Nature Club News

Nature Club News, January, 2019

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019


by John Dickson


The December 13 Indoor Meeting of Owen Sound Field Naturalists was very well attended, for John Reaume’s  Spiders of Eastern North America. He featured many of his own superb photographic images along with detailed and entertaining commentary.

Coincidentally, the Royal Ontario Museum has a current exhibition entitled Spiders – Fear and Fascination, still on display but closing January 6.   For more information please visit –

The Owen Sound Young Naturalists Club have a planned outing to the Bognor Marsh on January 20, for snowshoeing, nature sightings, and even some hot chocolate with bannock.

Mmmmmmm Bannock. (Photo by Brian)

Mmmmmmm Bannock. (Photo by Brian)

This entire 2018-19 OSFN season, we are celebrating 30 years of what our motto says – Knowing Nature Better.

One highlight is the Celebrate Earth Day event with Doug Larson’s Songs and Stories of Nature and Ecology. University of Guelph Professor Emeritus Doug Larson was the club’s first guest speaker, in January of 1989. This year he returns on Saturday April 20, 2019, at 2PM, aboard the MS Chi Cheemaun, berthed in Owen Sound harbour, with songs and stories of nature and ecology. In recent years he has also been crafting his own guitars, and these instruments also have tales to tell, some of which are outlined in his book The Storyteller Guitar.

Tickets  (only $5 each)  are now on sale for this 4th Annual Celebrate Earth Day event and are available at Ginger Press, Owen Sound Farmers Market (Saturdays, from Sheila Gunby), OSTC Springmount office, and at OSFN meetings – (Jan 10, Feb 14, March 14). Once again this event is sponsored by Caframo, and is hosted by Owen Sound Transportation. All proceeds are directed to OSFN youth projects. Don’t miss out – tickets are already selling fast.

On Thursday January 10, the OSFN kicks off 2019, with – Bruce Trail: 856 kms of Discovery – featuring Audrey Armstrong and Willy Waterton whose presentation is “based on our end to end hike, with references to science, geology and history all along the Niagara Escarpment with a healthy emphasis on our area. (i.e. black bears, rattlesnakes, ferns and a plane crash!).” The meeting begins at 7PM, in the auditorium of the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

(In addition, Waterton’s evocative photography can also be seen at the Roxy Theatre until January 13, and at a new show at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, opening January 11th – SALT OF THE EARTH: PEOPLE OF GREY & BRUCE COUNTIES.”)


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

Apropos to the season here are a couple of Nature quotes from Knud Rasmussen – “the moon shimmered in the ice crystals, and the trembling arc of northern lights played over the edge of the wood…” and, since we have just received a fresh blanket of new snow here in Grey Bruce overnight, Rasmussen, in Northern Canada, in 1923 also writes ” a glittering carpet of innumerable tiny crystals;  and across it moved the caribou in their hundreds.” 

In recent weeks, Christmas Bird Counts took place in our area and many OSFN members were helping out with these surveys. Here are  excerpts from some of the compilers’ reports:

Owen Sound – December 15 – Compiler Erik Van Den Kieboom reported that although some numbers were down, good sightings included a red morph Eastern Screech Owl, and a Northern Goshawk, along with 14 brown-headed cowbirds, 30 Bohemian waxwings, a Northern shrike, a snowy owl, a Northern flicker, house and purple finches, pine grosbeaks and redpolls.

I was with a team in Harrison Park just after 7AM where we counted an amazing 600 or so mallard ducks arriving steadily in small groups for about 40 minutes, from wherever they had spent the night. I was also fortunate to see a single Bald Eagle, circling high above the Jubilee bridge around midday.


Hanover – Walkerton   Compiler Gerard McNaughton 

The Hanover-Walkerton CBC took place under excellent conditions on Saturday Dec 15, 2018.  There was very little wind which meant birds were easy to detect by call, and once the early fog lifted birds were easy to spot but not concentrated at feeders as in the past few years.
Overall 53 species were detected on the count day itself with 1 additional species found during count week bringing the total to 54 which ties the highest total recorded (2004, 2007, 2012, 2016).

