April 22, 1996
The last time I visited Presqu¹ile Provincial Park was in December 1990 when Dick Collins, Mike Galas, and I scrambled through snow and under dripping cedars to find a Townsend¹s solitaire, a rare thrush that had wandered to eastern Canada from the west coast.
I was impressed then with the park and I was even more favorably impressed when, at the invitation of e-mail correspondent Don Davis, I attended the waterfowl festival there in early April.
Before I go further, I should make clear that this park is different from Pennsylvania¹s Presque Isle State Park in Erie. In both cases the French means ³almost an island² and both parks are situated on peninsulas, but the proximity of the two names suggests that explorers were running low on creativity.
Presqu¹ile Provincial Park is 80 miles east of Toronto on the north shore of Lake Ontario, an easy day¹s drive from Buffalo for those interesting in camping. Indeed there are almost 400 campsites in the 2000 acre park, but only a few dozen provide electrical hookups. Despite that, a quarter million people visit annually, many returning year after year.
It was interesting to compare the waterfowl I saw on that brisk day with those we find during migration at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Although a few of the dabbling ducks we see here — pintails, wigeon, mallards, black and wood ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal — were in evidence, there were many more divers — scaup and scoters, canvasbacks and redheads, mergansers and old-squaws, buffleheads and goldeneyes. Off the lighthouse point, I had good scope views of white-winged scoters and old-squaws, attracted there by millions of zebra mussels coating subterranean limestone shelves. I could clearly see the delicate white eye-lines and the ugly bills of the male scoters and could hear just as clearly the yodeled gossiping that characterizes old-squaws.
A few tundra swans graced the marshes but there were surprisingly few ring-necked ducks and Canada geese. Don Morrison, a lookout stand host, told me that the geese would cross the lake from our cornfields a week or two later.
This year the ice had broken up before the festival so the ducks were not as concentrated as usual, but there were plenty of telescopes to go around and the Friends of Presqu¹ile Park manning the stations were cheerfully locating and identifying the ducks for the hundreds of visitors.
By the time I talked with park naturalist Don Tyerman I had begun to wonder if every Canadian shared that given name.
Tyerman briefly sketched the geology of the park for me, describing how the original limestone island was later joined to the mainland by sand dunes forming a region called a tombolo. Another unique area is the panne, a shallow water fen-like area that I had passed near the park entrance.
Like all parks today, Presqu¹ile has its problems. Among them are several thousand cormorants, some threatening a grove of rare black maples, an overpopulation of deer scarfing rare wildflowers, and a hunter-conservationist controversy over fall shooting permits. A management plan is currently being developed and feelings run high. Although Tyerman is caught in the middle, his affection for the park is evident — he was brought up a short boat ride down the lake — and he remains up-beat.
Interestingly there may never have been a park if it were not for a shipwreck just offshore in 1804. Until then the bay was touted as a harbor and a major lakeport was planned. The news of the sinking cooled those plans.
From bad beginnings good things sometimes do arise.