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Newsletter 33
Spring 2008

Come Celebrate Earth Week at the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve

Saturday September 15 - 9:00 to 4:00

Antsy for spring? Can’t wait to get your hands in the dirt, or fill your ears with birdsong? Get a jump-start on the 2008 growing season at the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve on Saturday April 19.

Our annual Earth Day Cleanup and Tree Planting will run from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Lots of volunteers are needed for planting, buckthorn removal, garlic mustard control and garbage collection. We’d love to see you there, even for an hour or two!

Don Docherty of the Durham Region Field Naturalists has offered to lead a nature outing in the afternoon, searching for signs of spring. Bring a picnic, or plan to grab lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. Then join Don at 1:00 p.m. at the entrance to the woods.

Let’s celebrate our earth together, make a difference and have some fun.

Directions: Thickson Road south past Wentworth to the TWNR berms.

Bring: Work gloves, shovels, trowels. Picnic lunch. Your sense of exploration and adventure!

If you have native trees or wildflowers you’d like to transplant at the nature reserve, phone Margaret Carney 905-725-2116.

Wildflower Rescue = Butterflies Abounding

The long drought last summer wasn’t especially kind to all the young sprouts and saplings trying to get a toehold on the new berms. A fresh growing season offers another chance to plant native wildflowers along the west end of the meadow.

And we have a special opportunity to do so. On May 31, the keepers and creators of a beautiful butterfly garden in Oshawa will be tending the flowers there. They’ve offered us the extras, precious root stock from plants they’ll be dividing—pearly everlasting, grey-headed and purple coneflowers, woodland sunflower, rudbeckia.

In a closely coordinated transplanting effort, flowers removed from the butterfly garden in the morning (10:00 to 12:00) will be rushed to the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserved and settled into prepared plots in the afternoon (2:00 to 4:00). We need many loving hands at both sites—green thumb or not. Any hours you can give, morning or afternoon, will be much appreciated.

The butterfly garden, located on the north side of Rossland Road immediately west of Oshawa Creek (between Park and Somerville), is a joint project of the Durham Region Field Naturalists, the Canadian Organic Growers Durham Chapter and the City of Oshawa. But it was dreamed up and brought into being by Dianne Pazaratz, who also serves on the TWLT board.

For information on the May 31 rescue and transplant, phone Dianne: 905-433-7875.

Woodcrest Students Visit Thickson’s Woods

Late last October Woodcrest grade seven classes spent a day exploring Thickson’s Woods and vicinity as part of their geography/science studies. They were happy to be able to spend time in nature, but dismayed at how little truly wild space remains in the surrounding area. Here are some of the letters they wrote:


Dear Thickson’s Woods Land Trust:

Last Thursday, our class went to Thickson’s Woods for a field trip so we could learn about nature. We explored the forest. We went on a scavenger hunt, and we took pictures of the flora and fauna that we saw. We ate lunch on the benches in the meadow. The nature reserve is well taken care of, and we made sure we didn’t litter while we were there. I especially enjoyed hearing coyotes, and seeing the snake my friend Steven found.



First I’d like to thank you for preserving the Thickson’s Woods, because it’s such a beautiful place to go and spend time at. I’m not sure if you were aware or not that our class had gone to Thickson’s Woods as a field trip yesterday. We all enjoyed it a lot and it was really so much fun! There were so many spontaneous trees turning different colors that it looked as if it were a rainbow forest. Beautiful was the word to describe Thickson’s Woods. I’m very glad we went. I’m sure Thickson’s Woods is home to many animals, insects, birds and other small creatures and living things. And I think it’s really great that there is still a place out there where animals can live peacefully in a safe, preserved area. That is so amazing!

I’m really glad that throughout the age of electronics, malls and game systems, there is still a place out there that we can have fun and go to have a good time in nature and all its wonder. To conclude this letter, I’d like to say thank you very much for all you have done to make Thickson’s Woods a great place to visit and have fun.



On Thursday, we the grade 7 classes of Woodcrest Public School took a field trip to your woodland. We left only footprints and took only pictures. We had a great time taking pictures and walking along the paths you made. I noticed that you saved a lot of animals’ habitats, and I saw that you saved a lot of trees from being cut down so now the birds have a home. I am happy to see that I’m not the only one who cares about nature.



Yesterday my class went to Camp X memorial and to Thickson’s Woods for a field trip. We explored around the beaches and brought back some wood and rocks to paint. We saw cold waves splashing up onto the shore and heard birds of all kinds chirping in nearby trees.

