Nature Club News

Nature Club News, July, 2017

Monday, July 24th, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Friday July 14, 2017

The month of June had the Owen Sound Field Naturalists on field trips all over Grey and Bruce Counties. Many OSFN members were taking part in and/or volunteering to help stage the 2017 Huron Fringe Birding Festival. Some were also helping to monitor the Piping Plovers that had returned to spend their summer here, to raise their families.

On Thursday June 8, President Kate McLaren welcomed everyone to the Club’s annual potluck supper at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Even the guest speaker Dr. Larry Peterson, of the University of Guelph, brought a favourite dish to share. President Kate McLaren, then chaired the AGM, which concluded with the presentation of the OSFN Community Conservation Award. The President called on Krista McKee to present this award to Bill Moses in recognition of: “. . . your ongoing support of the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, the Bruce Trail Club, the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority Inglis Falls Arboretum and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, through your long-time volunteering, stewarding and writing; your related promotion of the planting and preservation of native plants, and your dedication to guiding the completion and publication of The Vascular Plants of the Bruce Peninsula.”

Dr. Peterson’s talk about ” The fascinating Biology of Orchids”, really did bring a new awareness for the audience of the diversity of not only the floral forms of the orchids themselves, but also pollination mechanisms, associations with beneficial fungi, and some of the successful adaptations to a wide range of terrestrial habitats. Several club members have followed up with Dr. Peterson with further questions since his presentation.

Sunday June 11, Lynne Richardson led a troupe of birders through the Loree trails to discover Field & Forest Birds of the Blue Mountains. Lynne explained how the area is changing, and the field area at the trail entrance is filling in with trees, and fewer grassland birds are to be found there, than in the past. In the woods though many typical forest birds were evident, including the ubiquitous red-eyed vireo. Close observation revealed one of their distinctive nests, woven and hanging along a branch, only about 15 feet off the ground. Soon after, a woodpecker was seen flying past, with its unique flying style. Once it landed it was identified as a yellow bellied sapsucker. The surprise though, was that a ruby throated hummingbird was following everywhere the sapsucker went, as if it was taking advantage of fresh holes in tree trunks left by the larger bird, to check for some nutritious sap for itself. Other highlights included a fleeting glimpse of a red headed woodpecker, and and indigo bunting which posed in the sun for leisurely viewing and for photos.

Chris Rickard and a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (photo by John Dickson)

Chris Rickard and a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (photo by John Dickson)

Wednesday June 14, Chris Rickard led a hike entitled Butterflies of Bognor Marsh. At first few species were evident, but soon afterwards, more and more species were observed and carefully netted for closer observation. Of special note was a small tree stalk, leaking sap, to which several varieties of butterflies were attracted. These included the Mourning Cloak, and the Red Admiral. Other butterflies observed included the Summer Azure, Hobomok Skipper, the Silvery Blue, plus both the Canadian and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

On Friday June 23rd, the OSFN members were invited to Saugeen Valley Lookout – A Tour of Nels Maher and John Weir’s Fern Garden and 40 Acre Naturalized Property, also the home farm property of Jean Maher (Weir) northeast of Durham. However, the day commenced with a moment of silence and contemplation, to honour the memory of esteemed and popular OSFN director and former President, Freeman Boyd had passed away suddenly, early the day before.

This diverse habitat of woodlands, fields and wetlands, is a showcase for naturalists, and a welcome home for many species of flora and fauna. Of special note were the fern garden with its screen canopy, to offer enhanced lighting conditions. The Maher family, with much appreciated help from the wider community, were able to salvage and clean up many areas of the farm, which were severely damaged by the deadly tornado that swept through the Durham area. Those in attendance were led on two separate educational tours of the property by Brian and Clare Maher, both sons of Jean and the late Nels Maher. The weather cooperated for a sunny picnic, which was enhanced by the special luncheon treats of fiddleheads, prepared and served, to perfection. The hospitality of the hosts was very much appreciated.

