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Newsletter 29
Spring 2006

Come Celebrate a Grand Accomplishment!

Spring has a special glow this year. As the world greens up and flowers burst into bloom, there’s an extra tinge of magic in the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve. Sometime this spring, the meadow mortgage will be paid off!

Who would have thought, five years ago, that it would ever happen—that a vital 8_ acres of meadow, for sale at prime industrial prices, could be kept from becoming yet another truck depot, bringing exhaust fumes and engine noise to the very edge of Thickson’s Woods and Corbett Marsh? Raising more than half a million dollars seemed like an impossible feat—pie in the sky for dreamers. But enough caring people were committed to helping it happen that it has. Nearly a year before the mortgage comes due.
Mission accomplished--hooray!

The TWLT Board of Directors wishes to thank everyone involved, warmly and profoundly, for helping this dream come to fruition. Privacy laws prohibit us from listing your names, though we would dearly love to do so. You know who you are! You know all that you contributed. We hope you know how much appreciated your generous participation has been, and that you feel a very happy glow inside every time you think of Thickson’s Woods.

Listen carefully next time you step into the woods or walk through the meadow this spring. Birds will be singing extra sweetly in gratitude for your help in saving this important migration rest stop.
Celebrations are definitely called for. In a grand finale to help pay off the last of the mortgage and to acknowledge this amazing accomplishment, we’ve decided to combine our annual spring pancake breakfast with the gala art raffle draw some dedicated volunteers have been busily working on.

Come to the meadow for our

Gala Pancake Brunch and Art Raffle Draw

Sunday, June 11
11:00 to 3:00

Come hungry so you can enjoy pancakes, maple syrup, sausage—and strawberries! Free tours of the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve will be offered by experts. Our always popular bake sale, bucket raffle and silent auction will be held (donated items and goodies needed!)

And at two o’clock--a moment we’ve all been waiting for—the draw for five pieces of exquisite nature art donated by some of Ontario’s most talented artists will be held.

For raffle tickets, phone Judy Bryson at 905-576-0492. For more information, or to volunteer, phone 905-725-2116.

We hope to see you there, so we can thank you in person!

Two Men Who Loved Nature
Gordon Bellerby

Thickson’s Woods has drawn some grand defenders over the years, truly inspiring people, and Gordon Bellerby was one of them. This sprightly and enthusiastic birder from Niagara-on-the-Lake inaugurated the “Seniors Challenge” at the start of fund-raising for the meadow, encouraging retired folks on fixed incomes to donate the sum of their age each year—as long as they could still remember to do so. (Gordon’s wry sense of humour was legendary.)

He not only sent in his own Seniors Challenge cheque, he sponsored various May-rathoners for the meadow, motivating them to go the extra mile for an extra species, because he would be so interested in the results. On Pancake Breakfast days and Fall Festivals, Gordon often drove all the way from Niagara to help lead nature walks through the woods. He was always encouraging friends, fellow birders and nature clubs to donate to the cause. His wife, nature artist Diana Bellerby, donated a beautiful painting for our art raffle.

Gordon immigrated to Canada from England in 1947. During World War II, as an RAF fighter pilot, he flew Hurricanes in Libya and the Western Desert, then piloted unarmed Spitfires deep into enemy territory as an aerial photographer—100 missions taking him from El Alamein to the Baltic, via Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Perhaps it was this experience—looking at the world from a unique perspective at such a crucial time in history--that made him tirelessly committed to protecting nature on the planet.

Typical of his practical and generous nature, Gordon made a last poignant request—that instead of sending flowers, his friends support the meadow one more time, when he passed away this January. Gordon’s final gift helped us reach our goal of paying off the meadow mortgage a year early.

In his last letter to TWLT president, Margaret Bain, he wrote:

“Dear Margaret,

I’ll not be around for the Mayrathon in 2006 but nonetheless want to sponsor you one time more. Only 60 cents per bird I fear, but there are two other groups that get the rest.

