Oct 022014

TRENT NATURE AREAS – university campus offers easy access to local nature

With over 1,400 acres of land situated on the banks of Otonabee River and Trent Canal and over 30 kilometres of nature trails, Trent University offers some of the best nature-viewing opportunities in the Peterborough area. The combination of mature forest, drumlins, open fields, wetlands, streams and the Trent-Severn Waterway provides a rich offering of plant and animal life. As Trent University celebrates its 50th anniversary, I’d like to provide an overview of some of the most popular nature areas on the campus and what you can expect to see there. For more detailed information and to print off trail maps, go to http://trentu.ca/natureareas/overview.php

Towering White Pines at Promise Rock Nature Area - Drew Monkman

Towering White Pines at Promise Rock Nature Area – Drew Monkman

Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Area – Located east of University Road, the Wildlife Sanctuary is the largest and most extensively visited nature area on the Symons Campus. The entrance and parking lot are situated just south of Nassau Mills Road. The three trails – Blue, Yellow and Red – average about 2.5 km in length and are clearly shown on a large sign at the entrance. The Blue Trail takes you through the most diverse range of habitats, including lowland forest, wetlands and upland fields. At the north end, it passes behind the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, where you can watch birds coming to a window feeder. The wetlands offer up a wonderful frog chorus in April, especially in the Silver Maple swamps. You will hear the clamorous voices of Wood Frogs, Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers and, by month’s end, Northern Leopard Frogs. At the sound end of the trail – or by branching off onto the Yellow Trail – you’ll come across an area where dozens of Tree Swallow boxes have been erected. The Bergs, a Peterborough family that take their dogs on daily morning walks in the Trent Nature Areas, describes the swallow spectacle this way: “It is always wonderful when the Tree Swallows return in the spring, filling the air with their wonderful swooping, diving and lovely chattering. Then, one day in late summer, they depart en masse, leaving the field where their nest boxes remain, conspicuously quiet once again.” They also recommend the swallow field as a great place to observe the amazing flight displays of American Woodcocks in the spring.

Barred Owl - Karl Egressy

Barred Owl – Karl Egressy

In winter visits to the Wildlife Sanctuary and adjacent Canal Nature Area, the Bergs often encounter Barred Owls and sometimes even Northern Saw-whet Owls. As for reptiles and amphibians, they’ve seen Milk, Eastern Garter and Redbelly snakes as well as Blue-spotted Salamanders. Porcupines are a regular occurrence in winter and spring and sometimes even get a glimpse at a Coyote. These are two good reasons to keep your dog on a leash! White-tailed Deer, too, are frequently observed in this area. Deer tracks, scat, bedding sites and signs of where the animals have browsed are easy to find, especially in winter.

To enhance your chances of seeing wildlife, the Bergs advise you to go early in the day and to go often. “There are many ecotones – transition areas where two habitat types meet – which are particularly rich in wildlife diversity and also wonderful places to observe the myriad signs of seasonal change throughout the year,” the family told me.

Parking lot at Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Area - Drew Monkman

Parking lot at Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Area – Drew Monkman

Canal Nature Area – Located between the west side of University Road and the east bank of the Trent Severn Canal, the entrance to the Canal Nature Area is directly opposite the parking lot to the Wildlife Sanctuary. The John de Pencier Trail takes you through a diversity of habitats, starting with a boardwalk that crosses a damp, mixed forest with a wide variety of ferns. The trail then passes through stands of mature Sugar Maples, White Ash and Red Oaks, before winding down to the Canal. Here, you pass by several very impressive American Beech, Sugar Maple and Eastern Hemlock. The Canal bank provides viewing areas for waterfowl migration, and there are even comfortable benches to sit on. The de Pencier Trail is a great choice if you enjoy birding. So far this year, 92 species have been recorded, including 15 species of warblers. Many of these sightings are courtesy of 15- year- old Luke Berg, one of Peterborough’s best birders. The south branch of the Morton Family Trail along the canal can also be rich in birds. If you take this same trail to the top of the hill, you’ll find a lovely stand of Black Locust trees, where the remains of the old farmstead can still be seen. This is a good spot to see and hear Indigo Bunting in the spring and summer.

