Tag: Peterborough

Column: The Joys of Wintertime Birding

Cardinal in a Tree

When one thinks of going out on an outing to look for magnificent birds, the imagination may conjure images of green fields, trees full of leaves, with beautiful songbirds chirping among the grasses and branches. Would you be surprised to learn that one of the best times to learn about birding might be the depths of winter? When I first started birding many years ago, it was a cold December day that I joined some friends to drive around the countryside looking for a snowy owl that was spotted the day before. Although I might not have been dressed quite warm enough for the occasion, it was one of the best introductions to a hobby that I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a reason to stay active this winter, you too may want to consider birding as a new hobby.

Learning to identify birds during the winter may help you quickly build confidence in your skills. During the winter months, fewer bird species make it much easier to learn the common local species. Phone applications such as “Merlin” can help you learn the ropes by helping you identify birds by colour, size, behavior, and body shape. Joining a Christmas Bird Count can be another great way to partner up with an experienced birdwatcher to help you into the hobby. You also can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned field guide to birds such as the ones produced by the Audubon Society.

With guide in hand, you’ll find Peterborough is a delightful playground for the aspiring birdwatcher. Within the city, places such as Jackson Park, Beavermead Park, Rotary Trail, the Otonabee River, or the Fleming College Campus will all provide ample opportunities for observation. You might be surprised at the abundance of different bird species that you can find. Woodpeckers, birds of prey, ducks, or songbirds might all make an appearance on any given winter day. When paying attention, you’ll likely discover new birds that may have previously gone unnoticed.

Some of the more common winter species such as black capped chickadees, cardinals, hairy woodpeckers, or nuthatches often will forage through the forest in groups. If you see one, be sure to keep looking, as the others may also make an appearance. One of the added benefits of winter birding is the absence of leaves and greenery on trees and shrubs. The ease of spotting birds at this time of year will give you plenty of opportunities to identify a tricky bird, or really commit your sightings to memory. Once you learn a few of the common species, I’m sure you’ll start to spot them often.

If you’re looking for a reason to get out and about this winter, enjoying the company of winter birds in a local park can be a great motivator. You don’t need to be an expert, but perhaps given some time you will be!

This was originally published as a column in Peterborough This Week.

Column: What is Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System?

This month marked the launch of Peterborough’s Official plan. The official plan is a set of policies governing everything from transit to housing that are designed to guide the future of the city of Peterborough. Creating the official plan took several years, and involved teams of experts on all of the topics that are included within it. In my opinion, one of the most interesting sections is all about Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System. The natural heritage system is a set of documents that identify key habitat and other environmental features that should be protected to maintain or improve Peterborough’s local ecology. These include cherished places like Jackson Park, or Meade Creek, or lesser-known places like the wetland on Carnegie Ave.

The natural heritage system can broadly be recognized as all of the natural areas within the city and all connections between them. Just the same way that you need to leave your home and travel on sidewalks and roads to get food or clothing, wildlife needs to travel to different habitat types to have all their needs met. You can almost imagine it as a road network or transportation system for wildlife to travel along. A turtle for instance might travel from a wetland up a river and into a forest to lay its eggs. If there are hurdles the turtle must overcome, such as a roadway, its journey may be precarious.

Think of Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System as a metro system for wildlife.

Peterborough’s natural heritage system is an exciting approach to managing our local ecology and natural resources. The benefits of having a robust natural heritage system are not just confined to wildlife, humans benefit as well. Visiting parks that are home to more diverse animal and plant life is known to relieve stress by spending time outdoors. Living nearby trees and natural areas can also decrease heating and cooling costs for residents and businesses. On a broader scale, maintaining wild areas nearby creeks and rivers can decrease damages and costs associated with flooding. There are significant benefits of protecting our natural spaces and the connections between them, and I am glad there are policies in place to ensure that municipalities recognize and protect these spaces.

While I believe that the proposed system could go further, I am hopeful that as the city expands and changes, the natural heritage system will be able to adapt. I believe that crisis’s such as COVID and climate change have renewed our appreciation for our local natural environment and what is important to protect. Hopefully the changes to the official plan regarding the parkway corridor and recognizing the value it provides as a natural space are a sign of good things to come.

A Personal Note: This column was originally published in Peterborough This Week. It was my first column ever published in the local paper (So exciting!) I’ve still got a voice to refine for the audience, and lots to learn and remember (ie. start stronger!). So please forgive me for the lackluster “hook” on this little piece. In spite of that “little” oversight, I’m looking forward to sharing stories of nature and the environment with you in the coming months and years! If you have any questions or comments, let me know and I’ll be happy to try and answer them for you. – Dylan Radcliffe

Jackson Park got its Heritage Designation!

