Nature Club News October 2021

by John Dickson

The Owen Sound Field Naturalists (OSFN) presents renowned Canadian explorer and best-selling author Adam Shoalts LIVE for pre registered OSFN members only, at the Bayshore Community Centre, for its monthly Indoor Meeting at 7pm Thursday October 14. OSFN is also hoping to present this event simultaneously on ZOOM, to its membership. Others who would like to attend the Zoom event may request a zoom link by emailing with Adam in the subject line. An engaging and popular speaker, Shoalts returns to tell us about his latest adventure and launch his brand new book, The Whisper on the Night Wind: The True History of a Wilderness Legend.                                   

It’s the fascinating story of a century-old wilderness legend from the Labrador wild and Shoalts’s attempt to unravel it, which involves lots of natural history content.

Shoalts has a Ph.D. from McMaster University in History, is a National Champion of the Trans-Canada Trail, and the Westaway Explorer-in-Residence of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. A regular guest on television and radio, his books include Alone Against the NorthA History of Canada in 10 Maps, and Beyond the Trees, all of them national bestsellers.

Adam Shoalts (supplied photo)

More upcoming OSFN events include field trips with a variety of themes – This weekend in the Thornbury area – Waterfowl and other Birds with David Turner; Geology and Fossils with Bob Gray; the following weekend a tour of an Old Growth Forest with Bob Knapp; and on the last Sunday of the month – the Young Naturalists programme. These are open to the public, and to learn more about these, as well as OSFN membership, please visit

Jody Johnson, Coordinator of the Young Naturalists Club, shared this report, about a very successful start to their season:

The Young Naturalists Club kicked off their first meeting of the year with the help of Elaine Van Den Kieboom. The group cleaned out the bird boxes at the Grey Sauble Conservation administration building and it was noted that most of the boxes had been inhabited by house wrens and tree swallows. The group then set off to explore along the Sydenham River to watch the spawning salmon and discovered a dead snapping turtle – allowing us to get an up-close look at the prehistoric looking creature. The next Young Nats hike is scheduled for Sunday, October 24th at 2pm at the Grey Stone Trails. If you are interested in joining, email Jody Johnson at

Elaine explaining the finds from inside the Bird boxes (Photo by Marsha Courtney)
Young Nats at the Sydenham River (Photo by Jody Johnson)
Snapping turtle foot (Photo by Jody Johnson)
Snapping Turtle, deceased (Photo by Jody Johnson)

Birders from far and wide flocked to the Leith area in September to get a look at a Northern Wheatear that had been found by Miriam Oudejans and Warren Steckle, in their yard there.

Miriam shares her story here: “On September 15, a very rare bird, one whose normal migration route takes it from Greenland to Africa by way of the Atlantic, touched down in our backyard near Leith, east of Owen Sound. Around 6:00 pm, I happened to look out the window and spotted something near the small pond about ten meters away. At first glance, the small bird looked different enough that I grabbed my binoculars. It was facing me on the ground with a slightly orange wash on the front, somewhat like a bluebird but with a more upright posture. Within seconds, I knew I was looking at something I’d never seen before. It was a Northern Wheatear. My husband quickly took a few shots for the record with his camera in case the bird suddenly flew off. I contacted a couple of birders that night, filed an eBird report and by morning, the news was out.

“Warren Steckle captured the Wheatear on the rock the evening we found it.” (Sept 15th, photo by Warren Steckle)

Over the next five days, between 60 to 70 people visited our yard, coming from as far as Cornwall and Sarnia. For most, it was a “lifer” – a term birders use for when they see a bird for the first time. The visitors ranged from well-known experts to neighbours who were curious about all the activity. The Wheatear was exhausted when it first appeared; it didn’t move a lot the first evening and following morning. By that afternoon, it became more active and subsequently spent most of its time the next few days feasting on grasshoppers and other insects on the lawn and adjacent horse paddocks at the Jack Pine Equestrian Center. Peter Middleton commented that the grazed pasture was very much suited to the Wheatear and Palm Warblers.  

