Spring Excitement at Thickson’s Woods
As usual, the great horned owl family is a top attraction for visitors. The male spends most days huddled close to the trunk of one of the tall white pine on the south ridge. The female tends a nest high in a tall pine farther north. Last week one fluffy, white, half-grown baby was standing in the nest, soaking in warm rays from the afternoon sun.
By the time the star evening performers start their show, most human visitors have already gone home. Sit on the platform in the meadow about 8:00 p.m. on a clear, calm spring evening after the sun has set, just as the local robins are scolding before going to roost. First you will hear a distant nasal "beep." Next a smallish bird will come zooming low over the dogwood thickets and circle, to land along a grassy pathway nearby. After some frantic scurrying about and some more beeping, he will again launch himself into the air, this time climbing higher into the sky. After circling wider over the meadow, he begins a soft twittering song before plummeting to earth somewhere else to begin his performance anew. Others will soon join from near and far.
As the gathering gloom closes the curtain on this evening’s performance, cottontails emerge from their hiding spots to nibble on the greening grass, always watchful for the father great horned owl arriving to hunt for breakfast for his growing family.
Each visitor to the nature reserve will experience her or his own unique moments of excitement as spring unfolds. What will yours be this year?
P.S We’d love to have you share some of your adventures in future newsletters, as David and Mary have so eloquently done in this issue.
Earth Day Garlic Mustard Blitz
Saturday, April 20
Many hands make light work. We’re making progress but the tiny black seeds of garlic mustard are often carried to new locations on the muddy feet of small mammals, especially cottontail rabbits. So we need scouts with keen eyesight to play detective, search for stray plants and mark their location for the eradication crews.
Meet at 9:00 a.m. at the entrance to the woods off the Waterfront Trail. Come prepared to dig in the dirt. Bring a small spade, trowel, hoe or whatever your favourite tool may be. We’ll uproot the larger garlic mustard plants and dispose of them. The tiny ones that would flower in 2014 can be brushed with a glove or uprooted with a hoe. Can’t make it on April 20th? Come back anytime. There are always strays that get missed, and patches we didn’t get to.
Dog-Strangling Vine Removal
Saturday, June 15
Once this alien invader gets well established, eradication is extremely difficult. Fortunately, we’ve managed to start early enough to be able to get ahead of the incursion. Now we just need to complete the process, then remain vigilant to remove any new plants sprouting from windborne seeds.
Camp Samac in north Oshawa used to be one of the best places to find a variety of interesting butterflies attracted to a complex mix of plants the larvae could feed on. Now, much of the area has no ground cover except dog-strangling vine. With no plants to feed on, the butterflies have disappeared. Unfortunately, this spreading plague is having the same impact on natural areas throughout southern Ontario. We can’t let the same thing happen in Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.
Meet at 8:00 a.m. at the gated entrance to the meadow. Bring a sturdy shovel or garden fork and long-handled pruning shears. A lawn chair could be useful. It may be hot and sunny, so come prepared. We’re starting at 8:00 a.m. because it may get hot later, but come later if you need to. If you can’t make it on June 15, come another day, or several other days. If you’d like a reminder closer to the date, leave an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 905-725-2116.
My bird-watching addiction came upon me suddenly and totally when I was 11 years old. My family had recently moved from a small rural community to the outskirts of London, Ontario. We were excited to be meeting people with a wide range of interests that meshed with our own, and to learn that there was an excellent library in London, as well as a Chamber Music Society, and all sorts of activities that did not exist in our former village.
My parents had a great interest in the out-of-doors, which included birds and plants, camping and hiking, so I suppose the ground had been prepared for me to develop this new interest. Eli Davis, a highly respected member of the McIlwraith Club in London, lived close by, and on the May 24th holiday our two families went together to a location he recommended for a walk and "cook-out." It was a lovely sunny day and I walked beside him as we wandered along paths and across fields prior to cooking hamburgs and making coffee. He would hear a bird and say, "Ah, that is a field sparrow…..its song is like a ball that starts out bouncing high and gradually bounces faster and lower until suddenly it stops." Or, "That is a scarlet tanager…sounds like a robin with a frog in its throat." Or, "…and there is a rose-breasted grosbeak….it is like a robin too, but it slurs its notes and sounds all excited." I heard more and more songs, songs I had never noticed before, and his way of teaching made them memorable.
I was completely captivated, and I took my mother’s old bird book to bed with me that night and looked up all the birds I had heard and seen. I joined the McIlwraith Club and even skipped the odd morning of school when seeing a white-eyed vireo or a yellow-breasted chat was obviously much more important.
I never succeeded in converting my first husband into a bird-watching addict, but when I married again, I did so hope that Kenneth would come to share my interest and enjoy early May mornings with the birds. The best approach I could think of was to bring him to Thickson’s on a beautiful May morning at the peak of warbler migration. I did not see how anyone could resist if we were lucky enough to encounter a wave of warblers going through.
