May 182017
 

My passion for nature began with turtles. Catching these wary reptiles was one of my favourite pastimes as a child. I was especially proud whenever I managed to bring home a snapping turtle, keep it for a day or two and show it off to my friends and family. I was therefore pleased to learn that the Ontario government has finally decided to ban the hunting of this increasingly rare species. This is a huge step forward for turtle conservation and a victory for science-based decision making. Like all of Ontario’s turtles, the snapping turtle cannot tolerate additional losses to its adult population. The hunt was not sustainable, especially on top of other pressures such as habitat loss and road mortalities.

Snapping Turtle digging nest on roadside (Danielle Tassie)

In late May and June, turtles are searching out nesting sites, such as the fine gravel of road shoulders. This is when people most often see turtles. However, turtle eggs stand a very poor chance of surviving the 90-day incubation period. Predators such as raccoons and skunks usually discover the nests within a matter of hours, dig up the eggs and enjoy a hearty meal. They leave behind the familiar sight of crinkled, white shells scattered around the nest area.

Roadkill, too, is a major cause of turtle mortality, especially at this time of year. Even worse, many of the turtles killed or injured are females on their way to lay eggs. Killing pregnant females not only removes reproductive adults from the population, but it also means all their potential future offspring are lost as well. Always drive carefully and keep an eye out for turtles on the road.

Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

Sadly, numerous turtles continue to be hit by cars or injured in other ways. This is where the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) comes in. Located at 1434 Chemong Road in Peterborough, the OTCC has been working since 2002 to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and their habitat. It is the only wildlife rehabilitation centre dedicated solely to providing medical and rehabilitative care to Ontario’s turtles.

Home to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, the OTCC operates a  hospital, which treats, rehabilitates and releases injured turtles. From an average of 50-80 turtles in the early years, the Centre now receives about 500 turtles each year as more people across Ontario learn about its work. The OTCC also carries out extensive research in the field and runs a comprehensive education and outreach program. The Executive and Medical Director is Dr. Sue Carstairs, who is an authorized wildlife custodian with over 20 years of experience in wildlife medicine.

Because so few turtles ever reach sexual maturity – females don’t even reproduce until the age of 18 – each adult turtle is part of an extremely important group. This is why it’s so important to rehabilitate as many injured turtles as possible – especially females – and return them to the wild. According to Dr. Carstairs, the most recent figures show that 1400 eggs are required to replace just one mother snapping turtle. However, as long as turtles can avoid threats such as road traffic, they can live and breed for a long time. It is believed that snapping turtles have a lifespan of over 100 years.

The OTCC is supported by a province-wide network of veterinarians and wildlife centres, including more than 30 different “first response centres”. Over 100 volunteers then drive the turtles from across the province to Peterborough. In this way, the “patients” are admitted to OTCC quickly for ongoing care. Once stabilized with fluids, painkillers, antibiotics, and wound management, each turtle is x-rayed to check for internal injuries and to see if the females are gravid (pregnant). If so, they are usually induced to lay their eggs.  With deceased turtles, the eggs are removed surgically. In both cases, the eggs are then moved to a nest container and incubated in the turtle nursery. Most hatchlings are quickly released in the marsh or pond closest to where their mother was found. However, babies from eggs that hatch late in the fall are kept over the winter and released in spring.

The public education facility at the OTCC on Chemong Road, in Peterborough – Drew Monkman

Because a turtle’s shell is made of bone, putting a fractured shell back together is orthopedic surgery. A number of different methods are used, depending on the type of fracture. Internal injuries, however, are the most life threatening. Like other injured animals, turtles go into shock, which means that timely care is of the essence. Other common medical interventions include repairing fractured jaws, removing fish hooks and treating everything from infections to pneumonia.

Drew Maxwell, a volunteer at the OTCC holds newly-hatched snapping turtles. The Centre treats injured turtles from around the province, many of which are injured after being hit by vehicles. – Drew Monkman

Education

Because education is the key to turtle conservation, the OTCC offers a number of carefully tailored presentations both off- and on-site. Audiences range from kindergarten students all the way to cottagers associations. Their Chemong Road location houses a 1000 square foot education centre. It is home to non-releasable education turtles, interactive displays and a great gift shop. Visitors can enjoy behind-the-scenes viewing of the hospital, the rehabilitation centre and adorable baby turtles! The education centre also includes a new outdoor area with ponds, trails and informative signs.

