Category Archives: Nature Club News

Nature Club News, July, 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


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


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


by John Dickson

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


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

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

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

The Northwest Passage (Photo by Willy Waterton)
The Northwest Passage (Photo by Willy Waterton)

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

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

NWN Committee Chair Lloyd Lewis reports that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sonja Ostertag,
Dr. Sonja Ostertag

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information please visit us at and on Facebook.

Nature Club News, February, 2018


by John Dickson

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

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

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

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

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

Photo By Bob Knapp
Photo By Bob Knapp
Photo By Bob Knapp
Photo By Bob Knapp

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

Photo By Bob Knapp
Photo By Bob Knapp

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

Bill and a Young Naturalist (Photo by Brian)
Bill and a Young Naturalist (Photo by Brian)

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

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

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

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

Deer tracks (Photo by Michelle Parkin)
Deer tracks (Photo by Michelle Parkin)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature Club News, January, 2018


by John Dickson

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

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

Angie Littlefield (supplied photo)
Angie Littlefield (supplied photo)

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

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

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

Christmas Bird Counts

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

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

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

Compiler – Erik Van Den Kieboom

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

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

Compiler – Gerard McNaughton

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

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

Compiler – Jarmo Jalava

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

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

Compiler – Jarmo Jalava

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

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

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

Compiler – Lynne Richardson

House Finch and Northern Shrike (Photo by Ethan Gosnell)
House Finch and Northern Shrike (Photo by Ethan Gosnell)

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

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

Compiler – James Turland

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

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

Compiler – Andrew Keaveney

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

Compiler – Michael Butler

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

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

Compiler – Norah Toth

Nature Club News, October, 2017


by John Dickson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature Club News, September, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Wednesday September 13, 2017

Since last month, there have been many Nature Club activities happening in Grey and Bruce Counties.

The Sauble Beach contingent of Piping Plovers had departed by early August, after the most successful year since their return. The Plover Lovers committee and team of monitors had a very successful season, of monitoring and outreach education, including their stimulating Beach Talk speaker series.

On August 19, the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy featured a “Species at Risk Walkabout” with Naturalists Miptoon and Jarmo Jalava.

For several weeks in August the Bruce Birding Club made forays to the Mitchell area to see and study the diverse bird populations in the wetland areas of West Perth.

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists held its first field trips for this new season of 2017-18, by joining in with two of the Monarch tagging days hosted by Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores, an organization dedicated to enhancing the habitat for Monarch and other butterfly species. Formed in the fall of 2014, this organization has engaged in developing habitat sites called pods, along the shores of Lake Huron with an enthusiastic team of volunteers to look after them and many individual butterfly gardens in the residential areas of Southampton and environs. As James Kamstra told us at Kinghurst Butterfly ID event back in July, even then, it was looking like the best year for Monarchs in the last five. In the Southampton area, some properties have been very successful as “roosts”, where butterflies gather to feed and rest while on their journey south. There have been reports of up to five hundred Monarchs in one location there. I too have been noticing many Monarch butterflies working their way south, throughout the area, whether while I was swimming at Sauble Beach with grandchildren, cycling in the Arran Lake area, or running on trails near Tobermory and Dorcas Bay.

At the Monarch tagging event we attended on August 29, Kerry Jarvis and Melitta Smole explained identifying features of Monarchs, male and female, and demonstrated the tagging process, whereby a numbered and recorded lightweight sticker, (an initiative first developed by Canadian Dr. Fred Urquhart in an effort to learn more about the destinations of this iconic species), is carefully attached to a wing. Thereafter, anywhere that butterfly is discovered the origin of its tagging and its eventual final destination can be tabulated, to build on the collected data, from which patterns of travel and interruption can emerge.

Sticky Tofieldia at Petrel point. (Photo by Carol Harris)
Sticky Tofieldia at Petrel point. (Photo by Carol Harris)

OSFN members were also invited to join Botanist Barbara Palmer and members of the Sydenham Bruce Trail Club on Thursday morning, September 7, for a leisurely walk at Petrel Point Nature Reserve to enjoy wildflowers, including lots of asters and goldenrods!

The Owen Sound Field Naturalist Club has already launched its 2017-18 season, sending its Hart’s Tongue Herald newsletter to its membership, and getting started with a flurry of activities in September.

Two separate and complementary September Fern Hikes entitled “Rock Stars of the West Rocks: Ferns in abundance” were filled to capacity with waiting lists, so quickly, that it suggests that OSFN’s popular hike leader and speaker Peter Middleton, is not unlike a Rock Star himself. These opportunities to learn in an outdoor classroom are a special component of OSFN’s programming.

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists Club is getting ready to present its 2017-18 season of speakers and field trips.

