Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Where is the Ice?

January… the first "real" month of winter is about to pass us by and I have yet to find safe ice to go fishing here in the Greater Hamilton Area.
Typically by this time of year – I have made three or four ice fishing trips to local Conservation Areas such as Valens, Fifty Point, Binbrook, Pinehurst and even the Hamilton Harbor.  These locations have been reporting less than the recommended levels of safe ice and/or open water hazards that have kept me at home in my “man cave” – setting up ice fishing gear over and over again.

Frustration is running large amongst ice fishing enthusiasts.   Ice Fishing Derbies have been postponed or even cancelled outright due to the lack of ice producing cold temperatures.  The long range weather forecast is predicting February to be much of the same.   With temperatures clearly reporting above average levels for this time of year, you have got to start to wonder if we are running out of time for having the outdoor ice surface that we have become accustomed to, during our winters.

Plus it is not only the ice anglers that will lose out…add to the list those people who partake in ice skating, pond hockey, Ice Fest, even the cross country skiers are taking a hit.  Is this how we are to remember the winter of 2012?   Is this the effect of global warming and climate change all in one season?  What or how, do we predict our future winters will feel or look like?

As much as it is to my chagrin…I am still holding out to the thought of getting some time on the ice this winter.  With winter – “it’s never quite over, till it’s over”.

Gordon R. Costie
Valens Conservation Area

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

So this is Hamilton...

"Hamilton Conservation Authority". When I first read those words as a recent university grad on a job hunt, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. To be honest I didn’t really know what a Conservation Authority was. And my thoughts of Hamilton most certainly weren’t that of Conservation. 

I’d lived in Niagara nearly all of my life and really only knew of Hamilton as that place on the side of the QEW with all the smoke stacks. I will admit that it was a very limited perspective, but one I think many have while travelling over the Skyway bridge. It wasn’t until I started working at HCA that my view of the city (that I now call home) changed. 

As part of my training as a new HCA employee, I was given a tour of our watershed which was a real eye opener for me. I learned that not only does Hamilton have trees, but there are lots of them! It also turns out that there are a lot of waterfalls here too! Those of us from Niagara Region are taught to believe that we have the most beautiful and unique spots across the NiagaraEscarpment. After all, it is the ‘Niagara’ Escarpment, but it became obvious rather quickly that Hamilton poses some pretty stiff competition. 

Places like Christie Lake and Valens Conservation Areas showed me that it doesn’t take a 5 hour car ride to get out of the city and actually feel like you are out of the city. My drive to work in the Dundas Valley is certainly nothing to complain about either, and is quite a nice change from the hustle and bustle of downtown. 

Every now and again people will crack jokes about Hamilton, and now I find that I am the first to defend my new home. Not many people can walk out the door of their workplace and onto a hiking trail. There’s really no better way to find out what’s out there until you get out and experience if for yourself... and until you do, you truly won’t know what you’re missing. 

Brittany B.
HCA Information Services

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Dofasco Trail and Bird Watching – What Gives This winter?

If you haven't been out enjoying the mild winter yet, you are missing out on an incredible birding season in Hamilton. So far this January there have been two hot spots for birds in Hamilton, one, along the Bayfront Trail below Dundurn Castle, where significant rare warblers have been found since the middle of December. Which leaves the second hotspot, the Dofasco Trail. The east end of the Dofasco Trail has been known as a bird watching hotspot for some time now, and this winter it has proven itself to be very popular with not only the birds but also with bird watchers (including myself).

The centre of the activity on the Dofasco Trail is right where the trail intersects with 10th line and the Railroad tracks. If you want to see a variety of raptors, hawks and owls, this winter it seems these two hotspots  are going to be the place to be in Hamilton. 

Redtail Hawks, Harriers (Marsh Hawks), Kestrels (Sparrow Hawks), Rough Legged Hawks, Turkey Vultures  and Northern Shrikes have all been spotted where the trail crosses  10th Line.  So far Short Eared Owls have not been spotted, but they should be showing up soon, (if history repeats itself like other winters). Short Eared Owls are usually seen flying over nearby fields just before dusk, searching for their prey. 
Hawks are common in the winter but they have been seen in unusually high numbers this season, and have brought along  some rare birds with them.

You may find yourself asking "Bruce what is with all of the hawks?" The answer simply put is the abundunce of Meadow Voles, and right now there is no snow cover making the voles easier for aerial predators to find them. Meadow Voles also know as field mice, are small rodents that are dark brown or grey in colour, have four short legs and burrow in the grass where their tunnels are in places that are easily visible in the tussocks of grass even in the low wet fields.

Harriers are not unknown as winter visitors to the agricultural areas in Hamilton but at 10th Line, they are almost guaranteed to be spotted, and up to four at a time!
Rough Legged Hawks find their winter home in Southern Ontario. They summer in the Arctic. They come in two colour phases, light and dark. Light phases have only been seen so far.  They are about the size of Redtails but appear to have narrower wings and may be seen hovering low over the fields searching for rodents.
Both Adult and immature Redtails can be seen. The adult has the rusty red tail and the immature hawks have a brownish tail. They are both the same size.

The Northern Shrike, a rare bird, at any time is usually seen in the field that is full of hawthorn trees which happens to be north of the trail immediately east of 10th line. It is a small aerial predator not much bigger then a blue jay. They feed on small birds like sparrows and meadow voles.  Shrikes are known as butcher birds. They often will impale their prey on the sharp thorns on hawthorns. For more information on shrikes check out Conservation Halton, Mountsberg Raptor Centre video all on Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes

In this same area a Bobolink has been seen in the field to the south of the railroad tracks and to the east of 10th Line. Bobolinks are rare in the summer and to see one in January is astonishing (considering they usually flock south to Argentina.) In the same fields you may also see Eastern Meadowlarks. Again another bird that should be much further south. These birds are not expected to be around much longer as the real winter starts to set in.
In this area bird watchers are also seeing Horned Meadowlarks. The novice bird watcher may have some trouble in finding all of these species but there are plenty of other birds that are easy to identify.

To find some easy birds walk along the Dofasco Trail west of 8th Line along the Vinemount Swamp Boardwalk heading west. There is good flock of Robins there feeding on Buckthorn black berries.  Yes Virginia, there are Robins in Hamilton in the winter especially where there is open water and Buckthorn trees. 

Along the Boardwalk expect to see Black Capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays and Winter Wrens. Winter Wrens are the smallest bird in the swamp and sometimes they make themselves easy to see. The wrens are usually hiding under the boardwalk and fly out from under it when they hear your footsteps. Look for a small brown bird with a small tail trying to hide from you.

Even if you are not interested in birds, the Dofasco Trail with Ontario’s longest boardwalk is always exciting. The Dofasco Trail runs from the Devil’s Punch Bowl on the Stoney Creek Mountain to 11th Line in Winona. 

Remember to keep your eyes and ears open and you may just spot one of the many birds in the area, this winter. 

Bruce Mackenzie
Manager Customer Service & Operations. 
Hamilton Conservation Authority