Roadside Verdure

NATURALLY – George & Elizabeth Churcher

Roadside Verdure                                                                                                                           June 7, 2017

One of our favourite books is “The Forest Unseen — A Year’s Watch in Nature” by David Haskell.  In this book, the author describes, by reviewing his frequent visits over a year, the natural events unfolding on the forest floor within a circle just a little over one metre across.   His tiny research plot was located on a woodland slope in southeastern Tennessee.  As the title of Haskell’s book implies, there are an abundance of happenings in the natural world around us that escape our notice.

Oak Fern

Especially in the Spring — the season of newness, birth, growth and rejuvenation — Mother Nature is working relentlessly, sharing with us an unending documentary of her handiwork.  The changes are happening on a daily basis or even on much shorter time scales.  It’s so easy to become almost overwhelmed by all of the events going on, so we have to take a step back and simply enjoy our observations, remembering that all we can do is sample a few things among the many.  As we walk along the trails and roadsides, our senses become aware of some of the happenings — we may see a plant in flower, buds opening on a shrub, a spider in her web or we may hear a bird singing from his perch high up in the tree.  Perhaps we are able to identify the plant, the spider or the bird — but maybe not.  The search must continue!  — And so, we learn little by little from Nature’s textbook.  It all adds up to a wonderful and relaxing hobby and it’s all free!!  When we do our “citizen science” surveys in which we gather data for nature organizations, we have the added satisfaction that our observations contribute to the store of knowledge about various species and that this information may help to protect them in the future.

Over this Spring season, we have been observing the events occurring in the plant world along a stretch of Hunt Road, just west of its intersection with Morton Road.  While we are not conducting any kind of systematic study here, we enjoy just cruising along and spontaneously getting out of the car to examine the lush and profuse plant growth.  — And we may add here that many of the road edges in our Municipality of Tweed are showcases for all kinds of plants.  For now, we’re just stopping at random, at different times and looking at the plants.

— So let’s visit the roadside.  The dictionary defines “verdure” as “the fresh greenness of growing vegetation” or “a flourishing growth of vegetation”.  That’s exactly what we see!  The roadside stretch where we pause to capture a glimpse of nature’s grandeur is almost tropical when examined closely.  Crammed into a short distance are many plants, mostly perennial.  As the season goes along, the conspicuousness of the different species changes.  Presently, on this morn of May 28th, a quick reconnaissance revealed several species of plants, all growing together in profusion.  We saw Red Baneberry, a member of the Buttercup family, with its leaves divided into 3 parts, each with sharply toothed leaflets, and its tiny, white flowers so artistically arranged in a fuzzy-looking cylindrical cluster.  For a moment, our thoughts lept ahead to August and September when we will witness the transformation of the flowers into red berries.  As the plant’s name suggests, these tempting fruits should not be eaten.  Within centimetres of the Baneberry, we spotted another member of the Buttercup family, the Sharp-lobed Hepatica.  Its delicate flower petals are no longer visible:  fruit clusters are beginning to form.  Its most visible feature now is its clumps of leaves, in which each leaf resembles a lobed liver.

Shifting our attention to a plant towering over the Baneberry and Hepatica, we began to examine a shrub which we soon realized was a dogwood.  The characteristic feature which helped us to arrive quickly at our conclusion was its paralleling and curving leaf veins.  An even closer look at the leaves led us to give the plant its specific name, Alternate-leaved Dogwood.  Why?  It is the only dogwood to have alternately arranged branches and leaves: all the rest have opposite branches and leaves.

Looking down again, we marvelled at the diversity that we had not yet explored.  The brilliant yellow of the Downy Yellow Violet added bright yellow to the tapestry of greens.  The expansive Lily family was represented by False Solomon’s-Seal, with its staggered, parallel-veined leaves and terminal flower cluster, with buds just preparing to burst open.  Growing closer to the ground-level were plants of the Two-leaved False Solomon’s-Seal or False Lily-of-the-Valley, also with flower buds ready to unfurl.  We’ll return in a few days to enjoy their showy white floral display.  Another lily, Bellwort, which a short time ago could be identified by its drooping yellow, lily-like flowers, was beginning to form its top-shaped, three-lobed fruiting capsules. — But it can always be distinguished by its parallel-veined leaves, clasping the stem.

