Help Save the Great Pines
There’s lots going on in Thickson’s Woods this summer, on the people front as well as with wildlife. Lots besides baby catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, house wrens, white-breasted nuthatches and flickers following their parents around, learning how to hunt for food, bathe and preen those brand-new feathers. Or baby cottontails learning which plants taste best, and how to escape foxes and great horned owls.
We’re gearing up for our annual fall nature festival, scheduled for Saturday, September 19. It will feature many popular events—wildlife shows, insect ID, rock painting, tours of the woods, and if the winds are right, hawk watching. Young and old will be fascinated by the new “Small is Beautiful” corner, where you can peer into seldom-seen worlds.
Circle the date and make plans to bring friends, kids and grandkids, for a great day in nature.
Attention, cooks and bakers! Homemade goodies will be in demand at our hugely popular bake sale, so consider making a batch or two of your favourite squares, cookies, cakes or pies, pickles, jams or jellies, and bring them along. We’re into a flurry of fund-raising, and everyone loves home-baked treats.
Our reason for fund-raising: a rare opportunity to protect big trees has come our way, with the purchase of another old building lot in the woods. When Mr. Thickson, a developer in the twenties, bought the Corbett farm, he carved up the lakeshore and woods into cottage lots. One undeveloped parcel just purchased by Thickson’s Woods Land Trust has half a dozen giant white pines on it, part of the grove on the south side of the woods spared when 60 of the ancient pines were cut in 1983. It’s those towering evergreens that migrating warblers and tanagers see when they’re flying across the lake on a May morning. Exhausted and hungry, they head to their sheltering arms.
Can you help save the great pines?
Any donation, large or small, to help pay off the mortgage will be much appreciated—by all those warblers, and by the hundreds of humans who visit Thickson’s Woods spring and fall to see them.
Recent donations have been made in memory of these special people:
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.
A Few Special People…
One of the most poignant tasks of a land trust volunteer “scribe” is corresponding with family and friends of a long-time supporter who has passed away. We may not know the individuals well, but we know of their generosity of spirit and their love of nature through their regular notes and cheques and heartfelt responses to appeals over the years.
Harold Farrant first came to Thickson’s Woods on an outing with the Richmond Hill Naturalists Club years ago, and promptly became an avid supporter, along with his wife, Muriel. Joan Trott loved to come up with quirky, interesting items for the silent auctions at nature festivals. Just this spring she sent a donation in memory of Jack, her husband.
These good friends of the woods will always be linked in memory to the great pines they’ve helped to save, even with their passing.
I don’t recall the first time I saw Jim Fairchild in Thickson’s Woods. He was such a fixture in the nature reserve it seems he was an integral part of the place. Sadly, Jim passed away this spring while wandering in his other home-away-from-home, the Rouge River Valley.
Jim’s enthusiasm for birds was contagious, and he never tired of sharing his passion and knowledge with friends and strangers alike. Many a fledgling birder was shown her first Lincoln’s sparrow or his first pine warbler by Jim.
Jim’s knowledge of birds, especially birdsong, was legendary. The call note of summer tanager was so engrained in his brain, he could hear one halfway across the woods, and he discovered this unusual species here on more than one occasion. He also paid special attention to plumage details, and found probably the first Audubon’s warbler at Thickson’s, the yellow-throated western race of yellow-rumped warbler.
But Jim would get just as excited about the first ruby-crowned kinglet of spring, or the last black-throated blue warbler of fall. Many’s the time there’d be a loud pounding on our back door. We’d know it was Jim because no on else hammered hard enough to be heard if we were working upstairs. If we were out, he’d leave a note stuck to the door, or on the back step, weighted down with one of Margaret’s rocks. Jim didn’t sign the notes. He didn’t have to, since no one else wrote on torn scraps of paper, or a used serviette from a Tim Horton’s donut--cream-filled, no doubt. Once it was a December Nashville warbler he’d found behind our house; another time a spring whip-poor-will perched on a tree limb. One May morning he rushed all the way from the far end of the meadow to tell us he’d found a prairie warbler in the hedgerow above the creek valley.
