A northern crescent butterfly at rare HQ.
Nestled on the western shore of the Grand River opposite the village of Preston in Cambridge lies a thousand acres of preserved green space that many people drive by every single day but have no idea what they are missing. This is a land of cliffs and alvars, restored grain fields and old-growth forest, dense forest and wide open meadows. A place where you can see, or at least, hear, white-tailed deer 5 hikes in a row, a place where bald eagles come from who knows where (perhaps from Lake Erie) to feast on suckers in the shallow waters of the Grand and speed river confluence, a place where coyotes roam, and northern crescent butterflies flit about. In the summer I can and did watch the neighbourhood osprey pair raise a brood of two and the neighbouring pair at the Fountain Street bridge raise three. In the winter I can hike the Preston side of the river and see eagles fly overhead.
A favourite eagle tree.
I first stumbled upon Rare Charitable Research Reserve two years ago, when one of my brothers, who worked in Kitchener in community relations at the time, figured this organization would be of interest to me, and told me about it. I had been hiking the Grand Trunk Trail along the Blair Road and the river in search of the bald eagles that supposedly winter in the area, but I didn't have any success on my own. I saw a few red-tail hawks, downy woodpeckers, and chickadees, and deer, on those hikes, but no eagles. However, within a few weeks of discovering rare, they held an eagle watch that focused on the Preston side of the river. We saw all sorts of ducks and gulls, and finally, a couple of eagles. These huge birds like to sit in trees on the islands in the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers, and in trees that are in undeveloped areas from Fergus to Paris throughout the winter. From these perches, they can spot fish near the surface, or decide which duck they want to eat for lunch.
Giant cottonwoods in the Grand Allee.
rare encompasses 0ne thousand acres of mostly undeveloped lands that spans either side of the Grand above the confluence, and much of the land on either side of Blair Road between the village of Blair, and Galt, in North Dumfries Township. There is an old-growth forest of cottonwoods in the Grand Allee, dozens of plots in a community garden at Springbank farms, a slit barn and house circa the 1850's that are being turned into an outdoor ed centre and an ecocentre, respectively, and the River Trail, between the Grand Trunk Trail and the river, that is now closed untill March 15th. The Grand Allee provides habitat for all sorts of creatures, including predators. I found a turkey kill there last summer, with only a few feathers left. A coyote is the most likely culprit, although a bobcat could also have grabbed it.
A goldeneye duck with 2 mallards.
In the fall hundreds of common goldeneye ducks appear in the Grand River confluence to spend the winter before they return to their northern breeding grounds. These little ducks are cool because when they fly their wings actually whistle, loud enough to hear just one duck fly by; when a couple dozen head down the river the whistle is very noticeable, and has become one of my favourite, and is one of the most interesting, sounds along the river. The black backs, white breast and underparts, and distinctive white dot under the gold eye create a welcome diversion from the mallards and geese. Around the first week of March and November huge trumpeter swans drop in for a rest before continuing the journey north. These birds make your average Canada Goose look just that: average.
White-tailed deer in December at rare.
December,is nearly over and there is barely any snow on the ground. A couple days ago, however, there was an inch or two overnight, which created some terrific photograph opportunities. So I finally convinced myself to get out of bed early and head out to the Grand Allee, and I was rewarded when I spotted two white-tailed deer in the hills on the edge of the trail. One had a few spots of snow on her flanks. I snapped a few good photos and we each went on our merry ways.
Entrance to old-growth forest at Grand Allee.
This is the Rare Charitable Research Reserve: one thousand acres-larger than New York City's Central Park-home to a wide variety of habitats that provide shelter to a large and dynamic plant and animal population. It is overseen by a band of dedicated personnel and volunteers who love to get outside and see what really goes on in the natural world on our doorstep. Research projects, outdoor education programs, community gardens, guided hikes, workshops and lectures all serve to keep this amazing and beautiful pocket of nature in the heart of Waterloo Region green for decades upon decades to come!