Sand Bay, Cockburn Island (oil on canvas 6 x 12 in.) Sold

30 May 2014 found us at Sand Bay on the south shore of Cockburn (pronounced  'Coeburn') Island, a large island off the western tip of Manitoulin Island, a team of biologists led by Nature Conservancy staff.  When we arrived here at Sand Bay on Cockburn Island's Lake Huron shore in the early afternoon, wraiths of mist were drifting inland across the upper beach and over marshy pools bristly with Juncus reed, but as things warmed up the mist disappeared. I sat to paint in the shade of a Tamarack among mats of Horizontal Juniper on the low dunes, where larval Lacewings lurked in conical Ant Lion pits waiting for careless Ants, and Tiger Beetles with olive-coloured backs scooted between the reaching branch tips of the Junipers. Gray Treefrogs called from bushes where a little old log cabin faced the beach, backed in among tall Spruces.

The rest of the team dispersed to hunt for Snakes, Turtles, and Amphibians, while Fred walked the edge of the sandy beach, collecting whatever was washed up from the lake or down from the land. The most obvious item was deposits of Crayfish legs and claws, probably leavings from the feasting of Herring Gulls. These scraps are hard to identify, and even the more intact Crayfish from here have perplexed Fred, despite his decades of familiarity with the species of Ontario Crayfish, so we won't know what species these are until he's studied the specimens. Others in the group have been finding surprisingly large Toads on the island, and Fred found two large Toad skeletons on the beach, as well as two clutches of Toad eggs in a long, shallow, brownwater pool near the lake edge.

Near the outlet from the interior lake, Fred found a dead Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus), a new invader that's once again reworking the ecology of the Great Lakes and their tributaries. There was a single fresh shell fragment from a native Pyganodon (Floater) mussel shell, but Lake Huron is overrun by Zebra Mussels, so its populations of native fresh water Unionid mussels are either extinct or very sparse.

The inland Sand Lake was free of Zebras, so its populations of native mussels are still intact, an important element of the biodiversity the Nature Conservancy is conserving in their stewardship of most of the area of this island, which was, until a few days ago, one of the biologically unexplored areas of its size in southern Ontario.

We had visited Sand Lake in the morning, finding the water drawn down a metre or so by the failure of a Beaver dam, and huge Lampsilis mussels with siphons open in the shallow water, while their unfortunate cohorts, that had been stranded by the drawdown, provided Fred with shells to document their presence and morphology.  Near the dock, Red ruffled Waterliliy leaves were opening in unexpectedly shallow water, and past them, a Garter Snake swam, head out of the water, like an undulating yellow-striped ribbon. Some of the herpetologists in our party found Ringnecked Snakes under a pile of corrugated metal. We measured, photographed, and admired them, and then turned their metal shelter back over them.

As we explored the beach of this inland lake, Caspian Terns winged crisply white against the cedars and blue sky, croaking like Pterodactyls to see naturalists on the shore of their little embayment, red bills gleaming, black heads cocked sharply down to see fish. A Water Snake cruised back and forth in the shallows, separating the reflections of sky and far shore with the ripples of its sinuous wake. Later a Painted Turtle was found sunning herself on the beach, photographed, and released. She had a small leech on the back of her carapace and a large Fingernail Clam attached to a front right toenail. Someone noticed a pair of Newts mating in the warm shallows within two metres of shore. The male curved his body over her back, cuddling, clasping his hind legs around her neck. Every once in a while he fluttered his tail tip as if tickling her side.


  1. This painting is beautiful, Aleta. I love the reflections, and the varying colours of the water. You've outdone yourself, I think.
    By the way, I'm delighted to have our dog Lindy's portrait, a genuine Karstad, hanging near my computer now. Unfortunately, it's only temporary while we redecorate the living room, when it will return to its place near my husband's recliner.
    All best to you and Fred in your explorations.

  2. Beautiful painting and wonderful account. Made me wish I had been there!


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