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Boxing Day bird count in Coldspring Valley

Thanks to this annual Hamilton Naturalist Club event, the Boxing day bird count had our friend Rob Porter counting birds in Coldspring Valley. In a few hours he spotted 28 species! Rob thoughtfully provided us with his count of each species. Any one want to comment on what the types of species he spotted means with regards to the habitat available? Or what adding a marsh instead of a parking lot would be likely to do?

Thanks Rob!
29 Canada Goose1 Cooper's Hawk4 Red-tailed Hawk - Three seen at same time, all stirred up when the Cooper's Hawk arrived.17 Ring-billed Gull1 Herring Gull1 Mourning Dove6 Red-bellied Woodpecker14 Downy Woodpecker3 Hairy Woodpecker14 Blue Jay3 American Crow45 Black-capped Chickadee1 Red-breasted Nuthatch14 White-breasted Nuthatch1 Brown Creeper7 Carolina Wren Map of locations found: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zeVs6ZI4aFZw.kM03gY0lBwgk - While this may seem high, they are quite spread out along the perimeter of the property, which is largely …

Binkley's Pond and original creek channel mapped

Well, the mystery of Binkley's Pond has been well solved, which is what happens when history gets a hand from Geography and Earth Science expert in hydrology Dr. Mike Waddington of McMaster. Here (above) is his mapping using a 2014 aerial photo and showing the original stream channel of Ancaster Creek in blue, the current channel in pink, and in green, the location of Binkley's pond.

McMaster students in Dr. Waddington's class will be doing hands-on research in this area to gather more data about the hydrological history of this rare cold-water creek/habitat.

The larger goal is to rescue and rehabilitate sections of the parking lot to recreate cold water marsh, adding to the overall health of the Cootes Paradise region, in a project known as McMarsh.

We consider the case of Binkley's Pond a mystery officially solved, case closed!


Who was Maria?

It's mystery day at Restore Cootes.

The longest almost intact surviving trail from the former Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary (now McMaster parking lots K, M, N, O, P) was the shortest trail in the system: Maria's Walk. From the trailhead at Thorndale Crescent, Maria's walk is today only interrupted by roads built in the late 1960s to service the then new parking lots being constructed on top of the floodplain.

It is a lovely trail that for some reason McMaster has attempted to block access. People of course know a good trail when they see one, and continue to flow around barriers erected by the university to make the short hike between the campus and the parking lot.


The only other trail remnant is the trail from Lakelet Vale to the parking lot at Campus Services. It has a warning sign.


Could the university not give Maria's walk the same treatment?

But getting back to the mystery: who was Maria? Got any ideas? Share clues or answers in the comments section below! T…

Mystery of Binkley's Pond

Mentions of Binkley's Pond in historical accounts mention it as a popular fishing spot, and a place to skate and play hockey, even as home rink for a local team. 
Yet when the property came under the control of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the 1940s, by the time trail maps were drawn up for what became Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary, the pond was no longer mentioned as a feature. What happened? Care to guess?

Oak plus turtles = habitat rehabilitation in Lot M McMaster

There's a proverb that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Here's an oak sapling planted in the now naturalized buffer zone between Lot M parking and Ancaster creek.  In the back ground you can see the small orange flags marking newly created turtle habitat, sandy mounds where females turtles can lay eggs.
The spring will reveal how well this new habitat will do. Fingers crossed for success! 
Thanks to Reyna Matties for the photo.

The Spencer Plan

You can read more about the HCA's Plan for lower Spencer Creek in their minutes at their web site here.

What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments!

Snaking Spencer

In the late 19th century, the natural meandering path of spencer creek was diverted to clear a raised path for the railway that connected Dundas to Hamilton (H & D Railway). Small bridges crossed Spencer Creek and Ancaster Creek where the creeks intersected, bringing trains up past Binkley's Pond (now McMaster parking lot M-P), and until the 1980s, ran freight beside Cootes Drive past McMaster.

Hikers know the lower spencer creek trail next to the straightened creek running parallel to Cootes Drive. Pacific salmon struggle upstream each fall to lay eggs before dying.

One day I saw canoeists paddling with all their energy against the current in spring full flow. I called to them from the trail: "Where are you going?"