Kerry Tagging Monarchs, Sept. 2015 (Photo submitted by Kerry Jarvis)
Kerry Tagging Monarchs, Sept. 2015 (Photo by Melitta Smole)

The OSFN Speaker Series begins this Thursday September 14, with Kerry Jarvis of the “Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores”, and his presentation “Fantastic Pollinators & Where to Find Them”. You are invited to see and hear Kerry Jarvis as he shares the plight of the Monarchs and what one community is doing to attract them, and other pollinators. Discover how you too can lead the way to finding fantastic pollinators! This will take place in the auditorium of the Public Library in Owen Sound. The evening begins at 7PM, and it is recommended to arrive early, if possible. OSFN personnel will be on hand to process membership purchases and renewals as early as 6:30PM. Admission for the evening is free, although donations are welcome.

Peter Middleton leading an earlier fern hike.  (Photo by Carol Harris)
Peter Middleton leading an earlier fern hike. (Photo by Carol Harris)

The club’s Field Trips or “Outings”, will fill up the rest of September with Peter Middleton’s second Fern Hike, and Bob Gray’s field trip to trace a unique watercourse in the area of Colpoy’s Bay, (September 17) and rounding out the month on September 30, is a Trout Hollow Saunter – with Robert Burcher, “Following the Footsteps of John Muir”, near Meaford. The OSFN field trips are splendid opportunities to learn, at first hand, from knowledgeable hike leaders, and are primarily for members, with pre-registration required.

Membership information for mail-in, and/or online membership registration is available at

In addition, OSFN is involved as a partner in a supportive role for two special events – a special tree planting programme being planned by the City of Owen Sound to plant 150 trees, in Celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Here is the information about that for you to get involved in a volunteer capacity for a community event.

The Big Canadian Tree Plant
Planting of 150 trees at Kelso Beach Park, Owen Sound
September 23rd, 10am to 12:30pm

This event will require the help of many volunteers, who can register on the TD website

The second partnering OSFN is doing is in support of the newly created bursary fund for the Outdoor Education Centre’s association to fund bursaries for attending Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Symposiums (OWLS), diversity initiatives and more.

Last year’s October speaker for OSFN, Adam Shoalts, also well known as Canada’s Indiana Jones, in tribute to his northern explorations, mapping, anthropolgy, writing and academics, is returning to Owen Sound. Just last week he completed his mammoth solo summer voyage, crossing norhern Canada by canoe, and portage from the Yukon-Alaska Border, to the mighty Mackenzie River. and all the way east to Baker Lake, a voyage of discovery, research and celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

6:30PM Saturday November 4th is the date and time for his new presentation in the Community Hall in Harrison Park. This special fundraising evening will include special hors d’oeuvres, a trading blanket feature and more.

Tickets are $60. each and can be reserved for you by contacting Deb Diebel at the Outdoor Education Centre, by email at or by telephone at 519-534-2767 or 519-379-0864 (cell) Only 70 tickets will be sold, on a first come first serve basis.

Again, this fundraising event is an initiative of the Outdoor Education Centre and its association of Outdoor Educators, with the supporting partnership of Owen Sound Field Naturalists, and Adam Shoalts’ appearance is generously sponsored by Caframo.

The rest of this season’s Speaker Series provides an eclectic array of topics and themes, ranging from the witty and wise ecological fables of Paul Aird, complemented by the exquisite line drawings of Thoreau MacDonald, to local and national representatives of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Then in December a fascinating look at Tom Thomson the Naturalist (and Artist). In January Peter Middleton returns with a talk to follow up on his fern hikes. Always popular Willy Waterton and Audrey Armstrong will share with us their voyage to the North West passage. Dr. Sonja Ostertag will share her research findings related to the Beluga whale. Popular columnist and bird artist Barry Kent McKay joins us in April. Members night in May features a variety of presenters from the club, and the season finale features a friendly social occasion and potluck dinner followed by Markdale native Ted Armstrong’s up to date presentation on the iconic Woodland Caribou.

In addition there is a plethora of outdoor activities, providing opportunities for learning, and for Knowing Nature Better, our club’s motto.

Nature Club News, August, 2017


by John Dickson

A version of this column appeared in the OS Sun Times on Wednesday August 23, 2017

Although the Owen Sound Field Naturalists had only two scheduled events in July, these two were especially educational. The first was Ontario Nature’s butterfly ID event at Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve, July 16, under the guidance of James Kamstra.

James Kamstra, netting a butterfly for closer inspection.
James Kamstra, netting a butterfly for closer inspection. (Photo by Brian Robin)

At first the weather was threatening, but soon it improved as about thirty attendees were exploring the diverse habitat to see and identify what species were evident. Folks had come from far and wide, to share their love of Nature, and interest in learning more about the species around us.

