Since 1984

The Big Picture Network: Essex Region

Also available is the 'Caring for Nature in Essex Region' factsheet, part of a Carolinian Canada wide series. This factsheet is an excellent overview of Carolinian Canada habitat restoration and conservation work being done in Essex. The Essex factsheet is available for download here (PDF 2.2 MB).

Big Creek Marsh Signature Site (includes Big Creek Conservation Area and Holiday Beach Conservation Area)

Location: adjacent to Lake Erie west of Harrow and south of Amherstburg. Highway 20 crosses the creek.

Date: designated an IBA in September, 2000, bird counts since 1974.

Partners: ERCA, Bird Life International, Canadian Nature Federation, Bird Studies Canada, Carolinian Canada Coalition

Big Creek Marsh is the largest wetland in Essex County. Situated on a bird migration route at the bottom end of a migratory funnel created by the lower Great Lakes, this is a major waterfowl staging area. Along with the overhead spectacle of migrating raptors and waterfowl, the marsh also provides breeding grounds for endangered birds such as Bald Eagle and Prothonotary Warbler, and habitat for rare reptiles such as Spotted Turtle and Eastern Fox Snake. Rare flora here includes Wild Yam, Shellbark Hickory, American Lotus, Hoptree, Prairie Dock, and Ironweed.

The 600-ha shoreline wetland includes cattail marsh, swamp forest, and thicket swamp. The majority of the site is privately owned, but Holiday Beach (see elsewhere in this document) and Big Creek Conservation Areas are public areas where the marsh can be viewed. Efforts are underway to restore habitat for the endangered Prothonotary Warbler at Holiday Beach Conservation Area. Prerequisites for a successful nesting site include wetland areas that are overgrown with vegetation, and a suitable cavity (either a cavity excavated by a woodpecker or a nesting box.) Mosses must also be present, as this is the preferred nesting material of the Prothonotary Warbler. At Holiday Beach Conservation Area restoration efforts in 2004 included the creation of a water-filled slough, removal of a roadway, tree planting , and the placement of nesting boxes. Thousands of raptors migrate through Big Creek and Holiday Beach each fall. Volunteers have counted the numbers of birds migrating through here each fall since 1974.

For more information refer to Carolinian Canada Signature Sites by Lorraine Johnson, a Carolinian Canada publication, available for purchase from this website here.

Cedar Creek Basin (includes Cedar Creek and Cedar Beach Conservation Areas)

Location: just west of Kingsville


Partners: ERCA, private landowners

The Cedar Creek basin is probably the most significant, extensive and one of the most beautiful natural areas remaining in Essex County. A continuous band of forest lines both sides of Cedar Creek over much of this 524-has site. Tributaries of the creek flow through the rolling landscape; in places though, there are dramatic, 10-m-high ravines. The area includes high-quality upland forest and rich floodplain woods along the creek’s tributaries. Most of the basin is privately owned and stewarded, but the Essex Region Conservation Authority owns several small properties along the creek.

Cedar Creek Conservation Area seven km west of Kingsville, at the lower reaches of Cedar Creek, harbours many Carolinian trees, such as Shagbark and Big Shellbark Hickory, Black Walnut, and Sassafras. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at or refer to the Carolinian Canada Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here.

Devonwood Conservation Area

Location: in the City of Windsor on Division Road just north of Cabana Road


Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

This 38 ha forest is located near the heart of Windsor; a unique urban woodland. Eight species of oak are found here, perhaps more than any other woodland in Carolinian Canada. There are Red, White, Black, Swamp White, Chinquapin, Pin, Shumard and Burr Oak. Living among the trees are Screech Owls, Long Eared Owls and Little Brown Bats. There are more than 4.5 kilometres of trails for exploring this urban gem. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at


Location: County Road 25 (Puce Road) at County Road 46.


Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

An oak-hickory woodland is the main natural feature of this 20 hectare conservation area. The largest Ontario specimen of the rare Shumard Oak is found here. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Hillman Marsh

Location: From Windsor take Highway #3 to Leamington. Take Oak Street approximately 7 km east of Leamington. The main entrance to Hillman Marsh is located on County Road 37 at the 2nd Concession Road.

Dates: 1985

Partners: ERCA

This is one of the premier areas for viewing marsh life in Essex County. The 850-acre marsh is located on County Rd. 20 at the extreme eastern shore of Essex County on Lake Erie. The Conservation Area is located in the heart of the Marsh. An information centre and walking trail are located at the northwest corner of the marsh.

