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…

It’s Live! CHIME Digital Exhibits Launches

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
Here we can see Leila completing a portion of her extensive research. Notice the historic photos of the area she was able to uncover!

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

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Here we see Heather putting the final touches on her pillar

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

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Here we see Nadine carefully editing each page of our exhibit in preparation for the launch

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

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Just this week film crews were spotted by our resident film set sleuth on campus!

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

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Here we see Hillary listening to some beautiful bird calls as part of her research. Listen to the call of the Gray Jay here.

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.

Until next time this is CHIME, chiming off.

 

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).

Direct from the Artist: Nancy Barrett

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.

1--Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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).

2--Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

3--Virginia Creeper Berries
Virginia Creeper Berries (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

4--Whimbrels
Whimbrels (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

5--Red-necked Grebes
Red-neck Grebes (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

6--Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

7--Snail and Berry
Snail and berry (Photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

8--Tree Swallow Fight
Tree Swallow fight (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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.

9--Painted Lady
Painted Lady (photo: Nancy Barrett)

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” 

–Amit Kalantri

Nancy Barrett

Nature’s Dance Photography

Flickr: Naturegirl99

Instagram: Naturegirl99

goldengooseproductions@yahoo.ca

Announcing CHIME Digital Exhibits

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CHIME Digital Exhibits logo

This is a special guest post submitted by the members of the CHIME Digital Exhibits group. It is the first in a series of posts that will document the group’s development of a digital exhibit that will feature the different histories of the Lakeshore Grounds.

As Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima once said, “Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.” As a heritage group, it’s a sentiment that we can’t help but latch onto, especially during a time when Humber College is rapidly expanding its scope and undergoing construction of numerous new facilities.

One of the most notable factors in making Humber’s Lakeshore campus a popular option for students is due to the character of the area. Rather than sitting in massive lecture halls and trudging through plain, industrial buildings to get to class or study, those who work and study on the Lakeshore Grounds get the unique opportunity to walk through history.

However, not everyone who studies here appreciates what they are a part of, and a new student project is aiming to fix that.

Launching at the end of the current semester is CHIME Digital Exhibits, an undertaking intended to promote awareness of the history and heritage of the Lakeshore Grounds and Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

Collaborating with the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, CHIME will be providing an interactive, five-part virtual exhibition on the heritage and ecology of the Etobicoke-Lakeshore area. The exhibit includes five pillars, which compose Humber’s history as well as the subjects from which the project name is formed: (teachers’) College, (psychiatric) Hospital, Indigenous community, Movie sets, and Ecological zone. Together, the exhibits will enhance community learning and facilitate involvement and contributions to the ongoing legacy of the area.

Being run by six students in Humber’s Arts Administration and Cultural Management Program, the CHIME Digital Exhibits group wants to encourage Humber students to learn about and appreciate the narrative of the neighborhood before Humber College, and engage the surrounding community with their cultural, historical, and ecological legacies.

The exhibit will be completely free to access and available for the general public to view, featuring exclusive documents, images, video, audio from all five pillars of the area’s history. Additionally, social media outlets are currently running in conjunction with the exhibit, encouraging students and community members to share their own stories about Etobicoke and Humber using the official #CHIMEin hashtag.

The webpage featuring the exhibit will launch on April 22, 2017 at lakeshoregrounds.ca

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CHIMEdigitalexh/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CHIMEdigitalexh

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chimedigitalexh/

For more information, or to contribute, contact: chimeinterpretive@gmail.com