1 species set new high count record       Red–breasted Nuthatch 45 birds (43 in 1999)

3 species tied high counts records          Belted Kingfisher (4 in 1998, 1999), Red-bellied Woodpecker (11 in 2016) and White-throated Sparrow (3 in 1983)

Winter Finches seen included                  Pine Grosbeak (1), Common Redpoll (181), Evening Grosbeak (8)

3 Owl species were recorded                  Eastern Screech Owl (12), Great Horned Owl (1) and Snowy Owl (2)

1 meadowlark species was recorded just outside Walkerton, feeding in a wet grassy area with Starlings (not recorded since 1978)

Notable misses included Wild Turkey not seen on count day but were seen during count week.

Total number of birds seen 6509.
Next Count will take place on Saturday Dec 14, 2019


Jarmo Jalava and Miptoon (Anthony Chegahno), co-compilers report that the eighth annual Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker) Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 15, on the beautiful Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula.

Count weather was spectacular, with sunny skies, light winds, and pleasant temperatures ranging from -3.5C during pre-dawn owling to +3.5C in the afternoon. The waters of Georgian Bay and streams were open, but non-flowing inland waters were generally ice-covered. Fifteen cheerful participants of varying ages and skill-levels tallied a total of 39 species, which is about average for the count. The 1,025 individual birds tallied was considerably higher than the average of 824. Highlights included only the count’s second Redhead and third Common Grackle. No new taxa definable to species were documented, but a very interesting find was a Brewer’s/Rusty Blackbird, which was well-described, but with not quite enough detail to conclusively settle on one species or the other. All-time high counts were tallied for seven species: Bufflehead (68, previous 39, average 21), Ruffed Grouse (25, previous high 9, average 4.2), Horned Grebe (10, previous 8, average 2.1), Barred Owl (2, previous 1, only the second count record), Great Horned Owl (3, equaling previous high, average 1), Hairy Woodpecker (9, previous 8, average 3.1), Pileated Woodpecker (5, previous 3, average 1.2) and Brown Creeper (4, previous 2, average 0.8). The only regularly occurring species for which a low count was recorded was Blue Jay (8, previous 15, average 32.2). This was the first Neyaashiinigmiing CBC with no American Tree Sparrows. House Sparrows have now been absent for five years, down steadily from the 45 individuals reported in 2011. Chi Miigwetch to Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation for hosting this very special birding event, and the always delicious breakfast and dinner feast.


Wiarton CBC Jarmo Jalava compiler The 45th (not quite annual) Wiarton Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 16. Count weather was spectacular, sunny and mild, with little to no wind. Temperatures rose from -1 in the early morning to +5C in the afternoon. The waters of Georgian Bay were open, as were creeks and rivers, but most inland waterbodies were frozen, and the shallows of more sheltered bays of Lake Huron had a thin layer of ice. Twenty-seven enthusiastic participants and three feeder watchers tallied 63 species, tying the all-time high set in 1997, and well above the 45-year average of 48.7 species, and the 10-year average of 52.8. The 4,793 individuals counted was also well above the 45-year (3,436) and 10-year (4,417) averages. One new species for the count was found, Barred Owl. It was heard within the circle shortly after the round-up dinner. Barred Owls are uncommon but widespread residents on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, so it’s a bit surprising it’s taken almost half a century for one to be found on the Wiarton CBC. The bird-of-the-count prize (again) this year has to go to a hardy Winter Wren. Wiarton Winnie? Prior to 2016 there had been but two Winter Wren observations since 1971. Presumably the same individual has now been found at the exact same location for the third year in a row! Other notables included Gadwall (3rd count), Glaucous Gull (5th count), Golden Eagle (2nd count) and White-throated Sparrow (8th count). A presumed “Great Lakes Gull” (Herring X Great Black-backed hybrid), which would be a first for the count, was also found and photographed. Winter finches, most of which have been absent for several years, were represented in low numbers but good diversity, with 27 Pine Siskins, 19 Evening Grosbeaks, 6 Purple Finches, 4 Common Redpolls and 3 Pine Grosbeaks. All-time highs were tallied for Mute Swan (16, previous 13), Bald Eagle (21, previous 17), Red-bellied Woodpecker (9, previous 7) and Common Raven (86, previous 81). Second highest-ever counts were recorded for Long-tailed Duck (65, all-time 71), Red-breasted Nuthatch (52, all-time 54), Brown Creeper (7, all-time 11). No regularly occurring species had record low counts, and there were no notable misses. Thanks to everyone who made it such a memorable day! Jarmo Jalava