Showy lady slipper orchids (photo by Brian Maher)

Showy lady slipper orchids (photo by Brian Maher)

Upcoming activities include Ontario Nature’s butterfly ID workshop on Sunday July 16, at Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve. Then on Thursday July 20, OSFN members can get some hands on experience with last September’s popular speaker Todd Morris, who is returning to our area for a Freshwater Mussel Field Trip.

Even though the Owen Sound Field Naturalists have fewer formal activities and events in the summer months, many members are busy exploring and observing the various changes in nature that take place in the wetlands, trees, grasses and in the skies. It is also a good time to sign up or renew memberships, and to consider youngsters who may be able to join up with our Young Naturalist programme, which starts up again in September. There is also a good opportunity to learn from the Club’s many superb publications available at the Ginger Press.

Nature Club News, June, 2017

Thursday, July 13th, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Wednesday, June 10, 2017

This Spring we are delighted that we have been able to offer even more field trips with some new hike leaders in different areas across this region.

On Tuesday May 9, life-long naturalist Stew Hilts led a delightful saunter along the Mac Kirk Side Trail on Old Baldy, overlooking the Beaver Valley. This Wildflower Walk drew folks from as far away as Owen Sound and Barrie, and a plethora of Spring flowers were in bloom or soon would be. These included the blossoms on Pin Cherry trees, Spring Beauty, Dogtooth Violet or Yellow Trout Lily, both red and white Trilliums, Dutchman’s Breeches, Canada Violets and many other flora, along with an abundance of Elderberry bushes opening into flower throughout the higher sections of hardwood forest. Several bird species were noted, including a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, and Nashville warbler. Many photographers in the group also took advantage of the panoramic opportunities presented by the various promontories. Hike leader Stew Hilts, also shared his knowledge of the geology of the Beaver Valley, and the Niagara Escarpment, on which we were standing. Stew also maintains an active blog, and you can read more about this hike at Seasons in the Valley.

Stew Hilts (on right) and the Old Bald Wildflower Hike participants.

Stew Hilts (on right) and the Old Bald Wildflower Hike participants(submitted by Dennis Knight).

On Thursday May 11, even the couple from Barrie, joined us in Owen Sound for Walter Muma’s much anticipated presentation – Wildflowers of Ontario. In spite of several club members being away at Point Pelee, there was a large audience on hand to see and hear Walter with his enthusiasm for finding and learning about the nature around us. Through his superb photos, and his congenial personality he certainly delivered on his promise to take us on a journey through the botany that enriches our province, from the rare to the unusual to the common, across many habitats. And yes, many did indeed leave with an enhanced appreciation and knowledge of Ontario’s flora.

The very next day found club members on a field trip entitled – Spring Bounty – the birds, bees and everything in between – co-led by Esme Batten and Anthony Chegahno, at the Shining Rainbow Deer Nature Reserve. One plant showcased in this pavement alvar habitat, was the Hill’s Thistle, introduced to us the evening before by Walter in his presentation. Other highlights included various sedges, Dwarf Lake Primrose, Twin Flower, Balsam Ragwort with a lovely yellow flower, and the shrubs Ninebark, and Creeping Juniper. There was a lovely slide past by a beautiful ribbon snake, complemented by the fly past of two Bald Eagles, and a brand new boardwalk carried us out over a part of the wetland to see a Great Blue Heron, Tree Swallows, and Yellow-Rumped Warblers, plus hear the complex and lyrical song of a winter wren. Esme’s comprehensive work with the Nature Conservancy Canada is making a strong impact in the area and this is her second field trip for the OSFN this year. Anthony Chegahno also shared with us several insights from his First Nation heritage, in regard to edible foods, and of the roles our fellow creatures play, in that enriched understanding of this world we all care so much for.

Beth Anne Currie turning the screws on a bird box (submitted by Donna Giesler)

Beth Anne Currie turning the screws on a bird box (submitted by Donna Giesler)

On Thursday, May 18, Beth Anne Currie led club members for some Grassland Birding to habitats where sightings of several species could be found. These included Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Kingbirds Savannah Sparrows, and Eastern Bluebirds. The earlier strong winds lessened somewhat so that the sounds of some birds were also evident, even if not seen, including the Upland Sandpiper. A rare sighting indeed was a family of ravens with several young in the nest.