Could there still be more to see?  We were not disappointed!  Shifting our eyes to the left, we saw the intricate lace of fern leaves.  There, at our feet, were clusters of the little Oak Fern, easily recognized by its 3-parted leaf:  each of the 3 sections is triangular (pictured).  —  And scattered around us, several other plants just kept emerging as we stood and looked down.  There were saplings of Red and White Oaks, Sugar Maples, Beeches and Basswoods.  For us, the question always remains, “How many more species did we not see?”.

Stopping and taking a little time to realize and enjoy the great diversity of life that surrounds us helps us to value our rich natural heritage.  A brief escape along the roadside — the roadside verdure — takes us away from the responsibilities and cares of life and transports us into a realm of peace and beauty.  These moments connect us to our natural world and bring enduring, simple pleasure.

Previously published in the Tweed News

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NATURALLY – Trout Lily

NATURALLY                                                                                                                                            April 26, 2017

Author – George & Elizabeth Churcher

Trout Lily

Once educators, always educators!  We like timetables and find them so useful in learning more about nature.  This year, we are attempting to develop a flowering timetable for the Spring flowers in our woodland.  Every few days, we hike across the fields and into the woods where we slow our pace and  search carefully for any changes that have occurred since our last visit.  What wildflowers might have pushed their way through the dense carpet of decomposing leaves on the forest floor?  As temperatures increase and the sun becomes stronger, plant growth quickens.  In last week’s entry, we described our ramble looking for signs of Trout Lily, an exuberant spring ephemeral.  While we found no trace of this popular Lily, we were rewarded with early flowering Hepaticas and sprouting Wild Leeks.  A few days later, on April 14th, we went for another trek and discovered some small Trout Lily leaves peeking through the leaf litter.  — And by the time you read this article, it will be in flower.

trout lily

Right now, the Trout Lily offers us the promise of a beautiful floral bouquet in the days to come as it pushes its little purplish spears through the dried, brown tree leaves.  Later on in April, the woodland floor will be carpeted with the lance-shaped, green leaves that are artistically patterned with brown and purple mottlings, reminiscent of the designs on a Brook Trout’s skin.  These markings, along with the fact that the plant flowers in trout fishing season, are responsible for the Trout Lily’s name.  — But some of you may know this plant by another name.  Sometimes it is called Adder’s Tongue because its leaves look like little sharp spears as they emerge from the soil.  Elizabeth recalls being taught that this beautiful spring flower is a Dog Tooth Violet and she grew up giving it that label; however, she now realizes that it is more accurate to call it a Trout Lily.  This plant is not a violet but rather a member of the Lily family.

When we look down at the forest floor, the large number of Trout Lily leaves that appear indicates that it is very successful in reproducing.  Underground corms send up single leaves each Spring, for at least 5 years before they produce a flower, but most of them never flower.  They do, however, develop underground stems or runners that are up to 10 inches long.  These runners in turn produce new corms, so all of the leaves in large areas of the woodland belong to a single plant — a clone.  The clones may be over 100 years old, as old or even older, than the surrounding trees.  Most of the Trout Lily’s reproduction is thus non-sexual or vegetative.  When the runners with their corms reach a place where the nutrients in the soil are better and where more sun reaches the woodland floor, corms may produce 2 leaves and a single, nodding flower on a stalk.  Often, a little local cluster of flowers is produced.

The Trout Lily flowers are typical of the Lily family, with floral parts in 3’s or multiples of 3.  Stretching 20 to 25 millimetres across, these rich yellow gems, often spotted with purple near the base, stand solitary and nodding as they announce that Spring is in full swing.  The flower structure is made up of 3 sepals and 3 petals, but because they all look the same, they are referred to as tepals.  The tepals may be described as reflexed or sweeping backwards.  A peek inside the flower leads to the discovery of 6 stamens and a stigma that has 3 lobes.

