Today’s post comes to us from naturalist Yvette Bree of Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Many visitors to Sandbanks will remember 2017 as the year of high water levels. Along with many other lakes, Lake Ontario reached record levels in the spring and early summer, causing widespread flooding.
As a result, definitely it was not “as usual.”
Water, water, everywhere
Yes, there were some negative effects, particularly from a human perspective.
Richardson’s Campground, along with a few other individual campgrounds, was closed for the early part of the camping season.
Some parking spaces, always scarce on the busiest days on the beach, were flooded. Sandbanks Beach, now known as Lakeshore Beach, was closed all summer – it just wasn’t there, as high water levels eroded the shoreline.
There’s Yvette 2017, standing out where the beach used to start.
Both Dunes Trail and Cedar Sands Trail were closed due to experiencing massive flooding.
Kayak on the dune trail
It is important to remember that this was primarily a natural event: fluctuations occur naturally, causing changes in the environment that we might initially consider harmful.
Some unlikely friends
Sandbank pannes are a rare habitat in the world characterized, among other things, by a lack of fish, which is important for some of the aquatic species that live there. But with Lake Ontario overflowing, the water (and the fish) poured into the containers.
As a park naturalist, I was initially surprised and dismayed to see fish in this habitat, disturbing the “natural” balance. But fast forward to this year, the lake levels are more “normal” and the fish are no longer there – the shallow pan waters freeze in the winter and nature got rid of the problem.
The flooded parking areas were heavily used by frogs and toads, which begged for mates loudly and resulted in a great breeding season.
Frogs and toads were seen and heard more frequently this year and the opportunity provided by the high water levels will have a positive effect on these amphibian populations for many years to come.
Change is in the air
Some of our park visitors this year have also commented on the many dead and dying trees they have seen. Pines and cedars seem to be the most affected, but why? It is a disease?
It turns out that most trees don’t like living in wetlands, which is where many of them were found for much of last summer.
Since the roots were not intended to remain underwater for long periods of time, many trees simply did not survive.
But that’s fine too. In the forests, these trees will be replaced by saplings that have been waiting patiently for sunlight to reach the forest floor so they can grow.
Others grew near or in wet areas and when they die, the area reopens and ensures the wetland habitat continues.
Without some intervention (high lake levels, people, or beavers, to name a few), wetlands will often gradually fill in and be replaced by more terrestrial habitat.
Last year’s floods refreshed our wetlands, which are now stronger than ever.
You only have to look at the flower display on the Sandbanks panels this year to see how well they are doing.
The display was one of the best I can remember: clusters of white Ladies’ Tresses orchids amidst the gorgeous blues and purples of Kalm’s Lobelia, Purple Gerardia and Fringed Gentian.
Maybe a year that wasn’t “normal” was what we needed to have a year that was truly special.