Michael Butler & Tricia Stinnissen (co-compilers) for the 46th Tobermory Christmas Bird Count.

Date: December 19th, 2018.

A record high number of participants (56) enjoyed exceptionally mild weather and the usual fine camaraderie. Recent thaws had left very little snow cover allowing for excellent access to the backcountry. Indeed, 13 parties logged a remarkable 103 km (61.5 hours) on foot . Despite the increased coverage of the circle area, most parties reported that birds were scarce and feeders were poorly attended.

Total species: 44 (average=40).

Total individuals: 1243 (average=1637).


  • Trumpeter Swan: 1. Karen Connoy photographed a young swan in Eagle Harbour which, after much consultation, was identified to this species. In the frame of one of her swan photos was a Mallard which proved to be the only one encountered on count day  – all waterfowl were scarce.


  • Bohemian Waxwing: 144. This count is just shy of 1999’s record high of 148.
  • Chipping Sparrow: 1. Only the second record for the count (the first was in 2015).
  • Evening Grosbeak: 104. Only the second occurrence since 2001.


  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: 14 (average=41), down from last year’s record high of 155.
  • Blue Jay: 4 (average=41). This is the lowest number tallied since 1975.
  • Snow Bunting: 1 (average=33).


  • European Starling:  This is only the second time the species went undetected on count day (average=27).


  • European Starling.
  • Swamp Sparrow (2nd record for count period).

Lost and Found: Someone left a black, zippered Mountain Equipment Co-op jacked at the Visitor’s Centre. Email me if it’s yours.

Much gratitude: Many thanks to all who participated in the count or helped out with preparation and clean-up of the delicious breakfast and dinner. Thanks as well to Bill and Judy Caulfeild-Browne for hosting a cozy and tasty pre-count gathering on Tuesday.

47th Tobermory Christmas Bird Count: WednesdayDecember 18, 2019.



Meaford CBC – Lynne Richardson, Compiler 

The 48th annual Meaford CBC was held December 28th in balmy, snowless conditions thanks to a spring-in-December day with temperatures rising to +12; no wind, a bit of sun in the afternoon. Georgian Bay was completely open with no ice-edge and most other water bodies were partially open with barely a skim of ice on still areas.

21 count participants found 55 species, continuing the trend of the past 10 years of totaling over 50 species in the Meaford circle, up from the average of 46 over the previous 30+ years of the count. 55 species ranks 4th highest in the all time totals.

Total individuals was about on average at 3534 birds.

No new species were recorded leaving the cumulative total at 120 species.

Interesting sightings included 14 Brown Creepers foraging together which contributed to a new high for this species, and the only new high for the count.  A tie for high was made by Horned Grebe at 9. Two American Tree Sparrows were a somewhat unusual low. Missing were the Golden Eagle(s) of the past 6 counts.

A Carolina Wren was a count 2nd; 1 Northern Pintail was the count’s 4th ever, and Evening and Pine Grosbeaks put in an appearance for only the 3rd times in the past 14 years.

