Dispatches from Petrie Island
If you'd care to put down a few words
about your experiences at Petrie Island, in English or in
French, don't hesitate to send them
here and they may be
included in a future dispatch, as appropriate. We are always
glad to hear about people's experiences at Petrie Island.
Si vous voulez écrire
quelques mots à propos de vos expériences aux îles Petrie, en
anglais ou en français, n'hésitez pas à les adresser
cela fera peut-être partie d'un parution future. Nous sommes
toujours heureux de connaître vos expériences des îles Petrie.
Read previous dispatches:
Second half of 2003 /
First half of 2003 /
Second half of 2002 /
First half of 2002 /
When I was heading east on your trail between the River and Beaver Loops I witnessed for the first time, and didn't know they existed on Petrie Island, I saw a female deer with her two or three young fawns, on the path. I froze and waited to see what she was going to do. I didn't want her to charge at me in defence of her young. I luckily found an alternative path to travel on nearby, and hoped we wouldn't meet along the way on this path. We didn't and I was able to get back to the Conservation Building safely. And on Thurs. Aug. 4, 2011 on the same path previously mentioned I saw a mother Skunk and her baby. Again I stood still as they did to see what she would do, and fortunately she moved and took her baby into the bush. I've also witnessed seeing a Muskrat twice, and some kind of woodpecker, probably the Pilated
one. Well thought this would be of interest to you.
Spotted at a birder website: "I'm starting to like that beach area on
Petrie...a lot :-) Let's see, this fall there have been a Wheatear, Pipits,
Horned Larks, Lapland Longspur, Snow Buntings (some of the most approachable
I've seen), a tame Black-bellied Plover that ate peanuts, Brants and now a
It had been a little over a year since we last visited Petrie. (Just too many other activities for us old retired folks.) We were heading out on an hour’s drive east of the city so we stopped for a brief 45 minute walkabout on the trails.
Tony Beck had a group of bird watchers at the Park this morning. (Glad to see the birds of Petrie are being better “recognized” now. For the un-initiated see the Petrie Birds video at
While we didn’t see any herons, we did spot a yellow warbler, some chickadees and two kingfishers in addition to other species. A red-tailed hawk was sitting on overhead wires as we descended from the Queensway. Hope Tony’s group saw more variety than we did.
There were a good number of ground nut blooms along the Turtle trail, large fall asters by the FOPI Interpretative Centre, a few bottle gentian on the Basswood trail, turtlehead along the Bill Holland trail, and jack-in-the-pulpit red seeds were sitting on their stems waiting to fall off or to be chewed off by passing squirrels. A sprinkling of mauve gerardia blooms were in evidence in several areas. The bull thistles were in full seed - scattering their dandelion-like seeds to any adjacent plants etc that they could latch on to. Bladder campion were still much in evidence. The orange and brighter orange touch-me-nots were covered with dew.
A few evening primroses, pickerel weed, lots of purple loosestrife, and white water lilies were blooming in areas. Talking about water-lilies, this year’s heat seemed to have produced some quite large leaved plants by the very old abandoned beaver lodge at the west end of the Beaver Trail. (We must have been the first people down the Beaver Trail this morning as we were walking into spider webs all the way along it.)
It has been wet enough that mushrooms were sticking their heads up in various places.
There were a few squirrels around, one of the many chipmunks disappeared into the tall grasses next to the trail as we walked along, but then emerged and sauntered almost between our legs. Talk about being bold!
A vole also scurried across the path at the narrows – we’ve have seen them there before.
A few bull frogs, juvenile and adult, were at the amphibian pond and a good number of leopard frogs leapt across the trails as we walked. One particularly brightly leopard frog was at the start of the Basswood trail by the culverts.
We saw two turtles by the turtle stand (including one VERY large painted turtle) and two at the narrows; the absence of other turtles is likely explained by how warm that water is with all the summer heat we have been having, the turtles don’t likely need to bask as much as they do in May and June.
A few quick and dirty (and fuzzy) grab shots can be found at:
I saw a Great Egret in the Marsh at Petrie Island this morning. I saw three of them on Friday at Shirley's Bay so I'm doing pretty good.
The only activity I have seen at the new Wood Duck box #5 on the turtle log has been visits by Tree Swallows and Great Crested Flycatchers. Both will use the nesting boxes on occasion.
