25 Years of Nature Protection—Thanks to You!
This spring migration marks a quarter of a century since Thickson’s Woods was purchased and preserved. In April 1984 the deal went through—the sale of 16 1/2 acres of woods, wetlands and Lake Ontario shoreline bluffs in Whitby.
Vendor: An Oshawa developer who didn’t have a wide enough road allowance for zoning to build condos in the woods. First he sold logging rights to the towering pines, sixty of which were lumbered and dragged away. Then he sold the woods.
Purchaser: the hastily formed Thickson’s Woods Heritage Foundation, a group of local naturalists determined that no tree would ever again be cut in one of the last remnants of old-growth forest in southern Ontario. They scraped together a $30,000 down payment from a few very generous, very committed individuals. Then, on a wing and a prayer, went into debt, hoping somehow to raise the $60,000, plus interest, owing on the mortgage—a daunting amount in those days. Their mission statement: “To preserve and protect the flora and fauna of Thickson’s Woods in perpetuity.”
The rest is history: the yard sales, bake sales, art auctions. The pancake breakfasts, coffee-and-doughnut days, quilt raffles. The nature festivals, mayrathons, newsletter appeals. The many many caring donors.
It turned out a lot of folks wanted to help save a precious corner of wildlife habitat. Donations started coming in, resulting in the mortgage on the woods being paid off on its due date, May 1989. The mortgage on the adjacent meadow, $571,000,was paid off in 2006, the one on a building lot in the heart of the woods in 2008.
Yes, we’ve had wonderful contributions from companies and groups, but the lion’s share have come from ordinary people with an extraordinary love of nature. Thank you all!!!
Today a bird migrating across Lake Ontario on a spring morning will find an island of green amidst the urban development, a leafy shelter where it can rest and recover on its long journey north. That the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve exists is a testament to human generosity.
Earth Week Spring Cleanup
Come take care of the nature reserve and celebrate migration at our annual spring cleanup, Saturday April 25 from nine until noon. Bring work gloves, and a hand trowel for digging garlic mustard!
Fall Festival Fun
Make a date for Saturday September 19 and the annual Birds Beavers and Butterflies Nature Festival. From nine until three the Thickson’s Woods Reserve will be rocking, with nature-related events appealing to the kid in everyone.
Letter of Appreciation to the Board
Congratulations, fellow TWLT board members, for all that's been accomplished! And thank you all so very much, especially you, Margaret Bain.
We might consider today the 25th anniversary of the official start of the whole Thickson's Woods protection effort. It was a beautiful sunny evening on September 13, 1983, when I arrived home from work and saw a huge double-length tractor trailer backed down the sewage plant road in front of the woods. Naive as I was, I waved at the driver, thinking he must be lost. Then a cold wave of dread descended.
Dennis had already come home from teaching, gone into the woods and talked to the logger, who had cut three big pines and skidded them out that afternoon. So began what truly were the worst four days of my life, as they felled 60 magnificent pines and gutted the center of the woods. Every 15 minutes the ground would shake as another one came crashing down. We did everything we could think of--everything!!!-- to slow them, including handing the man all the money Dennis and I had in our bank accounts--$1,300 in cash, and a $700 cheque postdated to the next payday, asking what he could save. He left 13 big pines along the south ridge.
I won't dwell on the trauma, but focus on how so many people have done so much to help save this small precious scrap of pine woodland in the last 25 years. The birds still come here spring and fall--that's the vital thing. And there's still a woods, and a meadow, and 2 km of naturalizing lakeshore between Thickson Road and Heydenshore, for them to shelter in. I’ll always mourn the big pines that were cut, but wonder if we would have been motivated to work so hard to protect the nature reserve without that tragic occurrence.
Living through such an event, and the resulting 25-year effort that's evolved, sure gives one insight into people's character and mettle. I have such profound respect, gratitude and love for so many folks, Edge and Betty Pegg, Dave and Mary Calvert, Murray and Doris Speirs, Jack and Mary Overs for starters, not to mention the many wonderful people who have served on the TWLT board over the years, each of you included.
And top of the list, Margaret Bain. She has been, from the very beginning, quite remarkable. She's been dogged, brilliant, brave, resilient. An indefatigable ally, a staunch leader. Always, always focused on what we could and should do to move forward, and unafraid to take the next step. And did I mention her sense of humour?? Everyone has gifts and talents; some people stand out, rise above. Margaret, on behalf of myself and Dennis, all the TWLT boards, all the birders, all the birds, thank you so much for ALL you've contributed. Thank you for being smack-dab at the heart of wildlife habitat preservation in southern Ontario for so many years. You've been invaluable. Inspirational. You've given so much, and it's so much appreciated.
The significance of today's date only struck me this evening, after the day's many tasks were done and I started to wind down. Suddenly it came to me that this is the anniversary of that critical day that set so much into motion. Regret!!! I wish I'd send Margaret a dozen roses, better yet a big bouquet of zinnias from my garden, mixed with goldenrod and asters from the meadow. I wish I'd phoned around and got as many of you as could make it to meet for a celebratory feast somewhere--that would have been appropriate and fun.
