Nature Club News

Nature Club News, October, 2018

Monday, November 5th, 2018


by John Dickson

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists got started this season with a flurry of field trips around the first week of September. Picking up from where we left off in last month’s column, Marg Gaviller led a half a dozen OSFN members on a tour of her property near Irish Lake. This property had a history of farming, and some reforestation. As Dan Ostler comments –

Thursday, September 5 turned out to be the perfect day for the scheduled ramble of Marg Gaviller’s Irish Lake Property. The 100 acre farm had been purchased by her father in 1972, complete with an existing house and possibly a barn. About half the property was planted in white pine in 1973 as a managed forest under the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. This area has now matured with the canopy shielding the ground to the extent that the forest floor is covered solely by a deep cushion of pine needles, a joy to hike through. Mother Nature has her own plans for this property, and there is little left of human endeavours apart from some foundations and oddly incongruous stone fences snaking through the forest floor. The land is now the home to a number of micro ecologies ranging from swamp to cedar to hardwood forest, and it invites the patient eye to unravel the subtleties of this new, more enduring plan for the site. Fittingly, the Irish Lake Property has now become part of the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy. Our thanks to Marg for an enjoyable afternoon’s ramble.

On Saturday September 8, Jenna McGuire led an outing entitled Metis Plant Use, on the Lindsay Tract Trails, demonstrating first hand the Metis perspective with regard to roots, medicinal, dye and fibre plants, plus the indigenous outlook on plant ecology. As Bob Gray reports –

Jenna McGuire demonstrating properties and uses of ferns. (Photo by John Dickson)

Jenna McGuire demonstrating properties and uses of ferns. (Photo by John Dickson)

I really enjoyed Jenna’s hike last Saturday. I knew virtually nothing of local Metis history and culture, so everything was all new information for me. I had no idea that Saugeen Metis were fisherman and traders in furs after the fur trade ended by sailing vessels from the mouth of the Saugeen River to the North Shore of Lake Huron. And that a Metis house (Aunt Annie’s) in Southampton is still standing to this day, dating from the 1850s. Looking forward to visiting it and learning more some time. Jenna’s demonstration of how cordage is made was amazing, as was her hand weaving.

I too was very impressed by the quick and effective creation of what Jenna called cordage – as in ropes or strings to tie objects, or to weave into more complex utensils. Discovering the fragrance of sweetgrass, was also a new and special experience for me. The hike on the trails there also offered a great diversity of interesting items and topics, including puff balls, and Beech trees covered by old marks made by the claws of black bears climbing to harvest the Beech nuts.

On Thursday, September 13, the OSFN’s first club meeting, featured a welcome by incoming President Gord Toth. A regular feature of these meetings is “sightings”, when those present report interesting nature observations they have made. On this occasion we heard about giant puffballs, and baby squirrels, along with butterflies, and rare bird sightings for our area.

The featured speaker Bruce Mackenzie, an award winning, and much respected naturalist – a recent appointee to the Niagara Escarpment Commission – shared his own recent introduction to Bon Echo Provincial Park, where he discovered surprising evidence of birds occupying the upper reaches of the iconic cliff face at Lake Mazinaw. These birds included Barn Swallows, building nests into suitable crevices, and a Peregrine Falcon family thriving in the cliff environment where Blue Jays formed at least one part of the diet there. Mackenzie’s enthusiasm for his own learning and discovery at Bon Echo, was complemented by his superb photos of details far away, up on the cliff. His observations then became stories with intriguing questions and exciting answers. By coincidence, the Trailblazers exhibition currently at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery includes a painting by Charles Comfort of the cliff face at Bon Echo. The exhibit continues until November 10.

On Sunday September 23, Bob Gray led a Geomorphology hike in the Robson Lakes area, which included a glacial moraine with deep kettles and kettle lakes. This hike brought many club members (17) out in excellent weather, to learn about this unique area, from one of OSFN’s favourite presenters.

Some of the 17 participants at the Robson Lake outing. (Photo by Bob Gray)

Some of the 17 participants at the Robson Lake outing. (Photo by Bob Gray)

This field trip coincided with the first gathering of the Young Naturalists Club, at the Grey Sauble Conservation headquarters. Club members learned about different types of bird nests and were given some birding tips by Lynne Richardson and Norah Toth, before heading out to observe the evidence of nesting this past season, in the bluebird boxes on the GSCA property there, under the supervision of club coordinator Elaine van den Kieboom.

On Thursday October 4th John Burton led a tour of the Hogg’s Falls area, which inspired Eileen O’Connor to write:

John Burton’s tour of the Hogg’s Falls area.
We were so fortunate to have the first good day of weather in a while: sunny, blue skies, breezy especially as it was the first visit to these trails for most of us. John gave detailed information about new signage in the area, new boardwalks and bridges that are planned and had photos of hundreds of bags of garlic mustard that he and students had cleared last spring. More volunteers will be needed for the huge patches they didn’t get to. By the way, it is possible to make pesto with garlic mustard leaves but maybe not on that scale! There are magnificent tall maple, cherry, hemlock, pine and other trees in this area all looking like a Tom Thomson painting at this time of year. Though nobody was an expert botanist, we did our best to identify many spring wildflowers well past their season and we did identify beautiful groupings of maidenhair fern, bracken and sensitive fern among those many other look-alike ferns.
The braver souls scaled down to the base of the falls, our final destination, on the Boyne River.

John Burton giving history of area here by the Boyne River. (Photo by John Dickson)

John Burton giving history of area here by the Boyne River. (Photo by John Dickson)

Hogg's Falls. (Photo by John Dickson)

Hogg’s Falls. (Photo by John Dickson)

Beautiful curling tresses on a Yellow Birch near Hogg's Falls. (Photo by John Dickson)

Beautiful curling tresses on a Yellow Birch near Hogg’s Falls. (Photo by John Dickson)

Bill Moses is hosting a learning session about Woody Plants on Monday October 8, at the Inglis Falls Arboretum. Bill is always keen to help others learn about tree identification and characteristics, as well as getting more native trees planted.

Jenna Maguire will also be the featured speaker at 7PM on Thursday October 11 for the regular club meeting at the public library in Owen Sound. She will be sharing some of the cultural history of the Historic Saugeen Metis, with its important roles in the local fur trade, maritime heritage, and the local communities of this area. Everyone is welcome, admission is free, although donations are welcome. For more details on Owen Sound Field Naturalist programmes and field trips, membership information, and the Young Naturalists club, please visit, and on facebook.

To close, a Nature quote from this day, October 4th, 1924 by Thoreau MacDonald – “Leaves now turning. It wouldn’t do to think more of art than nature, for it is a kind of substitute only…. We want not those pictures which look most like nature, but those which remind us most of her.”

Nature Club News, September, 2018

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

NATURE CLUB NEWS September 2018

by John Dickson

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists Club is off to a busy start for the 2018-19 season.

On August 31st, OSFN members joined in with the Community Tagging Day hosted by the Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores. OSFN Director Brian Robin reports that the monarchs were on hand in abundance for the event, and flying everywhere. “Over three dozen were tagged on the tagging day, and I understand BGOSS has tagged over 600 to date. More than 80 people turned out for tagging day, and we spoke to many passers-by about what we were doing and about monarchs in general. Many kids were able to tag and release a butterfly for their first time, so that’s always cool. In addition, one 5th instar monarch caterpillar was found at Perkins Park and a lone White Admiral, Limenitis arthemis arthemis, was flying around trying to look inconspicuous. There is another tagging day scheduled for Sept. 8, 10am-12noon.”

OSFN President Gord Toth was also on hand to witness and participate in this very engaged community activity and shared a few photos of the tagging process.

Tagged Monarch, ready to be released. (Photo by Gord Toth)

Tagged Monarch, ready to be released. (Photo by Gord Toth)

On Tuesday September 4th, popular hike leader Barbara Palmer invited club members to join her to check out the new facilities at Singing Sands and walk the shoreline trail, visiting a local Alvar to see what’s blooming.

She reported that “7 people were on hand, and we basically had the place to ourselves, which was quite something considering the heavy traffic SS has had this year. Species seen include Sneezeweed, Grass of Parnassus, Asters- purple stemmed, calico and flat topped, Goldenrods-Canada, bog and Ohio, Small fringed gentian, Small flowered agalinus, Nodding ladies tresses, Milkweed, Sweet white clover, Kalm’s lobelia, Ninebark, alder-leaves buckthorn.”