What you can do

1. If you come across an injured turtle, take note of the exact location where you found it. Place the animal in a plastic container with a secure lid and wash your hands. Call the OTCC at 705-741-5000. The Centre is staffed seven days a week from 8 am to 8 pm. NOTE: Never attempt to treat any sick or injured animal, no matter what it is. In the case of birds and mammals, contact a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre by going to owren-online.org

2. If you encounter an uninjured turtle in the middle of a road and traffic conditions are safe, gently move the animal in the direction it is travelling. Snappers can be coaxed across using a shovel, board or big stick. Never pick up a turtle by its tail.

3. If you know of a road that is particularly dangerous for turtles, contact your local councillor or other elected official to see if warning signs can be erected.

4. Do not dig up nests to protect the eggs. If you are concerned about predators, you can build a turtle nest cage. Instructions can be found at torontozoo.com. Search for a pdf called “Turtles on your Property”. Remember to keep an eye out for hatchlings from late August until snow. Hatchling painted turtles sometimes overwinter in the ground and appear in spring.

5. If you are a lakeside property owner, keep your shoreline as natural as possible. Leave an un-mown buffer of vegetation that extends at least 10 metres deep back from the water’s edge. Leave any fallen logs that lie on or close to shore.

6. You can help to conserve turtles (and other reptiles and amphibians) by reporting your sightings to monitoring programs such as the Ontario Reptile & Amphibian Atlas at Ontarionature.org

7. The OTCC exists primarily thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, which assist with turtle care, outreach and fundraising. If you are interested in volunteering, visit the website or phone 705-741-5000.

Ontario’s turtles

Ontario is home to eight species of turtle, six of which can be found in the Kawarthas. The only species that are not found locally are the wood and spiny softshell turtles. No less than seven of our province’s turtles are now listed as Species at Risk.

1. Midland painted turtle: This is our most common and widespread species. It is named for the bright yellow, orange and/or red streaks on the head and neck.

2. Snapping turtle (at risk): Easily identifiable by its often massive size and the serrated edges at the rear margin of the shell, the snapping turtle is most often seen in May and June when it is nesting.

3. Blanding’s turtle (at risk): This species has a  dome-like shell and bright yellow throat. It is still quite common in the Kawarthas.

Blanding’s Turtle – Rick Stankiewicz

4. Musk turtle (at risk): This small, often algae-covered turtle, frequents shallow bays. It rarely leaves the water.

5. Map turtle (at risk): The shell of this large but wary species is covered by a network of map-like lines. The head and neck are streaked. They are often seen sunning themselves on the rocks of large lakes like Rice and Stony.

6. Spotted turtle (at risk): Small and secretive, spotted turtles have a smooth black shell with conspicuous bright yellow spots. There have only been a handful of confirmed sightings in the Kawarthas in recent years.

7. Wood turtle (at risk): This semi-terrestrial species spends most of its time on land in summer, inhabiting fields and forests near streams. Its shell looks like a piece of wood.

8. Spiny softshell turtle (at risk):  This is a highly aquatic species found mostly in the Great Lakes and in large rivers. It lacks the horny plates on its shell that most turtles have.

Ontario also has one non-native turtle, the red-eared slider, which is superficially similar to the painted turtle. It is sold in pet stores. Unfortunately, disenchanted owners continue to release sliders into the wild, where they represent a threat to native turtles.

Shell-abrate!

To celebrate the banning of the snapping turtle hunt, the OTTC will be hosting a fundraiser in Toronto on June 15. The event takes place at Torys LLP, located at 79 Wellington Street West. Tickets are $95 each, but come with a $45 tax receipt. There will be a short documentary on the Centre’s work, a silent auction, interactive displays and a chance to meet OTCC’s ambassador turtles!

To learn about all OTCC happenings such as regular open house events, visit ontarioturtle.ca.

