Nature Club News October 2020

by John Dickson

Two years ago, I learned of, and witnessed for the first time, the phenomenon called murmuration that has been taking place in the town of Meaford in recent Septembers. This year, on September 20, I was delighted once more to observe, first hand, this amazing display put on by black birds – both Starlings and Grackles, I believe.

On many evenings just at dusk, (and apparently in the mornings too, just before sunrise) these birds begin to gather and create larger and larger flocks, flying to and fro and then settling into treetops for a breather. Then they take off again, flying into swirling patterns and shapes, and in Peter Middleton’s words “the flocks coalesce to form the undulating and pulsating skeins that are the hallmarks of murmurations.” 

Meaford Murmurations (John Dickson)
Meaford Murmurations (John Dickson)
Meaford Murmurations (John Dickson)

Several times I saw large flocks speeding towards each other and then suddenly veering off to avoid a great collision. Even though my visit this year did not coincide with the very best displays, I did see cohesive formations and visual evidence of their creativity, all the while hearing the wings and the excitement of a close to one thousand-voice avian choir as they provided a wonderful half hour of entertainment, for myself, and another couple I know, who had stopped by for the evening show.  For me, the extra bonus of this lovely evening was the light show of these black birds taking on a crimson hue, and some gulls that appeared golden as they flew by, bathed in the light of the setting sun. Then, almost as if a curtain had descended at the end of a play or concert, the performers disappeared into the trees for the rest of the night.  I am already anticipating a repeat performance next September.

The NeighbourWoods North team is very busy planting more trees this month along sections of the Healing Path, and in the Forest of Hope and Healing on the site of the Hospital in Owen Sound. Plans for the Healing Path are well under way, with guidance and input from professional trail developer Zane Davies. It is really exciting to see these ideas become realities. I have been exploring the Healing Path and the Forest all year when I have been out for a run or a bike ride. Just this morning I was checking some of the new trees planted this past week, and was delighted by the variety – one highlight being a Lilac.

Healing Path (John Dickson)
Healing Path (John Dickson)

When I spoke with Lloyd Lewis and Gord Edwards on site there last Friday, I also learned of a pollinator garden to be developed, which will complement the beautiful Welcoming Garden located in front of the Hospital. This gem has had even more specimens added recently, and is still presenting new displays of floral beauty and design almost every other week as different blossoms open to add to the colourful palette. One of my favourites has been the Russian Sage, with its lovely purple hues. To learn more about these developments, please visit

Welcoming Garden (John Dickson)
Welcoming Garden (John Dickson)

The Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory has been a recent stopover for Golden Crowned Kinglets and a rarely observed Lapland Longspur. On September 27, Station Scientist Stéphane Menu also observed three young Peregrine Falcons, frolicking in the strong wind and practicing their attack runs. One Belted Kingfisher dove sharply into the water to escape sharp talons and many small songbirds used last-minute sharp turns to evade the fast approaching falcons, who cannot turn as quickly. To learn more visit

The garden is alive with newly fledged American Goldfinches being fed by their attentive parents. The sweet sound of their calls heralds yet another end of summer.
American Goldfinches nest late in the season to take advantage of the abundance of available seeds.

by Carol Edwards, September 27
With many of the birds now gone to their southern homes, it leaves more “space” to notice those birds that I haven’t seen since early summer: the female Eastern Towhee. (Not that I have seen a flock of Eastern Towhees, but did you know that in a group they are called either a “teapot” or a “tangle”?)

by Ingrid Remkins, October 3, near Kimberley

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists (OSFN) are continuing to offer learning opportunities through monthly Zoom meetings, and through field trips held with careful attention to public health safety guidelines. In September Jenna McGuire delivered a superb webinar on the Life of Fungi, and then led a small group on an outing entitled Ferns, Mosses and Geology, that also included some distinctive Fungi. Marsha Courtney shared this comment  “Jenna really knows her stuff….all the names in Latin as well, just roll off her tongue. So passionate that it’s infectious to enjoy it all with her.”  