Thanks to the dedicated participants who so diligently covered the count areas!

Bohemian Waxwings on a wire (Photo by Lynne Richardson)

Bohemian Waxwings on a wire (Photo by Lynne Richardson)


The results from this year’s Pike Bay, (December 29) and Cape Chin (December 30),  Counts are as follows…

Andrew Keaveney, Compiler 

Pike Bay: 17 participants, 39 species + 6 ‘Count Week’ species; most numerous species were Snow Bunting (700), Black-capped Chickadee (261) and Common Redpoll (217); New to the count were Mute Swan (2 at Pike Bay), White-winged Crossbill (1) and Horned Lark (count week). Birds of interest were Hoary Redpoll (1), Pine Grosbeak (6) and White-throated Sparrow (1) at a feeder in Howdenvale. Absent on Count Day were Pileated Woodpecker and Brown Creeper, always difficult to find in the winter months. Count Week produced a flock of over 2000 Snow Buntings and several Lapland Longspurs.

Andrew Keaveney, Compiler 

Cape Chin: 20 participants, 36 species + 3 ‘Count Week’ species; most numerous species were European Starling (327), Black-capped Chickadee (277) and Common Redpoll (171). Appearing for the first time in many winters, 111 Evening Grosbeaks were recorded at a few feeders and they always travel in crowds. One group was even photographed feeding naturally on sumac. The only new species recorded was an immature Northern Goshawk in the Dyer’s Bay area during Count Week. Perhaps the most talked about bird was a Belted Kingfisher found along an open creek by three separate groups, much to their surprise. Another Hoary Redpoll was carefully picked out of a group of more than 100 Common Redpolls and Dyer’s Bay once again produced an excellent number of winter grebes with Horned (25) and Red-necked (12), despite waterfowl being extremely scarce across most counts in the region this winter.

At least 3 Snowy Owls have been present in the count circle areas but only 1 was recorded on the weekend, during Count Day.


Saugeen Shores CBC  Norah Toth, Compiler, 

reports that fifty-five species were recorded by 24 citizen scientists during the Saugeen Shores Christmas Bird Count which was held on Wednesday, January 2, 2019.  This is an average number of species for the count.  The number of individual birds was slightly above the average at 6441.  The fact that Lake Huron remains open and that there is not a lot of snow cover will have contributed to an all time high for the number of Canada Geese seen throughout the day.  The volunteers found the temperatures cold and crisp with clear skies in the morning and snow flurries in the afternoon.

Common Raven vs Snowy Owl (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Common Raven vs Snowy Owl (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Hermit Thrush (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Hermit Thrush (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Northern Shrike (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Northern Shrike (Photo by Bruce Edmunds)

Nature Club News, December, 2018

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

NATURE CLUB NEWS December 2018

by John Dickson

Fred Jazvac (Photo courtesy of Jim Punnet).

Fred Jazvac (Photo courtesy of Jim Punnet).

On Sunday November 4th, on a cool but mostly sunny day, and Fred Jazvac felt that it was perhaps the largest turnout (almost 40 birders, including some from the Bruce Birding Club) in his more than ten years of leading Around the Bay with Fred – Waterfowl ID: Tips and Techniques. And, coincidentally, almost 40 different species were observed and noted during the four to five hours of this annual outing of the Owen sound Field Naturalists. Highlights included 48 Greater White-Fronted Geese, at Leith, and a rare sighting of a Red Phalarope at the East Side Boat Launch plus about 20 various species that are found near water, along with a Bald Eagle and a few songbirds. Having announced that this would be the final time he would lead this event, Fred was given a rousing cheer, and a round of applause, in appreciation.

