Big Creek National Wildlife Area
Big Creek NWA is located on the north shore of Lake Erie, 3 kilometers (km) southwest of Port Rowan, Ontario. It is home to a wealth of wildlife, including birds, frogs, turtles, amphibians, insects and many other species, all of which rely on wetland habitats. The extensive marshes at the mouth of Big Creek are remarkably undisturbed compared to other Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Located at the base of the Long Point peninsula, the Big Creek NWA marshes are a major staging area for waterfowl and more than 200 bird species use the area during their spring and fall migrations.
Big Creek NWA is 771 hectares (ha) and consists of two units- Big Creek Unit (615 ha) and the Hahn Marsh Unit (156 ha). The wetlands of the Big Creek NWA located along the north shore of Lake Erie, at the base of the Long Point peninsula, are part of the largest sandspit-marsh complex of the Great Lakes. Internationally recognized for its extraordinary ecological and social value, Big Creek NWA is recognized as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention and designated as a provincially significant wetland by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The NWA is part of the Long Point Peninsula and Marshes Important Bird Area and the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve buffer zone.
Every spring and fall, tens of thousands of watefowl visit the Long Point region during annual migration. Up to 100,000 waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans) may be found 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, and more than 80 of those species breed at the NWA. Big Creek NWA also shelters a number of species at risk, including the endangered King Rail, Prothonotary Warbler; the threatened Least Bittern, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hognose Snake, and Fowler's Toad; as well as species of special concern such as the Red-headed Woodpecker, Short-eared Owl, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Milksnake, Monarch Butterfly, and Swamp Rose Mallow. Seasonal highlights within the NWA include waterfowl migration (spring and fall), turtle nesting (June), and 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 that trigger 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, including 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.
More information on Big Creek NWA is provided in the summary table below.
Planning Your Visit
Lovely views of wildlife and their habitat await you atop one of the two viewing towers in the Big Creek Unit of this protected area. One of these viewing towers can be accessed directly from the public parking lot on Highway 59 (Causeway). The second tower awaits you down a short trail, open year-round, which 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 form disturbing the animals while they gain strength for their long journeys.
The NWA is open from May to September for bird-watching, hiking and photography on designated trails and dyke-tops, recreational boating and fishing (no lead sinkers). There are some limited opportunities for public waterfowl hunting at the Big Creek and Hahn Marsh Units. Federal and provincial regulations and permits apply to all activities at the NWA.
Access to Big Creek NWA is seasonally restricted and activities are permitted in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. Public notices listing the authorized activities are posted at access points.
For more information on what is permitted in NWAs, consult the NWA Management and Activities page.
The entrance to the Big Creek Unit of the Big Creek NWA (42.593701,-80.448457) is located on Highway 59 (Causeway) southwest of Port Rowan. There is a parking area and signage at the entrance, which will be on your right when heading south towards Long Point.
The entrance to the Hahn Marsh Unit of the Big Creek 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) and a lane leads 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
Long description for the Map
Map showing the area near Big Creek delta that flows into Lake Erie in Southern Ontario. The boundaries of the Big Creek NWA are indicated. The NWA is separated into two different areas. The first area, the Big Creek Unit, covers the Big Creek delta and parts of Inner Bay and Coletta Bay. The second portion of the wildlife area, the Hahn Marsh Unit, is located to the west of the Big Creek Unit. This unit runs along the shore of Lake Erie and extends inland covering some small bodies of water. The nearest towns, located to the North of the two units, are Erie View and Port Royal. The scale on the map is in km. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.
This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Big Creek NWA can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.
|Protected Area designation||NWA|
Big Creek Unit: 42°59' North(N) / 80°46' West(W)
Hahn Marsh Unit: 42°58' N / 80°53' West
|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|
|Keystone or flagship species||King Rail, Fowler's Toad, Tundra Swan.|
|Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)|
|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 and amphibians. The Hahn Woods, a woody swamp, provides nesting habitat for 31 known species of birds.|
|Invasive species||Common Reed (Phragmites australis), Mute Swan, European Frog-bit, and Alder.|
|Main threats and challenges||Controlling exotic invasive species including Phragmites australis, Mute Swans and European Frog Bit.|
|Management Agency||Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)|
|Public access and usage||The NWA is open to the public from mid-May to mid-September for bird watching, hiking and photography, on designated trails and dyke tops.|
Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.
Contact InformationEnvironment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship Unit
4905 Dufferin Street
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
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