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.

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