Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

Johanna Powell is a journalist who fell in love with Lake Simcoe while bouncing across her waves in a sailboat. She is the founder and publisher of Lake Simcoe Living, a magazine and website that together celebrate life on the Lake Simcoe Watershed. The Lake Simcoe Living blog delivers additional news and comment about this beautiful and exciting a...rea. More

Looking at clouds from both sides

2018 08 11 billowBy David Hawke -- A trait shared by both weather forecasters and creative writers is the ability to accentuate the mundane, embellish the boring, until it becomes quite exciting.

To be a creative writer one does not need to be a weather forecaster, but to forecast the weather one does need a good aptitude for creative thinking.

          This can be seen daily in any forecast: “Tomorrow morning will have a 10-percent chance of showers, turning to 30-percent by afternoon.” In other words, dear reader, there is a 90-percent chance of sunshine in the morning, and despite the possibility of a few clouds floating in later on, still a 70-percent probability of continued sunshine!

So why the accent on the negative? Even though the day will be gloriously sunny, the small threat of rain takes precedence within the forecast, as if trying to shake your smug confidence in enjoying your vacation. Seems to me this negative-first system must have invented by some dour Scot whose clan motto is “Don’t enjoy the good stuff because sooner or later you’ll pay for it” (I can say this as a good part of my heritage is dour Scot).

The other part of creative weather forecasting is to make it sound so much worse than it really is: “A gentle breeze will waft about the countryside, occasionally being punctuated by damaging gusts of wind.” Therefore, don’t fall asleep in that hammock, dear vacationer, as you could wake up on the other side of Lake Simcoe! Oh sure, you can lay there, but be ever vigilant for that rogue gust… it can come out of nowhere! At any time! Never let your guard down, especially while on a relaxing vacation.

As we all well know, this summer has been wickedly hot, and oft heard are the good old sayings “Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk,” or “Must have been 104 in the shade.” Unfortunately, I believe Health Canada now prohibits the frying of eggs on sidewalks, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit is actually only 40 degrees in Celsius, and thereby loses a lot of verbal impact in the translation. May I suggest "Hot enough to melt your plastic-paper money"? No? Okay, you come up with something better.

Are weather forecasters happy giving us dire warnings of temperatures in the high 20s or even mid-30s? Nope, they feel we must have more drama in the daily report. So, in 1965, we Canadians came up with a system to make hot temperatures sound even more miserable, a thing called the Humidex (which sounds like a Superman archvillain to me, but then I wasn’t asked to be on the naming committee).

The Humidex ranking is based on a combination of air temperature in the shade and the humidity (or amount of moisture) in the air. Our human bodies have adapted to keep our inner selves at a more or less constant 38 degrees Celsius. This level of interior heating is optimum for destroying most fungal infections yet low enough to allow our body to metabolize the food we take in. When our body temperature rises above this magical level, we get feverish and cannot perspire fast enough to cool the body.

What all this medical talk means is that when the outside of your body is warmer than the inside, you feel sick. And that sums up the way most of us felt the last couple of weeks when the Humidex regularly approached 40 degrees! Of course, it probably wouldn’t have felt quite that bad had the Humidex scale not been invented… we would have just thought that, "Wow it seems hot for 32 degrees." Silly us.

The other thing about weather is that it happens all year long, which provides good employment opportunities for weather forecasters. But what happens when the temperatures are low and the dreaded Humidex can’t be used to scare weather listeners? Ah, that’s when the wind chill index comes into play.

Wind chill is a combination of air temperature and wind speed, with the resultant number being how cold you’d think it was if standing naked atop a snow bank. Minus 10C with a gusty wind (there’s that awful ‘gust’ brought into play again) makes you think it’s minus 20C, even though it’s actually just minus 10. But, if you are standing naked atop a snow bank, I don’t think you really care about these finer points of weather prognostication anyways; you probably have other things on your mind, like, "How did I get here?".

There should be a t-shirt manufacturer that can print up snappy slogans on a whim, with red and yellow colored wiggly lettering that says, “I survived Humidex 38!” or for the foolishly brave: “Humidex 41… bring it on!”.

Writers of the creative bent are allowed certain freedoms in their craft, their ability to embellish being an enviable trait to be emulated by those who follow their every keystroke. Thankfully, these writers do not regularly submit weather forecasts, or we’d end up with stories like: “Overnight, as you slumber peacefully, large cylindrical orbs of hydrogen and oxygen will stratify the area where you live; accompanying this liquid coverage of the earth will be gusts… woe, the gusts!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap on the hammock, even if there is a 3-percent chance of torrential rain… I think I can risk it.

