Over two kilometres of the Sydenham River winds through the Ontario Nature property; Credit: David Coulson

The Sydenham River Nature Reserve is Ontario Nature’s first riverine reserve. Acquired in December 2016, the property is located within the Carolinian Life Zone that stretches from Windsor to Toronto. It is an area that includes some of the most significant habitats and threatened plant and animal species in Ontario.

I visited the property three weeks ago to participate in the first BioBlitz conducted there. On a wet and muddy Tuesday morning, I joined a group of 13 other participants who were ready to explore and discover life underneath the Sydenham canopy. Led by Ontario Nature’s Emma Horrigan and Smera Sukumar, the two-day BioBlitz would provide a valuable snapshot of the reserve’s biodiversity.

Credit: David Coulson

I stepped into the forest feeling like I had entered a natural oasis. The canopy overhead was alive with birdsong, the understory was brimming with blue and purple bluebell flowers and the air was fragrant with citrus and garlic.

Virginia Bluebells; Credit: David Coulson

The highlight of my first day was finding the biggest tree I’ve ever seen in Ontario. A gnarled and towering sycamore with a girth of 225 cm! Standing under just one of its branches was enough to provide shelter from the rain.

Credit: Smera Sukumar

On the second day, we travelled across now-vacant crop fields and into a winding ravine where we saw salamanders, frogs and white trillium blossoms.

Wood frog; Credit: David Coulson

Specialists from St. Clair Conservation also joined us to help identify and document the freshwater mussels we found along the river bank.

Some of the many species of mussels found in the Sydenham River; Credit: David Coulson

“At least 34 different species thrive in this river,” Lambton Wildlife’s Larry Cornelis told me, “making it the second richest place in North America for freshwater mussels.”

After the BioBlitz was over, I thought about all the amazing wildlife I saw in two short days and the beauty of this spectacular place. The experience was a reminder of how important protecting land and waterways, like the Sydenham River, is for sustaining Ontario’s diverse natural heritage.

David Coulson is a photographer and visual storyteller whose work focuses on sharing stories about natural history, conservation and people’s connection to nature. www.davecoulson.ca