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Newsletter 42
Summer 2012

It’s Festival Time!

You don’t want to miss this year’s Birds, Beavers and Butterflies Nature Festival in the meadow on Saturday, September 22 from 9:00 to 3:30. Muskoka Wildlife always surprise, with new star animal performers. And you’ll want to get up close and personal (well, maybe not too personal) with some of the Creepy Critters. But getting up close to a yellow-rumped warbler or a red-winged blackbird at the bird banding station is exciting indeed.

Follow the sound of happy hammering to the Home Depot tent where budding carpenters are honing their skills building bird feeders, nature boxes, or whatever new challenges Ellen and her enthusiastic crew have brought along to thrill young visitors.
Try your hand at catching interesting critters to be identified at the insect table, or follow along on a tour through the woods or meadow investigating mushrooms and monarchs, or feel your lips pucker as you sample a wild grape. Norbert Woerns and Margaret Carney are bringing back their very popular rock and fossil display. They love to talk with mineral enthusiasts of all ages. See the sparkling world under your feet as your study the amazing riot of colour found in beach sand when viewed under a microscope.

Want to try out a new disguise? Go to the face painting station. Think star gazing is only a nighttime activity? The folks from the Durham Skies will prove that wrong. But come back at dusk, too, to admire secrets of the night sky through powerful telescopes.

All the excitement will make you hungry, so visit the Lick’s location for a hotdog or burger. Or come to the bake table for some home-made goodies.

And don’t forget to save a little money for the excitement of the silent auction. Who knows what treasures may await.

And, yes, Warren Toaze is back to mesmerize you with his sleight-of-hand. Last year everyone was so sure he’d revealed his secret… fooled again!

Calling All Bakers!

Last year’s bake sale was the best ever because you brought so many yummy goodies for sale. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Can we do it again? Yes, but only with your help.

Garlic Mustard and Dog-Strangling Vine Removal Blitz

Saturday November 3
(Rain Dates: Sunday, November 4 or Saturday, November 10)

Meet at 9:00 a.m.at the entrance to the Waterfront Trail near the big green Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve sign. Dress for the weather. Bring your favourite tools and wear suitable gloves and footwear.

For garlic mustard, I like to use a small, long-handled, round-mouthed shovel. I sit on the ground on a piece of cardboard folded double and uproot the plants, shake the dirt off and collect them in a large basket. The long handle allows me to reach under dense vegetation, uproot a stray plant and haul it back to where I’m seated. Other folks prefer to use garden trowels or garden forks.

My technique for dog-strangling vine is to use the same shovel for large plants, dig around the plant close to the stem and uproot it, then turn it upside down, pulverize the dirt around the roots with the shovel and shake it off. For smaller plants in dense stands, I use a tool the pioneers called a “grub hoe.” It looks somewhat like a pick axe with a handle about three feet long. On one side is a flat blade like a heavy-duty hoe. On the other side is a blade similar to an axe. Sharpen the tool to a fine cutting edge. Swing it so that the flat blade digs under the mass of small plants and uproots them, loosening the soil at the same time. I toss the plants in a pile by my lawn chair in the shade, where I can sit and shake the dirt off. It’s a bit of a messy task, so rubber boots are useful footwear. For the smallest plants, a regular garden hoe will uproot and kill them.

Our battle to control these two invasive plants is going well. Very few of either have produced seeds over the past two years. In the case of garlic mustard we’re working to eliminate plants that sprout from the existing seed base still in the soil. Some patches where hundreds of plants sprouted each spring a few years ago, now have very few or none. But the tiny black seeds are spread on the muddy feet of cottontail rabbits, as evidenced by the fact that patches appear under old apple trees in the meadow. We need to keep up the effort so that garlic mustard becomes a rare plant in Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.

Dog-strangling vine is a more recent invader. Seeds travel on the wind. Some catch in the tops of shrubs in the meadow, fall to the earth in hidden places and manage to germinate and grow unnoticed. It takes several years for a plant to mature to the point where it develops into a vine that climbs up to sunlight and produces seed pods. While some seeds escape on the wind to travel far afield, most fall to earth near the parent, eventually creating a dense mat of plants that choke out all other vegetation. The plant is a perennial, best controlled by digging up the underground rhizomes and tossing them in a sunny spot where they dry out and die.

by Dennis Barry


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

Donna Berry
Roy Fleming
Matt Holder
Terry Jacenty
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.

