Nature Club News December 2020

by John Dickson

The energetic team of volunteers at Friends of Hibou are producing a terrific newsletter, and offering a series of five guided/themed winter hikes (wearing snowshoes may be advised) on the Interpretive Trails at Hibou Conservation Area. In fact, there are three scheduled within the next month – led by Annette Patrick 1-3PM on December 15; Krista McKee at 2PM December 31 for a New Year’s Eve special featuring a cooking fire for bannock and hot chocolate; followed by Bob Knapp on January 12, 1-3PM. You must register in advance for these events and adhere to Public Health guidelines. To learn more about this club, and to receive their engaging newsletter please visit

Area birders are still being treated with highlight sightings of wintertime visitors that include Bohemian Waxwings, Evening Grosbeaks, Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, a Tufted Titmouse, Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, Common and Hoary Redpolls, Snowy Owls, Barred Owls and even more. Just in the past two weeks Short-eared Owls have been observed both on the Saugeen Peninsula, and in Georgian Bluffs.

Female Pine Grosebeak, Renee Anderson, Owen Sound, December 7, 2020

On November 26, after seeing his third Gyrfalcon of 2020, Kiah Jasper reported “The next highlight of the day came in the form of two Short-eared Owls that flew in front of me on a quiet concession road. These birds were found the previous morning by Robert Taylor and Anne-Marie Benedict and they seemed to be sticking around. I checked that evening at sunset and had 7 Short-eareds, which I believe is a high count for Bruce County. ” Later, while scanning many waterfowl, Kiah added -“a small bird that was bobbing around in the water caught my attention ~ a Red Phalarope! Reds are rare in southern Ontario, with a few birds seen each fall along shorelines and in lagoons.”

Short-eared Owl in very misty conditions. Photo by Kiah Jasper

Jarmo Jalava and Tony Chegahno led an Owl Prowl event for Owen Sound Field Naturalists (OSFN) on November 29, which featured several of those same beautiful Short-eared Owls, swooping low as they hunted over a meadow. There were also good views of Rough-legged Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a bounty of Snow Buntings. Jarmo’s joyful exuberance at seeing these magnificent owls was contagious, and I think I have now caught that bug myself. I am rather envious of Tracy Fidler, who recently saw one in Georgian Bluffs. Jarmo also provided this eloquent commentary -“It’s always a thrill to see these rather mysterious crepuscular creatures fluttering moth-like over the fields in the waning light in search of prey.  I have no doubt there are several Short-eared Owls lingering on the Peninsula this autumn because of an exceptional abundance of mice and voles.  Rough-legged Hawk numbers also seem higher than normal.”  

Rough-legged Hawk December 6, by Nigel Eves

In Owen Sound harbour, one particular male Barrow’s Goldeneye has been seen in recent years, and again this past week by Erik Van Den Kieboom, and David Turner, as well as by Nigel Eves, members of the Beaver Valley Birding Club. This uncommon specimen was seen swimming amongst the Common Goldeneyes that are observed regularly.

Barrow’s Goldeneye December 6, photo by David Turner
Never take the beauty of a Mallard for granted. David Turner – December 8

This Thursday, at 7PM, OSFN also presents Geology in the age of LiDAR: What new technology is telling us about Canada’s last great ice sheets, with the return of guest speaker Dr. Nick Eyles, award-winning geologist, author and popular guest host on a series of Geology themed shows in David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things. I happened across two of his many books, Ontario Rocks and Canada Rocks (co-written) last winter, and found them to be filled with so much stimulating information that I invited him to join us this season, to give us an update in his exciting field of study.Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology is the key to autonomous driving and is also changing how the science of geology is done, by allowing mapping of the earth’s surface in unprecedented detail. This event will be shared on ZOOM, followed by a Q&A with Eyles. To learn more about this talk and Eyles himself, please visit

I just learned of the recent passing of Gwen Lewington, who along with her husband Dennis, made a tremendous contribution to the Eastern Bluebird recovery programmes, by installing and monitoring many nesting boxes, from which over 3000 birds were successfully fledged. They also donated property to Ontario Nature, creating the Sauble Dunes Nature Reserve, and were the recipients of the OSFN Community Conservation Award. We extend our sincere condolences to Dennis, family, and friends. Notes of sympathy and condolence may be made at

