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Barrie group nurturing next generation of nature lovers (5 photos)

Nature Barrie wants to have municipality certified as a Bird Friendly City

It's in their nature. 

Nature Barrie is a group of like-minded enthusiasts who observe the outdoors and help with preservation projects around Simcoe County.

Formerly known as the Brereton Field Naturalists' Club, the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

In February 1951, the Brereton Field Naturalists' Club of Barrie was formed by 35 people meeting at the Community House. Its website notes that, "besides serving hobby and conservation purposes, the club would perpetuate the memory and work of the late Dr. E. L. Brereton, distinguished Barrie naturalist, who gave encouragement to many of the members in their pursuit of this interest."

Brereton arrived in Barrie in 1900 and contributed stories to the Barrie Examiner newspaper while operating his dental practice.

While working as a Barrie dentist for a half-century, Dr. Brereton became quite an authority on birds and was involved in expanding the Royal Ontario Museum’s bird collection.

Flash forward 50 years and Dorothy McKeown, past president and currently leading the club’s indoor speaker program, says the group's recent accomplishments are plenty. 

They helped raise money to purchase Baldwick Bluff through the Nature Conservancy of Canada to preserve another section of the Minesing wetlands.

Preserving nature is not the group's only aim. Attracting younger people to get interested and take up the cause is just as important, McKeown says.

“Our members sponsor several students for the Ontario Nature youth summit weekend in September, where they learn Indigenous and settler conservation methods that can be used in their home communities," she said. "Many of our sponsored students have gone on to careers in conservation and science."

Some of the other activities the club is involved with include maintaining and monitoring almost 100 nest boxes around the city, where numbers of fledged eastern bluebird and tree swallow chicks continue to increase.

Most of the members brave the brisk winter cold to partake in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. At 122 years old, it is the oldest and largest community-based science census in North America.

Their efforts are not without challenges, though.

That includes "convincing various levels of government that sprawl, paving over of land and polluting natural areas and wetlands has serious long-term effects on our oxygen, clean water, local food and medicine sources, and mental health," McKeown said. "Thankfully, our current local Barrie council listens.”

She says Nature Barrie has started working with city councillors Ann-Marie Kungl and Keenan Aylwin and other local groups to get Barrie certified as a Bird Friendly City by Nature Canada. 

"This could help increase the bird-watching tourism in our city," McKeown said. 

Barrie became a hot spot for bird-watching enthusiasts this week in an effort to catch a a glimpse of a rare gull

Meanwhile, knowledgeable nature lovers already come from the Greater Toronto Area to see the great numbers of loons, varieties of gulls, and other water birds in Kempenfelt Bay feasting on the millions of emerald shiner minnows during the fall migration.

"The snowy owls in Minesing in winter, as well as the bald eagles and other raptors, sand hill cranes, are also draws for nature tourists to our area outside of prime summer tourism times," McKeown said.

During the pandemic, the group hosts zoom meetings and has no outdoor events. They hope to begin indoor meetings in January and are always looking for new members.

With a return to normal, the regular meetings will be held at Northwest Barrie United Church on Ferndale Drive with outside outings starting most often from the parking lot at the end of Little Lake Drive.

To become a member or for more information, click here.

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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