Mar 022017
 

When you drive up County Road 23 into Buckhorn, you have probably noticed the abrupt transition in the bedrock. As you approach the town from the south, layers of limestone line both sides of the road. However, as you exit on the north side, the rock changes abruptly to expanses of beautiful pink granite. The same transition can be seen as you drive into Burleigh Falls on Highway 28. And, if you head up County Road 6 and stop at the Second Line of Dummer-Douro, you can actually see limestone sitting on top of granite, almost like a hamburger bun atop a meat patty. Moving further east, you will see the same changes in roadside bedrock along Highway 7, especially between Marmora and Kaladar.

The Land Between ecoregion (image from TLB national charity)

Limestone sitting upon Canadian Shield rock on County Road 6, north of Lakefield – Drew Monkman

This transition zone where the limestone bedrock of the St. Lawrence Lowlands meets the igneous and metamorphic rock of the Canadian Shield is known as “The Land Between”. But why even give it a name? Well, ecologists have discovered that this area of transition has features that are entirely its own. The landscape is less rugged than further north, but not as flat or fertile as the south. The land rises and falls in patterns of low to high and wet to dry. It forms a mosaic of interconnected environments. An abundance of rivers, small lakes and wetlands are nestled between open granite ridges and rock barrens. In other areas, mixed woodlands, abundant conifers and even limestone plains (alvars) can be found. There are fewer roads and farmlands are rare.

Typical rock barren habitat of The Land Between at Rathbun Lake, near Apsley – Drew Monkman

Location

The Land Between extends from the Frontenac Arch in the east (the area of granite rock you pass through on the 401 between Kingston and Belleville) to Georgian Bay and Southern Parry Sound in the west. Over 240 km in length and averaging 35 km wide, it spans nine counties and includes much of “Cottage Country”, namely the Kawarthas, Haliburton, Land O’ Lakes and Muskoka. Looking at a satellite image of Central Ontario, you can immediately see the region as band of green that stands out in stark contrast to the much more open, relatively treeless expanse to the south.

Species

The Land Between is a meeting ground where southern species more typical of the St. Lawrence Lowlands rub shoulders with plants and animals that are common on the Canadian Shield. It represents the northern limit for species such as White Oak, Butternut, Woodchuck, Cottontail Rabbit, Green Heron, American Crow and Blanding’s Turtle. At the same time, the region is generally the southern limit for Jack Pine, Moose, Black Bear, American Martin, Common Loon, Gray Jay, Dark-eyed Junco and Mink Frog.

Some birds are almost entirely dependent on this landscape. Among these are Golden-winged and, in some areas, Prairie Warblers. At least 26 bird species have their highest population densities in The Land Between. These include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bobolinks, Eastern Towhees, Upland Sandpipers, Whip-poor-wills, Common Nighthawks and Pileated Woodpeckers. The area is also home to Ontario’s largest populations of uncommon turtles (e.g., Blanding’s), snakes (e.g., Eastern Hognose) and Ontario’s only lizard, the Five-lined Skink. All of these are species at risk.

Five-lined Skink, Ontario’s only lizard and a Species at Risk – Joe Crowley

As for mammals, 48 of the 80 plus species occurring in Ontario can be found here. Because many of the species are found at either their northern or southern boundary, the area may help to support mammal diversity both further north (e.g., Algonquin Park) and further south (e.g., Oak Ridges Moraine).

The Land Between also offers the darkest skies in Central Ontario and a place where you can really see and appreciate the Milky Way. It is home to Canada’s first Night Sky Preserve, the Torrance Barrens, near Gravenhurst.

Ecotone

The Land Between is an ecotone. The term describes an area of transition, which contains elements of the ecosystems it borders, but also has its own unique features. A key characteristic of ecotones is their high biodiversity – in other words, more species in the food web – as compared to the more homogeneous ecosystems. Areas of high biodiversity are especially important now because of their higher capacity to withstand the pressures of climate change.

Thanks to its abundant lakes, the Land Between has the highest ratio of shoreline to land anywhere in the province. It is also the water source for many rivers flowing into Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. Thousands of anglers are drawn here by the populations of Lake Trout, Walleye, Muskellunge and both Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. The area also sits within the northernmost range of the now-extirpated American Eel, which was once an abundant food source for First Nations.