A few photos from Barbara showcase some of these beautiful plants.

Small-flowered gerardia (Photo by Barbara Palmer)

Small-flowered gerardia, Agalinus paupercula. (Photo by Barbara Palmer)

Small fringed gentian, Gentianopsis virgata. (Photo by Barbara Palmer)

Small fringed gentian, Gentianopsis virgata. (Photo by Barbara Palmer)

Later that same day, I received this message from Meaford resident Joe Buchanan –
“Yes, I was just watching the murmurations. About 5 years ago the starlings grouped over the same woodlot each evening for about ten days running. No guarantees but I’m hoping they will do the same this time as after their dance routine they are settling at sundown for the night in the same trees as before…last night and tonight the dance went on between 7.45 and 8.00pm The best place to view is from the large parking area along side the fire hall on Stewart Street. Small groups gradually approach from all directions and join up to form two or sometimes one giant dancing formation not unlike a “huge whale in the sky”. The sound of their wing rush is nerve tingling. Fingers crossed our starlings will return for at least a few more evenings. Joe”

I then forwarded this information to several keen birders and Wednesday evening I received this (edited) message from Peter Middleton

“Thank you Joe for this marvellous tip. We arrived this evening in Meaford to the sight of the birds in the midst of their remarkable display. I attach a couple of shots that I managed to take of them, even against the darkening background, just before a heavy rainfall began. It was a treat to see it. These miracles surround us at every moment, if only we have the eyes to see them. I am glad that you had the eyes to see them Joe.”

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Starling Mumuration in Meaford. (Photo by Peter Middleton)

Due to the excessive heat on Wednesday, September 5th, the hike to a nature reserve property near Irish Lake, and hosted by Marg Gaviller was deferred to Thursday, September 6.

On September 5th Hayley Roberts, Plover Lovers Outreach and Education Coordinator shared a final report, indicating the successful fledging of two Piping Plover chicks, which did successfully fly away from Sauble Beach, and were identified on Chantry Island August 4th, as they worked their way south for the winter. Thanks again to all in the club and in the community who have helped with this vulnerable species, facing so many challenges for continued survival.

This Saturday, September 8, Jenna McGuire will lead an outing at the Lindsay Tract Trails, showcasing “the Métis perspective of our relatives with roots, medicinal, dye and fibre plants plus the indigenous perspective on plant ecology.”

Jenna McGuire (photo by Rob Gowan)

Jenna McGuire (photo by Rob Gowan)

NeighbourWoods North reported recently that “discussions are also taking place between NeighbourWoods North, Grey Bruce Health Services and the developers of the Bremont property on the east side of the hospital. Our hope is to transfer as many as 30 mature (20 foot) white spruce from there to the hospital grounds. If this does not happen, they will be destroyed. A variety of other ideas, suggested by members and by the City of Owen Sound, are also being considered. In order to keep up to date on NeighbourWoods North activities go to our website.”

The Young Naturalists club is gearing up to have another great season, getting started on September 23. Director Elaine van den Kieboom and her team have created a diverse and educational program of learning and fun, including hikes, birds and trees, snowshoes, and hot chocolate with bannock. For more details and to see the year at a glance poster, please visit There is plenty of room, but the first event is just a couple of weeks away. It has been a distinct pleasure to see the kids engage with the environment throughout the seasons. OSFN also gratefully acknowledges the generous sponsorship of Caframo for youth projects.

At 7PM Thursday September 13, in the auditorium of the public library, OSFN offers its first Indoor Meeting of the season, featuring acclaimed naturalist Bruce Mackenzie. Entitled “Wings Along A Cliff”, his presentation features the diversity of nesting birds and the plant ecology on the iconic cliff face at Bon Echo Provincial Park. Bruce will take us on a trip through time, and through the species living there at Bon Echo, as the cliff is constantly calling out to the curious naturalist.

Bruce Mackenzie (Supplied Photo).

Bruce Mackenzie (Supplied Photo).

Bon Echo Provincial Park (Photo by Bruce Mackenzie).

Bon Echo Provincial Park (Photo by Bruce Mackenzie).

Bon Echo Provincial Park (Photo by Bruce Mackenzie).

Bon Echo Provincial Park (Photo by Bruce Mackenzie).

Everyone is welcome to attend. Admission is free, although donations are welcome. It is also a good opportunity to purchase or renew your membership, ($25 single, $40 family, $15 student) or even to make a charitable donation to the various target areas for spending which include LEAF – local educational, and action, LBCF – Lorraine Brown Conservation Fund for nature reserves, and NN, NeighbourWoods North, enhancing urban forestry. Membership benefits also include the current club newsletter (the Hart’s Tongue Herald), and invitations to all field trips, and being on the mailing list for all announcements and updates. For your convenience, membership registration and renewal can also be done online, by visiting and clicking on the membership icon there, on the right side.

Also be sure to visit the Tom Thomson Art Gallery to see the current popular exhibition Trailblazers, which has been extended to November. One of the featured paintings which help to celebrate 125 years of Ontario Provincial Parks, is also entitled Bon Echo. Painted by Canadian artist Charles Comfort, it captures some of the majesty of this two kilometre long escarpment on the shores of Lake Mazinaw.

A reminder too that the superb nature exhibit Ice Age Mammals, now at Grey Roots will close September 16. See evidence that some of these wondrous animals lived and roamed right here in our own backyard.

To close, a nature quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh – recommending that we maintain a “Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life…”

Nature Club News, August, 2018

Sunday, August 26th, 2018


by John Dickson

On Saturday July 21, the second joint presentation of Owen Sound Field Naturalists and Grey Roots, featured Stu Collier’s lecture entitled “Treasures from the Bruce: Fossil Collecting for the Enthusiast.” Collier, educated in geology and paleontology, reported to the many audience members on hand, about his two decades of on-site research among the exposed rocks of quarries in the Wiarton area, on behalf of the Royal Ontario Museum. Fossil evidence of soft bodied sea animals have been preserved among these rocky layers for 400 million years, filling in gaps in scientific knowledge about their existence in various time periods.

The late Harold Stobbe, of Owen Sound Ledgerock, to his credit, took the care, time and effort to save and send fossil samples to the ROM to be analyzed. This resulted in most productive digs unearthing exceptionally well preserved samples of sea creatures including a priapulid worm, the scientific name for which will include Harold’s last name, Stobbe, from the Silurian period. Another marine animal, about 5 centimetres in length not previously found anywhere in the world, will include Collier in its identification terminology. For a more detailed summary of this lecture please read Scott Dunn’s comprehensive article published in The Sun Times, published July 22.

White Spruce planted at Hospital grounds (Photo by John Dickson)

The beginnings of an urban forest at the hospital in Owen Sound (Photo by John Dickson)

Since the seemingly extra dry months of June and July, the NeighbourWoods North team has continued to be on site most Thursdays, watering, as well as trimming and mulching, to enhance the success of its major project of growing a forest at the Owen Sound hospital. A hearty congratulations and thank you to all who have been able to assist in any way with this important work! To learn more, visit their new website

OSFN members are often engaged in several areas of nature appreciation. Popular naturalist and astronomer Donna Giesler recently included “HAPPY PERSEID VIEWING!” in a message to me. Finally, this morning, unable to return to sleep, I arose around 4AM to begin writing this column and, as usual, I glanced outside my window. A fleeting glimpse of a bright shooting star caught my eye, as it sped along a downward curving path, ending in oblivion, or at least, darkness. For me it was a delightful affirmation of the rewards that may come to one, just for being observant and aware of our surroundings and those with whom we share this planet, and indeed this universe.

"Just one of three fantastic cedar trees growing on Lyall Island. Only a small part of this old tree is still alive." (Photo by intrepid explorer Robert Knapp)

“Just one of three fantastic cedar trees growing on Lyall Island.
Only a small part of this old tree is still alive.” (Photo by intrepid explorer Robert Knapp)

Other recent observations include several sightings of a cluster of two or three families of Wild Turkeys, when I was cycling, shortly after sunrise. While I was watering some flowers last week, a startled Praying Mantis emerged from its resting place and seemed to be giving me “that look”.

Mantis stare down in a soy field (Photo by Brian Robin)

Mantis stare down in a soy field (Photo by Brian Robin)

On August 22, an especially observant pair of birders, Alfred Raab, and Kiah Jasper, witnessed, near Oliphant, what has been verified as the first ever, in Ontario, documented sighting of a Reddish Egret, a threatened bird, normally found in Central America, and as far north as Texas. Congratulations to both for this exceptional observation, also as members of the Bruce Birding Club.

