Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall foliage at its best!

The show of vibrant colours is nothing short of spectacular these days as we make our way along the roads and trails of Muskoka! We are so fortunate to live in and visit an area with one of the most splendid displays of fall colour anywhere in the world.

Ever wonder why the leaves change colours every fall?

Myths of leaf colour change:
  • It does not occur because of frost. But, frost can disrupt the speed at which the leaves turn and halt colour transformation. Frost call kill the leaf and turn it brown.

Spring & Summer: trees are growing and turning green.

Fall: growth slows because of moisture levels, temperature, amount of stored energy in the roots, genetics. Systems begin to shut down as the tree prepares for winter dormancy

September 23rd (autumnal equinox): Days and nights are of equal length and thereafter the days are shorter and shorter. The sun's rays also become less direct and the air is cooler.

Autumn colour is a phenomenon that takes place within the leaves of a tree. Here's what happens:

  • The lifelines between the leaves and the tree become blocked and the production of chlorophyll stops. The existing chlorophyll in the leaves slowly disappears as it is destroyed by sunlight.
  • Throughout the summer, the green chlorophyll has been dormant, blocking out the other pigments, thus giving the leaves their green colour. Once the production of chlorophyll is halted, the leaves begin to show their true colours.
  • As chlorophyll production ceases, other pigments become more dominant. Carotin helps with the orange colours and xanthrophyll is the yellow pigment.
  • The leaves continue to change colour and reach their peak until the time just before the leaves fall. At the location where the leaf stem joins the branchof the tree, there is a separation layer. This is a layer of cells which gradually weaken, eventually causing the leaf to break off and fall.

Quick facts of leaf change:

  • Colour change occurs on broad-leaved trees such as maple, oak, ash, and birch.
  • These trees are also called "hardwoods" because most of them have wood which is quite hard, and "deciduous" because their leaves are shed each autumn.
  • Trees that stay green all winter are "evergreen" or "coniferous" trees such as pine, spruce, hemlock, balsam, and cedar.
  • Shedding their leaves actually protects the tree during winter. The leaves don't give off water (or transpire) when they are not on the tree, thus saving the tree from having the replace that water to keep the leaf alive.

Where in Muskoka is your favourite display of colour this year?

Monday, October 3, 2011

This Saturday: Great Muskoka Paddling Experience

A fun racing experience for canoes and kayaks for all levels of participants

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Annie Williams Park, Bracebridge, Muskoka River

The race includes two distances to choose from in an “out-and-back” course. The start and finish line is just below the Bracebridge Falls in downtown Bracebridge. A 12 km family/short course will take boats downstream to a turn-around at Santa’s Village. A 20 km long course will take paddlers from the falls downstream all the way to Lake Muskoka, around McVittie Island and back upstream to the finish/falls.
Water depth is good all year and flows are generally low.
The staging area (parking, registration, launching, etc.) is at Annie Williams Park.

The weather for Saturday is looking dandy!
Add this race to your calendar and come to Muskoka to enjoy the fall leaves, paddle a classic river, support a local watershed initiative Muskoka Watershed Council and work up an appetite for Turkey.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall Colour Report

Fall foliage colour in Algonquin Park is now at peak!

Algonquin Park is in the northern part of Muskoka and is a bit higher in elevation. So, there leaves may be changing there a bit sooner than in more southern parts of the region. Nevertheless, the leaves are putting on a good show. With October only a couple days away, the entire region of Muskoka will be entering peak foliage colour.

One of the best ways to enjoy the colour is to go for a hike or paddle. The options for these types of activities are endless in Muskoka. A good place to start looking for options is the Muskoka Trails Council. They have maps of just about every hiking trail in Muskoka.

If you're out enjoying fall, let me know by leaving a comment, or visiting the Muskoka Heritage Foundation Facebook Page and leaving a comment. Better yet, post a photo of the fall colours where you are!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Workshop: Woodlot Management

Introduction to Woodlot Management

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Glen Orchard Public School

If you are planning to harvest trees from your woodlot, have an interest in what information is available on woodlot management, are wondering how you might manage your woodlot for wildlife values, or would like to learn more about the design and maintenance of trails through your woodlot, then this is the workshop for you!

Participants will learn about basic principles of forest management, how to assess trees for defects, what wildlife values exist in woodlots, as well as some basic principles of trail design and maintenance.

The morning session will consist of several short lectures followed by an afternoon field trip with real examples and hands on learning.