© 2018 David J. Hawke

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Birdwatching - a look at the wild side

2018 05 11 hawke osprey        

By David Hawke -- "Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the boidies iz?"  While the origin of this little jingle is arguably from Ogden Nash, it has been recited in our family for years. And sure enough as spring arrived, albeit in a stormy and haphazard way, so have the birds.

          The act of birdwatching can be passive or intense, superfluous or in-depth. One may simply check off names (mentally or on paper) or one may opt to study bird behaviour in some detail. This column is about three observations of bird behaviours: the aggressive, the adaptive, and the normal.

          Beside our home is a shallow creek, along whose banks grow grand and ancient black maples. These great trees are beginning to die from old age and, high above the once strong limbs and trunks, are now riddled with decay and sprouting fungus shelves. Within one such sizeable branch is an excavated hole, perhaps about half the size of my fist. A week ago, you could see chips of wood being tossed out from this hole and catch an occasional glimpse of the hairy woodpecker busy inside.

          A couple of days ago, I heard a frantic commotion going on and upon investigation, found several birds down in the creek. As I approached, starlings, woodpeckers, sparrows and doves took flight in several directions. Left laying in the mud was a female hairy woodpecker, totally soaked, bloody and muddy. She had the energy left to hop up a nearby sapling and haul herself above my reach, but it was obvious that she was done for.

          I wondered how she had gotten herself into such a mess and was given the answer the next day. Again, a terrible fuss was heard, this time high above, near the nest hole. As I watched, the male hairy would poke his head out, and a starling, which was perched beside the entrance hole, would grab the woodpecker's head and try to pull it out! Such was the aggressive competition for nesting sites. Such was the fate of the female woodpecker the day before.

          The next bird observation took place along the busy paved road that connects us with the rest of the world. As I came home one evening I noted a large hawk-like bird rising from the field with prey in its talons. To cross the road, it had to fly through the telephone and hydro lines that parallel the pavement. With deft flipping and flapping, the bird managed to do so and continued on its flight across the next field.

         

          While that was interesting enough, the shock to me was that the bird was an osprey and the prey was a sizeable fish. But this was farm land. Just as I went zooming by, I noticed that a medium-sized pond had been built within the rolling three-acre lawn of a neighbour. And within this artificial pond had been placed fish.

          Imagine the osprey's line of thought as it flew by: “Hmm. A pond, in a field, with fish. Cool, I can live with that.” And it is. The question remains, can the landowner who created the pond and stocked the fish now live with the osprey who has adapted its area of hunting?  

          The third observation was made just outside the growing mini-metropolis I call my home town. What were once large and undulating farm fields are now filled with box-like houses, box-like stores and straight rows of paved roads. But along the borders of this “progress” can still be found grassy strips and shrubby lots, land too small or too awkward to access to be considered “valuable land.”

          Within such a grassy slope a red-tailed hawk spied a garter snake and dove down to capture it. (No doubt the nearby mice were thankful that something else had caught the eye of the hawk that day.) For the past several decades prior to the arrival of “progress” this small field had been home to a wide array of creatures, from insects to wildflowers, from sparrows to groundhogs. And today a hawk did what comes naturally, it caught its daily food from within the web of life that continues to exist here.

When the hawk rose from the grasses, prey not quite firmly in hand, it landed to readjust its grip. Its perch was large, brightly coloured, square sign which read "Commercial Land For Sale". Like a customer grabbing a deal in the closing-out sale of a long-established store, the hawk had paid a final visit to this remnant of land.

          Birdwatching… more than a passive hobby... a revealing peek into the world of our wild neighbourhoods.

© 2018 David J. Hawke

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While there's still a chill to the morning air, many wildflowers are doing their best to carpet the forest floor: red and white trilliums, fawn lily, spring beauty, blue cohosh, wild ginger, and squirrel corn to name a few. I hope that any mid-May frost will not be enough to knock them back.

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The early bird gets the worm - and the radio backpack

By David Hawke - "T20180423 Bluebirdshe early bird gets the worm." True, especially in June, but what if the early bird has arrived in an April snowstorm? Our recent spate of weather really put to the test the notion that "only fools rush in".

The spring migration of birds has been occurring in these parts of the country for a few thousand years, ever since the first shrubs and wildflowers returned after that bothersome glacier melted away. Where there was food and shelter the birds would find it. Our records of this annual migration go back in time only about 200 years, so it's hard to accurately extrapolate the earlier 11,800 spring arrival dates. What the data lacks in quantity we make up for with intensity, as the current methodologies for tracking bird flight is truly awesome.

Representatives of several species have been captured, banded, and outfitted with a wee backpack. Inside that backpack is a battery, an antenna, and a radio code. Built along the entire Atlantic migration route, from Florida to Ontario, are many receiving towers that will pick up the presence of these birds as they pass by. As tiny blips show up on massive computers, the movement of these birds can be monitored fairly closely. Arrival times at certain destinations can be forecasted within hours.