Later that same day the Plover Lovers of Sauble Beach held their wrap up event, featuring reports by Coordinator Hayley Roberts, Bird Studies of Canada’s Andrea Gress, and Alicia Fortin, who had a new role this summer after being last year’s coordinator. In addition we had an early peek at a possible science fair project by Islay Graham, who studied the behaviour of the plovers on the beach this summer and after documenting her findings, incorporated them into an analysis of the birds activities to see if conclusions could be drawn about their preferences, and dislikes. Special thanks from Stewardship Grey Bruce were also given to Huron Feathers for their hospitality and to sponsors who helped offset costs for the programme which also included a series of “Beach Talks”.

Piping Plover from 2017 (Photo by Brian Robin).

Plover from 2017 (Photo by Brian Robin).

Tagged Monarch (Photo by Kerry Jarvis)

Tagged Monarch (Photo by Kerry Jarvis)

As the Owen Sound Field Naturalists approaches the beginning of its 2018-2019 season, many club members and others have been reporting what may be a bumper crop of Monarch Butterflies throughout our area. Indeed, the first outing or field trip will be on Friday August 31st as OSFN members are invited to join in the Community Tagging Day of the Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores.

During the following week three more outings: with Barbara Palmer at Singing Sands; with Marg Gaviller near Irish Lake; and with Jenna Maguire at the Lindsay Tract will give plenty of opportunities for OSFN to celebrate thirty years of “Knowing Nature Better”. For more details on any of these activities, and to enroll or renew as a member please visit

To close, a nature quote from John L.Riley “If we do not help nature restore itself – and get creative in doing so – species will decline one by one, and be gone.”

Nature Club News, July, 2018

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018


by John Dickson

On June 13, Barbara Palmer led “Botany on the lower Bruce Peninsula”, with OSFN members, visiting Petrel Point, where many more plants were evident since the new accessible boardwalk had been opened officially two weeks earlier. Pitcher plants, cotton grass and sensitive fern were especially abundant and displaying. A brief visit to the Oliphant Fen concluded the day, shortened somewhat by some heavy, but much needed rain during the mid day and early afternoon.

Sensitive Fern at Petrel Point. (Photo by John Dickson)

Sensitive Fern at Petrel Point. (Photo by John Dickson)

On June 14, the Owen Sound Field Naturalists held its final Indoor Meeting of the 2016-17 season. This included a pot luck supper, followed by a brief Annual General Meeting, at which Gord Toth was confirmed as the next President of the club.

The club’s Community Conservation Award was presented to Caframo, in recognition of its generous sponsorship and support of nature events and organizations, including Earth Day, and youth projects. This is the first time the award has been given to a business.

Community Conservation Award presented by John Dickson to Kathleen Pierce, accepting on behalf of Caframo.

Community Conservation Award presented by John Dickson to Kathleen Pierce, accepting on behalf of Caframo. (Photo by Kate McLaren)

An Honourable Life Membership, awarded posthumously to Freeman Boyd, for his inspired and numerous contributions to the club since its inception almost thirty years ago, was accepted by Marion Boyd.

The evening’s speaker Ted Armstrong, originally from the Markdale area, spoke about the Woodland Caribou, its history even in our area, and the hopes and challenges for its future in areas farther north in Ontario. One of the main threats to its success is the fragmentation of its habitat with roads and infrastructure. Armstrong was pleasantly surprised by the number of OSFN club members who were familiar with Lake Superior, as he spent much of his career as a wildlife biologist in Thunder Bay, and is also active with the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists. His display of various antlers also complemented his presentation.

Ted Armstrong with moose antler.

Ted Armstrong with moose antler. (Photo by Kate McLaren)

On June 16, OSFN and Young Naturalist Club members met with Chris Rickard at the Bognor Marsh Conservation Area, to discover what butterflies were on hand. The species in the greatest numbers was the common ringlet, as well as the Tiger Swallowtail.

Chris Rickard with Butterfly Net. (Photo by John Dickson)

Chris Rickard with Butterfly Net. (Photo by John Dickson)

On June 28, many were on hand for the grand opening of the newly refurbished Hibou Wetlands Interpretive Trail. This has been a project of the Friends of Hibou, spearheaded by Bob and Marie Knapp, in conjunction with Grey Sauble Conservation, and with input and/or support from the Community Foundation Grey Bruce, the Kiwanis club, and the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Following some speeches and a ribbon cutting, Bob Knapp led a group of those attending on an interpretive hike, complete with the accompanying pamphlet, produced for the purpose of explanations at various signposts along the trails, and returning it to a pocket on the new larger signs that have been installed.

 Bob and Marie Knapp at Hibou.

Bob and Marie Knapp at Hibou. (Photo by John Dickson)

NeighbourWoods North has now initiated a regular weekly watering schedule for the trees planted this spring at the hospital grounds in Owen Sound. The dry summer has made the survival of these trees more challenging, even with a few watering sessions that have taken place. Thursdays from 7PM to 8:30PM will be the regular watering session. A strong team was on hand July 19th, improving the visibility of some of the smaller seedlings, and watering as many as possible. Bringing buckets and watering pails is appreciated. More details are posted on the OSFN website, at

Owen Sound Field Naturalists has also partnered with Grey Roots to bring two summer lectures with Nature themes to complement the Ice Age Mammals exhibit currently at the museum until September 16.

On July 14, Peter Russell’s lively and engaging address included historical tracking of the discoveries of both mastodon and mammoth evidence in Southern Ontario.. In particular, he related his connections with a Woolly Mammoth rib discovered in a hut in Shelburne, and the mastodon skeletal samples found near London, Ontario. After answering several questions from the audience, he then led a brief tour of of the exhibit, where he was able to explain in more detail, aspects of the original fossils and replicas on hand. Russell is an author, geologist, teacher and the retired curator of the Earth Sciences Museum at the University of Waterloo.

On Saturday July 21, from 2PM to 3:30PM, Stu Collier will present Treasures from the Bruce: Fossil Collecting for the Enthusiast.
Collier, will be sharing tales of his fossil hunting and adventures. He will also showcase some of the extraordinary finds made on the Bruce Peninsula over the past ten years while working on Royal Ontario Museum digs. Grey Roots and OSFN members have free admission, while for others regular admission fees apply.

Recently I have enjoyed reading, for the first time, The Sweetwater Explorer, Paddling in Grey and Bruce Counties, written by Andrew Armitage, with photography by Willy Waterton. Published in 1995 by the Ginger Press, this book not only gives the reader important information about the waters of this area, and paddling suggestions suitable for each season, but one can also learn about the diversity of wildlife – birds, flowers, trees, etc., and the geomorphology of the area, including the Gaelic source for drumlin. Armitage also sprinkles in a generous amount of interesting history about the various lighthouses along the shores, as well as memorable characters from the past, whose names are still with us – MacGregor Point Provincial Park – for Captain Alexander Murray MacGregor is one example. A reference to the Saugeen Peninsula, as the Bruce Peninsula was once known, also reinforces the current notion that that name should be restored, sooner than later.

Waterton’s photos enhance the narrative of the book, helping to document the research undertaken by the authors, and their paddling companions.
To close then, a Nature quote from the Summer Paddling chapter “Summer’s long evenings are perfect for an after work paddle. …. There is no better way to shed the concerns of the day.”

Nature Club News, June, 2018

Monday, June 18th, 2018


by John Dickson

On Thursday May 10, the Owen Sound Field Naturalists (OSFN) hosted its annual Members Night when several speakers gave short presentations on diverse topics. They were:

Madeline Sanagan, about the bioblitz happening at MacGregor Point Provincial Park;
Bill Moses on Phragmites;
David Morris, on some of the likely causes of the Plague and related famines;
Liz Zetlin, with advance information on a film being developed, in aid of a healthier environment;
Bob Knapp with film of a special hike in Portugal; and
John Hlynialuk featuring astronomy.

On Tuesday May 22, Owen Sound Field Naturalists were well represented at an event hosted by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), with a nature hike led by coordinator Esme Batten on the Dwarf Lake Iris Nature Reserve. Batten was introduced to the club membership last November along with the head of NCC, John Lounds, when both outlined of their national and local initiatives and campaigns to the audience.