Lots of luck for a great count and I hope some mourners will be sending a remembrance to Thickson—my favourite birding spot—in lieu of flowers. Maybe some will become supporters.

I’ve had 86 marvelous years with only one regret, in that I left Nepal too late. It’s been a ball and I have valued your friendship.


Many individuals valued Gordon’s friendship. A letter from Michael St. B. Harrison of Westmount, Quebec sums up many people’s feelings:

“Gordon was a good friend and a great teacher. He took my incidental interest in birding and made me a decent watcher. His wisdom of sparrows was undoubted, but his wide knowledge of all birds was in character to his own life. A very decent man who enjoyed a wonderful spirit devoted to his family and just plain living. A treat to be with and a pleasure to be his friend.”

John Keith Reynolds

Keith Reynolds was another remarkable man with a lifelong love of nature and a fondness for Thickson’s Woods. He grew up in London, Ontario, where, inspired by legendary naturalists such as W.A. Saunders, Eli Davis and John Dearnes, he developed his boyhood interest in wildlife into a highly productive and illustrious career with the Ontario government. After obtaining his PhD in zoology from Western University, Keith began work for the Department of Lands and Forests, eventually serving as Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Secretary to the Ontario Cabinet.

Keith was an undergrad at Western when World War II broke out, and he promptly enlisted. Serving as navigator and squadron leader at an RCAF unit based in East Anglia, he flew many missions to the Continent, one of which ended in a terrifying crash into the North Sea. His back broken, Keith was unable to climb into his life raft, so clung to the side and floated in the sea, all the while blowing the whistle strapped around his neck. Eventually someone heard and rescued him. Who knows how such events affect survivors? It’s a testimony to Keith’s character, optimism and courage that, years later, he was always willing to fly to remote lakes across Ontario with his good friend Premier John Robarts on “government business”-- fishing rods in hand.

Keith’s children requested that friends send donations in support of the meadow when he passed away this January. In a poignant twist of fate, Mary Lund, herself a generous TWLT supporter and volunteer, offered to write thank-you notes to the many friends and relatives who responded. “Was Keith Reynolds from London?” she asked when she received the first massive bundle of correspondence. It turned out that she knew him. As a ten-year-old beginning birder, she remembers how especially glad the old-timers in the McIlwraith Naturalists Club were when Keith returned from the war.


Recent donations have been made in memory of these special people:

Pauline Brooks Armitage
Gordon Bellerby
Mary Thometz Carney
Ruth Chambers
Dorothy Diplock
Ronald Diplock
William Robert Hambly
Bill Hardcastle
Earl Holt
Dorothy Macaulay
Susan Morgan
Beatrice Murphy
Thomas Murphy
Bob Page
Dr. Pat Paterson
Ian Reay
John Keith Reynolds
Gord Samells
Martina Schnetz
Aiko Susuki
Anthony Lauer Thometz

We join their families and friends in mourning their passing, and acknowledge their unique contribution to the rich web of life on planet earth.

On our website we recognize all past donations made in memory of friends and loved ones.

Gifts That Will Last Forever

Many metres of the meadow have been saved in the name of:

Gordon Bellerby; Doris Bilenduke; Bob; Tim Campbell & Annie Mandelson; the Duff Grandchildren; Maria Ferizzo & Scott Gibson; Jillian Fischer; Dr. Richard Fischer; James A. Fraser; Jack Charles Garland; Barb Glass; William Robert Hambly; Brian & Lynda Hicks; Glenn Hicks; Melanie Hicks; W. E. Lardner; Kent Lisowick; Lisa Molenhuis; Elizabeth Mount; Mr. & Mrs. J. Munroe; Dianne Pazaratz; Otto Peter; Tina Serviss; Mary Smith & Family; Staff & Parent Volunteers, Lakeside Public School, Keswick; Kathleen Tonner; Mary Loo Toop; Julia Vetter; Bryan Wong; Steve & Sheila Wood

Thank you to everyone who gave a friend or loved one a share in this living legacy—a gift that will last forever!