This workshop is limited to 35 participants. Pre-registration is required. For information and registration please contact Meghan Powell at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Bracebridge Office. Tel: 705-646-5500 or email,

Top photo by John McQuarrie.

2nd and 3rd photos by Greg Francis

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rally for Nature

Nature can't vote.

But you can!

Let the Province know that you don’t want Ontario’s wildlife to disappear!
On September 21, you can speak up for nature. Join
Ontario Nature and tell all the political candidates running in the upcoming election that protecting plants, animals and ecosystems is one of the most important issues facing us today.

Meet friends of Ontario Nature at 11:00am at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, September 21, 2011.

On behalf of the more than 6,000 people who signed our Charter for Biodiversity, you can send a message to government saying that the loss of wildlife in Ontario must be stopped.

Visit Ontario Nature's "Rally for Nature" site to find out more and learn what else you can do to help wildlife in Ontario.

When you vote on October 6th in the Ontario provincial election, remember to think about biodiversity conservation as an important election issue.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Golf Courses and Environmental Stewardship

Golf courses aren't always the most environmentally friendly of places. However, in Muskoka they are an important part of our economy. The Muskoka Highlands golf course takes steps to provide a scenic and challenging golf course while contributing to a healthier natural environment. Now that's environmental stewardship in action!

Muskoka Heritage Foundation held our Annual Golf Classic tournament at the Muskoka Highlands in an effort to showcase the possibilities for stewardship in Muskoka- both on and off the course! Below a sample of what we learned. Click on the images for a larger view.

Hole #1

Hole #4

Hole #10

Hole #13

Hole #17

We had a great day at Muskoka Highlands on Monday. All funds raised from the tournament, silent auction and putting contest go directly to support our Stewardship Programs. A HUGE "thank you" to our golfers and sponsors.

Above: Gord Durnan takes a practice swing before his chance to win the putting contest.

Above: Looking over Hole #2. The rain held off despite ominous skies.

Above: Golfers at Hole #17: a chance at a hole in one!

Above: Supporters from Muskoka Watershed Council pose for their team photo.

Winners take all! And will have their names put on the tournament trophy.

This team won "most honest". Looking good!!

Thanks again to all our sponsors and golfers. It was a great day!

See you again next year.

In the meantime, what are you doing to incorporate stewardship practices on your property?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Composting in Bear Country: free workshop!

(FREE) Composting workshop tomorrow evening!

I've written before about Composting 101, but now's your chance to attend a hands on workshop about it. Looks amazing!

If you go, please let me know so I can hear all about it!

A map to Yvonne Williams Park, in Parry Sound

Monday, August 8, 2011

Muskoka is Getting Well Aware

Did you know that the Muskoka Heritage Foundation delivers the Well Aware program? This program helps protect drinking water and groundwater resources.

Well Aware’s trained representatives conduct visits, known as “guided self-assessments,” with well owners to help them learn how to manage their own wells. The visits are voluntary, non-regulatory, and confidential.

The program was developed to meet the need for consistent, reliable information about caring for private wells. Homeowners who receive poor results from well-water tests contact Well Aware as a starting point to learn how they can improve their water. Property owners new to living on a well can also contact the program to learn how to protect and conserve their water supply from day one.

On each Muskoka area visit, Matt (above right), our local Well Aware representative, asks a series of questions from a standardized assessment tool to determine how the well is being managed. Afterwards the advisor provides information and contacts that will help the homeowner follow up on recommendations made during the visit. Recommendations typically include well upgrades to meet current safety standards, removing potential contaminants from the well area, testing the water regularly (like in the photo below) and pumping septic tanks.
Well Aware is the first large-scale private well stewardship program in Canada. It has won the 2009 Sustainable Community Award for Water, awarded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and CH2MHill.

Besides well home visits, Well Aware distributes a booklet and video, operates a website, and has developed many useful factsheets. Well Aware focuses on education and awareness on well owners to help empower them to make positive changes to protect their primary source of drinking water.

Are you Well Aware?

Contact Rebecca Francis at Muskoka Heritage Foundation to book your well visit!

Well Aware is a program of Green Communities Canada (GCC). It is delivered in Muskoka by Muskoka Heritage Foundation, the local GCC member organization, and in 21 other Ontario upper tier municipalities by 14 GCC member organizations.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Woodlot Management & Tree Selection

The final 2011 Nature Quest Workshop was held on July 26th at the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre. Stewardship Coordinator, Chris Near, from the Parry Sound Muskoka Stewardship Network (PSMSN) led the session about Silviculture.

