Category Archives: Environment

Bending Willow Creek

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Meandering Through Minesing

It was the summer of 1982, and I’d just finished my first of three years in the Fish and Wildlife Technology program at Sir Sandford Fleming College (since, re-branded as Fleming College) in Lindsay Ontario. I’d been offered a summer job with the Metro Region Conservation Authority – MTRCA (since, re-branded as Toronto Region Conservation Authority – TRCA) on a crew of four that would spend the summer conducting Stream Surveys and Rehabilitation projects along two reaches of streams, located within the M.T.R.C.A’s jurisdiction. I was in heaven.


Fast forward to late spring of 2015, and while perusing the various projects that theNature Conservancy Of Canada (NCC).was planning, within a short driving distance of my home base of Toronto, my eyes fell on an opportunity to reprise that wonderful summer. The event was described as River Bends on the Mend, and the waterway requiring our help was Willow Creek, which flows through the Minesing Wetlands. Minesing is of Ojibwe origin, and means “island”, referring to an island located within Lake Edenvale, which encompassed the present-day wetlands and surrounding areas, and is recognized internationally as a significant Ramsar Boreal-Wetland.


Minesing’s very existence depends on the careful management of the numerous waterways feeding it’s sensitive ecosystems; waterways that naturally meander as they follow the path of least resistance, flooding depressions, overflowing and hugging contours as they slope toward ever larger bodies of water. Short-sighted alterations to our physical environment, usually impact negatively on natural systems that support a variety of plant and animal life, which have evolved over time to depend on them. It really is A Fine Balance.


Our objective for the day was to reintroduce a few curves to Willow Creek, along a stretch which flows adjacent to George Johnston Road, for a few hundred metres. This length of the creek had been historically, straightened, dredged and over-widened, to ostensibly improve drainage of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, it also compromised the geomorphology of the creek, the dissipation of sediment and altered habitat features.


Despite the rainy forecast and probability of getting wet, whether in or out of the creek, over a dozen volunteers, eager to contribute their brawn to the effort, met at the rendezvous point, where we were welcomed by Laura Robson, Acting Coordinator, Conservation Biology Georgian Bay-Huronia Sub-region, for the NCC.


Together with Shannon Stephens, Healthy Waters Program Coordinator for the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), Laura described how we would build temporary, artificial, wing-deflectors, at several points along the stream banks, thereby, introducing new curves in to the creek’s flow.


The deflectors were constructed from Scots Pine, donated by Somerville Nursery, which had been destined for the Christmas Tree market, but no longer needed for that purpose. The trees were layered, along the river bank, with the stumps pointing slightly upstream at a 45′ angle, and secured in place by driving and anchoring a heavy gauge cable, with a swivel-lock on the end, deep into the riverbanks, and the other end wrapped around each tree and secured with a crimped metal-clip.


In time, not only will the intertwined nature of these structures trap sediments suspended in the water column, that would otherwise blanket the creek-bed further downstream, but will also, as a result, provide an organically rich seed-bed, upon which vegetation will take hold. Earlier, I referred to these structures as temporary, because over time, they will become permanent, over-hanging river-banks, a feature that is critically important to fish species seeking shelter from the hot sun, and overhead predators.


As these structures gently protrude into the creek, they will gradually, help to narrow the waterway, thereby, increasing the rate of flow, flush suspended solids, deepen the watercourse, cool the water temperature, raise oxygen levels, improve the overall conditions for a variety of invertebrates, and provide a healthier habitat for aquatic and terrestrial life, alike. It really is A Fine Balance.

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This Collection of photographs of Stream Rehabilitation Work was produced along Willow Creek in the Minesing Wetlands in June of 2015

Liberating The Happy Valley Forest From Invaders

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Garlic Mustard, An Undesirable Ingredient

It was a covert ground-assault by a small group of dedicated resisters, led by Thomas Unrau of the NCC, on an invader to the perhaps not so Happy Valley.  I’d signed up to participate in a valiant effort to thwart the relentless advance of an intruder known to choke the life out of native populations, and arrived at our rendezvous point, resigned to the task.  Identified by its common and cleverly disguised name, the Garlic Mustard, (Alliaria petiolata) may sound like a harmless enemy, but sadly, once it establishes a root-hold, it quickly displaces native flowers and ground vegetation.


Like many other invasive species, the Garlic Mustard was originally introduced to North America, all be it naively, by early European settlers to the U.S.  As a wild edible, it is a nutritious green, high in vitamins A and C as well as several essential minerals.