This tracking of the birds allows us to better understand migration routes and perhaps a bit of the "why" and "how" these avian critters survive disruptive weather patterns. Do they sense impending doom and hunker down in Pennsylvania? Do they push onwards through the night to ride a warm thermal? Do they time their travel to meet emerging insects? Does the ice-out date of a certain lake trigger advancement?

All that aside, you and I know full well that it's not really spring until the first robin arrives and can be seen bob-bob-bobbing along in the yard. May not be the most scientific of ways to mark a new season, but seems to work for us anyways.

When that three-day snow-ice-slush storm hit in mid-April, several birds had already arrived, including robins, woodcock, killdeer, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, and Canada geese. These were the 'early birds', arguably the foolish ones that had rushed forward to lead the vernal migration. Oopsy... guess who got caught in the cold and snow?

Because each of these species has had several thousand springtimes to figure out this migration challenge, many have come up with survival strategies. Some retreat, some hunker down, and a few die thus eliminating the 'I'm going to get there first' trait of those adventuresome individuals.

The advance-retreat-advance method is noted with the waterfowl, the ducks, geese and swans that seek open water. Scouts are sent forward to determine which lakes are ice free... if they don't come back the next sortie is dispatched... if they don't come back it's time to move out and advance the flight!

The duck species that nest in the more northern parts of Ontario have an additional worry... can they get there soon enough to build a nest, lay eggs, raise young, and get out again before the next fall freeze-up? To ensure they don't get caught short with a late spring, they pair up, mate and begin egg development while en route. That way, as soon as they arrive, a nest can be thrown together and eggs laid immediately.

Robins and bluebirds are cousins within the thrush family, and share similar foods in their diet. Worms, bugs and other juicy things are preferred, but squishy fruit will do in a pinch. This is when all those fruit-bearing shrubs that you planted around your house come into play. Crabapples, highbush cranberries, nanneyberries and other soft fruits will be sought out by these birds.

Bluebirds will also do a group hug to stay warm on a chilly early spring night... there are many reports of a cluster of bluebirds found huddled inside a nesting box turned bird hostel.

Seed-eaters, such as fox sparrows and white-throated sparrows, will enjoy the late winter seeds at your feeder, jostling for position with the resident chickadees and blue jays. If they can find any natural seeds, so much the better.

The bird I'm most impressed with for spring hardiness is the woodcock. These long-beaked birds thrive on earthworms, yet when they first arrive at our farm such delicacies are below the snow and trapped by ground frost. I was fortunate to watch one the other day as it foraged between ice chunks and melting sections of our stream. It bobbed and wobbled (as woodcock do) and suddenly thrust its beak into the crusty mud. Success! A muddy and barely moving worm was extracted and gobbled down. After a few minutes the bird bob-wobbled again, and procured yet another worm. Amazing.

As weather watchers and birdwatchers combine their interests the results will hopefully reveal a few more secrets of the natural world that surrounds us. And what might the benefits be? Well, curiosity sated if nothing else. And maybe the changing behaviours of these early birds, these foolish birds, will carry a message to help us adapt to an ever-changing climate. After all, they've been working on it much longer than we have.


© 2018 David J. Hawke

David Hawke may be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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The importance of buying local

2017 05 27 Bradford.market

 

 

By Sara Taslim, Guest Blogger — Buying local not only helps out local farmers and businesses, but is also healthier for you, the Lake Simcoe community, and the environment.

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Fake news affects people’s understanding of the world

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By Sara Taslim, Guest Blogger

With the development of modern technology, social media plays a major role in real world events, yet it can be very easily misused.

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New plan to reduce Great Lakes phosphorus levels

Lighthouse near Lake Erie

Commentary By Mark Reusser, Vice President,Ontario Federation of Agriculture

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Lakehead University Research Ranked No. 1 in Canada — again

Lakehead University has once again received top spot for research in two assessments of Canada’s universities. 

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Stop the bullying

It's time our municipal leaders in the Lake Simcoe area rejected the bullying tactics still used by some developers.

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Pumping out precious water

Pumping out precious water

For about nine months now, around the clock, water has been pumped out of the ground near my Bradford home as a former farm/wetland is "de-watered" in preparation for a water treatment plant and a housing development.

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What is the best of the holiday season?

What is the best of the holiday season for you? Food,  presents, decorations, social events, spiritual renewal? Or just the chance to spend some time reading and relaxing?

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Winter's leftovers

Winter's leftovers

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Where will the deer go?

