Category Archives: news

Birding in the 21st Century – EBird

ebird_logoA year or so ago I moved into the modern age and started to use an online resource called eBird to log my bird sightings. eBird is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is essentially a database where individuals worldwide record their sightings of birds. To date, thousands of birders worldwide have logged millions of sightings since its inception in 2002.
Individually, it provides an easy way to record your sightings, manage your checklists, and investigate what birds are being seen in any geographical area of interest. Cumulatively, this provides an invaluable resource for scientific study and conservation efforts.
To use eBird, simply create an account with a username and password, and off you go. And it’s free!BEA11046
Submitting your observations is easy, just go to Submit Observations (not surprisingly!) and follow the prompts, starting with location, followed by date, start time, outing duration, and then, on the next page, list the species you have seen. The birds are listed in taxonomic order, and there is a search function which makes finding your bird easy. Enter the number of that particular species you have seen, and you can even drag and drop your photographs too.
Since the information you submit is entered into a scientific database, data quality is extremely important, and the people at eBird are nothing if not rigorous. For example, eBird detects when you record a “rare bird”. It automatically flags the species as being rare based on location, time of year, or numbers seen. It then asks for further substantiation – photographs are great for this. The photograph doesn’t have to be Nat Geo front page quality either, even poor ones showing details of the bird are enough. The rare bird submission is then vetted by local expert birder volunteers, and if considered valid, it is then entered into the main database. But even if the reviewer does not consider it substantiated, it still shows on your personal checklists.
After you have entered your sightings, you can go to the My eBird tab and view your life list and manage your checklists, which are sortable by species, date seen, location and a number of other parameters. You can even download your checklists or share them with others via email.BEA11945
Because lots of other birders are doing the same as you, there is a huge database of information which is extremely useful to us birders. To investigate what has been seen and where, navigate to the Explore Data tab and click on one of several links and explore sightings by region, hotspots, species or bar charts. There are even interactive maps!
An additional feature is the ability to sign up for rare bird alerts, and you will receive emails telling you where and when rare species have been seen in the particular region you are interested in.
If you want an easy way to log and manage your sightings, and a great way to investigate what birds are around you, eBird is a wonderful tool. But perhaps more importantly, by contributing your birding efforts you can individually play a small but important role in “citizen science”. Collectively, birders worldwide are building a hugely important scientific database being used by, for example, educators, biologists, and conservationists.
So, next time you grab your binoculars and bird book and head out, why not think about using eBird when you get home?

ebirdlogo-en-canadaIan Jarvie
Halton North Peel
Naturalist Club

President’s Message

Hello and a very Happy New Year to all club members!

This winter has been so different from the last (so far at least), although the fallen branches from last winter’s ice storm are still very conspicuous in leafless forest and roadsides. On the Christmas Bird count (reported in detail in this newsletter) we found the numbers of common birds to be very low, but the overall diversity was very high. In part this resulted from a very mild day for the count, but also we had a larger contingent of counters than usual. Many new members took part and their knowledge and enthusiasm no doubt helped us find more species than in previous years. Thanks to all who participated!

I will not be present at the next three meetings (I’m leading nature tours to much warmer destinations!), but I hope to see everyone in April and perhaps before at a winter outing. We do have a great line-up of speakers that I am sorry to miss.

Best wishes,


Dear Members new and old (or not so old!),

I’m not sure I am still qualified to write this letter as I am now officially Past President. We are very happy to welcome newly elected secretary Emily Dobson to our board and thrilled to have had interest from new members in joining our executive (see below)! Many thanks to Anne Fraser for her work as past Secretary, and to Jeff Normandeau for his past work on the newsletter.

Executive 2014/15
President: Vacant
Past President: Fiona Reid
Vice-President: Don Scallen
Secretary: Emily Dobson
Treasurer: Janice Sukhiani
Roving: William McIlveen, Kevin Kerr, Nikki Pineau, Anne Fraser

Appointments 2014/15
Membership: Valerie Dobson
Newsletter: Sandy Gillians
Ontario Nature Representative: vacant
PR/Webmaster: Sandy Gillians
Crozier Property Steward: Marg Wilkes
Hardy Property Steward: Ray Blower

Club membership fees are now due. If you haven’t already paid up, please bring your money to the next meeting or pay online at our website via PayPal. Your financial support is critical to our ability to provide great speakers, rent a meeting space, and cover our insurance costs. Thanks!