So let's pretend we did all that, in the midst of our busy lives--showered Margaret with flowers, raised a glass and had a feast to honour everyone's contributions, sent a chorus of thanks around the table, told stories of the past and talked about the future. It really has been quite a project, saving a little corner of nature along the Lake Ontario shoreline. I, for one, have learned so much--mostly about how fine humanity can be. How generous.
Thank you! I
deeply appreciate your involvement, all you do, all you give to protect
wildlife habitat. Seemed like an appropriate day to tell you that.
A 25 Year Roster of TWLT Board Members
Thank you for you support!
Birders, hikers, photographers, take note! Everyone visiting the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve is asked to park on Thickson Road from now on instead of along the Waterfront Trail. Recent legal action taken by a trail user has inspired the Town of Whitby to change the signage, to protect taxpayers from future litigation. It’s possible anyone parking or driving on the trail could be ticketed.
Plus keeping the trail for pedestrians will greatly enhance the peace and quiet of the nature reserve.
Physically challenged folks are welcome to access the woods via the gravel road along the lakeshore, and the laneways off it.
at the Reserve
Summer 2009 was the wettest in many years. White spruce trees planted along Thickson Road on the west boundary of the meadow responded to the bountiful moisture and should soon be tall enough to attract nesting chipping sparrows. Residual seeds in the soil used to construct the berms behind the rows of spruces produced a jungle of burdock which grew much larger than normal. Burdock seeds are eaten by birds such as purple finches, but the burs can trap smaller passerines like golden-crowned kinglets. Plants relocated from the butterfly garden maintained by the Durham Region Field Naturalists on Rossland Road in Oshawa rooted well and should grow larger and expand this year.
The berms themselves provide a sight and sound barrier against traffic on Thickson Road as well as a windbreak from prevailing northwest winds. Both migrant and resident songbirds, along with white-tailed deer and the ever-present cottontail rabbits seem to favour the part of the meadow along the eastern margins of the berms.
Spruces planted in the late 1980s along the Waterfront Trail on the south side of the meadow are now many times taller than the folks who planted them. Cardinals, robins and mourning doves regularly hide nests among their branches, and warblers, kinglets and chickadees glean insects there in both spring and fall. This winter both saw-whet and long-eared owls found shelter beneath their limbs, the long-eared delighting many a visitor when it chose to bask in the sun on the south side of the hedgerow near the meadow entrance.
Freeze-up last fall saw an enormous concentration of red-breasted mergansers filling the whole bay along the south side of the woods. The birds were virtually impossible to count, but estimates placed their numbers between 10,000 and 25,000 birds, almost entirely in female plumage. Having been forced to leave northern waters because of forming ice, they fed here for a couple of days and were gone. Hundreds of ring-billed gulls swarmed over the feeding flock, hoping for an opportunity to steal their catch.
A Carolina wren showed up in the woods in late fall and was joined by a winter wren. Both spent the winter, and could be heard singing on early mornings as spring approached. A white-crowned sparrow in full breeding plumage spent the winter. It regularly scratched for seeds at the edge of a brush-pile in our yard. It was frequently accompanied by a drab white-throat, and a varying number of tree sparrows, juncos and house sparrows.
This was a banner year for “winter” finches in Thickson’s Woods. White-winged crossbills were the most abundant species in late fall and early winter. Redpolls moved through in large numbers in early January, stripping most of the abundant seed crop from white and yellow birches. As winter progressed, pine siskins became the dominant species, vying with goldfinches for space at niger seed feeders. One day, Margaret and I almost stepped on a beautiful pair of white-winged crossbills under a spruce tree on our front lawn. They were so busy extracting seeds from fallen cones that they refused to fly. We stood motionless as the male moved within a few inches of our boots, held a spruce cone on end with one foot while tearing it apart in search of seeds.
By early March the resident great horned owl pair had settled on an abandoned squirrel’s nest in a tall pine as the site for this year’s nest. Halfhearted harassing cawing by passing crows pinpointed the location of the nest. Now white-breasted nuthatches can be heard daily “talking” back and forth as they discuss which crevice in a tall maple is the best choice for raising a family.
Recent donations have been made in memory of these special people:
We join their families and friends in mourning their passing, and acknowledge their unique contribution to the rich web of life on planet earth.
On our website we recognize all past donations made in memory of friends and loved ones.
Gifts That Will Last Forever
Metres of the nature reserve have been saved in the name of:
the Duff Grandchildren & Great-grandchildren; Otto Peter; Anita Tung; Jim & Mary White.
Thank you to everyone who gave a friend or loved one a share in this living legacy—a gift that will last forever!
