Friday, 25 July 2014

Michigan Lilies in Stoney Creek.                

By Bruce Mackenzie

Something new popped up this June along the Dofasco Trail!

The Dofasco Trail - on the Mountain in Stoney Creek - passes through many different habitats and there are always some surprises to please the trail walker. We often think of wild flowers as adorning the forest in the spring. Spring wild flowers take advantage of the sunshine in the forest before the leaves come out on the trees that shade the forest floor. After the trees create their canopy of leaves overhead wildflowers mostly disappear from the shaded forest floor. There are some exceptions of course, and the Michigan Lily is one.

The lily starts growing in April but because of its large size it is not ready to bloom until the end of June with just exceptional orange blooms. The Michigan Lily is not commonly found in our area so it is a real treat when one comes across it. If you find one you are likely to find a hundred or more. At the very east end of the Dofasco Trail there is a lovely woodlot that the trail cuts through just west of the 11th Line. Here the Michigan Lily grows along the trail. Most of them are just on the other side of the fence (private property) but all are easily viewed from the trail. They are pretty big plants so their beauty can be enjoyed close and at more of a distance.

Michigan Lilies are normally considered plants to be found in Tall Grass Prairies in Ohio and Michigan and points west. Finding them growing in the woodlot is indeed a treat. They are perennial plants that sprout each year and they grow from a corm. A corm acts like a bulb. The lily’s corm has the appearance more like a funny clump of white rice. They generally spread by seeds released in the fall.  They grow up to almost 2 m. in height and depending upon their age the number of blooms on each plant will increase. As many as ten blooms on one plant have been found. Most of the plants in this woodlot are about a meter in height with 2 or 3 blooms.  Canada Day always seems to be when the blooms seem to be at peak.  The show usually lasts until mid July.

This June there was a whole new stand of these lilies next to the trail with several hundred plants. But this new patch is not in the woodlot but just adjacent to it on the east side of the woods in a most beautiful meadow. Here the plants are growing in full sunshine and in full competition with the grasses, milkweeds and vetches. Wow, what a sight… but why this year? Lilies have not been seen growing here before.

Well, one difference this year is that cattle that normally graze in this field have not been put out in this pasture to date. Just maybe in the past the cows have taking a liking to nibbling on Michigan Lilies in the past. This year we can thoroughly enjoy the fact that the cows are somewhere else. We will wait to see what happens in June next year.

So keep your eyes out for the brilliant orange blooms of the Michigan Lily along the Dofasco Trail. If you miss the Michigan Lily don’t be disappointed for there are many more flowering plants along the trail that will be blooming throughout the summer and into October. The Yellow Jewelweed is another favorite that is found along various sections of the Dofasco Trail.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Farm Crawl with HCA

A variety of farms opened up their doors and fields to the community this past weekend at another successful Farm Crawl, this time on the western edge of Hamilton. This area's farms, are big on community and on sharing their products and way of life. Saturday was overcast and rainy, but people flooded into the fields.  Ticket sales were estimated at several hundred, not including the many children who could learn and take part for free. This family and community orientated day exemplified the importance of agriculture as an industry and a lifestyle.

The Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy along with the Hamilton Halton Stewardship
Program were graciously hosted by Weirs Lane Lavender and Apiary for the afternoon. The Hamilton Halton Watershed Stewardship Program had assisted the farm establish a native/pollinator garden. This project would benefit their bee keeping and lavender honey-making venture, but the garden also provides a living teaching tool.

The staff of Weirs Lane Lavender and Apiary are enthusiastic about not only their craft, but also in their roles as hosts and teachers that day. The Hamilton Conservation Authority’s Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy were there in recognition of the farm’s commitment to the community. This agricultural leadership is community focused, and will help preserve and enhance the Dundas Valley as it is today and how it could be tomorrow.

If you'd to view these farms and their products and practices, please follow the links below to their webpages for contact information.  Click here for information on the conservation efforts and the work of the Hamilton Halton Watershed Stewardship Program (including the pollinator garden at Lavender Apiary).

Click here for more on the Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy or complete our survey if you have any ideas or comments about the Dundas Valley area now and in the future.

