Sep 202019
 

Shifting dates, species declines, and surprising newcomers tell us climate change has arrived

For years we used to drive up to Algonquin Park in early summer to take our daughters to camp. One of the highlights of these trips was seeing moose along the side of Highway 60. Getting closeup looks and photographs of these huge and graceful animals was always such a thrill. Now, however, we rarely see them. Moose populations in Ontario have fallen by 20 percent – in some areas, 60 percent – in just the last decade. One of the main causes is climate change. These Canadian icons are poorly adapted to warmer temperatures. They are also dying from brainworm disease, which is arriving courtesy of the northward march of white-tailed deer. Deer are thriving as the climate warns.

Ontario moose are struggling with the warmer temperatures ushered in by climate change. Populations are down by 20 to 60 percent. (Randy Therrien)

White-tailed Deer (Stephenie Armstrong) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly but steadily, nature in Central Ontario and the Kawarthas is changing. New species are arriving, the dates of key events are shifting, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. For many years now, local naturalists and biologists have been noticing and documenting these changes. What the changes all have in common is a link to a warming climate.

A new timetable

Numerous events are now happening, on average, earlier in the spring, while others are occurring later in the fall.

·       In many parts of their range, bird species are arriving back earlier on their breeding grounds. These include common species like Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and tree swallows. The average egg-laying date for tree swallows is up to nine days earlier across North America.

·       According to an OMNR study from 2012, the peak calling period of early breeding frogs such as spring peepers is now 10-20 days earlier than in 1995.

·       Over the past decade or so, local wildflowers such as trilliums have often reached peak bloom in late April or early May, instead of the long-term average date of mid-May.

·       Earlier plant blooming also means pollen is being released into the air earlier. With more carbon dioxide (C02) in the air, plants are able to grow bigger and produce more pollen.  The pollen season is also lasting longer. Even in downtown Toronto, pollen levels are far above those recorded in the early 2000s. Data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency shows an especially big jump in the ragweed pollen season. In Winnipeg, for example, the plant’s growing season increased by 25 days between 1995 and 2015. If you are a hayfever sufferer like me, this is bad news.

Studies are showing a big increase in the length of the ragweed pollen season. It’s bad news for hayfever sufferers. (Drew Monkman)

Sugar maples (Cy Monkman)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

·       On average, peak colour change in the fall leaves is happening later. Last year, for example, the best sugar maple colour was in mid-October instead of late September or early October.

·       The long-term average date for freeze-up of the Kawartha Lakes is mid-December, while the ice is usually out by about April 20. Since the early 2000s, however, the lakes have often been ice-free by early April, while freeze-up hasn’t happened until January. Later freeze-up means that waterfowl are lingering on local lakes until early winter. This trend can be seen in Peterborough Christmas Bird Count records, which date back to 1952.

 

Plant and animal populations

·       “Southern” birds are expanding their breeding range northwards into Central Ontario. These include red-bellied woodpeckers, which many people now see at their feeders.

·       A study based on 22 years of data from Project FeederWatch has shown that as minimum winter temperatures have increased, birds that used to spend the winter solely in the south are now wintering further north.

·       Virginia opossums and white-footed mice, both of which are southern species, have now extended their range into the Kawarthas. According to Trent University researcher, Dr. Jeff Bowman, bobcats – another southern species – are also expanding into Ontario. At the same time, the lynx’s range is contracting northwards.

According to Trent University researcher, Dr. Jeff Bowman, bobcats are expanding their range northward into Ontario and are expected to become more common. (Drew Monkman)

Flying squirrels at Sandy Lake near Buckhorn (Mike Barker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

·       Research done by Bowman and his colleagues has also showed that during a series of warm winters between 1995 and 2003, the southern flying squirrel rapidly expanded its northern range limit. Their study demonstrated that these southern species are mating with their northern counterpart, the northern flying squirrel. This has resulted in a hybrid zone right here in the Kawarthas. The researchers believe that the range expansion and interbreeding is a possible effect of climate change.

·       Southern butterfly species are also moving north into the Kawarthas. The most noticeable and common of these is the giant swallowtail, Canada’s biggest butterfly. Until recently, this species’ Canadian range was restricted to southwestern Ontario.

·       Although the past few summers have seen greatly increased monarch butterfly numbers in the Kawarthas, the long-term prospects for this iconic insect are poor. Climate change-related droughts and abnormal weather patterns along the Canada to Mexico migration route are impacting numbers, as are winter storms on the Mexican wintering grounds. Warming in Mexico is also expected to disrupt the monarch’s period of reproductive diapause (suspension). If diapause ends too early, reproductive success will suffer.

