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.
Dear members and friends,
Welcome to a new season! It has officially been spring for 7 days – the equinox was Tuesday, March 20 – and although there’s been a chill in the air, there are signs of growth and renewal throughout Ruthven Park’s beautiful picturesque landscape. Though the Mansion is still closed (until Victoria Day long weekend), we encourage visitors to explore the grounds during regular opening hours to take in the signs of spring.
In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find a recap of past events – such as the 5th edition of “A Grand Bridal Show” and our Snake Education Day – and details about upcoming events such as the 2018 return of Ghost Walks and our Earth Day Grounds Clean Up.
You can access the PDF of the March newsletter on your device by downloading it when you click here: March 2018 Newsletter
We hope you enjoy reading it as much as you enjoy the changes that come with spring this season!
Ruthven Park staff
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 third installment in this 12-part series.
Article by Bill Read (Eastern Bluebird Society)
The Eastern Bluebird is a cherished sight for birdwatchers across Ontario. It held a special place in the folklore of our early settlers who welcomed it as a true harbinger of spring. During the pre-settlement era, the Eastern Bluebird would have been a rare to uncommon sighting, limited as the species was to forest fire burn areas, clearings created by indigenous peoples and prairie edge openings.
Populations increased dramatically during the late 1700s and 1800s as settlers cleared the dense forest to plant crops and build farms. Fence rows were lined with tree stumps and split rails, creating ideal nest cavities for Eastern Bluebirds. These combined factors helped the species to become common to abundant in Southern Ontario and across Eastern North America in the late 1800s. With changes in agricultural practices and the introduction of House Sparrows around 1850 and European Starlings around 1890 populations of Eastern Bluebirds began to decline. Farms became more mechanized after 1945. Larger farms, fewer wooden posts, more t-bars and barb wire reduced the number of available nest cavities. House Sparrows in urban areas and starlings in rural areas began usurping bluebirds and other native cavity nesting birds from natural cavities. Populations continued to decline well into the 1970s. Weather related declines were not followed by rebounds to former levels within a few years. Concern around this time by the birding community resulted in the Ministry of Natural Resources declaring the Eastern Bluebird rare based on a COSEWIC (council on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada) report by Chris Risley in 1981. The Eastern Bluebird was never in any great danger of becoming extirpated from Ontario even though it had declined precipitously from its high point in the 1800s. It has a range that includes all of Southern Ontario and most of Northern Ontario above Thunder Bay and extending east and below a straight line from Moossonee to the Manitoba border.
(tip: click on each photo above to enlarge it for a closer look)
Most of this concern was based on comparing present population levels with those in the late 1800s which would never have existed in the pre-settlement era. The first breeding bird atlas in 1987 showed clearly that there were a lot more bluebirds in the province than people realized. Warmer weather both during the nesting season and in their wintering areas and hundreds of predator proof well monitored nest box trails have helped the bluebird to increase its numbers from a low point in the late 1970s. The Eastern Bluebird was classified as not at risk in 1996 based on a COSEWIC report by Bill Read and Robert Alvo. It continues to do well across its range in Canada in large part to the thousands of well managed nest box trails. Recent long term trends for Eastern Bluebird from 1970-2015 show an annual increase of 1.94% for Canada and 1.28% for Ontario. In recent years it has been overwintering in greater numbers in Ontario. A record total of 925 Bluebirds were recorded on the 117 th ( 2016-2017 ) Christmas Bird Count mostly in the Carolinian areas above Lakes Ontario and Erie and as far north east as Rice Lake near Peterborough. Its future is bright in Ontario. Indeed it is a conservation success story.
For more information on the Eastern Bluebird, how to successfully set up your own bluebird trail, and to read our newsletter, please go to the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society website!
This spring, enjoy Ruthven Park’s suite of art workshops on biweekly Wednesday evenings in the Coach House!
The Evening Art at Ruthven Park Spring Workshop Series is open to everyone; no experience is necessary for participation in any of the workshops.
The cost is $40.00 + HST per workshop in the Series. However, the more you book, the more you save.
- $75.00 + HST for two workshops (save $5.00)
- $110.00 + HST for three workshops (save $10.00)
- $140.00 + HST for four workshops (save $20.00)
Space is limited, so you must book and purchase your tickets in advance. You may do so by visiting the Gate House office in person, by calling 905-772-0560, or emailing email@example.com.
Book Paper Sculpture Workshop – Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 7:00 pm
Craft a beautiful “Quiet Nest” book paper sculpture, inspired by the Easter season, with award-winning artist Donna Wark. No previous art experience is necessary; the only tools required are a sense of humour and a desire to be creative.
Light treats, tea, and coffee included.
Donna Wark is an award-winning paper artist from Binbrook, Ontario who specializes in turning vintage paper into visually stunning book sculptures.
Her work has been seen on multiple media levels, and has been sold through live auctions, galleries, festivals and commission work. Some stunning examples of these pieces can be viewed on Donna’s website.
