Wonderful Wildlife

Photos by Larry Cornelis

Fairbank Oil Fields is teeming with life. Thanks to a variety of landscapes and Black Creek meandering through our Nature Trail, diverse habitats support a wealth of wildlife. Black Creek is seen from several vantage points and it is home to snapping turtles, clams, the uncommon Red Fin Shiner, Chorus Frogs, Peepers and a host of other frogs. Recently, the rare Great White Egret has been spotted as it migrates east and west.

According to naturalist Larry Cornelis, the biodiversity here is phenomenal. The only place in all of Lambton County that has more biodiversity is Walpole Island. He has done extensive flora and fauna surveys here. This year, Fairbank Oil Fields will be publishing his findings.

The Nature Trail was created by enhancing the trails made by deer. Wild mink live here too and occasionally, beavers. Numerous species of birds flourish. Listen for the beautiful songs of the Orchard Orioles and Yellow Warblers. Cliff Swallows, Catbirds, Phoebes, Flickers, Savannah Sparrows, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and Snipe have all been heard or seen here.

May is ideal month for spotting breeding birds and 54 species have been recorded. In winter, up to 24 species have been recorded including three types of woodpecker.

When the trees are without their leaves in spring and winter, it is easy to spot the bird nests. And the fall is particularly good for attracting a wild assortment of grassland birds like the Bobolink.

See a bird or hear a birdsong you can’t identify? Check this great website: www.allaboutbirds.org

Name that Tree, Name that Plant

Plant life abounds here and is forever changing with the seasons. More than 300 species of trees and plants have been identified. Some species found here are considered at risk: Big Shellbark Hickory, Green Dragon and Shumard Oak.

At different times of year you’ll see, Water Buttercups, Cardinal flowers, Bladdernut, Spring Beauty, May Apple, Cutleaf Toothwart, Choke Cherry, Virginia Waterleaf, Native Solomon Seal and Canada Anemone. Two species of Trout Lily thrive in the spring.

Creeping Jenny, Vinca and a big patch of Lily of the Valley are seen near the ruins of the Parks’ house. Once neatly contained in a domestic garden, these plants flourish in the wild. There is ample evidence that non-native trees were planted here more than a hundred years ago – a stand of honey locust, a few Norway Spruce and plenty of white pine.

Domestic Animals

Fairbank Oil Fields operates as a farm as well as an oilfield. At present we have Suffolk sheep, a donkey named Jack, plus brown and white geese wandering around. And in 2006, we acquired more than half a million Munro Honey bees.

Munro Honey, of nearby Alvinston, brought 20 hives to the oil property, each containing a queen and 30,000 bees. Every summer, Munro Honey obtains about 36 kilograms of honey from these bees.

Fairbank Oil was chosen by Munro Honey because every autumn our fields burst into blooms of purple aster and golden rod. Another important factor was the “nice sheltered spot” near a grove of trees on the property. Fairbank Oil is just one of almost 70 locations for Munro Honey beehives. Each year, the company makes 36,000 to 113,400 kilograms of honey.

The Sheep

Sheep have likely been raised on this property for 80 years or more and they have four functions: They make great four-legged lawnmowers and reduce the chance of a grass fire. Secondly, they improve the look of the site and thirdly, they’re delicious. And finally, the sheep manure is composted for a year then added to the family’s organic vegetable garden. Our sheep manure is highly prized by our gardening friends. It is a wonderful alternative to the petro-chemical fertilizers, it costs nothing and the supply is unending.

These are Suffolk sheep with black faces and matching black legs. They are raised for their meat, not the fine quality of their wool. They are taken to market in Cooksville, Ontario each fall.

Lambing is always a busy time of year and over six weeks all 50 ewes have had their lambs. Earlier, the flock was double this size. Since 2004, the survival rate of newborn lambs has increased thanks to a new barn foundation which gave one section of the barn a heated floor.

Jack

Coyotes had been a continual problem during the 1990s. Despite the best efforts of a hired trapper, 20 to 30 lambs were killed by coyotes each year. The answer? Get a llama. In the spring of 2003, Charlie bought two, then one more. The llamas, however, eventually succumbed to Minigeal worm which is passed through the system of white-tailed deer and on to snails. Though harmless to deer, it’s fatal to llamas and alpacas.

After this sad experience, we no longer have llamas but we have added a donkey named Jack.

In recent years, goats were also be found at Fairbank Oil. An employee had occasionally brought his goats to pasture the summers here.

Farming, Then & Now

Dates are hazy, but it is known that much of the property dotted with oil wells was farmed throughout the 1900s. Crops included hay, oats, wheat, barley and peas. In addition to the sheep, there were cattle and horses.

Horses were very important to the oil field right up until the late 1950s. They provided basic transportation, hauled oil and were a necessary part of the three-pole derrick system of repairing underground equipment. Windstorms in the early 1950s blew down many of the three-pole derricks. The horses, once numerous, were replaced by tractors with pulling machines.

Horses were bred at Fairbank Oil and at one time there was a horse barn and several other barns. Old horse collars and yokes still hang in an old barn here, which now serves as a drive shed.

If it were feasible, Charlie would use horses again. “Horses are better than tractors,” he says. “They do not spin their wheels in the mud. They breed little horses, their fuel is home grown and they have more character.”

In 2019, about 100 acres of Fairbank Oil are farmed. Seventy-five acres are sown with soybeans and there are approximately 25 of hay grown for the sheep.

At present, there are also five brown geese and two white geese roaming here. They wandered here from a nearby property and despite efforts to return them, they kept coming back. Now that they are full-time residents, they are fed corn daily. Each morning they can be seen near the front steps of the house, waiting for Charlie to come out and feed them.