Treasurer’s Corner
by Brian Steele

It is late March as I write this column for the next newsletter. I have a great feeling of pride as I sit at the computer. The reason I feel this way is that the mortgage balance is at $12,030.04. This reflects payments of $30,000 on November 2, 2005 and $25,000 on February 2, 2006. The bank balance is just under $20,000. Our next payment is on May 2, 2006. At that time we will PAY OFF THE MORTGAGE. We will accomplish this nine months before the mortgage matures! What an incredible achievement! There were doubters who felt that a small organization like Thickson’s Woods Land Trust could not possibly raise enough money to buy a meadow costing over half a million dollars. But these people did not know the strong feelings that our supporters have for Thickson’s Woods and how they were willing to dig into their pockets to ensure our ultimate success. And on May 2, 2006, our reward will be that the meadow is mortgage free!

Since we started our campaign to raise money to buy the meadow in September 2001 we have raised $584,000. There have been 3,050 donations of cash from 1,450 donors. The continuing support we have received over the past four and one-half years has been overwhelming. I hope everyone will attend on June 11 and help celebrate our accomplishment.

Elsewhere in this newsletter is a request to hear from you as to what you think our organization should do next. There are a number of alternatives. The most obvious and the easiest is to congratulate ourselves on a job well done and sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labour. We still need money to pay taxes on the meadow, insurance, stationery & postage for the newsletter and other ongoing costs. We are working to get the meadow included in the province’s CLTIP program so that we would not have to pay tax. Although the immediate need for funds is much less now that the mortgage is paid off, we still require donations to pay these expenses.

Another option is to continue to raise money to create a sustaining fund for future needs. It was a sustaining fund that gave us a leg up when we started to raise money for the down payment for the meadow purchase. This fund could be used for a future purchase if adjacent land came available for sale, or for improvements to the meadow. For example, we will be constructing a berm at the west side of the meadow to shield it from the truck traffic on Thickson Road. While we are looking for free fill we may have to pay for some and also pay for machinery to construct the berm.

A third alternative is to look further afield for land to acquire under our umbrella that would continue the history of preserving natural space.

There may be other alternatives that occur to you. Please tell us what you think. Without your support we cannot be successful, so we need to know that you are behind the board in whatever direction we take.

Thank you all!

Corbett Creek Wetlands –Part II

Recently the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources published a report entitled “Provincially Significant Corbett Creek Coastal Wetland Complex.” Authored by Steve Varga, Inventory Biologist Aurora District, the document details information about the wetland and its ecology. In our last newsletter we presented some of the highlights.

Here are the report’s recommendations. They will be helpful during the formulation of a management plan for Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.


Major wetland functions and features to be maintained at Corbett Creek include its diversity of wetlands; its diversity of species and community types; its fisheries, its migratory waterfowl, passerine and shorebird habitats, its association of wetlands and uplands and its wildlife corridors.

To ensure that Corbett Creek functions are maintained, it is important to maintain water quality, quantity and duration to the wetlands. Alterations to water regimes could have impacts on wetland communities and their wetland species. This is especially the case for coastal wetlands that are at the bottom end of watersheds.

Reduction in nutrient levels would be beneficial. Algal blooms were noted in the bay, and its open water plants such as Canada Waterweed, Eurasian Water-milfoil and Common Coontail are all tolerant of higher nutrient levels, while more sensitive aquatic species such as Tapegrass (Vallisneriaa americana) are not present.

Introduced species are a problem in coastal wetlands such as Corbett; where possible they need to be controlled. The introduced floating aquatic plant Frog’s-bit (Hydrocharis morusranae) has taken over parts of the marsh. Common Carp introduced to the Great Lakes churn up aquatic vegetation and raise turbidity levels with their feeding and spawning.

To maintain species diversity, the interconnected network of wetlands and uplands should be maintained.

Critical associated uplands for Corbett Creek wetland species are its surrounding woodlands and meadows. The woodland frogs are dependent on the forest for hibernation and foraging. It is critical that travel corridors be maintained for woodland frogs between their forests and breeding areas. The meadows are utilized by wetland species such as waterfowl, which can nest several hundred metres from a wetland, and amphibians such as the Leopard Frog, which forage in uplands around their wetlands.