The diverse habitats of Hillman Marsh attract and support marsh, shore and field birds such as herons, egrets, terns, songbirds and ducks as well as a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. Over one hundred species of birds use Hillman as a migration stopover which draws sandpipers, ducks, warblers and frequently spotted annual rarities such as the Yellow-headed Blackbird, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Eurasian Wigeon, Glossy Ibis and Western Kingbird.

Prior to European Settlement, the entire area between Pt. Pelee and Hillman Marsh was wetland. The remaining wetland quality was highly degraded due to human impact. In the 1980s ERCA acquired 90% of Hillman Marsh. In 1989 restoration work funded by Ducks Unlimited and ERCA was started. Two earthen dykes were constructed inside the wetland to create east and west cells and protect the wetland from further impacts. This allowed water levels to be controlled to expedite restoration of vegetation diversity and density. The vegetated area of the marsh was expanded from 88 ha to 125 ha from 1985 to 1994. When the water level is dropped in the spring the populations of migratory shorebirds stopping at the Marsh are observed to increase significantly. Today the Marsh is one of the most significant wetlands in Carolinian Canada.

Avocets, Dowitchers, Dunlin, Plovers and Sand-pipers are just some of the more than 25 species of shorebirds that have been identified among the mudflats, shoreline and fields of Hillman Marsh Conservation Area. A new birding trail borders 87 acres of land adjacent to the Conservation Area. This area has been developed into a Shorebird Habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, marsh birds and other wildlife. Fields near the parking lot often have Meadowlarks and Bobolinks in May. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Holiday Beach

Location: southeast of Amherstburg on Route 50

Date: designated an Important Birding Area (IBA) in September, 2000.

Partners: ERCA, Bird Life International, Canadian Nature Federation, Bird Studies Canada, Holiday Beach Migration Observatory

Each fall, a spectacular migration of thousands of hawks, vultures, eagles, falcons and other birds of prey concentrate in the area before heading across the Detroit River towards warmer, more southerly destinations for the winter. Besides being an important migratory stopover for raptors in the Fall, Holiday Beach is a breeding area for several pairs of Prothonotary Warblers (rated as an Endangered Species by COSEWIC). There are several hundred metres of beach along the shore of Lake Erie, and a three storey Hawk Tower for birdwatching, overlooking the 800 ha Big Creek Marsh. All of the eastern accipiters, falcons and buteos occur in good numbers. Bald Eagles, Double-crested Cormorants and Great Egrets nest locally and Golden Eagles are regularly seen in migration. Among the species of raptors which have been recorded at this site, seasonal totals for Broad-winged Hawks always number in the tens of thousands. Daily totals up to 96,000 hawks, 600 hummingbirds, 250,000 Blue Jays, 4,500 American Goldfinches, 10,000 Cedar Waxwings and 30,000 Americans Crows have been observed in recent years. ERCA partners with Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Nature Federation to work with surrounding landowners on joint stewardship of the surrounding IBA. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Kopergaron Woods

This 19 hectare Carolinian woodland includes Tulip-tree, Sassafras, Black Gum, Sycamore and Flowering Dogwood. Wildflowers such as Trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, May Apple, Spring Beauty and Columbine can be found on the forest floor in the spring. A boardwalk trail has been built to protect the forest floor. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary.

Location: three miles north of Kingsville on Division Road (County Road #29).




The 300 acre Sanctuary contains a museum and nature centre which is open year-round from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday. Here one can view the spring and fall migratory flight of Canada Geese. During the spring and summer months, the adjoining fields and Kennedy Woods provide opportunities to view Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks and other songbirds.

McAuliffe Woods

Location: St. Alponse Street in Tecumseh, just north of County Rd 42, west of Lesperance


Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

This smaller, 9 hectare area is a perfect outdoor classroom for children. The trail, seasonal pond and wooded area are not only pleasant, but offer a short enough walk for even the youngest naturalist. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Middle Point Woods

Location: eastern shore of Pelee Island


Partners: privately stewarded, Carolinian Canada Signature Site

Thi rich deciduous woodlot has one of the best floral displays on the island. The entire property (38.5 ha) has been maintained in a virually natural state for decades. Its maturigy, lack of disturbance, and high number of rare species combine to make it an outstanding place. Rare species of flora and fauna here include Hop-tree, Wild Hyacinth, Small-mouthed Salamander, and red-bellied Woodpecker.

For more information refer to Carolinian Canada Signature Sites by Lorraine Johnson, a Carolinian Canada publication, available for purchase from this website here.

