Notes from a Morning at the Whimbrel Watch

Thanks to an introduction from Terry Smith at Friends of Sam Smith, I had the opportunity this morning to attend the annual Whimbrel Watch out at Whimbrel Point in Colonel Samuel Smith Park. My primary aim was to work with the Humber Arboretum to interview Tim McCarthy and Wayne Renaud for the upcoming exhibit at the Interpretive Centre (oops! spoiler alert!) but as a first-time attendee of the Whimbrel Watch I thought it might be fun to share my notes from the experience:

4:00am – My alarm sounds and I fumble around in a daze. At this stage in my morning consciousness I’m not sure I could identify a “bird” let alone a whimbrel. Even the simplest morning tasks seem more complicated and I am silently grateful that I will be a cup of coffee deep before I meet up with the group.

4:30am – I head out to the car. The first thought that strikes me is that in the pitch black the street is alive with bird songs. Their volume is surprising against the silence from the houses. Before I have a chance to think much further about this early morning chorus, I become aware of a light rain and focus instead on wishing away the clouds.

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5:15am – I am wandering into Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Sunrise will not officially take place for another half an hour but there is more than enough light in which to navigate the paths in the park. I expected an eerie, lonely walk through the dark but am instead surrounded by lit paths, dog walkers, and birders armed with large scopes. I had no idea there was such activity at this hour!

5:30am – My first view of Whimbrel Point as I approach reveals that I am not the first to arrive. My nervous and shy “hellos” are greeted with warmth and welcome. Wayne Renaud – one of the men I have come to interview – is among the group. It becomes immediately obvious that he is just seeping with knowledge about birding. He’s also much more prepared than I am for the day’s event: layers of fleece, a toque and mitts, and a bag filled with snacks to take him through the day – only his sunburnt (or perhaps wind burnt?) cheeks show any sign that the weather may pose a challenge.

5:45am – A crowd is starting to gather. Tim McCarthy – the second man I have come to interview – is easy to spot when he arrives. Dressed in shorts despite the chilly breeze, he wears a collection of feathers in his cap and a stuffed whimbrel pokes out of his backpack. He announces to the group that he has received an early morning email from his contacts in Virginia and the news is not good: the storms are still raging in the U.S. and no whimbrels were spotted leaving overnight.

6:15am – Despite the bad weather to the south, the first flock appears overhead. The sighting stops the conversation dead and a wave of binoculars and camera lenses point in unison towards the birds. Counts are shared with the group – around 35 in this flock – as Tim records the time and weather details on his clipboard.

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Wayne and Tim spend the next few hours sharing stories of their own entries into birding, how they became involved in the Whimbrel Watch, and why the annual count is important for the conservation of the at-risk species. By the level of energy the two exude you would think this was Day 1 of the Whimbrel Watch – in fact, the two men have been out daily since the 19th.

9:30am – The excitement with the appearance of the first flock has waned and the numbers of birders out at Whimbrel Point has begun to shrink. A momentary thrill comes when another flock is sighted – but the mood quiets quickly as the group determines it is the same flock as earlier, still making the rounds. Today is shaping up to be a quiet one for the Watch.

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11:00am – I am starting to fade. The early morning wake-up has distorted my stomach’s idea of when lunch should arrive and the cold has now seeped in through my bones. The conversation over the morning has been fascinating – a collection of first-timers and experts alike have generously shared tips, suggestions, and a wealth of stories. A school group visiting the area approaches to learn about the whimbrels and I use their arrival as an excuse to seek out food and warmth.

11:30am – I arrive back at the Interpretive Centre with my cheeks burning red from the morning wind exposure. The whimbrels failed to turn out but their dedicated watchers have made the experience worth every moment. I feel committed to the full experience now and make plans to return this weekend for another attempt to spot the flocks.

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Want to experience the Whimbrel Watch for yourself? Join the group out at Whimbrel Point anytime between now and the end of the month (or stop by during this Saturday’s Spring Bird Festival!). Every knowledge level is welcomed but be warned – the passion of these birders is contagious and you may return home only to find yourself shopping for a pair of binoculars online…

Bee Hotels: Enough Bee Love to Go Around

Many thanks to everyone who made it out to the bee hotel workshop this weekend!

In this video assistant curator Ben goes over some of the reasons to care about native bees and why you might what to make a bee hotel.

A few things to keep in mind when you’re making yours:

  • Hang the hotel between 3-5 feet off the ground if you can
  • Different diameters and depths of holes will attract different kinds of native bees (See: Creating a Solitary Bee Hotel by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
  • Hanging the hotel in the shade will attract more wasps. Hanging it in the sun, especially eastward facing, will increase the likelihood of bees living there
  • Avoid using plastics for your bee hotel
  • If you want to paint your bee hotel, remember to use paints that do not contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Bee hotels can’t fix everything though, it also helps to preserve organic leaf litter and fallen trees.

If you’re interested in learning more about honey bees, check out Humber Arboretum’s Sustainable Urban Beekeeping Courses

Also be sure to check out our “How to be Bee Friendly” handout!

