By Meredith Meeker
The snow is melting, temperatures are rising, and spring is right around the corner. Burlington has already scheduled their road closure for the Jefferson Salamander crossing (see more information here). That means salamander and frog call surveys are only a few rainy nights away. Spring ephemerals will be popping up alongside the arrival of early bird migrants.
Living in Toronto and even in the GTA, it can be difficult to find natural spaces to enjoy. My oasis, which never lets me down, is Tommy Thompson Park (also known as the Leslie Street Spit, or “The Spit”). It is a little ironic that where I go to get my nature fix is totally manmade and built on top of rubble and broken bricks.
Sitting on 250 hectares and 5 km long, the biodiversity within the park is staggering. The Spit is relatively young, in ecological terms, and was first constructed in the 1950’s for use by the Port Authority. The forest communities are young and are still dominated by successional plant species; notably Willows and members of the Poplar family. By contrast, the meadows and wetlands are full of beautiful flowering plants, attracting over 50 species of butterflies, 42 species of moth, and 17 species of dragonflies.
There are three main wetland cells, and a few smaller ponds, which make good habitat for many of the invertebrate species. It is also a great place to spot turtles on a sunny day! It is not uncommon to see Midland Painted Turtles, Common Snapping Turtles, Northern Map Turtles, and even Blanding’s Turtles all on the same day. If that isn’t enough to entice you down to the park, it is also home to melanistic gartersnakes, which are usually found around Lake Erie. Running around with all the herpetofauna are many charismatic mammals as well, including mink, beaver, and muskrats, but you will not be seeing many squirrels. This is likely because the park is still early in its forest succession and many nut-bearing trees, a squirrel’s favourite food, have not established yet.
The Spit is also a mecca for birding, with 316 bird species recorded. The long spit makes it an ideal stopover for migratory birds, and many birds will stay to breed. I once left work early because a Tri-colored Heron showed up at the park and I couldn’t miss it. It was totally worth it.
The first time I actually visited The Spit, I was participating in their BioBlitz. It was a fantastic way to get to know the park and I would highly recommend signing up for a BioBlitz in your area. If you have the opportunity to participate as a scientist or citizen, it is a great way to delve deeper into natural spaces around you. Bioblitzes are often lead by individuals that are passionate and knowledgeable about their local patch and are great ways to learn about the local biodiversity.
No matter where you live; whether it be in a concrete jungle, or your own piece of paradise, Ontario has something for you. After all, Ontario is ‘yours to discover’.
Meredith Meeker, B.A.S. is a Biologist and has been working at Cole Engineering Group Ltd. (COLE) for the last three years. She specializes in wildlife monitoring, including breeding birds, species at risk bat habitat and calling amphibians. Her favourite project at COLE has been monitoring two very successful replacement Barn Swallow nesting structures in Townsend, Ontario. Meredith presented on the project at the Latornell Conservation Symposium this past November (2018). Prior to working at COLE, she worked in Wildlife Rehabilitation and graduated from Niagara College's Ecosystem Restoration Graduate Certificate. In her spare time, Meredith loves birding and trying her hand at wildlife photography.
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.