Their answer, grunted out between rapid strokes of the paddle, "the Beer Store."

A Belted Kingfisher chatters busily up and down the creek, perhaps, i imagine, complaining an evolutionary memory of a more natural channel path, a memory shared by…

For the Turtles

This Is Peak Parking at McMaster?

I know from previous information provided by McMaster Parking that the busiest parking time was 1pm on Tuesdays. That data was from 2011. Work is underway to study the parking situation to develop a Transportation Demand Management plan and those people will have access to parking data, but still I felt the need/desire to go look for myself.

Right now McMaster has agreed not to repave a section of Lot M (would hold about 200 cars) after some professors made a plea to use the redundant parking area as an outdoor laboratory to study and practice wetland rehabilitation. McMaster left it as gravel, painted some yellow parking stalls, and have it for peak/overflow parking. The argument to keep it as parking is pretty weak, as you will see, so hope for McMarsh remains strong.

I set out on my bicycle to check out the parking lot at peak. As I crested the hill at about 1:05pm the lot looked busy, but as I got closer any fears I had that the overflow lot was busy evaporated.

There was one car t…

Turtles and Trees

I am happy to report Restore Cootes has been a successful broker for two recent developments in the former Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary:

A local company was looking to the Hamilton Naturalist Club to find a place where their employees could volunteer for a day planting trees. The offer was strengthened by the acknowledgment that the type of trees/shrubs could be chosen by the host. I suggested McMaster's newly created buffer zone on Lot M - and happily it was all made possible with the help of professor Susan Dudley, Jen Baker of the Naturalists club, Zanita Lukezich of Evergreen, and the folks at Canon who will be helping. So on Thursday, October 9, 150 native trees and shrubs will be planted on what was, until recently, a parking lot. There is room for a few McMaster volunteers, so let me know if you want to help.As the planting discussion was unfolding, I read a news article about The Royal Botanical Gardens' efforts to protect turtles in the vicinity of nearby Cootes …

Looking Back

September 23, 1960
Campus Construction creates parking dilemma - should we pay? As part of an ongoing construction project on campus, parking spots were blocked off rom the middle of 1959 until this story printed. When construction ended, the University decided it would not build any new lots as Dr. Gilmour, the President at the time said "we are not going to make this a cement campus." He added, "Many students think that it is the obligation of the university to subsidize their transportation by providing them with parking space....I am sure if you charged them for it, most students would park half a mile away and walk from there!"

(Above, The SIL, Vol. 85, Issue 4, Thursday, September 11, 2014, originally published in the Silhouette as Space Even Scarcer for Student Vehicles)

Ghost Hike Wednesday

Ghost Hike into West Campus. Part of OPIRG's MAKING CONNECTIONS week Sep 10 2014, 10:00am - 11:30pm (new time 10am-11:30am)

Walk back in time and explore the founding of McMaster University in Hamilton, the relationship between McMaster and the Royal Botanical Gardens' properties, Canada's first modern highway, electric railways, pioneer cemeteries, lost ponds, and "ghost" trails.

This roughly one hour walk through west campus will also focus on changes to the parking area to create a naturalized buffer between the asphalt lots and the beautiful Ancaster/Coldspring Creek that passes through McMaster's property.

There is no cost for this popular hike, bring a friend and explore the campus in a new way.

Your guide is Randy Kay of community group RESTORE COOTES

Meet at the OPIRG Office in room 229 McMaster University Student Centre.

OPIRG welcomes all to participate in this event, if you require an accommodation to make this event more accessible for you plea…

The Bad News Turtles

RBG asks city to help protect Cootes turtles Hamilton Spectator By Matthew Van Dongen

The city is being asked to cut speed limits and erect wildlife fences to help save rare turtles from death-by-motorist along Cootes Drive and Olympic Drive.

The Royal Botanical Gardens has spent five years working on a recovery plan for turtles around Cootes Paradise and area marshes.

An estimated 1,500 turtles remain there.

Dozens have been killed along Cootes Drive and Olympic Drive over the last several years, according to a map presented by RBG natural lands head Tys Theysmeyer at the public works committee Tuesday.