For several years Jim helped raise money by doing a “Mayrathon” to help pay off the mortgage on the meadow. He enjoyed the friendly competition with other Mayrathoners, but was always willing to share where he had found the last stray junco or golden-crowned kinglet of the spring, or a rare Kentucky warbler. Now it’s our job to carry on when he can’t.
Many times this spring I’d expect Jim to appear along the path above the record book box. Then I’d remember that wasn’t going to happen anymore. Frequently, conversations with other birders would end with the wish that Jim were still here to share his knowledge and camaraderie, and the mention of how much he was missed.
A plaque in remembrance of Jim will be placed on a bench along that path. I’m sure if you sit there, Jim will join you in spirit.
We need you – again! On June 24, Thickson’s Woods Land Trust completed the purchase of another lot in the woods. Like our acquisition two years ago, this parcel has extreme nature value.
For long-time supporters who know Dennis & Margaret, the property lies directly north of theirs, starting just beyond their garden shed. If you’re entering the nature reserve from the Waterfront Trail, go south through the woods, down the slope past the green sightings box, and turn left. When you reach the path that runs back into the woods, look over your shoulder to your right, and admire the number of tall pines. By my count there are eleven magnificent pines on the almost 6,000 square foot property. It may be the most heavily treed section in the woods.
From the path you would think that this grove was already part of “our” forest. But it was not.
When members of the TWLT board learned the lot was available, we did not hesitate to take the plunge and buy it. From past protection efforts, we know that Thickson’s Woods supporters respond when the need is there. So just like the last time, we have borrowed $25,000 from one generous supporter against a note payable, and now must work hard to pay off the debt.
I hope that many of you will attend the Birds, Beavers & Butterflies Festival on September 19. During the event we run frequent tours of the woods, and one stop this year will be to view the new lot. I am confident that when you see the grove of towering pines you will understand why the board had no choice but to purchase. Whenever we can preserve a portion of nature forever in Thickson Woods, we must act. And we can do so only with your financial support.
With warm appreciation…
A special thank you to our neighbour, Tom Crawford, for helping in years past to get the meadow ready for the fall nature festival by mowing grass along the trails and in the event spaces.
And thank you, Mary Lund and Anne Fox, for helping with correspondence of the nature reserve.
Scary Invader Is Taking Over
What’s the worst invasive plant species taking over Ontario’s wild places? You could make a good argument for dog-strangling vine, buckthorn, phragmites or even fragrant bedstraw. But at the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, and many other shady woods and creek valleys, it’s garlic mustard.
This remarkably hardy plant from Europe is already green and growing when the snow melts. Right away it sends up stalks lined with alternate, heart-shaped leaves, grabbing sunlight from nearby native wildflowers such as bloodroot, dog-toothed violets and trilliums. By late May garlic mustard is in bloom, with small clusters of white, five-petalled flowers, and by late June it’s gone to seed. One plant can produce thousands of tiny seeds that remain viable for many years.
By the following spring each parent plant has a carpet of young ones around it, ready to grow tall and flower.
The only way to get rid of garlic mustard is to dig it up—and not leave any roots behind. TWLT director Dennis Barry has been removing garlic mustard from the woods for nearly 15 years. This spring more than 325 hours went into ridding the woods of the invader, the lion’s share of the work done by Dennis, who managed to eradicate most of this year’s flowering plants before they went to seed. Luckily, it was a wet spring, so a lot of plants could be pulled up by hand, roots intact.
What can happen when just a few plants get out of hand is scary. Really scary. Scientists at Guelph University have discovered that garlic mustard roots put chemicals into the soil that inhibit the sprouting and growth of anything else for a long time. Prognosis for our precious Carolinian forests in places such as Point Pelee National Park, where garlic mustard has become the dominant ground cover, is not good. We are determined to keep it from taking over Thickson’s Woods.