Esme Batten with guests at the NCC's Dwarf Lake Nature Reserve (Photo by John Dickson)

Esme Batten with guests at the NCC’s Dwarf Lake Nature Reserve (Photo by John Dickson)

Dwarf Iris (Photo by John Dickson)

Dwarf Iris (Photo by John Dickson)

In the evening of the same day, a field trip entitled Grassland Birding across Farmer’s Fields in former Sarawak Township with Beth Anne Currie, brought out some keen birders to see the activities of nesting tree swallows in bluebird boxes, and some bluebirds too.

The evening also featured sightings (and/or hearings) of Killdeer, Brown Thrashers, Tree Swallows, Indigo Bunting, as well as Wilson’s Snipe. Currie has been doing research on these grassland species for several seasons, monitoring their nesting habits and degrees of success. Those on hand were most complimentary about the quality of this learning experience, with the intimate birding knowledge shared by the leader.

Eastern Bluebird eggs (Photo by John Dickson)

Eastern Bluebird eggs (Photo by John Dickson)

During this same evening, a final wrap up of the hospital tree planting project by NeighbourWoods North took place, finishing some important mulching, and staking, to complete this planting of over 2700 trees, on the hospital property over four and a half weeks. A dedicated contingent showed up to finish these steps, and then get together afterwards for a celebration of the completion of this most worthwhile endeavour. Kudos to Lloyd Lewis, Gord Edwards, and the entire NeighbourWoods North team for another job well done. Since very little rain fell in the days after this, a tree watering day was also held on Saturday June 2nd, to give the thirsty trees a drink to help them get through these early stages of growth and root development.

A tree at each of these mulch locations at the hospital in Owen Sound (Photo by John Dickson)

A tree at each of these mulch locations at the hospital in Owen Sound (Photo by John Dickson)

On Saturday May 26, again the OSFN was well represented at the official unveiling of the new “accessible” boardwalk at Petrel Point, hosted by Ontario Nature. OSFN’s Peter Middleton, one of the club’s stewards of nature reserves, gave an interpretive tour of the new boardwalk section highlighting the history, the geology, and the effects of fire, on the plant life in this special habitat, which includes meadow, wetland and woodland sections.

Pond Sutdy Workshop (Photo by John Dickson)

Peter Middleton describing distinctive features of Petrel Point Nature Reserve (Photo by John Dickson)

On Sunday May 27, the Young Naturalists Club were invited to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival – which is about much more than just birds.
MacGregor Point Provincial Park provided two staff members to lead a Pond Study program for the Young Nats, which started with a little nature hike, observing birds, butterflies, turtles on Turtle Pond, and plants along the way to the boardwalk where there had been set out dip nets, bowls and identification charts for many of the creatures likely to be found in or near the water there.

With an emphasis on safety, Park staff DJ and Connor explained and demonstrated the planned activities to the participants, also ensuring that none of the species from the water were to be left out of the water. While the youngsters dipped and then emptied their nets into the bowls to see what they had to examine, and learn about. The net was then immediately put back into the water, so that anything that might still be inside or on the outside would be in the water, and could return to its preferred environs. While there, they were also treated to a good look at the elusive green Heron, perched with its distinctive pose, high on a tree limb. There were also Yellow Warblers and American Redstarts on hand, along with Dragonflies, and Damselflies.

The OSFN support people on hand were very impressed with the knowledge, and teaching ability of the Park staff, and appreciated the efforts of many to get the Young Naturalists included in the Festival.

Pond study workshop (Photo by John Dickson)

Pond study workshop (Photo by John Dickson)

On Sunday June 10, Lynne Richardson led several OSFN members along the trails of the Loree Forest, listening to and observing various species of birds that included Indigo Bunting, American Wood Peewee, Red Eyed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, and even a chipmunk who had several in the group fooled into thinking it was a bird they were hearing, until they actually watched the puffing of its cheeks, in time with the sounds they were hearing. Another highlight was the discovery of a baby Milk Snake along the main entrance to the forest, as the group were returning to their vehicles. Richardson shared with the group that the habitat along the edges of the forest has changed a great deal in recent years, and much of the meadowland around the forest has filled in. The result is that many species which were abundant and included Eastern Towhees and Bobolinks have shifted away from the trails near what were the eastern edges of the Loree forest.

This Thursday June 14, OSFN presents its final speaker of the season, Ted Armstrong. Formerly of the Markdale area, where even as a youth he was a keen birder, his career as a wildlife biologist with the MNR in Thunder Bay included much research and many contributions to the formulation of species at risk policies in the province. Armstrong has also served as a board member and presenter in the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists Club. The evening begins with a pot luck dinner at 6PM in the hall of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, followed by a brief AGM which will include two award presentations. After the meeting is adjourned Ted Armstrong will present “Where are they now? Why Woodland Caribou no longer roam much of Ontario.”

To close, a nature quote from famed Canadian painter Emily Carr, who, I only recently discovered, was an award winning writer, with a distinctive voice and style. I especially recommend her Klee Wyck, and The Heart of a Peacock where she expresses her connection to Nature this way – “To be honoured by the trust of wild things, is to have one’s self esteem hoisted.”

Nature Club News, April, 2018

Saturday, April 7th, 2018


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Thursday April 5, 2018.

March Tracking Outing

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists club offered an Interpretive Late Winter Tracking Hike with Jeff Kinchen, on Saturday March 3rd. Even though the snowcover in the open areas had diminished somewhat by then, there was plenty of snow in the woods and lots of evidence of wildlife activity, if you just knew what to look for, as did hike leader Jeff Kinchen. In addition to the partially covered skunk carcass seen the previous week by our Young Naturalists club, there were plenty of tracks from deer, and red squirrels, as well as scat from Ruffed Grouse, and raccoon.

Although some like to think of the porcupine as a pest, destroying economically valuable trees, after successfully locating a porcupine high above us, Kinchen reminded everyone that the porcupine helps to feed the other forest creatures, by nibbling a few tasty bits near the top of a tree, and then dropping the rest below, providing an otherwise inaccessible smorgasbord of nutritious, tender branches, needles, and shavings for the rabbits, deer and others to browse when there is little else for them to find to eat in winter. In addition, some animal species prefer, or even require, dead trees for their nesting habitat and food sources.

March Indoor Meeting

On Thursday March 8, Dr. Sonja Ostertag presented an engaging talk and slideshow about the migration of the Beluga whales in the North West of Canada, including aspects of the research she and her colleagues have been doing, on the health of the whales, and the impacts of pollution and climate change. The audience appreciated learning about how she was able to combine the responsibilities and opportunities of a young family, with her work, and the chance to form meaningful relationships with the Inuit who live there and rely on the beluga whales as an important food source.

Dr. Sonja Ostertag

Dr. Sonja Ostertag,

At that same club meeting, those present endorsed OSFN President Kate McLaren’s continued efforts to find a balanced, long term solution for ensuring the health and viability of habitat for the Piping Plovers, plus the Dune ecosystem of Sauble Beach. McLaren actively pursued a cooperative solution, consulting with other groups and experts, and advocating a negotiated settlement and a long term programme of habitat and dune protection, compatible with all of the beach users.

March Young Field Naturalists’ Outing

On Sunday March 28, the Young Naturalists Club met at Harrison Park. Director Brian Robin reported that “Professional Potter (and OSFN President too) Kate McLaren led the youngsters and some adults, through a Toad Abode workshop, and helped them make shelters for their toady pals. Kate will be firing and returning their creations at the next Young Nats meeting. It was pretty astonishing watching Kate work and shape the clay so effortlessly, you’d almost think she’d done it once or twice before.”

Afterwards, the Young Naturalists went outside on a guided hike in the park with OSFN director Brian Robin, exploring the Weaver Creek trail.

NeighbourWoods North Update

NeighbourWoods North is continuing its preparations for Spring Tree Planting programmes at the site of the Grey Bruce Regional Health Centre in Owen Sound. It is expected that most of the work will take place on three consecutive Saturdays starting with April 21. When the planting proposals and the availability of the selected tree species, are confirmed, public announcements will be made to recruit volunteers to assist with the project.

April Indoor Meeting

On Thursday April 12, in the auditorium of the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library, Dan Ostler will explain about “The Day Your Life Changed – Climate Change circa 535 AD” and how a natural phenomenon happening then, provided an excellent opportunity to observe the effects of climate change. In this presentation, he will follow the ripples of this event across the face of our earth.

