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Information provided by Ministry of Natural Resources, Elgin Stewardship Council and Carolinian Canada. Compiled by Future Stewards Program with the Elgin Stewardship Council.

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Prior to World War 2
The property that is now known as the Fingal Wildlife Management Area (FWMA) was farmed by a number of local families.

Land was cleared and construction began on the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Number 4 Bombing and Gunnery School. The school stayed open from November 25, 1940 to February 17, 1945. More than 6000 aircrews graduated from the school, including men from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Free France and the United States.

The property was home to the Number 9 Surplus Equipment Holding Unit. This was an air station used as storage for aircraft and other materials.

1965 The Federal Government changed the administration of the site to the Province of Ontario. The Department of Lands and Forests, now the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) began the management of the property. Buildings were sold and removed and the asphalt from the runways was torn up and buried on the site.

1991 Interested historians, Ex-Fingalites (people who either worked or served at the school), and Kettle Creek Conservation Authority staff raised $4000 for a commemorative plaque. The Elgin County Ploughing Match was held at FWMA for the first time. Wagon tours of the property allowed the public to learn about the various property management activities taking place on the site.

1992 A commemorative plaque signifying the RCAF school's existence and importance during WW2 was erected at the north end of the property in the main parking area. More than 100 people were in attendance for the unveiling and the first reunion of the school.

1993 The No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School Association was established. These people expressed an interest in making a historical walking trail through the old school site.

1994 The War to Roses Walking Trail was finished. This included the publication of a self-guided trail brochure and a memorial garden planted at the base of the commemorative plaque. Improvements also began on the interpretive trail. This included new signs and a bridge.

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  • The Fitch Drain was dammed in 1969 to create a 3-acre pond. The pond provides an area for waterfowl to nest and raise their young. Seventeen smaller dug out ponds were created along the old runway to increase the carrying capacity of the site.
  • In the 1970's the property was named Fingal Wildlife Management Area (FWMA) and promoted the concept of combined agriculture, wildlife management, hunting opportunities and passive day use recreation.
  • The Ministry of Natural Resources introduced an annual pheasant release program, beginning in 1971 that is still in practice. The goal is to promote and improve upland game hunting opportunities on the site. Controlled hunting for ducks and geese was introduced from six separate blind locations.
  • In 1975 an Interpretive Trail at the south end of the property was established. The 3-km trail through the forest featured a number of stations explaining various management practices that take place on the site.
  • A total of 55,000 trees and shrubs were planted. Silver Maple, Autumn and Russian Olive, Red-osier Dogwood, White Spruce, Cedar, Multiflora Rose and Highbush Cranberry are just a few of the wildlife attracting species that were established from 1976-1980.
  • Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food the Tillage 2000 Demonstration Site was developed. Since 1986, different forms of conservation tillage have been put into practice, studied and compared in hopes of reducing soil erosion and increasing the soil productivity.
  • In 1993 a total of 72 acres of land was tile drained to improve agricultural productivity.
  • Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food more importance was placed on a full 3-year crop rotation of no-till corn, beans and wheat. Major improvement to all three parking areas was started in 1995. Work included enlargement, gravel placement and grading, new gateposts and signs.
  • A new drinking water well was drilled in 1996 at the northeast corner of the property. The planning for some tall grass prairie restoration projects was started as a joint effort between the Elgin Stewardship Council, KCCA and the land tenant to rehabilitate 9 acres of agricultural land.
  • In June 1997 nine acres of the FWMA were planted with 38 different species of Tall grass Prairie plants. Twenty plus volunteers put approximately 10,000 plant plugs in the field east of the pond.
  • In 1998, new signs were installed throughout the property. Waterfowl hunting opportunities were enhanced with the upgrading of the existing six blinds. Site improvements included trail rerouting, regular grooming, installation of new interpretive signs to existing trails, and the addition of many newly blazed trails. A waterfowl viewing stand was built near the west side of the pond. This was done by volunteer effort to improve both small game hunting and passive recreation.
  • In 1999, First Tall grass Prairie burn was done in the spring.
  • In 2000, the War to Roses Walking Trail was updated, a new trail guide was written and published. Brush was removed from the edges of the runways and field access roads. Clearing in the Kentucky Coffee Tree grove started.
  • In 2001, the second Tall grass Prairie burn was done in the spring. Bathrooms were installed near the north entrance.
  • In 2002, brush was cleared around the edges of some of the agriculture fields and on one side of the runway ponds. The south ditch was cleared of brush and deepened. Additional clearing was done in the Kentucky Coffee Tree grove. Cedar trees were transplanted along the main entrance road and the Tall grass Prairie parking lot. Three incinerators were cleared of brush. A new trail was cleared linking the prairie and wood trails. Discussions regarding hunter and hiker safety were started.

