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Newsletter 41
Spring 2012

Ask not what your Nature Reserve can do for you, but what you can do for your Nature Reserve

How You Can Help

Boulders Needed to Protect the Shore

Recent storms have seriously eroded the shoreline along the south side of the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve (See "Weird or What?" later in this newsletter). Large boulders have proven to be the most effective method to protect the shore. They’re natural and they tend to break up the waves and deflect their force before they get to the base of the bluff. If you have any contacts with construction companies that have large boulders they need to get rid of from sites they may be working on, let us know.

Earth Day Garlic Mustard Attack
Sunday, April 22

No, garlic mustard won’t attack you. It invades quietly. Tiny black seeds fall to the ground in early summer. Some may be transported to new locations on the muddy feet of raccoons or robins. As soon as the soil warms the following spring, they sprout. Two tiny leaves shaped like daisy petals, seemingly suspended in space away from the main stem, are the clue that garlic mustard is starting its two-year cycle.

As spring progresses, true leaves, heart-shaped and bluish green, with toothed margins, form and produce food for the plant. A sturdy, always crooked taproot anchors the plant in the earth. Now a second invisible form of attack takes place, chemical warfare. Chemicals are put into the soil though the roots. They kill off microscopic fungi there that break down rotting vegetation into nutrients usable by trees. Without proper food, the trees weaken and die.

When winter comes, the garlic mustard plants remain green, thus gaining an advantage over native wildflowers that sprout from bulbs.

On Earth Day meet at 9:00 a.m. at the entrance to the woods off the Waterfront Trail. Come prepared to dig in the dirt. Bring a small spade, trowel, hoe or whatever your favourite weapon may be. We’ll uproot the larger garlic mustard plants and dispose of them. The tiny ones can be brushed with a glove or uprooted with a hoe. Can’t make it on Earth Day? Come back anytime and wage your own private battle! Or attack garlic mustard growing in your neighbourhood!

Dog-Strangling Vine Removal
Saturday, June 23

This perennial parachutes in silently and lies in wait. When soil conditions are right the small dark seeds sprout. For a couple of years the tiny plants remain hidden among the grass. When their underground rhizomes have stored sufficient food, tall stems grow up and produce foul-smelling purplish-green flowers. Each year the plant grows taller, climbing up several metres into surrounding shrubs and trees. A member of the milkweed family, dog-strangling vines disperse their seeds by wind in early autumn.

Meet at 8:00 a.m. at the gated entrance to the meadow. Bring a sturdy shovel and long-handled pruning shears. A lawn chair could be useful. It may be hot and sunny, so come prepared. We’re starting at 8:00 a.m. because it may get hot later, but come later if you need to. If you can’t make it on June 23, come another day, or several other days. If you’d like a reminder closer to the date, leave an e-mail message at nature@thicksonswoods.com or call 905-725-2116.


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

Dave Calvert
Matt Holder
Aileen Howes
Michael McWalters
Ian Patterson
Margaret Roberts

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.

Matt Holder

It was almost unbearably sad for all of us to hear of Matt Holder’s sudden death in Calgary on October 14th, 2011 at the age of only 37. We remember Matt with great fondness for his love of nature, his enthusiasm for birds and dragonflies, fish and frogs, science and soccer. His pond-dipping exploits in Corbett Creek at the Thickson’s Woods Fall Fair were one of the most popular events held there for several years, resulting in collections of the muddiest, smilingest kids you could ever want to see.

Matt moved to Calgary in 2009 to work for TransAlta, a partner in the Canadian Wind Energy Association. He had been promoted to their director of environmental services just a few days before his death from a totally unexpected sudden cardiac arrest. In spite of prompt and vigorous resuscitation efforts his life could not be saved. His parents, our dear friends Phill and Sue Holder, themselves so instrumental in the ongoing success of the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust, flew to Calgary to say goodbye to Matt and to be with his wife and two young sons for those first devastating days.

Two hundred people attended a memorial reception in Calgary, and another 200 celebrated Matt’s life and accomplishments at Phill and Sue’s home in Blackstock at the end of October. The Canadian Wind Energy Association, of which Matt was a board member, has created a Matt Holder Community Connection Award, and TransAlta has founded a Matt Holder Environmental Leadership President’s Award. In addition, a memorial is being planned for Algonquin Park, where Matt spent many summers as a park naturalist.