Ojibway Prairie Remnants

Location: 5200 Matchette Road, Windsor


Partners: City of Windsor Ojibway Nature Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Carolinian Canada Signature Site

The Ojibway Prairie Remnants include five closely situated, globally significant natural areas near downtown Windsor. Covering an area of roughly 320 ha, the extensive prairies, oak savannas, and woodlands represent plant communities that once dominated the local landscape. A tremendous variety of plants and animals are found here- including more than 100 provincially rare species of flora, 10 of which occur nowhere else in Ontario, or Canada.

Many people are surprised to hear that tallgrass prairie is native to Ontario. But before European settlement, there were extensive areas of prairie and oak savanna in the southwest areas of the province, in places where natural gaps occurred in the forest or where Native Peoples regularly set fires. Early surveyors’ reports suggest that tallgrass prairie and oak savanna once covered as much as 50 square kilometers of the area around Windsor and adjacent LaSalle.

Many types of ecological monitoring programs are carried out by volunteers at Ojibway. The Butterfly Count is one of the most important, but Christmas Bird Counts and Reptile monitoring are also done.

For more information visit

Oxley Poison Sumac Swamp

Location: southeast of Harrow


Partners: Nature Conservancy of Canada, private landowners, Carolinian Canada Signature Site

As its name suggests, this signature site is low lying and swampy, with an abundant population of Poison Sumac. It is the only Poison Sumac swamp in Essex County, though such wetland communities used to be more widespread prior to land clearing and drainage for agriculture. Skunk Cabbage carpets wet areas with its enormous elephant-ear leaves. Drier upland areas support a few Butternuts, a tree that is declining throughout its range due to blight.

Agriculture surrounds the area on all sides, but the swamp itself is now almost entirely protected: the Nature Conservancy of Canada owns 90% of it, in a purchase pieced together from the ‘back 40s’ of a number of farmers’ fields. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Point Pelee National Park

Location: south of Leamington on County Road 20.

Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

Just over 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Windsor, Ontario, lies the most southern point on the Canadian mainland – Point Pelee National Park of Canada. Although this is the largest natural area in Essex, it is one of the smallest National Parks in Canada. This tiny green oasis is internationally known for its spring and fall migration of birds and its stunning autumn monarch butterfly migration. Famous vistas such as the "Tip" and Marsh Boardwalk provide people of all ages with unlimited opportunities to discover nature. Interwoven throughout the Park's 20-square-kilometre (8-square-mile) landscape is a patchwork of marsh, forest, fields, and beaches, producing a complexity of life that is unequalled, even in Canada's larger National Parks.

The marsh at Point Pelee National Park is one of the largest remaining in southern Ontario. The site has been named a RAMSAR site, meaning that it is an internationally significant wetland. Despite its apparent sameness – it looks like a sea of cattails – the marsh is home to a great variety of species including fish, zooplankton, frogs, turtles, muskrats, snakes, and many insects including dragonflies and damselflies.

Forests in the Park range from savanna woodlands that are sparsely treed, to dense mature hardwood forests where the light hardly penetrates. Species include the native Honey Locusts, Red Cedar and Hop-trees growing in the savannas to Red Mulberry, Blue Ash, and Chinquapin Oak growing in the deciduous forest. The Swamp Forests in the park harbour the rare Prothonotary Warbler, as well as Wood Ducks, various woodpeckers and the Great Horned Owl among the Silver Maples and Sycamores more typical of this habitat.

Some of the restoration and research projects taking place at the Park include the Southern Flying Squirrel restoration – a resounding success, a turtle predation monitoring program, an Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Recovery Program and a fish population study in the marsh. For more information go to

Pelee island

Pelee Island has a rich diversity of natural communities and species crowded in a small area.   Two highlights are Carolinian Canada Signature Sites – Stone Road Alvar, protected by Ontario Nature, Essex Region Conservation Authority and Nature Conservancy Canada, and Middle Point Woods, a nearly untouched deciduous woodland. Visit the Pelee Island Heritage Centre to learn more.

