Monday, October 29, 2007

Bridges for Bicycles Meeting

Councillor Paula Fletcher is having a public meeting regarding new bridges planned (or under construction) in east Toronto.

1) Dundas Bridge over the Don River,
2) A New Unwin Ave. bridge in the Port Lands
3) the Future West Donlands/Eastern Ave Bridge over the Don River

I think there may be some real opportunities cyclists, walkers, etc.

Thurs. November 1st, 7 PM
Dundas Public School
935 Dundas Street East (at Boulton Ave.)

For more information, contact: Paul Young, health promoter

South Riverdale Community Health Centre
955 Queen St. East
Toronto ON
M4M 3P3
tel. 416-461-1925 ext. 241

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Wetland Proposal

Wetland Design Scheme (click to expand)

The Don is getting a new wetland this fall. Just west of Victoria Park Ave. in Taylor Creek Park is an open field that gets very wet. There is no apparent water source so it is likely that the water table is very close to the ground in this area. This is an important project for the Don Watershed. Only about 0.2% of the original wetlands have survived. Most have been lost to agricultural and urban uses. Anytime that this trend can be reversed it is a positive development.

Construction is due to begin sometime this fall. Backhoes will be brought in to excavate the pond which will be about 1.5 m at its deepest point. In the spring, planting and other landscaping will be started. As with any new project it will take a few years before it starts to look like anything substantial.

Feedback from local environmental groups and residents has been mixed. Friends of the Don East are generally supportive of the project yet rival group Taylor Massey Project supports it in principle only. In a letter to the city staff, they outline their reservations which appear to be centred around the fact that they weren't consulted. They claim not to have have seen a detailed design (see above) nor are they aware of the budget (about $300,000). TMP wanted a site visit as well but didn't get one. They are also concerned about fluctuating water levels.

The East York-Riverdale Mirror has published an article on the wetland. In the article local councillor Janet Davis said that a public meeting will be scheduled next month with environmental stakeholders to review the project. A local resident, Alyssa Diamond is opposed to the project mostly because she doesn't want a wetland behind her house. She says that it would be a source for mosquitoes. What she doesn't realize is that a functioning wetland would be less of a source for mosquitoes than the current wet meadow. She also says that a wet meadow provides valuable habitat. This maybe true but most of the habitat that a wet meadow provides is also available in a wetland. A wetland also provides a more diverse range of habitats including a place for fish, amphibians and reptiles. If you were to rate habitat value on a scale of 1-10 a wet meadow would be about 4-5 but a wetland is a solid 10.

Location of wetland site

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Road Takes Precedence Over Creek

Retaining wall construction on St. Clair Ave. East, just west of Birchmount

At the corner of St. Clair Avenue East and Birchmount Avenue, Taylor-Massey Creek flows west from the grounds of the Pine Hills Cemetery to St. Clair Ravine Park. Last week I was visiting as part of a planting event and decided to take a look at the creek. Along this section, the creek hugs the north edge of St. Clair. Just east of Birchmount it is encased in a gabion basket channel. The same thing lined the creek west of Birchmount but a couple of years ago the wall failed and the sidewalk started to subside into the creek.

Last year they erected some buttressing and I thought that was the end of it. But this year they are doing some more work. They have channelled the river into a culvert and have removed the steel girder buttresses. In its place they are building what looks to be a substantial retaining wall. I doubt that the result will be any more habitat friendly than the old wall but at least it should last for awhile.

Temporary steel buttressing erected in 2006, now removed

This is just another example where urban infrastructure takes precedence over natural function. At least the creek will be exposed rather than encased in a storm sewer which has been the fate of many downtown creeks (See for the whole sad story).

Taylor-Massey Creek relegated to a temporary culvert

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Snakes Also on the Move

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnopis sirtalis) in Warden Woods

Salmon aren't the only creatures heading to a fall destination. During a bike ride on Saturday, I spotted four snakes, three garter snakes and one brown snake (Storeria dekayi). It appears that in the fall snakes are on the move searching for a hibernaculum where they can survive the winter. In our climate cold-blooded reptiles need to hibernate during the cold winter months.

