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Newsletter 16

Birds Don't Vote

"...Bird habitats (are) disappearing at an alarming rate in southern Ontario. Many top birding spots, such as tiny Thickson's Woods in Whitby, are now surrounded by development and heavy truck traffic."

"How can we keep Ontario as one of the best birding areas in the world? Birders must donate much more money to conservation groups who are acquiring habitat for birds. Birds don't vote, so we must act and vote on their behalf."

Ron Pittaway, OFO News,
Volume 19, Number 2, June 2001


The "Endangered Species" Trap

It seems only when a species is designated as "endangered" do we take notice and decide it's time to take action to protect it. But why do species become endangered in the first place? More often than not it's due to loss of habitat. Why not act to ensure the survival of all species by protecting vital habitats while those species are still abundant? How much easier, wiser and less expensive that would be than trying to bring them back from the brink of extinction.


IMMEDIATE TARGET: $100,000 BY FEBRUARY 2002

Terms of the "missing link" purchase agreement call for a six-month closing to give time to raise the $100,000 down payment. So our first hurdle is to come up with $100,000 cash by February 6, 2002.

Many of you have asked why there wasn't a Thickson's Woods newsletter in the spring. We knew that, if a deal was struck, we would need to send an immediate appeal to everyone who loved and supported the woods in the past, as well as to others who share similar interests and concerns.

And so we appeal to you: will you help? Any contributions will be welcome! Raising this huge sum will mean all of us digging deep into our pockets.

If 500 people donated $1000 each, for example, we'd have the sum we need. $1000 is a lot of money—but spread out over five years it's only $200 per year, a small price to pay to protect the irreplaceable jewel that is Thickson's Woods.

We also need fund-raising ideas—possible projects or events that will help to reach our goal. Maybe another group you belong to would like to hold its own fund-raising event to help.

Many, many hands will be needed if we're to succeed in paying off the five-year mortgage! Pass this newsletter on to a friend who you think might want to hear what's happening. And tell everyone you know!


IN MEMORIAM

Letters people write as they send in donations in support of the woods are often quite touching. We received a very moving note last spring from Karen McKillop of Pickering. Her great-aunt Bea—Beatrice Vogan, of West Lorne, Ontario—had died at age 96, and in tribute to this very special woman, Karen sent a generous donation in her memory. A long-time birder like her husband, Graham, Beatrice visited Pelee and Rondeau long before those birding hotspots became household names, and kept her bird feeder going well into her nineties.

Marian Cruikshank, a longtime supporter from Scarborough, sent a memorial tribute for her friend Olive McLaughlin, who was also 96 and a "great field naturalist!"

Mary Carney was two days shy of her 94th birthday when she died this February. A native of Rochelle, Illinois, she loved walking in the woods when she came to visit her daughter in Canada. Through her own yearly donations—in U.S. dollars!—and by telling the Thickson's Woods story to many friends, she probably contributed as much as anyone toward paying off the original mortgage and building the sustaining fund. And even in death, she helped out. Donations in her name amounted to over $300.

One of Durham Region's foremost naturalists--George Scott, age 84—died this spring as well. He didn't leave a will, but he left Thickson's Woods a living legacy—a list of the plants he found growing in the woods and marsh in the last two decades. The Vascular Plants of Thickson's Woods, totalling more than 380 species, was patiently and meticulously compiled by this fine naturalist, a great gift of love.

As this newsletter goes to press we are saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. J. Murray Speirs, another legendary Ontario naturalist. Murray was a founding member of TWHF and served on the board of directors for fifteen years. Through their generous support, he and his late wife, Doris Huestis Speirs, helped make possible the purchase of Thickson's Woods.

Remember your own loved ones with a living tribute! And have you thought about mentioning Thickson's Woods in your will?


Nature Notes
by Dennis Barry

Thickson's Woods is famous for its diversity of bird life. Recently, however, it's becoming known as a haven for butterflies as well. As more and more birders acquire close-focusing binoculars, they're discovering that the same factors that make Thickson's Woods a magnet for birds serve to draw a surprising variety of butterflies.

2000 was a banner year for southern butterflies in Thickson's. A giant swallowtail, the first ever in Durham Region, and the largest butterfly in Canada, appeared on a patch of purple coneflowers in our garden one sunny midsummer day. While visiting blossoms, it kept its forewings constantly in motion, to prevent the blooms from sagging under its weight. Later, a spicebush swallowtail paid a brief visit. Its black velvet hindwings glowed an iridescent blue, like the neck feathers of a male grackle in spring. Along the Waterfront Trail to the west of the woods, Jim Fairchild and Gord Gallant discovered a colony of buckeyes, a southern butterfly more often found at Point Pelee.

April 2001 witnessed the beginnings of a massive invasion of red admirals and American ladies. The red admirals added a welcome splash of colour in the centre of the woods as they joined mourning cloaks and eastern commas feeding on sap oozing from holes drilled by sapsuckers. Discarded butterfly wings were evidence that early migrating phoebes had taken advantage of this unexpected food supply. By August the zinnias, mint and butterfly bushes in our garden were attracting a number of painted ladies as well as the very similar American ladies. As migrating Nashville warblers and yellowthroats gleaned insects from the flower stems, they disturbed some of our smallest butterfly visitors, summer azures, striped hairstreaks and tiny eastern tailed blues.