Special Thanks to…
Students from Barb Haynes and Larry Peter’s Grade 7 class at Woodcrest Public School in Oshawa, for planting 25 trees in the meadow.
Richard Woolger, for carefully tending the many native trees he’sraised and planted in the reserve.
Folks at Johnson Controls, our nearest corporate neighbour, who will be planting spruce trees on the berms around their south plant on Earth Day, to enhance wildlife habitat as well as natural screening.
John and Karin Fawthrop, Ray and Judy Bryson, Werner and Sigridangus Valentin for stuffing and stamping so many newsletters.
Peterborough lawyer Bill Fox, who dealt with all the legal details involved in the purchase of the woods, the incorporation and charitable status, and Toronto lawyer Ray Hughes, who handled the recent purchase of the lot in the woods.
And thanks to the many volunteers who helped with last fall’s nature festival, making it a rousing success.
the Most of Your Visit to Thickson’s Woods
The fascinating thing about adventures in nature is that no two experiences are alike. Two people visiting Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve on the same day at the same hour can see and hear very different things, depending on where they are within the reserve. And we’ve all had the experience of arriving just after a rare bird has flown, or an unusual snake has disappeared into tall grass. However, with a little planning, or perhaps doing things differently than you normally would, you may discover something unexpected.
An hour spent sitting quietly on the platform in the meadow at dusk during April or early May can give a whole new perspective on the residents of the reserve. As dusk gathers you may hear the nasal “beeep” of a male woodcock somewhere nearby. After a short time he will launch into flight, circling the meadow several times before descending to earth while uttering a soft twittering song. With luck, if you remain very still, he may land within sight along the grassy roadway leading to the platform. This display will likely be repeated several times as darkness deepens, until he is no longer visible in flight or on the ground.
During the time you’re waiting, one of the great horned owls may fly silently from the woods across the meadow to land briefly atop one of the old apple trees before heading off to hunt in nearby fields. One or more night herons, or great blues may pass silently overhead en route from daytime roost to nighttime feeding spot. If you are very, very lucky, as you return to your car amid the last glow of sunset, a migrating whip-poor-will may sing a few notes before continuing its northward trek.
Spells of warm spring weather are sometimes interrupted by sudden attempts by winter to restore supremacy. Your logical reaction is to escape the biting north or northeast winds, so consider doing what the birds do: head for the lee side of the woods. Insects driven by the cold winds concentrate there as well, and are likely to be followed shortly by birds seeking extra energy to survive the deepening cold. If the winds are more easterly, hundreds of swallows may be concentrating at the base of Thickson Road along the west edge of the woods. Sometimes it’s possible to see all five swallow species here, swooping about your head, and perched on telephone wires.
If the wind is straight out of the north, swallows will be skimming over the waters of Lake Ontario as they hawk for insects. Sit or lie on the bluff overlooking the lake and look for the buff rump patches that identify the less common cliff swallows within the flock.
Don’t forget to check the trees and shrubs along the edge of the woods for foraging warblers and kinglets. You may have to search deep within the foliage of cedars where the insects have taken shelter.
Many folks admire the showy yellow blooms of marsh marigolds along the edge of the marsh in the northeast corner of the woods. Two years ago I was amazed to find a magnificent display of turtlehead in full bloom in the same area in late summer--the host for the larvae of the very beautiful black-and-orange Baltimore checkerspot.
While I have wandered through Thickson’s Woods for half a century, I had never been at that spot when turtlehead was in bloom. Even the late George Scott, who identified close to four hundred plants in Thickson’s Woods, never found it.
Wild leeks send up their first shoots along the south ridge just as the snow melts. Only in June, after their bright green leaves have captured the fleeting spring sunlight on the forest floor and died, do the plants send up their rather drab flower heads. These later produce shiny black seeds typical of members of the onion family.
The beautiful big green-and-white sign for the nature reserve, designed, built and donated by Lofthouse Brass several years ago, needs repositioning and support. If you have the skills and time needed to tackle the job, please phone 905-725-2116. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Specialized Volunteer(s) Wanted for an Important Role: Watchdog and Community Liaison
Every year it’s something new: a local environmental assessment, official plan amendment, building expansion—you name it, someone has to take part in the public process for the interests of migrating birds and local wildlife to be considered when decisions are made. If you’d like to speak up for nature, we need you! This is a job for an articulate diplomat who enjoys working with people and doesn’t mind attending meetings.
Need a Rain Barrel?
A special thank-you to Chad Pescod at envirosponsible, 1360 Hopkins Street in Whitby, for donating a rain barrel with a brass tap, which we use to water transplanted trees and wildflowers on the berm. His company recycles used barrels and many other useful items. Check them out!
Come Celebrate Earth Day at Thickson’s Woods
And help take care of our planet!
Our annual spring cleanup at the Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve will include alien plant control, garbage pickup, nest box cleanout and signage repair. Many hands—and happy faces—wanted!
Bring family, friends, work gloves, hammers, hand trowels—and come play!