Anyone travelling along Highway 11, Yonge Street, north of Newmarket, can't miss the signs of progress.Over the winter months, the forest on the northern side of the hill between Newmarket and Bradford has been stripped of trees, the logs piled, then taken away.Many driving this route have seen the deer wandering through the barren acres, seeming puzzled, looking for food and the familiar forest.At dusk tonight, a herd of about eight or nine filed one behind the other down the hill, through the snow, glancing over at the double row of northwest-bound headlights, cars headed for Bradford and beyond. I watched with sadness and dismay, hoping they would not try to cross, tempted by the wooded areas on the other side of the road. I don't know what is going to be built on this land. Houses? Roads? Industrial buildings?What does it matter?In all the planning, surveying, designing, there was no plan for these deer and the other creatures who called this forest home. Where will they go?

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Lake Simcoe needs its own RTO

For some reason that I will never understand (Oh, to save money...?), when the Ontario government sliced up the tourism pie a few years back, parts of the Lake Simcoe Watershed were put into three different RTOs - Regional Tourism Organizations.

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The first sounds of Spring

Did you hear birds singing today?With the sun shining most of the day, birds seemed to come out of their hiding places to start singing and looking for food.So many days this year have been cold and windy — and bereft of any wildlife. The only sound for many days was the wind howling mournfully through bare tree branches.Even the fields where I walk with the dog, there were no tracks for the longest time.Now there are tracks from the occasional rabbit, squirrel and even what appeared to be a mouse. There are tracks outside the beaver den. And there's something that appears to be a dog roaming on its own, so more likely is a coyote.In the March-April issue of Lake Simcoe Living Magazine, Ron Fleming talks about the first bird songs of Spring. Which bird "confirms that Winter is leaving and Spring is on its way?" I'm sure most of us will think of the red-breasted robin.Not so, Ron says. It's the red-winged blackbird.You can read more about the birds of Spring in the March-April issue. We're working on that issue now, and it should be available the first week of March.

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Where do Trumpeter swans spend the winter?

I learned this week that a Trumpeter swan has about 35,000 feathers and 2.5 centimetres of down. That's how Trumpeter swans get through the winter — even the severe temperatures and heavy snowfall we have had this winter.Where they spend the winter is another question, and Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration, an organization started in 1982 to restore the majestic birds to their former range, would like anyone who sees a Trumpeter swan to help with the answer.Please report the sighting by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre website — http://www.wyemarsh.com/conservation/swansightings.php, or on the Facebook group page Ontario Trumpeter Swans. Please include the date, location (GPS co-ordinates), wing tag number or leg band number.Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration was initiated by retired Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Harry Lumsden. He began a captive breeding program that has since released 584 captive-reared swans in 54 locations around Ontario. There are now an estimated 800 to 1,000 birds in the province.The Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration says if swans need to maintain a diet of natural wild forage. If you do feed them, provide clean, "untreated" dry corn — not bread.Anglers are asked to help in swan restoration by using lead-free tackle so swans do not ingest a lead sinker while feeding, and by retrieving any lost lures so these are not accidentally ingested by swans and other wildlife.

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Cannington Dog Sled Races and Winter Festival

Cannington Dog Sled Races and Winter Festival

There's more fun in Cannington this weekend than you can throw a snowball at, as the town hosts the 10th Annual Cannington Dog Sled Races and Winter Festival.In addition to the dog sled races both Saturday and Sunday, there is competitive skijoring — competitors wearing cross-country skis are pulled along by their dogs — and a full slate of fun, family-oriented activities, from Metis music and dancing to ice carving, an outdoor marketplace and horse-pulled wagon rides.On Sunday there's a pancake breakfast, beer garden with live entertainment and spaghetti dinner.Simply follow the signs when you get to Cannington, just east of Highway 12.

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Hybrid, electric, or... what do you recommend?

One of my greatest pleasures is driving around Lake Simcoe, and as publisher of Lake Simcoe Living, I get to do that quite a bit - meeting people, going to events, delivering magazines, and taking photos are just some of the activities my role requires.But increasingly I am aware that my trips around the lake come at a cost to the environment. I drive a small, energy-efficient car, but it burns gasoline. And the more I learn about the detrimental effects of capturing, transporting and burning fossil fuel, the less I enjoy my time on the road.So it's time to find a vehicle that will do less harm to the environment. At the same time, it should be easy to load and be able to carry a few hundred magazines. Do I look for a hybrid? Or an electric car? What is going to do the least harm, and still allow me to do my job? Do you have any recommendations to help in my search?

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Something fishy

Something fishy

Have you been to the new Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, next to the CN Tower in Toronto?

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Life along the dead end

Life along the dead end

There is a dead end street near my home in Bradford that has provided a series of wonders through the\is spring, summer and fall.

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Look who's here!

Look who's here!

These are exciting times in the Lake Simcoe area... You never know what names are going to show up!

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