Catharine Parr Traill and Mount Ararat
Trial and error has been a part of the process in learning how to deal with Autumn Olive. We’ve achieved a significant measure of control in the field north of the plaque, and continue to cut and paint any larger shrubs and spray smaller ones we discover. We’ve heard that gardening centres sell Autumn Olive, and if so, sales should be banned. 

Prairie plants like Big Bluestem and Butterfly Milkweed are now thriving in parts of the field; and there are numerous Bobolinks and Meadowlarks, as well as other grassland birds such as Savannah Sparrows.

After purchasing Mount Ararat a decade ago, it was truly exciting to begin exploring the landscape in earnest, discovering numerous aspects of its beauty and biodiversity. We also got to work cleaning up the 60-acre property, removing old tires, broken bottles, a large rug, a snowmobile windshield and you name it from the ravines and uplands. 

With Catharine Parr Traill as inspiration, over the years we’ve focused our stewardship activities on nurturing the growth and spread of the existing array of native trees, shrubs and plants. We’ve also added to the number of indigenous species. Controlling invasive exotic species like Autumn Olive, European Buckthorn and Dog Strangling Vine has necessarily been an important aspect of stewarding the land. 

Our work has taken various forms including:

freeing beautiful oaks, birches and native roses from Tarzan-sized wild grapevines that threatened to kill them 

planting native shrubs such as Serviceberry and Nannyberry which birds love to feast on

creating a network of trails in the ravines, often following existing animal trails

planting hundreds of cedars to stem potential erosion in one of the ravines

building a footbridge over the creek in the main ravine to protect the creek bed and surrounding vegetation from trampling

reintroducing indigenous flowering plants, written about by Catharine but missing from the landscape, including Great Blue Lobelia, Marsh Marigolds, Cardinal Flowers, Bloodroot, Wild Ginger, Wild Leeks and Trout Lilies
Note: When I thought of planting Great Blue Lobelia seeds in the clayish earth around the main springs pictured earlier, gardening books and the web had little to say except that they needed quite different conditions. But in Studies of Plant Life in Canada, Catharine said the species “is chiefly found near springs” and “seems to flourish in clayey soil.” She decreed that the spot would be ideal and she was right!  

requiring that farmers delay cutting our hay fields until ground-nesting songbirds have finished raising their young. As a result, we get just one cut of hay and half the income, but the birdsong is wonderful. 

We’ve done most of the work in the ravines on our own steam, aided by a little help from our friends. The two of us have also completed some restoration projects on the uplands, such as creating a flourishing Butterfly Milkweed plot, and a bed of prairie plants that includes Showy Tick-trefoil, Wild Bergamot, and Black-eyed Susans. Given costs and people power, these projects have been on a rather modest scale.
On a couple of larger-scale restoration projects on the uplands, we’ve been grateful for the participation of conservation organizations, Hamilton Township, and volunteers, without which they would not have been possible. We thank them by name later in the site.

“Before the plain-lands above Rice Lake were enclosed and cultivated, the extensive grassy flats were brilliant with the azure hues of the Lupine in the months of June and July, but the progress of civilization swept these fair ornaments from the soil.” 

Catharine Parr Traill in Studies of Plant Life in Canada  (1885)
In the spring of 2006, we consulted with the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority about stopping the Autumn Olive invasion, and agreed on a suggested plan. The plan involved pulling up shrubs by the roots, entailing the purchase and use of a fork device called a Brush Brute to be attached to a Bobcat. After securing partial funding, we contracted a local farmer to buy a Brush Brute for his Bobcat, and to pull up the shrubs in exchange for the fork device. The work took several days in the fall of 2006. It was anticipated that a controlled burn of the field in the spring of 2007 would eliminate further growth. As insurance, the burn would be followed by a spraying program to target any remaining Autumn Olive.
Soon after we moved to Mount Ararat, the local farmer who cut our hay fields was no longer interested in cutting the field immediately north of the historical plaque. The field is hilly in parts and wet in others, and he was also cutting back on his cattle operation. We had the field brush hogged several times, but because of costs, decided to leave the field alone for a while to see what happened. After a couple of years, a deciduous shrub began to show itself. Via research we learned that it was an aggressive invasive species called Autumn Olive that spreads rapidly and can grow as tall as twenty feet. The shrub was imported from East Asia to the U.S. in 1830 and was widely promoted in the 1950s for erosion control and as a windbreak. It was planted west of us decades ago.