We stared at the memorial and thought of all the soldiers who’d trained there, and were mesmerized by the stories of the many amazing people who’d stood in these spots before us.

We left the memorial and traveled down a paved path towards the woods. We ate wild raspberries, some apples and some wild grapes. We saw an old, rusty bike floating in Corbett’s Creek, a place mentioned in a story we’d read about Camp X.

When we reached the woods, we studied some of the sights and were put into groups of three or four for a scavenger hunt. We had to take picture of the things we found. There were thirty-one items on the list including moss, woodpecker holes and tree fungus. My group found twenty.

It was beautiful watching the birds fly high above the sun-drenched trees. I feel great knowing how much people care about the environment. Thank you for this amazing opportunity and for taking care of such a magnificent place.



We’re glad you had the opportunity to enjoy time in an outdoor setting. It’s a vital part of education that allows young people to strengthen their intrinsic bond with the natural world. At a time when Earth faces so many stresses, you are the ones who will make a difference.

We hope you come back many times to visit, and many years from now bring your children and grandchildren to share the experience. Our pledge is to make sure Thickson’s Woods and all its plants and animals will be here to welcome you.

Treasurer's Corner
by Brian Steele

We are debt free once again! Since our appeal in the last newsletter, TW Land Trust’s faithful supporters have come through as always, and we’ve managed to pay off the loan taken out to purchase a quarter-acre lot in a corner of the woods--one containing some of the oldest, largest trees in the nature reserve.

The generous individual who loaned us $25,000 was repaid by December, only five months after the purchase. Everyone on the board is deeply grateful that we were lent the money, and that so many committed people backed the decision to protect this valuable piece of wildlife habitat by sending donations. Thank you all!!

Another major event on the financial front: the Ministry of Natural Resources has agreed that the meadow should be admitted into Ontario’s Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program (CLTIP). This program encourages nature preservation by making privately owned and protected environmentally sensitive lands non-taxable. Thickson’s Woods has been included for many years.

Unfortunately, the program was frozen for more than a decade, so that new properties could not be covered. Now that it has been reinstituted, we applied to have the meadow registered. Our request was accepted, and effective in 2008, the meadow has been included in the program and the land trust will not be paying property taxes on it. Based on levies paid in 2007, that will save nearly $4,000 per annum.

Our Birds, Beavers and Butterflies Festival went off very well in September, raising over $2,300 for the nature reserve protection fund. For the first time the food was not prepared by volunteers, but provided by Lick’s, which donated a portion of the proceeds. We were dismayed that they used foam containers, and will ensure that more environmentally friendly options are used in 2008.

This year’s festival will be held on Saturday September 20, so circle that date on your calendar! We are pleased that Muskoka Wildlife will be returning, after being unable to attend last year.
Once again, to all donors and supporters of the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, thank you!

Gifts That Will Last Forever

Metres of the nature reserve have been saved in the name of: Dennis Barry, Jacquie Brookes, Ella May Cross, the Duff Grandchildren, Margaret Horton, Lorraine Johnson, Don Lloyd, Marion O’Donnell.

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


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

Brenda Argetsinger
John Brookes
David Calvert
Elynor Hodges Carney
Lois Carter
John Cockerill
Ella May Cross
Kathleen Edwards
Robert Hambley
Harold Hilder
Win McDonald
Beatrice & Thomas Murphy
Anneliese Stieda Overton
Nora L. Read
Marjorie Robb
Bob Schell
Molly Tharyan
Michael Thometz
Arthur Verrall

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.

Migrants and Breeding Birds in Thickson’s Woods

(With references from Forest Birds in Urban Area: Habitat Needs of Area-sensitive Species prepared by Graham Bryan of the Canadian Wildlife Service, based on a report by Brian Henshaw entitled Area-sensitive Forest Birds in Urban Areas)

We have always thought of Thickson’s Woods in terms of its importance as a rest and refueling stop for migrants, especially on days in spring when sudden cold snaps reduce available insect food. On cold cloudy days warblers and kinglets seem to feed in the interior foliage of evergreens such as white cedars, where small insects are either still active, or are also sheltering from the elements. On bright frosty mornings bird activity is concentrated at the tops of tall trees that are warmed first by the rising sun, or on the east-facing edges of hedges open to the sun. On very windy days, hundreds of swallows hawk for insects on whichever side of the woods is sheltered from the wind. By midday as the sun warms the chokecherry and mountain maple understory in the centre of the woods, black-throated blue and chestnut-sided warblers are busily feeding at eye level.

