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!

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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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!

Cross Country Skiing in Harper Park

With all of the snow we have received in the last several weeks there is now a plethora of options in the Peterborough Area when it comes to cross country skiing. If you’re looking for more of a back-country experience, look no further than Harper Park. On February 11th we cut a trail through the park and conditions are ripe for an excellent skiing adventure! To access the park you can leave your vehicle on the side of the road and ski in on the trail marked on this map! Be sure to share your adventure on the Harper Park facebook page or @harperparkptbo on twitter.

Happy Skiing!

The 88th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count

This year nearly 80 members of the Peterborough naturalist community coordinated our 66th annual Christmas bird count. The count happened in December, but I’m only now writing about it since I have caught up from the holidays.

There have been lots of recaps and personal accounts in the newspaper and people’s blogs, but I thought there would be no harm in adding my story to the stack.

After finally meeting up with our group we made our way down to the area surrounding the Peterborough airport. It was a slow start to the morning, only making out some starlings and chickadees on the horizon. It was to be expected, the temperature was below 30 degrees. We made our way down the the Otonabee river and teased some red-bellied woodpeckers out of the silver maple swamp. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever seen on the Otonabee, steam coming off the river and the sun sparkling in the ice that had formed on the tree branches. (more…)