We have some great speakers and evening events to look forward to, including the Pot Luck Dinner in December, but we do need more volunteers to lead nature walks.

Today, November 1, we had our first snow of the year. Has winter already officially begun? Be sure to keep your feeders full and enjoy the winter birds.

Best wishes,
Fiona Reid

HNPNC installs bird boxes at Scotsdale Farm

Left to right: Jeff Cassidy, Emily Dobson, Bill McIlveen, Ramona Dobson, Ian Jarvie, Fiona Reid, Sandy Gillians, Kim Dobson.

Several members of the Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club met this morning to install bird boxes around the hay meadows and old fields of Scotsdale Farm in Halton Hills.  The fields are home to Eastern Bluebirds, several species of swallows, and threatened grassland birds such as Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark.

Several more boxes were installed on the grounds of St. Alban’s church along the Credit River in Glen Williams last week.

HNPNC raised funds for the bird boxes  through donations from attendees of a reptile workshop held January 12th this year. Many thanks to HNPNC member Emily Dobson (who is also Ontario SwiftWatch Coordinator for Halton) for moving this project forward, and to Kim Dobson for  building the boxes and supervising the installations.

President’s Message

Hello members new and old (and young!) It seems like this winter will never end, but spring will surely start to unfurl as the month marches on.

In the meantime,  please spend a few minutes looking at some wonderful images by our club member and HNPNC secretary, Anne McDermaid, on this website. Not only will you see a gallery of her inspiring landscapes, but also some beautiful shots of waterfowl in winter. Thanks Anne! We encourage other members to share their work on our website or Facebook pages. See contact info below.

We are also getting thoroughly modernized and now have a Twitter account: @hnpnc launched January 31st with 211 followers.

Best wishes,

President’s Message

by Fiona Reid

Happy New Year to all our Club members!

And how incredibly welcome the New Year was, arriving shortly after power was at last restored. For me it was a 7-day blackout, and I know for others it was longer still. Being in a cold house in midwinter just makes me admire all the more the small birds and animals that brave the outdoors year-round. The chickadees at the feeder, puffed up in the cold, have to find food and shelter every day, and throughout such inhospitable weather. Don’t forget to help them out!

Our trees have taken a tremendous beating, their tops lopped off as it by a drunken giant wielding a very dull machete! It will be interesting to see how the new growth appears and it there is any benefit to this strange kind of pruning. In town, many trees were split in half. If you have lost a Weeping Willow or Norway Maple, now is a good time to consider replacing those non-natives with a native species. Native trees are adapted to local weather and they also provide food and homes for our native wildlife.

We have a great line-up of talks and several outdoor walks of interest coming up, so I hope to see everyone at these events.

Best wishes,

It is 10 p.m. Do you know where your cats are?

by Fiona Reid, President

On my way home from our last meeting, with coyotes in mind, I was on the lookout for mammals and eyeshine in my car headlights. In the ten-minute drive, I spotted six domestic cats in fields and along the roadsides. These were the only mammals I saw that night.

So, what impact do our cats have on wildlife if they are allowed to roam free? A recent study in the USA (based on a systematic review and quantitative mortality estimates) found that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually (Loss et al., 2013). This means that free-ranging cats are the single greatest source of human-caused mortality for wild birds and mammals. The authors found that feral (including barn) cats caused more damage than owned pets, but many dearly-loved felines spend time in the great outdoors happily hunting. Native species make up the majority of birds and mammals killed by cats, only a few non- native birds are impacted. Free-ranging cats on islands have caused or contributed to 33 recent extinctions, as recorded by the IUCN.

Of course, the cats that do not impact wild populations of songbirds and small mammals are the ones that are kept indoors! Indoor cats are safe from predators such as coyotes and owls. They are less likely to get fleas or other parasites, and they can live a long and happy life without decimating our fragile fauna. Or, take them out on a leash! The photo below by club member Jeff Normandeau shows how content cats can be on a leash.

Cats are funny, smart, loveable, affectionate, and they are cold-blooded killers. They are not native to North America. Unlike most carnivores, they hunt by day or by night. If roving gangs of children were killing thousands of songbirds, would we not hold their parents accountable? Why then do we not hold pet owners accountable for the actions of their pets?

