Big Creek National Wildlife Area

Notice

Big Creek National Wildlife Area is open to the public for day-use only. While most trails are open from mid-May until mid-September, some trails and visitor facilities may remain closed until such time that they can be safely re-opened.

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Big Creek National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located on the north shore of Lake Erie, in Ontario. The NWA has great ecological and social value.

Description

Big Creek NWA is on the north shore of Lake Erie, 3 kilometers (km) southwest of Port Rowan, Ontario. The NWA is at the base of the Long Point peninsula. It is home to a wealth of wildlife, including:

  • birds
  • frogs
  • turtles
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • other species

This wildlife relies on wetland habitats. The extensive marshes at the mouth of Big Creek are undisturbed compared to other Great Lakes coastal wetlands. These marshes are a major staging area for waterfowl and more than 200 bird species. These species use the area during their spring and fall migrations.

Wetland within Big Creek NWA.

Big Creek NWA is 770 hectares (ha). It consists of two units - Big Creek Unit (608 ha), and Hahn Marsh Unit (162 ha). The wetlands of Big Creek NWA are located along the north shore of Lake Erie, at the base of the Long Point peninsula. This is also the location of the largest sandspit-marsh complex of the Great Lakes.

Worldwide, many recognize Big Creek NWA for its extraordinary ecological and social value. The Ramsar Convention recognizes it as a wetland of international importance. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry designate it as a provincially significant wetland. The NWA is part of the Long Point Peninsula and Marshes Important Bird Area. It is also part of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve buffer zone.

Every spring and fall, tens of thousands of waterfowl visit the Long Point region during annual migration. You can often find up to 100 000 waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) resting and feeding at Long Point and its marshes during the peak of fall migration. Over 200 species of birds have been observed at the Big Creek NWA. More than 80 of those species breed at the NWA.

Big Creek NWA also shelters a number of species at risk. Endangered species include the king rail and prothonotary warbler. Threatened species include:

  • eastern hog-nosed snake
  • least bittern
  • Blanding’s turtle
  • eastern foxsnake
  • Fowler’s toad

Species of special concern include:

  • red-headed woodpecker
  • short-eared owl
  • eastern ribbonsnake
  • milksnake
  • monarch butterfly
  • swamp rose mallow

Seasonal highlights within the NWA include:

  • waterfowl migration (spring and fall)
  • turtle nesting (June)
  • monarch migration (August and September)

The water levels within some sections of the wetlands at Big Creek are artificially controlled using an impoundment technique. A system of pumps and dykes mimics the natural rise and fall of water levels. This triggers a diversity of plant growth. As a result, a greater diversity of wildlife is able to survive and thrive.

The practice of controlling water levels can also be helpful in controlling the growth and spread of invasive plant species. This includes the non-native invasive European common reed (phragmites australis) often referred to as non-native phragmites. The water-level variation has vastly improved the habitats at Big Creek NWA.

Find more information on Big Creek NWA in the summary table below.

Management

Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all other activities are prohibited in all NWAs. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.

Planning your visit

Lovely views of wildlife and wildlife habitats await you atop one of the two viewing towers in the Big Creek Unit of this NWA. One of these viewing towers can be accessed directly from the public parking lot on Highway 59 (Causeway). The second tower is down a short trail. The trail is open year-round. It runs from the parking lot, through the marsh and along the top of the dyke.

For parts of the year, this trail extends another 1.5 km into the marsh interior. This trail is closed, however, during the fall bird migration to prevent from disturbing the animals while they gain strength for their long journeys.

Wetland within Big Creek NWA.

Access to Big Creek NWA is seasonally restricted and activities are permitted in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. Any authorized activities are listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations; signage is also posted at access points.

Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for Big Creek NWA, include:

  1. Wildlife viewing on designated roads and trails and in designated areas during designated periods
  2. Hiking at the locations referred to in item 1 during designated periods
  3. Participation in a group meal or group event involving 15 or more people at the locations referred to in item 1 during designated periods 
  4. Operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  5. Boat launching and boat landing of
    1. motorized and non-motorized boats, in the Big Creek Unit on the Big Creek Channel; and
    2. non-motorized boats, in the Hahn Marsh Unit on the Hahn Access Channel
  6. Motorized boating in designated areas of the Big Creek Unit at a maximum speed of 8 km/h
  7. Non-motorized boating
    1. in the Big Creek Unit on the Big Creek Channel and in designated areas outside the North Cell, South Cell, North Pond, Centre Pond and South Pond; and
    2. in the Hahn Marsh Unit on the Hahn Access Channel and in designated hunting areas
  8. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  9. Sport hunting of waterfowl — including with dogs off leash — in designated areas from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset, if the hunting is carried out
    1. in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport hunting in that province; and
    2. without the use of toxic shot
  10. Operation by sport hunters of a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas, from sunset to sunrise, in addition to during the period referred to in subsection 3.1(3), during the period beginning on September 10 in any year and ending on December 20 in the same year
  11. Overnight parking by sport hunters in designated parking areas in the Hahn Marsh Unit, for a maximum of two consecutive days, during the period beginning on September 10 in any year and ending on December 20 in the same year
  12. Sport fishing, in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport fishing in that province

Location

The entrance to the Big Creek Unit of the Big Creek NWA (42.593701,-80.448457) is located on Highway 59 (Causeway). It is southwest of Port Rowan. There is a parking area and signage at the entrance. This will be on your right when heading south towards Long Point.