Gifts That Will Last Forever

Metres of the nature reserve have been saved in the name of:

Marion & Bill Irwin

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

The Wonders of Thickson’s Woods
by Nancy Melcher

I was at Thickson's Woods mid-March, and took a walk through the woods and meadow. Imagine my surprise, upon crossing the little boardwalk at the east end of the woods, to see a beaver catching some rays. Just as I was ready to head along the trail, a weasel scampered down the path, hopped up on the boardwalk, but stopped when it realized I was there. It went along under the boardwalk, then played around in a hollow log. What a fabulous chance opportunity to see real wild animals within a few feet of me....truly a wonder.

There’s a long, long trail a-winding…
by Margaret Carney

Remember the sea of mud at the entrance to Thickson’s Woods in early spring, as the frost goes out of the ground? Every year crowds of visitors eager to see flocks of returning migrants basically pound the path into mush. Rubber boots are often needed to navigate the first 20 metres into the woods.

But no longer! Stepping into the woods these days, even after a heavy rain, is a whole new experience, since volunteers from the Rotary Club of Whitby Sunrise took on the challenge last May. Two dozen cheerful Rotarians turned out one Saturday mid-month, shovels in hand, to spread gravel along the trail and place concrete slabs, creating firm footing for spring arrivals of the human variety.

Mitchell Lumber of Brooklin donated 60 slabs, Hardco of Whitby a load of limestone gravel, and the Rotarians went to work with a will, building a “yellow brick road” into the woods. Two of them brought along strapping young sons, a smart move for a project featuring brains, muscle and a great deal of good humour. All under the watchful eye of club president Mark Chipman, who dreamed up and coordinated the event.

It wasn’t the first time Whitby Sunrise has helped improve trails in the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve. Seven years ago they designed and built two wooden boardwalks across wet areas in the valleys. Some of those very same engineers spent the day refurbishing them, ripping out and replacing rotting stringers, and nailing down boards that had come loose.

Many footsteps will sound on those bridges in the next seven years, there in that peaceful natural oasis. And a lot of visitors unsteady on their feet—be they toddlers or ageing birders—will step through the gate with more confidence, thanks to Whitby Sunrise Rotarians. We owe them a great vote of thanks for their generous, congenial contributions.

On Labour Day weekend another trail project began—spreading the rest of Hardco’s gravel on steep stretches of paths in the woods, for less slip and more traction on rainy days This team, too, had a special history: they’d grown up at Thickson’s Point, and know every inch of the woods from playing in it as kids. Lucas Brailsford and Doug Haynes are young men now, both handsome, bearded and bound for great careers in urban planning and education, respectively. To have the two of them volunteer their time and muscle, together, was deeply moving to a neighbour who’d watched them both grow up from babyhood.

Of course, it’s no surprise they’d so generously offer their help; they learned from the best. Cathy Brailsford and Barb Haynes, both decades-long volunteers for the woods, are their mothers.

Over the summer, falling leaves and twigs have naturalized the look of the new entranceway, as intended. Autumn will finish the job, spreading golden leaves from the ancient ironwood, and rust-coloured ones from the butternuts and ash, over the trails. Visitors may not even notice the changes, visually. But instead of looking down at their feet, having to watch where they step, they’ll be gazing up at the birds and trees and sky.

by Abbey and Fabian

Today our camera crew from Whitby Shores Public School news team went down to Thickson Woods for an inside scoop on Mrs. Campbell’s super stars!

“Look, look, I got a chickadee on my hand!” says Fabian, a grade four student.

When we entered the woods we asked the group what their favourite part of the trip was and they said, “Owls!” When we asked them where they saw these fascinating owls they said, “Why don’t we show you?” So they took us down a long winding path to some large pine trees. “Now follow the tree trunk until you see a large fluffy shape.”

“Wow…” The camera crew were awed at the sight of the mother owl and her owlet.

That’s the magic of Thickson Woods.
Cardinals are red, and blue jays are blue. Come to Thickson Woods and you’ll have fun too.

(Many thanks to Whitby Shore Public School students, staff and parents who come regularly to help with garlic mustard removal.).

