Beachcombing at Westboro Beach: what plant does this come from?

by Bev McBride

A small but appreciative crowd of two, including the leader, had a great, nature-focussed trek around the general area accessible from the Dominion Transitway station. We both arrived by bus. It was supposed to be pouring rain, but we had none. There were some fine puddles, however, so we made good use of our rubber boots. We walked eastward from the station, beyond Westboro Beach, then crossed the Sir John A. MacDonald parkway to see what was up (such as the rising Ottawa River) at the Kitchissippi Lookout and the beach. Then we crossed back under the parkway, wandered back to our starting point and then beyond in the opposite direction.

The rise of land near the Dominion station offers a long, wide view of the Ottawa River. You can see all the way upstream to the Deschênes Rapids. It is a good viewpoint from which to discuss some of the landscape prehistory. You can look across to the Eardley Escarpment, which formed the eastern shore of the post-glacial Champlain Sea, when ocean waters flooded land depressed from the weight of glaciers, leaving behind the significant clay deposits of the region.

It is also a handy place to look at stromatolites. Better known from sites downriver around the Champlain Bridge, these fossilized, layered cyanobacteria mounds of the Ordovician geological period can be seen both from above and in cross-section near the station. Ride the bus between Westboro Station and Dominion Station for a good view.

We saw few waterfowl or water birds of any kind on the Ottawa River, which was very high and, apparently, nearing the flood conditions that caused so much havoc just a few years ago. We saw only a pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and numerous Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) from the nesting site further upstream. Bird highlights included a Merlin (Falco columbarius), a mixed flock of about 70 Bohemian (Bombycilla garrulus) and Cedar Waxwings (B. cedrorum) and early songbird migrants Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) and Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca). Several of these were new birds for the participant, Hannah, which was exciting for us both.

Runner with elm tree (species uncertain) under gloomy sky. The nearby shrubs were alive with birds.

We also spent a lot of time looking at trees. There’s a good selection in the area, of both native and ornamental species. Many are planted, while some may be woodland remnants. Hannah was interested in learning more about how to identify coniferous tree species. We had lots to practice with, including four species of pine (Pinus sp.).

All the while we reflected on how this area would soon change, both from Phase 2 of the Light Rapid Transit development and the National Capital Commission’s plan to further develop this stretch of river shoreline for recreation and enhanced nature conservation. We visited, for example, the Atlantis Woods, a woody patch north of the parkway near Westboro Beach, where neighbours had been hoping to win governmental support clean up and restore the woods. However, there are also plans for a new parking lot for Westboro Beach which, it seems, will have an impact on the woods.

We found many items of natural history interest, and we know there are many more there that we didn’t find. It is an area worth exploring some more, especially at various times of year. Stay tuned for more events in the Transit Explorer Series. If you know of interesting nature sites easily reached by public transit, let the OFNC events committee know!