Being equipped with all of the machinery for seed production, the sturdy Trout Lily can guarantee its survival with more than corms.  Its flowers are pollinated by long-tongued insects, primarily native bees, as the nectaries are deep in the flower.  By the time May Spring flowers are blooming, the Trout Lily flowers have been replaced by erect green capsules containing seeds.  This sexual reproduction in which pollen from another clone may fertilize the eggs ensures some genetic diversity.  — But if pollinating insects are scarce, the nodding flowers can self-fertilize.  The seeds have nutritious, fatty appendages on them which are relished by ants who carry the seeds and disperse them.  As the leaves come out on the trees in late April and early May, replacing the shadow tracery of tree limbs and trunks with continuous shade, the Trout Lilies retreat back underground, having stored food for next April’s growth.

While we think about the Trout Lily during its relatively short phase of glory in the Spring sunshine, its entire life cycle performs an incredibly important function.  Its roots take up large amounts of minerals from the soil, especially phosphorus, and house these minerals before they can be leached downwards by Spring rains.  When the leaves of the Trout Lily decompose, the minerals are released gradually back into the soil and are then available for other plants, including the trees, which take in the minerals through their surface-feeding roots.  So significant is the role that the Trout Lily plays, it has been referred to as a ‘living phosphorus sink’.

When we see the Trout Lily clones on our Spring woodland walks, they are busy storing the minerals they are absorbing and the sugar they are making during their brief, but highly-efficient time photosynthesizing in the sunlight, before leaf emergence on the trees.  Eventually, the Trout Lily leaves will stop producing food, the plant that we have enjoyed will wither and disappear.  What remains, the underground structures, will rest through the Winter, but as Spring approaches once more, new leaves will grow upwards from the corms and some new flowers will be produced, continuing the life cycle of the Trout Lily.

The Trout Lily, a well known Spring wildflower that gives us so much beauty each year, offers a great deal more.  It emphasizes to us the importance of all the living components of the woodland ecosystem.  If Trout Lilies were not present, mineral uptake by trees would be diminished.  We have this humble, nodding species to thank for a glimpse into the complex functioning of our woodland ecosystem.  In our attempts to understand and appreciate ecosystems as whole, interdependent living entities, we begin to realize how vital they are for the survival of many life forms, including ourselves.  As we enjoy the Trout Lily and so many other Spring ephemerals that will follow in the next few weeks, let us view them with a renewed respect and learn from how they live their lives.  Beyond the picture that they paint for us, they are working hard to carry out their specific responsibilities in sustaining life for themselves and those around them.

Previous published in the Tweed News on April 26, 2017.

Naturally – Vernal Pools

NATURALLY

Authors:  George and Elizabeth Churcher

                                                                      Vernal Pools                                                               

As the clock of life ticks onward, we reflect on many things.  Sometimes our thoughts are all encompassing, spanning years, while other times, they focus on the moment.  On occasion, we rehearse the momentous milestones in our lives but, more often, we review the smaller, everyday happenings.  When we think in terms of landscape, this same concept applies.  As we undertake our day to day tasks at our home, we observe and consider the landscape immediately around us but when we drive along our beautiful country roads in the Tweed area, we become aware of the larger landscape — the forests, the fields and the wetlands.  If we cast our eye to an even larger scale, we find ourselves examining the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest biome.  Yes, we live in the picturesque region which occupies the Great Lakes basin and extends along the St. Lawrence River eastward to the Gaspe.

