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!

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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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.

Reflections on a Year of Steward’s Notes

This year I’ll be celebrating 2 years of writing Steward’s Notes. This week I’ll be celebrating a year of taking it more seriously and a nomination for an award! When I started writing Steward’s notes in 2017 I was just starting a Masters of Sustainability Studies at Trent University, part of my job as a student was to reflect on our regular colloquium events on Trent’s internal communications tool “Blackboard”. These reflections were meant to be presented in a blog format visible to other students in our program. Unfortunately people who are not students of the program were not able to access the reflections of some of the brilliant minds in my program. In an effort to tie my studies closer to the community I started writing my own blog on Sustainability and Environmentalism in Peterborough. (Initially I included some other content, but that has since migrated to another site) I believe the interest in this blog reflects a real desire in the Peterborough community to hear real grounded stories on environmental issues, where people can and are making a real difference in our city. I also believe that this has been an excellent opportunity to share the diversity of life and nature in our own back yards.

Working with some Fleming Students to complete a baseline documentation of environmental conditions in Harper Park.

For myself this blog has been an opportunity for catharsis, when the issues of the day frustrate me, I like to write about how I might act to solve them. The name Steward’s Notes comes from my desire to take real concrete action to care for the land we live on and to do the best that we can when we can. I have a fondness for the term stewardship, it conjures a picture of one’s labour being reflected in the places and people they care about. I believe that others appreciate the work that I have done and have used it for inspiration to take their own actions.

Reflecting on the stories that I have written over the past year, I see that the most popular stories are ones that share the hidden beauty of our home, or those that promote real action that people can take (And one April fools joke). I think that in a period of political disenfranchisement, being shown a way forward is an act of empowerment that people can latch onto. In a recent interview someone described to me how for their organization, moving forward was the only option and that banging heads against a wall is a pointless exercise. In a land where we enjoy the privilege of freedoms that we have, it is possible to take advantage of a world of opportunities for caring and stewardship before we need to start pushing boundaries (Not that we shouldn’t push boundaries). I was recently reminded of this by a good friend, and it goes to show that sometimes being forced to refocus can have incredible effects. I like to think that in my own little way, Steward’s Notes is an outside beacon encouraging people to refocus when they get lost in the details of environmentalism, sustainability and stewardship.

One of my favorite images of our beautiful landscape, taken within the city limits of Peterborough. Beauty and nature is in our back yard.

As a final note, I’ll say that I’ve discovered that the three (or four) pillar approach to sustainability makes for good and engaging content in addition to being much more holistic way of viewing the world. Much of the most popular content I’ve written in the past year has been when I have made a conscious effort to consider an issue from all environmental, economic and social perspectives (I’m still not entirely sure how to separate culture from social in the four-pillar approach). Logically this makes sense, since you could expect that readership would have some vested interest in viewing any particular issue from their pillar of expertise. Mostly I view the world through an environmental lens, but it is a useful tool to remind me to leave my comfort zone and consider other ways of thinking and being.

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An additional fun little tidbit I’ll share is that according to my internal analytics, the large majority of my readership has a love of dogs. Not sure what this says about the blog, but as a bit of a dog person myself, I’ll take it.

Steward’s Notes Celebrates Successful Bid to Replace Simcoe St. Parking Garage

Today Steward’s Notes is pleased to announce a successful bid to replace the Simcoe St. parking garage with a natural outdoor park! This will provide an excellent opportunity to bring daylight back to Jackson Creek and create outdoor space for the downtown community! After working with municipal counterparts it was agreed that the parking garage was underutilized and should be replaced with a showcase of Peterborough’s Natural heritage and beauty! Once again daylight will shine on Jackson Creek for the first time since the 1960s. The multi-million dollar contract will enable the total removal of the parking garage and subsequent replacement with outdoor greenspace. The bus terminal will be relocated to the King St. Parking Garage once construction begins. The benefits of this park promise to be immesurable and include:

  • Health Benefits for Nearby Residents
  • Reduced Urban Heat Island
  • Improvements to Water Quality in Jackson Creek
  • Improved Capacity to prevent major flooding
  • Opportunities to fall for an April Fools Joke!

Explore the possibilities with this exciting new project on May 11th with Dylan Radcliffe as he leads a Jane’s Walk exploring the river as it meanders hidden through Downtown Peterborough!

Exploring Jackson Creek’s Lost Tributary: Hidden Creek

About two years ago I was having a conversation with a friend and he asked me about a small little creek that ran through his backyard at the time. Knowing where he lived, I knew it was a tributary of Jackson Creek, but nothing more.

I’ve passed by this creek countless times, small creeks have always fascinated me but I’ve never had the opportunity to explore this one in particular. Small creeks and streams are some of our most fragile yet least understood aquatic ecosystems, yet they make up a large part of our watersheds. As Peterborough was built, countless small creeks were filled in, many people have wet basements because of it, but this small creek remains.