Hey Peterborough! Hey Jackson Park! Congratulations! We did it! On December 6th 2021 city council voted to add Jackson Park to the official heritage register under the Ontario Heritage Act. For over 100 years Jackson Park has been a fixture in the Peterborough community. Envisioned by the Nichols Trust as a respite from the growing city; this beloved park has more than fulfilled it’s role.

Tomorrow we’ll get back to work, but let’s celebrate this beloved park. By the numbers, Jackson Park is an impressive place. A summary to date (December 2021):

  • 143 Bird Species have been catalogued on the Jackson Park Ebird hotspot
  • 1232 iNnaturalist observations
  • 244 identified species of plants
  • 4.5 hectares of Old Growth Forest
  • 15 degrees cooler than the rest of Peterborough!
  • 250+ year old trees
  • 4.5km of Trans-Canada Trail
  • Countless annual visitors

All of these things add such great value to Peterborough, and it is all worth protecting for the future. There is lots of hard work to be done to further protect and restore this important heritage location. From invasive species, trampling of the undergrowth, to climate change, or even just trails in disrepair there is still lots to do. I’m personally looking forward to tackling these challenges to pass this space along to future generations.

Thanks so much to councilor Kim Zippel to bringing this motion forward from the Heritage Committee. And thank you to council for seeing this motion through to completion.

A Huge Opportunity for Jackson Park

Monday December 6th 2021 will hopefully be a momentous occasion for Jackson Park. Peterborough City council will sit down to vote on a heritage designation for Jackson Park. The implications of this are huge for one of the most cherished locations in Peterborough. In September 2019 the City’s Architectural Conservation Authority Committee recommended that Jackson Park receive this illustrious designation and hopefully this will come to fruition on Monday.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Jackson Park more than deserves this designation. The park has been a fixture in the Peterborough ever since it was donated to the city by the Nichols Trust 1893. It features prominently in the shared memory of the city. One is hard pressed to flip through any historical account of Peterborough without stumbling upon several references to the venerated park.

Indeed there are many parks on the continent that have received special protections that Jackson Park does not have. Parks built and designed in the same period by Frederick Olmsted generally receive substantial heritage recognition and protections. Meanwhile, Jackson Park has yet to receive protections (or attention) afforded to significantly younger designs and buildings in the city of Peterborough.

One hopes that this can be a first step towards protecting and enhancing Jackson Park for future generations. There are many threats facing the park, and hopefully this designation can assist in pushing the envelope for greater attention to those threats. If you haven’t already, take a moment to go sign the petition being passed to city council. Or write to your councilor to voice your support for this designation.

Is This A Horror Story For Ants? The Carnivorous Plants Of The Kawarthas

If you’re paddling through the Kawartha Highlands or taking a jaunt through Peterborough’s Jackson Park, you may have the chance to bear witness to one of the coolest (spookiest?) adaptations of the plant kingdom, carnivory! I’m sure many of you are aware of the infamous Venus Fly Trap, but perhaps you may not be aware of some of the carnivorous plants that may live in your own backyard. Here in the Kawarthas we are host to several groups of carnivorous plants, all of which have their own unique “hunting” strategies. Generally, carnivorous plants are found in areas that have poor nutrient availability.

Because of their unique adaptation, they are able to gather nutrients from insects (or even salamanders!) and out-compete nearby species that rely on nutrients available in the soil or water. When more nutrients are abundant and available for plants to use, carnivorous plants find themselves quickly out-competed by other vegetation. Therefore, these plants have very specific habitat requirements. Bogs, alvars, and groundwater driven ecosystems are all prime areas in which to find these elusive plants.

Unfortunately, human activities can force these beautiful carnivores out of their habitats. Many human activities mobilize nutrients within the soil or atmosphere allowing other species to out-compete them in their habitat eventually leading to their demise. Agriculture can lead to an increase in nutrients through animal excrement making its way into waterways, fertilizers spreading off farms through rainwater runoff and carried by the wind, or nutrients deep in the soil brought up to the surface through tilling. Urban developments can also lead to an increase in available nutrients, through maintaining landscaping, increased soil erosion, or rainwater runoff carrying sediment.

Surprisingly, it is still possible in some secluded places to find carnivorous plants south of the Kawartha Lakes, in an area dominated by agriculture and urban development. So let’s meet these interesting plants, and learn where might you find them.