spotted-salamander2

Biomes are large life zones, characterized by distinctive plant and animal communities and are determined by geology, hydrology and the regional climate.  There are four biomes in Ontario.  In addition to the biome where we live, we marvel at the beauty and life-sustaining potential of the Boreal Forest which occupies the area directly north of our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest.  Still further north, the Northern Transition Zone reaches to the northern boundary of Ontario, then stretches further and eventually merges with the Tundra biome at the tree-line in the Canadian north.  Turning in a more southerly direction, we encounter the Eastern Deciduous or Carolinian Forest of Southwestern Ontario.  The Carolinian Forest is continuous with the Eastern Deciduous Forest biome of the Eastern United States.  Unfortunately, most of the Carolinian Forest is gone from Ontario — only remnants remain.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest, where we live, is characterized by a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees.  As is true of all biomes, our broad region is composed of ecosystems:  different forest subtypes, meadows, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands such as swamps, bogs, fens and vernal pools.  We can look at each of these as specific habitats for various species of plants and animals.  — And, of course, within many of these, there are more refined habitat specifications:  some fish, for example, prefer deeper water while others favour the shallows, amid vegetation.

At the local level, ecosystems are essential to the maintenance of the diversity of life.  They can be very small, like the community of animals living under a rotting log on the forest floor, the life depending on an aging snag or the organisms surviving in a pool of water.

Until more recently, one of the least appreciated ecosystems has been the Vernal Pool.  Vernal pools are temporary bodies of water found in lowland areas in woodlands.  They result largely from snowmelt and seasonal flooding and have no inlets or outlets — no streams feed them.  Melting snow or an abundance of Spring and early Summer rain can result in the water table reaching the surface where these pools are formed, so the water in them is sitting on top of saturated soil.  Even though Vernal Pools, sometimes existing into mid-summer, gradually dry up, they, just like all other ecosystems, are essential to the lives of many organisms.

The impetus for the scientific study of Vernal Pools happened in the 1980s when it was realized that amphibian populations were in decline worldwide.  Because of their vital importance to amphibian populations, Vernal Pools came into sharp focus.

In our local area, Vernal Pools provide breeding habitat for such frog species as Northern Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, Gray Tree Frogs and Wood Frogs.  Mole salamanders, who live most of their lives underground, migrate to Vernal Pools on warm, rainy Spring nights to mate and lay their eggs, just as the frogs and American Toads do.  The group of Mole salamanders includes such species as the Spotted Salamander (pictured) and the Blue-Spotted Salamander.  Vernal Pools have a great advantage for the reproduction of amphibians:  they contain no fish, as they are not stream-fed, so the eggs and larvae of frogs and salamanders are safe from fish predators.

Other inhabitants who live and breed in Vernal Pools include various water beetles, caddisflies and dragonflies.  Fairy Shrimp also take advantage of the temporary water supply.  Their eggs, which were laid last year, hatch and the shrimp, who lead brief, ephemeral lives, mate and lay a new batch of eggs before the pools dry up in the summer.

Vernal Pools are beneficial to more than the animals.  The moisture that they contribute to the soil creates favourable conditions for many plants such as Red Maple, Buttonbush, Cardinal Flower, willows, alders, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, various ferns and many more.  As you explore our area in the next few weeks, checking out the Vernal Pools, look closely at their fringes, especially when they are situated at the edges of woodlands.  It is quite possible that you will discover plant communities made up of many of the plant species mentioned here.

Vernal pools make vital contributions to the biodiversity of our area and throughout northeastern North America — contributions which merge seamlessly with those of all the other ecosystems in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest biome.  As you drive along the back roads in the Tweed area throughout this season of awakenings, take time to appreciate every habitat, even the pools that are with us for such a short period of time.  Celebrate with us the life that they support through their brief presence in our midst.

Previously published in the Tweed News on April 12, 2017.

Naturally – Green Awakenings

Author – George & Elizabeth Churcher

Every day right now is filled with little surprises.  As we move gingerly towards the end of March, warm Spring sunshine reaches out to anoint us with newness:  hints of green begin to appear among the thatched grass and our earliest perennials are showing signs of promise. The great expanse of snow has disappeared from our fields and lawn, and only remnant patches remind us that winter has left us for another year.  — And yet, the snow flurries filling the air last evening and this morning’s sharp, icy gusts are reminders that we are still in transition.