Northern Wheatears are a migratory species that breed in the far reaches of the Arctic, from northeastern Greenland to Alaska as well as Eurasia. They are one of the few songbird species that breed in North America but winter in the Old World. They are quite rare in southern Ontario, with most sightings being that of vagrant birds – far off course. Birds of the large, bright, Greenland race, leucorhoa, make one of the longest transoceanic crossings of any songbird on earth. Sightings from ships suggest that some Wheatears cross the North Atlantic directly from Canada and Greenland to southwest Europe. Birds breeding in eastern Canada are thought to fly from Baffin Island and Newfoundland via Greenland, Ireland, and Portugal to the Azores, crossing 3,500 km of the North Atlantic before flying onwards to Africa. The bird we had in our yard was an immature on its first migration.

Naturally, no one knew when it would leave but the last day or so, it fed less and spent more time perched on the fence lines. The last confirmed sighting was September 19. Truly a memorable few days!” 

 Kiah Jasper tells us of his Northern Wheatear observations too: “I arrived and stepped out of the car, and under 20 seconds later it popped up on a fence post. I found a spot to watch it, a nice shady patch of grass hidden under a tree, and settled in for the next 45 minutes. Definitely one of the more cooperative rarities I have seen, it spent the entire time hunting insects along the fenceline beside me, sometimes coming as close as 15 feet away. Its foraging style reminded me a lot of a bluebird, sitting waiting for insects, then diving after one before returning to the fence again. A small flock of Palm Warblers kept it company, which was cool to watch as they were hunting in a similar manner. Just a magical experience, not much else to say about it!”

Northern Wheatear (Photo by Kiah Jasper)

Congratulations to Mike Campbell and the  Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, plus all of their community supporters and partners, for their very successful Bruce Peninsula Gravel Gran Fondo, a fundraising cycling event held this year on October 3rd, after missing 2020 due to Covid-19. Campbell reports that the funds that are “raised go towards environmental projects on the Bruce.  This year’s  ride raised $40,000, John, and I am attaching a link to some photographs of the event.”

I encourage you to visit their website and look at the impressive array of projects, programmes and accomplishments of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, all worthy of your support, at

Sandhill Cranes (Photo by BettyAnne Pickering)
“OMG!!! that BIG eh!!! Sandhill Cranes at Spry Lake area.” (Photo and Caption by Fely Clarke)

While I was enjoying a Fall Colours Hike led by Lilla Fodor for OSFN, I overheard some conversation about Snapping Turtle hatchlings, and was curious to learn more. So, thank you to Bo Penny for sharing her story here –
“Hi John, yes they’re about 1 1/2” diameter and they hatched from the nest on our property. Brian always puts a protective cage over the nest when we see mother turtle walking around looking for a spot to dig. We’ve been successful for the past few years. Cage is affixed to the ground so that racoons can’t move it and it has a small opening so that babies can come out. We start watching the nest daily usually mid August – it’s exciting so when we see them finally coming out we help them along by carrying them to the creek on our property.  The creek is a tributary to Beaver River just off Grey Road 7 and Side road 7A outside of Kimberley.

Snapping Turtle hatchlings (Photo by Bo Penny)

“It’s wonderful when you can save the little creatures and help them reach their destination. There are many dangers on their first “hike” to the creek and I’m always worried about stepping on one in a deep grass, so that’s why we monitor the nest and help them along when they hatch. This year we got 6 that hatched and we helped them to the creek. Here are few pictures; by the time I went to get my phone to take a picture a few had already gone in the water. Last year we saved 30 but this time only 6 and they were much later than other years for some reason. I guess it was a weird year overall in a way.” 

