• Spring is here.

    London resident Tom Hamilton traveled to a Bruce County river to sample some spring steelhead fishing this week.  This trout was caught and released in a recently melted section of river.It appears that the deep freeze has finally come to an end for us in Grey-Bruce. Local temperatures have begun to creep above the freezing point and there is no denying the warming power of the March sunshine. Local rivers are beginning to unlock from their frozen slumber, and a few turkeys throughout farm country are starting to strut in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season. Outdoor opportunities are plentiful right now, and they will only continue to grow as spring begins to push Old Man Winter out the door.

    As spring arrives, it is time to take stock of how local wildlife seems to have fared through the winter. Reports from up and down Grey and Bruce suggest that the local whitetail deer population has come through the worst of winter in fairly good shape. It is apparent that numbers of deer are slightly lower than five or ten years ago, but the herd is healthy nonetheless, with very few reports of local deer starving during the harsh months of January and February. Plenty of standing crops were present in the southern portions of the counties after a wet fall, and this most definitely aided deer in packing on the food and staying warm. Observations of local deeryards in North and South Bruce suggest there wasn’t a great deal of crowding or over-competition for woody food supplies such as dense cedar bush. This spells good things for whitetail does which often have trouble carrying the spring’s fawns to term during very stressful winters. Last winter was not easy on our deer, and severe snowfall would have been an issue this winter had it been worse over the past couple months.

    The warm afternoon sunshine and longer days over the past week have jumpstarted a few anxious wild turkey Toms into exhibiting breeding behavior such as strutting. Most turkeys are still in large winter flocks, with groups of toms and hens establishing the pecking order in advance of the breeding season. The bitterly cold winter and relatively deep snow depths, combined with coyote predation, seem to have hit some of the young birds in some of the area’s flocks fairly hard. All is not lost though, as a local MNRF employee reported a number of large and healthy looking flocks from the southern portions of Bruce and Grey County the other day during our discussions. A warm spring without serious rainfall will hopefully spur a successful hatch that will offset winter loses.

    Local turkey hunters only need to wait just over a month until season opens. If you haven’t tried turkey hunting and are considering hitting the field this spring, now is a good time to book your Ontario Wild Turkey Hunter Education course through the OFAH.

    Local river anglers have welcomed the warmer weather with some excellent steelhead fishing in the area over the past week. During winters when all local tributaries to Lake Huron freeze, the first melt of spring often supplies incredible fishing as the ice leaves the river. Good catches of trout were reported from the Sydenham River in Owen Sound, as well as some consistent icefishing near local river mouths.

    The frigid winter provided Georgian Bay with another solid ice covering, forming nearly twenty inches of ice in Owen Sound Bay. The slow melt with cold nights has provided ice conditions that can still be considered fishable at the moment. Time is running out if you are looking to get some icefishing done before it’s too late. Rainfall and constant temperatures above freezing will inevitably cause the ice to deteriorate in the coming weeks. Salmon, whitefish and steelhead have all been reported from the hardwater over the past two weeks in both Owen Sound and Colpoys Bays. Local lure maker and charter captain Tony DeGasperis pulled a massive rainbow trout through the ice in Wiarton a couple of weeks back. The fish was weighed at the Spirit Rock Lodge afterwards and pushed the scale down to 18lbs, a giant specimen for local waters.

    With the spring updates out of the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to make a note of some other nature related news that I feel deserves some additional attention. In case you haven’t heard, someone on the upper Bruce Peninsula showed a total lack of common sense (or perhaps worse yet, performed an act of malice) when they cut down Barn Swallow habitat structures along Highway 6.

    Barn Swallows are a threatened species of insectivorous birds. These fast flying, handsome songbirds were common across our region of Southern Ontario, but numbers began to fall significantly over the past two decades resulting in a 66% reduction in the population since the 1970’s. Many theories exist to explain the loss, but it is believed to be a combination of loss of foraging and nesting habitat, changing land use practices, and increased insecticide use as the main culprits. To combat future losses the MNRF and numerous partners formulated a recovery plan that looks to reverse the downward trend in populations. Part of this plan is to replace lost nesting habitat with the creation of nesting kiosk structures such as those recently installed along Highway 6 north of Lions Head.

    Considering that the Barn Swallow is threatened and the Ontario Government is spending considerable amounts of money to implement a recovery plan, I hope that the suspect at large is not let off easily when or if they are found. Acts such as this put years of planning, hard work and often, volunteer time to waste. The public is encouraged to contact police if they have any information relating to the perfectly purposeless destruction of these structures.

    With the first day of spring arriving in days, you still have a little bit of time to get in some winter hiking, or cross-country skiing on local Country Forests and Conservation Areas. The longer days allow for extra time in the field or in the woods. It will only be a matter of days until we see the first robins of the year, the ice disappears from local bays, and the spring steelhead run hits full bore. Be prepared, spring is here!
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