The city can help head off those deaths, he said, by reducing the speed limit along Cootes Drive to 60 km/h from 80 and setting up wildlife fences to "redirect" turtles intent on heading from the marsh to high ground to nest.

"We think it would make a significant difference," Theysmeyer said after the meeting. "Slowing down at least gives you (the motorist) a chan…

Surfacing: Good News in Cootes Paradise!

After two decades of slow progress, restoration of Cootes Paradise takes a giant leap forwardMother Nature pressed fast-forward this summer on the decades-long recovery of the most important fish spawning marsh this side of Lake Ontario. But if you don't routinely paddle and peer into the water of Cootes Paradise, you probably missed it. "I went for a paddle in June and presto — it looked like we had practically regrown half the marsh," said Tys Theysmeyer, head of natural lands for the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a startling development for an agency that has worked since 1993 to restore the ill-treated water body at the west end of Hamilton Harbour, where pollution, flushed silt and voracious carp had all but wiped out vegetation in the once-teeming wetland. When we started restoration, there were two water lilies left here. Tys Thysmeyer Royal Botanical Gardens
Over two decades, sewage control efforts, a $2.3-million carp barrier and replanting of cattails, water l…

Coming Back To Life: Coldspring Valley

Real signs of life in Lot M this July, as work proceeds on creating the naturalized 30 metre buffer to protect Ancaster Creek from McMaster's parking lot. The pavement was ripped up and fill was placed behind a new concrete curb 30 metres away from the creek.

More detailed info to come, but the pictures help to show the new landscape as it takes shape. Hints of the lost natural landscape suggest themselves, but the area remains a filled-in floodplain. It would need a lot more work to ever return to floodplain function, but the McMarsh initiative could be a step in that direction if the University decides to commit fully to the project.

Who Parks Where?

From the McMaster Parking web page: Q: Why do I not have the option to purchase permits in any parking lot? A: Students and Part- time staff have the options to purchase parking in the Stadium, Lot M, and Ward Ave. All other Lots are designated for full- time faculty and staff members and permits are distributed based on seniority of working years at the University.


Trickle Down Coldspring News: no one will lose a parking space

With construction crews tearing up McMaster's Lot M Parking asphalt to create the minimum requirement of a 30 metre naturalized buffer between parking and the cold-water Ancaster Creek, nary a peep in the McMaster Daily News or Parking's web site news.


I've asked a few people with parking passes in Lot M if they know what is going on with the large scale construction project: no one had an inkling, thinking it was a just a repaving job.

I e-mailed the parking office April 16 to ask what was going on, and have not received a reply.

So today I was in the school bookstore on other business when I noticed a parking desk/kiosk in the store. I spoke with the person staffing the booth and asked about Lot M: they explained the work was a project for the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) to protect the creek, and when I asked about loss of parking effecting current parking pass holders, they explained that drivers who had a permit in lot M and wanted renewal would get a spot o…

Ponds To Parking: The Historical Talk

From Ponds to Parking, and Back Again: The History of Coldspring Valley.The relationship between McMaster and the Royal Botanical Gardens is intwined by a mutual history, and confounded by conflicting requirements. In 1963 McMaster purchased the Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary property from a reluctant RBG and turned it into a massive parking lot. 50 years later is there a chance for the lost floodplain to make a come-back?


How's that for a title and synopsis? Would you come and listen if I promise not to go on too long? Pencil in Oct. 9, 2014 at the Dundas Historical Museum (7:30pm start)

Hands On Research

Undergraduates are already benefitting from research in the west campus that will expand once the McMarsh project is a reality. These students are working at a site where the springs are discharging that would eventually feed McMarsh. Professor Mike Waddington is a key member of the McMarsh team, and his expanded engagement with this project has him creating a brand new course titled "Field techniques in Hydrology" starting in September.

These are exciting times of major changes for McMaster as we revalue land use, from excess parking to rehabilitation of natural lands with a hands-on teaching and research component that enhances the learning environment of the campus.