·       Insects such as mosquitoes and ticks are thriving in our warmer climate, with some new species spreading northward. In the past, their range was restricted by colder winter temperatures. The greater number of frost-free days is also allowing for a longer reproduction season. The black-legged tick, which carries the Lyme disease bacteria, is now well-established in the Kawarthas. Hundreds of ticks are submitted annually to Peterborough Public Health from all over our region. In the 1990s, this species was found in only one region of the province.

·       We are seeing a marked increase in the abundance of non-native, invasive plant species. These include common reed (Phragmites), dog-strangling vine, and garlic mustard. Non-native invasives are more adaptable to a warming world than most native plants. They also have mostly negative impacts on our wildlife.

Phragmites on a roadside south of Peterborough – Photo by Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy – always a longer stem on middle leaflet; leaflets often asymmetrical; shiny; usually droop down a little – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

·       Poison ivy is increasing both in abundance and in size. Its growth has been turbocharged by warmer temperatures and rising levels of carbon dioxide. The plants are also producing a more potent form of urushiol, the oily sap that causes the rash.

Concern for the future

By 2030, it’s expected that Peterborough will be about 2 C warmer in each season. We can also expect a huge increase in the number of days above 30 C. By 2060, temperatures are projected to be 5 C warmer. The climate of the Kawarthas will be like southern Pennsylvania today. What will this mean for our flora and fauna?

·       A number of iconic birds may no longer be able to breed here, their ecoregion (i.e., habitat requirements) having moved further north. The call of the common loon is likely to disappear from the Kawartha Lakes.

Common Loon (Karl Egressy)

Adult Round Goby (Michael Fox)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

·       The health of our forests will suffer as a result of higher temperatures, drought, windstorms, invasive plants, insect pests, and fungal infections. Species such as white pine, sugar maple, and white spruce may disappear from the Kawarthas entirely as their climate zone will have moved north.

· As water temperatures increase, our lakes and wetlands will also be impacted. Although warm-water fish like large-mouthed bass should be able to cope, cool and cold-water fish like walleye and trout will struggle to survive here. The conditions may allow non-native fish like round goby to thrive and out-compete native species for food. There will likely be an increase in the types and abundance of other invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian water-milfoil.

The changes we are seeing in nature in the Kawarthas represent a “canary in the coal mine” warning that climate change is happening now. But, like the proverbial frog in water that is slowly brought to a boil, we seem unable or unwilling to react to this sinister and deadly threat to the future of all life on the planet. The climate crisis should be top-of-mind when we cast our votes in October.

What to watch for this week

Southbound white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos should be arriving in local backyards in the coming days. They are easy to attract by spreading millet or finch mix on the ground, preferably close to your feeder. The sparrows will linger for several weeks, before departing. Juncos sometimes stay all winter.

White-throated sparrow (Karl Egressy)

Juncos and white-throated sparrows feeding on ground (Drew Monkman)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Crisis News

Be sure to drop by the climate-crisis booth at the Purple Onion Festival at Millennium Park on Sunday, Sept. 22. There will be information on how to reduce your personal carbon footprint as well as petitions to be signed to urge city council to declare a climate emergency as soon as possible. Other climate events scheduled for the coming weeks include the Global Climate Action Day (Sept. 27 at Millennium Park from 12:00-3:00 pm) and 100 Debates on the Environment (Oct. 3 at the Students Centre at Trent University from 7:00-9:00 pm.) The local candidates in the federal election will be taking part. This event had previously been scheduled to take place at Trinity United Church. 100 Debates for the Environment is a non-partisan, nationwide effort to highlight environmental issues in the election. More information can be found at 100debates.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 132019
 

Council expected to revisit Peterborough’s suspended tree bylaw later this fall

I have always loved trees. As a kid I delighted in climbing the sugar maples near our house and seeing how high I could go until terror set in. I also spent countless hours playing “chestnuts” with the shiny brown nuts from an old horse-chestnut tree on the Upper property on Merino Boulevard. Bruce Upper used to say, “The chestnut monkeys are back in the tree again!” We would drill a hole through the nut, attach it to a string, and take turns striking our opponent’s chestnut until it shattered.

Now, as an adult, planting trees has become a passion – no less than 30 on our property in the past 25 years. I relish everything they have to offer: the fall foliage, the winter twigs and buds, the spring leaf emergence, the summer shade, the intriguing flowers and seeds, the diversity of species, the calm they bestow on the human psyche, the beauty and grace they give to city streets and, of course, their incredible value to wildlife. Even a dead tree is an “infinite hotel” for other species.  As a contributor to the 2013 book “Beneath the Canopy: Peterborough’s Urban Forest and Heritage Trees”, my eyes were opened to the many iconic local trees. Some of my favourites are the two towering bur oaks on Homewood Avenue and Sherbrooke Street (at Albertus), the Douro Street gingko, the Camperdown elm at Little Lake Cemetery, and the enormous red oak on Aberdeen Street.