Our deepest sympathy goes to Phill and Sue, to Andrea Kingsley and to her two young sons. Matt will long be remembered with all our love.

Margaret Bain

In Memory of Margaret Roberts,
May 1929 - August 2011

Thickson’s Woods lost a long-time supporter and nature lover last August with the passing of Margaret Roberts of Whitby. My mother considered the woods and the adjoining meadow to be a local treasure and was always eager to show it off to visiting family and friends. She loved to see the young families enjoying the many festivals and events that she attended over the years.

When she was close to the end of her journey last summer she reflected, "During at least the last thirty years of my life I have felt more spiritually tranquil in the beautiful woods of Ontario than anywhere else." This connection to the outdoors is a legacy that she and my father left to our family and entrusted us to pass along to future generations. We are grateful for this gift and to all those who work to protect and maintain the natural habitats for the wildflowers and birds that my mom so loved.

Janet Phillips

Thank You!!!

Thank you to all who have sent donations over the years to purchase land for Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve and keep it natural, providing homes for plants and animals, and a place for people to relax, away from the stress and chaos of an increasingly "unnatural" world.

Many thanks to students, parents and staff from Whitby Shores Public School for their help in digging up garlic mustard in the woods.

A special thank-you also to students from Trafalgar Castle School for their help with maintenance in the reserve, and for their donation from money they raised at a bazaar.

Our wonderful corporate neighbours, Johnson Controls, once again gave a generous donation in support of Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve. Many, many thanks.

Crestview Investment Corporation is one of our most generous perennial corporate donors. Thank you so much once again!! Here’s part of a letter from Bert A. Grant, chairman of the board and president:

"Thickson’s Woods continues to be close to our hearts and we are pleased to be able to again be a small part of the good works Thickson’s Woods Land Trust does for the greater benefit of Nature.

Keep up the good work!"

OPG Wildlife Calendar goes a long way in support of nature

A surprise telephone call in early spring put wide smiles on the faces of TWLT board members. Beverly Forget, who works at the Darlington Nuclear Information Center, wanted to arrange delivery of a donation to the land trust with a few colleagues from Ontario Power Generation. And one snowy morning in March they arrived at Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve with a sizable cheque (more than a metre wide),an envelope full of cash, and two very special 2012 calendars.

Margo Sloan, Meredith Crouch, Sage Livingstone and Beverly smiled into the camera as they handed over their cache of goodies to TWLT president Otto Peter, then came for a walk through the nature reserve.

Their story was a heartwarming one. Staff at both Darlington and Pickering plants have been taking part in photo competitions featuring pictures of wildlife taken on site, to illustrate the great biodiversity to be found. Someone got the bright idea of putting some of the best in a calendar, with profits from sales to be donated in support of nature. Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, on the Lake Ontario shoreline halfway between the Pickering and

Darlington power plants, seemed to everyone the perfect choice.
Meanwhile, a lot of people will live through the changing seasons of 2012 enjoying beautiful pictures of ripples and reflections, fallen leaves, butterflies and baby ducks, a leopard frog, a mink, a great blue heron. And Darlington’s most famous visitor, the rare rock ptarmigan from Canada’s frozen north that thrilled birders last summer.

Thank you, Beverly, and everyone at Darlington and Pickering Nuclear!

Birding Memories from Thickson’s Woods
by Margaret Bain

Thickson’s Woods is a special place. As spring nears, the woods can provide the first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the year, then the first Blue-headed Vireo, then Palm Warbler, sapsucker, flicker, and soon the tall pines and yellow birches are alive with migrants heading northwards, some feeding busily, others resting a while after a long night’s journey. Fog along the lakeshore often brings crowds of small birds to a halt in the woods, the fall-outs so much anticipated by birders. Calm, sunny mornings are flyover weather, much better for the birds but not the birders.

Every visit to the woods is different. You can never tell what you will find – the main reason for the addictiveness of birding, I’m sure. In the centre of the woods in early May a long time ago, a Worm-eating Warbler nonchalantly hopped onto the trail beside me, rooting me to the spot with amazement. A very beginning birder at the time, I had never seen a Worm-eating Warbler outside the pages of a field-guide, though I knew they bred in deep woods in the southeastern United States.