The sandy or gravely shorelines of some of the lakes have relic plant species that have persisted here for 10,000 years. These rare sites are known as Atlantic Coastal Plain Communities. The vegetation spread to this area from the coast of the eastern U.S. during the melting of the last ice sheet. These plants have adapted to fluctuating water levels. Many are provincially rare, including Bayonet Rush, Twin-scaped Bladderwort, Yellow-eyed Grass and Virginia Meadow-beauty. The latter flowers in late summer and sets shorelines aglow in purples and auburns. You can see these communities yourself by visiting Bottle Lake in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, north of Peterborough.

Virginia Meadow-beauty, an Atlantic Coastal Plain Community species – Wikimedia

Wetlands

Marshes, swamps, fens and bogs – collectively known as wetlands – are another signature habitat. Many are situated between the rocky ridges and are largely the result of beaver dams. Wetlands contain water-loving plants and organic sponge-like soils, which work together to filter water and regulate water levels. Two of the most interesting wetland varieties in The Land Between are bogs and fens. Bogs are acidic wetlands that are low in minerals. They accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material mostly made up of sphagnum mosses. Many are located along shorelines. Rooted in the moss are carnivorous plants such as Pitcher Plant and Round-leaved Sundew as well as a wide variety of orchids. Crane Lake Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and Quiet Lake in Silent Lake Provincial Park have excellent bogs.

Pitcher Plants growing in a bog in Silent Lake Provincial Park (Drew Monkman)

 

Fens are very similar to bogs in that they contain large peat lands. However, they are dominated by grasses and sedges. Fens often receive water and nutrients from a water table that is close to the surface and keeps the ground saturated. The Sharpe Bay Fen Conservation Reserve is an excellent example of this habitat type. It is located about 50 km north of Peterborough on the east side of Highway 28, just south of Long Lake Road. The area is interspersed with rock ridges and contains fen forests. It provides known habitat for the Five-lined Skink.

Alvars

Alvars are another rare habitat in The Land Between. The word describes an area of thin or absent soil cover on top of a limestone base. The sparse but distinctive vegetation may include shrub-dominated areas of junipers and hawthorns, more open tracts of grasses and wildflowers, or just flat expanses of lichen and moss encrusted rock. Large trees are either absent or widely scattered. A nearby alvar grassland is located approximately 500 m north of Flynn’s Corners, along the east side of County Road 507, north of Buckhorn.

Ontario’s new Carden Alvar Provincial Park, however, is the best example of this kind of habitat. It is located northwest of Lindsay, just north of the town of Kirkfield. The Carden Alvar is the best place in Ontario to see large numbers of grassland and scrubland birds, especially along Wylie Road. Like a remnant of old rural Ontario, you can easily find iconic species such as Eastern Bluebirds, Bobolinks, Eastern Towhees and Sedge Wrens. At night, the calls of Whip-poor-wills and Common Nighthawks ring out. The Carden Alvar is Ontario’s last remaining stronghold of the endangered Loggerhead Shrike. The scenic gravel roads are also rich in butterflies – over 80 species – and dragonflies.

Alvars are a botanist’s delight. Many of the wildflowers and native grasses found here normally occur in the western provinces, and many are rare. The signature plant at Carden is the Prairie Smoke, also known as Long-plumed Purple Avens. Large drifts of its mauve seed heads stand out smoke-like against the green grasses. Other interesting plants include Wood Lily, Indian Paintbrush, Hairy Beard-tongue, Fragrant Sumac, Balsam Ragwort and Little Bluestem.