Hamiton Farm Crawl http://www.farmcrawlhamilton.ca
ManoRun Organic Farm http://www.manorun.com/
Lotsa Hostas & Jerry’s Berry’s http://www.jerrysberries.ca/
Weir’s Lane Lavender and Apiary http://www.weirslanelavender.com/

John Williams
Project Manager; Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy
Hamilton Conservation Authority

Friday, 18 July 2014

Experience Valens Lake Conservation Area

Have you ever wanted to just get away from it all, but don't want to travel hours away from home to get away? While your in luck Valens Lake Conservation Area boosts many qualities of the great north while being just a short drive from the city. If you have yet to discover the wilderness of Valens Lake you have a great opportunity to explore what nature has to offer, if you have been there before you will be able to relate to our friend Jeff who most highly recommends the area. 

Read Jeff's story below and be inspired to make your next trip to Valens Lake Conservation Area!



We go to Valens all year round, and just love it.  It is like being in Algonquin Park. When we stay overnight camping, it feels like we are in a different place, far from our home in Hamilton. In fact my wife commutes to work in Burlington from our site. Our children are reacquainted with nature, and you can be put to sleep listening to the coyotes howling along with the many night birds and frogs. Looking around at night at other campfires and hearing all the night sounds makes it tough to believe we are in Hamilton!


Scientifically, four hours walking the beautiful trails in Valens gives you ten days worth of feeling of well being!

You can also bring or rent a boat and float around and fish on the lake.  No motors.

We have been going for years and always get our annual membership, so that we can go anytime we want!  It is a great way to get the kids interested in nature (their electronics get shut off at the gate).  We have seen myriad frogs and butterflies, hawks and many other birds including owls, turtles, racoons, and deer there.  Being there stretches the day into another of many treasured Valens memories.

We feel ownership in a way, regarding Valens.  There is a big field where kids gather and play and a nice quiet beach.  Most highly recommended!

Jeff. 




Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Do It Yourself Composter that Works!


A Composter That Works!!

This is a basic outline describing a composter built at home.  Organic matter broke down so fast that one to two feet of finished compost could be removed from the bottom of both composters every year.  The composters are wood and are painted black.  The black colour blends in with the colour of the asphalt driveway.  The driveway is a very handy location especially in winter when snow is on the ground.

We never mixed or stirred the material in the composter.  We just left it alone and it broke down.

It is not necessary to purchase new materials to construct composters. Materials used to construct these two composters were:
 
v  wood from one or two skids or solid scrap wood

v  two or three old metal hinges

v  screws (not nails)

v  hardware cloth

v  U – shaped hooks to attach the hardware cloth to the inside of the composter

The frame of the composters were built first.  Then the side slats were attached. Slats were situated far enough apart so that the organic matter in the composter was exposed to air.
 
Once composter construction was complete, the sides and top were lined on the inside with hardware cloth of a mesh size small enough to prevent animals from entering the composter. 

An access point was constructed at the bottom front of the composters so that finished compost could be removed easily.

Remove finished compost slowly in case there is a mouse in the composter.
 
 

Location of the Composter – VERY IMPORTANT

These composters were situated so that air was able to circulate around all four sides.  They are exposed to full sun and precipitation.  A composter works most efficiently if it is exposed to weather.  The composting material will not smell if it is able to breakdown properly.

These composters were placed on solid level ground.  Solid ground can be asphalt, cement, or patio stones.  This prevents animals from burrowing underneath the composter and getting into it.  It also provides a clean surface to work on when removing finished compost.  Worms and other organisms do not need to be purchased and added to the composter.  Worms and other organisms that break down organic matter will find their way into the composter naturally even if it is situated on asphalt, cement or patio stones.

Animals, other than mice and chipmunks have never gotten into our composter.  We used to have a different composter located in the backyard situated on bare soil.  Animals dug underneath it to get at the organic matter.  That does not happen now with the composter located on the driveway.

 
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions about these composters.  They were constructed separately and then joined in the middle to make a little storage shelf.

