Pelee Island is great. Perfect for my research because several species of snakes that are listed as endangered in Ontario live there: the blue racer, Lake Erie watersnake and eastern foxsnake. In fact, Pelee Island is the only place in Canada where the first two species occur!
Last spring, I headed down to Pelee Island with other conservation staff to carry out snake surveys on conservation properties. We were joined by Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) staff and some volunteers (all of whom were keen biologists).
A bit rainy the first morning, but it soon cleared up and was sunny and warm for the rest of the time. John Urquhart, our staff ecologist (who also works on the atlas), found our first blue racer of the trip. We also found foxsnakes on all of the properties that we searched.
By the end of the trip, our tally was 3-5 racers, 17 foxsnakes (3 were dead on the road), and lots of Lake Erie watersnakes, eastern gartersnakes melanistic eastern gartersnakes (a completely black colour phase) and dekay’s brownsnakes. We also found the endangered small-mouthed salamander on a hike at the provincial fish point nature reserve (we’ve also been told this species occurs on our reserve).
One of the properties we surveyed was truly amazing. We found two foxsnakes within about 5 minutes of searching. Just a few minutes after that, I spotted a racer (or more accurately, I spotted a tail disappear and the grass moving as something sped through it – which is often all you see of a racer). It headed straight for one of our volunteers, who was able to confirm that it was indeed a racer. However, in the process of finding the racer, she spotted a third foxsnake!
It was great to spend the weekend in an area with such a high diversity and abundance of reptiles and amphibians. However, it’s also sad that there are so few places in Ontario that are like that now. Many reptile and amphibian species have disappeared from large areas of southern Ontario, and, unfortunately, some species are in real danger of disappearing from Ontario altogether.
Joe Crowley is Ontario Nature’s Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Coordinator.