This bur oak on Homewood Avenue is one of the largest and oldest trees in the city. (Drew Monkman)

As Peter Wohlleben writes in “The Hidden Life of Trees” we should also care about trees because of the wonders they present.  We’re learning how trees communicate with one another, both over the air through scent and underground through a “wood wide web” of soil fungi. We now know that trees care and feed each other, orchestrating shared behaviours through the networks in the soil. They can even count, since trees must wait until a certain number of warm days has passed before leafing out in the spring.

As we head towards an election in which climate change is front and centre in voters’ minds, let’s also remember how important trees are in storing carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. The carbon in a tree’s wood, leaves, and roots makes up nearly 50 percent of its biomass. In this way, trees are a vital part of Peterborough’s Climate Change Action Plan, which includes a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 30 percent by 2031.

As Dr. Rosana Salvaterra wrote in her article in Tuesday’s Examiner, there is abundant evidence showing the negative impact that climate change has on health, including the risk of triggering mental-health issues. There is proof that simply living near trees improves our health – both physical and mental. A 2015 study carried out in Toronto by Marc Berman found that people who live in neighborhoods with a higher density of trees on their streets report significantly higher health perception and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions. The researchers suggest that the benefits trees confer may relate to an improvement in air quality, relieving stress, and promoting walking. This is not surprising; we all feel better in the presence of trees.

Trees also increase property values by making individual properties and entire streets and neighbourhoods more beautiful. One of the reasons the Avenues neighbourhood in Peterborough (south of Charlotte Street between Park and Monaghan) is such a desirable place to live is the large number of mature trees. Trees also keep our lawns healthy, decrease the need for watering, and act as giant air filters. Their leaves and needles catch soot, toxic hydrocarbons, pollen, and dust as these particles float by.

 

Under siege

Trees, however, are under siege from every quarter, be it fungal disease, invasive species, drought, freezing rain, windstorms, or land development. The loss of city ash trees to the emerald ash borer has been especially devastating. If you look at photographs of locations in the city that once harboured healthy ash and then compare these to photographs taken after they were cut down, the difference is shocking. It’s not until trees are gone that we realize what’s been lost. Sadly, there are also many people who seem to love nothing more than to cut trees down, often because they deem them “dirty” or don’t like raking leaves.

A stunning black cherry at the bible college on Argyle Street (Peter Beales)

Unfortunately, tree removal became all the easier last March when city council decided to suspend Peterborough’s tree conservation bylaw, bowing to pressure from developers and tree maintenance companies. The process was flawed, however, since only opponents to the bylaw voiced their position to council. There was not sufficient time or notice provided for people to speak out in support of the bylaw. In council’s rush to make a decision, even the city’s standing committee on trees, “Made for Shade”, was left out of the consultation process. They were completely blindsided. This committee was originally set up to protect children’s health by assuring  that trees be planted in playgrounds, parks, and schoolyards to provide shade. Council’s decision was also made with little consideration for the bigger picture, such as doing everything possible to support the Peterborough Climate Change Action Plan.

 

 

To be fair, the old bylaw, passed in 2017, was not perfect. The approval process to get permission to remove a tree on private property was backed up, and property owners also had to replace felled trees with up to four new ones, which may have been excessive. Now that the bylaw has been suspended, however, permission to cut down a tree is no longer necessary. The only requirement is to provide 72-hour notice.

A new bylaw?

Council will soon consider making permanent changes to the bylaw – or scrapping it altogether. The city has hired Lura Consulting to engage in consultation with stakeholders. How widespread this consultation will be is not yet clear. While most trees in the city are on private property, the benefits they provide accrue to everyone. They affect our lives in positive and enduring ways.

Our city trees provide stunning fall foliage and beautify our streets and yards. (Drew Monkman)

I believe it’s important that some kind of permission-granting process remain in the by-law, especially for large trees. A fine, too, may still be necessary if this requirement is ignored. The bylaw should also stipulate that every felled tree be replaced – either on the same property or at another location approved by the city – and that the property owner commit to assuring the new tree survives. This may require some kind of monitoring. There should also be requirements as to the size and species of the replacement trees. It’s also worth investigating whether property owners with large trees could receive some kind of municipal tax credit. This would be a further incentive to protecting trees. A revamped bylaw must also afford protection to distinctive, iconic trees in the city and include an education program on the importance of urban trees.