Area-sensitive species are defined as those needing a relatively large forest plot to reproduce successfully. Of the 43 species included by Henshaw in this category, only six have recently nested in Thickson’s Woods: Cooper’s hawk, red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, blue-gray gnatcatcher, wood thrush and pine warbler. The fact that none of these species nests annually suggests that there isn’t a viable breeding population for any of them in Thickson’s Woods. Forest species that do nest during most years in Thickson’s, such as great crested flycatcher, eastern wood-pewee and red-eyed vireo, aren’t considered area-sensitive.

Possible factors that may prevent viable breeding in urban forest patches include:

  1. the lack of other members of the same species nearby
  2. increase in the proportion of non-native plants that do not provide the species requirements
  3. increase in the numbers of urban-tolerant native predators such as gray squirrels, raccoons and red foxes
  4. noise, including sudden loud human-generated noise as well as traffic noise on heavily traveled roads
  5. isolation of forest patches, and barriers to connectivity
  6. higher human use and greater density of trails
  7. habitat alteration including "tidying up" such as removal of snags and natural forest floor litter.

The best way to mitigate these factors is to plan ahead to provide larger forest blocks before urbanization occurs. At least 30% of any watershed should be maintained in forest cover. The higher the percentage of forest cover, the less impact factors adversely affecting breeding success will have.

While smaller urban forest patches may not provide viable nesting opportunities for many forest species, they are still an invaluable part of the urban environment. They improve air and water quality and moderate climate extremes. Many other wildlife species, both vertebrate and invertebrate, find food and shelter there, either year-round, or seasonally. "Not to be overlooked are the essential benefits associated with trees in terms of human physical, mental and social health."

Much can be done to restore and enhance urban forests. A forest with healthy vegetation at all levels from ground cover to canopy attracts a greater variety of wildlife. The tall white pines in Thickson’s Woods provide a canopy layer higher than any of the surrounding forest patches. This not only allows nesting great horned owls to remain in the woods despite high human use during their nesting season, but the tall trees act as a beacon for migrating songbirds crossing Lake Ontario.

Removal of certain non-native species that out-compete native plants can help maintain species diversity. Barriers such as dense plantings can limit access to sensitive areas and reduce the impacts of noise and light pollution. The berms along the west side of the meadow in the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve have created a sheltered area protected from prevailing westerly winds and traffic noise from Thickson Road. There has been a noticeable increase in the numbers of birds using the stretch of meadow immediately adjacent to the berms.

Bird Collisions--a Fatal Flaw of Many Buildings

With spring migration underway, tens of thousands of birds will take advantage of the oasis that Thickson’s Woods provides on their flight to breeding territories up north. Birds migrating through the Greater Toronto Area face many challenges after crossing the lake on their journey northward in the spring, and on their way south in the fall. In urban areas, the risk of death and injury for migrating birds is a significant problem when they encounter manmade structures such as office buildings, transmission and cellular towers, and even homes.

The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) is a registered charitable organization whose mission is to safeguard migratory birds in the urban environment through education, research, rescue, and rehabilitation. Since its inception in 1993, FLAP volunteers have recovered over 40,000 birds of 162 species from building collisions in the Toronto area. FLAP also educates tenants, cleaning crews, security staff, and managers of office towers about the dangers posed by our built environment to migratory birds.

FLAP consults with architects, window manufacturers, designers, and lighting engineers to encourage them to design, construct, and retrofit buildings with birds in mind. Since 2005, Lights Out Toronto! (www.toronto.ca/lightsout) -- an initiative among FLAP, the City of Toronto, and other stakeholders -- has been gaining momentum, especially with the Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines introduced in 2006.

Migrating birds can be injured and killed both by nighttime collisions when they are attracted to building lights and by daytime strikes when they attempt to fly through mirrored windows. The mortality rate is about 50% - typically from broken necks or brain trauma. Injured birds that are recovered may often be rehabilitated and released in a safe location to continue their migration.

It is difficult to get an accurate count of the number of birds that are involved in building collisions in the Toronto area during the spring and fall migrations, but reasonably conservative estimates put the number at around 1,000,000. The experience of FLAP volunteers indicates that scores of birds do collide with individual office buildings on days when migration is active – several years ago volunteers recovered over 200 birds in a single day at a building near McCowan Avenue and Highway 401 in Scarborough during fall migration.

