Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Spring in Crothers' Wood, Part I

Went for a hike through Crothers' Woods yesterday and took some pictures. Now is the time to view spring ephemerals before the forest canopy closes in. Many of the usual suspects were present. Here are a few notables.

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

and White (Trillium grandiflorum). Good to see that our provincial flower can still be found in the Don.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has already gone to seed

If you nip a leaf off you'll see orangy-red sap ooze out. This is how the plant got its name.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). This stuff is all over the place. A couple of years ago I wrote about the ecology of this plant.

Early Meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum). It was difficult to get a good shot of this plant. There are many inconspicuous flowers, all hanging down.

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata). I photographed its cousin, D. diphylla, last spring in Earl Bales Park.

In addition to spring ephemerals, other plants are in evidence as well, including some we don't care for.

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), the glossy leaved dark brown plant. I first noticed this plant last spring in another ravine. It doesn't flower until the end of May.

Horsetail ferns (Equisetum spp.) Remnant of an ancient group of plants that dominated the Devonian Age, only a few species remain. It is listed as a weed in Ontario since it has some toxic properties that cause problems for cattle.

All that comes up green is not golden. 95% of the understory plants here are Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This was taken on the embankment below the Bayview Extension. This invasive plant now dominates the forest floor here and will be difficult to control. The roots of this plant have unusual toxic properties that inhibit the growth of native forest trees.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Class EA for Don Mouth

EA announcement (pdf available here)

There is a new Class Environmental Assessment starting up on part of the Don Mouth. This study will look at transportation (including transit), water/wastewater and storm water management issues in the lower Don lands, specifically north of the Keating Channel and between Cherry St and the Don River.

The EA is being managed by Waterfront Toronto. If you want to be included in the mailing list or be involved in the project, send an email to Andrea Keleman.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lower Don Wetlands

The spring is a good time to take stock of our wetlands. What with snow melt and spring rains, there is plenty of water to go around. Some of the wetlands only have water in the spring whereas others keep water all year round. Here's a quick overview of what the Lower Don has to offer in the way of wetlands.

Chester Springs Marsh

Chester Springs Marsh was the first major wetland restoration project of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don in 1996. Entirely dependent on the river for its water, it does dry up during the summer unless there is a big flood. The initial excavation inadvertently exposed an old landfill site beneath which revealed flotsam from a previous generation. The prospect of finding bits of old pottery has attracted people who dig holres here and there looking for items for sale in flea markets. These holes have altered the drainage of the marsh so that water no longer stays around as long as it did when the marsh was first created.

Riverdale Farm Ponds

The granddaddy of the lower Don wetlands, this has been around since the Riverdale Zoo was created in the 19th century. The pond shown here used to have a water fed fountain in the middle of the pond. Ducks and geese swam here fed on a steady diet of bread crumbs fed by zoo visitors. The fountain and the zoo are long since gone but the pond remains. With no steady water input the pond becomes very stagnant in the summer and poor oxygen conditions mean that not much can survive in it. Last year an aerator was installed to pump air into the water. Ongoing studies are monitoring the pond to see if this is improving the pond's living conditions.

Riverdale Park East

This marsh was created about five years ago to capture runoff from the hill and adjacent sports field. It functions fairly well but tends to dry up by mid-July. The city was forced to fence it off because off-leash dogs kept mucking up the marsh and making a mess of the planted bushes and flowers.

Helliwell's Hill

This site just north of the viaduct captures runoff from the DVP. Three small embayments were excavated and they are all full in the spring. However the one pictured usually dries up by mid-June. There may be a small spring that still trickles water into the site because one of the embayments always has a little bit of water in it. However it is totally surrounded by Cattails so it is hard to take a picture of it. The surrounding trees and bushes have done well - some of them are in excess of 10m high.

Binscarth Swamp

Located in a tiny ravine southwest of the Brick Works, this low-lying swamp used to flood a nearby bike path every spring. Fed by a small creek it swells to three times its summer size covering the ground in about 5 cm of water. Last year the city trucked in more gravel for the path and raised it above the flooding depth and added drainage to a ditch beside Bayview Ave. The path now stays dry. During the summer the marsh shrinks down but does retain water year-round.

Don Valley Brick Works

The Brick Works ponds (there are two more in addition to the one pictured) are an outstanding example of a quarry restoration. The former quarry pit was 40m deep in this location. It was all filled in and the ponds were added on top. Today, diverted water from nearby Mud Creek provides a constant flow of water for the ponds and provides and wide array of habitat for a host of wetland plants and creatures.

Beechwood Wetland

One of the newest wetlands, this place is just north of Pottery Road. An old swale was cleared of weeds, expanded and restored with native trees and shrubs. The swale retains water year-round but does shrink in size by late summer. The portion depicted in the picture was mostly dry by August last summer.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

River Art

BGL: Project for the Don River

If you're travelling up the lower Don trail this spring you may be surprised to find a cruise ship moored in the Don River. Just south of the old Eastern Avenue bridge it's anchored in the middle of the river. It's actually a model of a cruise ship and unless you know some context I expect most people will be pretty confused. It is part of an art installation put together by an art group called BGL (the initials of the three artists - how original).

Their website talks about the project (although I can't access the promised PDF). There was an insert in the Globe and Mail two weeks ago about the project. There is also a blurb on the Mercer Union blog with additional pictures.

Most contemporary artists provide some context for their art and BGL are no exception. I copied this from the Mercer Union site:

A shrunken cruise ship 25 feet long, completely blackened and anchored in the Don. It is faced by a giant life buoy, totally out of proportion to the ship. With these absurd shifts in scale the function of these objects is brought into question. In case of emergency, is the buoy intended to save the entire ship, or is it meant for the river itself? ... The Nowhere 2 and its life buoy is an emblem par excellence of luxury, idleness and materialism, representing a leisure activity gone slightly wrong. They point to the possibility of being in a place without really seeing it, like tourists taking pictures from the deck but never going ashore. The life buoy introduces an element of anxiety, ... BGL are reflecting back to us the conditions of our time, while subtly bringing attention to the ecological issues of the site.

