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Tales from OURSpace
July 27, 2017 by Sarah Halonen

What follows is a collection of short stories highlighting a handful of memorable experiences encountered by some of the many visitors in OURSpace.

OURSpace is the High Park Nature Centre’s outdoor classroom and restoration space. While OURSpace’s site was once an underutilized area full of invasive species, our efforts focus on restoring it back to its original black oak savannah ecosystem. Through these short stories, you will learn more about how OURSpace acts as an innovative teaching and restoration site that engages community members and park visitors with urban nature.

The lone cowbird

Digging and turning, digging and turning. OURSpace garden pod preparation at its best. This hard work reveals more than nutrient-rich soil to plant hundreds of native black oak savannah seedlings; grubs and worms discover the light of day whether they like it or not!

Spying the action from a distance, a lone female cowbird flies over to take advantage of the bug buffet. Hopping within feet of our shovels, she cocks her head toward us, hinting at the feast within our reach. She calls in thanks as we throw the grubs to her. The next day she returns for more all-you-can-eat.

“Yummy yummy yummy, I got grubs in my tummy.”

Invasion of the inchworm aka a solitary wasp’s dream

We zigzag our way through OURSpace, through hundreds of silken threads carrying miniscule fluorescent-green inchworms. It’s a fall cankerworm infestation – millions of tiny but voracious larvae, defoliating dozens of trees, covering the canopy, our bodies, and the nesting chambers of our solitary bee box.

The invasion fills the potter wasp with glee. Preying on and stashing away the mini caterpillars for its progeny. Once its babies hatch, their appetites will be satisfied in turn!

“Swing, swing, swing, what more will spring bring?”

Chipmunk searches for a home

The stones making up the hibernaculum in OURSpace feel smooth and hot as we pile them higher and higher, revealing crevices within. These openings are small, but big enough for a garter snake to slither out after its hibernation 3 meters deep. However, it’s not a snake we see emerging, rather a chipmunk!

We stand back, hiding out of sight, until again from the crevice, the curious chipmunk pokes his head. Luckily for it, snake skin will be the only trace of snake left this spring in the hibernation chambers beneath!

“Chip chip chip, beneath the snake layer I slip.”

The monarch and the butterfly weed

Suddenly, there’s movement below the slender leaf of a butterfly weed plant – 1 of 200 seedlings planted this spring in OURSpace. Out of a teeny tiny egg hatches a teeny tiny black-, white-, and yellow-striped caterpillar; the result of a tireless Monarch butterfly’s careful and selective egg-laying abilities after days spent gliding over our garden pods.

The more the striped beauty eats, the larger it grows. Eating its way from one butterfly weed seedling to another and another, the monarch caterpillar prepares for its metamorphosis. But only after shedding its skin 5 times!

“Munch munch munch, delicious butterfly weed for lunch!”

Mourning dove love

A pair of mourning doves’ whistling wings announce their arrival beneath OURSpace’s newly situated bird feeder station. Finding shelter among the blooming smooth rose and new jersey tea shrubs, a romance begins. Laying out its wing, like one opens a door for another, the male bids adieu, hoping the female will follow.

Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like lamentations. They know that parting is such sweet sorrow.

“Coo coo coo coo, I love you, too!”
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