Learning opportunities in a swamp
If you like froggies, then you really need to go to Cooper Marsh. That’s because the marsh, located on the south side of County Road 2 about halfway between Summerstown and Lancaster, is home to six different species of frogs and toads.
Apparently, there are eight kinds of frogs and toads in this part of Ontario, the only two missing from Cooper Marsh are the mink frog and the coarse frog. Both of these frogs can be found at Charlottenburgh Park but none of them has made the hop to Cooper Marsh just down the road.
That’s just one of the many facts that Brendan Jacobs, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the Raisin Region Conservation Authority, shared with about two dozen people during a guided tour of the Cooper Marsh recently.
Serendipity alert: Shortly after Mr. Jacobs told us about the frogs, I saw a big one hunkering in the marsh just off the boardwalk. I took a picture of it.
For most of us (and perhaps all of us) it wasn’t the first time we’d been to Cooper Marsh but it was definitely the first time some of us saw it in a new light. Mr. Jacobs did a fine job of telling us about the flora and fauna that call the marsh their home, but he also told us about the dangers that many of them experience.
Butternut trees, for example, are endangered because they attract an airborne fungus that is virtually impossible to eradicate.
This fungus attaches itself to the tree’s inner bark, making it impossible for the tree to draw nutrients from the ground. Eventually, the tree dies.
And then there’s the plight of the poor ash tree, published many times in The Glengarry News.
The black ash tree is one of the most valuable and sacred trees in the marsh. The Mohawks value it highly as they use the tree to make baskets.
Unfortunately, the pesky Emerald Ash Borer is destroying these trees and has been doing so since the beginning of the century after the bugs came here from Asia. Biologists are trying to curb the problem – one solution involves bringing in a parasitic wasp to eat the borers – but the bugs have still proven awfully resistant.
And then there’s the phragmites, a plant that every wildlife specialist despises. They are entirely useless plants. They keep growing and dominate any area where they land, making it very difficult for other plant species to survive. Mr. Jacobs says they are virtually impossible to get rid of. Cut them down one
year and they’ll just grow back the next.
In any case, we shouldn’t make this guided tour sound like a dirge for all the endangered plants. If anything, the tour told us that Cooper Marsh is a great place to visit and that nature is wonderful and should be protected.
We learned about swamprose, whose rosehips are edible, high in vitamins and nutrients, and makes great jams and jelly.
We learned that the marsh is attracting more and more species of birds.
Increasingly, biologists are seeing birds they haven’t seen in the area in more than two decades. On a few occasions, there are birds being spotted that haven’t been seen here before.
We learned about wild rice, whose leaf structure churns the water when the wind blows, allowing for the marsh water to be more oxidized.
We learned about wild grapes, which didn’t have a good year this year because of the lack of rain. But that happens, we learned. It’s cyclical.
All in all, the guided tour of Cooper Marsh was a fun evening. If you haven’t been there yet this year, I encourage you to pay it a visit before the cold weather arrives.
IN THE MARSH: Brendan Jacobs, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the Raisin Region Conservation Authority, points to a wild cucumber during a guided tour of Cooper Marsh. Left: A camouflaged denizen.