June has been an incredibly busy month – and yet also a wonderfully enjoyable one. We’ve been working on our next exhibit – Bird’s Eye View – that is set to launch on Wednesday, July 5 at 6pm (you’re all invited).
For the exhibit we’re looking at the rich bird life of Colonel Samuel Smith Park through the ways in which humans have been actively supporting different species. I find it hard to pick my favourite part: we’ve just installed a beautiful rainbow collage of the different species that are attracted to the dogwoods planted by the TRCA and community volunteers, we’re putting the final edits on a short documentary about the dedicated members of the Whimbrel Watch, today we constructed a new nesting box for the tree swallow section… and the list goes on (I can’t reveal everything pre-launch!)
One of my favourite parts of working at the Interpretive Centre is the amount of hand-on construction and design that we do with each project we tackle. But the best part for me so far with Bird’s Eye View has been the new partnerships we’ve formed. Working with both Humber and community partners alike on this project through every stage – from conception to install – has made for a rich experience. We are located in community filled with creative minds who have been incredibly generous with their ideas, their time, and even their personal collections. So really, the part of the exhibit that I am truly excited to unveil on July 5th are the products of these relationships.
Once Bird’s Eye View launches next week I will be sharing a few of the stories and more behind-the-scenes photos of how this exhibit has been truly collaborative in nature. In the meantime, be sure to mark your calendars for the launch event next week!
Launch of Bird’s Eye View
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Start: 6pm; remarks and artists’ reflections at 6:30pm. Light refreshments will be provided.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
This is the third 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. (You can read the first post here and the second post here).
After much planning and research, we are proud to announce that CHIME Digital Exhibit is now live! We invite you to visit lakeshoregrounds.ca/chime and explore all of our five pillars! This project has really become a labour of love for our members, and we are so proud to finally be able to lift the curtain on our exhibits and show off all our hard work.
In the theme of reveals, we thought this blog post was a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to you! If you have been following along with the progress of our project you are aware that our name CHIME stands for the five themed pillars; College, Hospital, Indigenous, Movies, and Ecology. Each of our pillars has its own curator, get to know them below!
Teachers’ College – Leila
Leila’s research of the Teachers’ College which once called Humber’s A & B buildings home began with a general survey of the history of the College, but quickly evolved into a passion project studying the architecture of the former Teachers’ College. She has been travelling around the city visiting the Archives of Ontario to examine architectural drawings and has even partnered with a local architect to recreate the models of what the Teachers’ College may have looked like during its height of use. When asked about her work Leila said that she “hopes my exhibition helps visitors to become aware and admire the effect of such a modern architecture would have had the cohorts of Canadian educators who were educated here during the 1950s.”
Psychiatric Hospital – Heather
In January Heather began to delicately and respectfully investigate the history of the Psychiatric Hospital which once called the Etobicoke-Lakeshore area home. Heather closely consulted Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre staff for guidance to ensure her exhibit was both an educational and respectful experience for the viewer. What excites Heather most about her exhibit is that it can be used as walking guide of campus, through this she used the physical changes of the area to show the evolution of treatment of mental illness in Canada which occurred over the 89 years the hospital was operational.
Indigenous – Nadine
Our fearless leader Nadine has been working tirelessly researching the Indigenous heritage of the Etobicoke Lakeshore and the greater Toronto area. Through her research Nadine explores the many historic trading paths which intersect across the city. Due to the volume and use of these paths many of them have over the course of time become the main roads we still use today! It is Nadine’s hope that this exhibit will educate views about the history of the area as well as encourage a new appreciation for contemporary indigenous culture.
Movies – Maya
Maya’s pillar is one all film fans will want to pay close attention to! She’s been looking into the use of the Lakeshore Grounds as a filming location for popular film and television. Did you know that last summer’s blockbuster hit Suicide Squad was filmed here on campus?! Through her research Maya has developed a surefire guide to spotting filming crews on campus to share with viewers! Who knows what movie the area will pop-up in next?
Ecology – Hillary
Hillary has designed her exhibit as an invitation for viewers to get outside and explore the beautiful landscapes of the Etobicoke Lakeshore area. Through her research she had become familiar with the countless plants and animals who call Colonel Samuel Smith Park home. Did you know over 270 different species of birds live in the park? Our park is even home to Canada’s new national bird, the Gray Jay! Take a walk through the park yourself and see how many different types of flora and fauna you can spot! Hillary hopes that through this exhibit you will feel inspired to advocate for the protection of the Etobicoke Lakeshore area and all the creatures who call it home.
The CHIME Digital Exhibits team truly hopes that you enjoy our exhibit as much as we have enjoyed writing and designing it for you this term. We would also like to express our deepest thanks to Jennifer from the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre for all of her help and guidance through this process.
This is a special guest post from Nancy Barrett of Nature’s Dance Photography. As part of her current exhibit, Through A Lens, Brightly, we asked Nancy to share with us a reflection on her approach to birding and to photography.
Through A Lens, Brightly is on display on the third floor of Humber’s Student Welcome and Resource Centre until April 29, 2017.
