, the other up higher in the branches. The male flew off as our canoe approached, but the mother remained sitting on the nest, looking after her brood. Barn swallows also zipped through the air, pausing only briefly on the grasses or along the top of the boardwalk railing. Several swallow nests can be seen on the viewing tower by the dock where canoes and kayaks put-in to the water.
Down the edge of the marsh we continued to paddle, heading into Thiessen Channel, a narrow water path that led into the series of ponds: Lake, East Cranberry, West Cranberry, Crossing, and Lily Pond. There are a few other small ponds in the immediate vicinity, but they’re not accessible from that main channel.
Black terns wheeled back and forth overhead, alternately diving and soaring over the marshes, making sure we were not going to harm their nests, located on low-lying mud banks that dotted the marsh.
Paddling along the channel, we spotted several red-winged blackbirds – the park’s most numerous bird species – and more barn swallows.
We saw other wildlife aside from the birds (and the bugs – which can be quite a nuisance if you’re paddling with bare legs!) along the marsh and channel: there are six different species of turtles in the marsh, and we spotted a few of them, sunning on rocks and patches of mud.
Of course, once we got through the channel, that’s when we encountered the highlight of that day’s adventures on the water: the tundra swans and their six cygnets on the mound along the marsh-edge. I was able to take several shots before we paddled back toward the channel to see what other feathered or shelled gems we could find.
IF YOU GO
You can rent canoes through the Friends of Point Pelee. Be aware that if the wind is really strong, they may not rent you a canoe for safety purposes. http://friendsofpointpelee.com/
The Pelee Wings Nature Store also rents canoes and kayaks. You may also bring your canoe or kayak. http://www.peleewings.ca/
Parks Canada hosts interpretive programs for groups, taking them out into the marsh in large voyageur canoes. You might also want to consider staying there in one of the oTENTiks. https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/pelee/activ/otentik
While in the area, if you want to enjoy further adventures on the water, you can also explore Pelee Island, but you need to book a ferry ride to make the 90-minute trip out into Lake Erie. http://www.ontarioferries.com/en/mv-jiimaan-mv-pelee-islander/