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Newsletter 30
Summer 2006

Come Explore Nature at the Fall Festival!

Take children into nature and turn them loose, and magical things happen. Kids of any age, from three to ninety-three!
This year’s Birds, Butterflies and Beavers Nature Festival, on Saturday September 16, 9:00 to 4:00, is an ideal opportunity to immerse yourself and a few favourite humans in the wonders of our natural world.

Curious about the rock cuts you pass as you drive across Canada? Ask Norbert Woerns, our festival geologist! Intrigued by stars, comets, moons, planets? Chat with members of the Durham Region Astronomical Association, who will have telescopes trained on the sun. Fascinated by insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles? Experts will be on hand to help you learn all about them.

This is an amazing year for monarch butterflies, which should be migrating across the meadow, nectaring on goldenrod and asters that day. Come cheer them on their way.

The price is right: adults $5, kids $2, families $10. Proceeds from the daylong event will support future expansion of the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.

Volunteers needed

There’s always lots to do putting on the nature festival, and volunteers have as much fun as visitors. If you’re able to help out in any way, on the day or beforehand, we’d love to hear from you. Phone (905) 725-2116.

Goodies for the bake sale are always in demand, so if you’re handy in the kitchen, you might mix up a big batch of muffins, cookies, cakes or candy. Our bake table always sells out by noon.

Nature related items for the famous festival bucket raffle are in great demand--anything interesting you have that someone else might find useful. Bring it along! Barb Glass will raffle it off with all the other trinkets and treasures.

There’s always lots of buzz and chatter at the silent auction, as bidders ooh and ahh over the wealth of donated goods and services. If you have a special talent you’d like to contribute, or some prized piece of apparel, equipment or art, phone
Dianne Pazaratz at (905) 433-7875.

Stargazing in the meadow a grand festival finale

For a chance to peer deep into the heavens, be sure to return to the meadow at dusk. Local astronomers who’ve been following the sun all day will turn their giant telescopes toward stars and galaxies, enabling folks to glimpse a few of the wondrous worlds far beyond our own tiny planet.

Date: Saturday, September 16 following the festival
Time: dusk to 11:00 p.m. (weather permitting)
Place: inside the meadow
Event: stargazing compliments of the Durham Region Astronomical Association

Admission Free!

Stories from the Front Lines

There are so many tales of individuals who went far out of their way to help pay off the half-million-dollar mortgage on the meadow that someone could write a book or make a movie. One wonderfully generous supporter challenged fellow members of the Toronto Ornithological Club to help with the final thrust, by matching every dollar they gave. Total: more than $12,000! Thank you, all TOCers who rose to the challenge, and especially the anonymous individual who inspired you and doubled your achievement.

Support for the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve came from near and far this summer. Donations arrived from as far away as Campo, California, and Bainbridge Island, Washington. And from as near as across the street—the meadow’s closest neighbour, Johnson Controls. Fifty enthusiastic workers from the automotive-parts producer pitched in on a massive cleanup of the meadow and creek valley in May, collecting 23 bags of garbage. They also wrapped chicken wire around specimen trees to protect them from the sharp teeth of local beavers, helping to preserve a wooded corridor along the watershed, shelter for foxes, deer, coyotes and thousands of migrating songbirds. The crowning touch on their stewardship efforts: presenting a $1000 U.S. donation to the land trust. Who could have a better neighbour?

The great mortgage-burning celebration in the meadow June 11 was a fitting finale for a truly amazing fund-raising effort. That such festivities could happen nine months before the mortgage came due shows how much people truly care about preserving wildlife habitat in a rapidly developing world. The TWLT board wants to once again warmly thank every single person who reached into his or her pocket and helped to make it happen. May you always feel a warm glow of contentment and pride as you wander through the woods and meadow, communing with nature you helped to protect.

Thanks to the many willing workers who helped make the June 11 event so successful--from tent-raisers to cleanup crew. Lofthouse once again put up Phill Holder’s big roomy tent, and the McQuarries, proprietors of Bear Essentials in Millbrook, let us use their tent as well. Richard Woolger sold those wonderful native plants he raises, and donated half his proceeds to the land trust. A bevy of local teenagers kept the pancakes coming, while singer/songwriter John Dorsey did the same with music, entertaining crowds for two hours straight.

The great nature art raffle could not have happened without Judy Bryson, who kept track of hundreds of tickets. Thanks to Margaret Elizabeth Schell and Lisa Weiss, and to the artists, Marc Barrie, Robert Bateman, Paul Bridges, Diana Bellerby and George Raab.