Dan Ostler graduated in Biophysics from the University of Waterloo and pursued a career in medical radiation physics. Working in the areas of forefront research and product design, Dan traveled internationally, staging leading-edge seminars focusing on the implications of the latest medical imaging advances.
In retirement, he has pursued his interest in the science behind the phenomena of nature and the cascading effect of these interactions on the course of history.

Dan Ostler

Dan Ostler

Earth Day Presentation SOLD OUT!

On April 22, the OSFN presents its third annual Earth Day Keynote address. This year we are featuring Canada’s Adam Shoalts aboard the MS Chi-Cheemaun, speaking about his 4000km solo journey across northern Canada last summer, and of his love for Nature. Ticket sales for this event were very strong, and on March 29, it was announced that the event had been sold out to capacity. Thanks to everyone who purchased tickets and we’ll see you on Earth Day! This Celebration of Earth Day, is once again sponsored by Caframo.

Ontario Nature Youth Summit

OSFN plans to sponsor two high school students to attend the Ontario Nature Youth Summit, scheduled this year for September 21 – 23 at Geneva Park near Orillia. Invitations have been sent to many high schools in our area, urging keen students of environmental science programmes or with an interest in learning about Nature, who would still be in high school in the fall of 2018, to send us a letter of interest, addressed to by April 30, 2018.

For more details please visit

Nature Novels

In recent years there has been a plethora of mystery books with nature themes, and birds, in particular. The Birdwatcher, by William Shaw and published in 2017 by Mulholland Books, in addition to its story lines involving uprooting human families migrating like some of the birds, seeking new environs (read habitat) will introduce you to the south shore of England, and some of the waterfowl to be found there, plus a few inland birds nearby. Another of my favourite writers, Sam Llewellyn was introduced to me about three decades ago as the Dick Francis of Sailing. It was only in some of his later books that I started to notice his inclusion of nature and environment themes and species details, while spinning his elegant narratives. I heartily recommend Llewellyn’s writing and his most recent mystery book Black Fish, to introduce you to some of the environmental issues around sustainable fish quotas, and of course, the challenges and rewards of sailing. An earlier book of his, the Sea Garden, relates the personalities and stages of development around a grand Victorian style garden, whose owners were sometimes able to acquire some of the exotic plants that had been promised to Kew. I am sure many of our local gardeners will recognize many or all of the flowers and plants, along with the local sea creatures and birds, in south west England.

To close off – a quote from the late Freeman Boyd –

“Every time you learn more about nature, that just adds to your appreciation, and your concern.”

Nature Club News, March, 2018

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Friday March 2, 2018 .


On Sunday February 4th, the Owen Sound Field Naturalists were invited to join the Friends of Hibou for a Winter Snowshoe, and members of the Sydenham Bruce Trail Club were there for a hike too. Snow conditions were excellent for touring the trails some of which feature recently installed boardwalks, and seeing a few of the mighty poplar trees that beavers had felled in recent years. This property of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority has a rich diversity of plant and animal life, with varied habitat features, and has been an important resource for nature study for OSFN club members and others, for many decades now. Just last year the OSFN provided some financial support and input to Friends of Hibou’s project that will include new signage and brochures.

Northern Cardinal on the Hibou trail (Photo by John Dickson)

Northern Cardinal on the Hibou trail (Photo by John Dickson)

On February 8, despite some challenging weather conditions, we once again had a full house in attendance for a presentation by club favourites, Willy Waterton and Audrey Armstrong. Entitled Northwest Passage – in Franklin’s Wake, an illustrated talk about their travels from Cambridge Bay to Iqaluit, it featured Willy’s photographic images, and Audrey’s own artwork. Their talk also highlighted the involvement of Group of Seven painters A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris, and a local connection to the search for remnants of John Franklin’s expedition. I especially enjoyed learning how Willy had made an extra effort to have some “alone” moments to try to soak up some of the serenity and power of this vast northern area, and to get some photographic documentation from different angles and perspectives. Audrey also shared her hands-on approach to capturing images of the spectacular scenery. She settles down and then, with her own powers of observation, and skills as a visual artist, renders those images with her paints and brushes.

The Northwest Passage (Photo by Willy Waterton)

The Northwest Passage (Photo by Willy Waterton)

On February 12th the NeighbourWoods North (NWN) committee of OSFN, adopted this mission statement –

NeighbourWoods North organizes naturalization and tree-planting projects with volunteers in the Owen Sound area to create environmental benefits, enhance the attractiveness of the community and contribute to local quality of life.

NWN Committee Chair Lloyd Lewis reports that,

This spring NeighbourWoods North intends to plant several thousand trees on the Grey Bruce Regional Health Services grounds. We will be looking for volunteers to help with this planting soon; so please keep your ears to the ground.

As we go forward, we will be considering other project initiatives such as school grounds plantings and greening the mouth of the Pottawatomi River. Financial donations are eligible for tax receipts and help us carry out our mandate. They can be directed through the OSFN.

On Family Day OSFN responded to an invitation from Grey Roots to provide some snowshoes and guidance to visitors there, especially for youngsters. Although the traffic was light at first, towards the end of the afternoon, it was a popular activity indeed. In scouting out the property at Grey Roots, I discovered several wildlife species including Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, Nuthatches, some rabbit tracks, and many varieties of trees to test visitors’ identification skills. Many thanks to OSFN Director Elaine Van Den Kieboom for her extra efforts and to Grey Sauble Conservation for providing the snowshoes.

On February 24th members of the Young Naturalist Club received some first-hand tutelage in the art of tracking from Jeff Kinchen, whose innate knowledge of Nature, derived from patient observation and study, is freely shared on these popular hikes. Young Naturalists Coordinator Elaine Van Den Kieboom included in her report –

Our latest meeting on February 24, 2018 had the Young Nat’s being led by Naturalist Jeff Kinchen down the field and into the bush on his family property near Bognor. Even though we had experienced a significant loss in the amount of snow, there were still numerous tracks and sign of various animals to see. We were also fortunate to see a young porcupine resting up in a tree.

It was a beautiful day weather wise. Jeff’s knowledge and experience as a wildlife tracker and his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge with children, combined with a sunny day, made for a great hike. I would like to extend my Thanks to Jeff and his family for making it a great day for the kids.

Jeff demonstrating a deer's walking pattern. (Photo by B. Robin)

Jeff demonstrating a deer’s walking pattern. (Photo by B. Robin)

OSFN members will once again be able to witness and learn from Jeff Kinchen this Saturday, March 3rd.

Entitled Who Made Those Tracks and Why? An Interpretive Late winter tracking Hike. With Jeff Kinchen, one can learn to recognize some of the particular characteristics and distinctive impressions evident in the snow and/or mud, on tree trunks, or other vegetation, and near waterways. This has become one of the most popular of our annual club field trips.

OSFN’s next Indoor Meeting, entitled Belugas ’Qilalugaq’ in the Arctic, is at 7PM March 8, in the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library, featuring Dr. Sonja Ostertag. Dr. Ostertag is a research scientist who attended elementary and secondary school in Owen Sound, and was drawn, even then, to environmental science. She continued her studies at McGill, and then completed her PhD at University of Northern B.C. in Prince George. She then began her post-doctoral fellowship, conducting research on beluga whales, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Dr. Sonja Ostertag,

Dr. Sonja Ostertag

According to Dr. Ostertag, the annual migration of beluga whales, called qilalugaq in Inuvialuktun, presents an important opportunity for subsistence harvesting by the Inuvialuit of the western Canadian Arctic, and for collaborative study on how environmental change may impact this species, plus unique insight for research and co-management.

Having received some encouragement for recommending a few books in last month’s column, I will suggest these titles to enjoy and as a source of learning from their nature components.

Full Curl, by Dave Butler, published by Dundurn Press. This first novel by a career biologist, framed as a mystery and loosely inspired by real cases, presents a Park Warden’s attempts to solve wildlife poaching crimes, in Alberta and British Columbia. The challenges and the accomplishments involve politics, the need to share information between wildlife agencies, and teamwork. The author’s knowledge and love for nature is evident in the evocative imagery portrayed frequently throughout. For me the most satisfaction came from looking up in nature books, or online, the many species with which I was unfamiliar, including these few examples – Engelmann Spruce, Kinnickinnick, and a mountain ecotype of the Woodland Caribou, plus American author and environmental activist Edward Abbey.