You have to see this. instructional and reveals stuff I never knew. wood
duck can have many intruders while incubating eggs. make sure you slide down
to see all the photos and also click on the movie (highlighted in blue) to
see chicks under/beside mom
I spotted this Blue Heron around 3:30pm on November 16th. He was flying around the
Turtle Pond near the parking lot. He landed on the far side on the inlet and I figured that he would fly away before I could reach him, but I walked out anyway and was lucky enough to get within 30-40 feet of him before he flew away.
I've attached another image showing a distance shot and his location. The weather was pretty nice (around 7-8C) and the foliage is pretty barren now but quite pretty. I've attached a sample image of that as well.
Again, it had been a while since we had been at Petrie and as we had an errand to run in Orleans, we thought we would take a quick walk around the park. We hadn’t been there at mid-morning very often; most visits are earlier in the day, so we weren’t sure what we would see. It was a partly cloudy, cool morning, and a fair breeze blowing from the north-west, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore but we did get a few pictures and noted some of the flora and fauna.
There had been a rain (again!) overnight so many of the sensitive ferns were still dotted with rain drops. All that rain seems to be drowning some trees as we noticed a few starting to show red leaves, while it is not unusual to see a few red leaves in August there seemed to be quite a few more than expected. Just past the end of the trail, we could see one maple that appeared to be in full fall foliage.
Among the many flowers that we saw (and remembered) were:
- white water lilies
- pickerel weed
- flowering rush
- queen anne’s lace
- goat’s rue ( a relatively scarce flower of which Petrie is known for its population)
- evening primrose
- purple loosestrife
- cardinal flower
- bull thistle (in bloom and seed)
- joe pye weed
- high bush cranberry in berry
- jack-in-the-pulpit seeds in their green stage
- sweet pea
There were no ducks to be seen, one heron was in the bay on the way in from the Queensway. We saw two kingbirds, a large kingfisher kept moving down the trail just ahead of us.
One well fed ground hog scurried across the trail at one point and a few black squirrels were around along with one red squirrel which came out to check on us.
As the air was cool and there were still clouds around, there weren’t a lot of turtles out basking, but we did see perhaps 20 painted turtles. On one log there was a painted turtle with what looked like a dented shell and covered in moss, another one with a clean and smooth shell and the third one had a very rough shell, so much so we thought it must be a map turtle, but the markings on its neck and tail seem to indicate a painted turtle.
A few frogs were lying quietly in one of the pools along side the trail, including one “granddaddy” of a frog.
The rain all summer have kept the mosquitoes and other bugs around which meant that damsel and dragon flies were much in evidence.
Pictures at: http://www.fototime.com/inv/92FA0362D87E496
After too long an absence, we headed down to Petrie this morning. It was
too nice a day to stay inside.
It has been almost 3 years since my last dispatch. After 6 years of
intensive visits including over 4 years of dispatches we felt we had to seek
life beyond Petrie, but it was nice this morning to come back to the life in
The maple tree buds were swelling and there was a few fresh new sprouts
coming up through the leaf litter from last fall.
Most of the inland water areas such as Turtle Pond are still well frozen
over, but the river itself is wide open and flowing very quickly. The Bill
Holland Trail is flooded in a few areas, but nothing a pair of rubber boots
could not handle. There are a number of trees down across the trail but all
were easy to step over.
have been better named Muskrat Pond – there were about 8-10 muskrats out on
the ice or swimming in what open water there was around the edges of the
pond. We had hoped we might see a turtle up on the ice, but no such luck.
There were black and grey squirrels scurrying about as well as a few
chipmunks and red squirrels.
We heard a few flickers, but never saw any; red wing blackbirds
also in relative abundance. Chickadees and nuthatches were flitting about
along with some “LBJs” (Little brown jobs <grin> ). The song sparrows we
singing their hearts out. A good number of robins were looking for breakfast
as were a few downy woodpeckers. Only mallards and one wood duck made up the
population of ducks we found, the mergansers aren’t back yet. Canada geese
were in plentiful supply. We found a crow’s nest by following two crows
flying in with full beaks. A good number of gulls were going for ride down
the river on an ice flow – sure beats flying !!