The Year of the Butterflies
by Dennis Barry

This year may become known as the Year of the Butterflies across southern Ontario. Unprecedented numbers and variety of species usually restricted to warmer southern climes made their way north. An early invasion of red admirals wasn’t too unusual. But when this was followed by waves of painted ladies and question marks, and the hordes quickly raced northward across the province, folks realized this was not going to be a routine butterfly season.

Some twenty-five years ago, a fleeting visit from a gorgeous iridescent blue-and-black pipevine swallowtail prompted us to plant a Dutchman’s pipe. Since then the vine has been winding its way up the stone chimney on the south side of our house. More recently, other plants have sprouted nearby, with some twining along the garden fence and others making their way toward the top of nearby white cedars. But no butterflies appeared to lay their eggs on the leaves. Until this July.

Suddenly, one sunny morning, a dark butterfly appeared, raced about the garden, then began visiting the Dutchman’s pipe, seeming to deposit eggs near the growing tips of several vines. Then in late August a second one appeared. For two days it made frequent brief visits, racing along the zinnia patch, over the butterfly bush, then up over the wall of vines to disappear, perhaps a male on patrol. It was disappointing that no caterpillars appeared, but there’s always next year.

In mid-August, Glenn Coady next door spotted a fiery skipper nectaring on white alyssum his wife, Paula, had planted in a new flowerbed in their backyard, a first for the reserve. In July, Glenn had already spotted a spicebush swallowtail that landed on his driveway long enough for a good view.

On August 23, Ed Poropat dropped by on his way to drop off his daughter, Tamara, at the Go train on her way to McMaster University. It was late afternoon, so the usual twenty or so monarchs that patrol our zinnia patch while the sun’s out had become invisible as they settled on some protected branch for the night. Ed mentioned that white-M hairstreaks had been appearing in southern Ontario, and we should be on the lookout.

At the word “hairstreak,” Margaret was immediately excited, since she has a love affair with hairstreaks. Ever since she spotted her first Acadian hairstreak on a milkweed blossom many years ago, she can’t wait for the first ones to emerge in July, and she’s disappointed if none are found in our section on a butterfly count. “I love hairstreaks!” she exclaimed as we talked. “They’re so little and so exquisite!”

And it seems that the attraction is mutual. How else can you explain what happened on last year’s Haliburton butterfly count? We were scouring overgrown fields on the family farm, when Margaret spotted a hairstreak that looked different. She caught it and placed it in a plastic pill bottle for further investigation. At the count tally, when she set the container on the table in front of count compiler, Ed Poropat, his response was, “Is that what I think it is?” The reason for his excitement was that this was the first ever record for Canada, of a second brood early hairstreak. When Ed posted the count results later that evening, there was justified skepticism among butterfly enthusiasts. We placed the butterfly in its container in the fridge overnight to slow it down. Early the next morning Ed arrived, placed the butterfly on the ground in a gravel driveway, and photographed it. We then returned to where it had been captured and released it.

On August 24 we had just returned from the beach with our niece and nephew and their young daughters when I heard Margaret scream, “Hairstreak!” There on a blade of grass by her foot was a white M hairstreak with a bold orange dot on its wing. It opened its wings briefly to reveal a bright morpho blue, bordered by black. Apparently satisfied that it had been properly identified, it flew off across the garden to a low blossom on a butterfly bush, where I had a close look at it before it flitted off around the bush and disappeared.

On Saturday morning, August 25, Rayfield Pye stopped by to check out the butterflies in our garden. After a short time he spotted a giant swallowtail. It disappeared over the cedar hedge to the west, but came back to hover at zinnias and butterfly bush blossoms. Shortly, a pipevine swallowtail arrived, then a buckeye, then a great spangled fritillary. Glenn Coady came over to watch for a while, and by the time he left we had recorded ten butterfly species including monarchs, cabbage whites, white admiral, American lady, question mark and summer azure.

With warm weather still lingering, who knows what new winged wonders may show up in this “Year of the Butterfly”?

