Stay Tuned, Steward’s Notes Will Be Back After This Short Break

The past two years of writing for Steward’s Notes has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Those of you who follow and comment and send me such pleasant emails really make this project a lot of fun, and it is much appreciated! As some of you may know, I have been in the process of writing a master’s thesis: Polycentric Models for Urban Greenspace Management. I am desperately trying to finish writing in the coming month, and I really need to set this project (Steward’s Notes) aside for a little bit. I miss you lots and I really can’t wait to come back! I have lots of exciting plans for the months and years ahead and I can’t wait for you all to take part. However I really need to hit the pause button for a little bit. Make sure you don’t miss the return by subscribing below! Thank you all for your understanding and I’ll likely see you in the new year!

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To fill the time, why not check out some of the most popular content of all time!

A Fall Trip to in the Kawartha Highlands

On September 28th my partner and I ventured into the Kawartha Highlands for several days. We intended to spend some time exploring the northern portion of the park. Neither of us had visited this section of the park before and were quite excited to visit. Traveling between Anustruther Lake and Serpentine Lake there is an elevation gain of nearly 50m, more than the height of the Statue of Liberty! Along the second portage there was a beautiful waterfall that ran along the trail.

Some of the coolest sightings along our trip were in a small wetland between Copper Lake and Rathburn Lake. As we crossed the lake on the way back there were several dozen young ducks fluttering in the water and kicking up water, it seemed as though they were learning to fly. We also saw numerous spiders that had cast sails made from silk and were flying across the lake. I’d never noticed this before while I’d been out paddling but it was quite splendid to see! As a final showstopper, on our way out of the lake, a belted kingfisher shot down from the trees to splash into the water right in front of us and emerging moments later with fish in beak! It was a great trip with the fall colours starting to appear throughout the highlands. Fall is truly one of the best times to go camping in Ontario!

A Subwatershed Plan for Harper Creek

Harper Creek is arguably one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Peterborough. On September 23rd Peterborough City Council approved the transfer of funds to complete a subwatershed plan for Harper Creek. This is an exciting opportunity to explore how future impacts on the sensitive local environment will be mitigated. The RFP includes several items that will ensure that both the built and natural environment will be protected.

Some of the most exciting proposals include identification and analysis of the natural environment and its sensitivity. This is particularly exciting as the extent of the Harper Park Wetlands has never been assessed since the upgrade of the wetland to a provincially significant status. Additionally an analysis of cumulative impact of the built environment on the natural environment will be addressed. This is especially important as the impacts of surrounding developments on Harper Creek although purported to be small have created significant changes on the local environment when added all together.

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Note: All of this would not have been possible without the amazing leadership of Kim Zippel on who worked on the ad hoc committee who set the objectives of this study. Congratulations Kim.

Comments on Peterborough’s Draft Natural Heritage Plan

Recently the city of Peterborough released their draft official plan for public comment. The official plan will guide the development of the city for the next several years and council cycles and provide some certainty to members of the public about how the city will develop over the next couple decades. The official plan is divided up into several sections, the one that I am personally most interested in is the Natural Heritage System. The natural heritage system is made up of all of the natural areas in our city, and the connecting features between them. This section includes a map of all identified features in our city, as well as a section of policy that will determine how these areas are regulated and managed. Over the past several years several people including myself have taken part in stakeholder meetings that will help determine the contents of the official plan before it is presented to council to vote on. With the release of the official plan, I have a couple comments and suggestions for the policy portion of the official plan.

In the draft plan. Natural areas designations are divided into “levels” to signify their importance and degree of protection. Under this system unevaluated wetlands are not defined under any level of protection. I would encourage the city to evaluate all wetlands within the city limits and re-evaluate wetlands within the city limits to further understand their boundaries and functions. Currently, although Harper Creek wetlands are designated as provincially significant there has been no effort to evaluate or update the wetland boundary. As a result several developments have had significant negative impact on the wetland function including flooding nearby neighbors.

Harper Creek Wetlands

The draft plan makes mention of the requirement to conduct environmental impact studies on new developments. I would encourage the city to lay out the exact requirements for an EIS as several other municipalities in Ontario do. In addition, the plan should encourage or development proponents to consult with municipal staff or our new environmental advisory committee. The environmental advisory committee will be an excellent resource for our city, so we should put them to work! This is a common practice and one need only look as far as the region of Durham to find an example.

Citizen’s being great natural stewards!

Finally I would encourage the city to experiment with new ways in which citizens might become involved in the identification, protection and monitoring of natural heritage functions within our city. The city of Peterborough is home to one of the greatest concentrations of environmental knowledge in Ontario, and it would be a disappointment to not put that resource to use. Formally recognizing the role that citizen science and stewardship plays in protecting and enhancing our natural areas!

The draft plan is a great first step, let’s make this plan something we can all be proud of!

The Endangered Bird Above Peterborough’s Downtown

Next time you’re in downtown Peterborough, look up and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of Canada’s endangered species. The chimney swift is a bird that lives entirely on the wing, only landing to rest in its roost, often a chimney. Before European settlement, chimney swifts made their homes in large hollow trees that were common before the landscape was cleared for agriculture. Chimneys made a suitable replacement for their roosts, hence their name. Here in Peterborough, we have even erected a chimney swift “tower” in Beavermead Park to provide them with some additional habitat.

A chimney swift tower in Beavermead, Park Peterborough, Ontario 2019

Often confused for a swallow, chimney swifts can be identified by their high pitched chirping as they erratically pursue insects above the downtown. They will generally forage within 1/2 km of their roost but sometimes as much as 6 km.