Trembling Aspen1

Despite the inevitable fluctuations in temperature, the force of life is inexorable.  While we search for those tiny indications that Spring has truly arrived, we have to admit that the landscape around our home still has a very drab cloak.  Without their pristine white blanket, our surroundings are dominated by various tones of brown, of fading darkness.  We continue to dream of fields and woods clothed in gentle soft greens, in shimmering lime shades and in deep forest tones.  Yes, our whole world will soon awaken.

— But if we look deeper, indications of life are present.  The deciduous shrubs and trees in the fencerows and up into the woods are still bare of leaves.  It’s early yet to witness those outer garment changes but deep inside living forces are at work.  Just look at the clear, sweet sap dripping into the buckets that many in our area have hung on their Maple trees in recent weeks.  These trees are mustering their life force, beginning to send the sugar sucrose upwards throughout the tree:  they are mobilizing that starch that was stored lower down throughout the winter, directing it towards the living, growing cells of the trees and transforming it into sucrose which supplies energy for all of the cell processes.  Stop for a moment to scan all of the trees and shrubs around you.  Beneath their bark, the life-blood of all is beginning to flow, each on its own timetable.

The master plan for survival and growth is spread across the entire year.  Long before their winter rest, during last year’s early summer growing season, the trees and shrubs formed buds.  Nestled in those buds are the embryonic cells that will produce this year’s leaves and flowers and the embryonic cells of the growing points that will increase the length of the main twig and its side branches.  The leaves, flowers and growing points are all pre-formed in the bud.  As Spring moves forward, food energy from sucrose sugar, minerals and water from the roots and warmth from the increasing air temperature will cause the leaves to expand, all the while shedding their bud scales.  The little, delicate new leaves gradually grow larger by cell growth and division.

On the outside of the leaves, we see beauty but inside we must imagine an industrious flurry of activity.  Their food producing cells manufacture complex molecules of chlorophyll.  Each of the chlorophyll molecules has an atom of magnesium at its centre, just as each of the hemoglobin molecules in our red blood cells contain an atom of iron at their core.  The magnesium atom comes from the soil:  the iron atom is from our food and also originally from the soil.

Throughout the winter, the stark trunks and branches of our trees and shrubs are a constant reminder that it is a season of rest but for our herbaceous plants, only a shrivelled, grayish brown stalk remains.  Life has left their stems and their true value is now in the nutrients that they can contribute to our compost piles or to the enriching of the soil where they fall.  — But life will awaken!  These plants can be categorized into three groups based on the length of their lives and their patterns of reproduction.  Annual green plants produce all of their new growth from the seed.  Biennials, such as Blueweed or Evening Primrose, send up new stems from a growing point at the centre of the rosette of leaves which formed the previous year and overwintered under the snow.  Finally, perennial herbaceous plants, like Goldenrod and Asters, produce new stems from growing points in underground structures such as roots or underground stems called rhizomes.  This group can also increase in number by sending out above ground running stems called stolons with which we are very familiar in our Strawberry patch.

As we wait patiently for the unfurling of buds and for the bouquet of colour to light up our gardens, let’s be vigilant and capture each new awakening.  It’s time to start looking for the Skunk Cabbage that leads the way among our herbaceous plants, flowering in wetland areas in March.  Not too long after we celebrate this unique plant’s re-entry, we will be treated, in early April, to a flourish of gold along some of our roadsides.  The yellow flower heads of Colt’s Foot always give us such a warm welcome to Spring.

— And the march continues!  Later in April, our woodland wildflowers will appear in perfect timing to make food and be pollinated before being shaded by the forest canopy.  Then in early May, the first flush of green, in beautiful delicate shades, will cloth our woodland scene, as tree buds open and their leaves expand.  Trembling Aspens will leaf out first at the edge of our woods, an event in Nature’s calendar that we fondly anticipate each Spring.  The breath-taking richness of the hues of colour on display is a wonderful signal of ‘Green Awakenings’ that will continue to enliven our natural world.  Let us open our eyes to each new awakening and appreciate more deeply all that Spring has to offer.