Butterflies of Thickson’s Woods & Vicinity

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus Regular but uncommon.
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Papilio canadensis Regular in late spring/early summer.
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor Rare visitor.
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio Troilus Rare visitor. One record.
Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes Fairly common. Breeds.
Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes Uncommon visitor.
Cabbage White Pieris rapae Abundant resident & migrant. Breeds.
Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice Uncommon to abundant. Most common in fall. Numbers vary from year to year.
Orange Sulphur Colias eurytheme Rare to abundant. Most common in fall, but rare in some years.
Bronze Copper Lycaena hyllus Uncommon.
White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album Rare visitor. One record.
Banded Hairstreak Satyrium calanus Uncommon
Acadian Hairstreak Satyrium acadica Uncommon.
Coral Hairstreak Satyium titus Uncommon.
Spring Azure Celastrina ladon Common.
Summer Azure Celastrina ladon violacea Common to abundant.
Eastern Tailed-blue Cupido comyntas Uncommon to common.
Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus Uncommon but becoming more regular.
Great Spangled Fratillary Speyeria cybele Uncommon
Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos Common, more so later in the season.
Northern Crescent Phyciodes cocyta Common in spring and early summer.
Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis Uncommon.
Eastern Comma Polgonia comma Fairly common. Adults winter in the woods.
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa Fairly common resident. Adults winter in the woods.
American Lady Vanessa virginiensis Uncommon to common. Numbers vary from year to year.
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui Common to rare depending on year.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta Uncommon to abundant depending on year. Often arrives in early April.
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia Rare to common. Breeding colony on disturbed land west of Thickson Road.
Red-spotted Purple Limenitis arthemis astyanax Rare.
White Admiral Limenitis arthemis arthemis Regular during summer.
Little Wood Satyr Megisto cymela Rare.
Common Wood-nymph Cercyonis pegala Rare.
Eyed Brown Satyrodes eurydice Uncommon.
Monarch Danaus plexippus Common to abunbant. Common fall migrant, but during late August of 2005 and 2006 large numbers used the woods for a week or more as a staging area prior to departure for their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Numbers roosting in the woods peaked at an estimated 100,000, with several thousand clustered on single trees. An individual banded in the meadow in mid-September several years ago was found dead in Tennessee three days later.
Viceroy Limenitis archippus Uncommon.
Wild Indigo Duskywing Erynnis baptisiae Rare.
European Skipper Thymelicus lineola Common.
Least Skipper Ancyloxypha numitor Uncommon.

A Tiny Snake Tale
by Margaret Carney

A friend of mine who loves reptiles wanted me to phone him if I heard any reports of snake sightings this spring, so he could come racing over to Thickson’s Woods to see them. Sometimes garter snakes gather in fair numbers on a warm sunny day, testing the air with their tongues, with mating on their minds. I paid extra attention to wildlife reports, and kept a close lookout, but didn’t see a single snake all summer, until I came across a midsize garter in a patch of sun in early August. It quickly slipped off into the shadows.

Snakes have an unhealthy habit of lying on roads in the sun. I kept hoping that wasn’t the reason I wasn’t seeing any this year. Frogs and toads cross roads, too, and both are way less numerous in the area than they were a few decades ago. Lucky enough to live in the nature reserve, I have a pretty good overview of wildlife numbers and trends.

Given the recent dearth of creepers and crawlers, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I found a baby milk snake slithering through the grass practically at my front steps! There it was—a beautiful pinkish-beige with slaty markings reminiscent of rattlesnakes, which it mimics for protection. Not a good idea in modern times. As I watched. it reared back in a knot as if to strike, then quickly disappeared down a hole in the ground I didn’t even know was there. And never came back.

The Thickson’s Woods area shelters a population of these endangered reptiles, another reason it’s such a special place.

Bird’s Eye Adventure
by Kali

On Thursday May 10th 2012, Mrs. Campbell’s class from Whitby Shores Public School went on a bird watching trip at Thickson Woods. Group 2 was led by Mr. Barry. They saw ducks in the marsh and used binoculars to take a closer look. I spotted a Baltimore oriole.

Later the group fed chickadees. Fabian had seven chickadees eat from his hand! I think other kids were jealous. We were looking and listening along the path when Mr. Barry pointed out the great horned owl and her baby.

Down by the lake, waters were peaceful and beautiful. We got to see ducks and a swan through a telescope. Rocks on the beach were many sizes and colours, some igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary.

Marissa was quoted as saying, “Thickson Woods is cool.”

Mrs. Campbell said, “I love it. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.”