Lightfoot, by Nicholas Jennings, published by Penquin. Most of us are familiar with this iconic composer and story teller, who has created an immense catalog of familiar tunes and lyrics. This book will also introduce to you Gordon Lightfoot the naturalist who, when his personal and professional lives were almost too much to handle, found solace and rejuvenation in nature, spending the month of August for many years, paddling the rivers of Canada. References to ” the green dark forest”, “Pussy Willows, Cat-tails, Soft Winds and Roses”, “Where the road runs down by the Butternut grove” all point to Lightfoot’s familiarity with the natural world where he grew up in Southern Ontario, sailing on Georgian Bay, and being surrounded by the rocks, trees, rivers and lakes of the Muskoka cottage country.

In the Footsteps of Grey Owl, Journey into the Ancient Forest by Gary and Joanie McGuffin, published by McLelland and Stewart. I have only recently discovered this beautiful book which documents the retracing of Grey Owl’s journeys via canoe and portage. Both the writing, by Joanie McGuffin, and the images from her husband Gary’s photographs are first-rate, and along with the story-telling and the pictures, you will also be able to learn about the various trees, insects, birds, and mammals that add to the diversity of parts of our northern lands. The McGuffins also document some of the changes to river watersheds with the installation of dams for hydro-electric power. Interspersed through the pages are excerpts from Grey Owl’s own distinctive writings, and although I read most of his works a few years ago, this book, In the Footsteps of Grey Owl, makes a nice refresher, and reminds us of the importance of saving at least some of the land’s natural integrity for the purposes of having a healthy wildlife population and for healthy recreation for humans too.

Just a reminder that tickets for the Earth Day keynote address by acclaimed author, archaeologist, explorer and naturalist Adam Shoalts, known as Canada’s Indiana Jones, are selling quickly now. Celebrate Earth Day at 2PM , Sunday April 22, on board the MS Chi Cheemaun. Advance purchase is recommended as seating is limited. Tickets are only $5., and are available at OSFN Club meetings, at the Ginger Press, OS Farmers Market and the Springmount Office of Owen Sound Transportation Company. Sponsored by Caframo, all proceeds go to OSFN Youth Projects.

For more information please visit us at and on Facebook.

Nature Club News, February, 2018

Monday, February 5th, 2018


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Friday, February, 2, 2018.

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On January 11th, Peter Middleton presented Ancient Plants of Grey and Bruce, sharing fascinating details of many of the ferns to be found locally, some of which are considered among the earliest lifeforms of our world. Peter, a respected ornithologist, remarked that the late Nels Maher had inspired him to learn more about the richly diverse fern population in our region. Sharing that knowledge with club members through field trips and this presentation, is Peter’s way of honouring that rich legacy for which Nels is fondly remembered.

Peter explaining the characteristics of a bracken fern (Photo by Brian Robin).

Peter explaining the characteristics of a bracken fern (Photo by Brian Robin).

One of the regular features at OSFN meetings is called “Sightings”, an invitation to those in attendance to share some of their recent nature observations. At this meeting several OSFN members mentioned seeing flying squirrels, and one observer was surprised to see the footprints of a bear, in his own snowshoe tracks when he had re-traced his steps from a few days earlier.

On January 20th Bob Knapp led a combined OSFN and Bruce Trail snowshoe hike on the Clearview/Pines Side Trails, where a distinct isolated valley, along with wetland, streams, old tree specimens, and signs of early settlers’ habitation were noted. There was plenty of evidence showing the previous high water run-off and freezing that had taken place along the creekbed there, along with tracks of wildlife who also like to use the Bruce Trail on their own. A special highlight for fellow hiker Peter Harris and I was to catch a fleeting glimpse of a large snowshoe hare some distance away. For some in attendance it was also an opportunity to visit the nearby historic Polish Tree, an American Beech tree, with Polish language carving including some of that country’s national anthem, inscribed a by a Polish soldier training here in 1942. A special thank you to Bob who is always eager to get people out to see the wonder of nature we have in the area.

Photo By Bob Knapp

Photo By Bob Knapp

Photo By Bob Knapp

Photo By Bob Knapp

Twice during the following week, he and I skied in the area southwest of Kemble Mountain, and were treated to a rare sighting of the elusive Barred Owl.

Photo By Bob Knapp

Photo By Bob Knapp

On January 28 the Young Naturalist Club had its annual winter visit to the Bognor Marsh, to snowshoe/hike on the trails there, see some animal tracks, and other winter nature highlights, and finish off with cooking their own delicious bannock over an open fire, and sipping their hot chocolate. It was very intriguing to see how one keen youngster latched on to Club member Bill Moses, for a little while, getting her own special tutorial about nature highlights at this popular location.

Bill and a Young Naturalist (Photo by Brian)

Bill and a Young Naturalist (Photo by Brian)

Special thanks to Coordinator Elaine van den Kieboom for organizing this popular outing. OSFN President Kate McLaren reported –

“On a hike that took us along Bognor Marsh shore, through mixed forest and across meadows our group encountered every kind of slippery footing possible! Ice, wet snow, mud, trickling stream, packed snow, frozen earth – you name it. Snowshoes were useful in some places and a hindrance in others, but we all made it safely back to the bonfire and bannock.

Bannock!(Photo by Brian)

Bannock! It’s done when it’s on fire. (Photo by Brian)

Along the way we watched for signs of creatures, mainly checking for tracks and deposits of scat. There was one puzzling pile of scat that baffled us all. The prints of deer were abundant. Coyotes had been out some days earlier, leading to the comparison of feline tracks vs canine: if claws are evident it’s very likely canine (coyote, dog, wolf) as feline species (cats, foxes, lynx, bobcat, cougar) retract their claws unless they’re actively using them.
Rabbit, squirrel and mouse trails were evident and there was a long discussion about unusually elongated pellets suspected of being a sign of ruffed grouse. Further research is needed to make a positive identification.

Deer tracks (Photo by Michelle Parkin)

Deer tracks (Photo by Michelle Parkin)

As well there was an investigation of galls on remnants of goldenrod, the woody bandaid the plant creates around the invading insect. Seeds still attached to the fluff from milkweed were scattered across the snow awaiting spring to sprout new life.

Although a few chickadees were observed, and ravens were heard, most birds were laying low that afternoon but their signs were obvious. They had distributed the remains of cedar seeds after consuming the nutritious portion. Part of a nest had fallen to the ground causing us to ponder who the maker might have been.

We saw a great variety of trees and shrubs, identifying them through their different sizes, shapes, textures and patterns. Former pasture has been reforested a decade or so ago with partial success, making pleasant small groves of conifers in the otherwise sunny meadow.

With 28 people on the trail any wildlife in the neighborhood was in hiding!”

On February 4th, OSFN members are invited to join Carol Harris and the Friends of Hibou for a snowshoe hike on the inner trails at the Hibou Conservation Area.

On Thursday February 8, at 7PM, Willy Waterton and Audrey Armstrong will present Northwest Passage – in Franklin’s Wake, an illustrated talk about their travels from Cambridge Bay to Iqaluit. Come and learn about a local connection to the search for Franklin. Willy and Audrey have a reputation for providing an engaging and comprehensive exposition of their journeys.


OSFN meetings are held in the auditorium of the Public Library in Owen Sound. Admission is free, although donations are welcome. Memberships can also be purchased and/or renewed, and tickets for the Earth Day Keynote Address, will also be available. Author, Archaelogist and Naturalist Adam Shoalts, known also as Canada’s Indiana Jones will return to Celebrate Earth Day with us at 2PM on Sunday, April 22, aboard the Chi Cheemaun. Tickets are only $5. but seating is limited so early purchase is recommended. They are also available at the Ginger Press, the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market and at the Chi Cheemaun office at Springmount. This event is, once again, generously sponsored by Caframo.

You may recall my mention of Neighbourwoods North, and Canada 150 tree planting day at Kelso Beach Park last September. Spearheaded by Lloyd Lewis, and a vibrant new component of the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, Neighbourwoods North is already making good progress in developing its team and some very exciting projects here in the city. We look forward to sharing more about these endeavours with you in future columns.

I always seem to have several books on the go, and here are a few with some kind of nature component that I have been reading lately. I have no hesitation in recommending all of them for you to enjoy while relaxing after (or before) your skiing or hockey or shovelling.

