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Our Wetlands Cootes Paradise Hamilton

Our Wetlands Cootes Paradise Hamilton

Sunday May 22 2011

Blue Heron Cootes Paradise May 20

I welcome you to join me on a journey to the hidden gems in Hamilton, Tobermory, Niagara Falls, and many other places. My hope is that together we enjoy an enlightening experience, to gaze through the camera lens together, to see the power, beauty, and wisdom of Mother Nature’s gift.There is much history Living in Hamilton we are very lucky to have Cootes Paradise , Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario. Exploring your environment helps you to understand what we can do to help conserve this natural Beauty.While hiking in Cootes Paradise yesterday I noticed Algae that looked like raw sewage. If you look at the ducks Bill “picture below” it is oily and on the feathers there is a brown slime.Otherwise every hike, bike ride into cootes paradise is very interesting.Enjoy the Images

Site Coordinator

Doug Worrall

Sunrise on the docks


In the Hamilton area are fortunate to have many local wetlands. Wetlands were thought to be dirty places and had a reputation for being dangerous. Movies like “The Swamp Thing” came from the imagination of people who were raised in a time when wetlands were considered of little value or even frightening. We now know that they are important habitats that provide homes for many endangered species and that they help to control floods and filter some pollutants. It is hard to imagine thinking of them as undesirable today, which is good because 33% of Ontario’s and 14% of Canada’s land mass is covered by wetlands. . Unfortunately, up to 90% of southern Ontario’s wetlands have been lost to urbanization and agriculture.

After long rain Clay rich soil
As you walk along the shoreline of Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour you will notice plants and their herbivores seldom occur in isolation, The red-wing black bird flies to the top of the Cattails (Thypha).  These plants have eleven species in the flowering plant family Typhacease.  What is interesting is how the name of this plant varies across the world, for example, Bulrush or Reedmace (England, UK ), Punks or CornDog Grass (America), Cumbungi (Australia), and Raupo (New Zealand).

Cootes Paradise cattails

In the past week Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour  have  been inundated with water.

May 7 cootes paradise

It has also attracted the Great Blue Heron in search of fish in the water.  The painted turtle has popped up to bask in the warm sun today.  And the Canada Goose has lots of goslings.  These are the signs of Spring has really arrived.  The Dundas Marsh (Cootes Paradise) located at the western end of Hamilton Harbour which is a shallow flooded basin of open water and marsh joined to Hamilton Harbour by the Desjardins canal.  Here the shallow open water is dominated by  emergent plants you can see, such as,  the Cattails and Great Manna Grass (Glyceria maxima)  a common emergent exotic marsh plant.  Also there  are the submergent Sage Pondweed (Potamogeton pecitinatus) and the floating leaves of Water Lilies (Nymphuea odorata). With advances in the Fishway Carp that disrupt the plants are controlled to allow for restoration of native vegetation.


Mute swans, more than trumpeters



Wetland Types

Wetlands vary in appearance and habitat function depending upon where they are located and what conditions they exist in. Some are very open with large areas of water while others have almost no open water at all. What they have in common is the presence of shallow water that may be invisible because of the density of plant growth. The three types of wetlands found in our area are marshes, swamps and peatlands.

Canadian Beaver


The kind of wetland that most people picture is a marsh. This is the most common type of wetland in southern Ontario and in the Hamilton area. Marshes have soils that are less organic than other wetlands and they are characterised by emergent vegetation.Marshes usually have an equal area of open water and vegetation. Marshes are prime duck habitat and also excellent muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) territory.These habitats can be found along the shores of the Great Lakes and in sheltered bays such as Cootes Paradise and also along rivers or in other depressions across the broader landscape. They have fluctuating water levels, particularly when they are isolated from large water bodies.

Algae or Untreated waste visible cootes paradise
Unusual lump on neck while swimming in the Algae


Swamps are often associated with the deep southern United States, like the Okefonokee Swamp in Georgia, but we have our own swamps right here in our area. Swamps are forested wetlands and the Hamilton area is one of the best places in Canada to see them. Most of our swamps are dominated by hardwood tree species, in particular Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum). These wetlands can form along lakeshores but are more often found along shallow rivers or in low-lying areas where the soil is not flooded all year long. By combining the properties of forest and wetland together, they make very good habitat for birds in particular. Beverly Swamp and the Valens Conservation Area are excellent places to see these ecosystems.

Proud mother


The rarest wetlands in southern Ontario, peatlands are wetlands where the soil is highly organic because is it formed mostly from incompletely decomposed plants. This soil is called peat and its presence is what defines peatlands. Plant material does not break down very easily in waterlogged conditions and the plants that dominate peatlands, such as Sphagnum mosses (Sphagnum spp.) or sedges (Carex sp.), are especially slow to decompose. In addition, many peatland plants produce chemical compounds that slow decomposition further, particularly the Sphagnum mosses. These non-vascular plants are also known as ‘peat mosses’ because they form peat soils.

The slow decomposition found in peatlands results in soils that are very old. It can take as much as 1,000 years for a peatland to produce as little as 15 centimetres of peat soil. Incredible! This is why peat is not a renewable resource; it is formed over very long periods of time. One nearby peatland, the Summit Bog at Copetown, is 12,000 years old and has peat soil that is 8 metres deep. This means that, on average, this peat soil has taken 1,000 years to deepen by 65 centimetres. There are two main types of peatlands in southern Ontario, bogs and fens. Both form peat but bogs have no significant inflows or outflows of water while fens receive water from surrounding mineral soil, sometimes resulting in a mix of peatland and marsh vegetation.

Wetland Animals

Twist and Shout
testing wings

Of the three types of wetlands,marshes seem to have more animal life. It is easy to find muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) in these very productive habitats.Marshes are particularly important habitats for amphibians and water-dwelling reptiles because they contain both open water and vegetated areas. The Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale), Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens), Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) and Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) all benefit from marsh homes.Aquatic insects also thrive in this habitat, including the Giant Water Bug, also known as the Toe-biter (Lethocerus americanus), the Brown Water Scorpion (Ranatra fusca), mosquitoes (Aedes spp.), dragonflies and damselflies (Order Odonata) and midges (Family Chironomidae, which look a bit like mosquitoes but do not bite).This abundance of insects, amphibians and plants is like a meal waiting to happen for birds, which is one reason why birds are so populous in marshes.

Turtle day before algae
Turtle muddy not algae

There are the herons, such as the Blue Heron above (Butorides virescens) and their relatives the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) and the rare Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis). Rails (e.g. Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola), and coots (e.g. American Coot, Fulica Americana) are on the rise in places like Cootes Paradise in Hamilton.Smaller birds are there too, like the Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) and the rare Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea).Fish are also an important part of the marsh fauna. Northern Pike (Esox lucius), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis gibbosus) and many minnow species are found in Cootes Paradise, with help from the fish barrier that keeps out invasive species like Carp and allows these native fish to survive and reproduce. During the open water seasons, you can watch the barrier in action as RBG staff remove the undesirable fish from the trap in the barrier.



Information:Jacqueline, Hamilton Nature and Wikipedia

6AM 21 May 2011
Harbourfront Trail

Doug Worrall Photographer