What is Silviculture?

Simply put, silviculture is the science of growing trees. If you are a woodlot owner, chances are you will want to think about which silviculture method you would like to practice in your woodlot. You may even end up practicing more than one depending on the size and features of your property. Chris spoke to the group about three methods for growing, harvesting, and regenerating trees: clearcutting, selection, and shelterwood.

Plantations, such as the red pine plantation pictured above, require good forest management, including proper thinning, top reach their full potential. Red pine prefers dry locations and grows best on sandy, coarse loam soil which is well drained. Research has shown that as red pine plantations mature, they begin to transform old field sites into forest conditions. The increase in organic material in the soil from the needles helps prevent erosion from wind and water. As the stand is thinned, the increase of sunlight reaching the forest floor provides ideal conditions for native hardwood and conifer species to germinate and grow.

About 50 bird and mammal species depend on cavity trees, including primary users which make their own cavities. Cavities constructed by the pileated woodpecker (like the ones above) are especially important in providing habitat for other animals. Aim to keep six living cavity trees per hectare in our woodlot.

If you are planning a large cutting operation on a large woodlot, be sure to consider how the logging equipment will get in and out of your woodlot. There is the potential for damage if not thought out properly. Some landowners will use the trails made by the skidders and other logging equipment and convert them into trails for personal use after the logging is finished (like in the photo above)

Creating openings in the forest crown provides benefits to regeneration. You might consider planting seedlings in an opening to promote greater species variety. Make sure to consider species types and their shade tolerance and plan for maintenance of the area if necessary to maintain sunlight in the area.

Bracebridge Resource Management Centre (BRMC) is a great place to visit to see the different aspects of forest management. It is indeed a managed forest where the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has managed different parts of the forest there in different ways and to regenerate the forest using different methods. If you get a chance to visit, make sure to stop at the signs like to one above to learn about various aspects of silviculture.

More Information

There is a lot to consider when managing a forest or woodlot. Be sure to seek out good information and reliable professionals. Some resources to get you started:

  1. A Landowner's Guide to Forest Management Basics call me or drop in at the office to receive this resource

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Meet the Researcher at Algonquin Park!

Meet the Researcher Day
When: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 9am – 3pm
East Beach Picnic Pavilion
Event Type: Special Events & Guests
Age: All Ages

Algonquin's Wildlife Research Station invites you to spend time with researchers who use Algonquin Park as their laboratory. Meet those who study reptiles and amphibians, birds, small mammals, fish, wolves, and even humans (through archaeology).

A fundraising barbecue (noon to 2:00pm, or while quantities last) is hosted by The Friends of Algonquin Park in support of research in the Park, and free draws take place for great prizes generously donated by local businesses and organizations. Suitable for all ages.

See more images of Meet the Researcher Day on Facebook

Fore more information visit the Friends of Algonquin Park website

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Batty About Bats

Bats are the primary predator of night-flying insects such as moths, beetles, and mosquitoes. Did you know that a single bat can catch hundreds of insects in just one hour? That can mean consuming from 30 to 50 percent of its body weight in insects each night!

Christy Macdonald, Fish and Wildlife Technical Specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources joined us for the third Nature Quest workshop of the summer to tell us about bats in Ontario and some of the challenges they face. Here are some of the highlights from the afternoon.

There are eight different species of bats in Ontario. Can you name them? Above is the big brown bat. Below, is the tri-coloured bat.

There is also the Hoary bat, the Eastern Red bat, the Silver-haired bat, the Northern Long-eared bat, the Eastern Small footed bat, and the Little Brown bat. Ontario's bats are a mix of cavity and foliage roosters. Cavity roosters roost in caves (or sometimes bat houses) in large numbers and hibernate over winter. Foliage roosters don't form colonies but instead live singularly in trees. The Eastern Red bat, the Hoary bat, and the Tri-coloured bat are all foliage roosters.