I have been keenly interested in the natural world around us since childhood. My early years were spent exploring the wild spaces just beyond my grandparents’, and later my parents’, backyards in north Etobicoke, near the Humber River, right at the edge of encroaching suburban development. There was so much to discover: birds, bugs, and beasts of all kinds; frogs and toads and snakes, oh my! My parents, bless them, disguised their revulsion well when I came home to show off my latest discovery, an Eastern Gartersnake, so that I never feared wild things.
The first bird that made a significant impression on me was a beautiful male Indigo Bunting that had unfortunately struck our window. I wondered at this tiny, incredibly jewel-toned creature…a wonder that has never dimmed in the years since.
As a young woman, I joined the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now ON Nature), a non-profit dedicated to the protection of wild species and spaces through conservation and education, which opened up the boundaries of my world by leaps and bounds. Through them, I immediately gained valuable mentors and lifelong friends and connections and travelled to wild spaces such as Rainy River/Lake of the Woods, horse-trekking through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Algonquin Provincial Park, and adult summer nature camps on the Bruce Peninsula. A memorable trip in 1985 to Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island triggered a new-formed obsession: bird listing, or “twitching” (an effort to see and record as many different species as possible in a region; I’ve seen 349 out of a recorded 494 species in Ontario). Along with each new species grew the desire to document every new thing I was seeing on film, to learn more, see more. I joined more organizations, including the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO), the Toronto Ornithological Club (TOC) and, through the wonderful people I’ve met in the park, the Friends of Sam Smith (FOSS).
Together, my friends and family and I chased rarities throughout the province (and sometimes outside it—we once drove down into upstate New York to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, successfully, and back home in one afternoon). Meanwhile, with the help of knowledgeable mentors, my familiarity with field marks, songs and calls, migration patterns, feeding and behaviour grew, providing a deep insight into my photographic subjects (no longer just birds, but also butterflies, dragonflies, wildflowers and more), and helping to inform what I wished to convey through my images. I can see that vision still developing and becoming clearer as I compare my early efforts with newer images; it morphs and changes.
I began exploring Col. Sam Smith Park in 2008, visiting through all seasons and capturing the subtle changes that occur as each season progresses. From pussy willows in spring to the last fallen leaf in autumn, I became familiar with the different mini-habitats throughout the park, which itself began largely as lakefill and which has naturalized beautifully into the biodiverse sanctuary it is today. Spring and fall migrant birds are drawn every year to the inviting green space projecting out from the lakeshore, a place to rest and feed before continuing their journey north to breeding areas.
A special feature of the park is the annual Whimbrel migration, peaking around May 24. Whimbrels are large, curve-billed shorebirds which appear every year, swirling around above the shoreline, filling the air with their whistling calls.
Many birds also stay to breed in the park, including Red-necked Grebes, a diving bird that is at the eastern edge of its range here, and is now breeding in increasing numbers through caring people who provide anchored floating wooden nesting platforms each spring. Tree Swallows, an insect-eating species that is losing ground due to loss of suitable habitat, are provided with clean nest boxes in the meadow.
Just these two species alone have provided me many hours of serene observation and documentation of their life cycles: migration, courtship, nesting, raising young—all of these are available at close quarters. I’ve spent many lovely, meandering hours in the park, knowing that I’ll come across more treasures–a meadow full of dew-diademed Monarch Butterflies gathering for southward migration on a foggy morn, a Yellow Warbler feeding its newly-fledged youngster overhead; a Mink catching a fish right in front of me, a Snowy Owl gazing at me as she flies by.
There’s a common element to the encounters listed above—that the creatures felt comfortable enough to behave naturally, without fear or discomfort, in my presence. There should never be harassment or behaviour by people or their pets that prevents wild animals from feeding, looking after young around nest sites or dens, or the use of birding apps to call birds repeatedly, especially in breeding season. The employment of ethics in wildlife and nature photography is something I advocate as often and as strongly as possible, and in any case ultimately results in one-of-a-kind images.
I’ve learned to use natural cover to conceal myself whenever possible—trees, shrubs, slopes—to prevent disturbing the birds and other wildlife that I photograph. If there is no cover, I get down and flat as possible, and wait for natural behaviour to reappear. I once crawled through a crust of cormorant poop and fish bits to photograph some Black-bellied Plovers on a treeless island. I have never found the need to use special camouflage clothing—I just dress mostly in earth tones and try not to make fast movements.
It is here, in this wilderness in the city, that I learned a secret to observing and photographing wildlife—the ability to be still and quiet. It took a long time for me to understand the benefits of patience. At first, I was eager to get a little closer, just a little…and was almost always rewarded by an empty branch instead of a bird, or the back end of a turtle as it disappeared into the water. As for learning to be quiet, well, ask my friends—it’s not a quality I’m known for. But learn I did, and the resulting images showed it.
Friends sometimes ask me, “How did you see and photograph all this stuff in a city park? How do you find it?” I tell them all you have to do is slow down, put your smartphone on flight mode, breathe in deeply, and look around. I mean really look—at the sky, the water, the earth, the plants around you. Listen carefully–do you hear birds calling? Reach out–feel the furrowed bark of a tree. When you open yourself to even the smallest things, nature will open itself up to you.
I hope I will continue to draw inspiration from and create images of the wild spaces of this park for a long time to come.
“A photograph shouldn’t be just a picture, it should be a philosophy”