Dynamic Forest – Man versus Nature in the Boreal Forest, by Malcolm Squires, published by Dundurn Press. Squires, a retired forester, who like so many of us, was opposed to “clear cutting” as an acceptable method of silviculture, relates his own gradual conversion and now makes the case for clear cutting, to simulate the rejuvenation that happens after a forest fire, resulting in a healthier forest, while reducing the risk of fire in areas with human population. This is an eye-opener, and was recommended to me by Ted Armstrong, our scheduled speaker for June of 2018.

Birding Without Borders, by Noah Strycker, a surprisingly delightful documenting of Strycker’s quest in 2015 to see, with witnesses, the most bird species of anyone in the world in one year, so far. Strycker’s journeys and adventures with local birders in many parts of the world, are shared with engaging candour and for a book about the biggest list, it is never tedious.

Original Highways – Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada, by Roy MacGregor is a modern update on writing about Canadian rivers by Hugh MacLennan 50 years ago. Reading this book is an opportunity to learn more about the history and current status of many of these important waterways. MacGregor is one my favourite writers and this did not disappoint. It was a pleasure to meet him here last summer when he was a panelist at the Tom Thomson commemoration event at the Harmony Centre, hosted by the TOM.

A History of Canada in Ten Maps – Epic Stories of Charting a Mysterious Land, by Adam Shoalts, our speaker for Earth Day 2018. Since childhood, Shoalts has had a fascination for maps, and here he outlines the impacts of ten maps that were instrumental in documenting various parts of this vast land, and the roles those maps have played in the explorations of our predecessors. This is Shoalts’ second book, and with his study of original source documents, is an elegant and rich portrayal of aspects of Canada’s history, which just may spark a few comments like “We didn’t get these details in high school!” I would especially recommend this book to students, teachers and armchair travellers.

It was one year ago, that the Owen Sound Field Naturalists were granted charitable status for the work we do. Although we are not actively fundraising, we welcome donations and bequests, and are able to provide tax receipts for donations in support of our various activities, including our LEAF fund, for Local, Educational, and Action items, and our Lorraine Brown Conservation Fund, in support of nature reserve acquisitions, and stewardship, etc.

Details about all OSFN programmes, Young Naturalists, online membership and donations can be found at

Nature Club News, January, 2018

Sunday, January 21st, 2018


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Thursday January 11, 2018 .

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists presentation on December 14, featured Angie Littlefield, an engaging speaker, who enlightened the audience about the “Nature” knowledge of Tom Thomson, who, in his formative years, spent many hours on nature hikes, and in the company of prominent contemporary naturalists, some of whom had family connections for him. One of her sources, suggests that “Tom had his naturalist bent from Uncle Brodie” – (Dr. William Brodie). Also shared were examples of Thomson’s more detailed nature art, of wildflowers, and fish species, as well as some of his more iconic painted images, and even many of his photographs. Some of Thomson’s paintings also document the some of the effects of human activities – showing the devastation of forested landscapes through logging, fire and construction of dams. Littlefield’s research also led her to suggest that Thomson spent some time with Grey Owl during his trip to western Canada, and that both are included in a photo of swimmers in the Banff area in 1913. Thomson was also noted for his preparation of tasty cuisine.

Angie Littlefield (supplied photo)

Angie Littlefield (supplied photo)

The next presentation in our speaker series is at 7PM Thursday January 11, at the Public Library in Owen Sound, and features Peter Middleton with “Ancient Plants of Grey and Bruce”. Here is Peter’s outline –
“The two counties we call home are also the place where a number of remarkable plants that have occupied the earth for aeons find a place to live. From the escarpment face to the forests and fens, mosses, liverworts, ferns and trees thrive. This program will introduce a few of them and their remarkable histories.”

Peter explaining the characteristics of a bracken fern.

Peter explaining the characteristics of a bracken fern. (Photo by Brian Robin)

On January 28 the Young Naturalists will share their outing with the regular OSFN club members at Bognor Marsh for a snowshoe Nature hike. There is still room for more Young Naturalists to participate in club activities. Visit for more information.

Christmas Bird Counts

Many area naturalists participated in Christmas Bird Counts throughout the area, from December 14 to January 5. Here are some excerpts and highlights from many of them.

The 47th Annual Owen Sound Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. 33 observers in 8 groups recorded 6286 birds of 63 species. There were several count highs this season, especially with woodpeckers. There were count highs for Red-bellied Woodpecker (16), and the second highest count for Hairy Woodpeckers (50). There were also count highs for Rock Dove (675), and Red-breasted Nuthatch (45).

Other sightings of note include:
One male Barrow’s Goldeneye, a species recorded only once before on a count in 1977.
The first Ruddy Duck ever recorded in the history of the Owen Sound CBC.
1 Broad-winged Hawk, previously only recorded on the count in 2006 (referenced on the Audubon CBC website for the Owen Sound area).
1 American Coot, a bird not recorded every year on the count and always in small numbers.
3 Brown-headed Cowbird, a bird not recorded in the count since 2002, and a Common Grackle, not recorded since 2012.
Other unusual birds recorded this season include 1 Tundra Swan, 4 Eastern Bluebird, 1 Northern Flicker, 2 Merlin, and a Snowy Owl.
The lack of certain winter finches was notable, with no Purple Finch, Common Redpoll, and only one Pine Siskin this season.

Compiler – Erik Van Den Kieboom

The 42nd annual Hanover-Walkerton Christmas Bird Count also took place on Dec. 16, 2017 with 28 participants searching woodlots, open fields and feeders in search of their feathered friends.

By the end of the day 49 species had been recorded totalling 6375 birds with an additional 3 species being recorded during the count week period. One new species was recorded when 2 Ring Neck Ducks were observed at Chesley, bringing the overall total species seen to a impressive 105 over the 42 years. 4 species would set new record highs they were Great Black-backed Gull 11, Blue Jay 307, Bald Eagle 30 (23 were observed in one field alone), and Golden Eagle 2.

Compiler – Gerard McNaughton

Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker) CBC
The seventh annual Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker) Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 16.
Eighteen participants eked out a record low total of 35 species.

However, two new species for the count were seen – Lesser Scaup (1) and American Coot (1), raising the composite seven-year total to 77. A count-week Ring-necked Pheasant was also new for the list. All-time high counts were tallied for Canada Goose (3, previous 2), Hairy Woodpecker (8, previous 7) and Northern Cardinal (13, previous 12).

Compiler – Jarmo Jalava

Wiarton CBC
The 44th Wiarton Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 17.
Twenty-four participants and three feeder watchers tallied 50 species (close to the 44-year average of 48.4, and the 10-year average 50.5) and 3,818 individuals (44-year average 3,405, 10-year average 4,135).

All-time highs were tallied for Cooper’s Hawk (3, previous 2), Pileated Woodpecker (12, previous 6), Blue Jay (445, previous 385) and Dark-eyed Junco (70, previous 58). No regularly occurring species had record low counts, but numbers of dabbling ducks, European Starling, House Sparrow and winter finches were well below average.

Compiler – Jarmo Jalava

The 47th annual Meaford CBC was held on Thursday December 28 under cold, but windless conditions.

55 species were tallied; up from the last-20 year average of 49.7 and reflecting the continuing trend towards higher species counts over the more recent years of this CBC. 55 species is the third highest total in 25 years; 4th highest in all 47 years. Total individuals was 3817, slightly lower than average. No new species were found, leaving the cumulative count total at 120.

Winter finches included 12 Purples, 2 White-winged Crossbills and 16 Common Redpolls. House Finch (including one male counted in the bill of a Northern Shrike!) were back to a low count of 10, after recent better years. Bald Eagle was missed for the first time in 5 years. 2 Golden Eagle confirmed their continuing trend of overwintering in the area. Cooper’s Hawk was absent for the first time in 10 years. Two days after the count Mark Wiercinski called in 3 Eastern Bluebird going in & out of a nest box. Great birds for Count Week! Bluebirds have been recorded on 3 previous counts in 47 years. They’re hardier than they look!

Compiler – Lynne Richardson

House Finch and Northern Shrike (Photo by Ethan Gosnell)

House Finch and Northern Shrike (Photo by Ethan Gosnell)

Results Of the 2017 Kincardine Christmas Bird Count (KCBC) on Friday December 15th. The first ever Baltimore Oriole seen brought the historic 33 year total to 121 species. The Oriole was an anticipated find for it had been eating peanuts at a feeder on the south side of Kincardine for a week prior. Many people are familiar with the Oriole’s beautiful song and orange color during our summer months. Orioles along with most song birds migrate south but on occasion stragglers get left behind.