We walked the paths of the woods. I could hear many songs, but knew Kenneth would have to see to succumb. Those warblers we did see were high over our heads, flashes of beauty too far away for a neophyte. We came out to the road on the west side of the woods, and there, in an evergreen at eye level were a chestnut-sided warbler and two magnolia warblers, moving quickly in and out among the branches, flashing their colour and exquisite patterning. The first seeds of fascination were planted. We stayed listening and watching these three and others for a long time, and then continued out to the road along the lake where things were even better. It was a real warbler wave, and many of the beauties were on the ground just north of the lake, tired, I suppose, from their long night’s flight. I could not have wished for more. Kenneth wandered around on the grass, peering up into the trees and marveling at the numbers of these tiny wonders. At one point I heard some other birdwatchers noticing him gazing up, say, "Does that man know there are warblers all around him on the grass?"
I can’t wait for May this year, nor can he. We have gone to Thickson’s as often as we can every spring since that first 1995 adventure, grateful for the place, the song, the wonder of such precious beauty, and our shared addiction.
by Brian Steele
A few months ago when I was opening the Thickson’s Woods mail, I noticed a donation made in honour of Marion O’Donnell. That was the first time I heard she had passed away. My mind immediately went back to the spring of 2005. We had a mortgage on the meadow and it was a struggle each quarter to cover the interest, let alone make progress on the principal. Then, one evening, I received a call from a woman I did not know. She asked questions about Thickson’s Woods to learn what we did, and asked about the mortgage on the meadow. After I explained how it worked and how much it was each quarter to cover the interest, there was a pause, and then she said, "I can manage that." She ended up donating stock to Thickson’s Woods which we subsequently sold. The proceeds are still the largest single donation we have ever received.
The lady who called me that night was Marion O’Donnell. After her donation, we began to believe that we really could pay off the mortgage on the woods. It was less than one month later when Crestview Investment Corporation made a substantial donation and that quarter we made huge progress in paying off the mortgage.
Thickson’s Woods will be forever grateful to Marion for her contribution and what it meant to saving the meadow. On a personal note, my late wife, Susan Morgan, was the fund-raising chair and I credit Marion with putting us over the top, so that when Susan passed away in August 2005, she knew that we would succeed in paying off the mortgage and saving the meadow.
Donating stock to Thickson’s Woods is an efficient way of maximizing tax savings. If you sell stock and donate the proceeds to charity, then you will pay capital gains tax on the sale. But if you donate the stock directly to the charity, you pay no capital gains, and you still get a charitable receipt for the full value of the stock. The charity can then sell the stock and pay no tax. If you own publicly traded stock with an accumulated capital gain, you might consider this tax efficient method of donating to charity.
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:
On our website we recognize all past donations made in memory of friends and loved ones
Rare Encounter at Thickson’s Woods
by David Wysotski
When I think of Thickson’s Woods, I don’t think of bees. I think of spring ephemerals, migrating warblers, great-horned owls, (mosquitos in the summer). But I certainly don’t think of bees. The thought of walking amongst thousands of bees at Thickson’s Woods never crossed my mind – that is, until this past September.
September 1st began with a phone call from Dennis Barry. He and Glenn Coady had been observing a massive swarm along the dirt road bordering Thickson’s Woods south edge. "Bees?" I said. "Are you sure the swarm is bees?" He was quite certain, and I was intrigued! Stating the obvious, I mentioned to him that honeybees are known to swarm when relocating to a new nest site. Dennis assured me that these were not honeybees, but rather, a species he didn’t know.
With my brain spinning as to what they could be, I packed up my camera and headed over. Dennis led me to the site and I was astounded by the numbers. There were thousands of bees!
The swarm was dispersed over a large grassy area, with each individual flying low to the ground. We walked amongst them and observed their actions. I crouched lower and studied their details. They were the size of honeybees, relatively hairless with bare reddish legs and a boldly striped body. I didn’t know what species they were, which excited me further! They seemed to be patrolling, almost searching for something.
Upon further observation, I spotted what it was they were after. A second species of bee was present, though in much fewer numbers. This second species stood out from the first by the massive load of pollen they carried on their hairy hind legs. They were slightly smaller, more robust, and hard at work digging tunnels. The busiest location was along the sandy south-facing slope that edged the road. I sat there carefully and began photographing the story unfolding before me.
Back home, I enlarged the photos on my computer, revealing important details for a positive identification. It always amazes me what a camera can capture in moments too fleeting for our eyes to see. The boldly marked hairless bees were cuckoo bees from the genus Triepeolus. Being ‘cuckoos’, the Triepeolus bees are not nest builders, but rather, nest invaders. Comprising the vast majority of the swarm, these cuckoos were patrolling the sandy ground looking for nests to invade.
The second species were the hardworking, pollen-collecting, nest diggers called long-horned bees from the genus Melissodes. They were excavating nests in the sandy soil. Once complete, they would deposit a large ball of pollen, lay a single egg and then seal the chamber tight. However, the opportunistic cuckoos would slip in before the nest was sealed and deposit their own egg, hidden on the tunnel wall. Inevitably, the cuckoo’s egg would hatch first and thrive upon the generous provisions.
