Staff of Ruthven Park National Historic Site are thrilled to announce that the Site is officially open for the 2018 summer season as of 9:00am today, Saturday May 19, 2018.
Our summer hours (from today until Labour Day Monday) are Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday to Sunday, 9:30am to 5:00pm. Tours of the Thompson Family Mansion take place on the hour, every hour starting at 11:00am and with the last tour leaving at 4:00pm. Regular admission rates apply to mansion tours; visits to the grounds only are by donation.
2018 is a special year as it marks the 20th anniversary of Ruthven being declared a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and given its official plaque. You can see the plaque during your next visit where it still stands today at the front of the Thompson Family Mansion.
Ruthven achieved National Historic Site status for several reasons, the most key being as follows:
- It is the location of an exceptionally fine example of Greek Revival architecture, as represented by the Thompson Family Mansion.
- The property and the events that occured here represent the transition of Canada from a “settler” to a “settled” society.
- The landscape of the grounds open to the public is in the picturesque landscape design, a type that originated in England and was brought over to North America via the United States.
- The family who made Ruthven Park their home – the Thompsons – took part in and made contributions to many significant aspects of and events in Canadian history, such as local and federal politics, the War of 1812, the dramatic arts, World War One, and beyond.
We are very excited to present to the public many different options for enjoying the Site to the fullest. When you visit us next, consider the following:
- Bird watch and/or bird band.
- Bring a picnic.
- Admire the historic buildings’ architecture.
- Walk on one of our hiking trails.
- Explore the Edwardian Garden (as for a Garden Plan!)
- Attend one of our special events (watch this calendar).
- Take a traditional guided tour of the Thompson Family Mansion.
- Visit the Ghost Town of Indiana.
- Find the two beautiful cemeteries located on site.
- Take in the natural scenery and view of the Canadian Heritage Grand River.
- Book your function in the historic stone Coach House.
- … and much more!
If you have any questions or comments about how to make the most of a visit here, staff are always available to take your call at 905-772-0560 during opening hours.
We sincerely hope to see you here soon to help us celebrate our 20th year as a National Historic Site!
Editor’s Note: 100+ bird organizations declared 2018 the “Year of the Bird” as it is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ratification. Many are pledging to do 1 thing per month to help birds. As Ruthven Park National Historic Site has a bird banding station in collaboration with the Haldimand Bird Observatory, we are featuring one blog post per month on different birds! Below, you will find the fifth installment in this 12-part series.
Article by Mike Furber, Ruthven Park National Historic Site Bird Bander
It was a special fall banding season in 2015 at Oriskany Banding Station in Haldimand County. Previously, we were lucky to catch and band one or two Cape May Warblers a year since 2003. That fall, however, we banded an astonishing 22 Cape Mays (dare we say a “catch twenty-two”) – indeed, more than the previous twelve years put together! How could this happen? Read on.
A striking warbler, especially in the spring in its alternate plumage, the predominantly yellow male has a unique chestnut or rufous cheek patch along with a large white wing strip that sets it apart from other warblers. The drabber female is not as distinct and can be quite challenging to identify – especially in the fall in basic plumage – but there always seems to be a diagnostic yellowish pale marking on each side of the neck. In autumn basic plumages, both birds are not as colourful, yet still attractive.
Many of our wood warblers have strange names that often seem to have little to do with their natural history; Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) is a good example of this phenomenon. Many warblers are named after where they were first discovered. In this case, Cape May Warbler was first named by Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) based on an anonymously collected specimen from Cape May County, New Jersey in 1811. Ironically, he and other famous ornithologists such as John James Audubon (1785-1859) and Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) never saw a live one.
To this day, Cape May Warblers have continued to be uncommon or rare as a migrant in southern Ontario – except during occasional years of a spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) population breakout in the northern coniferous forests. Without these occasional population explosions of this moth caterpillar, you should wonder what might happen to Cape May Warblers. Indeed, they seem to be more dependent on this insect larva than the other so-called spruce budworm warblers, namely Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) and Tennessee Warbler (Oreothylypis peregrina).
Cape May Warbler is the most specialized of the northern forest breeding warblers. Although rather uncommon to rare most years, occasionally, they can be very common in fall migration after a successful nesting year that coincides with a high spruce budworm population. This often results in a year where many birds are caught and banded. Herein lies the answer to why we probably caught so many during that fall of 2015. Earlier that year in the spring, there probably was a spruce budworm population outbreak in much of the northern boreal forests, resulting in a very successful nesting year for Cape Mays. In fact, most large banding stations like Long Point Bird Observatory banded almost twice as many as usual (152) that same year. Furthermore, the Ontario Bird Banding Association totalled 344 banded throughout the province which includes most banders and banding stations in 2015; again, more than twice the normal total.