I rushed home (no cell-phones then) to call George Scott and Dr. Murray Speirs, who came down to the woods at once. We searched and searched, with Dr. Speirs gently asking me, more than once, "Are you sure it wasn’t an Ovenbird?" Two long hours later, to my huge relief, George Scott found the warbler, still unhurriedly foraging in the undergrowth, and Worm-eating Warblers have remained one of my most favourite birds ever since.

I’ve seen a whole treeful of Worm-eating Warblers on Dauphin Island, Alabama, after a crackling overnight thunderstorm, and caught up with several at Pelee over the years, but that very first one in Thickson’s Woods I’ll never forget.

We Get Mail!

Thank you for all you do! - Candice McDonald

(Candice’s card had a painting of a male eastern bluebird sitting on a twig with red berries on a snowy winter’s day. The text was a quote from Oscar Wilde: "What is beautiful is a joy for all seasons…")

Happy Earth Day, Thickson’s Woods, where every day is Earth Day.

I was in the woods a couple of weeks ago with my daughter and was excited when the chickadees took seeds from our hands. I don’t know the names of many birds, but it doesn’t matter because just being there was special.

Thanks for saving this little piece of heaven. Here’s a small donation to help with expenses.

Kind regards - Maggie

Dear Thickson’s Woods,

I have been telling myself to get a donation off to Thickson’s Woods. Today, I received the newsletter, which I enjoy very much, and that has prompted me to get pen in hand.

We feed the wild birds year-round and are able to sit at our kitchen table and watch their coming and going.

Getting too rickety to be of much help, but trust our small donation will help in some way.

Keep up the good work. I am sure future generations will appreciate what has been done at Thickson’s Woods.

Regards, Lois and Sam Grant

Instead of purchasing gifts for each other at Christmas, the adults in our family all put in $10 for a charity draw. Whoever’s name is picked receives the money to donate to the charity of their choice, and we all feel good about the causes we help out.

I always enter Thickson’s Woods, and this year my name was picked. So I am sending you $220, the amount collected.
Thank you to all of the volunteers for their dedication and hard work.

Crystal Dawson

Crystal knows all about Thickson’s Woods’ volunteers. She’s the mother of Spencer Dawson, an enthusiastic volunteer at our nature festivals way back when he was in high school and we were working to save the meadow.

The Owls of Thickson’s Woods
by Dennis Barry

When folks ask about "the owls" when they arrive at Thickson’s Woods, we know they’re referring to great horned owls. Although saw-whet owls pass through in spring and fall, and long-eared owls sometimes stop in winter, only great horned owls make their home here. White pines more than 30 metres tall allow these owls to go about their daily routines high above the busy trails where dozens of people may pass each day.

Courtship begins in late autumn. Male and female call back and forth to each other more frequently, most regularly around dusk and dawn. By January the pair will often sit side by side on a limb, seeming quite excited with head-bobbing and bill-tapping. One of the pair may even sit in the open on an exposed perch during daylight, something that rarely happens at any other season. By now a potential nest site has been selected, usually an old crow or squirrel nest. Sometime in February, usually two creamy eggs are laid. Since the weather is often very cold, the first egg must be incubated as soon as it is laid. That egg will hatch sooner than the second one, laid a bit later.

Several years ago a pair of great horned owls raised two young in Thickson’s Woods. The eggs take about four weeks to hatch. A month later the young were large enough to move out of the nest onto nearby branches. They climbed about, waving their wings to strengthen them. That year, as often happens, the two young lost their balance and fell to the ground. Spreading their wings and fluffing up their feathers to look as fierce as possible, they hissed at anyone who approached. Eventually, they both found leaning trees that they could "climb," and managed to scramble back up to safer perches.

Crows seem to take great delight in harassing any great horned owls they can find. Rumour has it that owls enter roosts at night and kill crows, even though they depend on last year’s crows’ nests to raise their own families. Sometimes the male owl will call when the crows start mobbing it, or even fly to another tree, perhaps to draw attention away from his incubating mate.

Great horned owls aren’t successful in raising young each year, but since they can live for a dozen years or more, they can still maintain a stable population.