Boardwalk at beginning of de Pencier Trail (Drew-Monkman)

Boardwalk at beginning of de Pencier Trail (Drew-Monkman)

South Drumlin Nature Area – Adjacent to Nassau Mills Road and bordering the western edge of the Trent Canal, the South Drumlin is another great area to visit. You’ll find a number of informal trails leading up the drumlin. Much of this area is covered by beautiful deciduous forest dominated by Sugar Maple, White Ash, and even a few mature Black Cherry trees. The forest offers a particularly attractive display of both spring wildflowers and fall leaves. According to Dr. Erica Nol, a biology professor at Trent, this is a great area to see and hear breeding Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos and sometimes even a Wood Thrush. In the fields on the west side of the drumlin, you can also find Field Sparrows and Brown Thrashers. I have also found that the trees along the edge of the Canal are a great spot to observe Baltimore Orioles.
Lady Eaton Drumlin Nature Area – The drumlin is situated between Water Street and West Bank Drive (the main campus road). The northern boundary is Woodland Drive. The main trail to the top of the drumlin can be accessed from the west side of West Bank Drive, about 100 metres north of the entrance to Blackburn Hall. You can also access the drumlin from the north parking lot near Woodland Dr. The drumlin is a distinctive landmark that provides magnificent panoramic views to the north and southeast. The eastern slope offers an attractive backdrop to Lady Eaton College, particularly in the fall. The northwestern portion of the drumlin near Woodland Drive supports a deciduous forest with a varied native flora that includes Blue Beech and Bitternut Hickory. The spring wildflower display here is wonderful.

Lady Eaton Drumlin as seen from east side of Otonabee River - Drew-Monkman

Lady Eaton Drumlin as seen from east side of Otonabee River – Drew-Monkman

Promise Rock Nature Area – Probably the best birding destination on Campus, Promise Rock borders the west, and to a lesser extent the east side of the Rotary Greenway Trail, starting about 500 metres north of where the Rotary Trail begins at East Bank Drive. You can also access the area from a gravel path located directly opposite the parking lot at the Lock 22 picnic area. Although White Cedar is the most abundant tree species here, White Pines give the impression of dominance because of their great height (over 30 m tall) and trunk size. Large Eastern Hemlock, White Spruce and Balsam Fir are also present.
Chris Risley, an MNR biologist and keen birder, has looked at local bird checklists submitted to eBird, on online checklist program, and concluded that Promise Rock has the second highest number of bird sightings for all of Peterborough County! So far this year, an amazing 134 species have been reported from this area, most by fellow biologist Don Sutherland. Some of the most productive sections are right along the Rotary Trail itself, namely the 300 metres to the north and south of the prominent park bench and adjacent rock. The shrubby wetland on the east side of the trail is particularly attractive to birds and a good place to see species like Virginia Rail. It also seems likely that the tall pines themselves somehow attract migrants, possibly because of their dominance over the surrounding landscape. There is a trail with blue markers that winds through the grove of pines, passes by the huge limestone rock for which the area is named and crosses an adjacent field. The trail begins about 200 m north of the park bench.

 Rotary Greenway Trail where it traverses the Promise Rock Nature Area -Drew Monkman

Rotary Greenway Trail where it traverses the Promise Rock Nature Area -Drew Monkman

Other areas of the campus, too, are worth exploring. Cliff Swallows can be found nesting under the pedestrian bridge next to the Rowing Club building. The Otonabee River at Trent is often good for waterbirds in fall through early spring. Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Duck were present last winter. In the spring, I would also recommend visiting the Otonabee College Wetland, which is located east of the Archaeology Centre and Mackenzie House on Gzowski Way. The frog chorus here is particularly good.
Despite issues such as the occasional loose dog on the trails, owners who don’t pick up after their pets and the increasing presence of invasive species like Dog-strangling Vine, the Trent Nature Areas continue to provide high quality and convenient access to the natural world for students and local residents alike.

Side-bar: Total Lunar Eclipse

On October 8, planet Earth will cast a shadow into space and the Full Moon will slip into the shadow. To observe the eclipse, you only need clear skies, a view to the western horizon and maybe a pair of binoculars. No eye protection is required. The Moon will change colour once it enters the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow. You should notice the total eclipse starting at 6:25 AM; the Moon will be half way through the Earth’s shadow at 6:55 AM; and the eclipse will end at 7:24. Five minutes later the Moon will set in the west. So pray for clear skies, get up early and head outside. For more information contact Rick Stankiewicz at stankiewiczr@nexicom.net For other coming events, visit http://www.peterboroughastronomy.com/












May 222014


There are few better places to enjoy the beauty of a southern Ontario spring than the woodland trails of Rondeau Provincial Park. Winding through Carolinian forests blanketed with ferns and spring wildflowers, the trails routinely provide close-up views of some of our most spectacular birds. This year, the honours went to the Prothonotary Warbler. On two different occasions, we watched this rare Ontario species only metres away as it searched for food on the flooded forest floor of the Tulip Tree Trail. Its brilliant orange-yellow head and blue-gray wings produced a non-stop chorus of oohs and awes from the appreciative birders. Photographers had a field day as they clicked off one stunning picture after another.