Pam Binnendyk shared with the Bruce Birding Club “I had an exciting afternoon Nov. 26. Crows just off my deck were making such a racket. Upon watching for a few moments 3 crows had assembled and were very agitated. I checked the area for predators expecting to see a Cooper Hawk as Kiah had spotted one near my feeders a day before. Not seeing anything in the trees, I stepped out onto the deck to check the ground area and a large bird flew out from the bottom branches of a hemlock adjacent to the deck. It flew maybe 50 ft. with crows hot on his trail and landed again. Got my binoculars out and was astonished to see a Barred Owl. I was so thrilled…  It was in heavy underbrush trees but I managed to get one pretty good shot. It was not in any hurry to leave.  After 24 years living in the bush only the 2nd time I’ve been fortunate enough to see one. Heard them more often but the visual is amazing. I have some very well fed squirrels that it may have been eying up. The Tufted Titmouse is also still here regularly at the feeders.” 

Barred Owl, Nov 26th (Photo by Pam Binnendyk)

Bob Bowles, formerly from the Markdale area, announced on November 30 “My focus for October and November has been on lichens and making a species list for a new property on Carden Alvar which is now up to 50 confirmed species after six visits. This weekend a visit was made to Bowles Alvar North to observe lichen species and compare lichens at this location to the specimens from the Carden site. I found an intact mammal skull at the location so took time out from lichen studies to key out the mammal species. This species has now been added to my growing collection of mammal skulls…..along with fisher, raccoon and squirrel skulls, and I will use it for the mammal module of the on-line winter class which is now full and starts in January of the Ontario Master Naturalist Certificate Program. We are starting a waiting list for the spring program.”

Coming up from December 14, 2020 to January 5, 2021 are the annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) and here is a link to help you find CBC  information throughout Canada

Due to COVID-19, volunteers need to be mindful of Public Health safety guidelines and to avoid travelling here from other locales, as they may have done in the past, to minimize the risks of spreading the virus. 

 Thursday, December 17, 2020 – Kincardine Christmas Bird Count – James Turland –

Saturday, December 19, 2020 – Owen Sound Christmas Bird Count – Erik Van Den Kieboom –
Saturday, December 19, 2020 – Hanover/Walkerton Christmas Bird Count – Gerard McNaughton—
Sunday, December 20, 2020 – Wiarton Christmas Bird Count – Jarmo Jalava –
Monday, December 28, 2020 – Meaford Christmas Bird Count – Lynne Richardson –
Tuesday, December 29, 2020 – Pike Bay Christmas Bird Count & 
Wednesday, December 30, 2020 – Cape Chin Christmas Bird Count – Andrew Keaveney –
Monday, January 4, 2021 – Saugeen Shores Christmas Bird Count – Kiah Jasper –

Northern Cardinal at Kelso Beach December 6 – Photo by Erik Van Den Kieboom

Red Fox photo by David Turner, December 8

In addition to the birds that have been observed lately, the snow has facilitated the discovery of evidence to note the activities of other wildlife. I have been seeing tracks from mice, deer, and even those of a healthy red fox, which I had seen hunting in the moonlight a couple of nights previous. 

Fox Crossing. I spotted this one in the ditch and backed up to get a picture and let the kids see him….and he walked in front of the car and then jumped about 4 feet in the air into the trees (by Marsha Courtney November 29, Georgian Bluffs)

Many area naturalists have been engaging in various campaigns to combat climate change, protect water quality along with various habitats and features, including sand dunes with their ecosystems, trees that are threatened by invasive insects,  wetlands from destruction through development or by European Phragmites, woodlands and meadows that are filling in with Dog-strangling Vine, Garlic Mustard, Wild Chervil, or Buckthorn, and campaigns to protect organizations that are threatened by underfunding and downgrading of their functions. An aspect that concerns me greatly is how these changes in both policy and practice may impact students who are pursuing studies and research, hoping to have careers in the natural sciences for their love of Nature, and how disheartened and depressed these students, and indeed current employees, could easily be, facing the seemingly steady onslaught of challenges our society places before them. Kudos to these students, and staff, plus all those who are taking a stand on these issues for the benefit of the planet and its inhabitants, human and non-human.

To close, a Nature quote from Raymond Massey’s When I was Young -“It was the first part of 1901, a grey winter morning, it is snowing with big dry flakes…The sound of the sleigh bells was lovely, especially when it burst through the strange silence that falling snow brings.”

Another visitor to the feeders on this snowy day…Tree Sparrow. I only see them here in the winter months. Photo By Carol L. Edwards.