This fall, Ontario Nature hosted a well-attended conservation fair at its Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve in partnership with Ontario Power Generation (OPG). The fair, which attracted some 350 participants, was one of 10 events that Ontario Nature co-sponsored with OPG in 2009. Each is intended to connect families from urban and suburban areas across the province with nature.

“We were thrilled with the success of the day,” says Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature. “To see so many families getting involved and the excitement of the kids was just what we had hoped for.”

For the eager naturalist, exciting activities abounded. Birdbox building was a popular choice, and participants learned how to construct boxes and then erect them around the meadows and wetlands of the reserve. Local visitors were pleasantly surprised that such a naturally rich and large area – one integral to the York Region Greening Strategy and home to species such as great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls – was so close at hand.

“The Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve represents a gem within Ontario Nature’s broader greenway vision that provides families with a wonderful opportunity to experience nature in a rapidly growing urban environment,” says Cara Clairman, vice-president of sustainable development at OPG. “One walk along the trails at Cawthra Mulock will reinforce the need to protect what sustains us.”

The Ontario Veterinary College in the Wildlife Environment and Education Program at the University of Guelph presented its hugely popular raptor showcase at the fair. Visitors got up close and personal with majestic raptors, including a turkey vulture, a broad-winged hawk and a great horned owl. For many people, seeing such birds, let alone observing them within arm’s reach, was a first.

Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority brought a demonstration model that showed how water and pollution move through a watershed, and the importance of keeping them healthy. Fittingly, another popular activity allowed visitors to participate in the restoration of the reserve’s stream channel, which involved placing stones along the stream course to stabilize its banks.

Mike Van Tilaart from the York-Simcoe Naturalists led 70 or so people on guided hikes around the reserve. The crowd spied preying mantises, shield bugs, painted turtles, leopard frogs and toads. Other activities included button making and face painting, a reptile and amphibian scavenger hunt, and creating bird feeders from pine cones.

For many people, the event was an introduction to Ontario Nature and its nature reserve system. Numerous visitors remarked on what an informative, engaging and fun experience it was. Many inquired whether this unique setting was open to the public. (It is! Visit Ontario Nature’s website for directions and access instructions to Cawthra Mulock and other nature reserves.) The fair also piqued people’s interest in Ontario Nature conservation projects, as well as OPG’s Biodiversity 2009 initiative.

“Ontario Power Generation has been a very important supporter of the ecological restoration work on a number of our reserves,” says Schultz. “So it was very fitting that this event sponsored by OPG’s Biodiversity Program was held here.”

“We at OPG believe we all have an important role to play in conserving and stewarding nature,” says Clairman. “We are pleased to partner with organizations like Ontario Nature that share our interests and have the capacity to educate families on our dependence upon and connectedness to nature. Our youth will be our future stewards. Engaging them now is a wise investment for our collective future.”

The conservation fair was one of many educational events Ontario Nature holds throughout the year. Visit the Ontario Nature website for updates on more events like this one scheduled for 2010. Full listings of OPG-sponsored events and event photos can be found at 

Our Clubs: Happy Anniversary

This year, many groups in Ontario Nature’s Nature Network are celebrating milestone anniversaries. We’d like to celebrate the 25th anniversary of five member groups that are committed to protecting Ontario’s natural landscape.

In 1984, the Carolinian Canada Coalition (CCC) identified 38 sites – totalling 16,500 hectares – across southwestern Ontario as critical natural areas. Since then, CCC has worked closely with government and nongovernment groups to secure these sites and to protect the biodiversity in the Carolinian region that stretches between Toronto and Windsor. CCC is a vital link between public and private stewardship and between grassroots initiatives and government programs.

The Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club (ECFNC) promotes the conservation of the diverse natural landscape of Essex County and the surrounding region. ECFNC was essential to the acquisition of Ontario Nature’s magnificent Stone Road Alvar Nature Reserve, a 42-hectare property of oak-hickory woodland, red cedar savannah and open alvar communities. The club remains the official steward of the property, which also features an abundance of downy woodmint, a plant that in Canada is confined to Pelee Island.

Development in the Kawartha Lakes region over the last 100 years has been devastating to osprey habitat. Pressure from new infrastructure means that the spectacular raptor must occasionally nest in perilous conditions, for example, on live-cable poles and television towers. Friends of the Osprey-Kawartha Lakes has worked for 25 years to educate the public about osprey conservation. This year, the club participated in bird tracking with Bird Studies Canada and will use the resulting migration data in future conservation projects.

The North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) uses educational outreach to inspire in people an appreciation of North America’s native plants. Continent-wide, human impacts have contaminated and destroyed natural areas, resulting in drastic reductions of native plant populations. Invasive species such as garlic mustard and buckthorn are degrading what remains. The goal of NANPS is to facilitate the restoration of our native plant life through such programs as the organization’s seed exchange. Members donate seeds and NANPS sells them at low cost to people living in bioregions in which the plants are appropriate.

Named for renowned naturalist Charles Macnamara, the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club (MFNC) explores and conserves the rich natural landscape of the lower Ottawa Valley, an area that the club’s website refers to as a “natural oasis”:“No matter where we roam, there is always something new to discover and enjoy.” The club has achieved a number of conservation wins, including the successful release of peregrine falcons, surveys of rare plants and animals, and maintaining the Macnamara Nature Trail and its numerous winter birdfeeders.

We thank all our dedicated member clubs for their longstanding commitment to the protection of wild species and wild spaces across Ontario.