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

Richard D. Brown
Dave Calvert
Richard Nicholson
Bob Slayton
Anthony Thometz
Mary Thometz
Richard Wooldridge

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

Metres of the meadow have been saved in the name of:

Jim & Nora Read

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

Congratulations to the Art Raffle Winners

Eastern Bluebird - Lynn Chabot, Whitby
Rhapsody in Milkweed - Satu Pernanen, Oshawa
Carolina Parakeets - Lori Love, Mississauga
Flying High - Barbara Kalthoff, Toronto
Haliburton Marsh - Werner Valentin, Brooklin

Brand-new Berms an “Uplifting” Sight

Drive down Thickson Road to the nature reserve come September and you should see a few dramatic changes in the landscape. Earthen berms—carefully placed mounds of soil--are scheduled to be built along the westernmost edge of the meadow in the two weeks after Labour Day. If the weather cooperates, the work should be completed before the Birds, Beavers and Butterflies Festival on September 16.

The roadside berms will be the only significant alteration to the Thickson’s Wood’s Nature Reserve typography. Because the land slants eastward from Thickson Road toward Corbett Creek Marsh, the whole meadow is visible and open to passing trucks and traffic. A small ridge of hills at the edge of the reserve will provide a sound and sight barrier and help maintain calm and quiet within, benefitting birds, other wildlife and humans.

Long in the planning, the berms were the vision of Toronto architect Don Nichol, a staunch supporter of Thickson’s Woods preservation from the earliest days, in the 1980s. Don volunteered his time and expertise, drawing up site plans that were presented to the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority and Whitby Planning Department, both of which granted permission for the berms.

Where do you find a few “mountains” of free topsoil looking for a good home? Ongoing phone conversations with staff at Hard-Co Sand and Gravel, a local Whitby company, finally resulted in an ideal opportunity, as a property aligning Corbett Creek East, a kilometer away from the meadow, was slated for development. DPM Contracting Inc., an associate of Hard-Co, volunteered not only to truck the topsoil to the reserve, but to build and shape the berms with their earthmoving equipment.

The new berms present a great opportunity for enhancement of wildlife habitat in the reserve. Bare mounds of earth will be covered with green next spring in any case, compliments of Mother Nature and all the wind-borne seeds of autumn. To ensure that many beautiful and beneficial plants get a toehold and become established among pioneering species sure to move in, we hope to plant many clumps of flowering, berry-bearing trees and shrubs on the berms, food for birds and a feast for the eyes. Then we’ll let nature take over so it all grows wild.

Calling all gardeners and folks who like to dig in the earth! Next April, to celebrate Earth Day, we’ll be holding a berm-planting bee.

Circle Saturday, April 21, on your calendar and plan to show up in your grubbiest clothes, with gloves, shovels, and all the kids and grandkids you can gather. Many hands make light work!

We’ll be looking for appropriate native species to plant on the berms. If you have access to native seeds, bulbs, roots, stock, you’d like to contribute, phone (905) 725-2116.

You might know of a development site where native plants could be “rescued” and you might have a group of friends or co-workers who would enjoy handling just such a project. The more the merrier!

Another way to contribute to the berms: earmark a donation to the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust toward the “Future Forest.” That would help in the purchase of valuable plants we may not be able to scavenge or find.

It seems fitting that just as the huge debt on the meadow was paid off, leaving board members and other volunteers the breathing space to turn their sights toward management of the reserve, the berm building came together. Perfect timing!

Thank you, Don Nichol, Hard-Co and DPM Contracting, and everyone who helped pay off the mortgage, so the berms have a meadow to protect!

Earth Day 2007 Berm Planting Bee

Help plant a buffet and shelter belt for wildlife!

Who: Anyone who likes to dig in the earth.
When: Saturday April 21 2007 8:00 to 3:00
What to bring: gloves, shovels and native plants
Where: Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve

Mark a date with EARTH DAY on your calendar!

The Monarch Invasion
by Dennis Barry

2006 will be remembered as the summer of the monarchs. The first individuals appeared in late May to lay their eggs on growing milkweeds, the only food plant the larvae will eat. The eggs hatch in a few days and the black-white-and-yellow caterpillars grow to full size in a couple of weeks. Each caterpillar than fastens itself to the underside of a leaf and sheds its skin to reveal a beautiful emerald-green chrysalis with gold dots.

Over the next two weeks the chrysalis turns darker and becomes translucent, revealing a folded butterfly. The chrysalis splits open and a monarch crawls out. After pumping blood into its wings to expand them to full size, the butterfly is ready to mate.

Females search for other milkweeds to lay eggs on. After a month, this generation dies. One or two broods are raised in southern Ontario each year.

Generations that emerge later in the summer are in a state known as reproductive diapause. They are programmed to migrate rather than breed. This change is triggered by a combination of three factors: shorter days, cooler temperatures, and the aging of growing milkweed plants. Monarchs can migrate as much as 100 miles in a day, fly at 30 miles per hour, and reach altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. Unlike migrating birds, as they move farther south, they actually gain weight to sustain them during winter dormancy.

Dr. Fred Urquhart from the University of Toronto tagged thousands of monarchs. His efforts were responsible for the discovery in 1975 of their wintering grounds in Mexico. Monarchs from most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains winter there.