Prothonotary Warbler - Greg Piasetzki

Prothonotary Warbler – Greg Piasetzki

Last week, Jim Cashmore, Mitch Brownstein, Greg Piasetzki and I made our annual pilgrimage to the southern Ontario birding meccas of Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park. These two wooded peninsulas that jut out into Lake Erie concentrate thousands of migrant birds in the spring. For anyone wanting to see North America’s most spectacular spring migrants – Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Red-breasted Grosbeaks and more than two dozen species of warbler – a trip, Rondeau and Pelee is a must.

The birding this year was good with an almost constant parade of interesting species to be seen. Cool temperatures and winds from the north meant that many migrants lingered in the parks for several days instead of immediately pursuing their journey northward. The cool weather also meant that the leaves were not yet out, so seeing the birds was easier than it is some years. Thrushes and flycatchers were present in especially good numbers, as were Scarlet Tanagers. There was also an ample selection of warblers, ranging from early migrants like Yellow-rumped and Palm to species that tend to arrive later such as the Canada and Mourning warblers. By week’s end, we had managed to find about 130 different kinds of birds, 25 of which were warblers.

For many birders, spring birding is very much about sound. By focusing your attention on bird song, you get an almost instantaneous picture of the diversity of species around you as well as the number of individual birds. This past week, the dominant voices included Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, House Wrens and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Not quite as common, but calling at least every couple of minutes were Least Flycatchers, Eastern Wood‑pewees, Eastern Towhees, Tree Swallows, Wood Thrushes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Magnolia Warblers. The challenge, however, is to coax your brain to push these more common sounds into the background, so that the voices of less common species can be detected.

Many iconic bird sounds belong to the night. Just after sunset one evening, we drove over to a field across from the Rondeau visitors centre. As we rolled down the car windows, the peenting calls of American Woodcocks stood out clearly against a background chorus of Spring Peepers. Almost immediately, we saw one of several woodcocks launch itself into the air, its wings producing a quivering sound as it gained altitude. Soon, we could see its silhouette against the pale pink light of the darkening sky – an iconic image of spring nights that I never tire of seeing. But that wasn’t all. Moments later, a Common Nighthawk flew by, coursing over the field like a giant moth and making a rasping nasal buzz. Finally, the quintessential species of spring and summer nights added its voice to the mix as we drove down to the South Point Trail. Even with the car windows up, it was impossible to miss the loud, repetitive call of the Whip-poor-will.

Ovenbird - Greg Piasetzki

Ovenbird – Greg Piasetzki


Point Pelee

On Wednesday morning, we decided to make the one-hour drive west to Point Pelee. Like Rondeau, Pelee is home to Ontario’s Carolinian forest, a habitat type that has almost disappeared from the province. The Pelee woods are dominated by Hackberry Trees and vines such as Wild Grape, Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy. In May, the forest floor is a carpet of Sweet Cicely, Wild Columbine and Wild Geranium. As you can imagine, the air smells wonderful.

Having four pairs of eyes proved to be very handy this particular morning. Even at the parking lot, a constant parade of thrushes, orioles, warblers and tanagers moved past us, flying quickly from tree to tree and often at eye level. We eventually made our way out to the tip area and joined the throng of birders already there. Standing shoulder to shoulder on the boardwalk, we were immersed in a see of binoculars, scopes and colossal cameras. The somewhat crowded conditions were soon forgotten, however, thanks to the constant bird activity. Over the next couple of hours, we added a variety of new warblers such as the Blackpoll and Cape May, the Philadelphia Vireo and both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We also ran into two other Peterborough birders, namely Jerry Ball and Clayton Vardy. Jerry had been at Pelee for two weeks and had seen no less than 208 species, while Clayton was already up to 24 warbler species for the day!