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Fingal Wildlife Management Area totals 294 hectares / 720 acres of land, of which 171 hectares / 390 acres are farmed. The agriculture land is leased through a public tender process.

To reduce soil erosion, conservation land management techniques, such as no-till cropping, are practiced. To assure good soil health and productivity, a 3-year rotation of corn, soya beans, and wheat is followed.

As you look at the farm fields at FWMA, you will notice that they are bordered by windbreaks. Windbreaks are rows of trees or shrubs planted to protect crops, soil, birds and animals from strong winds. They also become a source of food. Coniferous trees, such as cedar and spruce, are preferred since they keep their leaves giving year-round protection. Windbreaks are an excellent example of how agriculture and wildlife can coexist.

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Elgin County tends to have a late Spring season, delaying tree leaf development, which makes it easier for the average birder to spot various bird species.

There is a waterfowl viewing stand west of the south pond that gives enhanced viewing and photographic opportunities of the birds.


The FWMA has a system of hiking trails geared to all tastes and ability levels. There are 21 km of trails altogether, some of which are described by self-directed trail guides.

The trails are:

¢ Tall grass Prairie Trail
¢ Woodland Interpretive Trail
¢ War to Roses Trail
¢ Runway Trail
¢ Gord Longhurst Trail
¢ Ian Carmichael Trail
¢ Catharine Spratley Trail

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Please remember that hunting is a permitted use at Fingal Wildlife Management Area with controlled small game and waterfowl hunting taking place from mid-September to the end of February. Hunter access for small game and waterfowl is limited by designated parking spaces, which are available four days per week on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday on a "first come first serve" basis. Knowing the area and the species that may be hunted are the responsibility of the hunter.

To be sure there is no conflict with your field trip, and to confirm exact time and dates that hunting is permitted, please contact:

Aylmer District of the Ministry of Natural Resources (519) 773-9241


The Fingal Wildlife Management Area allows one to experience a variety of habitats. The Woodland Interpretive Trail and The Catharine Spratley Trail take you through a mature deciduous forest. Thickets, conifer plantations or windbreaks occur around many of the farm fields. A waterfowl viewing stand allows you to look over a 3 acre pond. East of the pond are 9 acres of tall grass prairie encircled by a walking trail.

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Woodland areas are important habitat for a variety of species including birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians and mammals. A habitat is where plants and animals live; it is their home. These homes can be large old hollow trees known as den trees, or standing dead trees called snag trees that are very important within the forest ecosystem. Animals such as raccoons and flying squirrels make their nests in den trees and birds like woodpeckers nest in snag trees.
Many nut producing trees (mast trees) such as oak, beech and hickory supply food for the woodland creatures. Without these trees the animals would starve or have to move to another forest containing these food trees.

Conifer trees or evergreens are important because they are used as shelter and cover from the snow, wind and rain by many forest animals.

Even fallen dead trees have a place in the forest habitat. Dead logs and leaves on the forest floor provide habitat for small animals, birds, insects and amphibians, some of which are in turn food for other animals.

Thickets are found where the natural habitat has been disturbed, where shrubs have been planted, and around the edges of the forest areas. At the north end of the property there are many thickets and windbreaks that attract a variety of wildlife. The thickets are comprised of many alien invasive species such as; Multiflora Rose, Autumn Olive, Russian Olive, and American Highbush Cranberry. These shrub species were originally planted to attract wildlife. There are many bird and insect species that depend on thicket and roadside plants.

There are several conifer plantations at the north end of the property that have hiking trails through them. The plantations are mainly planted in White Cedar, Scotch Pine, Norway Spruce, and White Spruce.

A small grove of Kentucky Coffee Trees have been planted in this area as well.