On Sunday May 28, The Owen Sound young Naturalist Club had its final outing of the season, at the Bognor Marsh, guided by Krista McKee of Grey Sauble Conservation. Soon the youngsters were learning about the various amphibians and reptiles – identifying which types of frogs were on hand, followed by crayfish, and snakes, and snails. Not only did the Young Naturalists get some first hand knowledge of these various lifeforms, from baby water snakes and frogs, to full sized ones, but they and their parents made some new friends too.

Basking Water Snake

Basking Water Snake, Bognor Marsh (submitted by John Dickson).

Young Field Naturalists with dip nets (submitted by Krista Mckee).

Young Field Naturalists with dip nets (submitted by Krista Mckee).

This Thursday June 8, is the final club meeting of the season, to be held in the Hall, of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on 1st Ave East, by the Sydenham River, featuring a potluck dinner which starts at 6PM. If planning to attend, please bring your own plates, cutlery and cup or mug, and bring a food dish to share, along with serving utensils.

This will be followed by a brief Annual General Meeting, and then the featured presentation, by Dr. Larry Peterson, of the University of Guelph – The Fascinating Biology of Orchids. Topics will include pollination mechanisms, associations with beneficial fungi, adaptations to a wide range of terrestrial habitats and the success of this group as epiphytes. The amazing diversity in floral forms has led to a multi-million dollar horticultural industry, but has also resulted in many orchid species being poached from the wild. Because of this, and destruction of habitats, over 300 species are listed as endangered or threatened.

Admission is free. Donations are welcome. These club meetings are excellent opportunities for you to see how the club operates, and have some delicious refreshments, while socializing with others interested in Nature. Students are especially welcome. Above all, these gatherings are for learning and Knowing Nature Better.

Nature Club News, May, 2017

Sunday, May 28th, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Wednesday May 10, 2017

April was a very busy month for the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Thankfully the weather was warm and sunny for most of the many outdoor activities.

On April 13, kick-starting two weeks of Earth Day celebrations, Robert Burcher of Meaford, enhanced our knowledge of John Muir, who had spent a couple of years in our environs, botanizing, and exploring, before returning to the USA after the Civil War was over, and where he later was the driving force behind the notion of creating and preserving National Parks there.

One intriguing result of Burcher’s research is the discovery that Muir likely scouted some of the same Niagara Escarpment route that, 100 years later, was followed by Robert Bateman and his friends in establishing what would become the Bruce Trail. OSFN Club members will be invited to join Robert Burcher in September for an in-depth exploration of John Muir’s activities near Meaford.

A find from the Kemble Mountain hike. Submitted by Donna Giesler

A find from the Kemble Mountain hike. (Submitted by Donna Giesler)

On Wednesday April 20, Bob and Marie Knapp led a superb Nature Ramble, skirting a beautiful wetland near Kemble Mountain, where Nature’s diversity was evident. A spectacular section of the Bruce Trail near there featured luxuriously thick blankets of moss on limestone walls, caves and crevices, with snow still in some of them. There was a wide variety of trees, many stone bridges over crevices, and even a garter snake sunning itself along the trail there.

Saturday morning, Earth Day – was sunny and warm for a ramble along the rail trail from Benallen. Birds and butterflies, a beaver,frogs, along with many tree species were there for discovery and learning. Just-opening Spring flowers, plants, and camaraderie were all enjoyed by the thirty or so, who joined the OSFN in celebrating Earth Day, with its motto – Knowing Nature Better.

In the afternoon of April 22, the Owen Sound Field Naturalists hosted a celebration of both Earth Day and Canada 150. Professor of Environmental History Dr. Alan MacEachern’s keynote address, the Dominion of Nature traced some of Canadians attitudes and actions toward the environment from 1867 to 2017. A prolific author and columnist, he had also met with local high school students the day before, to share some of these perspectives on Canada’s environmental history.