The preferred habitat is balsam fir mixed with white or black spruce; a more open park-like feel is preferred, with birch and aspen in the mix. As a tree top feeder, Cape May prefers to sing from the top spires of conifers. The song is a very high frequency, thin sounding “seet seet seet seet.” Though rarely observed, the nest is usually placed in the upper branches of a spruce or balsam.
As a favourite of many birders and bird banders, most would agree that Cape May Warbler is a darling of the Canadian Shield and the boreal forest where it nests. The species name “tigrina” is quite appropriate for two reasons: first, the male’s yellow underparts are finely streaked with black; and second, it is a very aggressive warbler toward other species, such that it could be called the “tiger” (or “tigress”) of the wood warbler world.
Although not as long a distance migrant as some warblers such as Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata), Cape May Warbler still travels a respectful distance from its nesting range to its wintering grounds primarily in the West Indies and surrounding islands. A remaining mystery is why Cape May Warblers don’t expand their breeding range into more of British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska where there is much of the same spruce-fir habitat. One reason, though not a satisfying one, is that there may be limits on the distance a bird species can travel north during the hurried spring migration. Other possible explanations include competition among other species, geographical barriers such as the Rockies, and physiological limits such as coping with temperature extremes. Ornithologists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithologists continue to research this mystery.
Unfortunately, like many bird species, Cape May Warbler numbers show significant declines since the 1990s per Canadian Migration Monitoring Network data from Long Point Bird Observatory. There was a moderate decrease in the breeding populations recorded during the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2001-2005) compared to that observed during the first atlas (1981-1985). This difference was thought to be mainly due to lower spruce budworm numbers during the second atlas. It will be interesting to see the results of the upcoming third Ontario atlas data collection during 2021-2025.
To be sure, much has been learned from bird banding recoveries and encounters. Moreover, along with the use of satellite transmitters and geolocators, and with continued amazing technological advances in bird research, we will continue to learn more about this lovely northern warbler. And to this end, we can better conserve this important avian member of the boreal forest ecosystem. Best of luck to all birdwatchers: here’s hoping you are fortunate to see a Cape May in its resplendent spring plumage this May and in many more years to come.
Dear members and friends,
Winter has finally cleared out and we hope you’re enjoying the beautiful sun throughout Haldimand County as much as we are. Today is such a stunning spring day, isn’t it?
In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find lots of exciting news about goings-on here, including an invitation to our upcoming Yoga Class & Candlelight Tour, an updated photo of the new administration building being constructed on site, an announcement about the extension of our wedding facility rental season, and much more.
You can access the PDF of the April newsletter on your device by downloading it when you click here: April 2018 Newsletter
Enjoy reading this edition of our newsletter, preferrably outside in some warm and bright location!
Ruthven Park staff
RUTHVEN PARK NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
For Immediate Release
April 17, 2018
Betsy Smith, President
Marilynn Havelka, CAO
NEW ADMINISTRATION BUILDING UNDER CONSTRUCTION AT RUTHVEN PARK
Ruthven Park National Historic Site’s staff are pleased to announce that it has undertaken a project to expand. As of June this year, visitors arriving on site will be greeted in our new administration building which is currently being built adjacent to the parking lot within the public area of the site.
Local contractor Harrison Brothers Contracting Inc. was the successful bidder.
This new location will be convenient for staff who can work closer to the historic buildings where activities on site most often take place, subsequently enabling them to better serve visitors. The building will accommodate staff offices, a small gift shop, exhibit area, and meeting space. The rationale for the location is to maximize the use of utilities already present at the public washroom building; to keep the modern building out of the picturesque landscape; to protect the historic views from the mansion; and to minimize the disturbance of the cultural resources, vegetation, and ecology of the site. The design will be simple and in keeping with the purpose it will serve.
The red brick Gate House office has served the site as the point of entry to the Site since 2001. The building, built in the 1860s, was originally a house for the Ruthven Park gate keeper. The Thompson family rented it to local families for many years until The Lower Grand River Land Trust Inc. took over the site in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the building as it stands today is not accessible for persons with disabilities, staff have no privacy, there is very limited room to work, and the 1950s addition to the historic footprint of the Gate House is not in keeping with the original architecture. The new purpose of the Gate House will be to act as storage and additional staff workspaces.
The building is a bit behind schedule due to unseasonal weather conditions, but we expect by next week you will see the framing up for the structure.
The Lower Grand River Land Trust Inc. Board have been working on plans for the new building over the past year. We are fortunate to have received one of Haldimand County’s generous grants through the Rural Business and Tourism Community Improvement Plan to help assist with the cost of construction.
We hope you visit Ruthven this summer to enjoy the landscape, mansion tours, public events, and the new welcoming atmosphere of the administration building.