Ruscom Shores Conservation Area

Location: east of Deerbrook on Surf Club Drive at the northeast end of the County

Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

This 48 ha conservation area protects one of the last two remaining marshes on Essex’s north shore – the other is at Tremblay Beach. Shorebirds, waterfowl, and other spring migrants can be seen while walking along the trails. The rare Spotted Turtle resides in Ruscom Shores which is designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. In 2001, a habitat restoration project was undertaken that included a xx ha prairie. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Stone Road Alvar

Location: Pelee Island


Partners: Ontario Nature, Essex Region Conservation Authority, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Wilds of Pelee Island, Carolinian Canada Coalition

Stone Road Alvar has the most extensive, most diverse, and best-quality alvar habitat in the Carolinian Zone. Due to its location in Canada’s ‘Deep South’, the site has many Caroinian elemnts-some occur noshere else in Canada- yet it also shares many species with the alvars of eastern Ontario. A large number of imperiled native species are found here, including Blue Ash, Nodding Onion, Whorled Milkweed, Elm-lear Goldenrod, Field Pansy, Yellow Horse-gentian, Prairie Rose, and Wild Hyacinth. This Chinquapin Oak savanna-alvar ecosystem occurs nowhere else in the world, making it globally significant. The last remaining population of Blue Racers in Canada are found here. For more information refer to Carolinian Canada’s Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here or contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Tremblay Beach

Location: east of Stoney Point on Lake St. Clair

Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority

Protecting one of only two remaining marshes on the St. Clair Shoreline in Essex, the Tremblay Beach Conservation Area provides a half kilometre of beach for nature viewing. The spring birding is excellent here, and is enhanced by the new viewing tower overlooking the marsh. Typical nesting and migrant species to be found include Common Moorhen, Virginia Rail, Black and Forster's Tern, Least Bittern, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird and most pond ducks. Past rarities include: Swainson's Hawk, Tricolored Heron, Glossy Ibis and Purple Gallinule. For more information contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Directly south of the Tremblay Beach Conservation Area is the village of Comber, located on Highway #77. The Big-O Conservation Area adjacent to the sewage lagoons has recorded migrants such as Parula, Prothonotary, Cerulean and Hooded Warblers, Summer Tanager and Henslow's Sparrow.

Farmer Benefits from Habitat Projects

Location: Comber

Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority, Essex County Stewardship Network and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Since 1980, David Ainslie has worked with nature to improve the value of his farm near Comber.    He started by planting cedar and spruce windbreaks to reduce soil erosion and creating a small woodlot and pond to hold and filter water. The Ainslie farm was one of the first in northeast Essex   to adopt a no-till system.   He then tackled other projects including woodlot diversification, snake hibernacula, rock chutes, buffer strips and marsh sedimentation basins.   His projects have attracted beneficial wildlife so successfully that they have been used for amphibian research.   David believes that maximizing the natural diversity on the farm ensures that it will be healthy and productive in the long term.

Contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Biodiversity sustains farming

Location: Comber

Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority, Essex County Stewardship Network and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Gary Aalbers has been interested in forests and wildlife as long as he can remember.   almost half of his 120 ha (300 ac) property near McGregor is forested.   In 2003, the Essex Region Conservation Authority had a 28 ha (70 ac) field bull-dozed into ‘pits and mounds' that mimic the topography of a natural forest floor and encourage regeneration of a wide range of native species.   The site was planted with 23,000 native seedlings as well as indigenous, custom-blended tree, grass and flower seed mixes. Projects like this one help to retain moisture and soil on the landscape, prevent contaminants from running into near-by watercourses, and build connections between existing natural areas.   Funds for the project came from Environment Canada through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, the Ontario Great Lakes Renewal Foundation, and from Gary himself. Gary was ecstatic: “I think the pit and mound site is great!   The best part was the immediate response by wildlife...the site was buzzing with wildlife within the first year.”

Contact Essex Region Conservation Area at

Managing a woodland for love and money

After Bill and Jack Balkwill took over the family farm in the 1970s, they became interested in tree identification.   With over 40 tree species in Essex, their study of the property's 19 ha (47 ac) bush was a great learning experience and inspired them to formulate a plan for sustainable woodland management. Their plan includes removal of diseased trees and invasive species.   Today, the woodland which provided the Balkwills with a steady income for many years, is full of flowering plants every spring.   In 2001, they asked the Essex County Stewardship Network to help them plant a small prairie beside their restored pond.   In 2004, the brothers began working with the Canada South Land Trust to enter into a Conservation Agreement whereby the natural features of their property will be protected into the future.   The Balkwill's commitment to conservation benefits surrounding neighbours and communities.   Their restored natural areas are important in the “Big Picture” to maintain a natural corridor along the northeastern branch of Cedar Creek.