The Woodland Interpretive Trail and the Catharine Spratley Trail run through a mature forest habitat. In the early spring the ground is covered in wildflowers. White trilliums blanket large sections of this area. Many trees and bushes along the Woodland Interpretive Trail are labelled. Those labeled are:

1. Black Walnut 14. European Buckthorn
2. Trembling Aspen 15. Serviceberry
3. Grape Vine 16. Eastern Red Cedar
4. Butternut 17. Silver Maple
5. Poison Ivy 18. White Cedar
6. Basswood 19. Ironwood
7. White Ash 20. Blue Beech
8. Black Cherry 21. Shagbark Hickory
9. Sugar Maple 22. Black Ash
10. Eastern Cottonwood 23. Bitternut Hickory
11. Red Maple 24. American Elm
12. Witch Hazel 25. Bur Oak
13. White Spruce 26. Yellow Birch
27. American Beech

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Here are some wildlife species you might see in a forest habitat in our area:


American Woodcock Various Warbler species
Downy Woodpecker Great Horned Owl
Eastern Kingbird Pileated Woodpecker
Chickadee Blue Jay
American Crow American Robin
Cedar Waxwing Wood Thrush
American Goldfinch Ruffed Grouse
Various Sparrow species Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Eastern Screech Owl Mourning Dove
Hairy Woodpecker Flicker
Purple Martin Cardinal
Junco Gray Catbird
Nuthatch Wild Turkey
European Starling Red-tailed Hawk
Common Grackle  


Eastern Cottontail Rabbit White-tailed Deer
Various Bat species Red Squirrel
Red Fox Opossum
Raccoon Skunk
Gray Squirrel Groundhog
Coyote American Badger


American Toad Blue-spotted Salamander
Wood Frog Milk Snake
Tree Frog Little Brown Snake
Eastern Redback Salamander  


Mosquitoes Millipedes
Yellow Jackets Wasps
Ants Centipedes

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May-apple Staghorn Sumac
Bloodroot Sugar Maple
Jack-in-the-Pulpit Silver Maple
Canada Anemone Red Maple
Trout Lily Red Oak
Wild Columbine Black Cherry
Canada Violet White Ash
Solomon's Seal Black Ash
Wild Bergamot Red Ash
White Trillium Bitternut Hickory
Red Trillium Shagbark Hickory
False Solomon's Seal Eastern Cottonwood
Ostrich Fern Black Walnut
Christmas Fern American Beech
Maidenhair Fern Trembling Aspen
Lady's Fern Yellow Birch
Poison Ivy Ironwood
Honeysuckle American Elm
Witch Hazel Basswood
Common Elder Eastern White Pine
Hawthorn Blue Beech
Wild Grape Tulip
Spicebush Hackberry
Nannyberry Kentucky Coffee Tree

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Grasslands are open areas where few or no trees grow. A native North American grassland is often called a prairie. A prairie is a long-lived grassland that is dominated by native grasses which make up between 50-75% of the plant species. The most common grasses found include: Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switch grass. Other flowering plant species include Gray-headed Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Butterfly Milkweed, Blazing Stars, Goldenrods, Asters and Sunflowers.

Before European settlement tall grass prairie was abundant in the extreme Southwestern Ontario regions. The prairies were converted into agricultural fields and pastures. Prairies are now often considered endangered species with less than 1/10 of 1% of the original tall grass prairies still present in Ontario today. Unfortunately, along with the loss of habitat comes the loss of species. Of the plant species considered rare in Ontario, approximately 20% are associated with prairie ecosystems. However, restoration projects such as the one at the FWMA in 1997 are underway in Southern Ontario to help save the tall grass prairie.

The tall grass prairie provides further biodiversity, prevents soil erosion and provides cover and food for a variety of wildlife. The area bordering the pond provides nesting cover and protection from predators for waterfowl.

In the spring of 1999 the first tall grass prairie burn was completed at the FWMA. The burn returns nutrients to the soil and helps prevent the growth of woody plants from taking over the area. It was burned again in the spring of 2001.

In the summer and autumn a multitude of colours are visible from the Tall grass Prairie Trail or from the viewing stand on the other side of the pond. A number of butterflies and moths can be seen feeding on the nectar of the flowers. If one looks more closely many other insects such as bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and bugs can be observed.