Wood Thrush - Greg Piasetzki

Wood Thrush – Greg Piasetzki

After taking a break at the park visitors centre – there are naturalists on hand to answer questions, a great bookstore and the Friends of Point Pelee provide a delicious hot lunch – we walked the Tilden’s Woods trail and a section of the park where a Kentucky Warbler had been seen. Although we didn’t find the Kentucky, large numbers of other warblers made up for its absence, including one flock with at least four Northern Parulas. We wrapped up the day with a trip north of Point Pelee to Hillman Marsh to see ducks, gulls and shorebirds. The highlights there were a Red-necked Phalarope and a Willet.

Despite the rather crowded conditions on some of the trails at Pelee, respect for the birds and courtesy for fellow birders are always very noticeable. Rarely do people speak in a loud voice or push their way past others. Most birders are ready to help beginners with identification problems, as well, and to share the location of sought-after species. However, it is hard not to notice that there are very few young people. The vast majority of birders we see each year are probably 60 or older. Because birders ‑ and naturalists in general ‑ are usually committed conservationists who represent a strong voice for the protection of species and wild spaces , one cannot help but wonder what the lack of younger people means for the future.

Thursday was cold and wet, so rather than spending the day at Rondeau, we drove north to Mitchell’s Bay on Lake St. Clair. The marsh here is well known for a small colony of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a species usually not found in Ontario. For a photographer like Greg, this outrageously coloured blackbird made for a delightful subject. The six males we found were anything but shy, as they focused all of their attention on courting the half-hidden females. The raucous wail the males made could only be described as something between a braying donkey and a piercing chainsaw. On our way back to the Park, we stopped at the Blenheim sewage lagoon, where we were greeted by the remarkable sight of thousands of swallows coursing over the lagoons and nearby fields as they snatched up tiny flies called midges. The lagoons also offered up Ruddy Ducks, Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks, all of which are hard to find in this part of the province.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Greg Piasetzki

Yellow-headed Blackbird – Greg Piasetzki

By week’s end, the greater number of female warblers – females migrate later than males – and the arrival of late migrants such as the Eastern Wood-pewee and Mourning Warbler were signs that spring’s passage of northbound birds is drawing to a close. The season of migration is now giving way to the season of nesting. However, the change of season holds the promise of bountiful young birds that will commence their own journey – southward this time – in just a few short months.


Mar 202014

The spectacle of bird migration that occurs twice each year in Canada has few equals anywhere on Earth. Billions of birds leave Canada every autumn for locations to the south, only to return the following spring and once again announce the change of season. Many of these migrating birds depend on a network of crucial feeding, resting, breeding and overwintering sites scattered throughout the Americas. Collaborative efforts that span international boundaries and focus on full life cycle conservation are therefore essential to ensure the long-term survival of bird populations.


Black-bellied Plovers near Point Pelee IBA - Mike Burrell

Black-bellied Plovers near Point Pelee IBA – Mike Burrell

The Important Bird Areas (IBA) network represents one such effort. The IBA Program is a global initiative coordinated by BirdLife International to identify, monitor, and conserve a network of the world’s most important sites providing habitat for birds. The program uses scientific criteria to identify potential IBAs. Sites can qualify based on the regular presence of significant numbers of species at risk, species with restricted ranges, habitat-specific species and species that gather in significant numbers (greater than 1% of their continental or global population). IBAs range in size from tiny patches of habitat to large tracts of land or water. They may encompass private or public land and sometimes overlap legally protected sites. The majority of IBAs, however, have no formal protection.

Because IBAs are identified using criteria that are internationally agreed upon and science-based, they have a conservation currency that transcends international borders. This, in turn, promotes international collaboration for the conservation of the world’s birds. About 90 percent of Canada’s birds migrate within and beyond our borders, so it is essential to protect these species throughout their annual migratory range. By working alongside partners in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, the IBA Program does this.