However, as an unwanted guest, it spreads easily and releases a compound into the soil, that displaces and discourages root growth by other herbaceous plant species.  Native flowers such as Trilliums, Trout-lilies and Jack-in-the-pulpits that have evolved to flourish in the rich soils found under the shaded canopy of mature hardwood forests, find it difficult to overcome the aggressive, colonizing onslaught of Garlic Mustard.


Armed with nothing more than work gloves, garbage bags and a commitment to halt the advance of the invader on a few hundred square metres of the Happy Valley Forest, our team of enthusiastic, volunteer weekend-warriors headed deep into what has to be one of the most beautiful deciduous forests I’ve ever had the privilege of walking through.  A true gem on the Oak Ridges Moraine within Ontario’s Greenbelt.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada, (NCC) who own several sections of land within the Happy Valley Forest, is a Not For Profit private land conservation organization, dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating significant natural areas, and the flora and fauna species they sustain.  Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 2.7 million acres (1.1 million hectares), from coast to coast to coast.


This may have been my first visit to the Happy Valley Forest, but it certainly won’t be my last.  With camera in hand and tripod over my shoulder, I intend to return to spend time to recharge my soul, to photograph the awesome beauty and to do my part to protect and polish this priceless jewel.


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This Collection of photographs was produced in the Happy Valley Forest, on the Oak Ridges Moraine, in Ontario’s Greenbelt.

Lumber Jacks


I spent this past Saturday, cutting down trees. I know that may sound like an unusual way to spend my leisure time, but it’s all part of a larger picture. A very dear friend’s father purchased a 50ha. property of abandoned farmland, about an hour north of Toronto, some forty years ago, and for the past thirty, we’ve been planting trees, mostly conifers such as pine and spruce, in the spring and thinning them in the fall.

Most gardeners will understand that planting is only half the job, the other half being to nourish and maintain the plantings. Bearing in mind that a forest is a very complex ecosystem and that a stand of trees does not a forest make, the exercise of re-establishing a healthy tree cover requires attempting to compress a process that would naturally take hundreds of years, into a much shorter time frame.

It’s necessary to plant the small saplings rather densely to encourage competition, suppress other grasses and shrubs and to encourage them to reach for the sky quickly. Hence, it’s necessary to return a few years later to begin the process of eliminating the trees that are stunted and damaged, and to give the others some elbow room into which they can put on some girth. Secondary to allowing the trees more room to grow, is that removing some trees also allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and other species of trees to take hold and, thereby, initiate the diversity that is fundamental to a “natural” ecosystem that will sustain a variety of plants and animals.

The payback, as you can imagine, is way down the road. In fact, although I am seeing the blossoms, I will never live to see the ripe fruits of my labour, but that’s OK. I’m enjoying the process far too much to care. And then, there are the photographic opportunities.


Rechargeable Batteries

Pretty well everything I do is in some way informed by a sincere concern for my impact, be it short or long term, on our tiny, little, blue planet. That’s a huge concern and even hugerer subject to tackle in a short blog post. So I’ll spare you the blow by blow stories of my childhood indoctrination, and skip straight to the shocking truth behind our dependence on disposable batteries.

Basically, every little bit we do counts, on both sides of the ledger, and that’s why I think we can’t ignore the down side of all those convenient toys we like to click and point. In plain language, those tiny little power sources we depend so much on, add up to one big mess. There are two major types of consumer batteries: Lead-Acid and Dry-Cells. In North America, approximately 90% of all Lead-Acid batteries are recycled, which is a good thing, because along with the solid waste, each car battery contains about four litres of Sulphuric Acid.

On the other hand, although, Dry-Cell batteries have undergone a complete redesign over the past twenty years, that by 2011 will have completely eliminated mercury from all but the button cells used in watches and hearing aids, there are very few recycling facilities. In Canada an average of ten disposable batteries per person, per year, are discarded either directly in to the garbage, or to a recycling program, which may or may not be redirected to the traditional landfill anyway.

Enter the rechargeable battery. Although introduced over twenty years ago, these batteries have not been as popular as they should have, due to two primary complaints: shelf life and the memory they develop that over a very short period of time, renders them all but useless. Fortunately, there have been some impressive improvements in both those drawbacks.

I recently read an article by Steve Maxwell, in the Toronto Star, in which he praised the Sanyo Eneloop That got me wondering, so I did a quick Google search and discovered PowerEx by IMEDION , which declares equal if not better performance. Both of these manufacturers, claim that their batteries retain 85% of their charge after one year in storage, and have recently introduced high capacity 2500 mAh versions for heavy power consumers such as digital cameras and flashes. I’ve reviewed forum posts elsewhere and the feedback seems to confirm the claims. When you consider that each of these batteries has the potential to replace 1000 Alkaline batteries it would be irresponsible of us not to give them a try. For more information about our collective battery use, visit these two very informative sites: AND