NATURALLY – Colours & Patterns

Colours and Patterns                                                                                                                     March 22, 2017
George & Elizabeth Churcher

ScarletTanager1

“Oh, the old Maple is alive with colour! I see purple, red, gold, pink, brown, gray, black and white!”, Elizabeth called out as she clasped her binoculars to get a closer look. The late winter snowstorm had brought all of the birds to our feeders in early morning.  As we stood watching and reviewing what we had shared about plumages last week, we decided that a logical extension would be to look at bird colouration.  After all, the feathers of birds are in various distinctive colours and patterns which give each species a characteristic look that we learn to recognize.  We have only to think of the bright yellow and black of the male Goldfinch, the brilliant crimsons of male Northern Cardinals and Scarlet Tanagers (pictured), the beautiful blues of Blue Jays and male Indigo Buntings, the captivating orange and black of male Baltimore Orioles.  — And there are the rich, distinctive browns, blacks, whites and grays of Sparrows.

How do the feathers of birds acquire their colours?  Paint brushes and dyes are not needed: rather they are internally equipped to provide themselves with their attractive outer garments.  Feather colour occurs in two main ways, by pigments and by feather structure — pigmentary colouration and structural colouration.  We must remember also that, in addition to feathers, pigments colour other parts of birds such as bills and legs, bare facial areas and the irises of their eyes.

Let’s look first at pigmentary colouration.  Pigments in birds fall into three main groups — melanin, carotenoids and a third category comprised of several pigments found in a few groups of birds.  Thoughtful consideration of the names of these pigments, applying knowledge we have acquired in other realms, gives us some clues to the specific colours that each produces.

Melanin is the most common bird pigment — indeed, melanin is an extremely common pigment in animals:  for example, human hair colour and skin colour are products of melanin.  One type of melanin produces the blacks of birds such as Red-winged Blackbirds while the other kind of melanin dresses up birds with a wide range of colours, from bright gold, auburn and cinnamon to rust.  Think of the eye-catching, rusty red of the Brown Thrasher.  The more concentrated the melanin, the deeper and more intense the colour.  This concept applies to all of the pigments.  — And to add variety, both types of melanin can be combined to provide a whole range of hues.  Melanins, synthesized from amino acids in birds’ diets, are responsible for caps, masks, bars, spots, bibs and stripes on birds’ plumages.  In addition to adding colour to our avian friends’ clothing, we can appreciate melanins for their durability.  They are resistant to wear which is why the wingtips of birds such as Gulls are often black.

The other main pigment group, the second in our discussion, is the carotenoids, comprised of about a dozen kinds in all.  Birds cannot synthesize carotenoids but must obtain them from their diet:  only plants can make them.  Carotenoids contribute the yellows, golds, oranges and reds that give some of our birds the splashes of colour that quickly attract our attention — but not only ours!  A female bird judges the suitability of a male to be her mate by assessing the brilliance of his plumage.  An intensely red Cardinal male, for example, will probably be a better provider than a less bright male — he has been able to acquire more carotenoids — he has a better diet and will be a stronger provider for the family.

The third category of several pigments includes turacoverdin, a green pigment found in one group of birds — the Turacos of Africa.  They are the only birds whose green is the result of possession of a green pigment.  Acknowledging this fact prompts us to question more.  What causes blue and green colours in the birds that we see?  — And what about the white feathering in birds and their white beaks?  As always, in our pursuit of understanding the natural world, we are reminded of how little we know and of the vast expanse that we have yet to explore.