All of the sightings were on the bike path. Presumably while crossing they pause to soak up some heat from the pavement so if you are out cycling in the next couple of weeks please keep a sharp eye out for these creatures so they don't become roadkill. If you're like me you might even pause to take some photographs. If you do please urge the snakes nicely off the path and on their way.

A close-up shot of its head. I was lucky enough to catch it flicking its tongue. A snake's tongue is very sensitive and can sense movement, odours and even temperature changes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Salmon Running in the Don

Salmon in river just north of Pottery Road

The past couple of weeks I've noticed salmon swimming in the Don. I've also seen them in the Humber. These salmon aren't native to Ontario, they are actually Coho or Chinook Salmon from the Pacific Ocean. The Ministry of Natural Resources stocks them in Lake Ontario for the sports fishing industry. After a lifespan of about four years they follow some instinctive drive and start to swim up a river to spawn.

Unfortunately those that choose the Don River don't have much hope. They have to contend with flood control dams such as the G. Ross Lord Reservoir or weirs left over from 19th century industrial activities. Even if they do get far enough north the eggs won't last because of storm water that scours the river bed clear of most stones and gravel where they might lay their eggs.

The TRCA embarked on a barrier mitigation program which is slowly reducing barriers to fish travel. Some people have reported seeing salmon as far north as Highway 7 so it sounds like it is working. Optimistically it will be at least 10 years before the Don supports a fish population such as trout that travels upriver to spawn. Only the Credit River has reported such success so far. The Don will have to wait a bit longer.

If you want to see them yourself, get on the Lower Don Trail. Travel north of Pottery Road for about 500 m and you will get to a series of rapids. Just below the final weir you should be able to see some fins sticking out of the water. They are best viewed mid to late afternoon when the light strikes the water at the right angle to see them as they float just underneath the surface. If you see any leave a comment with your observations.

Dead salmon spotted in East Don River just south of Lawrence Avenue East. I smelled this one before I saw it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

St. Clair Ravine Planting

Planting a grassy slope in St. Clair Ravine Park

I attended a planting this morning in St. Clair Ravine Park. Sponsored by Friends of the Don East, its purpose was to extend the forest along a grass covered slope. The parks people approved this location because kids toboggan on this slope and there is a fence covered culvert across the path at the bottom of the slope which they could crash into. The planting here might prevent that. The neighbours at the top of the hill were a little non-plussed. They seemed chagrined that they might lose their view. In about 10 years or so, they'll appreciate the additional privacy.

I didn't actually plant anything. I spent the entire time filling mulch buckets. We got rid of an entire mulch pile which is quite an accomplishment.

FODE's rival group, the Taylor Massey Project will be hosting a planting in the same park, just a little east of here, next Saturday, Oct. 27.

All the plants in the ground, Choke Cherry, Trembling Aspen, and Staghorn Sumac.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Donora Ravine Restoration

Map of Donora Ravine

Donora Ravine is a small place as ravines go. But for some local residents it is now a big issue. Late last year the city began a restoration project of the degraded site. The controversy began when the city cut down all the Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) surrounding the ravine. While this is an important first step in the restoration process, cutting down mature trees is a touchy subject for city residents, especially if they don't realize the impact this species has on the natural environment.

Norway Maples are an introduced species that are commonly planted as a street tree. They grow fast, produce a dense canopy of shade and can tolerate a variety of urban conditions, ie. salt tolerance, drought resistance, and soil compaction. They also produce large volumes of seeds that readily sprout everywhere including our ravine parks. Left unattended they can out-compete the slower growing Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).

While the result may be a little unsightly in the short term, in about 10-15 years the woodland will re-establish, this time with native species. Friends of the Don East have been busy this year planting native trees and shrubs. Already there are signs of abundant understory growth. The stumps of the maples were left in place because these will provide valuable habitat for tree dwelling animals including Raccoons and Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa). Woodpeckers also feed here on insects living beneath the bark.

In order to educate the public, the city erected an interpretive sign that describes the restoration project and its importance to the natural environment. It will be interesting to watch this site mature over the next couple of years.