As municipalities in the GTA – including Durham region - continue to attract new residents and businesses, it is clear that development of homes and offices will continue at a rapid pace. Smart growth principles of urban planning will concentrate office and condominium towers near transit routes (GO Transit and the 401). These desirable development locations are also close to the migratory waterfront areas, including Thickson’s Woods and other shoreline areas. It is important that good planning principles include an understanding of how our tall shiny office buildings and structures like cell towers with their flashing lights have an enormous impact on migratory bird populations. Read the Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines.

We would encourage you to understand the positive steps that developers and managers can take to reduce the risk their buildings pose to birds, and to contact your locally elected officials and let them know your thoughts on this important conservation issue.

If you would like to volunteer with FLAP or require more information on this topic, please visit the FLAP website at www.FLAP.org. Your financial support would be greatly appreciated too.

First Opossum Sighting in Thickson’s Woods

In February 2008, Warren Brailsford spotted a large opossum foraging through the southern part of the woods near his house. He watched it poking about over the snow, and photographed it stopping to eat sunflower seeds fallen from his bird feeder.

Great Waterfront Trail Adventure
A Thickson’s Woods & Beach Walk

As part of the 15th birthday celebration for the Waterfront Trail, an 8-day bike tour is planned, covering 680 kilometres from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border. Sounds like a fantastic adventure! Details are on the Waterfront Trail website. Spaces are limited, so if you’re interested, you might want to sign up early.

Since the Trail passes through the heart of the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, we’ve agreed to arrange a self-guided side trip to explore Thickson’s Woods and the Lake Ontario shore to the east. Day three of the tour, on Sunday, July 6, starts in Toronto and ends at Darlington Provincial Park. Even if you aren’t taking part in the official tour, you might want to explore the following side trip and experience Thickson’s Woods at a different season:

A walk through Thickson’s Woods in early July is a very different experience than listening to a chorus of migrating songbirds in May. As you enter the narrow pathway from the Waterfront Trail, the woods can be a cool, shady respite from blazing sun. Plants reach in to take advantage of open spaces created by many feet that widened the pathways in spring. Fronds of ostrich ferns that were unfurling "fiddleheads" in April now tower head-high, reaching out to gently caress passersby. Trilliums and other spring wildflowers have faded, leaving behind only withered leaves and seeds to foster future generations. The bright orange-red fruit of jack-in-the-pulpit warns those tempted to taste that fire burns within.

Summer wildflowers take advantage of sunlit openings and edges to continue the cycle of bloom. Purple-flowering raspberry and the smaller yellow blossoms of fringed loosestrife attract a myriad of insects including bumblebees and butterflies. Watch for tiny powder-blue summer azures or large black-and-gold tiger swallowtails. Come back in mid-August, and clearings in the centre of the woods may be alive with flitting monarchs.

While the grandeur of the towering white pines of Thickson’s Woods is somewhat muted by summer greenery of black cherry and red oak, it still takes at least three pre-schoolers holding hands to hug the trunk of the largest one. And although Wilson’s warblers and Swainson’s thrushes of spring are busily raising families in faraway northern boreal forests, the lazy "peeweeee" drawl of eastern wood-pewees and the incessant robin-like song of red-eyed vireos remind us that Thickson’s Woods is home to its own nesting birds.

The first view of the blue waters of Lake Ontario on emerging from the shade of the woods is often a surprise to those who haven’t been here before. A narrow gravel road hugs the top of a bluff, home to burrow-nesting bank swallows and belted kingfishers. A short walk eastward to the end of the gravel road allows one to clamber down to the shore. Stretching off for a kilometre or more, a narrow ribbon of sand and pebbles is nestled between the lake and a forest wall of cedars.

At the end of the woods, Corbett Creek enters Lake Ontario. After recent storms, there may be a sizable stream rushing to join the lake. If weather has been dry for a time, waters seep through the gravel dam created by on-shore winds, and trickle down to the lake. If you approach quietly, you might spot a great blue heron fishing in the shallows of Corbett Creek Marsh.

At this point you can decide whether to retrace your steps along the shore and back through the woods to the Waterfront Trail, or follow the grassy laneway uphill to the northeast through Intrepid Park to rejoin the trail there. Here you can turn right and continue your adventure eastward, or turn left and enjoy a very pleasant 1.5 kilometre walk westward back to your starting point, crossing an interesting pedestrian bridge over the east branch of Corbett Creek along the way.

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