Studies have shown the importance of wildlife corridors in maintaining diversity and resiliency in ecosystems (Riley and Mohr 1994). In addition to the travel corridors between amphibian breeding areas and forests and meadows, there are also larger wildlife corridors at Corbett Creek wetlands that occur upstream along the creek’s tributaries.

Connections could be improved to the north with the east-west band of forests and wetland along the Iroquois Beach, a major east-west corridor that extends for 120 km across the breadth of southern Durham Region and Northumberland County. Next to the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Iroquois Beach is the second longest east-west corridor in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Encouragement should be given to increasing forest cover in the drainage basin of Corbett Creek particularly around wetlands, larger woodland blocks and in valleys.

Thank you, Henry Street High!

On a blustery February 14th—Valentine’s Day--41 exuberant students and two enthusiastic teachers took part in a labour of love: wrapping chicken wire around trees in the Corbett Creek Valley on industrial lands north of the reserve. Families of beavers, Canada’s national emblem, have been almost as busy removing trees along the watershed as we humans have. The Henry Street High students volunteered their time and energy to protect some of what little forest cover remains as a wildlife corridor through the area.

So much vital work could be done to reestablish forest cover along both branches of Corbett Creek, as recommended in the MNR’s report. What a fine opportunity for groups and individuals to work together in nature! Wouldn’t it be great to see people of all ages planting trees—species beavers don’t particularly like the taste of, of course!—along the creek valleys in years to come?

One possibility for Thickson’s Woods supporters in future might be to participate, spring and fall, in tree planting parties to restore a fringe of forest all along the Corbett Watershed.

The Future of Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve: Where do we go from here?

Currently, the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust board of directors is considering how best to care for the nature reserve in order to maximize its benefits to plants and animals, as well as to human visitors. Your expertise, knowledge and experience are vitally important in making the right decisions. The more minds that focus on the issues, the better will be the decisions made.

Give us your ideas by mail, e-mail or telephone. (See the front page of the newsletter for contact information)

Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, an Overview

Since a number of our supporters have never had the opportunity to visit Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, it seems appropriate that we try to give you a picture of what the area is like. The south end of the reserve is a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario. It consists of grass with some trees and shrubs. From a height of about ten metres in the west at Thickson Road, the bluff drops to one or two metres in the east. Belted kingfishers and bank swallows nest in the face of the bluff about midway along. Migrating and wintering waterfowl shelter in the bay below the bluff. A flock of up to 1000 greater scaup spent much of the past winter feeding and loafing close to shore.

Immediately north of the bluff is Crystal Beach Boulevard. This gravel road, as well as three short laneways leading north into Thickson’s Woods, are part of the reserve, but are maintained by residents living adjacent to them who have right-of-way over them to reach their properties. Visitors are welcome to walk along these roadways, but are asked not to drive in. Exceptions are made for those who are handicapped and unable to walk.

The original part of the reserve, known as Thickson’s Woods, lies north of a line of private residences that face the lake along the north side of Crystal Beach Boulevard. The south part of the woods is dominated by massive white pines towering to heights of more than one hundred feet, which were seedlings when the first settlers arrived. Each year these hide the nest of a pair of great horned owls. Since horned owls don’t construct their own nests, they depend on used structures left by previous owners, American crows and gray squirrels.

Other dominant trees in this part of the forest include black cherry, red oak, and yellow birch, with an understory of chokecherry. Ground cover consists mainly of wild black current, spotted touch-me-not and starry false Solomon’s seal.

The rest of the woods has fewer white pines, since sixty-six were cut in September of 1983, prior to our purchase. Here there are more sugar maples and, along the north edge, some white birch, ironwood and butternut. Because the canopy was opened up, the understory has more mountain maple. Throughout the woods patches of white trilliums and dog-toothed violets rescued from building sites continue to spread.