About three years ago a pair of owls raised one young in Thickson’s Woods. It remained hidden high in a pine all day, but towards dusk it would become impatient and start screaming to be fed. One evening we watched an adult appear beside the baby and begin feeding it bits of meat, torn from a piece of rabbit saved from the previous night’s hunt. After a time the adult passed the remainder of the food to the youngster, who proceeded to swallow the whole thing, foot and all.

In 2011 a pair of owls occupied a nest high in the canopy. Whether a fierce storm destroyed the nest, or the eggs failed to hatch, no young were raised that year. Only one owl could be heard for most of the spring and summer. Then in August, a second voice was heard. The call had an unusual and unique cadence.

I was digging up garlic mustard plants in a pine grove late one December afternoon, when an owl called overhead. The second bird responded from across the woods. After a brief exchange of hoots, the nearby bird uttered an uninterrupted series of soft calls lasting several seconds. Almost instantly, the second owl flew in and landed beside the first. Clearly, the "come hither" call was not to be ignored.

Now the pair have nested and are attempting to raise a family. There are many obstacles to success. Hurricane-force winds during a recent March storm broke off limbs and knocked over trees. Inexperience, inferior quality nests, collisions with cars or wires, or exposure of eggs to cold can all spell disaster. Yet the owls persevere.

As I write, I hear a bevy of crows screaming their disapproval. But we wish the owls well in their valiant efforts.

Weird or What? Changeable Weather and Climate in Thickson’s Woods

Located right on the north shore of Lake Ontario, Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve is subject to variations in weather and climate quite different from natural areas a short distance inland. In summer, cooling southerly breezes often moderate temperatures by several degrees. Then, when a cold front passes and winds shift to the north, hot air from inland raises temperatures here just as folks away from the lake are breathing sighs of relief as the air cools in their neighbourhood.

In autumn first frosts on the south side of the woods often happen weeks later than elsewhere. Winter precipitation that falls as snow in the Oak Ridges Moraine will be only rain in Thickson’s Woods. The most dramatic differences in temperature occur in early spring. In April, visitors to the nature reserve often arrive in shorts and T-shirts, only to start shivering when they step out of their cars to go birding. The upside is that leaves open later here, so migrating birds are not hidden among thick foliage.

While seasonal differences in weather have always been a part of Thickson’s Woods, recent changes in climate seem more dramatic. This may be due to the fact that we tend to think of these changes in years and decades, time frames that we can remember and understand, rather than in centuries and millennia. However, climate change and recent more severe weather events are definitely impacting the nature reserve.

A waterspout that came ashore in late July several years ago destroyed more than a dozen trees. Then in March, 2012, a severe storm with hurricane-force winds sent 3-metre waves crashing against the shore, washing away several feet of land that had been part of the nature reserve. The same wind damaged or destroyed several trees.

The gravel dam that periodically blocks the mouth of Corbett Creek at Lake Ontario was suddenly reinforced by large rocks bulldozed into the marsh by powerful waves. Added to the dam were trees uprooted from the barrier beach that protects Corbett Creek Marsh from becoming part of Lake Ontario, and huge timbers from destroyed retaining walls transported from several hundred metres away. Now, the natural ebb and flow of water in the marsh has been disrupted, exacerbated by current high water levels in Lake Ontario.

Thirty years ago the bay in front of the woods would sometimes freeze over in January. For years, large ice volcanoes formed along the shore, protecting the beach from being eroded during severe winter storms. No protective shoreline ice has formed over the past several winters.

From a birder’s perspective, there are positive effects of climate change. A century ago there were no cardinals in Thickson’s Woods. The first house finches and Carolina wrens appeared later in the 20th century. It’s only in the past decade that northern mockingbirds have become fairly common permanent residents in the area. The impact of the arrival of opossums remains to be seen.

Come to the Nature Festival

Be sure to mark Saturday, September 22 on your calendar. Last year’s festival was a great success and plans are already under way to make this year’s the best yet. Wildlife shows; nature walks; building nature crafts; insect activities; magic shows; nature art and much more. And September 22 could be the peak of broad-winged hawk migration if the winds are right. Several years ago during the festival we had kettles of hawks and vultures fly low over the meadow and woods.