A few pictures are at:
For comparison you might want to visit a Dispatch from April 2, 2005 at:
http://www.petrieisland.org/dispatches/dispatches2005.htm (scroll down
to find it)
For the past two years, the
Friends of Petrie Island and the
Ottawa Stewardship Council have conducted surveys of turtle nesting sites on
Petrie Island. The objectives of the survey were to learn more about nesting
turtle species on the Islands, with a view to protecting both the turtle species
and their habitat. The reports for the 2006 and 2007 species are posted on the
In 2008, we will turn our focus to species at risk (SAR) turtles. Six of
Ontario’s turtle species are at risk. At least two of these – the Northern Map
and the Blanding’s – have been observed on Petrie Island in recent years. There
is a need for a better understanding of the population and locations of these
and other species at risk turtles on Petrie Island and the surrounding area. All
of the data we collect will be submitted, via the OMNR coordinator of the Ottawa
Stewardship Council, to the appropriate agencies.
How can you help?
The study relies on reports submitted by volunteer observers and by members of
the public. Whether hiking along the nature trails, canoeing along the
shoreline, or simply exploring the natural areas, if you see a live or dead
species at risk turtle, please let us know. You can fill in the online report at
www.fallingbrook.com/petrieisland/, fill out a report at the FOPI
Interpretation Centre when it is open, or send us an email. Forms are also
available at Oziles’ Marina and Bait Shop. We are only asking for reports of
species at risk turtles. Snapping and Painted Turtles and Red Sliders are not
part of this study.
Tell us: what kind of turtle you saw; how many; what was it doing (basking in
the sun, swimming, nesting, walking, injured, road kill); where you saw it,
including either GPS co-ordinates or the grid square from the
map; and the date and time you saw it. Please do not disturb turtles in
their natural habitat.
brochure with guidance on identifying turtle species is available on the
FOPI website. Copies are also available at the Interpretation Centre and the
Bait shop. For a more detailed guide on Ontario turtle species, see the Ontario
Turtle Tally website
The study area (shown
on this online map) includes the whole of Petrie Island, the causeway, and
the shoreline and wetlands from east of Trim Road to west of the 10th
Line Road. Most of this area is inaccessible on foot, so we would especially
appreciate reports from people in kayaks, canoes, or small fishing boats who may
be able to observe basking or swimming turtles. If you would like to take a more active part in the study, or to report a siting,
please contact us at
A Fine Day at Petrie Island - To be specific, April 24 2008
It’s a beautiful spring day, and the shrinking expanses of clean beach at
Petrie Island are the domain of a dozen bewildered (don’t ask how we know)
and likely homeless muskrats, along with a dozen Canada geese, who patrol
the access road and the vicinity of the municipal storage shed. The beavers
have had unlimited swimming access, and it shows.
Birds are everywhere, but appear to be in smaller numbers given the lack
of solid ground to forage. Some scurry along the floating rafts of reeds and
branches, finding nesting material and neat stuff for a bird.
What is everywhere, is water, water. And not a drop to drink.
Today, Al “Swamp Rat” Tweddle and Paul “Ocean” Le Fort set out to
explore the depths (pun intended) of the Ottawa River’s invasion.The
Chairman chose his trusty kayak as transportation, a vessel only a few
centimeters longer than he is. The Secretary, ever prudent, chose to park
the Subaru at the water’s edge and walk in with waders. Let’s get one thing
out of the way first: waders will get a person no further than about 100
meters short of the curve on the road, due to the depth of water, current
and water temperature, and the fact that the road surface at that point is a
little soft. Two kind fishermen graciously provided the Secretary with a
boat ride to the beach and brought him back later. Photos were taken
for posterity, and just for fun.
Meanwhile, avoiding the narrows where the 6,400
cubic-meter-per-second Ottawa creates visible excitement, the Chair paddled
around to the Interpretive Center and cottage area, ascertaining that no
serious damage was done. At one point, atempts to paddle through floatin
debris resulted in Al showering himself with dripping weeds as he lifted the
paddle, making him look like the Brown Navy camouflaged platoons of the
The Chair entered the cottage and found nothing unusual there (no
fish..). Outside, the easternmost Turtle Trail bench is damaged,
others upright for now. It appears that the clever vertical tubing system
put in place to allow the Amphibian Pond bridge to rise to the occasion has
been working. The Bill Holland gate structures seem intact and level
as well. The FOPI fleet is untouched and not in danger of moving up
the side of Ararat, while the new shed, though moated, remains dry. The
threat, of course, is that a strong northeaster would bring large waves (and
possibly debris) to bear on the front verandah of the Interpretive Center,
now awash. The paddlers’ launch dock has been moved north about 20 meters
from its winter storage site and is stuck between the trees.
permanent human residents have fled upland, leaving their house to sump
pumps, with water lapping centimeters below the foundation, truck parked in
driveway, wet tires glistening.
