[Ontbirds]Point-less Pelee

Jean Iron jeaniron at sympatico.ca
Sun May 13 21:59:34 EDT 2007

I just returned from three days of birding with Jean Iron (she's 
still there) at Point Pelee, Ontario. The birding was excellent but 
seeing Point Pelee's once famous sand point gone is causing me much 
concern for the future of Point Pelee National Park. Point Pelee is 
the southernmost mainland of Canada jutting into Lake Erie. It is not 
far from the twin cities of Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan. 
The front page headline in Saturday's (May 12) Windsor Star newspaper 
was, "Pt. Pelee tip gone forever?" Included were two comparison 
aerial photos taken in 1956 and 2007. The 1956 photo showed a long 
sand spit reaching far out into Lake Erie beyond the last trees; the 
2007 photo showed today's Pelee without its sand point. Storms washed 
away the sand tip and erosion is now undercutting the trees at the 
tip. The long sand point where thousands of gulls, terns and 
shorebirds once rested is gone. Peter Zuzek, a shoreline and flood 
consultant, quoted in the Windsor Star said about the Pelee's tip 
"There's a very real chance that, if everything continues as is, it's 
not coming back." Just few years ago hundreds of birders in May lined 
up side-by-side beyond the last trees to scope the thousands of 
waterbirds for rarities gathered on the tip. Today the birds have no 
sand spit to gather and rest. In the recent past after storms 
threatened the tip, the national park protected the shore with gabion 
baskets (wire baskets filled with rock) and large boulders to slow 
erosion. The overall problem is less sand deposition carried by Lake 
Erie currents than in the past. Erosion is now greater than sand 
deposition. Further quoting from the Windsor Star, "The park has been 
losing a metre per year of Carolinian forest since 1974 and 1.7 
metres a year of beach and marsh in the northern third of the park" 
said Zuzek. Less new sand being deposited at Point Pelee results from 
a combination of past and current human disturbances: (1) lake sand 
off Point Pelee was mined from 1910 to 1984; (2) the construction of 
harbours and piers north of Point Pelee collects sand and prevents it 
from rebuilding the park's shoreline, (3) and dredging of harbours 
takes sand out of the natural system, (4) and shoreline protection of 
homes north of the park has slowed erosion of new sand from being 
carried by currents that in the past was deposited at Point Pelee, 
and (5) climate warming means that Lake Erie is not frozen in winter 
as long as in the past so winter storms will be doing more wave 
damage if the lake is not covered by ice. It seems a matter of time 
until tip is gradually undercut by waves or a violent Lake Erie storm 
cuts openings across the narrow forested tip. I'm posting this 
information because birders and all who value Point Pelee must know 
what is happening before it is too late.

Ron Pittaway
Minden ON
jeaniron at sympatico.ca

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