Point Pelee-Really!

I was at Point Pelee from Tuesday May 25th to Friday the 28th.  My family came with me and we arrived  late in the afternoon, too tired to go to the park.  Early Wednesday morning though, we were in the park by 7am.  The big bird migration push was already past so we were the only ones at the point that early.  We rode our bikes down to the tip where I figured the diorama site was located.  As we walked around,  all I could find that was familiar was the stellated false solomon seal and the hoptree.  I began to worry that the hairy pucoon was gone or past bloom.  Where was the juniper?  None of the landscape looked right and I thought because of the smell that we were in a heron rookery.  We discovered it was actually thousands of small fish (smelt) washed up on the shore.  We learned that the fish die naturally after spawning and normally sink to the bottom of the lake.  This year, a storm came through and washed the fish onshore.  It was headline news in Pelee.  My wife and I birded the point.  Most common birds were: kingbirds, cedar waxwings, yellow warbler, indigo buntings, both Baltimore and orchard orioles, brown thrasher, and barn swallows.

We left there and went to an area called West Beach.  The kids ran to the lakeside and looked for interesting things on the beach.  Finn found fossilized shells and corals.  We looked up fossils at Point Pelee and discovered that there are many fossilized invertebrates and coral from the Devonian since the area was an inland ocean.  While they played on the beach, I went poking around in the dunes behind the beach and I was relieved to find the hairy pucoon in good numbers.  They were in full bloom so I got good photos.  I even found one stellated solomon seal in bloom (they were past bloom) so I took more photos.

Hairy Pucoon

Stellated False Solomon Seal

Encountering the real flowers was humbling.  The hairy pucoon flowers were smaller than I have made mine and the depth of the base of the flower was deeper.  The sepals only come up half way on the actual flower (my wax ones went all the way to the petals)  Also, the petals are joined together for half their length and are much more convoluted than I have made mine.  Back to the drawing board!  The “hair” of the hairy pucoon is beautiful and has a very regular pattern.  I can’t imagine how I might get that effect.  The solomon seal leaves are ribbed more than I made them and glow with intrinsic coloration.  I will have to try Gary Hoyle’s recipe of hot melt glue and parrafin to make leaves.

While still in CT, I made an appointment with Sarah Rupert, a park ranger, to show me around and I met her at the nature center at 10 am.  She printed out a photo of the diorama and said that the area looked like the northwestern beach area.  Another ranger, John, was listening in and offered to take us up there.  John knew more about plants than Sarah (she is a bird person), so it was decided he would give us a tour of the northwest beach.

When we got there we walked out over an old parking lot that the park was letting grow over.  We continued south to an area that was close to what was painted in the diorama, but I told John that there was nowhere I could see that had all the elements, the dunes, the juniper, the canadian wild rye grass, the flowers, the hoptree.  There was a lot of each in various places, but nothing struck me as the site.  John was interested in trying to find the Canadian wild rye, so we looked and found it in the area quite close to the beach/high tide mark.  I looked for it in other places, but the beach region was the only area it was found.  This is too bad since all the grasses I had put in the midground of the diorama were C. wild rye.  The grasses I did find in the mid-region were switchgrass and a common-looking grass with a conspicuous seedhead (I’ll have Patrick Sweeney ID it).  I will be removing the grasses from the foreground and collecting the other grasses in CT to replace them.

Northwest Beach-Point Pelee

My sense from this photo is that this is probably the site, but the photo was taken standing much closer to the beach than Wilson did back in 1964.  In fact, about 40′ behind me there was a high vantage point that very well might have been the point at which Wilson made his studies.  The large deciduous trees that show in the diorama to the right, now covered the entire area.  Plant succession had made it virtually inaccessable.  What was left of the juniper in this area was dead.  There were tangles of low vegetation barring easy access and I wasn’t convinced that a photo taken from that point would reveal anything, so I didn’t choose to explore it.  John showed us several other plants common to the area: Goat’s beard, sweet clover, rock sand wort, wormwood, and prickly pear.  He told me that the hognose snake was long gone as was the Fowler’s toad that it fed on, victims of habitat destruction.  Removing the hognose snake is yet another change I will make.  He said that the 5 lined skink was a much more representative reptile.  Insects were also discussed and these are his suggestions: Red Admiral and American Lady butterflies, the robber fly, and the ant lion whose inverted sandy cones were evident everywhere.  In the original diorama there were a pair of bobwhite.  I noticed on the Point Pelee bird list that bobwhite was listed as “extripated”.  A discussion will ensue when I get back to Peabody about whether we go ahead and put the bobwhite, hognose snake, and fowler’s toad in the diorama and install signage about the human impact on this habitat.  Otherwise, none of these should go in the foreground.

This visit did nothing short of impell me to change the entire foreground.  Well, maybe not the entire foreground, but significant parts of it.  Constructing/installing the foreground to a James Perry Wilson diorama charges me to strive for a high level of accuracy.  So, I need to resculpt and cast new hairy pucoon flowers, experiment with the hot melt glue/parrifin mixture for new leaves, remake the stems of both flowers, and change out the grasses.  I think Wilson would not only approve, he would insist on it!

Explore posts in the same categories: Collecting Foreground

3 Comments on “Point Pelee-Really!”

  1. Dorie Says:

    Bravo for your intent on accuracy !
    Since you now know what it all looks and feels like, I don’t blame
    you for wanting to redo parts of the diorama.
    Looking forward to seeing more photos and hearing stories.


  2. Sean Murtha Says:


    I second Dorie’s Bravo– to you AND to the Peabody for understanding the importance of GETTING IT RIGHT. What a thrill, nearly a treasure hunt, to be searching for the very site Wilson painted, especially in such a changeable area. My feeling about the species now lost to the area is to either put them in and explain that they are no longer represented at the location (and why), or not include them but STILL explain that they had been originally and now are not (and why)… but by all means don’t lose the opportunity to tell an important cautionary tale. The Diorama as a detailed snapshot of time and place has a unique ability to highlight the changes over time. Interestingly, Steve Quinn just received a grant to revisit the site of the Gorilla Group in the Akely Hall of African Mammals at the AMNH for the very purpose of documenting the changes to the site since it was collected, some 80 years ago. Quite an exciting, though ultimately sobering, adventure!

  3. Linda Miller Says:

    Bravo indeed! I am absolutely sure that JPW would be applauding you. It sounds like you are feeling inspired to get the flowers as accurate to what you have just seen as possible, and the idea of putting up written signage about the human impact on the site since it was first painted in the early 60’s, as well as written info. on how the landscape and plants have naturally changed in this amount of time would be really interesting and educational for everyone, I would think. I like the idea of having the things one can see now in the diorama with maybe a few examples near the diorama of what could have been seen there in the early 60’s when the background was painted. It sounds like it takes this project to a whole new level.
    I am so glad that you had the opportunity to make this trip!

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