Kelleys Island offers endless opportunities for viewing wildlife, everything from birds and butterflies to resident deer and coyote. (When driving the roads at dawn and dusk, exercise caution because white-tailed deer are the most active at these times.) Night sounds include howling coyotes chiming in with hooting Great-horned Owls. Of course, remember another island specialty, the Lake Erie Water Snake. With less than a world population of two thousand individuals, your best chance to see this reptile is on Kelleys Island. Watch for the occasional Osprey or Bald Eagle and, during the nesting season, the abundant Yellow Warbler and the more secretive Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Kelleys Island, known as Lake Erie’s Emerald Isle, is a fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts, and a relaxing retreat for vacationers. The island is renowned for its unique geological, ecological, and archaeological features, and popular for its recreational offerings and picturesque landscapes. The 677-acre state park is located on the northern shores of the island.
Kelleys Island State Park encompasses two state nature preserves, the North Shore Alvar, and the North Pond, which harbor unique natural features. Where Kelleys Island’s limestone foundation is exposed to Lake Erie and battered by waves and wind, a rare alvar ecosystem has formed. The low cliffs, limestone shelves and thin, dry soil on the shoreline are inhospitable to trees, but ideal for the growth of prairie grasses and lichen, and rare plants including balsam squaw weed, Pringle’s aster and northern bog violet. Inland from the alvar, the North Pond, a 30-acre emergent marsh and swamp forest that drains directly into Lake Erie, is one of the few high quality, natural marsh communities remaining on the Great Lakes.
The North Pond offers excellent birding, with hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, and dozens of waterfowl species resting here before winging across the lake. There are nesting pairs of bald eagles in the area. The shoreline provides precious habitat for the unique Lake Erie water snake. The eastern fox snake is common and harmless, but often mistaken for a rattlesnake because of its bold coloration and tendency to shake its tail when alarmed. Other resident reptiles and amphibians, include the Blanding’s turtle, red-eared slider, midland painted turtle and common map turtle, and the mudpuppy, northern redback, smallmouth and marbled salamanders.
Red cedar trees are abundant on the island, particularly in the abandoned limestone quarries. The endangered lakeside daisy has been transplanted here to establish a successful population outside its only known Ohio habitat, an active quarry on Marblehead Peninsula. Other rare plants on the island include the rock elm and the northern bog violet.