Here are the complete 2017 Kincardine Christmas Bird Count results. Twenty-two participants counted 2366 individual birds of 51 species. Goldfinch and Juncos were found in greater than usual numbers. Baltimore Oriole was new to the count.

Compiler – James Turland

Subject: Pike Bay and Cape Chin CBC’s – Dec. 29th and 30th, 2017
These two CBC’s cover the central Bruce Peninsula and provide a great snapshot of winter birds present on the peninsula this time of year.
This was the second year the Cape Chin count has been held and Pike Bay just graduated from year 4.
Pike Bay CBC Dec. 29th (known for having Canada’s first Eurasian Tree Sparrow on a CBC!!!)

37 species; 1607 individuals.
Cape Chin CBC Dec. 30th (one of the newest CBC’s in Ontario, with some of the highest verticals – Cabot Head!)
31 species; 907 individuals.
New species for count: Common Grackle (feeder bird)
Winter Finches (combined counts):
Common Redpoll (172)
Pine Siskin (101) – scarce but 1 flock of 100
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 29 and 8. Quite high for the Pike Bay count.
Brown Creeper – just 3, but still a new high for Pike Bay CBC. They are notoriously difficult to find in winter.
Ruffed Grouse – 17 and 6. Smashes the old records. I do think it is a good year for them and that this isn’t just an anomaly.

Compiler – Andrew Keaveney

Tobermory Date: Dec 20, 2017. Participants: 40. Total Species: 41 (average=40).
Total individuals: 1108 (average=1646).
Noteworthy Highs, Lows and Misses:
Wild Turkey: 29. Record high. Wild Turkey was first detected on the Tobermory count in 2008 and the growing numbers on the Peninsula reflect an ongoing increase throughout the Great Lakes area over the past decade.
Eastern Screech-Owl: 4. Tied for the second highest count (four were also detected in 2012). In 2013, seven were recorded (average=0.7).
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 155. A record high (average=41).
Summary: Individual birds were scarce although the species total (41) was close to the 45 year average and up from last year’s tally (36)

Compiler – Michael Butler

The 14th Saugeen Shores Christmas Bird Count took place on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 with 28 people participating and 10 feeder watchers.
We found a total of 3504 individual birds; representing 49 species which is below the average of 53. No species were new to the count so the cumulative total remains at 102 species.

Of interest is an Oregon Junco which was photographed at the same feeder where one was recorded during the 2017 count. Some totals that may be interesting, are Snowy Owl (15), Brown-headed Cowbird (6, high for the count), Common Redpoll (40), American Goldfinch (733, 2nd highest for the count), House Sparrow (3, low for the count).

Compiler – Norah Toth

Nature Club News, October, 2017

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Friday October 6, 2017 and in the Owen Sound Hub on Sunday October 8, 2017.

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists have been able to enjoy several terrific field trips already this season. There were several opportunities to observe, and tag Monarch butterflies as they begin to migrate southward. It certainly looks like we have a bumper crop of them for a change this year. I have heard several individuals referring to more milkweed plants than usual, and it was suggested that the seemingly “extra” rain in the Spring and early summer may have contributed to that “extra” supply of milkweed plants for the butterflies to utilize for their “extra” population growth this year.

Peter Middleton explaining characteristics of a Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis. (Photo by Brian Robin)

Peter Middleton explaining characteristics of a Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis. (Photo by Brian Robin)

Peter Middleton’s two fern Hikes,September 13 and 20, filled to capacity almost right away and Peter reported –

Over the past two weeks “we have shared some remarkable places and habitats so close at hand, yet so far from the city streets a few blocks away. Fortunately the ferns were still in quite good shape and provided a feast of diversity and form. By my count over the two weeks, we observed 26 species and one unique variety. The number is not the important thing, however, but rather the exposure to the diversity of habitats and species that inhabit them. To that end, we started last week in the upland forests above the escarpment. Today, we visited the face of the escarpment, crevices carving through it and the scree slopes below the cliff face, before concluding the outing in rich bottomland forests found close to streams draining the escarpment.

On September 14, the club hosted its first Indoor Meeting of the season, featuring Kerry Jarvis, speaking about Fascinating Pollinators, and the experience of initiating a community project of successfully establishing butterfly gardens in Saugeen Shores. The presentation, which also welcomed many new members, demonstrated how a combination of initiative, research, and volunteerism provides an opportunity to help enhance the habitats and populations of these fascinating pollinators, while at the same time bringing a team spirit and sense of accomplishment. In addition, a short film by Liz Zetlin combined visual images, with music and a narrative story line.

At this meeting the latest version of the OSFN Constitution was ratified, allowing the executive to go ahead and set up more convenient donation options for those who wish to support, financially, the ongoing charitable work of the Club. The website now includes a “Donate” tab, with secure access through Canada Helps, which also generates a receipt for income tax purposes. Donations can also be made in person, at the monthly meetings and via the mail.

On September 17 Bob Gray’s tour of the Colpoys Creek traced the stream which originates in the Purple Valley area, and is gradually captured by karst features, disappearing completely underground and re-appearing as it flows downstream towards Georgian Bay. Features noted included resurgant springs marked by heavy clumps of watercress, later a section of dry streambed, and eventually a small waterfall before it emptied into Colpoys Bay. Bob’s familiarity with the geological features of our area is well known, and he was a key member of the OSFN committee which produced several excellent books, including one on geology. These popular editions are available at Ginger Press.

On September 23, the OSFN partnered with the City, TD, and members of the public to participate in planting of 150 trees in the Kelso Beach Park area to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. This was a very successful venture, which resulted in a team effort to enhance the diversity of trees in that area. Kudos to Adam Parsons and his team from the City, Annette Penning and her team from TD, and Lloyd Lewis whose background with NeighbourWoods in Elora, led him to approach the Owen Sound Field Naturalists a year ago, as a possible umbrella of support for establishing something similar here. We look forward to further developments in this regard, and will share those with you in the future. A very special thank you to all of those from the general public who answered the call, and helped to create this legacy of new “Trees in the City”.

Robert Burcher explaining the economics of John Muir's time. (Photo by Brian Robin)

Robert Burcher explaining the economics of John Muir’s time. (Photo by Brian Robin)

On September 30, Robert Burcher led a tour to the Trout Hollow area of the Bighead River just outside Meaford. OSFN Club member Joe Buchanan reported “We enjoyed a delightful and informative talk and ribbon cutting ceremony held at the Riverside Community Hall followed by a walk-and-talk into Trout Hollow led by local historian (and archeological sleuth) Robert Burcher, all to celebrate the new info-signs locating and describing the mill workings and footsteps of John Muir during his time here. Robert’s enthusiasm is infectious. Although I had walked the area several times, to hear the details while standing in the actual locations was especially refreshing for me. I would also recommend a visit to the Meaford Museum any day as a further source of information re John Muir’s stay in the area.” The OSFN offers our gratitude to the Meaford Museum, and to Ron Knight whose generosity and welcoming hospitality has been key to the success of this historical recognition. Of special note was the opportunity to meet George Trout of Austin, Texas, a direct descendant of the Trout family.

With the floorplan of the original cabin marked out, volunteers demonstrated the tight sleeping arrangements of John Muir and his party. (Photo by Brian Robin)

With the floorplan of the original cabin marked out, volunteers demonstrated the tight sleeping arrangements of John Muir and his party. (Photo by Brian Robin)

This Thanksgiving weekend OSFN also offered two outings – one with Bob Knapp at the Marshall Woods on Saturday morning, and one with Bill Moses at the Inglis falls Arboretum on Monday – visit for more details.

The Young Naturalist programme is ramping up again this fall – with the first activity scheduled for October 29, with Frank and Bonita Johnston – de Matteis with some nature art activities for the youngsters. Details are on the OSFN website. Young Naturalists and their families also have full access to the other regular activities of the club, many of which are very “kid friendly”.

Thursday October 12, OSFN is pleased to present Paul Aird, a life long conservationist, and emeritus professor of history at U of T, and a former member of the NEC board. Paul Aird will be reading some of his ecological fables and nature tales, witty and wise gems that will charm, and stimulate.
Accompanying these stories will be some of the exquisite and distinctive line drawings of Thoreau MacDonald, a prolific artist and naturalist (and son of JEH MacDonald of the Group of Seven) The meeting begins at 7PM in the auditorium of the public library in Owen Sound. Admission is free although donations are welcome.