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A Home for Diverse Nature in Norfolk County

We purchased our 25-acre property in March of 2015 and what has been done on our 25 acres during the past couple of years has gone a long way to helping out the wildlife found here in Norfolk County. Carolinian Canada Coalition has been a major contributor to us in this time period, not just with funding but with also with sound advice and introducing us to others of like-mind. Our property is located in a somewhat unique position in Norfolk County, which attracts some of the many species at risk in the area. The current enhancements put in place in spring and fall 2017 with CCC will prove more valuable as the years go by.

Back in 1950 I was born to a time when many living in cities had relatives living in the countryside. Each year during my childhood I would spend time on my uncle and aunt's 100-acre farm, wandering the fields and woods. Since then many of these farms to a large extent have disappeared into larger blocks, as more profitable efficiencies could be better realized. Woodlots have disappeared and marginal lands were pushed into production. Cities and towns grew. Wildlife took a beating. Chemicals continued to be introduced and used big-time. Wildlife in all forms continued to disappear.

When I married we made sure we gardened in such a way as to attract wildlife. Native trees and shrubs that would bring in the birds were planted. Perennial gardens contained plenty of native wildflowers. I continued to read and experiment with my plantings, expanding them out into the hydro right-of-way behind our house. Neighbours actually asked me to plant behind their houses, which I did. We had great success.

When retirement approached we spent 5 years driving from Mississauga to Norfolk County, looking for retirement property. We chose Norfolk because it had the greatest variety of wildlife. The year before I retired we got in touch with a real estate agent and sometime later found our 25 acres just outside of the town of Simcoe.

In doing some research on the wildlife to be found, I came across the website of Carolinian Canada Coalition and the work they were doing in our area through the Landowner Leaders programme. I got in touch with them and a representative, Karolyne Pickett, came out to talk to us in order to see our actual property and to see what ideas we had put in place. In turn she made some very useful suggestions and provided sound advice. A plan was prepared, documenting our property and all the possible enhancements that could take place. At last, a real plan was in place! We were excited to get started. Unfortunately, funding was not available at that time...

My wife Barb and I continued to put some of our plans into action. Bird Studies Canada put in a Barn Swallow structure that has been successfully used since the spring of 2016. Long Point Basin Land Trust placed a snake-nesting box down by a pond. In its first year it attracted ...a song sparrow. I added some bird boxes out in the field and attracted Tree Swallows and Bluebirds. A few American chestnut were planted. Water lilies, pickerelweed and arrowhead were introduced to the two ponds. Frogs love using the pads of the water lilies. Turtle basking logs were anchored in place. Several hundred native wildflower plugs were purchased and planted. I planted several hundred self-sown plugs. The rabbits were happy. All of these plants had from my research great ability in attracting insects either to eat the leaves or feed upon the pollen and nectar. Diversity is what I am after. Flowerbeds were put in to attract bees and butterflies. Shrubs added to attract birds, etc. Then early in 2017 I got a call from Ben Porchuk of CCC saying some funding had become available and that they could proceed with the plan we had previously developed.

The funding in 2017 helped put into place a crucial missing component, a long hedgerow of native trees and shrubs (totalling some 300 plants) along a drainage ditch that we had extended over to our neighbour's forest. Others were planted along our western boundary, enriching the hedgerow there. The 24 species guaranteed excellent diversity for a wide range of wildlife. The Giant Swallowtails loved using the newly planted Hoptrees. We do have early spring flowering wildflowers but this tree/shrub planting will offer so much more to the early emerging pollinators, going a long way to building up their populations. Another major side benefit will be the caterpillars left by moths and butterflies. These caterpillars will become a must food for nestlings. And, of course, the berries and nuts will feed both mammals and birds later on. Some plantings were also placed around the ponds. We do have such species at risk as the Blanding turtle and the recently added Snapping turtle. Painted turtles are also seen.

Funding also put in a hibernaculum in October 2017! We do have Hognose snakes residing on site, but they usually make their own overwintering den (or use a chipmunk's hole), but the local Milksnakes and Gartersnakes will find and use it in years to come. There are recorded reports of both grey Ratsnakes and Foxsnakes in the immediate area too, which is the most important reason for me to have the hibernaculum. Plus, the habitat we have is ideal for them. This feature will be a huge asset for them for many decades to come. When the crew finished putting the hibernaculum in place they added two snake basking areas in promising locations.

It was the Landowner Leaders' Program that put me in touch with other organizations that could help in the quest to make our property a wildlife haven, especially for some of the more rare plants, insects, birds and mammals. Both the funding and the expertise involved through CCC to put things in place have been invaluable to us. Hopefully we can add the turtle nesting sites and some bat boxes at a later date? The LL program has introduced us to other participants. In fact, it has now led to a Facebook page called Landowner Leaders of Carolinian Canada! Having others doing similar work to their properties is important, as shared knowledge is hugely beneficial when we decide to do a similar project on our properties.

I want to thank Karolyne and Ben for the help they have given me over the last couple of years. The plan for 2019 is to diversify the plant composition of a 5-acre prairie area on our property. Tallgrass Ontario is planning to conduct a prescribed burn in mid-April, following which I hope to have the area re-seeded with a mix of native prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Ron Mitchell

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