This year by early August, large numbers were gathering almost every day to roost in sheltered spots in Thickson’s Woods. Like many species of butterflies, monarchs are vividly coloured when their wings are open to reveal the upper side, but become nearly invisible with wings folded when roosting and still. They particularly favour an opening near the centre of the woods created by last fall’s blowdown of a large silver poplar. Sometimes the opening near the sightings box also attracts groups, as does the valley along the trail east and west of there.

One morning shortly after sunrise I went to search. At first glance it seemed there were no butterflies. Then a black squirrel raced up a small mountain maple, shaking the leaves, and a cloud of monarchs, a hundred or more, exploded from among the foliage and milled about in the opening before settling back onto new perches. Soon all was still again, but a careful look with binoculars revealed several groups of twenty to forty individuals hanging in densely packed clumps. Within a week numbers had swelled to tens of thousands, with single trees festooned with thousands of monarchs. The same perches are used day after day, although the butterflies using them may be different individuals.

These same butterflies will arrive in the fir forests in the high mountains of central Mexico in November, having migrated some four thousand kilometres. The surroundings there are somewhat similar to Thickson’s Woods, with openings in the canopy allowing some sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, and surrounding trees providing shelter from strong winds. Overnight temperatures drop below freezing. Monarchs become inactive below 55 F and become torpid below 40 F. This allows them to conserve energy and survive until spring. They cluster on a few chosen trees, several million to a tree. The drooped folded wings of those on the outside of a cluster shed rain so that inner individuals stay dry.

In February or early March they begin to move north and east. Most will lay eggs on new growing milkweed plants and die, but a few make it much farther north before starting a new generation. Newly emerged butterflies from southern regions move farther north to add to the growing numbers in southern Ontario.

To see monarchs in Thickson’s Woods, it is often best to come in late afternoon on sunny days to watch them gather. At dusk they settle down for the night and become virtually invisible until you look closely. Next morning as the rising sun warms them, they begin to move about, and by midday many have left the roosts to continue their migration westward along the Lake Ontario shore. On days when wind and weather conditions are not conducive to migration, many roost in wind-sheltered areas of the woods all day. The slightest movement or sound would cause them to fly about.

When you do come to see the monarchs, be considerate. Stay on the paths and move slowly and quietly so as to disturb them as little as possible. Remember, they need all their energy reserves for their long journey.

Puffballs - Pain or Pleasure?
by Harvey Medland

Although there are numerous puffball mushrooms in Thickson's Woods, only one is a gourmet's delight. Others can be gastric disasters. All puffballs are little more than a bag of spores; hence their pseudonym, the devil's snuff box.”

The largest, the Giant Puffball, must be eaten when it resembles a pure white soccer ball. Warning: their size varies from a golf ball to a dozing lamb. The record is 55 pounds. For dinner, just slice it lengthwise, remove the tiny worm tunnels and consult your favourite fungi recipe. When the Giant is left to mature in the woods, it becomes an inedible brown mass of seven trillion spores... In the past these spores were used to stop nosebleeds. Unfortunately, the remedy also triggered an allergic response. Bee-keepers may still use puffs of spores to calm an angry colony while the hive is being re-arranged.

If your sliced puffball is packed with plush purple spores, you are holding an Earthball. In Europe you may find it masquerading in markets as the rare truffle. One won't hurt you, but an ample helping will.

The Earthstar is visually the most appealing of all the puffballs. It is made up of two layers. The cover splits, then curves back like a peeled banana to form star-like rays. They create a platform for the inner layer which is the sac for the spores. When you hold a mature earthstar up to the light and squeeze it, you can see backlit dusky spores erupt like ash from a volcano. Normally, they have to rely on raindrops for their release.

Welcome to the World of Mushrooms, a good reason to watch your step.

Squeeze their tummies and they sing!

Nuthatches, woodpeckers, warblers and tanagers. They look like real birds and sound like real birds! But kids (and adults) can cuddle these fuzzy creatures and take them home.

A colourful variety of Audubon plush bird toys will be available for sale at the festival on September 16, each species one that visits the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.

Only $10, they’ll make an ideal gift for a budding birder, both for birthdays or the Holidays. Help your favourite child get to know and love Ontario’s native birds. And help support local nature conservation efforts in the process.

Thank you for you support!

Bear Essentials, Millbrook
CKDO 1350
Durham Region Astronomical Association
Durham Region Field Naturalists
Environmental Factor
Gallery Brougham
Green Tomorrow
Home Depot
Imagine That Art Gallery
John Weiss Hair Design
Johnson Controls
Mitchell Lumber
Outings Club of East York
Pickering Naturalists
Staples Business Depot, Oshawa Centre
Toronto Field Naturalists
Toronto Ornithological Club


“…most men it seems to me, do not care for Nature and would sell their share in her beauty, as long as they may live, for a stated sum…It is for this very reason that some do not care…that we need to continue to protect all from the vandalism of a few.”

Henry David Thoreau from The Journals

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