Now, in late August, warblers are flitting about in the cedar hedge gathering insects, while thrushes forage on the ground below. Yellowlegs call as they fly westward along the shore, only to be drowned out by the raucous screams of Caspian terns. The male Carolina wren that disappeared last spring recently returned with a mate. It calls exuberantly from various parts of the woods, happy that its long stretch of bachelorhood is over.


"MISSING LINK" OFFER ACCEPTED!

Great news for people who love Thicksons Woods: the offer has been accepted! The great stretch of meadow immediately north of the woods will be wild forever— if we can raise the money to buy it.

The TWHF board has been negotiating for months to purchase the property—8 1/2 acres that, left natural, will buffer the woods, marsh and creek valley as other natural spaces in the neighbourhood are replaced by sterile asphalt parking lots.

A deal has been struck: for $62,500 per acre. Which means raising more than half a million dollars even without interest payments.

Half a million dollars??? Members of the board sat in stunned silence as we each considered the enormity of trying to raise that kind of money. We recalled how daunting a task it seemed back in 1983 to raise the $90,000 to buy Thicksons Woods. This would be an even greater challenge!

And then each of us pictured ourself out in the woods on a sunny May morning, trying to hear the song of a white-throated sparrow or winter wren above the constant roar of trucks coming and going next door. We remembered the sweet perfume of pine needles on a warm August afternoon, and knew how quickly that fragrance would be destroyed by the stench of diesel fumes.

We recalled that it was ordinary people, many of whom had never even been to Thickson's Woods, who donated much of the money to buy the woods in the first place. If they stepped forward to save the woods then, why wouldn't they do the same to ensure its survival as critical habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife?

Back then, many people spoke of how good it made them feel to be doing something positive for nature, rather than constantly writing letters to protest environmental atrocities. We thought of how good everyone would feel if the meadow could be wild forever. We thought of how devastated everyone would be if we failed.

Yes, it would be a major challenge to achieve this goal. But this was also a golden opportunity, an opportunity which, if not grasped, would be lost forever.

The vote was unanimous: we had to try to buy the meadow.


Aug. 25 posting to ONTBIRDS
by Craig McLauchlin

Today I decided that it would be worth looking in Thickson's Woods. Meeting Carol Horner there, we were both amazed at the birds we found. What I thought would be an hour walk turned into three.

We found 11 species of warblers. Highlights were Louisiana Waterthrush, (Yes, the big "L", not "N"), Mourning Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler. You didn't have to look far to find a warbler. They were everywhere. Very possible misses were Northern Waterthrush (It wouldn't come out from behind the log) and a fast look at a possible Golden-winged Warbler.

Also the Carolina Wren was singing; something I hadn't heard in a long time in the woods, and both Swainson's and Wood thrush were seen—lots of Red-eyed Vireos, lots of Cedar Waxwings, a Green Heron and a Brown Creeper to top things off.


Stories from the Front Lines

With great anticipation, Rayfield Pye was planning a nature getaway to Trinidad and Tobago next winter. Rayfield loves nothing better than photographing butterflies and birds in lush tropical habitat. In considering how he might help support the Thickson's Woods protection effort, however, he decided to "downgrade" to Florida. The money he saves he will to donate to Thickson's Woods. Thank you, Rayfield!

When the woods were threatened in the eighties, Margaret Bain robbed her children's education funds to help with the down payment needed. This time she's robbed her own retirement fund. Thanks again, Margaret!

Dave Calvert, a generous and lifelong supporter of many environmental efforts, also helped with that first, long-ago down payment. When he heard about our hopes for buying the meadow to buffer the woods, he immediately wrote out a few post-dated cheques—even though his wife, Mary, is in a nursing care facility and Dave himself is in poor health. Thank you, Dave, for caring so much!


TAX BENEFITS OF CHARITABLE DONATIONS (OR HOW THE GOVERNMENT CAN HELP TO PAY FOR THE MEADOW!)

Both the Federal and Ontario Governments have recognized the value of charitable giving and have created generous tax benefits for those who give. Based on the tax rates in place for the year 2000, the following shows the financial benefits to charitable donors who give $500.00 and who have already made more than $200.00 in donations during the year.

Taxable Income
High Rate (Approximately $75,000 and up)
Tax Saving
$239.30 (47.86%)

Low Rate (Approximately $20,000)
Tax Savings $200.80 (40.16%)

What this means to you is that if you pledge $500.00 per year to help buy the land, when you file your tax return, the government will refund the amounts shown above. For high rate taxpayers the net cost for a $500.00 donation is just $260.00 and for low rate taxpayers the cost is just $300.00. For donations of other amounts the percentages above would apply (i.e. between 40 and 48 cents being refunded for every dollar given.) With tax breaks like this how can we fail to do our part to protect Thicksons Woods?