Alan MacEachern and Kate McLaren

Alan MacEachern and Kate McLaren. (Submitted by Dennis Knight)

MacEachern explained that he was drawn to this field of study because, early on, he became aware that Nature was often left out of our historical documentation. Later he was able to rescue from disposal, the hand written records from meteorologists, with their extra notes in the margins, and ensured their permanent availability for research, by arranging their deposit in the archives at Western University. His visual displays, which included early and current images from Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Prairies and Banff, plus the many questions from the audience rounded out the presentation.

OSFN extends sincere gratitude to the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 6 staff and volunteers, for their warm hospitality, and delicious refreshments. Proceeds from this event, which was once more generously sponsored by Caframo, will be directed to OSFN’s Youth Programmes, sponsoring one local high school student to attend the Ontario Nature Youth Summit, held at Geneva Park in September.

On Saturday April 29, OSFN member and volunteer, Bill Moses led a tour of the Inglis Falls Arboretum, with a group of keen naturalists, who engaged him with plenty of good questions and much discussion. This field trip involved first touring the propagation area, followed by the one kilometre section of native trees and shrubs. and then the “trees of the world” area. Topics discussed included collection of seeds; propagation techniques; tree and shrub identification; the state of our ecosystems; native vs. non-native plants – pros and cons; as well as diseases affecting these trees – Elm, Ash, Beech, Butternut, and American Chestnut.

Bill has also let us know that, this year, if there is enough interest, the Arboretum Alliance will be having weekly Arboretum tours. Time and day of week to be determined. People could bring woody plant material to be identified and so on. To find out more, you may contact Bill Moses at

On the same day, the Directors of the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, hosted a meeting of other Naturalist Clubs in our Great Lakes West Region. Representatives were on hand from Stratford, Guelph, Waterloo Region, the Saugeen Club, Goderich area and the Upper Credit River area.

Held in Harrison Park’s Community Hall, the Owen Sound Club provided warm hospitality, while Willy Waterton kept a welcoming fire in the fireplace. These regional meetings, held twice each year, provide an opportunity to network and build friendships with other club members, while learning from each other. In addition to sharing highlights from each club’s recent activities, special delegations were welcomed by Coordinator Lisa Richardson, of Ontario Nature. Popular local naturalist, Beth Anne Currie presented a comprehensive overview of the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, and Dan Reilly of Canadian Wildlife Services explained about a new ebird campaign to find and preserve early birding reports to incorporate into the body of data that is currently available. Both presentations prompted insightful questions and discussion. The meeting was capped off with a photography clinic by Willy Waterton and a hike to Weaver’s Creek Falls, before all headed for home. Special thanks go to Audrey Armstrong, in her new role as liaison between Ontario Nature, and OSFN.

Willy Waterton dispensing photography tips before  the hike. (Submitted by Brian Robin)

Willy Waterton dispensing photography tips before the hike. (Submitted by Brian Robin)

Finally thwarted by inclement weather, the Young Naturalists Club postponed their planned April 30 hike to Inglis Falls until May 7, and got to learn about tree species identification, some of the local ferns, along with both red and white Trilliums, elderberry, and wild ginger. They also got to see some waterfowl at Inglis Falls Conservation Area.

Over the next two months the OSFN has many field trips, for learning about – butterflies, grassland birds; freshwater mussels, as well as snakes and reptiles. Please visit for more details. Club memberships can also be purchased online, to carry you all through next season.

Due to a last-minute change in plans for the previously scheduled speaker, the OSFN has had to change the topic and speaker for this Thursday, 7PM on May 11. We are, however, delighted to announce that Walter Muma will share with us his much anticipated presentation “Wildflowers of Ontario”. Walter, recognized as a leading botanist of North America will show us how Ontario is home to a diverse array of wildflowers. Don’t miss this special programme at the Public Library in Owen Sound, as Walter takes us on a journey through the botany that enriches our province, from the rare to the unusual to the common, across many habitats. You will leave with an enhanced appreciation and knowledge of Ontario’s flora.

Admission is free. Donations are welcome. These club meetings are excellent opportunities for you to see how the club operates, and have some delicious refreshments, while socializing with others interested in Nature. Students are especially welcome. Above all, these gatherings are for learning and Knowing Nature Better.