Please, keep your cats indoors and get them spayed. They will live longer and so will your neighborhood birds and small mammals.

Tufa deposits discovered in Credit River watershed

Belfountain CA Tufa Deposit (Photo by Lynda Ruegg)
Belfountain CA Tufa Deposit (Photo by Lynda Ruegg)

In 2012, Credit Valley Conservation inventory staff discovered a provincially and nationally rare phenomenon along the Niagara Escarpment at Silver Creek and Belfountain. This discovery was of tufa, a soft rock, being actively formed at the emergence of select springs. Tufa is a variety of limestone. It differs from typical Escarpment rock formed on ancient sea beds from calcium-rich shells, exoskeletons and coral. Instead, tufa is formed by calcium precipitated out of water. Bits of the precipitated calcium carbonate can amalgamate to create larger rocks.

Ontario’s known tufa deposits are formed at springs and waterfalls, particularly along the Niagara Escarpment. Tufa is only known in Ontario from Brantford, Paris, Dundas, Niagara Falls, and with the discoveries reported herein, Silver Creek and Belfountain. In 2008, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources designated a tufa deposit in Brantford as a provincially significant Earth Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.

Tufa only forms at springs where just the right conditions exist. First, ground water must contain carbon dioxide picked up from the air, making the water weakly acidic. Second, the ground water must become supersaturated with soluble calcium by dissolving limestone. Third, as the calcium-rich water emerges from the ground, it must release enough carbon dioxide to cause the soluble calcium to solidify into insoluble calcium (rock). The same precipitation process is responsible for the formation of stalactites and stalagmites in caves.

Precipitated Calcium Carbonate in Tufa Pool at Silver Creek Conservation Area (Photo by Leanne Wallis)
Precipitated Calcium Carbonate in Tufa Pool at Silver Creek Conservation Area (Photo by Leanne Wallis)

Tufa was first found in the Credit River watershed by the author and assistant Pete Davis at Silver Creek Conservation Area. The author recognized it based on tufa deposits seen on a Hamilton Naturalist’s Club hike to Spencer’s Gorge (Dundas) led by Dr. Terry Carleton, a forestry professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Carleton was the first to document tufa deposits at Spencer’s Gorge, which he recognized based on his observations of similar occurrences in England. News of the discovery at Silver Creek led to CVC’s Scott Sampson reporting possible tufa at Belfountain Conservation Area. A visit by the author, CVC’s Dawn Renfrew, biologist Lynda Ruegg, and Dr. Carleton confirmed the report.

Tufa deposits at Belfountain may be more abundant than anywhere else in Ontario. Tufa deposits can be easily observed at this conservation area on north-facing slopes. The best viewing spot is from the foot bridge that spans the West Credit River. The largest and most impressive tufa deposit can be seen from here on the slope on the south side of the river. This tufa deposit is almost completely covered by a blanket of moss in shades of green and red, with a small patch of whitish tufa peeking through.

Tufa deposits are a challenging growth environment for plants because soil is absent, the substrate is rock, conditions are calcareous, and there is a constant flow of cold water. Few plants can function in such environments; many of those that can are mosses, especially those specializing in seepy, calcareous habitat. Our tufa deposits, if not barren, tend to be either dominated by mosses, or populated by hardy plants such as Watercress (Nasturtium sp.), Jewelweed (Impatiens sp.) and European Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). The dominant moss on Silver Creek and Belfountain tufa deposits is Cratoneuron filicinum. It is not a rare moss, however, there are some provincially rare mosses known to grow on tufa that could be found in future inventories. Interestingly, because photosynthetic activity removes carbon dioxide from the spring water, mosses and other plants actually help create more rock once they become established.

In addition to potentially supporting rare mosses, tufa formation areas may also act as amphibian and dragonfly/damselfly breeding habitat. This is because tufa is often formed on slopes, creating terraces on which small pools of water are formed. Evidence suggests that salamanders (some of which are Species At Risk) may breed in these pools, and as some dragonfly/damselfly species restrict their breeding areas to seeps, they may also be found in these tufa pools. These spring-fed pools may also be an important water source for wildlife, especially if they remain unfrozen in winter months.

Tufa formation is a topic only recently receiving attention amongst biologists, and with increased awareness, the author expects more tufa deposits to be found in the future along the Niagara Escarpment.

Leanne Wallis
Credit Valley Conservation