Historic Rag Rug Workshop – Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm – SOLD OUT
Create your own historic rag rug for your home with returning instructor Helen Sluis. Participants in this workshop will learn a centuries-old technique of rug braiding that requires no sewing whatsoever to hold it together and produces a rug that is very durable, reversible and, if under 4′ in diameter, machine-washable. Rag rugs and smaller projects such as the trivet-sized piece that will be made during the course are perfect for both traditional and modern homes and can be made to suit any decor.
Light treats, tea, and coffee included.
Helen Sluis is a longtime employee of Dundurn National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario who has put a great deal of energy and effort into gardening and programming at that site. Working in a museum environment for many years inspired this heritage arts’ instructor to learn how to recreate a wide variety of 19th century handicrafts including crazy quilts and floor coverings such as hand-painted floor cloths and rag rugs. She has taught versions of this rag run workshop at Ruthven Park a few times in years past. Staff hope that former participants who’ve asked when she will be back will be pleased by her return!
Watercolour Painting Workshop – Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 7:00 pm
In anticipation of blooms in the garden, celebrate warmer weather with an evening of watercolour painting. Inspired by our Edwardian Garden, local artist and educator Heather Gross will lead you in exploring this wonderful medium, putting pigment to paper to capture the colours of spring and summer. No previous watercolour experience is necessary! All art materials will be supplied.
Wine, cheese, and tasty nibbles included.
Heather Gross’ passion is watercolour. The simplicity of water & pigment combined with the complexity of techniques to be explored both excite & challenge her. Inspiration comes from nature in her backyard and far off places. Painting from real life & photos, Heather captures the interplay of light, shadow, shape, pattern, texture & colour in her home studio in Cayuga. Botanical illustration has recently captured her interest. Heather is excited to be one of eighteen juried Canadian artists selected for the Art of the Plant exhibition, at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Stone Wall Gallery, in Ottawa. Her botanical work will be shared with a global audience from May to October 2018. Sharing her passion, Heather enjoys teaching watercolours in Cayuga. As a retired teacher & school administrator, art now gives direction, purpose and time to play in retirement.
Yoga Workshop & Candlelight Tour of the Mansion – Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm
Join certified yoga teacher Rachel Binek for a mindful yoga class. A healthy treat break will be followed by a candlelight tour of the Mansion.
Please bring your own yoga mat as we are unable to provide them at this time. Please also dress for exercize and bring a reuseable water bottle in case you get thirsty during the class.
Namaste. Rachel began to practice yoga over three years ago after discovering its joys and benefits, especially in healing anxiety, while backpacking throughout Southeast Asia. In 2016 she completed her 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher training in Rishikesh, India specializing in Hatha yoga. This spiritual journey brought her a new sense of peace, light, and love towards herself and others that she now loves to share with the world. One of her favourite places to practice outdoors, in that it helps to keep her in the moment, regardless of the distractions that Nature can bring; wind, noise, etc,. Rachel teaches Introductory Hatha and Hatha Flow classes, and eagerly anticipates sharing her passion in the special series that will be held at Ruthven Park. She hopes all who attend will leave feeling balanced, connected to their bodies, and awakened.
Ahead of Ruthven Park National Historic Site’s opening weekend on May 19, 2018, staff are thrilled to announce that traditional historic mansion tours will be taking place every week day afternoon during March Break (March 12 – 16 inclusive)!
Tours will take place on the hour each day at 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 3:00 pm. We recommend you arrive approximately 15 minutes before your preferred tour time to give you time to purchase tickets, park, and walk to the Mansion.
As per usual, each tour will be approximately 45 – 60 minutes in length and will include both the first and second floors of the stunning Greek Revival mansion that five generations of the Thompson Family called home.
Pair your tour with a hike on site to make for a full afternoon enjoying both the natural beauty and history of Ruthven Park National Historic Site.
This is a fun and educational option to help keep kids and grandkids occupied while they’re home from school.
You won’t want to miss out on this one-week-only opportunity to get inside the mansion before May rolls around!
March Break Mansion Tours
Dates: daily from Monday, March 12, 2018 to Friday, March 16, 2018 (inclusive)
Tour Times: 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm
Tickets/RSVP: No need to RSVP or purchase tickets in advance, but you can let us know you’re coming on Facebook; tickets can be purchased at the Gate House upon arrival.
Cost: Standard admission rates apply. $10 adults, $8 seniors, $4 students, $3 children, $20 family
Address: 243 Haldimand Highway 54, Cayuga, Ontario, N0A 1E0
Location: Ruthven Park’s Thompson Family Mansion (there is a map located at the entrance of the site indicating the location of the Coach House on the property).
Note: We recommend that you try to arrive at least 15 minutes before your preferred tour time so you can purchase tickets, park, and walk to the Mansion without feeling rushed.
The Gate House Office and Grounds: Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30am to 5:00pm
The Mansion: Traditional historic tours every hour on the hour 7 days a week starting at 11:00am with the last tour leaving at 4:00pm.
Phone: (905) 772-0560
Toll-free: (877) 705-7275
243 Haldimand Hwy. #54,
Cayuga, ON N0A 1E0