We need to educate everyone in Ontario about garlic mustard, and encourage them to stop and pull it up whenever they see this truly invasive stuff.
Hands on Deck
In order to nip next year’s crop in the bud, we’re planning a blitz this autumn. Please come and help out! Bring work gloves, a trowel or shovel, and lots of determination. You might want to wear waterproof outerwear for sitting on the ground.
If you’d like to phone or e-mail us now to let us know you want to help, we’ll send you a reminder closer to the time. The reason for the late date is to allow other vegetation to die down, leaving the still-green garlic mustard exposed.
Alternate dates in case of inclement weather on November 7 will be Sunday, November 8 and/or Saturday, November 14.
Thank you, garlic mustard volunteers!
A big thank-you goes to Dana Hurst, Amy Williams and Lindsay Bell, a cheerful trio from Buffett and Company in Whitby, who worked hard turfing garlic mustard one mosquitoey day in June. Also to the 25 volunteers at our Earth Day Cleanup in April, who tackled great patches of the green invaders throughout the morning..
Getting to Know the Great Pines
Several springs ago Jay Vangergaast, world birder and tour guide, was visiting Thickson’s Woods. We heard an unusual warbler song from high in one of the white pines that, with the recent purchase, have recently become part of the nature reserve. After some searching we managed to spot a rare yellow-throated warbler feeding among the foliage. Jay succeeded in focusing his scope on the bird for brief periods, allowing several folks a close-up view of what was a “lifer” for most. A fall yellow-throated warbler was feeding near the ground on the property a few years later.
Perhaps the most unexpected bird found in the same grove of pines was a singing male black-throated gray warbler discovered in late spring many years ago by Edge Pegg. Other unusual species to make use of the grove over the years include great gray owl, black-backed woodpecker, tufted titmouse, boreal chickadee and varied thrush.
However, the greatest value of the tall pines in Thickson’s Woods is not the rare species seen there, impressive as they may be. The tallest pines reach some thirty-five metres into the sky, dwarfing all other evergreens, which look like Christmas trees in comparison when viewed from a boat out in the lake. Migrating birds crossing Lake Ontario use those tall pines as a beacon to guide them ashore, especially if a storm hits during their passage.
Once birds reach land, the tall pines act as giant feeding stations for a variety of species. Blackburnian and pine warblers typically forage among the highest foliage, Cape May and black-throated green warblers feed at lower levels, redstarts and black-throated blues hunt for insects in the lowest branches and the shaded shrubbery below the pines, while brown creepers and black-and-white warblers glean food from the trunks and larger limbs. On cool mornings, the tops of the tallest pines are warmed by the sun first. Birders are surprised to find usual ground feeders such as juncos and white-throated sparrows feeding high up in the tallest branches.
The lofty pines also allow nesting great horned owls and pine warblers to raise families high above the hustle and bustle of a May morning in Thickson’s Woods, with dozens of birders and photographers crowding the trails below.
A number of years ago a stray swarm of honeybees took up residence in a hollow in one of the large pines on the new lot. Now gray squirrels shelter there in winter and raise babies in spring.
Being the tallest trees in the woods has both benefits and drawbacks. Single white pines are prone to wind damage. A huge one along the south trail broke off when the remnants of a hurricane came ashore several falls ago. Others have been blown partially over. Having extensive stands of these tall giants is essential to their survival.
The largest now are approaching two hundred years of age. No doubt flocks of passenger pigeons rested in their branches back in the 1800s. Protection of the pine grove on the newly acquired property is especially important, since they are the first line of defense against both summer and winter storms racing ashore off Lake Ontario.
If you haven’t already done so, consider making a donation to help pay off the mortgage on the new property and to allow us to take advantage of other opportunities in the future. Or consider asking others to sponsor you on a Mayrathon next spring, to help spread the burden of raising the needed funds.