— So let’s probe more deeply.  The blues, the greens, the whites are produced largely in the second main way that we mentioned earlier — structural colouration.  Birds’ feathers, beaks and claws consist of a substance called keratin, the same material that makes up our hair, fingernails and toenails.  Structural colours such as blue result from the interaction of light with the ultramicroscopic structure of the feather’s keratin.  Visible light is composed of differing wavelengths which are perceived as different colours by the eye.  Think of experiments you did at school when you shone light through a prism and got the spectrum of colours on a screen.  Rainbows are produced as sunlight shines through water droplets in the air:  each droplet acts like a tiny prism.  Some wavelengths are absorbed by the feather and others return to the eye and are seen as the colour blue, for instance.  The colour green is caused by the blue structural colour passing through yellow carotene pigment:  blue and yellow mix to be perceived as green.  Those lessons that we learned about primary colours so many years ago are still helping us!  —What about white?  Here, the light entering the feather is randomly scattered in the microstructure, causing white to be visible to the eye.

— Finally, iridescence.  What causes the electric shimmering colour of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird’s crimson gorget, the wonderful purple sheen of the Common Grackle and the iridescent green of the male Mallard’s head?  The feather structure is responsible for light interference and different colours when the angle of view is changed and the light strikes the area differently.  What a thrill when the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s gorget transforms from black to electric crimson right before our eyes as the little bird turns his head!

Every species of bird produces colours in several ways simultaneously.  The male Goldfinch, for example, displays yellow feathers that are made by the carotenoid pigments from the food they eat while his black colour is synthesized by melanin pigments.  Now we leave the rest to you.  It’s time for you to think of your experiences with birds and explain their colouration in terms of pigmental or structural origins or a combination of the two.

The purpose of colour in birds reaches far beyond the need to have an appealing presence.  While they are concerned about appearance, their reasons are linked strongly to their desire to survive in a challenging world.  Birds use their colours and patterns to attract their mates, to signal to potential rivals in their territory and to conceal young families on the nest.  Our natural world is designed in complex and intricate ways to support every member of the vast family.

As we pause to reflect on the birds at our feeders and in the wilds, we are overwhelmed by what there is to learn about a single topic like bird colouration.   Digging deeper, grasping a few additional details about the giant web, helps us to appreciate even more the gifts that Mother Nature shares with us.  As we anticipate the return of our spring migrants adorned in their beautiful patterns and colours, let us enjoy their wonderful display, realizing that the beauty that they offer us has a much deeper meaning in their own lives.

Endless Possibilities – Stoco Lake

Capt. Jason Fawcett
RCAF C-17 Pilot/Avid Fisherman
Streamside Prostaff
February 7, 2017

Ever get to your favorite fishin’ hole, excited because you haven’t been in a while, only to find a dozen other people already there? Believe me, I know the feeling. In an era dominated by social media and globalization, more and more of our favorite fishing spots that were once hush-hush, are now well- known and advertised via social media. So, if you’re like me, you use every means available, put in a little homework and search out new waters, perhaps even new species. One thing we can be certain of despite all this, is that the Municipality of Tweed and the Land O’ Lakes, being right in our backyard, offer a plethora of fishing opportunities whether you like crowds or not.

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Being an avid steelhead fisherman, I am very familiar with crowed rivers and creeks and having to find new spots to fish. This can sometimes ruin what you thought was going to be a great day to fish. But it doesn’t have to, and I’ll tell you why. Use the tools around you to seek out new fishin’ holes and make use of all resources to help put the odds in your favour on unfamiliar grounds. What does this all mean? Well first, access Google Maps on your mobile phone or computer and make sure you have roads and satellite photography enabled. This will help you identify locations to park and fish, as well as places to potentially avoid (private property). If you aren’t already familiar with the Ontario government website Fish Online tool, you should be https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-use-fish-line  is a fantastic website that makes use of an interactive map and data sets that identify what kind of species are in each lake and also lists any fish-stocking taking place on any particular lake you query. Once you find a lake and elect to target a specific species, do some research online about the techniques avid fishermen use to not only locate them at certain times of year, but present your bait that best suits that species. The tips you read or watch online will identify specific structures and depths to key in on. For fifteen dollars, NAVIONICS has an app you can purchase on your mobile phone which is your underwater lake topography. Used in conjunction with the GPS settings already on your phone, it can place you on the exact spots you wish to fish!