There's already a lot more activity in Lot M with several classes from McMaster engaging with the site as an opportunity to further educational goals across disciplines. Courses doing work in the area include Integrated Science ISCI 1A24, ISCI 2A18, ISCI 3A12, Environmental Science 3B03, 4B03, Engineerin…

5 years

Yes, it's been over 5 years since the south west section of Lot M was closed for a major construction project to install a combined sewer overflow tank. The original notice with map of area (the closed section was actually larger than just the CSO tank shown, since the city needed the parking lot to store equipment and the earth dug out to create the underground holding tank)


If the University Administration agrees to extend the development of the Forward with Integrity grant through the McMaster President's Office, this south-western former parking lot could be transformed into McMarsh, a unique, hands-on outdoor teaching and research facility for McMaster students and researchers, and include public access to learning opportunities on wetland/floodplain rehabilitation.

LOT M CHRONOLOGY

One thing leads to another: with Restore Cootes' founding focused on Cootes Drive's negative impact on habitat, further historical research deepened our understanding of the massive changes wrought on this special place by human development. Our selected chronology touches on some key moments in the pursuit of restoring the natural connections lost to car-centric development, and the amazing opportunity we are presented with today to gain ground, literally, for rehabilitating the ecology of lost floodplains and specialized habitat. 

August 2001 - Restore Cootes founded with proposal to restore wetland lost when Cootes Drive built by removing Cootes Drive: “Ecologically, it makes wonderful sense." HRCA Ecologist Bruce Duncan quoted in Dundas Star News
March 2002 - Reading through the McMaster Campus Master Plan reveals a project on paper that we will later pursue on the ground:

“7.3.12 A number of opportunities exist for campus development to contribute to enhancing the wate…

Big News in LOT M

It is exciting to see McMaster finally taking action to tear up asphalt in Lot M to create the 30 metre naturalized buffer between the parking lots and the cold water creek known variously as Ancaster Creek, Red Creek (historically), and Coldwater Creek after Restore Cootes started advocating for action.

What strikes me as a little bizarre, and disappointing, is the lack of communication on this good news initiative from McMaster. No news updates on the Daily News website at McMaster, nothing on the Parking News site, it appears that parking pass holders in the lots were not notified about the changes (which we understand will mean no parking pass holders will lose a space due to excess capacity of campus lots).

A more complete post will come shortly, but for now, happy days for the natural world and the health of Ancaster Creek in the former floodplain!

Fencing in the natural world in a biodiversity hotspot is a band aid, not a solution

This article appeared in the Hamilton Spectator today (April 10, 2014) - from our own headline (above) I want to ensure it is clear we support the RBG fence as a temporary fix for a long-term problem. We need to protect vulnerable species from extirpation, due in large part to road kill. But a better solution is to be found at the core of  Restore Cootes' vision. More on that soon.  - rk

RBG wants permanent fence to protect trekking turtles TURTLERon Pozzer,Spectator fileA Blandings turtle seen in 2004. New efforts are underway to protect turtles along Cootes Drive. By Mark McNeil The Royal Botanical Gardens and the Hamilton Conservation Authority Foundation are ramping up efforts to prevent a fragile population of turtles and other wildlife from getting run over by vehicles on Cootes Drive. The RBG wants to build a permanent fence, three-quarters of a kilometre long, that is expected to cost more than $30,000, on the east side of the road near the edge of McMaster University prope…

Salamander Safety!

http://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/4430337-city-closing-king-road-for-salamanders-starting-march-27/

King Road will close from the base of the Niagara Escarpment to Mountain Brow Road from March 27-April 17 to allow the endangered Jefferson salamander safe passage during its annual migration to lay eggs.

Beginning in 2012, the City of Burlington has closed the same section of road completely for a three-week period.

“The closure is a significant conservation measure because the annual migration puts salamanders at risk,” said Bruce Zvaniga, the city’s director of transportation services, in a press release.

“There is good evidence that the effort has allowed the Jefferson salamanders to travel safely across King Road, helping preserve a unique part of Burlington’s biodiversity.”

The Jefferson salamander is a protected species and is nationally and provincially endangered.

In Canada, the Jefferson salamander is found in Southern Ontario in select areas of deciduous forest, mostly along t…

beaver at canal

Hamilton has easy access to nature minutes from downtown (or even the "dark satanic mills" where of course an environmental nightmare of coal sludge remains at the bottom of the Bay) - here is a beaver lodge (and beaver) at the canal between the Hamilton Harbour and Cootes Paradise marsh, right alongside the multi-use trail.