Prairie Smoke (pink) on the Carden Alvar – Drew Monkman

Barrens and Forests

Areas of exposed granite and gneissic bedrock are one of the most striking features of The Land Between. As with alvars, the soil is very thin and supports early succession species like lichens and mosses. Scattered here and there, you can also find grasses, junipers, hawthorns, oaks and poplars. Rock barrens are perfect basking spots reptiles like snakes and Five-lined Skinks. Other species associated with these habitats include the Whip-poor-will and the Common Nighthawk. An area of outstanding rock barrens is located immediately north of Long Lake in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

As is immediately apparent on satellite maps, much of The Land Between is heavily forested. Relatively mature forests dominated by White Pine are scattered throughout the area, as are forests where Eastern Hemlock, Sugar Maple and Red Oak prevail. Large tracts of forested landscape are requisite habitat for Moose, American Marten, Barred Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks. All of these forest types can be found in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Next week I will look at the pressures faced by The Land Between, the many conservation initiatives that are taking place and the excellent work being done by The Land Between National Charity.

 

 

Aug 062016
 

We have Barn Swallow colony of more than 50 birds at our farm at 1276 Crowley Line, just south of Peterborough.

Robert Greenman Hood

Note: This is a very significant number of birds. Barn Swallows are now a Species at Risk in Ontario. D.M.

Barn Swallow nestlings - Wikimedia

Barn Swallow nestlings – Wikimedia

Barn Swallow - Karl Egressy

Barn Swallow – Karl Egressy

Swallows on wire in post-breeding flock - Wikimedia

Swallows on wire in post-breeding flock – Wikimedia

Oct 292015
 

The first thing that strikes you about Boyd Island is its sheer size. At 1,167 acres or five square kilometres, it is the largest undeveloped – but still unprotected – island in southern Ontario. Located just east of Bobcaygeon at the north end of Pigeon Lake and only 20 kilometres from Peterborough, it is home to unspoiled wetlands, diverse forest types, and a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. “When you look at the island compared to the surrounding landscape, it could almost be classified as being pristine,” says Dr. Eric Sager, a scientist educator Trent University’s nearby McLean-Oliver Ecological Centre.

A ribbon of White Cedar grows along the shoreline, while a little further inland hardwoods such as Sugar Maple dominate. There is also a fascinating area of old growth Eastern Hemlock forest on the west side, and poplar and mixed conifers in the northwest. In the central open area, old pasture is the dominant feature. It was once used for raising a cattle-bison cross known as “cattaloes.” A scattering of Eastern Red and Common Junipers, aspens and other successional species are gradually reclaiming the area. Another habitat of note is an alvar-like expanse in the northwest. Alvar is characterized by flat limestone pavement covered by thin or no soil. This results in sparse grassland vegetation with many interesting prairie-like plants like Wild Bergamot.

The island also boasts extensive wetlands. A large marsh and island complex is located in the southeast and in the southwestern bay. Along the western shore, low limestone cliffs can be found, along with a steep slope up an esker or moraine. Steeper cliffs take over along the northern shore with granite outcrops in the northeast. This makes the island part of the “Land Between, the biologically diverse zone where the Canadian Shield meets the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Lowlands. The Land Between is home to a greater species diversity than you find further north or south. In this respect, Boyd Island is like a microcosm of the entire Kawarthas.

Aerial View of Boyd Island - Kawartha Land Trust

Aerial View of Boyd Island – Kawartha Land Trust

Campaign

An exceptional opportunity has been offered to the Kawartha Land Trust (KLT) to secure Boyd Island and forever conserve its natural and cultural heritage. The current landowner, Mike Wilson, intends to make a generous donation of the island to KLT. However, the necessary funds to manage the property must be secured before November 30. The goal is to raise one million dollars to be held in trust. The money will generate sufficient annual income to support basic stewardship activities on the island such as responsible management of resources and planning. Mr. Wilson has made a leading pledge of $100,000 to the campaign, in addition to paying for costs (e.g., planning, legal) to complete the transaction. The Kawartha Land Trust is hugely appreciative of Mike’s generous commitments to this project.

Thanks to his generosity, the efforts of KLT and its many volunteers, and the co-operation of local citizens and municipalities, the campaign is now close to securing title to the island. There are large donors ready to contribute, but who want to see the greatest possible buy-in and support from the public beforehand.