Scanning for birds. (Photo by John Dickson)

Scanning for birds. (Photo by John Dickson)

On November 8th, in the auditorium of the Public Library, Susan McGowan, Forest Health Technical Specialist for the Midhurst – Aurora Districts, enlightened the audience on her role, in monitoring forests, and reporting her findings on the relative health of trees, including ones threatened by disease, or insect infestations. She shared details of wooded areas right here in Grey Bruce, and farther afield, with details about Beech, Elm, Ash, Spruce, Oak, as well as the cyclical activities of the Forest Tent Caterpillars. There were many questions afterwards, and McGowan invited folks to report cases where healthy specimens are thriving, and could have greater disease resistance, possibly through genetics, and potentially providing a good source of future seedlings. Visit the OSFN website for her contact information as well as a list of online resources related to her talk.

Gypsy Moth Pupa, an invasive defoliator. (Photo by Brian robin)

Gypsy Moth Pupa, an invasive defoliator. (Photo by Brian robin)

On November 25, Brian Robin led the Young Naturalists Club on a field trip at Kinghurst Nature Reserve. His main focus was to show and share information about winter survival for many of the local fauna. Bird nests, Beaver lodges, cavities in trees – all of these were there to be discovered. Robin also brought with him and showed samples of butterfly cocoons, and even a wintering home of a Praying Mantis. Later he pointed out a vernal pool in the middle of forest, where amphibians may be able to find some mud, and where many critters even have a type of anti-freeze component in their bodies. The members of the Young Naturalists Club had many engaging questions questions answered and as one parent, Yulia Belov, reported –
“Thank you so much for the great hike today at Kinghurst! My family and I really enjoyed it! We found it very informative and interesting.”

Cecropia moths spend their winters as pupa tucked inside papery cocoons attached to tree branches. (Photo by Brian Robin)

Cecropia moths spend their winters as pupa tucked inside papery cocoons attached to tree branches. (Photo by Brian Robin)

In the month ahead many members of the OSFN, will be engaged in the annual Christmas Bird Counts. Held every year between December 14th and January 5th, the Christmas Bird Count is one of the the largest citizen science projects.

If you would like to join one of the counts in Grey or Bruce counties, the contact information and dates of the 2018 counts are listed on the OSFN website. If you are outside the area, or would like more general information about the project, head to the Bird Studies Canada Website.

On Thursday December 13, John Reaume, an accomplished wildlife photographer, naturalist, and physician, will present Spiders of Eastern North America. A popular speaker, Reaume states -“Spiders have a bad reputation but in reality these fascinating creatures are very valuable to us and have an amazing life history. Understanding more about spiders will make you appreciate them more – its true!”

John Reaume (Supplied Photo)

John Reaume (Supplied Photo)

The meeting begins at 7PM, in the auditorium of the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library. Admission is free, although donations are welcome.

To close, a couple of nature quotes from our good friend Jake Doherty, recently deceased -“Was it a quick flurry of blowing snow, like a looming northern mirage, or was it perhaps something more primordial, left behind from an earlier time in the ancient forests?” ; “The wind picked up, and a single yellowed, withered leaf twisted, then tumbled to the ground … in the fading autumn -“

Nature Club News, November, 2018

Monday, November 5th, 2018

NATURE CLUB NEWS November 2018

by John Dickson

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists Club has been been bustling along this past month – Bill Moses led a well-attended session of All Things Woody, demonstrating tree identification and seed collecting at the Inglis Falls Arboretum, on October 8.

On October 11, Jenna McGuire gave an illuminating talk about Metis culture in Grey and Bruce. She shared the history of the Metis people in Grey and Bruce, and in the Southampton area particularly, relating to the fur trade and the fishing occupations. She also brought with her many samples of as well as historical photos and documents, plus basketry and clothing, as well as her delicious home made bannock to share at snack time.

Some of Jenna's baskets and historical photos. (Photo by John Dickson)

Some of Jenna’s baskets and historical photos. (Photo by John Dickson)

Bob Gray, while thanking our speaker, also spoke for many in the area, who have been mostly unaware of the Metis presence and activities here in the past two centuries.