View of ravine taken December 2006. Viewpoint is arrow #1

Donora Ravine, 10 months later. Viewpoint is arrow #2

Father and daughter read intrepretive sign beside ravine

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don River Reroute Update

I've been busy with school lately so my posting has dropped off. Just time to do some cross-posting tonight. Val Dodge has done a story on the Don River so I thought I'd share the link with you. He (or she) has been kind enough in giving me links as well (a kindred Don spirit no doubt).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crothers' Woods Trail Maintenance Session

Toronto Off Road-Bicycle Group and City of Toronto Trail Building Workshop

October 14th 2007

Please join the City of Toronto and the Toronto Off-Road Bicycling Group for a day of sustainable trail development in Crothers' Woods located in the Don River watershed.

We will be meeting on Sunday October 14th at 10:00am at the trailhead adjacent to Loblaws at #11 Redway Road (Redway and Millwood Rd). Events usually run until 4:00pm, or until the days tasks have been completed. Please bring a lunch (which can be purchased at the Loblaws) and come prepared for outdoor work (work boots, long pants, sunscreen etc).

Trail users, and anyone who would like to get out and do their part for the Don trail system, are all welcome to join our trail work sessions to assist with trail construction, stewardship and maintenance. Activities can include re-routing trails away from badly eroded hillsides, rock armouring over exposed tree roots, building water crossings, installing interesting trail components and planting native trees and shrubs to increase forest health.

A short introduction, training and safety session will conducted before the event for everyone in attendance.

Please email Jason at or call 416-338-DIRT for more details.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Attack of the Giant Woolly Bear!

Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) caterpillar [click photo for a really close-up view]

Ha, ha, just kidding. This is just a close-up photograph with no frame of reference. I was cycling in the Don on the weekend and came across many of these making their way across the bike path, unfortunately some of them have been squished by inattentive (or very attentive) cyclists.

These creatures are the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth. Most moths lay their eggs in the the fall which then hatch in the spring. With this species, the eggs hatch in September and the caterpillars feed up until the first frost when they go into hibernation, usually under a rock or a log. When spring arrives they wake up and start to feed. I've seen them crawling across melting banks of snow in March when the first warm thaw hits. This adaptation gives them a bit of a head start on the rest of the bunch as they get first crack at spring vegetation.

According to Wikipedia, they are celebrated in Ohio during an event called the Woollybear Festival. I suppose their fuzzy appearance makes them kind of cute. I wonder if they hold woolly bear races?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cedarvale Park Restoration

A former grassy ditch gets a makeover

I went to a planting last Sunday in Cedarvale Park. Cedarvale Park is just south of Eglinton West Subway station and sits atop the Spadina subway line. Most of the park is grassy field, underused except by dog walkers and a nearby cricket pitch. The location of the planting was a ditch formerly lined with grass. In the spring it fills with meltwater but is dry most of the summer.

This project was started by ex-city employee Trisha Kaplan-Freed who has since moved out to Vancouver Island. Her efforts to make the most of poor habitats like this in Toronto will be sorely missed. The ground is some of the worst digging I've encountered. Just underneath the grass the soil is heavily compacted and as hard as concrete. I expect that there will be a low survival rate unless these trees and shrubs are watered and tended for the first few years.

Still it is a worthwhile project. Hopefully in 5-10 years enough material will survive to start providing habitat for birds and small mammals. Perhaps I will make annual treks out here to check it's progress to see if my prediction holds true.

Schematic diagram of the project

Don Watcher manages to plant eight Eastern White Cedars (Thuja occidentalis) in hard packed soil.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Clearcut Culprits Revealed

Restoration site bulldozed for pipeline repairs.

Last May I reported on a puzzling circumstance of a grove of mature willows that had been chopped down across Bayview Ave. from the Brick Works. I wasn't able to ascertain the reason until now.

It turns out that an Enbridge (formerly Consumers Gas) pipeline runs directly underneath the site. When I visited the site last week I found a construction road had been plowed directly through the site cutting a swath through a patch of Dogwood and Nannyberry bushes. What had been a successful restoration site is now an ugly mess.

With Enbridge digging up pipelines for repairs, Ontario Hydro chopping trees under power lines, and the city digging up ground for sewer repairs (and new sewers), it just demonstrates how difficult restoration activities in the Don Valley can be.

Construction road continues to the west. On the left is a pile of what used to be the trees growing on this site.

I guess it should also say, "Call before you plant".