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Viewing Autumn Below Us PDF Print E-mail
Written by Terry Spraque   
Oct 24, 2013 at 03:00 AM




                                                                     Thursday, October 24, 2013

Many years ago, when I worked as a relief reporter for the Belleville Intelligencer, I thought I might like to do a story on the aerobatic training that was being offered then at the Prince Edward Flying Club. Chief flying instructor Dave Pyle insisted that in order to get a feel for the story, I should climb aboard for a complementary demonstration.

The plane, called a Citabria, sat innocuously on the airfield waiting for some action. If you read the word Citabria backwards, it is easy to see what the plane is designed for specifically. I was advised not to have a hearty meal prior to departing and was assured that I would not fall out of the plane. To make a long story short, the pilot took me through about 15 different manoeuvers in about as many minutes from barrel rolls to loops and spins. The point is that flying, even upside down or spinning crazily in circles, doesn’t seem to bother me. Midway rides do. I love to fly and make it a point to go up several times a year, if I can.

Ten days ago, I joined Kingston Field Naturalists member and pilot Chris Grooms as we flew out of Norman Rogers Airport in Kingston, and spent almost two hours touring Amherst Island, the Adolphustown shoreline and circumnavigating Prince Edward County, before returning to the airport. Autumn is a beautiful time of the year to take in the fall colour from the air, and there was still plenty of it on the Thanksgiving weekend. Swinging over Prince Edward Bay, we commenced our tour of the County on the Lake Ontario side and headed in a westerly direction from Prince Edward Point.

Flying really gives one a different perspective of the landscape below. On our guided bird walks at Prince Edward Point, I always provide a bit of history to the area, describing how Captain John Walters once owned and, incredibly, farmed 300 acres of the thin soil here. Today, the property has been totally consumed by red cedars, but from the air, the fence rows that marked the field boundaries can still be seen, the old rail fences some 180 years old and still standing.

From the air one can clearly see fault lines known as “pop-ups” that run diagonally across the peninsula and extending far out into the lake. It is backcountry along much of the south shore, remote habitat rich in biodiversity. Nowhere else in the province do we see Lake Ontario shoreline so free from development and encroachment. 

The scene changes abruptly though as we fly over Salmon Point and see the spectacular beaches of Sandbanks stretched out below us, a park that attracts over a half million visitors each season. These are baymouth bars, formed thousands of years ago as wave action gradually worked the silt left behind by the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier towards the mainland, forming what has been identified as the largest baymouth sand dune bar system separating fresh water in the world. These bars stretch out before us along the shoreline to form barrier beaches at Huycks Bay, Pleasant Bay, North Bay and finally, an eight-km stretch of sand that ends its journey at Barcovan known as the Weller’s Bay National Wildlife Area. Below us we can see changes – a once navigable channel separating the bar near Bald Head Island, deicted on some of the earliest navigational charts, that has since been totally consumed by invasive Phragmites. Off shore, we can see where this invasive reed grass has formed isolated islets in the shallows. In the next 50 years, that entire shoreline will look much different than what it does today.

We get a rare treat on this flight and are given permission to enter the Trenton air space and actually fly right over CFB Trenton. It is Thanksgiving Monday and the cheerful, accommodating air traffic controller seems to be all alone and appears happy to hear our voice. Other planes are sharing the sky with us too that we must watch for, one of them delivering a glider to Mountain View Airport, from Brockville.

It was a good flight, relatively calm, occasionally disappearing into low, wispy clouds as they floated lazily by at only a couple thousand feet. We end our journey before returning to Kingston, by flying over the Big Island Marsh Rehabilitation Project along the Bay of Quinte. Our house seems to pick up the reflection of the newly constructed 12 acre “pond” that was constructed last winter. Below, five high-hoes are poised, ready to resume work the following day on yet two more ponds. This 1,200-acre cattail marsh has not seen pockets of open water in at least 100 years. 

We fly once again over Amherst Island and the Kingston Field Naturalists sanctuary, recently renamed in memory of the late world traveller and naturalist, Dr. Martin Edwards. Aerial tours like this present the Quinte region below us like a story book, filled with breath-taking beauty and continuous changes.  And we didn’t have to spin or fly upside down once to do it!

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