Naturalist finds rare wildlife plants in the forests and meadows of Fairbank Oil

Larry Cornelis, far right, tells hikers on the Fairbank Oil Trail about some of the wildlife he’s found in the area during a tour Sunday.

Larry Cornelis stops speaking and listens. “That’s a Dickcissel,” he says as four different birds chirp somewhere over the Fairbank Oil Trail.
It’s just one of the many unusual species the naturalist has found as he catalogues wildlife, plants and birds on the 600 acres of property owned by Fairbank Oil. He’s working on a conservation plan for the owner, Charlie Fairbank. In the process, he’s documented a number of species at risk including birds such as the bobolink, meadowlark and the rare dickcissel.
“I’ve seen about a dozen of them,” says Cornelis as he waits for another tour to begin through the trail. Cornelis knows them by their calls and listens for them constantly.
But the trail isn’t just home to birds, Cornelis says there is a wealth of mussels, bugs and fish which call waters and meadowlands home.
Cornelis says one of the reasons it is so rich in habitat is Black Creek, which runs through the trail, it is part of the Sydenham River system, one of the richest river habitats in North America. “The whole watershed is in the Carolinian Zone.”
“At one time,” Cornelis tells the hikers, “there were so many mussels here they had an industry making clam shell buttons.”
While Cornelis is still working on the final management plan for the area, naturalists are already flocking to see the public trail. Birders, he says, come from across Lambton County to get a peek at some of the rare species, such as Orchard Orioles and Savannah Sparrows living among the historic jerker lines which still pump oil today.
And naturalists take regular hikes looking for the bladdernut and water buttercups. The Oil Springs Trail is open to the public and also tells the history of the oil industry.