Finally, it’s vitally important that the city continue planting and maintaining new trees to reverse the loss of the urban canopy. The city’s efforts in this regard should be applauded. The number of new trees being planted is truly impressive, as is the species diversity and the care (e.g, water bags) provided. It’s wonderful to see southern species like hackberry and American sycamore appearing on city streets. As global heating worsens, southern species should be able to withstand the heat stress more than native, central Ontario species.

Let’s hope that the city is able to craft a workable but robust bylaw that will protect our urban forest. Trees improve our quality of life and provide a visceral connection to the natural world – one that is available to all citizens and just outside the back door.

Climate Crisis News

The most disappointing climate news this week was Monday’s decision by city council to defer declaring a climate emergency this fall and, instead, ask for a staff report on the matter. The report is not expected until early 2020. Given the urgency of addressing the quickly worsening climate crisis, this decision is most troubling. When we cast our votes next month, climate change should be front and centre in our minds. Declaring a climate emergency in Peterborough ahead of the election is therefore incredibly important. It would be a powerful tool in focusing voters’ attention.

There might be a compromise solution, however. A climate emergency could still be brought forward and ratified by council on September 23, while specific actions tied to the declaration would  be announced when reports are received from city staff and from the new Environmental Advisory Committee in early 2020.

On Wednesday evening, Kingston city councillor Robert Kylie spoke at a standing-room-only meeting on climate change, organized by Peterborough Youth Empowerment. He explained how Kingston went about declaring a climate emergency last March. One of the “whys” for the declaration is the huge impact that the coming extreme heat events will have on Kingston’s large population of seniors. As in Peterborough, they are among Kingston’s most vulnerable people. To their credit, Peterborough councillors Clarke, Parnell, Vassiliadis, Baldwin, Riel, and Akapo attended the event. Let’s hope that they, too, feel the urgency of supporting an immediate climate emergency declaration the same way that Kingston councillors did. In Kingston, support for the declaration was unanimous.

 

 

Sep 062019
 

Looking ahead to events in nature in the Kawarthas

Although we enjoyed a comfortable summer in the Kawarthas – sunny, not too hot, and no extreme weather – the biggest story for the planet as a whole continues to be the climate crisis. July was Earth’s hottest month since temperature records began. The unparalleled heat of July followed the hottest June on record. Many European countries  experienced the hottest days in their nations’ history. Scientists agree that these record-breaking temperatures are almost entirely due to climate change.
Just this week, we also saw the unimaginable destruction in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian. New research is now linking the more extreme behaviour of these storms to global heating. Because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, hurricanes are dumping more rain than in the past. Warmer oceans also provide additional energy that make the storms stronger. The fact that hurricanes like Dorian are moving more slowly than in the past – and even stalling – may be linked to decreased atmospheric wind speeds as a result of a warming Arctic.
A more heartening story this summer has been the abundance of monarch butterflies. This is the third summer in a row with good numbers of this species at risk. For example, on the July 21 Petroglyphs Butterfly Count, nearly 500 monarchs were tallied  – twice last year’s number! Several factors have come together to boost the numbers of this iconic insect. First, the overwintering population in Mexico was 144 per cent higher than 2018, which meant more monarchs headed north. As they migrated, laying eggs along the way, good weather conditions boosted reproductive success. Finally, this summer’s warm weather and sufficient rainfall allowed milkweed and nectar plants to thrive, which allowed for excellent reproductive success. We can also speculate that gardeners and landowners are  helping the cause, since so many of us are now planting milkweed in our gardens or simply leaving them be.

A Monarch butterfly drinking nectar from a New England Aster – Tim Dyson

This summer was also excellent summer for fireflies. Apparently, the wet spring created perfect conditions for worms, slugs and snails, all of which provide food for firefly larvae. Of special note, too, is the abundant fruit this year on apple trees, chokecherries, dogwoods, wild grape, and even the endangered butternut. The big cone crop on spruce and cedar is also noteworthy.

Looking ahead to the fall, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas – an autumn that once again is projected to be warmer than usual.

 

September

·       Most of the evening insect music we hear this month comes courtesy of crickets. Listen for the soft, rhythmic “treet…treet…treet” of the snowy tree cricket. Its beautiful rhythmic pulsations provide a good estimate of air temperature. For the temperature in Celsius, count the number of “treets” in 8 seconds and add 5. Watch and listen at bit.ly/18nGrJ3

·       Watch for giant swallowtails, Canada’s largest butterfly. They regularly turn up in backyard gardens, even right in Peterborough. With a wingspan of up to 15 cm and striking yellow and black coloration, they are easy to identify. The northern expansion of this southern species is related to a warming climate.