First swim! (Photo by Bo Penny)

Bob Gray also shared with me the next planned  key event of the Georgian Bluffs Climate Action Team (GBCAT), a citizen-led group of volunteers who are residents of the Township of Georgian Bluffs and whose mandate is to offer information and educational opportunities to the public on current issues that relate to climate change and its impacts “Because it affects us all. Please consider registering” for: Treading Water: How flooding affects property values and you! What can you do about this?”  October 20, 2021, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm.                 
Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, University of Waterloo  will present practical solutions to limit community and residential flooding and financial losses

Dr. John T Anderson will present a local perspective Wetter Weather in Bruce and Grey Counties” For additional Information contact:

With all of the Nature highlights I have enjoyed recently, two really stand out for me:

First of all, I reached out and was delighted to discover that not only is Paul Aird alive and well, (now at age 91, he and his wife, Linda Pim, were here a week ago for a Nature holiday on the Saugeen  Bruce Peninsula) but he has just this Spring published his collected nature poems (and more, including songs) in an elegant book entitled Butterfly  Beautifly Beautiful: Nature Poems, with many pages that are graced with samples of Thoreau MacDonald’s Nature Art.   

Inspired by some 60 years of observing and experiencing the natural world as a conservationist, forest scientist and professor, Aird takes us along on his nature travels throughout Canada and shares his impressions through poetry, at times with humour and whimsy, at others with deep concern about humans’ impact on the environment, and always displaying an abiding respect for Nature. 

I first met Paul Aird, and Linda, at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in 2008, at the opening of an exhibition featuring the exquisite pen and ink drawings of Thoreau MacDonald, many of which adorn the pages of my copy of his first book Loon Laughter Ecological Fables. I met him again in 2017 when he presented many of those stories himself to an OSFN audience in the auditorium of the Public Library here. 

Linda Pim kindly shared with me that they were able to self-publish as Inglewood Nature Press — here is their website, which is entirely devoted to the book, Butterfly Beautifly Beautiful: Nature Poems: “People can read a few of the poems on the website and may listen to Paul recite a few poems as well.  Reading and listening are here: The Poetry Portal – Inglewood Nature Press

“There has been wonderful feedback on the poetry book (which is so exciting for Paul) and we are about to go into a second printing.  We have placed a small ad in the Winter 2021 issue of ON Nature (comes out early December).From a naturalist’s perspective, Paul’s other publication of interest since we were at OSFN was his reflections on his 40 years of searching for, and finding, the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler in Ontario and Quebec.  His article was published in Ontario Birds in 2018, which I’m sure you know is the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists.  Here’s the link (starts on page 92):” This Kirtland Warbler article also demonstrates Aird’s resourcefulness and his ability to put Nature first. I certainly recommend it to any ornithologists helping with bird surveys these days.

So, I was able to discover that the new poetry book is really quite wonderful and is available at the Kimberley General Store. Last week I swooped by and practically cleared out their supply of Paul Aird’s Butterfly Beautifly Beautiful: Nature Poems, so my shopping is off to a good start. 

The second highlight for me was to meet Jason W. Johnston, MSc, Interpretive Program Coordinator, Cape Croker Park, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Neyaashiinigmiing. On October 4th he led an Indigenous Interpretive Hike – At Home on the Land, for OSFN and shared his knowledge, training and heritage with us, including stories and lessons from his Grandfather, Basil, one of those people I feel so very fortunate to have known, even a little. For me, it was a genuinely special time at a magical location. To learn more about Jason and the important work he and his team have planned, please visit

Back to Adam Shoalts, thanks to a special request by Marilyn Radbourne, his film, Alone Across the Arctic has been confirmed to play Oct. 22 & 23 at the Port Elgin Cinemas, and Advance tickets will be available on the distribution company website: So with a nod to Shoalts, a closing quote by explorer and filmmaker, James Cameron, from his foreword to The Explorer Gene, by Tom Cheshire, about three generations of Piccards – Auguste, Jacques and Bertrand who: “travelling first a journey of the mind … and then with exceptional will, made it happen in the real world – pitting their strength, their resolve, and indeed their very mortal existence, against the great unknown, and prevailing.”