(Studies are currently underway to consider the feasibility of increasing income tax deductions for donations for conservation purposes.)


Thank You, You Wonderful People!

So many supporters have contributed in so many ways—with brains and brawn, time and money.

Special mention should be given to Alan Blewett, Barb Glass, Frank Pinilla and David Shilman, who chose Thickson's Woods as their beneficiary in last spring's Baillie Birdathon. This summer David got the bright idea to hold an auction for an out-of-print bird book over the Internet, with proceeds helping the Thickson's Woods cause.

Ron Erwin, photographing the woods for an article in Seasons Magazine, donated several sets of wildlife note cards, used in a silent auction as well as thank-you cards to donors.

Thanks to Bob Hambly for yet again paying for printing of our newsletter, and to David Calvert for tirelessly tending the bird feeder in the north meadow, as much as his health would permit.

Graphic artist Rebecca Fox designed our new letterhead and upcoming website, and photographer Mike McEvoy let us use many gorgeous bird photos to illustrate it. Artwork in this newsletter was drawn by Todd Norris and George Scott.

And thank you so much, all you generous people who sent donations in the past year! Your unfailing support helped tip the scales in our decision to try to buy the "missing link."


Truck Route Halted!

Members of the TWLT board of directors have been actively involved during the past year in helping to keep the area along the Waterfront Trail west of the woods free from vehicle traffic—literally, to stop a road from being built along the lakeshore.

This three-kilometre stretch of the trail is among the most attractive in Durham Region, with panoramic views of Lake Ontario and an ever increasing variety and abundance of plant and animal life. The grassland habitat along the trail is now home to nesting bobolinks and savannah sparrows in summer, and provides foraging areas for short-eared owls and rough-legged hawks in winter, for great-horned owls and harriers year-round. Milk snakes are making use of the Costrel-LASCO berm as a hibernaculum and are thriving.


What Should be Done with "The Meadow" if We Are Successful in Purchasing It?

Of necessity, most of our thoughts and energy at the moment are focused on trying to raise the money to buy the property. If we are succcessful, a great deal more thought will have to go into how to best maximize its value for wildlife.

At the moment red osier dogwood is the predominant shrub, with a scattering of other shrubs and a few small deciduous and evergreen trees, including some white pines. Since grassland species are among the most threatened by habitat loss in southern Ontario, it is likely that we would try to maintain part of the property as grassland, perhaps incorporating a section of tall-grass prairie habitat Tall-grass prairie restorations in Illinois have been successful in attracting endangered Henslow's sparrows to breed.

Strategic plantings would, no doubt, be done to provide buffering along Thickson Road on the west boundary of the property. A system of trails would be planned to allow access for visitors, without jeopardizing the wildlife values of the area.

What do you think should be incorporated into the plan?

By February 2002, the die will be cast. Will we be planning a home for bobolinks and woodcock, or will someone else be building a warehouse for trucks and machinery? Next spring will we be celebrating, or will we be in mourning?

It is up to us. Together we can make this happen!


Why Purchase the "Missing Link" Meadow?

It's clear that provincial laws and local bylaws and zoning would do little to protect the woods, marsh or creek valley if the meadow was developed. Treed buffers are not required. Factories and warehouses would have to be set back several metres from the property line, but the land around them could be paved right to the fence line—a parking lot for trucks!

As happened when concerned naturalists decided to purchase Thickson's Woods in 1984, no other group or government agency we've appealed to has so far stepped forward, offering some magical alternative for protection—or cash. Like last time, if the ancient trees of Thickson's Woods are to be protected, it looks like the task will be up to ordinary people who love nature.


Why Save a Cow Pasture in the Middle of an Industrial Area?

While Thickson's Woods itself is a vital migration link, the conversion of surrounding wild spaces to industrial uses has the potential to seriously erode its value to wildlife and to human visitors alike. Waterfowl using Corbett Creek Marsh and the beaver ponds upstream may nest several hundred metres from the water. Songbirds moving north from the woods in May need cover and additional food sources to facilitate their passage. Species that nest in transition habitat such as overgrown fields are being displaced as these areas are converted to industrial subdivisions.

The overgrown meadow immediately north of the woods is summer home to willow flycatchers, yellow warblers, eastern kingbirds and cedar waxwings. In winter, trees sparrows and northern shrikes forage here for food. In fall, palm warblers and Lincoln's sparrows can be found. In spring, meadowlarks and magnolia warblers pause to feed. And this is exactly the sort of habitat that endangered loggerhead shrikes need to refuel during migration.

This meadow really is the "missing link." It not only connects Thickson's Woods to the Corbett Creek valley, it also buffers the Waterfront Trail and its many users from the deafening noise and nauseating exhaust fumes arising from the constant stream of truck traffic along Thickson Road and Wentworth Street. Just imagine how much poorer everyone's outdoor experience would be if the meadow became home to a large fleet of trucks rather than the flocks of birds we enjoy seeing and hearing there now.

One need only stand on the north edge of the woods on a May morning and watch the warblers and tanagers stream northward to realize just how critical it is to protect this key piece of habitat.

 

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