It appears now that the swarm we encountered was in fact a result of this successful long-horned bee nesting site. The problem was, it was only successful at raising the wrong species! The long-horned bees had raised more cuckoo bees than their own.
I contacted Dr. Laurence Packer, Canada’s expert on bees of the world. He was very interested, telling me that it was a rare find to see these bees in such great numbers. I collected a few specimens for him to identify down to species rather than just genus. He intends to visit the site this year to excavate a few nest tunnels to learn more.
Now that I know of this important nesting site, I’ll monitor it throughout the coming seasons to see what will become of last year’s colony. Will there be another swarm this September? Will the long-horned bees be more successful at raising their own species this year? It remains to be seen. I look forward to finding out.
Thank You!! Thank You!! Thank You!!
A very special thank-you once again to Crestview Investment Corporation, one of our staunchest corporate supporters, for their recent very generous donation.
Thanks also to Ontario Power Generation for providing tents for the fall festival.
As it is every year, Home Depot’s craft corner for budding carpenters was a key attraction at the festival.
And, as always, Warren Toaze’s magic wizardry entertained and enthralled visitors young and old at the festival. He even managed to make the rain disappear. Many thanks, Warren!!
Thank you, as well, to the students of Trafalgar Castle School for their donation of proceeds from a bazaar held at their school last autumn.
Last fall’s alien invaders eradication day was helped immensely by generous assistance from hardworking members of the congregation of Whitby Baptist Church. Many thanks!!
And last, but certainly not least, a very special thank-you to the students, staff and parents of Whitby Shores Public School who, every spring and fall, spend a morning or afternoon digging up garlic mustard. They are one vital reason why we are winning this battle.
Happenings in the Reserve
Thickson’s Woods was one of the few places in Southern Ontario to enjoy a bumper white pine seed crop in 2012. As a result, many more red-breasted nuthatches than usual lingered for the winter. Both species of crossbills were frequent visitors during the fall. Chipmunks must have been able to store bountiful supplies of these seeds, for they were able to remain in their underground dens until late March.
The constant thuds of falling cones on the steel roof of our shed last autumn was a reminder that red squirrels were able to access cones on fragile twigs unavailable to heavier gray squirrels. Ever the opportunists, red-breasted nuthatches were quick to collect the plump seeds dislodged when the cones bounced off the steel roofing. White-footed mice came out at night to gather their share of the bounty. One used a bag of potting soil in our garden shed to store its treasure. As some of the soil was used to top up pots of house plants, the seeds were transferred with the soil. Now a dense green forest of white pine seedlings encircles the base of a flowering cactus in our south window.
Mink seem to be making a comeback along Lake Ontario from the disastrous decline in numbers caused by the same poisons that decimated peregrine, osprey and bald eagle populations. Their tracks crisscrossed Corbett Creek Marsh after each snowfall this winter, and individuals are appearing in backyards in the neighbourhood. One sunny afternoon last week, one ran across Thickson Road into the meadow. Possum tracks, too, are now regular after each fresh snowfall. Large three-toed tracks in the narrow woods along the barrier beach east of the woods was the first sign that wild turkeys had arrived to check out the area. Up to three females have since been spotted cleaning up under neighbourhood bird feeders.
A coyote chorus echoes across the marsh quite often, and can also be heard sometimes at dusk along the Waterfront Trail west of the woods. White-tailed deer have been sheltering in the meadow and in the cedar woods between the marsh and Lake Ontario. Recently, a herd of eight wandered up Thickson Road, before dashing into the meadow.
Last May, Glenn Coady was startled to hear an unusually short nasal crow call and looked up in time to watch a fish crow fly across an opening at the south edge of the woods. The same day a common raven croaked hoarsely as it flew across the meadow. With the addition of resident American crows, this may have marked the first time all three of these corvids had been seen in the same place on the same day anywhere in Ontario, or perhaps in Canada.
In September, gale-force winds from the remnants of Hurricane Sandy toppled one of the largest white pines in the woods. The heart of the ancient giant had been rotted away near its base, leaving only a shell of sapwood too thin to support its massive bulk against the onslaught. Stretching more than 30 metres into the sky, these giants tower over every other tree in the woods, their spreading canopies taking the full brunt of every storm.
Hurricanes, however, do sometimes bring rewards for those stalwart enough to brave their fury. Seabirds caught up in swirling winds over the Atlantic are sometimes deposited in the Great Lakes basin. Glenn Coady spent a good part of that windy day scanning the lake from the bluff at the south edge of the woods. First he identified a Leach’s storm-petrel skimming across the frothy surface of the bay. Later, a passing helicopter flushed a number of waterfowl previously hidden among the massive waves stirred up by the gusting winds. Among them he spotted a razorbill, bringing to more than 300 the number of species that have been recorded in or adjacent to Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve over the years.