Stoco Lake Contour Map.jpg

The techniques described above have helped me and many others find success on new bodies of water here in the Land O’ Lakes.  Stoco Lake in Tweed is no exception. Just a short drive north of Belleville, Ontario, Stoco Lake is home to many species of fish and worth every minute of homework you put in to guarantee success. Known for its Black Crappie, Stoco Lake also has healthy populations of Walleye, Musky, and Bass. The Municipality of Tweed has done a tremendous job supporting local fishing in and around the area, including several Crappie fishing tournaments and one even for kids coming up this weekend! These tournaments have grown in size and popularity amongst the fishers in the area, and in-turn, contribute to the economic success of Tweed itself.

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So if you’re tired of crowds and willing to try fishing new waters, make use of the resources described above and get out and explore. Don’t hesitate to stop and chat to locals, who I have found to be quite helpful and full of knowledge about fishing in the area. Respect private lands, pickup some garbage, and share your experiences with those around you. Pay close attention to the rules and regulations wherever you go, and practice CPR (catch, photo, release). Hope to see you on the water!

For more information about the Municipality of Tweed visit www.tweed.ca or follow them on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/tweedontario.

The History Of The Tweed Arena

Building the Community Center, A Town Coming Together
By Jordan Prato

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For the last 52 years, Tweed’s rink on St. Joseph Street has been rightly titled the town’s community center. Over the years it has hosted many local events such as public skating, hockey games and hunting shows, becoming the heart of the community. Since 1964 it has drawn people together but this is not a surprise, seeing that the project to construct the building took the entire community’s involvement.
The town’s old rink, was an outside rink and stood where the present fire hall is on Metcalfe Street. The structure collapsed years earlier and the community decided it was time to rebuild another one, bigger than the past one and in door, so that it could be used year round. A Tweed Rink Committee was formed to set the project in motion with prominent members of the community into departments of finances, fundraising, publicity and construction.
The initial project price was $70 000 but once completed cost $95 773. The cost seems small now but considering inflation and the cost of a house these days, it would be the equivalency of $737 000 or just under three quarters of a million dollars. The finance team worked diligently in appealing for government funding and was able to receive ten thousand dollars from the Ontario Department of Agriculture but the largest monetary grant came from the township of Hungerford, which gave the committee eighteen thousand dollars under the condition that the building be built on the fair grounds. With this funding in tow, the rink committee had a strong initial backing but there was still 42 000 dollars to fundraise. Over the next two years, the town held countless 50/50 auctions, baseball games, dances, car washes and movie nights to reach their goal but the biggest community fundraisers held were a sport celebrity dinner each year. In 1962 and 1963, legendary North American sport stars such as New York Ranger’s coach “Red” Sullivan, Bryan Watson a Bancroft boy playing for the Montreal Canadians and Canadian Heavy Weight boxing champion and third in the world, George Chuval as well as Gordie Bell, Red Kelly, Lou Fontinato, Lloyd Percival, Gus Bodner, Jack Adams and George Patterson attended the dinner, gave speeches and autographs throughout the evening. The dinners were held in St. Carthagh’s Hall which at the time was property of the church. Each year, the dinners sold out and there was barely standing room for all 300 people. These events were nationally covered, with journalists and broadcasters cramming into what is now St. Carthagh’s School gym. At ten dollars a plate, the event cleared $2000 each or the equivalency of $15 300.
With the project funding finally gathered the beginning of the construction initiated July 13th, 1963 with the sod turning ceremony witnessed by the entire town. Just over 6 months later, the community center was opened, and held free admission for skating. Following that day, it cost 15 cents to skate for those under 12 and for those over 12 it was thirty five cents. Since then, not much has changed about the community center beyond regular maintenance but the roof had been replaced ten years ago, to the burgundy brown it is now. Despite the events unfolding around the center’s creation occurred 52 years later, the community center still stands proudly and looking back, the entire town’s engagement and dedication to such an undertaking is something Tweed should still be proud.