More nature please.

Cold Spring Creek gets moved west

Not sure about the resolution on these scans, but if you look closely you can see the former creek bed east (to the right) of the re-aligned Cold Spring Creek (Ancaster Creek), in preparation for McMaster paving the former Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary for parking lots. The survey is from 1963, the year McMaster managed to buy the valued property from the reluctant Royal Botanical Gardens.

CONSERVATION COIN

A happy ending for conservation lovers, as the Hamilton Conservation Authority Board buys into removal of Maplewood Hall (and the long roadway and parking area) to rehabilitate the natural lands at this beautiful property.

Money from private donors saved the day, swaying the HCA Advisory Board to finally agree to what the HCA staff report had previously unequivocally determined was the best course of action.

Yet this victory for nature leaves me somewhat disconcerted about how this all played out, and what it might mean for the HCA's future.

Here's how I interpreted the chain of events: Maplewood is losing money, the HCA decides to examine it's future. HCA staff prepare a detailed report outlining various options and recommend removing Maplewood and naturalizing the area as the preferred option. The HCA Board decides to wait and seek other options, though it seems there was no formal process to seek options. At some point Tony Evans of the Dundas Montessori school gets tol…

One Win for the Public Good!

Donors convince HCA to abandon valley lease plan By Richard Leitner (January 22, 2014, Hamilton Community News)
An outpouring of financial support to pay for the demolition of a former Dundas Valley outdoor education centre has effectively killed a bid by a private school to rent the building.

The Hamilton Conservation Authority's advisory board voted unanimously last week to recommend Maplewood Hall be torn down after donors pledged $213,000 toward the project, which will also see the 13-hectare Artaban Road property restored to a natural state.

While the recommendation must still go to authority directors on March 6 for final approval, their OK is likely a formality because five of 11 directors were on hand to support the advisory board recommendation.

"It's the largest single spontaneous outpouring of funds from one community I've ever seen in such a short time," said authority vice-chair Jim Howlett, one of the directors who helped make the recommendation unanim…

Maplewood Not Out of the Woods Yet

From the Conservation Advisory Board, to the Full Conservation Board last Thursday, and now back to the Conservation Advisory Board we go. Maplewood isn't quite dead yet. Soon, hopefully, the idea of a private school in the middle of public conservation lands will be dealt a final blow, and the natural lands will be allowed to regenerate, as suggested by HCA staff in a thorough report (that keeps getting ignored by the board)

I'm using more time than I thought I would need on this file, getting my car-less self to far flung meeting locations only to see this thing kicked around despite all the good arguments for demolition, so I'm going to borrow from the recent update from the Hamilton Naturalists Club.
Hamilton Conservation Authority Meeting: Thursday, January 16th, 7pm at Ironwood Hall, Westfield Village (follow Hwy 8 north-west through Dundas, cross Hwy 5 and continue to Kirkwall Road/RR#552 just past Rockton. Turn right and follow for 1.5km) The Club reports that
"…

Research Roundup

Well well, those amazing McMaster Arts and Science students are certainly giving Cootes Paradise a look in a way that Restore Cootes appreciates. From Lot M' s 30m buffer, transportation demand management for McMaster, McMarsh, McMaster Forest and yes, even Cootes Drive, they're all here (and more) in this online presentation:
http://prezi.com/h0uam4f60rjb/artsci-4cg3-2013-research-posters/

It is great to have the support of McMaster students and professors as these real-life local issues take on a new life. Thanks to OPIRG McMaster as well for supporting the project.


December Ends with No Construction

At the end of November McMaster's Director of Parking and Security told me that construction to create the 30 metre naturalized buffer would begin in December, and planting in the spring. A visit to the site today reveals that while no parking spots have been removed from the edge of Lot M along Ancaster Creek, some equipment to do the job is in place (unconfirmed assumption - rk).

I hope to be there to get some time-lapse images when the construction starts. This is an important phase in a realigning of our values to better reflect care and concern for the health of the natural world. Removing parking to bring back a cleaner and healthier Ancaster Creek is a small but significant step in the right direction: Kudos to McMaster for doing the right thing.