This year, several field naturalists including myself have identified chimney swifts in areas far beyond their typical range in Peterborough’s downtown, so I have started collecting sightings of chimney swifts around Peterborough. Send me your sightings on twitter @StewardsNotes or using the contact form. I’ll be sure to add your sighting promptly! (Special shout out to Alexandra Anderson for all the great sightings!)

If you’re interested in monitoring chimney swifts in greater detail join Bird Studies Canada on their Swift Watch I assure you it is a relaxing way to spend several evenings!

Dunes of Point Clark

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I’ve spent the last several days on Point Clark near Kincardine and it’s been quite a treat to explore the dunes and the shoreline! It seems that this area was replanted with red pines to prevent erosion of the sandy slopes. Although surrounded by agriculture, this little forest retreat feels is quite secluded.

The Mayflies are out and mating, they do a fascinating dance along the shoreline moving up and down. When two lock together, presumably to mate, they fly away from the shore together before releasing each other and returning to the shoreline. It seems that one female is willing to mate with several males.

The sandy shores are difficult to walk along this year. Much of the sand is made up of shattered zebra mussel shells and it cuts at the skin. Also the lake is extremely high! In many places the beach has disappeared entirely below the water level.

This morning as Aimee and I went for a walk, all of the “dancing” mayflies had passed in the night and littered the beach and nearshore areas. Their corpses had piled up from the waves. I was certainly a large amount of biomass that was brought up from the lake and deposited on the shore.

Your Next Bird List Could Have a Big Impact!

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If you don’t know about ebird you should! It is one of the most widespread global citizen science projects in existence that helps track the migration an population of birds worldwide. To participate simply create an account on the website or app and go out to a nearby hotspot to start birding. Every species you are able to identify helps increase our collective knowledge of bird movements worldwide. Plus it is a great way to brush up your own birding skills. Peterborough and area has one of the most active Ebird communities I am aware of. We have as many active participants as the entire city of Toronto! Even still there are some gaps in the map that should be filled in. With the summer birding season upon us, let me make a few suggestions about how your next bird list could have an outsized impact.

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Two Great Long Weekend Hikes

This long weekend my partner and I had the opportunity to visit 2 beautiful but quite different locations in the Kawarthas. We started by visiting the Millbrook Valley Trails. On our way down we came across 3 turtles near the Peterborough Airport. The flooded lands surrounding the roadway must be making perfect habitat for them! During our afternoon picnic we were greeted by twittering chimney swifts, turkey vultures, and orioles near the millpond. Medd’s Mountain was a delightful show of spring wildflowers. Along the trail they were placed out as if they were exhibits at a museum. Bloodroot and Trout Lilly were both particularly showy on this day. On the way out we came across an incredible mass of roots perched above the ghost of a stump, a great indicator of old growth forest.

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Where to Find Spring Wildflowers in Peterborough

With spring finally showing up on our doorstep I thought I’d share some of my favorite wildflower hotspots in Peterborough! The spring wildflowers are incredibly diverse with some early ones quite delicate such as hepatica, or incredibly showy such as the iconic trillium, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. (If I did pick a favorite it would be Bloodroot) There are many places to find them in and around Peterborough, but some places are better than others. Most species seem to prefer upland deciduous forests. By appearing before the tree canopy fills in, they are able to soak up the sunlight before disappearing until next year. Many of these flower species are also pollinated by one of the less known pollinators: the humble ant. So if you want to find some spring wildflowers, look no further than this list.

1. Fleming College Trails

Trillium on the Forest Floor

The lands surrounding Fleming College in the south west corner of the city make for perfect wildflower viewing. Some years the forest floor is blanketed with trilliums in a way that I have never seen elsewhere. Many of the other spring wildflowers such as hepatica, bloodroot, and trout lillys are present.

2. Burnham Woods

A “Towering” Mayapple

Probably the best place in Peterborough to see spring wildflowers is Burnham Woods. The old growth deciduous forest makes perfect setting to see all of the spring classics. Blue Cohosh, Mayapples, and Bellwort are all visible along the paths through the forest. Look close to the forest floor and you might even be able to find a violet or two.

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3. Lady Eaton Drumlin at Trent

Jack in the Pulpit

Again, this is perfect habitat for Spring wildflowers, parking is easy at Trent now that school is out for the summer, and it is also quite accessible by bus! Access the drumlin by walking up the slope behind Lady Eaton College at the university. You’ll be astounded by the diversity of wildflowers that are present at the top of the hill. In some of the low lying areas around the hill you can find another spring classic… the showy marsh marigold.

Hopefully this inspires you to get out and explore the best that Peterborough has to offer! Subscribe to Steward’s Notes to get more tips about nature spots in Peterborough or follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Spring Flowers in Walter’s Falls

You may have figured out by now that I love spring wildflowers. (It will actually be the theme of tonight’s quiz at the Peterborough Field Naturalist Meeting) This past weekend I visited Walter’s Falls on the Bruce Trail for the first time. I will say that it was one of the nicer hike’s I’ve been on in Grey County and that is saying a lot! The lovely hiking loop is about 5.5km in length and meanders along the river valley through both mature and young forests. Excellent views of interesting geology and a great little spot to dip your feet in the water at one end of the loop. Not to mention the magnificent falls at the top of the valley. There are several spots to access the trails, but we started at the Inn near the falls. The first segment of the trail was awash with freshly emerged wildflowers including my personal favorite, Bloodroot. Here’s hoping to see many more wildflowers in the weeks to come!