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The following is a list of the 38 species originally planted in the FWMA tall grass prairie:

Big Blue Stem Spiked or Dense Blazing Star
Canada Wild Rye Spiked Lobelia
Switch Grass Wild Bergamot
Broom Beard-grass White Beardtongue
Indian Grass Hairy Beardtongue
Yarrow White Lettuce*
Nodding Wild Onion* Virginia Mountain Mint
Canada Anemone Gray-headed Coneflower
Long Fruited Anemone Black-eyed Susan
Swamp Milkweed Compass Plant*
Butterfly Milkweed Slender Blue-eyed Grass
Green Milkweed* Gray Goldenrod
Heath Aster Riddell's Goldenrod
New England Aster Stiff-leaved Goldenrod
Flat Topped White Aster Purple Meadow Rue
Tick Trefoil Ohio Spiderwort
Flowering Spurge* Tall Ironweed
Sneeze Weed  
Tall or Giant Sunflower  
Round Headed Bush Clover*  
Blazing Star  
*These species may not have survived.

Many of the pasture lands and roads in Southwestern Ontario are dominated by European (non-native) grass species. These areas would more appropriately be called meadows. A meadow is an open, treeless area covered by grasses and is usually the result of a disturbance from human activities such as farming. Meadows are generally regarded as the first stage of forest regeneration. Some of the vegetation species that are first to grow are grasses, goldenrod, milkweed, thistle, burdock, sumac, poison ivy, hawthorn, chokecherry and raspberry. Many wildlife species depend on these plants for food and shelter. One example is the monarch butterfly that only lays eggs on the milkweed plant. The monarch caterpillar hatches from the egg and feeds on the milkweed leaves. After several instars the caterpillar changes to its pupa stage often attaching to the milkweed plant. This plant is vital to the Monarch's survival.

There are many examples of meadows at the FWMA. One example is the open area west of the number 6 hanger foundation and another occurs west of the Ian Carmichael Trail at the north edge of the woodlot.

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These are some species that you might find in a grassland habitat.


Red-tailed Hawk Eastern Bluebird
Brown-headed Cowbird American Goldfinch
Killdeer Pheasant
Field Sparrow Northern Harrier
Rock Dove American Kestrel
Barn Owl *at risk Loggerhead Shrike *at risk
Eastern Meadowlark Wild Turkey
Barn Swallow Bobolink
Turkey Vulture Horned Lark
Song Sparrow Snow Bunting
Short-eared Owl *at risk Northern Bobwhite *at risk


Deer Mouse Meadow Vole
Field Mouse White-tailed Deer
Short-tailed Shrew Skunk
Common Shrew Groundhog
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Star-nosed Mole
Red Fox American Badger *at risk
Smoky Shrew  

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Dragonflies Monarch Butterfly
Crickets Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Preying Mantis Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly
Various Species of Flies Red Admiral
Various Species of Spiders (not insects) American Painted Lady Butterfly
Damselflies Cabbage White Butterfly
Grasshoppers Summer Azure
Ants Clouded Sulpher
Bees and Wasps Orange Sulpher
Ladybird Beetles  


Eastern Garter Snake Fox Snake *at risk
Eastern Milk Snake Smooth Green Snake
Eastern Hognose Snake Eastern Ribbon Snake


Tall Fescue Canada Thistle
Big Bluestem Goldenrod
Little Bluestem Wild Bergamot
Indian Grass Gray-headed Coneflower
Red Fescue Purple Coneflower
Canada Wild Rye Prairie Dock
Switch Grass Smooth Beardtongue
Wool Grass Common Dandelion
Quack/Twitch Grass Joe-Pye-Weed
Canada Tick- Trefoil Wild Carrot
Black-eyed Susan Common Milkweed
New England Aster Swamp Milkweed
Virginia Mountain Mint Butterfly Weed
Blazingstar Common Plantain
New Jersey Tea Meadowrue
Tall Sunflower Common Burdock

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Aquatic habitats are lands that experience some form of water saturation at any point in the year. These wet areas tend to reduce flooding in the nearby areas as well as act as natural filtration systems.

The wildlife like to use these areas because the aquatic ecosystems are filled with food, hiding places from predators, shelter and an abundance of water. Aquatic habitats may be used as "staging grounds" (areas to feed and rest) for waterfowl on their migrations, especially if there are mudflats. The vegetation in wet areas can often include cattails, some tree and shrub species, reeds and grasses, and other aquatic plants.

