Tales of Gaspereau and Loons in Sandy Lake

Gaspereau in the shallows of Sandy Lake on June 14, 2017

I recently received this story from a Sandy Lake enthusiast…

“Yesterday at the lake I was sitting by the shore looking around when two big loons hunting along the ledge pulled up right in front of me about 12′ away. There were lots of gaspereau swirling up and down the shoreline and the loons moved slowly along about 4′ apart with their heads down scanning the top of the ledge. Suddenly one dove and I could see it swirling back and forth at speed near the surface and emerging while trying to swallow whatever it caught. I didn’t see the fish but the loon’s neck was distended somewhat. His (her) partner stopped while the other one finished swallowing and then they started hunting again.
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Now we can enjoy spring in the forests of Sandy Lake & Environs

Wild Lily of the Valley springing up on May 5, 2018
in the hardwoods by Sandy Lake

Icelanders started a bit of a trend with their urging people to hug trees to overcome isolation during our days of Covid-19.

We’re still under Covid-19 distancing rules in NS, but as of May 1, 2020, we can again visit our parks.

That’s just in time to enjoy spring with a walk in the forests accessed via Smith’s Road and the Sandy Lake Beach Park and hug some of those big old trees.
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The case for Sandy Lake-Sackville River Regional Park goes to Halifax RP+10

Some of the Sandy Lake to Sackville River watercourse
that would be protected for conservation and recreation
by a Sandy Lake-Sackville River Regional Park

The Halifax Regional Municipal Planning Strategy or the “Regional Plan” (RP), in a nutshell, “guides future development in the HRM and outlines how sustainable growth should take place.” View HRM Page for the Regional Plan

The first Regional Plan for the amalgamated HRM was produced in 2006 and “established policy for a 25-year horizon, from 2006-2031, with minor reviews expected every five years”.

The first review and update (RP+5) was initiated in 2011 and tabled in 2014. (By law, reviews must completed at least every 10 years.)

In 2019, HRM began the process for the next revision, RP+10. A final draft is planned by summer-fall of 2021. See Shape Your City for information about the review process.

On April 24, 2020, the Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park (SL-SRRP) Coalition made an initial submission to the Regional Plan. It includes a 64-page document + covering letter and 27 Appendices, available here.
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Earth Day Webinar with EAC will highlight Sandy Lake & Environs, amongst other wild areas in Halifax

It will stream live on Facebook on Wed. April 22, 2020 from 1pm to 3pm

UPDATE Apr 23, 2020: The webinar (minus the first 10 min) is archived on the EAC Facebook Page


Message just received:

EAC is hosting a webinar on Earth Day, featuring the work of 4 staff members at EAC. I’ll [Karen McKendry, EACWilderness Outreach Coordinator] be one of the presenters, and will focus on the last 3 large wild areas in urban Halifax: Purcells Cove Backlands, Blue Mountain, and Sandy Lake and Sackville River. I’ll also speak briefly to the health benefits for spending time in nature, including mental health benefits. I think we need the solace and calm and inspiration that nature has to offer us right now.

… Please share this Facebook post about the online event with your members:


It will stream live on Facebook on April 22 from 1pm to 3pm. People can also join by Zoom… details on that should appear on EAC’s Facebook page soon.

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City Nature Challenge 2020 Fri Apr 24 to Mon Apr 27

View iNaturalist page:  City Nature Challenge 2020: The Maritimes Umbrella Project

“Five areas from around the Maritimes have been registered to participate: HRM, the Valley, CBRM, Saint John and Westmorland County, NB. Each of these areas has its own CNC iNat project page. This umbrella project brings all of these individual project together – we have common goals to not only introduce/promote iNaturalist but to also simply encourage people to get outdoors and explore our part of the world.
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Sandy Lake Beach Park, Jack Lake Regional Park closed to restrict spread of COVID-19

Clarifying words from the Premier about accessing trails. If you have to drive to a trail – don’t. If you can walk to a trail – get your boots on.
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Ecology Action Centre asks supporters to send Sandy Lake Valentine

From EAC

Sandy Lake and the Sackville River is a popular nature space just outside of Halifax’s urban centre. It’s home to Atlantic Salmon, endangered Wood Turtles, lichens and moss nestled among some of Nova Scotia’s scant remaining old-growth forests. The rich biodiversity found at Sandy Lake has made it a beloved place to walk, hike, snowshoe, and swim.