A Woodland for Life

Until 2003, Mark Bovenkamp was share cropping on his 13 ha (32 ac) farm. At that point he turned to the Essex Region Conservation Authority to help him realize his dream of living in a woodland.   As a result, almost all of his land was planted with more than 2,000 native trees and shrubs.   Now Mark is happy to watch the trees grow up around his home, knowing that his personal dream is also helping to improve the environment in his neighbourhood.   ERCA typically funds up to 90% of these projects.   “The best part of the whole experience for us was watching the wide variety of trees growing larger, looking more like a woodlot every year and creating a natural fence around our property.   We are also amazed at how quickly wildlife has returned to the area.   There are many hawks, rabbits, and lots of other birds including pheasants to name just a few.   We enjoyed working with ERCA and it's a great feeling knowing that we are improving the environment.”

Healthy Soils for the Future

Henry and Eric Denotter work hard to ensure that the soil they farm stays healthy.   Denotter Farms converted to conservation tillage and uses equipment with wide tires to reduce compaction.   To prevent soil on the farm near Kingsville from washing downstream, the family re-contoured the ditch to make it shallow, grassed it over and planted a row of trees that help filter run-off and hold moisture. ‘Keeping the land alive and the soil organisms thriving leads to greater productivity.' says Henry.   ‘Using these methods, the soil fertility can be maintained with moderate amounts of additional fertilizer for a long time into the future.'   Funds and on-site assistance came from his conservation partners.   Typically, funding up to 30 to 50% can be obtained through the Environmental Farm Plan Program, while the Essex Region Conservation Authority and Essex County Stewardship Network can provide top-up funding, up to 100%.  

Great wine needs clean water

Dennis Sanson's interests in conservation and wine-making led him to search for the ideal place to practice both.   A 35.6 Ha (88 ac) site in the Canard River Valley met his requirements perfectly.   Working with the Essex County Stewardship Network (ECSN), he had 15 ha (38 ac) of woodland and wetland restored.   They provide habitat for Great Blue Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, Square-stemmed Monkey Flower, Broad-leaved Arrowhead and Soft-stemmed Rush, retain soil, filter run-off, and purify the water on his land.   The remainder of the farm consists of pasture, meadowland, vineyard and an organic garden.   These support Limousin cattle, several varieties of grapes, heirloom peppers, squash, eggplant other vegetables, as well as habitat for Meadowlarks, Bobolink, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Savannah Sparrows. Funding to support projects on the winery properties has been made available through Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, and the Community Fish and Wildlife Involvement Program.   Approximately 85% of the total cost of the projects has been provided through ECSN partners.

“Little” Community Group Makes a Big Difference

The Little River Enhancement Group (Lil' Reg) is an example of how communities can work together to create healthy landscapes. It was initiated to improve the quality of the Little River Watershed, which drains portions of Essex County and the City of Windsor. It is a non-profit umbrella group that coordinates beneficial environmental activities throughout the river basin using a multi-stakeholder approach in the community.   Since 1991, Lil' Reg has mobilized volunteers to participate in dozens of events. As a result, tonnes of human debris have been removed from the river valley and over 20,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted, improving aquatic and upland habitat for local wildlife. Lil' Reg supported the extension of the Ganatchio Trail system through Little River Corridor Park to improve local community connections with natural areas. Lil' Reg assists landowners and other community groups to improve the natural environment of Essex.   Examples include the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup in Windsor, LaSalle and Amherstburg, the Millennium Park habitat planting   and prairie butterfly garden with A. V. Graham Public School in Tecumseh, and the Ford – Nemak Natural Corridor Project with the Essex County Field Naturalists' Club and the Windsor Campground.

Fairplay Woods

Fairplay Woods is the largest intact woods in the northern portion of the Essex region. Higher areas with sandy soils support a forest of Sugar Maple, White Oak, Red Oak, Beech, Black Cherry, White Ash and Sassafras. Spring flowers include White Trillium and Dwarf Ginseng; both unusual species for the clay plains. The lower, wetter soils support a forest more typical of the clay plains dominated by Bur Oak, Swamp White Oak, Pin Oak. American Elm, Shumard Oak, Red Ash, Silver Maple, Black Ash, Black Maple, and Big Shellbark Hickory.

Canard River Corridor

Two highlights along this significant natural area are the Canard River Kentucky Coffee-Tree Woods that contain both male and female trees so that this population can reproduce, and the River Canard Mouth Marsh, a relatively undisturbed 250 ha (625 ac) marsh on the Detroit River that is a Migratory Stopover for many bird species and one of the few homes of the rare American Lotus.

Lasalle Woods

La Salle Woods is one of 27 Natural Heritage Sites recognized by the Town of LaSalle.   The endangered Red Mulberry and rare Eastern Fox Snake are among 75 significant species found here.   Portions have been purchased by the Windsor Rotary Club and Essex Region Conservation Authority.

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