IBA Norfolk Forest Complex
Walsingham, Ontario
Site Summary
ON009 Latitude
42.688° N
80.505° W
180 - 212 m
314.18 km²
coniferous forest (temperate), deciduous woods (temperate), mixed woods (temperate), scrub/shrub, second growth/grazed grasslands, rivers/streams, freshwater marsh
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Forestry, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Deforestation, Introduced species, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Nationally Significant: Threatened Species, Congregatory Species
Conservation status: Conservation Area (provincial)
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Site Description
The Norfolk Forest Complex site includes a number of forested areas that are in close proximity to each other or connected via natural corridors. The forests included here are the Walsh Carolinian Forest, South Walsingham Sand Ridge and Big Creek Floodplain, Cultus Forest, Venison Creek, Backus Woods, Deer Creek Valley, St. Williams Forest, Turkey Point Forest, and Ungers Corner. These forests are all located in Haldimand-Norfolk County, within eight kilometres of the north shore of Lake Erie along a 20 kilometre east-west stretch. The forest blocks cover an area of undulating sand plain, with some areas having deeply incised ravines. The habitats are primarily deciduous in nature but some stands of eastern hemlock and areas of conifer plantation (mainly Red and White Pine) are present. Uplands are dominated by Red Oak, American Beech, Red Maple, White Oak, and swamp woodlands are dominated by Silver Maple, Black Ash and in some areas, Black Gum. Interesting fauna found in the site include the nationally vulnerable Spotted Turtle and the provincially threatened Eastern Hognose Snake.

This area supports one of southern Ontarios richest breeding bird communities. Over 100 species have been confirmed as breeders within these forests, including many species that are at risk nationally: Acadian Flycatcher (endangered), Hooded Warbler (threatened), Prothonotary Warbler (endangered), Cerulean Warbler (vulnerable), Louisiana Waterthursh (vulnerable), and Red-shouldered Hawk (vulnerable).

Acadian Flycatchers breed in these forests - at least three nesting pairs present in 2000, representing over 1% of the Canadian population of this species. The forests also supports Canadas largest population of Hooded Warblers. In 1998, it was estimated that at least 70 pairs were present in these forests, which is over half of the total Canadian population. In 2000, at least 56 pairs were breeding in St. Williams and South Walsingham alone (the other forests were not searched). Since 1995, between three to five pairs of Prothonotary Warblers have nested annually in Backus Woods. This is about a third of the current (2000), declining Canadian population of the species. Outside of Rondeau Provincial Park, this is the largest concentration of this species in Canada. Cerulean Warblers nest in most of these forest areas; although exact numbers are not known, they definitely exceed the national significance threshold of ten pairs. Finally, Louisiana Waterthrush nest along streams in many of these areas - at least ten pairs are present annually (5% of Canadian population).

An estimated three to five pairs (perhaps as many as ten pairs) of Red-shouldered Hawks (nationally vulnerable) are present within the forest complex; this population does not exceed national thresholds, however.

In addition to threatened species, the forests supports a rich forest bird community. Species that nest within the forests include: Broad-winged Hawk, American Woodcock, Black-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Wood-Peewee, Veery, Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The presence of numerous species more characteristic of the northern forests are also noteworthy (e.g., Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Magnolia Warber, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and Canada Warbler, among others).

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Acadian Flycatcher 2007 - 2016 FA 1 - 3
Acadian Flycatcher 1999 - 2020 SP 1 - 3
Acadian Flycatcher 1991 - 2020 SU 1 - 12
Canvasback 2012 SP 5,000
Cerulean Warbler 1995 SU 20
Henslow's Sparrow 2019 FA 1
Henslow's Sparrow 2005 SP 1
Henslow's Sparrow 2019 SU 1
Little Gull 1990 FA 3
Little Gull 2010 - 2018 SP 5 - 20
Loggerhead Shrike 1992 FA 1
Louisiana Waterthrush 1993 - 2019 SP 4 - 7
Louisiana Waterthrush 2000 - 2020 SU 4 - 20
Northern Bobwhite 2008 FA 12
Prothonotary Warbler 2013 - 2019 FA 1
Prothonotary Warbler 1998 - 2020 SP 1 - 5
Prothonotary Warbler 1995 - 2020 SU 1 - 6
Redhead 2000 FA 14,000
Rusty Blackbird 2010 - 2016 FA 25 - 100
Rusty Blackbird 2011 - 2019 SP 25 - 400
Rusty Blackbird 2007 - 2019 WI 23 - 49
Tundra Swan 2013 - 2019 SP 1,500 - 2,200
Yellow-breasted Chat 1992 - 2018 SP 1
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
From an ecological perspective, the Norfolk Forest Complex site has some of the most significant blocks of deciduous forest that remain in Canada. In addition to being significant for birds, it contains many species of vascular plants that are considered nationally or provincially rare, and a nationally rare community type (Tulip Tree - Eastern Hemlock).

Large parts of the area are privately owned, while some forests are managed by various naturalists groups (e.g. 25% of South Walsingham Forest is managed by such groups) and ecological restoration programs are underway. Many areas are owned by the Long Point Region Conservation Authority, who have undertaken and plan to continue forestry practices within the blocks. Other parts are within conservation areas (e.g. Backus Woods Conservation Area) or provincial parks (e.g. Turkey Point Forest). St. Williams Forest is largely leased by Aquanorth, a forestry company.

Hooded and Prothonotary warbler studies, as well as Red-shouldered Hawk surveys, are ongoing in several areas. A large study is currently being completed in the South Walsingham Forest to determine the habitat associations of rare forest birds and forest interior species within this block. Subsequently, a model will be developed for forestry product extraction while at the same time protecting the forests rich biodiversity. This study is a joint initiative with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Long Point Region Conservation Authority, the Norfolk Land Stewardship Council and MacMillan Bloedel Limited.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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