Having recently acquired a copy of a historical atlas of Peterborough, I wanted to understand how some of these environmental features of early Peterborough might still be visible today. This little creek seemed like an excellent starting point.

Blessed with a sunny day and high spirits, I decided to go out exploring….

At the base of Hidden Creek you can see where it spills out into Jackson Creek. The culvert has clearly been installed for several decades. Its nearly invisible this time of year, with Jackson Creek’s levels so high. Its not clear if any water is actually spilling out from underneath the bicycle pathway.

Hidden Creek spills into Jackson Cree

One block north on McDonnel St. it is possible to see where the embankments have been stabilized to make room for more construction. The heavy concrete construction seems to indicate that this creek may have been a bit of an engineering problem at the time. I suspect that before sewer system upgrades this little tributary received a lot of rainwater runoff from the city to the north. Continuing several blocks to the north, you can see how this little creek has been tucked away between lotlines, hidden from view. Neighbors have attached their downspouts to the channel to quickly convey rainwater away. From street level there are sometimes ornate iron bars that prevent passers by from falling into the channel. As you approach the head of the stream the water is not frozen, perhaps there is a hidden spring feeding this creek from below the city.

Finally upon reaching Parkhill road, is the most natural portion of the creek. Its “headwaters” you might say. From underneath the roadway Hidden Creek spills forth into a small grassy space. Apparently this land is municipal property! A great opportunity for a community group to install a pollinator garden or do a small tree planting along the creek’s edge!

Peterborough is full of long forgotten creeks, and this is but one of them. Do you know anything about this tiny Hidden Creek? Do you know of other little environmental hotspots in the city? Perhaps as the summer progresses I will try to discover more of these forgotten places.

This is why Jackson Creek Matters: Redux

This spring so far has not given us much in the way of precipitation, but that’s not to say that we can’t see our surrounding environment hard at work. In Peterborough we have a long history of flooding in our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Looking at old maps of Peterborough, it is easy to see why this is the case. When the area was first settled 200 years ago, Jackson Creek meandered through a wetland located where the downtown currently resides. The river still carries memories with it, when the downtown flooded in 2004 the path of the stream passed through buildings and shops in much the same way as it did in times gone by.

Every spring with the influx of water caused by spring melting, we can witness how Jackson Park keeps water on the landscape and out of basements downtown. When the ice first melted this spring, giant dams of ice formed along the creek, water spilled over the banks of the river, and flowed through the trees and brambles that line the side of the creek. The water was slowly released back into the stream to travel towards the Otonabee. It made quite the sight to behold, however the implications are clear:

“Water is held in Jackson Park and the Lilly Lake Wetland instead of the basements of downtown homes and businesses”

(ed. The Previous) City council has had this explained to them on countless occasions, however it is clear they are not listening, or don’t care. Actions that reduce the ability of the wetland and park to properly function are at the direct expense of Peterborough business and home owners. The next time Peterborough proposes filling in wetlands or clearing forests, remember that you are the one who may be paying the bill.

Crayfish disturbed by the spring flooding litter the ice adjacent to the river.

With a new city council that may be willing to keep a closer eye on the natural assets of our community many hope that our natural assets may be accounted for in the same ways that our fire hydrants, sewers and hydro poles are. Just the same way that these assets depreciate, if we do not care for our natural spaces, they too will lose value over time. There are many groups and cities in Canada, such as the municipal natural assets initiative that are working to find ways to account for the value that spaces such as Jackson Park provides. Hopefully in the coming years we can find a way to include the value that natural features bring to our life in Peterborough!

How Safe are Coyotes?

Since I started collecting sightings of Coyotes in Peterborough, I have received several concerns about coyotes in the city. People have been concerned about going out for walks and taking their pets outdoors. I can say with certainty that coyotes pose a significantly lower risk than pretty much any activity that most people participate in. While on a walk you are more likely to be fatally struck by a car or hit by lightning than to be non-fatally attacked by a coyote. To get the point across and hopefully quell some fears here is a handy little chart that I’ve done up.

As a side note, some of the precautions you can take include making sure food stored outside is secure and avoiding any coyote dens during the springtime when the pups are first born. And NEVER feed the coyotes.

Coyotes of Peterborough

As a follow up to the impromptu citizen science project that took place in November and December, I’ve created a map for everyone’s enjoyment and so you can all see the results! It was a lot of fun taking in everyone’s input and creating something together. This mini project has given me some ideas for fun projects in the future, but for now, enjoy this map and let me know what you think!

Stewards Notes Talks Natural Heritage on Pints and Politics

While you’re in for the weekend relaxing before the holidays begin in earnest, why not check out this weeks episode of Pints and Politics. Bill Templeman, Ben Wolfe, Ian Attridge, and myself all sat down to discuss our city’s important natural heritage and how we might plan for a more ecological future. Check out the podcast from the link below and let us know what you think!

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