In addition to butterflies, other species observed included moths, dragonflies, birds, spiders, grasshoppers, as well as the plants on which they were found.
When asked how to determine butterfly versus moth, Kamstra explained that when you watch them flying, moths drop right down quickly, while butterflies “alight'”. Eventually the sun appeared and even more butterflies emerged to be carefully netted and observed at close range for detailed identification features.

For a more comprehensive, and entertaining documentation of this workshop, with superb commentary and photos, please visit OSFN director Brian Robin’s website at

To quote Brian ” All in all a great way to spend a morning – a knowledgeable guide, a flourishing meadow – it was the first time several of the attendees had visited Kinghurst – and a big thanks to James Kamstra and Ontario Nature for putting on this event”

Just a few days later, on July 20, one of our favourite speakers from last season returned to host a workshop on Freshwater Mussels. Dr.Todd Morris’s presentation last September resulted in a curiosity to know more about these fascinating creatures in our local waters. As a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada he conducts surveys to monitor the species at risk in the waters of much of Ontario.

A preliminary introduction to mussels by Dr. Morris as his staff and summer students look on. (Photo by Brian Robin)
A preliminary introduction to mussels by Dr. Morris as his staff and summer students look on. (Photo by Brian Robin)

This hands-on workshop was held at a site in the Saugeen River watershed, where a previous survey had been done in 2006. Optical devices made to observe the stream bed enabled the participants to see quite clearly the outlines of various mussel species in the substrate below the water. Then these were gathered and kept in mesh bags attached to the technicians, so the mussels would stay safely in the water until they were removed briefly for examination, identification, and documentation, before being returned to the safety of their underwater habitat.

Here is an excerpt from the stated results from the survey done this year, submitted to us by Dr. Morris,
” in 2006 we found 6 live species at the site. During our visit this summer we found live animals from 8 species – all of the species known from the watershed.

Species found in 2017

Elktoe Alasmidonta marginata
Slippershell Alasmidonta viridis
Spike Elliptio dilatata
Plain Pocketbook Lampsilis cardium
Fatmucket Lampsilis siliquoidea
Flutedshell Lasmigona costata
Creeper Strophitus undulatus
Rainbow Villosa iris (Special Concern)

The site was still dominated by Elliptio dilatata as it was in 2006 but despite the high waters it appears that the mussel community is still doing quite well at the site.”

Part of the day's Spike collection. All living specimens were carefully kept underwater before being returned to the river. (Photo by Brian Robin)
Part of the day’s Spike collection. All living specimens were carefully kept underwater before being returned to the river.
(Photo by Brian Robin)

Participating in this illuminating workshop were several employees, and summer students, under Dr. Morris’ supervision. Attending local naturalists were from the Owen Sound Field Naturalists with guests from Saugeen Nature, Bruce National Park, and Waterloo Region Nature.

If you’re interested in learning more about freshwater mussels, head to or look for the free “Clam Counter” app, available for Android and iOS, which lets you report your own sightings.

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists Club is getting ready to present its 2017-18 season of speakers and field trips.

The OSFN speaker series begins on Thursday September 14, with Kerry Jarvis of the “Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores”, and his presentation “Fantastic Pollinators & Where to Find Them”. You are invited to see and hear Kerry Jarvis as he shares the plight of the Monarchs and what one community is doing to attract them, and other pollinators. Discover how you too can lead the way to finding fantastic pollinators! This will take place in the auditorium of the Public Library in Owen Sound. The evening begins at 7PM, and it is recommended to arrive early, if possible. OSFN personnel will be on hand to process membership purchases and renewals as early as 6:30PM. Admission for the evening is free, although donations are welcome.

The club’s Field Trips or “Outings”, will fill up the rest of September with a Monarch tagging event, Sept.2, two complementary Fern Hikes (Septmeber 13, 20), led by Peter Middleton, a field trip to trace a unique watercourse in the area of Colpoy’s Bay, (September 17) led by Bob Gray, and rounding out the month on September 30, is a Trout Hollow Saunter – with Robert Burcher, “Following the Footsteps of John Muir”, near Meaford. The OSFN field trips are splendid opportunities to learn, at first hand, from knowledgeable hike leaders, and are primarily for members, with pre-registration required.

Membership information for mail-in, and/or online membership registration is available at

For more information please visit

In addition, OSFN is also involved in a supportive role with a special tree planting programme being planned by the City of Owen Sound to plant 150 trees, in Celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Here is the information about that for you to get involved in a volunteer capacity for a community event.

The Big Canadian Tree Plant
Planting of 150 trees at Kelso Beach Park, Owen Sound
September 23rd, 10am to 12:30pm

This event will require the help of many volunteers who can register here –
Please register on the TD website below

Nature Club News, July, 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.