Tag: Peterborough

Learning from Spring Wildflowers, and how We Bring Them Back

Every year myself and many others eagerly await the arrival of the ephemeral spring wildflowers. In the past few days I’ve been out scouting for them around Peterborough, and it appears they will be in full bloom soon! In Peterborough it is possible to see these ephemeral forest flowers in Burnham Woods, the Trent Nature areas, the Fleming College Property, and some places in Jackson Park. When visiting these places, be sure to tread carefully and take nothing but photographs.

Being more than just photogenic and beautiful to look at, early spring wildflowers can be an excellent indicator of forest health. These early wildflowers support insects and pollinators of many different varieties. Notably, many of these spring wildflowers are pollinated by various ant species, instead of other flying insects. A good reminder to not forget about ants as an important pollinator in our ecosystems! Beyond pollinators, many larger animals rely on these plants as a source of forage. Many spring flowers produce fruit, and leaves that forest animals will feast upon.

These flower species are often sensitive to environmental changes and human activity, which also makes them an early indicator of a declining forest health. Changes in the water cycle due to nearby construction, trampling of plants by humans, and invasive species can all have an impact on the health of these wildflower and forest communities.

Here in Peterborough’s Jackson park, these spring wildflowers are few and far between. The forest has experienced many of the impacts mentioned above, and trampling of the forest floor has reduced the chances of their revival to a minimum. It does not need to be this way, communities in other parts of the province have created simple and effective ways of managing the human impact on the forest ecology.

In urban forests, often the forest undergrowth becomes trampled by people walking through the forest. The trampling of the undergrowth results in a decline of flowers, and the remaining flowers are often picked by visitors. In London Ontario, along the Thames River the Garden Club of London had an elegant and beautiful solution to this problem. Last year I visited their woodland garden to explore this oasis in the middle of their city. By strategically placing fencing throughout the forest and adding pathways where people frequently passed through the forest, the woodland garden was able to revive the local forest ecology while still providing opportunities for visitors to pass through the forest and marvel at the beautiful flowers.

Urban forests, although not pristine, do not need to be resigned to an eternity of ecological degradation through human use. With some tender care the Garden Club of London shows us how some careful planning can bring back the wildflowers for all of us to enjoy. It is my personal hope that in the coming years we can bring the flowers and pollinators back into Peterborough’s own Jackson Park.

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Field Notes: Winter Stoneflies along Jackson Creek

If you walk along Jackson Creek in the coming days, you may see a unique little insect crawling along the surface of the snow. These are winter stoneflies. This time of year, the emerge from the bottom of creeks and rivers where they have lived the first year of their life. Although they have wings, they choose instead to crawl along the surface of the ground in search of a mate.

To keep from freezing while under the water, they stay in pockets of air under the ice that only reach about 0°C and promote supercooling in their cellular structure. This allows their bodies to reach temperatures several degrees colder than 0°C before freezing. They also produce some anti-freeze compounds when they are adults and ready to emerge.

In the coming days and weeks, be sure to check out this cool creature along the banks of Jackson Creek.

A Little Toolkit For Confronting Climate Inaction

2019 was heralded as the year that ended climate change denialism. Enter a new era, where we must face a new threat: inaction on climate change.

Just over a week ago I published a short writeup on my twitter feed explaining how an enormous fountain in our town was an outsised contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in our city. This was due to the sheer volume of electicity used to power the monstrous pumps that spewed a steady stream of water 6 stories into the air.

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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!

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.

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!

What should Peterborough do in this Climate Emergency?

With the recent news of Kingston and possibly Guelph declaring a climate emergency, I began wondering what actions a city such as them or even Peterborough could do to begin the process of eliminating our climate emissions. Recently I came across the Drawdown proposal. It includes a list of 80 solutions that would reduce global emissions drastically while at the same time creating a better and more equitable future for humanity. All while creating a net global financial savings of nearly 50 trillion USD.

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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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