Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Before and After

I love before and after shots. They can really highlight a story. Unfortunately nobody thought to take photos of the early restoration sites before work began so we only have 'after' shots. Two of the photos in this post are before and after photos. Of course it's alot easier to manage when they are taken on the same day.

First a little background. Beechwood Wetland, our newest restoration site opened in 2003. It sported three interpretive signs describing the site and some of the species. Unfortunately some time last summer someone spray painted graffitti on two of the signs. At that time I pointed this out to the city staff. The signs are supposed to be graffitti-proof, so they are easy to clean. At first I got no response. When I asked again, it was 'we don't have the time', or 'we don't have the money'. Better yet, 'graffitti removal isn't our responsibility, you need to talk to the Works department' (see Top 5 threats to the Don, #5).

I pass by this spot fairly regularly, so after a time I finally got fed up. I went to the local store and bought a household cleaner and visited Beechwood with a pair of rubber gloves and a sponge. First I took a picture of the sign with the graffitti.

A little graffitti spoils the sign.

Then I applied the cleaner and 15 minutes later, with a little water and some elbow grease, voila!

Good as new!

I thought I might need a paint stripper but all it took was a $2.50 bottle of Vim. It wasn't until after I finished that I noticed that this product is made by Unilever, ironically one of the sponsors of the wetland restoration project.

This stuff actually works!

So now that I know what it takes I (or maybe city parks staff) can cleanup the rest of the signs in the lower Don. Unfortunately some signs are worse off then the Beechwood signs.

This sign might take a little longer to clean...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

West Don Lands Ground Breaking

Work has officially commenced on the West Don Lands project, a mixed use housing project on the west bank of the Don south of Queen St. It will include a berm on the west side of the river and a new park. A new connection underneath the railway will connect the neighbourhood to the lower Don Trail. Various media reports are available including one from the Toronto Star.

The lower Don Trail will be closed temporarily until spring 2007.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bricks Works First Flower

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) at the Brick Works

The original reason I visited the Brick Works this week (before I spotted the unfortunate subject of the prevous post) was to take a picture of the first flower I have seen at the Brick Works (there is no Skunk Cabbage growing at this location). I spotted this Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) patch in the northwest corner. This area has several springs emanating from the shale rock face which is still exposed here. The water collects at the base of the slope in an L-shaped pool. Right next to one of the springs is where I took this picture. Even though the temperatures are still below freezing at night a few plants are able to survive. It's been said that the Brick Works quarry creates a sheltered microclimate allowing plants to grow here that normally wouldn't (Redbud and Tulip trees come to mind). The small area at the back must be a microclimate within a microclimate.

Coltsfoot is a member of the aster family, the same as the common Dandelion. A native of Europe, it was likely introduced here by settlers for its medicinal properties. While I haven't tried it myself it is apparently edible. It is considered invasive in some areas but not in the Don. Currently it provides a bright yellow harbinger of spring amongst all the current March browns and greys.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Name That Corpse

I visited the Brick Works Friday afternoon to take some pictures of a flower I had seen earlier in the week but I came across something else more interesting instead. At the north edge of the Brick Works was a dead animal lying on its back. It has been dead less than a week. I know that because I passed by the same spot last Saturday and it wasn't there.

I took these pictures for two reasons. The first is that I am pretty sure that it was killed by a dog. Any normal predator would have dragged it off and eaten it, but this body only shows signs of teeth marks and mutilation. The second reason is that I couldn't readily identify it. I checked my Mammals of Ontario but there isn't anything that exactly matches it. The second picture is a closeup of the head and the teeth look like incisors so it may indicate a carnivore. So I am leaning toward a Raccoon or a Badger. However the fur colouration doesn't match either species and the body has no tail, although this may have been removed.

I am hoping someone can identify it. I am thinking of printing these and posting them at the Brick Works just to illustrate why dogs should be kept on a leash.

I have other more graphic pictures if anyone is interested. I will send them by email on request. Only for strong stomachs.

Unknown mammal

Closeup of head. Note type of teeth.

Take Your Shelter, Please!

This week's NOW magazine has an exposé on Toronto housing issues. Which wouldn't be complete without an article on the Don Valley. Notwithstanding the fact that only a tiny fraction of Toronto's homeless population lives in the valley, it rates an entire article. Here's the link so you can read it yourself.

Predictably biased, it presents living in the valley as a bucolic getaway from the rigours of street life. A picture of a tidy campsite accompanies the article. What it doesn't say is that most of the campsites are a toxic stew of garbage and refuse. There are several abandoned sites and none of the former residents have done any cleanup.

It also neglects to mention that most of these sites are on the floodplain, and yes the Don does flood occasionally.

Are we, the Task Force, heartless 'eco-defenders' seeking only to protect the wilderness? Whatever you may conclude from the article, the only point we tried to make was that we support the city's Streets to Homes program. A successful strategy that relocates street people into rental accommodation - a program with a good track record so far. The Don Valley, while an urban wilderness, is far from the best place for our homeless to hang out - many of whom need access to health services which you won't find in the valley.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Evergreen Brick Works Event

It seems Evergreen's quest is to make sure that they keep us informed about every detail of their plan to renovate the Brick Works. While their effort is laudable, all these meetings is a little much.

Nevertheless, they are holding another meeting, this time to talk about natural heritage issues. This meeting will be held Thursday March 23rd at City Hall, Committee Room #2 from 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM. David Leinster and Michael Hough will both be in attendance.

I will probably attend - perhaps I will see you there.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Slumbering Don

Don River, looking south from Sun Valley bridge.

March is kind of a slow month for the Don, spring events don't start up until April. In Toronto, most of the snow has usually melted leaving the valley in a kind of grey and brown melange, a majority of the plants haven't roused from their winter quiescence.

Still the river flows and patiently waits for the next cycle. This scene is taken from a bridge that crosses the river north of Pottery Rd. The bridge is an oddity, left over from some bygone era - it is too narrow to transport cars and too wide to have been built for pedestrians. It is used mainly by cyclists as an access route to the Crothers' Woods trails.

Just below the bridge on the right there are two places where water flows out of the bank at a fairly steady rate. The banks are stained a rusty red colour and I have always wondered if the spring is natural or polluted in some way. I am suspicious because the land just west of the river was a former dump site. It would be nice to have the water tested to at least satiate my curiosity.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Don River Wikipedia Articles

For anyone who is interested, I have created some new articles in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. The articles are on Charles Sauriol, a noted Toronto naturalist and the Keating Channel at the mouth of the Don. Don Watcher regulars will probably recognize some of the Keating Channel content from an earlier blog posting.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Signs of Spring?

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

I was in Todmorden Mills this week and spotted these starting to sprout out of the ground. Skunk Cabbage has got to be the first flower of spring because it starts to flower as early as February. It has the unusual ability of generating heat that allows it to push its way through layers of snow and ice. The purplish brown flower appears first (see picture). Later in the spring, large lettuce like leaves appear. It gets it name not from the flowers which are almost odourless but from the leaves. If you break or crush the leaves they emit a foul smell.

Skunk Cabbage likes wet areas and the back area of Todmorden Mills has the good fortune to have a few all weather springs. One of the secret gems of the Don.

While Environment Canada says that its going to be another 90 days of cool to cold weather, at least we know that spring has started its inevitable, albeit slow journey.