It is possible at this time to drive a large pickup or SUV as far as the
marina property, and the owners have been doing so. Going further would be
foolish without a serious offroad vehicle.
So the Island rests, takes a cool bath, and awaits the return of its best
Al and I will go on another tour next week, using two kayaks this time,
and will report further. Volunteers with canoes, kayaks and other floating
things are welcome. No air mattresses, please.
This summer the water quality at Petrie Beach was markedly
improved over the previous year. In 2007, the beach was closed for only 6
days, compared with 45 days in 2006. In comparison, Westboro beach was
closed 22 times in 2007.
It seems that 2006 was an anomaly,
as Petrie's water quality was better in the years before and after.
See our statistics here.
Some suspect that illegal dumping of sewage was responsible.
Photos of the newest member of FOPI are attached. Arrived at about 10am Saturday, 1 September, 2007. Weight - unknown, probably less than 1 ounce. Size- about the size of a loonie. Welcomed into this world by at least seven brothers and sisters, not counting those that had already completed the 300 foot trip to the beach or ended up as a gull's breakfast. Last seen - swimming towards the middle of the Ottawa River. Unlikely to be back in time for FOPI's 10th anniversary in September, but may be back in town for the 20th. Will probably be big enough to eat the hat when next seen.
July was a pretty good month for finding butterflies around Petrie Island. At least it was for me anyway.
Our current list of butterfly species at Petrie Island shows a total of twenty-two. By comparison, the list of butterfly species for the Ottawa District (50 km radius centered on the Peace Tower) shows just over one hundred (103 as of 2006) and the list for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden tops out at thirty-eight.
I'm no expert so if I can find six or eight in a day I'm doing well. The most common sightings at Petrie Island this July seemed to be the Monarch (everyone's favourite), Eastern Comma, Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral and Eyed Brown. You don't have to look very hard to find a couple others on your travels around the islands. Some smaller ones like the Summer Azure we tend to overlook.
So what are the chances of finding a butterfly that could be considered a rare sighting for the Ottawa District? Not good you're probably thinking. I would tend to agree except that I did find one such butterfly in early July, and before the month had ended I had found no less than twelve of them.
This butterfly is called the Hackberry Emperor and the first confirmed record for the Ottawa District was back in July of 2006. I certainly never saw any in my travels (that I know of). This is a very beautiful butterfly and a member of the Brushfooted Butterfly Family. Males are about 1.8 inches and females go up to 2.1 inches. You guessed it, the eggs are laid on and the larvae feed on hackberry trees. And yes, Petrie Island has quite a number of mature and juvenile hackberry trees.
I found the first one on July 3rd. and not being certain of what I had photographed I sent some shots to Christine Hanrahan and to Ross Layberry to be identified. They both came back positive with encouraging comments so now I was hooked. Were there others around the islands or was this just a lucky encounter? Over the next three weeks I made another six trips down and found at least one Hackberry Emperor on each outing. There were three locations where I recorded sightings and all were along the north side of the Bill Holland Trail and mostly at the far end near the covered bench.
I soon learned that these butterflies are extremely fast and very erratic flyers. I lost more than one when my eyes simply couldn't follow the butterfly in the air to see where it landed. When I did find one that had landed (usually quite high up) it could sit for an hour or more and not move. My patience only paid off once when one of these flew down out of a maple tree and landed on some bladder campion plants.
Using the correct bait in a good location was the key. I soon learned that ripe bananas work quite well while old grapes were great for attracting the local chipmunks who then promptly stole them. Old fruit soon ferments in the hot sun and gives off an inviting scent. After the "mash" reaches that point, most anything that can be called an insect will likely show up.
My best day was on Saturday, July 21st. I must have had just the right banana. I was going to say the right ripe banana but rotten banana would be more like it. A half dozen butterfly species showed up in the heat including a nice Hackberry Emperor. I photographed butterflies from all possible angles over the next hour or so. With the heat rising quickly and having no banana of my own, I headed out. But, I ran into three
enthusiastic looking "butterfly people", complete with nets, looking for the elusive Hackberry Emperor. Someone (Ross Layberry) had passed on word to them of the early July sightings by someone named Bill Bower. The three were Christina Lewis, Bob Bracken and Mike Tate. I introduced myself and back out the trail we headed. They were optimistic for sure but I could see no chance at all of finding another Hackberry Emperor. I tried to distract them by pointing out and talking about the turtles of Petrie Island but they would have none of it. So it was off to the "banana tree" to see what had flown in since I had left the area. A quick check of the "herd" with field glasses revealed a few Eastern Commas and Question Marks, a Mourning Cloak, a Red Admiral and one beautiful looking Hackberry Emperor butterfly. That brought smiles to everyone's face, especially mine. Someone that knows a great deal about butterflies (actually all three of them do) had now seen a Hackberry Emperor at Petrie Island. The moment was captured on film (make that a compactflash card) and when we decided to leave some thirty minutes later that particular butterfly was still there. I could later confirm that it was a different specimen than the one I had photographed earlier in the day on the same log.