But time is running out for Sandy Lake…With Valentines Day just around the corner, we want to remind councillors that hundreds of people love Sandy Lake, and want to see it protected.

Read more and send a valentine here!

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Critical park/wilderness budget debate Wed Jan 29, 2020

Halifax regional Council Council will be debating the Park budget on Wednesday, January 29 at 9:30 am. Members of the public can speak for 5 minutes. Also, letters etc would be helpful.

The Green Network Plan was unanimously supported and brought communities together with a shared vision. While we we wait to act on this plan, we lose rich natural spaces, essential and important corridors, and opportunities for Haligonians to experience the benefits of nature, large areas of Sandy Lake & Environs amongst them. HRM’s Draft Capital Plan commits $500 thousand, with the same estimated in the following year to parks/wilderness land acquisition. This is less than in previous years and is clearly not enough to address the needs identified through the Green Network Plan.

Please attend this meeting and/or contact your councilor to express support for increasing the budget for parks/wilderness land acquisition.

The Budget Committee meeting starts at 9:30AM this Wednesday (29th). It will be in Council Chamber, 3rd floor, at City Hall (1841 Argyle).

For writing a letter or calling: you can contact the councillor representing your home address as well as any councillors representing the site of your projects. Make sure to Cc. the clerk’s office (clerks@halifax.ca/902.490.4210)

The agenda can be seen here. Public participation is the first major agenda item and should commence soon after the meeting is called to order.

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A species to watch: freshwater mussel


Empty mussels are common on shore and
in shallows amongst aquatic plants
Click on photo for larger version

The freshwater mussel Pyganodon cataracta occurs in abundance at Sandy Lake.

I have viewed many living specimens while snorkelling in the shallows (down to 2-3 m) and discarded shells are common amongst emergent wetland plants around the fringes of the lake. The latter could be the remains of river otter luncheons.

Living mussel

It was thus with some interest that I caught this title: A freshwater mussel apocalypse is underway—and no one knows why by Carrie Arnold on www.nationalgeographic.com, Dec 16, 2019. From that article:

Throughout the U.S. and Europe, staggering numbers of freshwater mussels are dying. To make the matter worse, no one knows why, prompting investigations into everything from infectious diseases to climate change to water pollution…

…mussels are crucial to their ecosystems, both by cleaning water of impurities and creating shelter for other species via their shells (after their decades-long lifespans are over)…Tony Goldberg, a wildlife disease expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, puts mussels’ importance more bluntly. Without them, he says, “the freshwater ecosystem will change forever.”

So together with the turtles and frogs and salmon and trout and other valued species we still find in Sandy Lake, the mussels are one to keep an eye on.

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The NW Pinch Point

Pinch-points (also known as bottlenecks or choke-points) are areas where animal and plant movement is funneled through narrow linkages. Pinch-point modeling methods are based on current flow models from electrical circuit theory. Locations where current is very strong indicates constrictions where linkages are most vulnerable to being severed… Pinch-points can be the result of both natural and human-made landscape features. Pinch-points may be conservation priorities as they are locations where loss of a small area could disproportionately compromise connectivity because alternative movement routes are unavailable. Loss of these areas may sever migration routes or impact other important movement needs.”*
*Source (with minor modifications) Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group—>Columbia Plateau Ecoregion Addendum: Habitat Connectivity Centrality, Pinch-Points, and Barriers/Restoration Analyses

One such pinch point in the proposed Sandy Lake-Sackville River Regional Park lies at its NW corner where there is only a narrow band of undeveloped or minimally developed land bordering the Sackville River.

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