With thanks to the support from Humber’s Office of Sustainability

Update on the CHIME Digital Exhibit

FB_IMG_1491754257064This is the second in a series of guest posts submitted by the members of the CHIME Digital Exhibits group that document the group’s development of a digital exhibit featuring the different histories of the Lakeshore Grounds. (The first post in the series can be read here).

Research is nearly wrapped up and the next few weeks will be a storm of proofreading and getting the final product ready for launch!

In case you missed the project’s introductory entry, CHIME is an upcoming digital exhibition highlighting the colourful history of the Etobicoke Lakeshore community, with special attention on the institutions that existed prior to the founding of Humber College. It will be hosted on the Interpretive Centre’s website and completely free for all community members to access!

The Lakeshore community in Etobicoke is quite diverse, with students from high school and college as well as the local business owners and families that have settled in the area. However, the heritage of the land is a common and uniting factor for everyone. By promoting awareness of what happened on the grounds and why it is significant, CHIME aims to strengthen bonds within the community and create more solid common ground for everyone to stand on. With rising rates of mental illness among youth, knowledge about the history of the psychiatric hospital can be empowering for modern students, and hopefully reduce stigma around what is becoming an increasingly common struggle. Another such example of how the exhibit can benefit the community it serves is the ecology of the area – with climate change and the fight to protect the environment, so too must we be mindful of the way of life Canadians enjoy. Bird-watching in Colonel Samuel Smith Park wouldn’t be possible if we damaged their habitats to the point of driving away the animals that call the space home. These are just some of the ways that the exhibition is shaping up to be an intriguing and helpful tool for Humber students and beyond.

As the history of the area is a truly unique experience, so is this exhibit. Some of the documents and visual resources that will be included in the exhibition include a look at the various architectural trends around campus, such as the old psychiatric hospital cottages and the modernist structure of what is now the A building. Thanks to help from The Archives of Ontario as well as Humber’s Facility Management Department, the CHIME exhibit will have an exclusive look at architectural drawings from the 1950s and 60s, as well as some historic photos from the Teachers’ College that helped shape the school today. Thanks to the amazing support team working behind the scenes, we’ll also be treated to 3D renderings that recreate some of the original buildings!

CHIME will be launching on April 22nd at lakeshoregrounds.ca/chime (link to come).

Designing a Bee Hotel Workshop

tumblr_oluboed9hh1uiehroo1_1280I’ve been thinking of a bee hotel workshop since last September, and now that Spring is just around the corner it’s finally time to start making it happen!

While there are around 4000 different kinds of bees in North America, we usually only hear about the charismatic honey bee. But as charismatic as they undoubtedly are, honey bees are newcomers on the ecological scene. Introduced by European settlers, up until about the 1850s there weren’t even any honey bees in British Columbia, for example. That’s hardly a blink of an eye in terms of ecological history!

Biodiversity is a good in its own right, but it also makes a lot of practical sense to protect our native bee species, like Mason Bees, who live in wood, and Solitary Mining Bees, who live in loose dirt, or the Wood Nesting Augochlorine which lives in rotten wood, because they all pollinate different plants with various degrees of efficiency.

Bee hotels provide homes for a range of indigenous bee species that nest in wood, and encourage bees that tend to travel only short distances to take up residence in your gardens or green spaces and help you grow things throughout the season.

Be on the lookout for our very own “how to build a bee hotel” workshop that we’ll be putting on this April at the Interpretive Centre!

For more information of local bee species and their habitats, see this handy guide developed by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Behind the Scenes: Testing the Tunnel Install

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Testing different wires to hang the collection with in the tunnels

Next Saturday, February 25th we’re hosting a pop-up art show in the tunnels that run underneath Humber College’s Lakeshore campus (details below). But a non-traditional gallery location poses its own challenge: beyond the dirt, dust, and spiderwebs the tunnels are an historic site that date back to the late 19th century. Service tunnel or no – we really don’t want to be drilling into the walls. As luck would have it, those pipes that obstruct the view during our historic tours are coming in handy! There’s one set that runs the length of the walls at just the “right” height for what we needed.

So this morning before the Interpretive Centre opened for the day, I was in the tunnels with one of our Field Placement students, Nadine Finlay. We came armed with a collection of different wires to see which would fit behind the pipes, be strong enough to hold the frames, and – most importantly – which would look best.

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Less than an hour later we had weighed the options and made our choices. Next step: sorting out how to construct a standing frame to hold a 4′ x 5′ print….

Curious about what will be hanging off those wires? Secrets of an ever changing landscape, the tunnel exhibition will feature the mixed media collection that Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward originally created for our Instagram Takeover last fall. The collection includes animated GIFs, pastel drawings, acrylic paintings on wood, collage work, and photographs all inspired by the former campus of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital and the grounds surrounding it, including Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

Join us on Saturday, February 25th between 11am – 5pm to see the show. Access will be through the newly renovated G Building at 17 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive. The location, including access to the tunnels, is mobility accessible.  

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