There are two areas within the Fingal Wildlife Management Area that provide an aquatic habitat during the year. A 3 acre pond in the south part of the property was formed when a municipal drainage system was dammed. A viewing stand overlooks this pond. In 1969 the digging of many small ponds in the former RCAF runway created additional aquatic habitat that can be viewed from the Runway Trail.
This area provides a rich habitat for a variety of species. Several species of shorebirds and waterfowl may be seen, or ducks may be dabbling for aquatic plants or even sleeping on the water safe from predators. Swallows flying overhead are catching insects. A Great Blue Heron may be found patrolling the water edge for food. Animals such as turtles, frogs, toads, and salamanders may be seen if one approaches them slowly and quietly.

Additional aquatic habitat is provided when the low lying areas within the woodlot flood during the spring. Soon these areas are teaming with aquatic wildlife such as mosquitoes, tadpoles, water fleas and other freshwater invertebrates. By early summer most of the water will have disappeared along with its wildlife.

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Here are some aquatic habitat species that you might find:


Common Loon American Black Duck
Canada Goose Bank Swallow
Mallard Duck Wood Duck
Hooded Merganser Brown-headed Cowbird
American Pipit Ring-necked Duck
Cliff Swallow Green Heron
Double -crested Cormorant Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper Belted Kingfisher
Red-winged Blackbird Herring Gull
Northern Pintail Ring-billed Gull
Great Blue Heron Ruddy Duck


Common Carp Brook Trout
Catfish Johnny Darter
Walleye Crappy
Rainbow Trout Chub
Shiners Bass
Minnow Pike
Sunfish Rock Bass
Brown Trout Perch

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Pickerel Frog Snapping Turtle
American Toad Painted Turtle
Spring Peeper Map Turtle
Bull Frog Blandings Turtle
Green Frog Mudpuppy
Gray Treefrog Northern Water Snake


Dragonflies Mosquito
Damselflies Water Beetle
Mayfly Nymph Water Spider
Water Strider Water Boatman


Yellow Water Lily Black Ash
Common Duckweed Blue Beech
Water Milfoil Various species of Willows
Cattails Silver Maple
Water Plantain Bur Oak
Algae Large-toothed Aspen
Blue Flag Red Maple
Bulrush Sycamore

*Many mammals use the aquatic habitat for water, food and shelter. Beaver, muskrats, mink, opossums, and raccoons are some of the mammals you might see in or near an aquatic area. Very often you will be able to find their tracks.

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The flora and fauna of any given area will depend on the suitability of the habitat for those species and their life cycle requirements. For example, dragonflies require an aquatic habitat for the initial portion of their life cycle.

As a result, one would expect to see adult dragonflies around an aquatic habitat during their egg laying stage. Since we know dragonflies are only active in warm weather and prefer sunny days, a warm sunny day in the summer would be a good time to look for them.

Another example would be migrating birds that are seen in an area only during the spring or fall migrations. To expect to see them at other times of the year would be unreasonable.
When searching for a species of flora or fauna, some knowledge of its requirements and life cycle is necessary if one hopes to be successful in finding it

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Dragonflies and Damselflies
Look for them in aquatic or meadow habitats, late spring to early fall.
Family Species Notes

Darners Common Green Darner
Lance-tipped DarnerShadow Darner
Skimmers Black Saddlebags
Blue Dasher
Calico Pennant
Common Whitetail
Dot-tailed Whiteface
Eastern Amberwing
Eastern Pondhawk
Halloween Pennant
Red-mamtled Saddlebags
Spot winged Glider
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Variegated Meadowhawk
Widow skimmer
Yellow-legged Meadowhawk
Common. Late summer early fall
Spredwings Slender Spreadwing
Spotted Spreadwing
Pond Damsels Azure Bluet
Double-stripped Bluet
Eastern Forktail
Familiar Bluet
Fragile Forktail
Orange Bluet
Skimming Bluet

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You want to enjoy your nature experience

  • long sleeves
  • long pants
  • a hat
  • shoes and socks
  • sun screen and bug spray

Many species make this area their home don't litter

  • take only pictures
  • don't disturb anything
  • don't pick flowers
  • if you observe something place it back where you found it

You could trample wildlife and plants don't damage vegetation

  • don't disturb dead wood, it is decaying
  • stay away from leaflets three, it is poison ivy
  • minimize human impact on the area

Your natural area is important to you the quieter you are, the more

  • you will see
  • leave everything in its natural setting
  • come back and visit again

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West Elgin Nature Club
P.O.Box 7
West Lorne ON
N0L 2P0