Tuesday, 8 December 2015


     Recently, I have had the rare privilege and distinct pleasure to get to know Dave Westfall and his sister, Sandy, and Sandy's husband, Jamie.

Sandy and Dave

     They live at SpruceHaven in St. Agatha, a village on the western edge of the City of Waterloo. Formerly a working farm, some of the fields are now rented out to another farmer for alfalfa production, but much of the land is devoted to wildlife and the natural environment. Dave and Sandy would like to continue to promote nature in all its myriad forms and move Sprucehaven in the direction of an environmental preserve, with multi-faceted habitats for wild creatures, including native vegetation, trees reflecting the patrimony of the land, and wetland. Already they have done extensive planting and have created substantial wildlife corridors and other brushy habitat ideal for local mammalian and avian forms alike. Approximately eighteen acres of original beech/maple forest remain on the property - an impressive stand of near old growth forest. Even though I first started to survey the bird life in November, probably the worst month of the year for species richness, I am already impressed by what I have found. Apart from the birds, there is a deep sense of peace and contentment to be gained from the simple act of immersing oneself in this oasis of sylvan tranquility. 
     Dave and Sandy like to emphasize the Haven part of SpruceHaven  and consider themselves stewards of the land - a fitting epithet I can tell you, from someone who has come to know and cherish them.
     This year's prediction for winter finches offers the possibility of a major incursion into our area. If crossbills Loxia sp. are part of this invasion, Tamarack Larix laricina may be found on site, and this is the favourite food of both species of crossbill.

Tamarack Cones
     I will be keeping my eyes open for this species as the winter progresses.

    A couple of weeks ago I noticed that much of the Goldenrod was infested with the maggot of the Goldenrod Fly Eurosta solidaginis and the telltale galls had caused the familiar swelling on the stem of the plant.

     This maggot is an important source of winter food for woodpeckers and I checked last week specifically to see if there was evidence of picid predation on the galls and found none. 
     Today was a different story altogether. In the picture below you can see the holes drilled by woodpeckers to get at the juicy, protein-rich maggot inside.

     I suspect that Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens is the main species drilling on the galls, but I did not see any active excavation going on. Here is a picture of a gall where the woodpecker has successfully extracted the food it was seeking.

     At the interface between the forest and one of the fields I came across this rock pile. It bears silent witness to the labour of a farmer who every spring must pick all the rocks from his fields to increase the arable area. After the winter the frost heaves up rocks anew and the labour begins again.

     Last week when I was surveying in the forest I came across three species of ferns, but today I could find but one. Spinulose Wood Fern Dryopteris carthusiana retains its bright green colouration long after other species have withered and turned brown.

Topside of the pinna

Underside of the pinna showing the sporangia

      Waterloo Region is blessed with a large population of American Crows Corvus brachyrynchos and SpruceHaven receives its share.

     The presence of these highly intelligent birds adds to the appeal of a rural landscape and their raucous calls are an evocative insight into the untarnished essence of nature.

     The nasal call of the White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis usually alerts you to its presence before you see it - always a welcome sight as it hitches up and down the bark of a tree searching for every morsel, or stashing food to be retrieved later when the harshness of winter descends on the landscape.

     American Goldfinches Spinus tristis are very muted at this time of year and small flocks were feeding on the seed heads of numerous plants in the wildlife corridor.

      Dave and Sandy have granted me the rare honour of planning an informal survey of their property and have given me the liberty to propose plans and ideas that might benefit the environment and enhance the habitat for wildlife. Already we have concrete plans in place to band the Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica nesting in their old barn, and next spring we will install a bluebird trail in the hope of attracting Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis. We will install the nest boxes in tandem and perhaps will succeed in achieving the nirvana of having bluebirds and Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor nesting as neighbours. 
     In two weeks the first Christmas Bird Count will occur on their property and other ideas are already percolating in my head.
     It is a very exciting adventure on which I am embarking and the immense good fortune which has befallen me is appreciated beyond words.
     Dave and Sandy I salute you as true stewards of the environment; people motivated by what is right and not what is most profitable. The whole world benefits from the largesse of spirit you are demonstrating. Thank you for including me in your vision.
     The best is yet to come!


  1. Good luck with all the plans - great to have people like Dave and Sandy in your community. It's interesting that what we consider a pest is vital for a bird's survival in winter - further evidence that we need to not just focus on one aspect of ecology!

  2. Look forward to hearing more about this interesting story.

  3. A very heartwarming report, David. It goes to show what can be achieved when just a few dedicated people get together and put their heart and sould into a project in such an unselfish way. My congratulations to you, Sandy, and Dave!

  4. Lovely people, Sandy and Dave. The photos are fantastic, especially the Crows.

  5. Dearest David,
    Congrats with your new project, on Dave and Sandy's property.
    Very interesting and informative photos and I do hope your Scalia sails will show up in larger numbers. We do love them on our property and nothing is more rewarding as seeing them from our bay window area at breakfast, taking a bath in one of the bird baths!
    Enjoy what you so passionately are doing.

  6. Hello David, wonderful such people who dedicate their property to nature and asked you to help them with ideas. Wish you lots of succes and of course Sandy and Dave.

  7. Olá, David!
    Gostei muito de ler a respeito de sua estadia em companhia de Dave e Sandy, além de dar uma ideia perfeita do ambiente da fazenda e o seu encantamento com as espécies de aves da região de Waterloo, me fez conhecedor desse lugar encantador. Obrigado por isto!

  8. What a brilliant find David, a new and worthwhile project to get your teeth into. To find people such as Sandy and Dave is heartening in these increasingly selfish times.

    Get those tools sharpened and the pliers oiled.

  9. Great like always reading your posts. :-)

  10. Good luck with all plans, it is really great to have people like Dave and Sandy in your community.
    The photos are amazing.
    Best regards, Irma

  11. Great post! Good luck with plans, sounds awesome. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week!

  12. Beautiful post !
    Greetings !

  13. Incredibly nice that you Dave Westfall and his sister, Sandy, and Sandy's husband, Jamie've met. As I read what they do for the environment than are really amazing beautiful people.
    Your photo, s are all very beautiful and quite special. Photo 5 I find really impressive but also for photo 6 I have my admiration.
    Greetings, Helma

  14. Wonderful is a joy when property owners care about the land. Great birds ( I love the nuthatches especially ) and the greenery is cooling me down just looking at the pictures (we just came indoors after putting our hurricane shutters away, here in warm and humid SW Florida).

  15. Hope you get some Crossbills this winter, my fave (small) bird..............