Jenna in the field (Photo by Marsha Courtney)
Marginal Wood Fern (Photo by Marsha Courtney)

In addition, two field trips to Anglesea in the Klondike Hills southwest of Chatsworth featured Nature’s bounty – a Fern Gully, large Butternut trees, plus two very large puffballs, and host Don Rawls gave a vivid description of the property’s history, including the operation of a lime kiln built into the side of a hill.David Morris, who worked in the Agriculture industry, has recently led several outings featuring many flora specimens to be found locally. At 7PM on October 8, Morris will present a webinar entitled Resident Aliens, and focus on a selection of plants that have been here so long we all take them for granted as being part of the landscape, but they are, in fact “introduced species.”  For details visit

Wild Ginger at Angelesea (Photo by Marsha Courtney)
2 beech and a maple…growing together. (Photo by Marsha Courtney)
Don Rawls (Photo by John Dickson)
Giant Puffball (Photo by John Dickson)

The Owen Sound Young Naturalists Club met on September 27 at Grey Sauble Conservation and, under the guidance of Krista McKee, were on hand to check the Bluebird nesting boxes, and learn of the Salmon life cycle, at the spawning beds there.

Youth Summit 2020 OSFN facilitated the involvement of six local high school students (and sponsored four of them) in Ontario Nature’s Virtual Youth Summit, over four Saturday afternoons from mid August to mid September, presented online this year due to COVID-19. One student, Jackoby Graham, has forwarded to OSFN a comprehensive and glowing report on his experience with the Youth Summit activities. I have included here an excerpt from that report.   

“Participating in this year’s youth summit was very impactful to me this year. The youth summit was like the highlight of a COVID year. During the four-week youth summit, I have learned a great amount about nature, native people, native land, native culture, and history. 

  Every week in the youth summit we had workshops and live streams. I participated in the workshops with the topic of Environmental Policy, Turning Powerlessness into Action, Navigating eco-anxiety and activism, Biodiversity, and Nature Walk.   

  Lastly, I found the live stream with the keynote speaker, Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, one of my favourite live streams in the youth summit. Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm is an activist on a national and international scale. He raises awareness towards so many topics like protecting nature, indigenous rights, history, policies, land, and water awareness and so much more.  

  The final fourth week is when everyone votes on three events and campaigns of their choice. After the week of voting, there was a final live stream where they announced the winners and our group WON! My group got the most votes, and we won one-year memberships at Ontario Nature and support from the Ontario Nature Youth Council or Youth Circle from Mother Earth to make our events happen.  

Overall, The 2020 Ontario Youth Summit was memorable, and so much fun. I learned lots about nature and indigenous community problems. I learned leadership skills from working with others on the Leadership Challenge. I am so excited to make my event happen (hopefully if COVID-19 does not get worse). Thank you so much for sponsoring and for allowing me to participate in the 2020 Ontario Youth Summit. I hope to see you at my Run 4 Water event next year. I hope you and your close ones stay safe. Again, I appreciate that you sponsored me for this summit!”

Jackoby Graham

Although most Monarch Butterflies left a few weeks ago for their flights to Mexico, even this past week I observed two stragglers who were still here, just as the Hummingbird I saw in my backyard just over a week ago.

As we are all enjoying the fall colours of red, orange, and yellow leaves on display up high in the trees, be sure to look around at ground level too, for there are also many wildflowers of white, pink, blue, yellow and especially purple, still in blossom, being visited by various bees, wasps and butterflies. You will be amazed at both the variety and vibrancy at your feet. To close, a Nature quote from Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage “Northward rose … a vast heave of purple uplands, with ribbed and fan-shaped walls, castle-crowned cliffs and gray escarpments.”

Bald Eagle on Tom Thompson Trail (Photo by John Dickson)
Buutterflies in amongst the petals (Photo by John Dickson)
Asters (Photo by John Dickson)