Ruthven Park National Historic Site is located at 243 Haldimand Hwy #54, just North of Cayuga. The Site and Thompson Family Mansion are open to the public 7 days a week from May 19, 2018 to September 3, 2018 and throughout the remainder of the year for large group tours, facility rentals, trail hikes, education programs, public events, and more. Admission charges apply for guided Mansion tours and some events. Donations are always most welcome and appreciated. For more information, please call the Gate House office at 905-772-0560 or visit the website: www.ruthvenpark.ca.
Editor’s Note: 100+ bird organizations declared 2018 the “Year of the Bird” as it is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ratification. Many are pledging to do 1 thing per month to help birds. As Ruthven Park National Historic Site has a bird banding station in collaboration with the Haldimand Bird Observatory, we are featuring one blog post per month on different birds! Below, you will find the fourth installment in this 12-part series.
Article by Christine Madliger, Post-Doctoral Researcher (University of Windsor and Carleton University)
Wetlands, riversides, and meadows have just recently seen the return of this month’s “Year of the Bird” entry – the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). This feisty, beautifully-plumaged songbird will always be high up on my list of most favourite birds. For six years, my husband (Chris Harris) and I studied the tree swallows nesting at Ruthven Park, focusing on how habitat quality affects their stress hormone levels. As you drive up to the main expanse of the park or explore the surrounding areas, you can see a whole collection of wooden bird boxes (see photos below) where this species builds its nest and raises one set of 5-6 young each spring/summer. Tree swallows can also be found nesting in natural cavities in trees, but they do not have the strong beak required to excavate these cavities themselves. Instead, they rely on woodpeckers to do the work for them! Right now, females are busy choosing their mates for this season, assessing potential suitors by the blueness and shininess of their feathers.
To many birdwatchers and ornithologists, tree swallows are considered a common bird. Some have even gone so far as to call tree swallows the “white rat” of the bird world because they have been studied in such great detail. Part of the reason for their popularity as a study species stems from how accessible they are while nesting. Colonies of nest boxes allow researchers to easily monitor the birds and learn more about their reproduction, plumage colour, behaviour, physiology, and how they respond to climate change. Despite being small birds that only weigh around 20 grams, they are also very hardy. This means that researchers and bird banders who monitor colonies of nest boxes can capture the birds to band them, take measurements and weights, and even acquire small blood samples, without interfering with the bird’s ability to successfully breed.
Despite being so highly studied, scientists still have a lot more to learn about this species, especially regarding their migration and over-wintering ecology in places like Mexico and Cuba. Tree swallows are part of an interesting group of birds known as aerial insectivores, which also includes the martins, swifts, flycatchers, and nightjars. This diverse group all shares one thing in common: a reliance on flying insects as their primary food source. Compared to all other groups of birds in North America, aerial insectivores are in the sharpest decline and scientists are still trying to determine why this is so. Even tree swallows, which are quite abundant and widespread, have been showing population declines since the 1970s. Most likely, there is an assortment of factors driving this decline, including habitat loss and decreased availability of food sources.
One method that scientists are using to learn more about what might be contributing to tree swallow declines is an exciting type of tracking technology. Geolocators are comprised of a light sensor and a computer chip and are fitted to a bird’s rump with a special harness. They are light-weight enough that the birds can carry them year-round. By recording the timing of sunrise and sunset, geolocators allow researchers to determine the approximate location of a bird on any given day. Recently, scientists at the University of Guelph led a study that put geolocators on tree swallows at breeding sites across North America. The birds traveled to their over-wintering locations and then researchers retrieved the geolocators and data the following year when they came back to their breeding sites. This work has located crucial stopover sites along tree swallow migratory routes and is helping to pin-point the most important locations for conservation work.
If you have the opportunity to visit Ruthven Park this spring, stop at a distance for a few moments and observe the tree swallows using the nest boxes around the mansion and banding lab. You may see males vying in the air to claim possession of a highly-coveted waterfowl feather, which they use to beautifully line their nest (see photo below). Or you may hear a male and female chatting away at one another, their song a pleasant assortment of bubbly gurgles and chirps. Visit a little later into the spring or in the early summer and you will see both parents flying out over open water and fields, collecting mouthfuls of squirming insects to feed their hungry young. Regardless of when you happen upon them, these common but beautiful birds are certainly worth a closer look.
The Welcome Centre and Grounds: Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – By change Saturday and Sunday
The Mansion: Tours by appointment only, groups of 15 people or more. Call for more information 905-772-0560
Bird Banding: Banding lab is open April 1 – May 31 for the fall migration. Sunrise until 12 noon, weather dependent.
Give us a call today or check out our website for more information 905.772.0560 or www.ruthvenpark.ca
Phone: (905) 772-0560
243 Haldimand Hwy. #54,
Cayuga, ON N0A 1E0