Sheila O'Neal
Watershed Stewardship Manager
At Hamilton Conservation Authority Office:
905-525-2181 Ext. 164
soneal@conservationhamilton.ca
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
At Conservation Halton Office:
905-336-1158 Ext. 2315
soneal@hrca.on.ca
 
 


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spring comes to the Hamilton Harbour Watersheds



By March, the worst of the winter would be over. The snow would thaw, the rivers begin to run and the world would wake into itself again.
Not that year.
Winter hung in there, like an invalid refusing to die. Day after grey day the ice stayed hard; the world remained unfriendly and cold.”
Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

The above quote pretty well sums up our situation here in the Hamilton Harbour watersheds. Following a very cold and snowy winter, spring has arrived. The presence of a polar vortex this winter has kept us in its frigid grip. In a changing climate we fully expect that extreme weather events will be the new norm. The question remains are we ready to deal with these events? 

This winter saw snow and ice accumulations in excess of the 30 year average for the month of February. Temperatures for January and February were 4 to 5 degrees colder. The ice storm in December kicked off winter and was very quickly followed by a number of significant snow storms. Snow has been on the ground since December and accumulation has risen to some of the highest we’ve seen in the Hamilton area. Lower winter temperatures have allowed for thicker ice formation in creeks and ponds, making the potential for ice jams and associated flooding a real concern.



With no January thaw this year, a spring melt will generate higher than normal flows in local streams and creeks. Also of concern this year is the remnant impact of the ice storm in December as trees and other vegetation that were broken and damaged during the ice storm are now washed into creeks and carried downstream. The potential for debris jams is high which in turn elevates the potential for flooding. 

This spring, temperatures have remained below normal and this has allowed for our runoff to local creeks to be more gradual. However there has been strong daytime melting and the power of water can be daunting and should never be underestimated.


Spring is the time of year when rivers and creeks are hard at work moving sediment and
water from the headwaters of their watersheds to the confluence with a larger river or lake. As water and sediment are transported along a stream corridor important work is being done to shape the bed and banks and this allows the creek to armour itself against erosion. Higher flows now mean that a creek can access its floodplain and create new life by providing excellent conditions (nutrients, moisture etc.) for various floodplain species to grow and thrive. There is a natural balance as creeks carry on this work.
 
As creeks empty into Cootes Paradise there is a calming effect as the water flow slows down and water levels rise and empty into Hamilton Harbour.


The contribution of surrounding watersheds via their creeks to Hamilton Harbour is enormous. Contributions include water, sediment, ice and debris. The Harbour reflects these contributions and the resulting conditions are what you see which starts with the spring freshet.

Happy Spring!


Hazel Breton
Manager of Water Resource Engineering
Hamilton Conservation Authority 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Snow please!

Winters like these are few and far between and I can’t quite remember having as much snow in a winter since I was a kid.  I have to say, it’s awesome! I love living in Southern Ontario and experiencing the great outdoors in all four seasons.

If given the choice, I’d much rather have a winter with snow than without – maybe  because apartment living means no shoveling, but maybe it’s because there’s nothing quite like seeing the trees with a fresh coating of snow and feeling as if someone has just shaken up the snow globe. A winter with snow allows for some pretty awesome winter sport opportunities.

Working within the heart of the Dundas Valley, lunchtime hikes are a regular occurrence (I know –I’m lucky!). It’s amazing how a quick 15 or 20 minute hike can clear your head and not to mention, burn a few calories! I love hiking in the winter, seeing all the fresh tracks and figuring out what wildlife has recently trekked through the same spot - sweating less is a bonus too!


I even tried cross country skiing this year for the first time after a little (or a lot) of convincing. Having only downhill skied in the past, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to just glide around but hitting the trails at Christie Lake helped me realize what all the hype was about. I fell over a few times, had some good laughs and a ton of fun.

I’m looking forward to having my first ice fishing experience at Valens Lake next month for the Ice Fishing Derby. Maybe I’ll even catch a big one and you can look forward to reading my next blog on that time I caught a fish that was thiiiiiiis big!

Having so many winter sports waiting at your doorstep, there’s no need to bundle up and hibernate all winter (well ok maybe just on those -40C…or even -30C days). Whether it’s a hike, skiing, snowshoeing or even fishing, you better hurry up and get outside before all that white stuff melts away…

Brittany Berlinghoff
Hamilton Conservation Authority

Monday, 27 January 2014

A Messy Surprise but Lucky Deer



Seldom is there a time of year when beast or human can travel through or over the fen in the Fletcher
Creek Ecological Preserve in Puslinch Township.

