Notes From the Field – Fall 2017

In Flora, Nature Reserves & Easements, Water by couchiching

A quiet walk at the Agnew Nature Reserve near Washago with friends. Seeing a group of beautiful Trumpeter Swans along the way. These are a few of the things we are grateful for. (Dec 3).

You can plan your own visit to this 85 acre property by downloading a trail map here.


Sue Deadman putting in Salamander Boards

The intrepid Sue Deadman. Photo: Dorthea Hangaard


We had a month of Wednesdays blocked off originally.  Each one rolled in gray, windy, and sopping wet, and postponing seemed sensible.    With the hindsight of this ‘minus 10 plus windchill’ snowy November day, however, those warm rains of October are looking pretty good.

Placement of the last salamander boards is now within sight.  Just one more warm day.  Just one. (November 10th)

See our October 26th post below to find out more about this salamander monitoring project, and ways you can get involved.




Nostoc cyanobacteria in dark green. Photo: Dorthea Hangaard

November 8th: While out on a Conservation Easement with Stewardship Manager Dave Hawke, he pointed out “Nostoc”– one of the most ancient organisms on the planet. Not a plant but a cyanobacteria, Nostoc is able to photosynthesize, and can survive long periods of drought.    They inhabit a great variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and some species can live symbiotically within the tissues of other organisms. 

This particular Nostoc was nestled in  granite on The Land Between, and that’s as specific as we will get about the location:  we protect the privacy of landowners who have donated  a portion of their land as a Conservation Easement.  To learn more about Conservation Easements click here. 




This is what a Nitrate-Nitrogen level of 2 parts per million looks like. Photo: Jeff Cole

Welcome back students from Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School!  After an 18 month placement in Barrie, Jeff Cole is back teaching at PFCSS and will be helping students to get outside and investigate the natural world. 

Students in Jeff’s fall semester Environmental Studies class are conducting research on various environmental issues.  One of his students, Estella Crosby, took a real shining to the brook trout in Sundial Creek after her experience with benthic macroinvertebrates in September.

In October Estella visited Grant Wetland to do her first water quality monitoring.  She will be keeping an eye on Bay Street Creek, and Conservancy volunteer Jane Bonsteel is monitoring Sundial Creek. Both flow through Grant Wetland.

The two have also collaborated with Bob Bowles to conduct an observation survey of the water course, and are planning on a door-to-door poll with homeowners in the neighbourhood to gauge the level of understanding and awareness about this important cold water creek. 

Some additional ideas are percolating…stay tuned for updates from this dedicated team of volunteers.







Eastern red-backed salamander. Photo: Dorthea Hangaard

October 26th:  “Just once I’d like to clear a spot for a salamander board and actually see a salamander,” Dorthea groused as she brushed away the fall leaves.  Meagan silently pointed and then added, “I guess all you had to do was ask.”  And there it was, a little Eastern red-backed salamander, frozen with fear. 

It is important to get these boards out before winter, to become part of the landscape before spring and attract salamanders (hopefully).  Volunteers will then check the boards once per month for sightings.  If you would like to become a part of our Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Team, follow this link and sign up! 

If you see a Reptile or Amphibian on one of our properties, please let us know (and get a photo if you can).  We will add the information to our records of that property, and send the sighting in to the Reptile and Amphibian Atlas of Ontario.  And remember:  All reptiles and amphibians breathe through their skin.  If you pick them up, whatever soaps and solvents are on your skin are immediately absorbed.  Leave them on the ground!

If you see a Reptile or Amphibian somewhere else in your wandering, you can submit your sighting directly to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas.  Visit your Android or iPhone app store to download. 

Thanks to the Youssef-Warren Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for financially supporting this project. 


A Freeman’s Maple tree in bud at the Roehl Reserve. Photo: Dorthea Hangaard

October 25th we found *Freeman’s Maple trees budding on  Roehl Wetland.  The warm fall clearly  inspired many of the trees in this soft maple swamp to get a head start on budding. This gamble may or may not pay off, depending on our winter.   If the winter is bitter, these buds could very well freeze and die.  Still, this will not spell disaster for these more adventurous trees.

All deciduous trees have secondary buds under their bark.  If the primary buds die, the secondary buds will spring into action. If the winter is frigid, these risk-taking maples will be playing catch-up and will leaf out later than their more conservative neighbours, who didn’t gamble on a warm winter.   Stay tuned…

Thanks to David J.  Hawke, our Stewardship Manager, who noted the phenomenon on our Roehl Wetland visit, and provided this explanation. 

*A Freeman’s Maple tree is a hybrid between a Red and Silver Maple.   To learn more about Roehl Wetland, click here


Intern Meagan Coughlin installs a Salamander board on one of our properties. Photo: Dorthea Hangaard

Salamanders are one of the most elusive amphibians to study, and are a good indicator species of woodland health.  They prey on mosquitoes and ticks, helping to keep insect populations in balance, and their underground burrowing systems contribute to soil dynamics.

We’re putting out boards we hope Salamanders will choose to live under, and asking volunteers to check in on them monthly and record what they see.   This is one of three new Reptile and Amphibian monitoring programs we have available for volunteers.  If you would like to join this initiative, follow this link and sign up.  Training will begin this winter and no experience is necessary. 

*Note:  If you see a salamander board on one of our properties, please do not touch it.  Disturbing the boards will make it undesirable for salamanders and impact our research. 



Praying Mantis stuck in a web. photo: Aiesha Aggarwal

This Praying Mantis stuck in a spider web was discovered by one of our Invasive Monitoring Teams on Windmill Ranch last week. 

On October 3rd, Aiesha Aggarwal and Sue Mcintosh headed out for a meandering hike of Windmill Ranch.  They are one of our five Monitoring Teams who are scouring Carden Alvar Provincial Park for  invasive species such as Dog Strangling Vine, Phragmites, Garlic Mustard, and Yellow Parsnip.  These nature enthusiasts kept their ears perked and eyes peeled for the Carden Alvar holds a treasure trove of interesting creatures.

They spotted a flock of palm warblers, a mollusk fossil, and a praying mantis stuck on an abandoned spider web.  Happily they did not see any invasive species on this trip!  See more photos from the trip

Note:  While the Praying Mantis also “preys”, they are named for their prominent front legs, which are bent and held in a prayer position. 


The seed pods of the Dog Strangling Vine plant are still easily observed in October on Windmill Ranch. Photo by Ginny Moore



October 2nd:  Ginny Moore and Tom Wilson did, unfortunately, find Dog Strangling Vine on their visit to Windmill Ranch.  It is still readily identifiable in October.    They also observed an Eastern Meadowlark, listed as a Species at Risk in Ontario.  This sighting will be submited to Bird Studies Canada and the National Heritage Information Centre. 








A Northern Water Snake at McGee Creek. photo: Vicki Sherwood


Bill and Vicki Sherwood, dedicated members of our Water Quality Monitoring Team, have been observing a family of Northern Water Snakes at their testing site all year. 

Because our citizen science teams are assigned permanent sites, they are able to provide invaluable anecdotal observations about the areas they are researching, that go well beyond their area of study.  Bill and Vicki have also been observing the habits of a beaver in the area, and the beaver’s struggle to establish a dam. 




Thanks to RBC Bluewater for their ongoing financial support of this project. 




Read our summer Notes from the Field here