In Canada the IBA Program is managed jointly by Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada. To date, nearly 600 sites have been designated. Most sites in Canada qualify for IBA designation because they regularly host globally or continentally significant numbers of a given bird species. Most Canadian IBAs are located along our Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, on the Great Lakes and on the Prairies. Some are extremely remote, while others are actually located within our largest urban centres. These sites are not only critical for birds, but also for many other kinds of plants and animals. They are also a great place for the public to connect with nature. Ontario’s 70 IBAs cover more than 23,000 square kilometers, and are located mostly along the Great Lakes and the coasts of Hudson and James Bays where birds naturally concentrate. To see a short video of huge numbers of migrating Hudsonian Godwits in James Bay, go to bit.ly/1lLZSOa

IBAs near Peterborough

Whimbrel - Mike Burrell

Whimbrel – Mike Burrell

1. Presqu’ile Provincial Park (Brighton) – At least two species are regularly present during spring migration in globally significant numbers. They are Greater Scaup and Whimbrel. In addition, the park supports globally significant breeding populations of Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns.

2. Carden Plain (Kirkfield) – This is one of the few areas in eastern Canada that still supports nesting Loggerhead Shrikes, a nationally endangered species. Several other nationally threatened species nest in the area, too, including Red-shouldered Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Least Bittern and Red-headed Woodpecker.

3. Napanee Limestone Plain (Napanee) – This site is very similar to the Carden Plain and together they provide nesting habitat for most of the remaining Loggerhead Shrikes in eastern Canada.

Carden Plain IBA - Drew Monkman

Carden Plain IBA – Drew Monkman

4. Prince Edward County South Shore (Picton) – The number and diversity of landbirds that concentrate in this small area during spring and fall migration is outstanding. A total of 162 landbird species (excluding raptors) have been recorded at this site including 36 species of wood warblers. The shoals and deep waters off the tip of the peninsula represent a globally significant waterfowl staging and wintering area for Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and White-winged Scoter.

5. The Leslie Street Spit (Toronto) – Ring-billed Gulls and Common Terns nest on “the spit” in globally significant numbers. There is also one of the largest Black-crowned Night Heron colonies in Canada. Large concentrations of migrating songbirds can be found here in the spring and fall as well as migrant ducks from fall through spring.

Other nearby IBAs within a two- or three-hour drive of Peterborough include the West End of Lake Ontario (Hamilton), Wye Marsh (Midland), Tiny Marsh (Elmvale) and Matchedash Bay (Waubaushene).


Tundra Swans at Long Point IPA - Mike Burrell

Tundra Swans at Long Point IPA – Mike Burrell


One of the recent accomplishments of the IBA program in Canada is the development of a comprehensive website (www.ibacanada.org) which provides detailed information on Important Bird Areas across the country. By using the website map viewer or site directory, you can easily access a great deal of information on each IBA, including a site description, a summary of the most significant bird life, a discussion of conservation issues, a printable map of the area and an eBird link to report your own sightings while visiting the IBA. There is also a very useful seasonable abundance chart for all bird species found there.



Volunteers are needed for the IBA program - Mike Burrell

Volunteers are needed for the IBA program – Mike Burrell

Get involved

Getting involved in the IBA Program can be as simple as visiting an IBA and using eBird Canada (www.ebird.ca) to report the bird species you find there. However, a current focus of the IBA Program is to develop a national Caretaker Network to engage citizens in conservation actions. These volunteers can monitor bird populations, conduct IBA assessments, report on threats, work with partners on stewardship activities, and/or help build community awareness about the importance of IBAs. Caretakers can be clubs, individuals, or groups of individuals that share the common goal. Volunteers are equipped with the tools they require to be effective observers, advocates and citizen scientists. If you or your group would be interested in helping in this regard please contact Mike Burrell, Important Bird Areas Coordinator, Bird Studies Canada at 1-888-448-BIRD(2473) x 167 or by email at mburrell@birdscanada.org



Spring Peeper (John Urquhart)

Spring Peeper (John Urquhart)

Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Needs Volunteers 

The familiar voices of frogs and toads will soon fill the day and evening air throughout the Kawarthas. Sadly, though, Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians are becoming increasingly rare. In fact, three quarters (18 of 24) of Ontario’s reptile species are already listed as species at risk. More information is needed, however, to monitor changes in the ranges of these animals as well as fluctuations in their populations. The data also helps to identify and manage important habitat for rare species. Volunteers can play an important role in this effort. Please consider sharing any observations you make of Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians. Observations can be submitted via an online form, an Excel spreadsheet (useful for submitting multiple observations) or a printable data card that can be mailed in. Visit the Atlas website by going to ontarionature.org, clicking on Protect and scrolling down to Species. You can also contact Jon Boxall at (705)743-6668 or by email at jbboxall@hotmail.com Presentations and training workshops for groups that are interested in participating in the Atlas project are also available.