Just off the corner of Lakeshore Road in Old Town, there is a paradise many locals know about called Niagara Shores Park.
The area, now closed off to the public for driving access because hoodlums were tearing up the grass with trucks, has been a staple of NOTL for ages, and anybody who is a regular visitor knows just how valuable it is to protect.
The property, once owned by National Defence, now owned by Parks Canada, is one of the last forested hiking areas left in Old Town.
It has two thriving ponds which are home to a variety of wildlife, such as turtles and fish, and the forest is home to deer, squirrels, groundhogs and insects like butterflies and bees.
The area is also prime Carolinian forest, home to wild strawberries, raspberries, Ontario trilliums and century old trees.
It’s a photographer’s dream, and to top it off, the whole area is designated as a protected bird sanctuary, with a number of protected species — some threatened — which migrate to the park each year.
One of those species is the bank swallow, a bird which nests along the banks of lakesides, burrowing into the soft cliffside clay to create a home to raise its young.
Watching them frolick is one of my favourite pastimes.
The tiny birds are aerial insectivores, which means they mainly eat insects during flight, which makes for an acrobatic show above the shoreline.
At almost any given time in the summer, you can visit Niagara Shores and see these birds flying in and out of their cliffside hole homes.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear David Attenborough narrating as the chicks poke their heads out past the shadows of the caves to peer over Lake Ontario.
But over the years, as I’ve been watching, I’ve noticed the numbers of swallows has been in decline, largely due to eroding banks.
Across the globe, other factors like lakefront developments are causing the populations of cliffside bird species to dwindle.
Bank swallows are officially one of Ontario’s threatened bird species, due in large to the disappearance of their natural habitats.
It’s not entirely the fault of humans, as crashing waves play a large role in coastal erosion, as it has here in our small town.
As the waves roll in —filled with rocks, sand and debris — and crash against the cliffside, the wall erodes back further and further.
In the past few years, the cliff at North Shores has eroded so far back it’s caused many of the trees on the bank to topple over into the lake.
But there is something humans can do to protect these habitats, so we don’t lose these birds.
Aside from protecting the land, which there is a good chance of now that it is owned by Canada Parks, there are a number of ways in which technology can minimize the effects of wave erosion.
Some techniques are: breakwaters, which can be used to minimize erosion and help naturally rejuvenate beaches, and beach nourishment, which is adding sand to artificially widen a beach.
There are a number of options, and while I wouldn’t suggest which is best, or if it’s even realistic, it seems something worth exploring.
After all, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s heritage properties are shared by more life than just us, and we owe it to the future to protect the area for wildlife too.
If all is well and good, I would like to take my future grandchildren to watch the swallows dance at Niagara Shores, like my grandfather did for me.
This story was changed from the originally published version to clarify a misleading term. The story originally said the birds were cliffside swallows, as an unofficial name. In truth, they are called bank swallows (scientific name: riparia riparia).
The term cliffside is particularly confusing, as there is a species of swallow called a cliff swallow, which also makes its nests on cliffsides, though it does not burrow into the sand and instead builds its nests on banks.