The eastern part of the woods beside Corbett Creek Marsh has a border of speckled alder. The western portion of the marsh is part of the reserve. This includes a section of open water, and a vegetated section dominated by cattails, grasses and sedges. The topography of the woods consists largely of a series of east/west ridges sloping to the east toward the marsh. The narrow valleys between become wet seeps as they approach the marsh. Here marsh marigold and spotted jewelweed predominate. Migrant birds use shallow pools in these seeps to bathe and preen to restore their feathers after long flights.

The northwest corner, formerly a garden plot, has some tall ash trees and a few wild apple trees with tangles of grapevine, hawthorn, nannyberry and ash saplings, as well as a row of white cedars. The entrance to the woods is via a pathway through a rail fence leading southward from the Waterfront Trail.

The Waterfront Trail separates the 16+ acre woods portion of the reserve from the newly acquired 8.5 acre meadow. A row of white spruce planted along the south side of the meadow have reached five to seven metres in height and now provide both nesting and foraging opportunities for birds. Access to the meadow is via an opening through the spruces on the north side of the Waterfront Trail directly across from the entrance to the woods.

Soil in the south portion of the meadow is poorly-drained clay. As a result, ants build mounded domes to keep above the saturated soil. Vegetation varies throughout the meadow, but red-osier dogwood dominates lower runoff areas, and nannyberry and ash saplings grow in varying concentrations on the better-drained parts. Some areas are dominated by grasses, with others growing up to goldenrod. A large patch of bedstraw has taken over in the east/central section.

Some self-seeded white pines in the southeast part are now as tall as the spruces. A few smaller red cedars, no doubt planted by bird-dropped seeds, are scattered about in the northwest. A handful of ancient gnarled apple trees still survive in the centre of the meadow. Northern spies and greenings, they are the remnants of a pioneer orchard.

Summer bird residents include American woodcocks, yellow warblers, willow flycatchers and song sparrows. Cottontail rabbits seek cover here and white-tailed deer keep some patches of earth bare as they seek out minerals in the soil.

The meadow is triangle-shaped, narrowing to the north. Along Thickson Road on the west a row of white spruce are starting to grow up to provide a barrier. Plans are underway to have a berm constructed behind these as a further barrier. The eastern boundary overlooks the valley of the east branch of Corbett Creek. A number of years ago Whitby Scouts, the Town of Whitby Parks Department, Thickson’s Woods Heritage Foundation and Durham Region Field Naturalists cooperated in planting trees and shrubs along both sides of the valley. The steep bank between the meadow and the valley has grown up to a dense tangle of red-osier dogwood favoured by migrating sparrows and warblers and nesting catbirds and cardinals.

Throughout the woods and meadow, a network of walking paths allows visitors to view birds and wildflowers. People are asked to keep to the trails so as to minimize disturbance to wildlife and damage to vegetation.

May-rathon 2006

One major reason the campaign to pay off the meadow mortgage has been so successful is the hard work of our ever-growing group of “May-rathoners” and their very generous supporters. As our treasurer has pointed out, there are still expenses involved in maintaining Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, including the cost of communicating with you through our newsletter.

Some May-rathoners have asked whether they should do a May-rathon this year. That will be a decision each of us will have to make. Those who found the experience challenging and rewarding may opt to continue. Those who found it a burden may decide to scale back, take a break, or end their May-rathon careers altogether.

Due to space constraints, we are not including a May-rathon pledge form with this newsletter. However, if you would like one, please let us know and we will get one to you by early May. We will also try to get a downloadable version on our website as soon as possible.

To all of you and to your many hundreds of supporters, our sincere thanks. You have made a major contribution to preserving wild spaces in a world where these are an ever decreasing commodity.

We look forward to sharing nature with you in the woods and meadow this spring.

Thank you for you support!

Henry Street High School Staff
Laidlaw Foundation
Niagara Falls Nature Club
Peninsula Field Naturalists
Phercon Consulting
Pickering Naturalists
Staples Business Depot, Oshawa Centre
St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux Centre
Toronto Community Foundation

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