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Brodie Club Visits
TIn March of this year I became a resident of Crystal Beach Boulevard in Whitby, with my home backing onto Thickson’s Woods. I live right next door to long-time residents Margaret Carney and Dennis Barry. Given my new move to such an interesting area, I decided to volunteer to host the summer field day and picnic of one of the natural history clubs I belong to – the Brodie Club.
The Brodie Club is the oldest of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area. It was formed in 1921 by experts and professionals in many of the disciplines of natural history from the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum. Its formation ended a virtual thirty year “dark ages” in local natural history pursuits in Toronto; there had not been such an organization since the disbanding of the Natural History Society of Toronto in 1885 and the Biological Society of Ontario in 1894.
The club is named in honour of William Brodie, the most well-known and revered 19th century naturalist from the Toronto area. Like its namesake, the groups’ interests have always extended to all aspects of natural history. A few years ago, the Brody Club celebrated its 1000th meeting, at a dinner at the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto, with alumni returning from across the country.
Although small in size (~ three dozen active members), the club has had immense influence on the course of Ontario natural history in the 20th century. Its members have been instrumental in enabling the creation of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature), the Toronto Ornithological Club and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. They were leaders in changing the prevailing public perception of hawks as vermin in the 1930s, and advocated strongly against other prominent naturalists of the day, such as Jack Miner, to prevent their persecution.
On 13 June 2009, 16 members and three guests of the Brodie Club met at my house between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for their annual summer field day and picnic. After a brief tour of my new house, and some birding along the lake, we were treated to a tour of Thickson’s Woods and the meadow by Dennis Barry and Margaret Carney.
As if on cue, the resident male Pine Warbler began singing behind my yard just as the first few members began arriving. A summering pair of Common Loons came in to within 20 metres of shore as a treat for the early arrivals, and a pair of Trumpeter Swans swam by in procession. The colony of Bank Swallows in the bluff in front of my house put on a fine aerial show. A Northern Flicker routinely drumming on my chimney pipe provided comic relief. Leader Dennis Barry pointed out an adult Great Horned Owl, perched in one of the large Eastern White Pines behind my house, which all members were able to view at close range through my scope. Members were shown eight different species of ferns by Dennis, a highlight of the trip for many participants. After viewing some of the finer tree specimens of the woods, we proceeded to the meadow, where Dennis and Margaret graciously showed individual members many of the flowering plants and Dennis pointed out a singing male Orchard Oriole. Just before returning to my yard for a picnic lunch and social hour, we had most of those present pose in the Meadow for a group photograph. It occurred to me as we were taking the picture that the collective natural history experience of those assembled probably exceeded 1000 person-years!
After lunch, a few of us paid a visit to the Corbett Creek marsh. We finished the day with a trip to the nearby fields of Intrepid Park, where we found singing Savannah Sparrows and an Eastern Meadowlark. Those who remained until the end were happy to visit the site of the former Camp X, where British and Canadian forces trained in espionage and insurgency techniques, as preparation for their World War II service. This site, under the direction of Sir William Stephenson (A Man Called Intrepid), served as the crucible for the earliest membership of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and provided the early inspiration for one of its trainees, Ian Fleming, to write his James Bond spy novels.
The following 66 bird species were seen and/or heard on the field day:
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Cooper’s Hawk, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Marsh Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
I thank the following people who attended the 2009 Brodie Club summer field day and picnic:
Jim and Yvonne Bendell (who came from Ottawa), Fred Bodsworth and his daughter Barbara Welch, Hugh Currie, Sandra Eadie, Bruce and Ann Falls, Jean Iron, Ron Pittaway, Norm and Norma Martin (who came from Belleville), Jock McAndrews, Jim and Trudy Rising, and Ron Tasker.
All the members of the club were very thankful to have Margaret Carney and Dennis Barry lead and co-host the event. Members were most impressed with the very tangible achievements of the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust – truly high praise from one of Ontario’s most knowledgeable natural history organizations.