·       Fall songbird migration is now in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”.

·       Broad-winged hawks migrate south over the Kawarthas in mid-September. Sunny days with cumulous clouds and northwest winds are best. Watch for high-altitude “kettles”, which is a group of hawks soaring and circling in the sky. Migration usually peaks on about September 15.

·       Listen for the constant calling of blue jays and the metronome-like “chuck-chuck…” call of chipmunks, which can go on for hours. This vocalization is often given in response to danger such as the presence of a hawk.

·       Peterborough Field Naturalists (PFN) we be holding nature walks each Sunday in September. They usually last about three hours. The meeting spots are Riverview Park and Zoo (Sept. 8 at 8:00 am), the public parking lot on Crawford Drive at Harper Road (Sept. 15 at 1:00 pm), Country Style at Hwy 7 and Old Keene Road (Sept. 22 at 8:00 am), and Cavan Carpark/GO Bus Stop (Sept. 29 at 8:00 am). For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org

·       The PFN indoor meetings take place on the second Wednesday of each month (7:30 pm) at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre at 2505 Pioneer Road. On September 11, Mike Burrell will speak about his new book, “The Best Places to Bird in Ontario”.

·       Chinook and coho salmon leave Lake Ontario to spawn in tributaries of the Ganaraska River. Huge salmon can be seen jumping up the fish ladder at Corbett’s Dam on Cavan Street in Port Hope.

Salmon jumping up fish ladder at Corbett’s Dam on the Ganaraska River in Port Hope (Drew Monkman)

·       As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath, panicled and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England, purple-stemmed and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit http://bit.ly/2fhW4sN (Ontario Wildflowers) for identification tips.

·       Don’t miss the spectacular Harvest Moon, which occurs this year on September 14, rising at 8:06 pm. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (September 23). For several nights before and after this date, the moon rises at almost the same time.

 

October

·       Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. Right now, it looks like we can expect a great  colour show this fall, given that trees flourished this summer thanks to a wet spring and warm July and August. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.

·       On October 9, Ken Lyon will speak to the PFN on “The Geological Features of the Land Between”. The talk will include the geology of the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands as well as the drumlins and other features left by the glaciers. See above for location and time.

·       Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.

White-throated sparrow (Karl Egressy)

·       On balmy October days, ruffed grouse can sometimes be heard drumming. Early fall is also the grouse’s “crazy season.” Young birds disperse from their parent’s territory and often end up colliding with all manner of objects.

·       A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at month’s end, tamarack.

·       As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoon. It is located on the south side of County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along. The sewage lagoon is one of the best birding locations in the Kawarthas.

·       The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2019-2020”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.

November

·       Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence.

·       We return to Standard Time on Sunday, November 3, and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 3rd is at 6:52 am and sunset at 5:00 pm for a total of only 10 hours and 8 minutes of daylight.

·       If you go for a woodland hike, watch for clusters of small, fan-shaped fungi growing on logs or dead trees. If the fungus has concentric zones or rings of white, cream, yellow, and brown, you are probably looking at turkey tail fungus, one of our most attractive species.

·       Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas. This year’s huge wild grape crop will probably mean that larger than average numbers of robins will choose to remain here like they did two years ago.

·       Coyotes are often heard in late fall. The coyotes of central Ontario are closely related to the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) and the two species sometimes hybridize. All wolf-like animals of Peterborough County contain, to varying degrees, both coyote and eastern wolf genes.

Eastern coyote photographed at Westview Village in Peterborough (René Gareau)

·       This is a great time of year to focus on several groups of plants of the forest floor that usually escape our attention. Evergreen ferns, club-mosses, and mosses stand out prominently against the brown leaf litter. Watch for wood fern, rock polypody fern, ground pine and ground cedar club-mosses, juniper moss, and fire moss.

 

 

 

 

 

CLIMATE CRISIS NEWS 

On September 11, Peterborough Youth Empowerment will hold a forum to discuss what Peterborough can do at the municipal level to address the Climate Crisis. The meeting takes place at the Peterborough Public Library from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. Robert Kiley, a Kingston municipal councillor, will explain how his council found the will to declare a Climate Emergency and how Peterborough can follow suit. Local climate activist, Al Slavin, will speak on some of the actions that are possible at the municipal level. Other climate events scheduled for the coming weeks include the Global Climate Action Day (Sept. 27 at Millennium Park from 12:00-3:00 pm) and 100 Debates on the Environment (Oct. 3 at Trinity United Church from 7:00 – 9:00 pm). The quickly worsening climate crisis should be top-of-mind when we cast our votes in October.