Once upon a time, black bears, eastern cougars, and wolves all roamed the hardwood forests of what is today the Town of Pelham.
However, these large predators, as well as several other species, were gradually extirpated from Pelham and most of Southern Ontario as a result of increasing human populations and rampant hunting.
Today, these creatures’ ranges have been pushed further north, far away from Pelham, which personally, as an avid naturalist, I consider to be rather unfortunate.
(Though there are claims that the eastern cougar is making a comeback.)
On the brighter side, some species were once extirpated from the area but have since been successfully reintroduced. The most outstanding example of a reintroduced species found in the woods and fields of Pelham is the wild turkey.
For years now I have encountered these large birds while on my frequent excursions in woods across Pelham. Just the other day while taking a stroll through the forest surrounding my family home in Fenwick I collected a couple of turkey feathers.
Indeed, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ wild turkey reintroduction program of the 1990s was such a success that the birds are once again hunted for sport in the province.
Another popular game bird that can be found in the fields of Pelham is the ring-necked pheasant, which in fact is not native to North America. These beautiful-looking birds were actually introduced here from overseas for the purpose of providing ideal game for sport hunters.
Certain other specices, such as the coyote and opossum, have expanded beyond their historic ranges on their own account, and are now prevalent throughout Southern Ontario. Warmer winters might explain the opossum’s migration northward to this area, whereas the coyote was able to expand its range in the wake of the wolves’ extirpation.
For those of us who enjoy a jaunt in the woods after dark, the howl and yapping of coyotes is a common sound.
Perhaps quite a few readers would be surprised to learn that Canada’s national animal, the beaver, is one species that has managed to maintain a foothold in Pelham despite the widespread destruction of its habitat.
Specifically, a beaver colony exists on the lower reaches of Coyle Creek, a slow flowing, meandering waterway that stretches across the Pelham-Welland municipal boundary. The creek is an important tributary to the Welland River, and drains much of Southern Pelham.
I first became aware of this little colony of beavers in the spring of 2001, while fishing on the creek with a couple of friends. We first noticed the telltale signs of several pencil-shaped tree stumps, which could only be cut by a beaver, and later discovered a few beaver lodges.
Last summer, out of concern for Coyle Creek’s beavers, I decided to form the Friends of Coyle Creek (the FCC), with the aim of preserving the creek and thus the beavers. The FCC has since grown into a group of over a dozen dedicated volunteers.
In order to keep the human impact on the beaver’s fragile environment to an absolute minimum, we conduct all our clean-up operations via canoe. In this manner, we are able to avoid disturbing the beavers on land, where they gather wood for their lodges and bark saplings for sustenance.
Pelham’s bears, cougars, and wolves may all have disappeared long ago, but the town remains home to plenty of fascinating creatures from the animal kingdom. Hopefully, these creatures, from the beaver through to the turkey, will continue to find homes in Pelham if we all do our best to preserve the local natural environment.