Subtle indeed. I have a hard time making any connection to ecological issues through this art but at least it will get people talking. Paddle the Don happens in two weeks and I presume many of the paddlers will be somewhat bemused as they pass by.

The Nowhere 2. What happened to Nowhere 1? Maybe it sank...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Things

Spring has come to the Don Valley and there are plenty of events to get you going. Here's a rundown on some of them

Friends of the Don East have a busy schedule with nine events starting this past weekend with the Todmorden Mills cleanup yesterday (which I missed because of a lingering cold).

The Taylor Massey Project also has a few events lined up for their neck of the woods.

Bring Back the Don has events scheduled. These can be viewed by reading their newsletter which is posted online in PDF format.

The city has also posted a summary of events which includes some duplicates from other groups that are co-sponsored.

The TRCA's Paddle the Don event is scheduled for May 4 this year. Canoeing the river adds a whole new perspective to the valley.

If anyone knows of other Don connected events let me know and I will post them.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spring Butterfly

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

On Monday it was a nice sunny day and I went on a bike ride through the valley. Among other things I encountered several Mourning Cloaks fluttering by. This one waited politely while I took several close-up photos.

From the quick research I did, I found out that they hibernate through winter in their adult stage and wake up in early spring. They quickly feed on the nectar of early flowers or feed on exposed tree sap. They mate and then lay their eggs on willow trees to begin their cycle again. This is another example of how some species are adapted to take advantage of a period of the year when there isn't much competition.

If you look closely (click on picture), you might notice a bunch of long hair that is growing lengthwise along its abdomen. It's possible that this is another adaptation to protect it against the winter cold during hibernation.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dog Run Redux

Meadow today

Fenced in meadow, August 2005

When I started blogging in July 2005, one of my original goals was to report issues and problems in the the Don Valley. It just so happened that a month later just such an issue arose and in my 8th post I reported on a problem with an old meadow restoration site.

What happened was that sons of Ken Thomson wanted to give a birthday present to their father who lived in Rosedale just up the hill from the Don Valley Brick Works. They offered to pay for some renovations to the Brick Works in exchange for giving Thomson, an avid dog owner, free reign to walk his dogs unleashed in the park. The city intelligently said no. They compromised by offering to expand the existing dog run but they didn't realize that the expansion impacted an old Bring Back the Don restoration site.

It turned out that the Culture Department, who at the time managed the Brick Works, was in charge of this project. Without conferring with the Parks Department who managed the land or the Task Force that had restored the site, they erected a fence around the meadow that effectively tripled the size of the present dog run.

Once I reported the problem, the Parks department put padlocks on the expanded area and the meadow has been locked up in dispute ever since. Through my participation with the Brick Works Public Advisory Committee, I got the city to back down from their position and a new compromise was reached. A reconfigured fence would restore 2/3 of the meadow and still double the size of the dog run. This was back in October 2005. In 2006 they promised to finish the project by the summer of 2007 but we are talking about the city where things can sometimes move real slow.

Over 2 1/2 years later the project is still not fully complete. But the fence has been reconfigured and the meadow restored for public use. Ironically, Thomson died in 2006 so he never did get to use the new dog run.

Oddly enough the plants that were fenced in all this time have done remarkably well. The dogwood have grown substantially and have created a nice little thicket.

The path looking southwest. You can see the dogwood thicket on the left behind the bench.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sewer Use Reports

This month there are a couple of documents of note to be presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on April 8.

Toronto Water Outfall Monitoring Program 2007 Progress Report

This report is a summary of outfall monitoring for 2007, something that staff has been doing since 2005. In this report, outfalls have been monitored on Taylor-Massey Creek, Black Creek and other watercourses throughout Toronto. Some new violations have been discovered and some old ones have been corrected. For example, one correction resulted in a reduction from 2,000,000 cfu/100 mL to 9 cfu/100 mL! CFU stands for Coliform Forming Units.

This report is mentioned in an omnibus report on sewer use bylaw compliance.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Early Spring Ride

I went for a ride on the Lower Don Trail yesterday, the first of the year. Since the trails are not plowed they get used repeatedly and the snow becomes hard packed and turns to ice. Eventually they become unusable until it melts. This past weekend it rained heavily so I figured they might be OK. Apart from a couple of patches of remnant ice underneath bridges and through tunnels, the path is pretty much clear. There is also some winter debris such as sticks and mud that will eventually wash away.

I took a short video of the path just south of Chester Spring Marsh. You can see that the river is high from the spring flood, although not too high that it was flooding the path. The trees and plants have not yet budded so it looks pretty drab with greys and reddish browns. Can't wait until it warms up!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Add Your 2 Cents

The TRCA has posted the contents of the Don Mouth EA presentation on their website. For anyone who cares to do so, you can still send in your comments to the following questions:
  1. Are you generally comfortable with the approach taken to refine the EA alternatives? Why or why not?
  2. Are you generally comfortable with the preliminary preferred alternative for the EA and how it was chosen? Why or why not?
  3. What do you see as the two or three key issues and/or opportunities that need to be addressed in the next steps of the EA?
  4. Do you have any other advice for the TRCA or Waterfront Toronto?
Comments need to be sent to Michelle Vanderwel by April 14, 2008.

Spring in the Valley

I was gonna take my camera down to the valley this afternoon and look for signs of spring but it looks like Marnie has beaten me to the punch. Check out her blog posting today!