The entrance to the Hahn Marsh Unit of the BigCreek NWA (42.583441,-80.520648) is located on Lakeshore Road (County Road 42), west of Highway 59. There is signage at the entrance on Lakeshore Road (County Road 42). A laneleads to a public parking lot. There are no designated trails at this site.

More information on access and permitting for Big Creek NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Map of Big Creek NWA
Long description

This map shows the area of Port Royal on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. The boundaries of the Big Creek Unit, and the Hahn Marsh Unit, of Big Creek National Wildlife Area are indicated. The Big Creek Unit covers land and water southeast of Port Royal and north of Lake Erie. It is adjacent to Coletta Bay. The Hahn Marsh Unit lies west of the Big Creek Unit. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water and roads are indicated on the map. An inset situates the NWA’s location in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table for Big Creek NWA
Category Information
Protected area designation National Wildlife Area
Province/territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude
  • Big Creek Unit: 42°59' North (N) / 80°46' West
  • Hahn Marsh Unit: 42°58' N / 80°53' West
Size Total 770 ha

  • Big Creek Unit: 608 ha
  • Hahn Marsh Unit: 162 ha
Reason for creation of protected area
  • important area for waterfowl staging during spring and autumn migration
  • presence of species at risk
Date created (Gazetted) 1977 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category IV - Habitat/Species Management Area
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Vascular Plants:

Invertebrates:

Fishes:

Amphibians & Reptiles:

Birds:

Mammals:

Main habitat type
  • 95% wetland
  • 5% woodland
Faunistic and floristic importance The wetlands at Big Creek provide essential habitat for an astounding assortment and rare:

  • wild plants
  • animals
  • insects
  • fish
  • reptiles
  • amphibians

The Hahn Woods, a woody swamp, provides nesting habitat for 31 known species of birds.

Invasive species Plants:

  • garlic mustard
  • European black alder
  • flowering-rush
  • Canada thistle
  • honey locust
  • European frog-bit
  • yellow iris
  • purple loosestrife
  • Eurasian water-milfoil
  • white sweet-clover
  • spotted lady's-thumb
  • reed canarygrass
  • European lineage of phragmites (Phragmites australis subsp. australis)
  • curly-leaved pondweed
  • multiflora rose
  • non-native willow complex (Salix alba, S. fragilis, and S. X rubens)
  • bittersweet nightshade
  • common sowthistle
  • blue cattail

Animals:

Main threats and challenges Controlling exotic invasive species including:

  • phragmites australis
  • mute swans
  • European frog bit
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage  Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for Big Creek NWA, include:

  1. Wildlife viewing on designated roads and trails and in designated areas during designated periods
  2. Hiking at the locations referred to in item 1 during designated periods
  3. Participation in a group meal or group event involving 15 or more people at the locations referred to in item 1 during designated periods 
  4. Operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  5. Boat launching and boat landing of
    1. motorized and non-motorized boats, in the Big Creek Unit on the Big Creek Channel; and
    2. non-motorized boats, in the Hahn Marsh Unit on the Hahn Access Channel
  6. Motorized boating in designated areas of the Big Creek Unit at a maximum speed of 8 km/h
  7. Non-motorized boating
    1. in the Big Creek Unit on the Big Creek Channel and in designated areas outside the North Cell, South Cell, North Pond, Centre Pond and South Pond; and
    2. in the Hahn Marsh Unit on the Hahn Access Channel and in designated hunting areas
  8. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  9. Sport hunting of waterfowl — including with dogs off leash — in designated areas from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset, if the hunting is carried out
    1. in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport hunting in that province; and
    2. without the use of toxic shot
  10. Operation by sport hunters of a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas, from sunset to sunrise, in addition to during the period referred to in subsection 3.1(3), during the period beginning on September 10 in any year and ending on December 20 in the same year
  11. Overnight parking by sport hunters in designated parking areas in the Hahn Marsh Unit, for a maximum of two consecutive days, during the period beginning on September 10 in any year and ending on December 20 in the same year
  12. Sport fishing, in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport fishing in that province

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page, any notice posted at the NWA site and the law, the law prevails, as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity. 

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto, ON
M3H 5T4

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: Enviroinfo@ec.gc.ca

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