We think that Thickson Woods is not just “cool” or “good.” We think it is better described as “magnificent!” and “awesome!”

Special Thanks to Some Longtime Donors

We want to thank Jack Alvo for once again designating Thickson’s Woods Land Trust as the recipient for part of his Baillie Birdathon efforts. Much appreciated, Jack!

And thanks to Johnson Controls, the nature reserve’s nearest neighbour, for their generous donation.


It’s a tragedy that collisions with window glass causes a billion bird fatalities in North America every year, nearly as many as cats. Members of FLAP—the Fatal Light Awareness program—work to spread awareness of the problem and ways homeowners and office workers alike can strike-proof their windows.

This fall they’ve put out a special appeal for volunteers to monitor particularly vulnerable sites, so if you have some free time, give them a call: 416-366-3527. They’re holding a volunteer orientation meeting on Thursday, September 13 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Toronto City Hall.

Or send a donation to help their vital education efforts: www.flap.org.

Erosion Update

As mentioned in our last newsletter, a severe storm last March caused serious erosion along the Lake Ontario shoreline toward the east end of Crystal Beach Boulevard. We are working with the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, the Regional Municipality of Durham, the Town of Whitby and local homeowners to find the best solution to the problem.

Letter from Thessalon
Summer, 2012
by Mary Lund

As I dipped in the cool clear water of north shore Lake Huron this morning, the liquid notes of a hermit thrush came to me from the tall pines back from the shore. Perfection. What could be better than this moment, complete as it was with a swim to begin my day, with no obtrusive noises, only the magic of the thrush.

We are told these days that research has shown that humans are generally healthier in body and mind when they have occasions to connect with the natural world. Some of us have known that for years, from our own experience. I am most fortunate to have this place where I can come each summer and rediscover so many little joys – such as walking on the rocks of the Canadian Shield, listening to the gentle lapping of water on the shore while I write (as now) or read, stroking the soft green moss, watching a female red-breasted merganser with her augmented family of 23 young, picking a raspberry from the bush beside my cabin door, breathing in the sweet perfume of balsam needles in the sun. For all the senses are serviced and expanded and the mind is filled with wonder at the beauty and variety of this good earth.

But not all are as fortunate as I am, to have their own “summer palace.” And since mine lacks electricity and running water cold or hot, I cannot stay here all year. Even though our solar panel now cools a fridge and gives us reading lights for evening, and a pump (when it is working) brings water nearly to the door of my cabin, and there is lots of wood for my little stove, there would be no neighbours in the winter, and the need we all have for companionship would not be met. So, at the end of the summer, I have to bring up the canoe, pull the curtains, lock the door, and say goodbye to my summer palace for another year.

But I believe we need more than a summer association with the natural world. And I believe it is a benefit to all people to have year-round access to gardens and parks and shores, to protected areas where experience can be expanded by the sight of a bird never noticed before, and the feel of a soft breeze can relax a troubled mind.

And this brings me to Thickson’s, a place apart, where one can find surprises in any season. Of course, as a birdwatcher, I love best of all those fine days in May when expectations are high and the trees full of the song and colour of warblers and other migrants. There is the fun of keeping a list, of competing with one’s own earlier lists or with the skill and luck of others who always seem to do better than we do. There is the exhilaration of identifying, without help, a new song, a new bird. There are those unforgettable moments of wonder when a Canada or a Hooded Warbler is close and stays still while we gaze in silent admiration.

But I did not have good luck at Thickson’s this spring. I could not get there early and when I did get there, there was very little song, and the leaves were almost completely out so that the few birds that moved about were hard to see. There were few ducks on the lake and nothing unusual in the meadow. My list was not happy.

However, there was the woods….with its winding trails, its tall old pines waving in the breeze, the fresh green of new wild leek leaves, a few trilliums still in flower, the silence of shade-filled corners, the challenge of finding the owl. There was the meadow, full of sunshine and a sense of space. And there were the familiar songs that we birders often take for granted. How fortunate that with numbers and species of birds in decline we still have the confident call of the cardinal and the mellow notes of the robin. There may not always be remarkable birds at Thickson’s. There are wet and stormy times when being in the woods is not a pleasure – but on most days, Thickson’s has something to give me if I am attentive. And it is within reach in every season.