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Exploring the Biodiversity in Northwestern Ontario

Fireflies flying under star trails—there is incredible biodiversity in Northwestern Ontario. • Credit: Wanda-Kabel Easton
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Exploring the Biodiversity in Northwestern Ontario

Photographer and writer Wanda Kabel-Easton discovers her own backyard

Northwestern Ontario is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna—easily accessible to all.

If nothing else, one of the positive things that came out of the recent global pandemic is my familiarity with my local environment—Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls in Northwest Ontario. The shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions, coupled with my interest in exploration and love of the outdoors, caused me to look at my immediate surroundings through a more penetrating lens.

What I observed was a world full of biodiversity. Dozens upon dozens of little plants, insects, flowers, lichens, birds, and more, that, despite years and years of what I thought was already a keenly focused eye, and high-powered camera lens, I was seeing for the first time. 

Ram’s Head Lady’s Slippers.  A rare and very tiny wild orchid of the north.  Stands approximately 10 cm tall.  The flower itself is approximately 1.5 cm.

Dead Man’s Fingers.  A unique, and creepy-looking, a fungus that is mainly found on the base of beechwood stumps but also occurs occasionally on other buried hardwoods (in this case, Birch deadfall).

Ghost flowers.  A small wildflower that is often mistaken for fungus, due to its lack of colour and waxy appearance.

Part of my newfound appreciation of the little things is in large part thanks to my young son.  Through our mutual love of adventuring outside, his innocent perspective and sharp attention to detail, and better eyesight, we find new things all the time.

Observing a tiny toad along the shoreline of Lake of the Woods.

Harvesting a small quantity of Morel Mushrooms.

Carefully observing a newly hatched Snapping Turtle while it makes its way to the lake.

As well, we visited so many new places around us. Hiking trails, parks, lakes, and communities in Northwestern Ontario. I  said to a friend, “We don’t have one thing that sets us apart. We have many.”  And, I can say this with authority. It’s not a slogan or a gimmick. I’ve done the legwork! 

A day trip, by car plus kayaks, to Sable Island Provincial Park, Lake of the Woods.

The boreal forest in northern Ontario represents one of the world’s largest remaining intact forests, as well as five of Canada’s few remaining un-dammed watersheds. 

Northwestern Ontario alone contains several ecoregions. An ecoregion is defined as a unique area of land and water that has a characteristic range and pattern in climate variables, including temperature, precipitation, and humidity. And the climate within an ecoregion has profound influences on vegetation types, substrate formation, and other ecosystem processes, including associated biota.

One could easily take a day trip in Northwestern Ontario and pass through four ecoregions. There are eight in Northwestern Ontario and ten in Northern Ontario.

A barn located on a farm in the Rainy River District’s clay plain agricultural belt.

You can stand in one place, turn without taking a step and view more than one landscape. It’s no wonder that turning your focus to one small area can give you a glimpse into a unique, micro-ecosystem with a diverse community of flora.

What you can find in Northwestern Ontario in a day is incredible, just from an observational perspective, not to mention what you can experience with the addition of landmarks, activities, and services

You could leave the shores of Lake of the Woods at Kenora in the morning, hike a trail in a coniferous forest through a rugged, rock-dominated landscape in Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, and stop for a lunch comprised of local meat and produce in Emo, which lies in the center of a climatically distinct Lake Agassiz clay plain agricultural belt along the Rainy River, drive through Fort Frances along the shores of Rainy Lake up through a rocky, rugged mixed deciduous-coniferous forest and lake-spotted landscape, to another large clay plain and agriculturally rich area at Dryden, where you can eat supper overlooking the Wabigoon River, and make it back to Kenora well before sunset. 

Marveling at Husky the Musky in Kenora, along Highway 71, on Kenora’s beautiful Harbourfront.

Along the way, there are numerous roadside stops, lookouts, parks, and trails where you can observe the rich flora, fauna, and landscapes. And, you just never know what you will see as far as wildlife visible along the highway. Moose, bear, wolf, fox, deer, bobcat, lynx, turtle, eagle, and owl are all regularly sighted.

The view from the top of the waterfall, known colloquially as ‘The Falls’ at Nestor Falls, overlooking Lake of the Woods, along Highway 71.

Trumpeter Swan family in the rain, along Highway 71.

You could also time your travels to take in many special events and festivals. Pow wows, music festivals, car shows, air shows, art shows, agricultural fairs, and more. Or, tour the towns and what they have to offer at museums, art galleries, breweries, golf courses, retail shops, and restaurants.

Dancer at Naotkamegwanning First Nation Pow Wow event.

White Moose Golf Course on Lake of the Woods at Sioux Narrows.

I have outlined just one example of a day trip. There are so many more. And, ideally not limited to one day. There are great opportunities to make overnight, weekend, or weeklong trips. As an astrophotographer, my story would be incomplete without mentioning that the Aurora Borealis is very possible to see here too. It’s not limited to just the far North. 

Aurora Borealis reflected on Lake of the Woods.

There is so much to see in Northwestern Ontario, from the very tiny to the very vast.  And there really is something to see for everyone. All you have to do is look!

For more images, videos, and stories:

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