Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Let it Freeze!...Ice Fishing 2013

If there was ever an ice fisherman’s parody of a winter themed song – I’m sure it would go something like this…Let it Freeze, Let it Freeze, Let it Freeze.

Here in southern Ontario, we all know that 2012 was not a great year for those inflicted with the passion of angling through an 8 inch diameter holes cut in the ice.  I count myself among this peculiar but adventurous group of people.  We are outdoor enthusiasts who love the challenge and the lure that comes with the territory of ice fishing.

Yet here we sit once again, gear that has been checked and re-checked again, while above average temperatures, open waters abound, and a weather forecast that seems intent on keeping us on the shoreline…it is enough to keep you awake at night just hoping for Jack Frost to stick around for a while.

My home go-to lake Valens Lake Conservation Area failed to make safe ice in 2012 for the first time on record.  Are these all signs of things to come?  How far north will you have to travel to satisfy that primal urge to be one with nature and wet a line all at the same time?  Only time will tell and we will be there, waiting with baited breath – so to speak.

With dreams of panfish and northern pike swimming in our heads – 2013 just has to produce the hard water we crave and need so we can once again be on top.  The promise of freezing cold nights combined with an official start to the NHL season, are two of the kinds of ice that this Canadian is hoping for under his Christmas tree this year.

Gordon R. Costie
Valens Lake Conservation Area

Friday, 7 December 2012

Seeing Yellow at Your Bird Feeders

White Winged Crossbill - All About Birds

This fall/ early winter seems to be giving us some pretty good hints about what will be around the bird feeders this winter.

Already, birders are seeing winter finches making their appearance in southern Ontario and points south. The so-called winter finches do not show up every winter, because their nomadic travel patterns are determined by the seed crops available to them in northern forests. Not only the seeds of pines and spruce, but also the seeds of hardwood trees, are important winter foods to the winter finches in their normal northern range. Some years, the food supplies in the north are lacking, so many of the birds move south for the winter to find what they need.
Red Crossbill - All About Birds

Not all of the so-called northern finches are finches, but bird watchers sort of clump a number of them together. Generally, we are talking about White Winged Crossbills, Red Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks.

Winter finches share a couple of common behaviours. They generally are gregarious, hang out in groups and are nomadic and follow the food. In years when food is lacking in the north, many move south.

Pine Siskin - All About Birds
One of the most nomadic and unpredictable of the winter finches is the Evening Grosbeak. It is also one of our most beautiful birds. Its nesting range is generally from Algonquin Park and north, and, for the last two decades, very few Evening Grosbeaks have been seen in Southern Ontario.  This winter may be a chance for most people — especially Hamilton youths — to see their first ever EveningGrosbeak. The males sport bright yellows, whites and browns in their plumage. The females and juveniles are more subdued.

The Evening Grosbeak is always calling, which makes the lives of bird watchers much easier. We hear them flying over or chattering to one another when they are feeding. To learn their song, go to http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=39.

Pine Grosbeak - All About Birds
Where will you find them? One of their favourite foods after your feeder is the seeds of Manitoba Maples and ash trees. They also enjoy the trees that hold onto their fruits, like Highbush Cranberry , Mountain Ash and wild crab apples.

The Evening Grosbeak has been selected by the American Birding Association as the Bird of the Year for 2012.  And now it’s coming south to live up to its name.

Once people start to know this bird is around, the sales of bird feeders and sun flower seeds will surely increase. They are just delightful to watch and to listen to. The Grosbeaks have heavy beaks and are adept at eating seeds and breaking open the pits of Choke and Pin Cherries. Few other birds have the strength in their bills to open these pits.
Common Redpoll - All About Birds

Bob Curry, author of Birds of Hamilton, reports that in 1972 there was a major flight of Evening Grosbeaks through Southern Ontario, but, since then, the bird has become rare in Hamilton and surrounding areas. Between 2002 and 2005 only two of these fine birds were seen in the Hamilton Bird Study Area.  So far this fall, birders are starting to report sightings from across the northeastern United States and Southern Ontario. So we are well on our way to seeing a strong showing.

Evening Grosbeak - All About Birds
The Evening Grosbeak is the easiest of the winter finches to identify. This winter, keep a bird guide handy while watching your backyard feeder, because there is an excellent chance that other winter finches will be showing up along with the Grosbeaks. There are excellent feeding areas for the winter finches throughout Hamilton conservation areas. As we hear about them, we will try to let everyone know where to look. 

Don’t be surprised if they show up in your neighbourhood.

HCA Manager of Operations & Customer Service 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Rainbows Instead of A Dam

We all know something about fish.  What always strikes me as funny is that we never ever see most fish that live around us. This is unfortunate, because there are so many neat fish in our neighbourhood.

One of prettiest fish in our area is the Rainbow Darter. You just have to look at them to see where they got their name. Interesting thing about Rainbow Darters:  males are brighter in colour than females — just like most birds are. (Males just like to show off, I guess).

So what are darters?  Darters are small fish and, in Ontario, there are about 10 different species. They are almost always found on or near the bottom. They swim for short distances in a hurry. They seem to just dart around. Some live in the great lakes in shallow waters and some choose deeper water. The Rainbow Darter likes streams. 

Darters are small fish.  Most of us would simply call them minnows if we didn’t look closely. They might get to about seven cm in length, but most are well under five cm — a child’s little finger in size.
The darters that live in rivers and fast flowing water can hold their position in the current. They have large and strong pectoral fins for their size. Think about where arms would be on a fish if fish had arms. Well, that’s where their pectoral fins are. They use these fins for strong, short bursts of speed, or to just hold onto the creek bottom.

Rainbow Darters feed on very small aquatic insects and invertebrates. Invertebrates are animals without backbones. Think of worms, crayfish and creepy crawlies. If they are really small, and like to live around small rocks in the water, then they just might be food for RainbowDarters.

Rainbow Darters are generally found throughout the Spencer Creek. If you find Rainbow Darters, then you know the water quality is pretty good, otherwise this fish species would not be living there. They don’t do well with pollution or heavy sediments in the water.

Today, the Rainbow Darter has a new home in the Spencer Creek, where the old Crooks’ Hollow Dam was. In 2012 the dam was removed for safety reasons and an innovative design project was undertaken to rehabilitate the section of the creek that used to be affected by the old dam. 
This rehabilitation project has had wonderful results within its first year. From land, the change in the habitat is easy to see. There are creek riffles, shallow spots and deep spots for the different fish to enjoy. Recently, Hamilton Conservation Authority ecologists monitoring the Spencer found Rainbow Darters in this new section of the creek. 

This is wonderful news. What better judge of how we are helping the environment than to be told by a small but interesting fish species that the water is of good quality and its flow is just right for a healthy stream.
If you haven’t visited the new trail and bridge by this restored section of the Spencer, you might like to make a trip to see how this section of the creek has been given a new chance at life.

Now, you are not likely to see Rainbow Darters; they are small and like to hide, but you will see the different sections of the new Spencer Creek with its currents flowing over and around rocks. 

You will also see where the water bubbles over structures and gets re-oxygenated.  The new vegetation communities are moving in toward the creek, providing shade and habitat for fish and other wildlife. 

The Rainbow Darter is just one species that has been advantaged by this new section of the Spencer. It is one of many.

Bruce Mackenzie 
HCA Manager of Operations & Customer Service

*Photo credits to Flint Rover Conservation Association, Environmental Almanac, and HCA*