Although birds and other creatures enjoy the berries, the Autumn Olive bushes were becoming the size of small trees and starting to take over the field, threatening to obliterate the habitat of the Bobolinks and other ground-nesters. Because animals disperse the seeds far and wide, the shrub was also beginning to spring up on other parts of the land. 

Attempts to halt the invasion of Autumn Olive and restore the field have proceeded in three ways: first, the physical removal of Autumn Olive shrubs; second, a prescribed burn to help foster the return of prairie species, followed by the reintroduction of some native prairie plants; and third, continued monitoring and control of the invasive exotic.
some reintroduced native species in the ravines
The uplands are historically part of the indigenous tallgrass prairie of the Rice Lake Plains. In the early 1700s, the Misissaugas began burning the plains to encourage the growth of a grass favoured by deer, leading to their name for Rice Lake, Pem-e-dash-cou-tay-ang, Lake of the Burning Plains. Although burning on a large scale had ceased by the time Catharine Parr Traill lived here, she wrote of the “half-charred blackened roots” that could still be found beneath the surface of the soil. 

During her years on the relatively undisturbed plains, Catharine documented many native prairie species, recording valuable information about what is now an extremely rare ecosystem. Most of the native prairie was subsequently lost to the plough as increasing numbers of settlers and farmers cleared the land for agriculture. According to Tallgrass Ontario, less than three per cent of the province’s original tallgrass prairie remains today.

Mount Ararat’s uplands are habitat for grassland songbirds, such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows, ground-nesting species whose numbers are in steep decline due to loss of habitat and farming practices. During the latter part of the 20th century, farmers began cutting hay more often and sooner, in mid- to late June when eggs hatch and nestlings are most vulnerable. In Ontario, the number of Bobolinks declined 65% in the forty years between 1968 and 2008. According to Jon McCracken, national program director of Bird Studies Canada, “We are seeing these sorts of declines in all grassland birds in North America.”
Autumn Olive removal
Ongoing Autumn Olive Control video
 Fall of 2006: Bruce Buttar pulling up 
one of many Autumn Olive shrubs
Looking eastward down Rice Lake
Uplands Restoration Projects
Autumn Olive invasion
Fall 2008 volunteers planting prairie plot
Spring 2007 prescribed burn video
Future plans include the creation of large plots of prairie species such as Wild Blue Lupines, so that the field becomes a sea of waving native grasses and wildflowers.
We’re pleased that accomplished birders Margaret Bain and Richard Pope began a bird inventory at Mount Ararat a couple of years ago, consisting of an annual spring morning field trip. Here’s the current list.

Margaret coordinates the Ontario seasonal reports for the ABA publication North American Birds, and has edited and co-published the national birding magazine Birders Journal. She’s served on the Ontario Birds Records Committee, and was the 2010 Celebrity Birder for the Ontario Field Ornithologists’ Baillie Birdathon.
We have conducted guided hikes and hosted visits from naturalist, heritage and cycling groups. They include the Willow Beach Field Naturalists, the Royal Ontario Museum, and participants in the 2011 International Greenbelt Conference. The Field Botonists of Ontario made a field trip in June 2012, under the leadership of highly regarded biologist/ecologist Dale Leadbeater. Here is their plant inventory and the subsequent article in the FBO’s Spring 2013 Newsletter.

Marsh Marigolds

Great Blue Lobelia

Cardinal Flowers


Trout Lily

Wild Leeks

Wild Ginger

Eastern Meadowlark

Big Bluestem




Wild Bergamont

Butterfly Milkweed

Azure Aster

Big Bluestem (Fall)

Black-eyed Susan

Showy Tick-trefoil

Richard Pope is a lifelong birder and author of The Reluctant Twitcher: A Quite Truthful Account of My Big Birding Year, an enjoyable account of his attempt to record 300 Ontario species in one year. He’s a long-standing member of the Ontario Ornithological Club and the Ontario Field Ornithologists.
We’ve been taken with the beauty of this land as was Catharine over a century and a half ago. Our goal is to preserve this 60-acre piece of the planet for future generations of flora, fauna, and the people who treasure them.
Botany / EcologyBotany___Ecology.html
Awards / Stewardship
Thanks / Contact UsThanks___Contact_Us.html
A walkA_walk.html
2012 Paul McGaw Memorial Conservation Award
presented by the North American Plant Society
2010 Moraine Hero Award 
Landowner Champion Sharon Keogh
presented by STORM (Save The Oak Ridges Moraine) and EcoSpark