History

According to Trent University anthropologist Dr. James Conolly, there is evidence of human occupation here going back three or four thousand years. First Nations peoples used Boyd Island as a meeting and harvesting place, and it still maintains its cultural value to the Curve Lake First Nations. The island has also been an iconic feature of Pigeon Lake as far as local cottagers and outdoor enthusiasts can remember. The island was formerly owned and farmed by the Boyd family, one of the first and most prominent early families in the Bobcaygeon area. More recently, it has been owned by a series of private owners, some of whom have tried to develop the island for residential and commercial purposes. The most recent development plan was to create 95 residential lots.

A Naturalist’s Delight

I had the privilege of taking part in a species and habitat inventory of the island this past June. Along with Mike McMurtry, a recently retired ecologist from the Natural Heritage Information Centre, I spent an entire day exploring the area. We were impressed by the rich bird life, which includes Black-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Osprey, Eastern Towhee and species at risk like Eastern Wood-pewee and Golden-winged Warbler. Walking among giant Butternut trees, Bitternut and Shagbark Hickories, Red and White Oaks, and towering White Pines, it was hard to imagine we were only minutes away from the town of Bobcaygeon. On the forest floor, wildflowers like Round-leaved Hepatica, Gaywings and both White and Painted Trilliums abound. There is also an impressive diversity of ferns such as Lady Fern, Spinulose Wood Fern, Maidenhair Fern and the regionally rare Hay-scented Fern. Interesting geological features like marbelized limestone and huge limestone boulders also caught our eye.

Future Uses

If the Kawartha Land Trust is able to secure Boyd Island, it will become a place of celebration for the entire community. People will be encouraged to come and explore the site, with the proviso to “tread lightly.” Activities such as hiking, walking, fishing and cross-country skiing will all be encouraged. The Land Trust will also engage in an on-going dialogue with the community to assess the appropriateness of other uses such as overnight camping, hunting and snowmobiling. Plans to establish trails, put up picnic tables and run research and educational programs are all in the works.

For those that don’t have a boat or a way to access the island, KLT and its partners will be organizing interpretive tours as well as opportunities to take part in stewardship activities (e.g., trail development, signage, invasive species removal, species inventories). The property will be managed in collaboration with lead research organizations like Trent University and Fleming College. KLT also looks forward to organized groups visiting the island, some of whom may wish to be part of stewardship or interpretive activities.

We always seem to be compromising when it comes to development versus the environment, the latter usually being on the losing end. Here is a chance to move in the other direction. It’s hard  to imagine a better legacy to future generations. Please consider contributing to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, possibly by sponsoring an acre of the island for $1000. Every contribution, however, no matter how big or small, counts. It’s hard to imagine a better Christmas gift to the conservationist in your family. The opportunity to acquire a property of this size and quality does not come along often. Losing Boyd Island to private development would be a tragedy, and the pristine beauty and educational opportunities would be lost forever. For more information, please go to kawarthalandtrust.org and click on “Save Boyd Island.”

 

 

Sep 192014
 

A visiting dog alerted us to something of interest under a parked truck, and upon investigation, we found an adult Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. The top was dark in colour with definite black blotches behind the eyes, and the belly was yellow. It had the unmistakable “nose” and used its protection techniques of coiling and hissing loudly at us. It attempted to strike out when prodded with a broom handle (it wasn’t hurt in any way, by the dog or us!). It had a very thick body, and although coiled for most of our observation, it appeared to be 3-4 feet in length. Our interactions with it were captured in video on a cell phone.

Our property includes the shore of the Indian River and a marsh, so there are lots of sources of frogs, toads, voles, etc for food. We’ve never seen this species here before, so it was probably a lucky, if rare, observation.

Jane Bremner, Sawmill Road,

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake  (Joe Crowley)

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Joe Crowley)

Douro-Dummer

Aug 252014
 

I am out on my bike at 8 pm tonight just north of Sherbrooke at Woodglade. I have counted at least 16  Common Nighthawks on the wing. They are silent but I have been able to clearly see the wing band. After so many years of not seeing many of these birds, this is a magical moment! Had to share with someone!

Cheryl Lewis

Common Nighthawk (Wikimedia)

Common Nighthawk (Wikimedia)

Common Nighthawk - Wikimedia

Common Nighthawk – Wikimedia