Pitcher Plants

In the Kawarthas there are two species of Pitcher Plants that are commonly found. These were my introduction to native plant carnivory for a good reason; they are stunning! Often found in the nutrient poor lakes and bogs of the Canadian Shield, you can often see them peeking out from clumps of moss to show insects the entrance to their watery grave. Fine hairs point downward into the pitcher forcing insects towards a small pool of water filled with digestive enzymes. Once a bug is trapped at the bottom of the pitcher, they are gradually digested and used by the plant for the nutrients that they carry.

South of the Kawartha Lakes, it is possible to find these plants in secluded wetlands that have been mostly spared from human activity. I personally have a hunch that there are pitcher plants hidden somewhere in Harper Park. If you happen find some in there, let me know and there may be a (little) prize for you!

Bladderworts

Common Bladderwort. Image courtesy of: Kirill Ignatyev

I’ll admit, I often forget about Bladderworts when it comes to local carnivores. Their unassuming little yellow flowers don’t invite much suspicion, until you realize that they’re a plant with no (apparent) leaves! Floating across lakes and ponds, most of this plant’s biomass is beneath the surface. If you look at the plant below the water surface you will see little round clumps that are capable of trapping passers by. Initially, these “bladders” are deflated sacks with tiny hairs that act as triggers. When an unassuming daphnia or other tiny aquatic critter touch one of the hairs the bladder quickly inflates, sucking in the creature to be digested. There are several species of Bladderwort in the Kawarthas and some can be spotted nearby Peterborough, Lindsay, Orillia, or other towns in the Land Between.

Sundews

Sundews are unassuming little plants, with such a pleasant sounding name. However if you’re an insect tempted by the dew looking nectar on the tips of it’s hairs, you might be in for a sticky surprise! Once insects land on the leaves and are trapped, the sundew secretes enzymes to slowly digest it’s prey. Somehow this plant knows the difference between a tasty treat, and inedible material, as it will not secrete enzymes to digest items such as dirt, or tree bark.

These little plants can often be found clinging on to floating woody debris in wetlands, or among the mosses and lichens commonly found in bogs. There are a few sightings of sundews south of the Kawartha Lakes, but they are much less commonly than in places such as the Kawartha Highlands.

I hope you enjoyed this spooky insight into some of our local carnivores. Happy Halloween!

Is Your Neighborhood The Hottest In Peterborough?

On August 15th 2021 it was 23.9°C at the Peterborough Municipal Airport. By all respects, an average summer temperature. If you looked at a thermometer outside your house though, it might paint a much different picture. In the downtown core and areas along Lansdowne St. temperatures reached as high as 40°C. This represents over 15°C temperature difference! What is happening and how can it be stopped?

The urban heat island is a phenomenon we’ve long known about. It occurs when natural land cover such as forest or meadows are replaced with surfaces that retain heat such as asphalt, concrete or pavement. These surfaces then radiate the heat back out into the local environment, warming the surrounding area. The effect can increase the cost of heating, and put elderly or other vulnerable citizens at risk of heat stroke, and even death.

The urban heat island effect often puts the most vulnerable populations at risk. Some of Peterborough’s lowest income census areas have the highest recorded temperatures. You’ll notice on the map that areas directly south and north of the downtown which are characteristic as lower income neighborhoods, have some of the highest recorded temperatures, while some of Peterborough’s more affluent neighborhoods have much lower recorded temperatures.

Image #1 characterizes a neighborhood south of downtown. Census Canada considers between 35% and 43% of the population to be low income. This neighborhood is one of the hottest in Peterborough, coming in at a 15°C temperature deviation. Meanwhile Monaghan Ward represented in image #2 only recorded a 5°C temperature deviation. It is clear that land cover and tree canopy have a huge impact on temperature deviation. With the additional pressure of climate change, these deviations are likely to become more pronounced over time.

What can be done about urban heat though? Luckily we have some solutions! Planting trees is once again, a major winner in this regard. Not only does tree planting decrease average temperatures, it can lower heating and cooling bills year round for residents, overall a huge win for the climate. Removing asphalt and other “high heat” surfaces can also benefit neighborhoods, replacing asphalt with grass is even a viable solution for combating urban heat. Depave projects around the country have made major inroads in this regard, and perhaps focusing on lower income neighborhoods could have an additional impact.

In all, reducing the urban heat island effect gives us one more incentive to restore ecosystems, plant trees, and protect our natural areas. Perhaps years from now, when you look at the thermometer outside your house, it may more accurately reflect the temperature across our city.

Data provided by USGS through LANDSAT 8.

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.

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!