The sorry tale of the first and LAST time I read a sad book in public.

The following is my response to reading:

The Last of the Curlews (1955)

by Fred Bodsworth

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The Eskimo Curlew, painted by John James Audubon. Frequently used as a cover image for the novel.

Charged with creating a reference inventory for the Interpretive Centre’s books one day, the cover of Fred Bodsworth’s book repeatedly caught my eye. I saved the book until last so I could read a few pages, just to satisfy my curiosity. My next hour and a half were quickly consumed (don’t tell Jennifer!) with reading The Last of the Curlews cover to cover. The concept of mass extinction is not uncommon for our area of Ontario, both the Eskimo Curlew and Passenger Pigeon had once been described as the most numerous birds in the world, with populations reported in the high millions.

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Eskimo Curlew on display at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Bodsworth’s book takes a different angle on the topic by providing a fictional account of the last of the Eskimo Curlews and the search – in vain – for more of it’s species. The overall theme of the book predicts the extinction of the Curlew, a full decade before the final confirmed sighting in Canada in 1963. Akin to the Passenger Pigeon, the Eskimo Curlew was wantonly slaughtered for food across the Americas, with as many as two million killed per year in the 1940s-50s.

An interesting mix of omniscient narration, and a peek into the instinct-driven mind of our Curlew, kept me reading intently. The solo migration between the Arctic and Patagonia highlights the Curlew’s strength, speed, endurance, and remarkable drive for survival. As can be surmised from the title, the narrator and reader alike can infer the ultimate outcome for our Hero.

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A lone Eskimo Curlew, as painted by Archibald Thorburn 

This book was an enthralling awakening to the reality of our influence on nature and I found myself much more sympathetic to the smaller cousin of the Curlew, the Whimbrel – featured in the Interpretive Centre’s current exhibit, Bird’s Eye View – as well as a deeper understanding and respect for birds across the world. Moving forward, this book raises issues relevant in contemporary conservation efforts. While the Eskimo Curlew is widely believed to be extinct (more on this debate in a future post), there are still species we can support through collaborative efforts, mindfulness, and lifestyle changes. In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the late Bodsworth:

“…Man is an inescapable part of all nature, that its welfare is his welfare, that to survive, he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside.”

        -Fred Bodsworth (2003) (RYELL, 2012)

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Fred Bodsworth (photo via Terry Smith)

Find yourself in need of a book to read, or interested in The Last of the Curlews? Drop by the Interpretive Centre during our opening hours, and cozy up in our space!

*Blankets and reading socks not included*

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Stumble Upon Nature: There Are Riches All Around Us

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Queen Ann’s Lace by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15779192

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017 a group of local nature enthusiasts joined Richard Aaron and the staff of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre on a walk of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

The weather was fine for a walk; not too cool and not too hot. Shady, though threatening to rain; it thankfully held off until after the tour.

There were over twenty of us, all told. The youngest was around four, and the age ranges in the group meant that our guide was asked quite a diversity of questions. Sometimes he was asked how to remove ticks, or tell the difference between two closely related plant species, and sometimes he was asked “what’s this?… what’s this?… what’s that?” including what kind of grass that was on the side of the path. I don’t think many adults would actually ask that question on a tour, we tend to take the grass for granted, and that was just one of the ways the young folks added a lot to the day.

But we did find lots of things other than grass on the walk: sidewalk mushrooms (relatives of the button and cremini mushrooms you buy at the store), Queen Anne’s lace (which is related to carrots and attracts bugs with a black spot in the centre of its flowers), and even a snake (likely a garter snake, but sadly squished on the road, so hard to identify).

The diversity and beauty of the birds of the park are justifiably one of its highlights, but it was lovely to get out and learn about some of the other creatures that call it home.

After all, it takes a whole ecology to hatch a single chick!

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From the Curator: the flock is starting to assemble

IMG_6365June 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!)

IMG_6394.JPGOne 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.

IMG_6398.JPGOnce 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.

2 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive

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