One serious issue Christy spoke with the group about is white-nosed syndrome. The Little brown bat above has the outward physical signs of this white fungus which first appears on the nose and face areas and has since spread the the wings. This fungus deteriorates the skin on these areas. There is not much known about this fungus that has only appeared in Ontario in the past year. It is only present in the colonies as they hibernate. Internally, the white fungus seems to cause strange behaviour in bats, such as waking up during hibernation. When they wake up they want to clean themselves of the fungus which uses their crucial energy stores. Sometimes infected bats will spend even more energy looking for food during the day-time or in winter. This is bad news, as these bats end up using their stored energy and dying of starvation.

What can you do to help? Don't go into caves or abandoned mines. And don't touch live or dead bats. You can also report sightings of bats with white-nosed syndrome by calling the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781.

Bat houses are another way we can help bats by creating habitat for them. There are many factors to consider when building a bat house:

  1. Design & Construction

  2. Habitat (in Muskoka, near water is a must)

  3. Sun exposure (full sun, and paint the box black)

  4. Mounting (predator guards, not on a tree)

  5. Away from predators (like racoons)

  6. Away from uninvited guests (like wasps)

  7. Timing (fall is the best time to put up a bat house)

  8. Experiment (if bats don't visit, try another location)

You will need to do some research about the specific design and construction. Some helpful links to resources are below. I would love to hear how you fare!

Above: Christy speaks to the group about the different styles and the location of the 4 bat houses at the MNR office in Bracebridge. Can you spot the three different styles in this photo?


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Species at Risk in Muskoka: A guided walk of Torrance Barrens

For our 2nd Nature Quest workshop of the summer we gathered at Torrance Barrens to learn about Species at Risk in Muskoka. Torrance Barrens is a Conservation and Dark Sky Reserve established in 1999. The 1905 hectares is a region as a protected pace free from intrusion by urban light pollution. Its' rugged barrens, wetlands, and forested areas also provide habitat to at least 5 of Ontario's Species at Risk.

Natural Heritage Biologist Jan McDonnell led the group on a hike around Highland Pond and spoke to us about the valuable habitat the area provides and the species who call Torrance Barrens home.

Above: Here's Jan telling the group about turtles that are known to live in Torrance Barrens. Spotted Turtles have been seen here before and Blanding's turtle habitat exists here.

Above: a Spotted turtle, a species at risk classified as endangered

Above: a Blanding's turtle, a species at risk classified as threatened

Above: Participants in the workshop cross the bridge over the wetland. Wetlands are one of Muskoka's most valuable habitats. They provide many services like filtering the water to maintain water quality, help prevent erosion, and help control floods. Many species also depend on wetlands for habitat and food.

Above: Jan passes around a turtle shell and a snake skin for participants to look at as she speaks about suitable habitat for snakes such as Massassauga rattlesnakes and Eastern Hog-nose Snakes.

Above: Massassauga rattlesnakes (threatened on the species at risk list) use large "table rocks" as gestation sites. It is here that they give birth to live young every 2 years. It is too energetically demanding to do every year. The table rocks are used to thermoregulate; hide in the shade under the rocks or between the rocks when it's hot and lay on top when they need to absorb heat.

Above: Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes eat toads and tend to roam over vast areas in search of toads, open sandy areas & dry woods. They lay eggs under a log or in leaf litter in midsummer. Their eggs hatch after about 2 months.

Above: In a dramatic fashion, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake will play dead (and even hand its' tongue out!) as a defence mechanism. They are also known to "puff adder" to intimidate potential prey, although they are not dangerous. They are categorized as threatened on the species at risk list.

Above: At our last stop, Jan talks about the poor fen wetland in Torrance Barrens. Poor fens have a high water table and some flow-through, but not much fresh water. They absorb massive amounts of water and are exceptional at preventing floods, supplying a constant flow of water and water filtration.

Above: The Whip-poor-will is a nocturnal bird whose habitat can be found in Torrance Barrens. They like a mixture of open (for feeding) and wooded (for nesting) areas. Whip-poor-wills call at dusk and just before dawn and their name take after the sound of their call. They are also a species at risk, categorized as threatened.

The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only lizard. Juveniles have a bright neon blue tail (grey in adults as above). Skinks are active during the day and like wooded locations with sandy soil and open rocky habitat with crevices and loose rocks. They lay 6-10 eggs under a log or rock which hatch in late summer. They are listed as a species of special concern on the species at risk list in Ontario.

Watch for turtles out on the roads this season!

Slow down in areas where you see this sign.

Find out more:

Don't miss the last 2 Nature Quest workshops!

July 19: Batty about Bats

July 26: Woodlot Management and Tree Selection

GO HERE for registration information