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