Incidentally, my sightings were all made between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on very warm days, which doesn't mean anything except that I was, by then, hot and tired and figured it was time to leave the islands to the swimmers and sunbathers.
The question now is - Do we have a viable colony of Hackberry Emperor butterflies living on Petrie Island? I guess it will be up to the experts to decide how many sightings over how many years it takes to confirm that a colony does exist. For my part, I had a great experience this summer, learned a lot more than I knew previously about butterflies and can't wait for next July to see if I can find and photograph more of these interesting butterflies at Petrie Island.
I guess we can add one more species to the listing in our Handbook and I think it is fair to say that our list will grow even further as other interested people travel the islands and report on their butterfly sightings. Adding another ten species is probably not out of the question. I'll be looking for sure.
What a difference a week makes: last week there was 6" of snow and the parking lots were empty. On Sunday, there were 102 cars and people were out in shorts, one person even went in the water. Over 20 turtles were out along the shore line on Turtle Bay, a couple of Muskrats were also feeding along the shoreline. The Maple trees are blooming and the Bill Holland trail has been open and in use since Wednesday last week. The construction along the road has limited access in spots, the pipes for the water and sewers are being installed.
Our annual spring clean up day to clear away twigs, and other debris will be held Sat., May 12 from 9 - 12 noon. Extra rakes and gloves, if possible, should be brought, we have garbage bags and some equipment. Please come if you can.
Talk about having the place to yourself. I was down at 9:30 and headed out to check the thirteen Wood Duck nesting boxes located around the islands. I made sure I had my hot coffee and hand warmers with me. The temperature inside the "hilton" was -15 degrees when I stopped in to pick up the extension ladder. The high winds outside made it feel much colder and there was blowing snow coming in off the river.
Checking the boxes is always interesting and this year was no exception. The overall results were very good with eleven of the thirteen boxes having been used by Wood Ducks (spring 2006). A total of 163 eggs were laid and of those 90 hatched. A number of nests were abandoned and you are never quite sure of the reason(s) for this loss. It could be that the female was killed somewhere or juvenile females that didn't stick around until the eggs hatched. Two of the successful nests were actually on top of starling nests, which is always good to see. The starlings start nesting first and then the ducks arrive. Sometimes the ducks get discouraged, when faced with a an ever enlarging starling nest, and leave, and sometimes they are persistent and win out, as appears to be the case this past year.
I wasn't totally alone during my four hour hike. I had a visit from a female Northern Shrike as I was checking one box. She landed on a limb very close to me. On two other occasions while I was checking the boxes towards the west, she arrived but stayed further away. Not sure what it was that attracted her.
Squirrels also like the boxes but usually don't start to move into the boxes until the fall months. One box was occupied by a red squirrel. The box hadn't been used by a Wood Duck so I put in more shavings on top of the nest. An old squirrel nest won't stop the ducks from nesting in a few months. Another box had a large squirrel nest in it, complete with two black squirrels. I had to clean this box out as there were rotten duck eggs on the bottom. I put in extra shavings in case the squirrels returned. They did, but weren't happy with shavings only. As I left they were busy gathering up "their" nesting material on the ground and returning it to the nest box.
Surprisingly, I hit slush in a number of places which made the going more difficult. I was wondering why the toboggan was getting heavier but then realized it was covered in slush, which , by then, was frozen solid and I couldn't remove it.
The only other bird activity was a flock of Snow Buntings.
When I finally got back to the "hilton" it was well past lunch time. Inside it was now a balmy -5 degrees. I took off my coat, got out my hot coffee, frozen
sandwich, pulled up the smaller bench and ate, in comfort, at the recently constructed "work bench". All I needed was a mattress and a sleeping bag and I could easily have fallen asleep. Outside the wind was howling as more snow was blowing in off the river.
All in all, an enjoyable outing. Nothing got wet, frozen or broken. Tired, maybe.