Bob Gray thanking Jenna. (Photo by John Dickson)

Bob Gray thanking Jenna. (Photo by John Dickson)

On Saturday October 13 Bob Knapp reprised his popular Marshall Woods Old Growth Forest Hike, exploring the trails along the Rocklyn Creek, near Walter’s Falls. Highlights included a visit with what may be the largest and oldest Eastern White Cedar tree in Ontario. Large, old Yellow Birch trees are also in good numbers there.

On Sunday October 21 Ron Gatis led a tour of trails on his property above (overlooking) Colpoys Bay. OSFN member Lynda Chiotti reported –

Members of Owen Sound Field Naturalists enjoyed a guided walk by Ron Gatis recently on his property at the north end of the village of Colpoy’s Bay. As we proceeded from the fields, still farmed for hay, into the forest, Ron described his family history in the area, dating back to the 1800s. In the forest are trails groomed for cross-country skiing and several side trails and the main Bruce Trail, edging the northern side of Colpoy’s Bay itself. With Jan Pugsley, I took the Whicher Side Trail, which rewarded us with a bounty of tiny late season mushrooms and ferns.

Our thanks to Ron for his generosity!

Throughout October, NeighbourWoods North planned 5 work sessions with volunteers to complete the Hospital Forest Project and to work on the final stages of the “Build a Forest” project, which entailed the planting of over 3000 trees. A cairn marking this historic development was unveiled on October 27th and appreciation was expressed to the group, as the volunteers put some of the finishing touches on this major undertaking, planting, mulching, wrapping and staking trees on the hospital property.

(Photo by John Dickson)

(Photo by John Dickson)

In the afternoon of October 27, the Young Naturalists Club members were given an educational tour of Keppelcroft, by Bill Loney. Highlights included discreetly placed bird nests near the centre of small trees, and the opportunity for youngsters to take home some huge Sycamore leaves as souvenirs. Several varieties of Oak trees are on the site, as well as Beech, Tamarack, Black Cherry, and the heritage apple and crab apple trees from the earliest dwellers on the property. Bill’s engaging personality and efforts to showcase interesting natural features, as well as planting interesting groups of trees as well as other plants and flowers, had the kids full of questions and answers. Loney also makes an effort to commemorate those who have left their mark in the community, with poetry by Archie Campbell, and a Nature trail named after naturalist Norm Fidler.

View from Keppel Croft. (Photo by John Dickson)

View from Keppel Croft. (Photo by John Dickson)

Coming up at 7PM on November 8, the area forest health technician Sue McGowan, of the MNRF, will share the latest information about the forest health conditions in Ontario. Regular monthly Indoor Meetings take place at the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Library auditorium. Admission is free, although donations are welcome, including charitable donations for such club activities, as LEAF (Local, Educational, Action Fund), LBCF Lorraine Brown Conservation Fund primarily for Nature Reserve properties, and NWN – NeighbourWoods North operations.

Susan and Ariel, BBD Plots (supplied photo)

Susan and Ariel, BBD Plots (supplied photo)

Membership and donation details can be obtained in person at the meeting or by visiting and the facebook page.

Birders have been reporting an influx of Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and already a Snowy Owl, along with Juncos, and even Crossbills, migrating into our area.

Those wishing to support the work of the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory can do so by attending the annual fund-raising dinner Saturday November 17, at Stone Tree, with special guest speaker and author, Professor Bridget Stutchbury. Ticket information is available at

To close, I would like to leave you with the poetic “Reflections from Hibou” (by Carol L. Harris and Marie Knapp) that appear on the October page of the Friends of Hibou 2018 calendar. The thoughts expressed herein also apply to the many hikes and bike rides and runs through the bounteous leaves on the forest floor, which I especially enjoy at this time of year. “SHUFFLE THROUGH AUTUMN LEAVES. LISTEN TO THE WIND. FEEL YOUR SENSES AWAKEN.”

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.

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