At the end of January the snow cover on the fen was about 35 cm deep. With the freeze thaw cycles that we have been experiencing the snow was very crusty. Not hard enough to support a person on foot but on cross country skis or snow shoes you didn’t sink at all. Also taking advantage of this crusty snow were some deer making their way out over the fen with their tracks visible in a number of places.

Other than at times like this, deer are not likely to travel onto the fen because of the very soft wet soils. The sparse vegetation growing on the fen in the spring and summer is also not likely to be at the top of their menu choice.

What is a fen anyway?  A fen is one of the four types of wetland and they are very rare in Southern Ontario. A fen for many of us might look like a wet field. By definition a fen is a wetland that has water flowing through it all year but the water has a low amount of nutrients in it and thus the vegetation that can grow in it are only plants that have adapted to grow in wet and low nutrient environments.At our fen the vegetation is mostly sedges, rushes, some grasses and mosses. We might want to call this fen a marsh as marshes have water flowing through them as well but the water in a marsh carries higher levels of nutrients and you find plants like cattails, smartweeds and other succulent emergent water plants. Marshes are highly productive wetlands with plants that grow quickly and can recover from disturbance fairly well.  The plants in fens grow slowly and disturbances in fens may last for countless years before they can heal themselves.

The fen in the Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve (FCEP) is likely the only fen in the watershed of the Hamilton Conservation Authority. It is a couple of hectares in size. The water flowing through our fen is low in nutrients because it comes from springs that are found in and around FCEP. These spring waters are one the major sources of Spencer Creek. The springs come from the aquifer known as the Galt moraine that lies at the northern boundary of FCEP. The rain water flows down through the gravelly hills of the moraine, a glacial deposit, and some of this water comes back to the surface as springs. When the water comes out of the ground it is clean and pure, low in nutrients and 10 degrees Celsius all year round. The creeks draining these springs in the FCEP never freeze in winter because the water starts off so warm.   

The fen at FLCP is special in its own way. It sits on top of about 2 meters of peat. Anything trying to travel over the fen will simply sink most of the time. The plants are sparse and their root network is not strong enough to support the weight of large mammals. This peat has been accumulating in a shallow depression left on the landscape after the glaciers left this area around 16,000 years ago. Over this time what started out as shallow lake has filled in with organic debris, peat, and today we have our fen.

There is a small creek that meanders through the fen and it carries a lot of water but water also travels
through the entire fen, just slower. Think of the fen as a giant sponge about 300 m or so across and 2 meters thick. Wow!

The creek here is special too. It is kind of floating on the fen as it travels through it. Creeks are usually found at the bottom of a ravine or valley. Our creek here has a visible current at the surface but it is running over 2 meters of very very saturated muck. What looks likes a creek to your eyes is almost bottomless to your foot. Once the creek leaves the fen and travels through the forest it has a hard gravelly bottom like most creeks do.

So back to the deer and why they might not travel in the fen very much. Take a look at the picture. (Sorry, it is not the best photo.) Here two deer were travelling over the crusty snow and tried to jump the creek that winds its way through the fen. Normally jumping this short distance for a deer would be easy but the crusty snow gave it a spongy take off platform and they only made it half way across the creek . When the deer landed in the middle of the creek they would have sunk almost completely into what scientists refer to as loon muck (they actually use another word because of the smell of this sulphur rich muck but we will just call it muck). To us it would be like jumping into quick sand. The deer would have had to struggle with great difficulty in trying to get a footing to get out the creek. Think of swimming in a pool of jello. The large amount of muck shown on the snow on the other side of the creek shows the amount of loon muck and yuck that fell from the deer and was shook off as they travelled towards the forest.

I can sort of hear the first deer say “Oh Muck, watch out” to the other one but the warning was too
late. As they headed towards the forest I think the second one was heard saying, “ Oh you just had to take the short cut, now look at us, we smell like Muck.”

In other areas of the fen where the deer travelled the creek is much narrower and the deer stepped across from one snow bank to another. Here the deer might have gotten a little too confident about the first step. If you are up in Puslinch Township and you see some dirty deer you now know why. They will likely stink for weeks.

In the Hamilton area we have only one fen, lots of marshes, lots of treed swamps and one true floating mat bog in Copetown. 

Bruce Mackenzie
Director of Customer Services