Volunteer & Projects
From time to time we need volunteers to help us with projects in the park. If you are interested please get in touch through the contact form. Currently many of our volunteer opportunities are on hold due to Covid restrictions but stay tuned!
Over the years FOSS , with the help of volunteers from the public, has been involved in several plantings of native species in different areas of the park. These are always done with the help and supervision of The Parks department of the City of Toronto or the TRCA.
One of the on going project is the planting of pollinators on the east side of the park. The other is of growing small bushes at Whimbrel point.
Once the restrictions are lifted we are looking forward to more plantings in order to reclaim some of the overused areas.
To volunteer to help with planting please reach out to us!
May 20th to 30th
Come join us in a celebration of these rare magnificent migrants as thousands journey to their breeding grounds on Hudson’s Bay and beyond. Whimbrels are mega- shorebirds that have been known to pass Sam Smith Park in flocks totaling 10,000 birds. They are often heard before seen and their cry is haunting and unforgettable. Whimbrel Point, at the south-east corner of the spit, is one of the best spots in Canada to view their passage and birders and photographers gather to keep count of the population and hope for an occasional group to land. Whimbrels are only part of the magic. Many other gangs of shorebirds and water birds are on record passing the Point, including rarely seen white pelicans, black terns and Pacific loons.
This eastern population of whimbrels were recorded during the Civil War to number in the millions on the Carolina seashore. The group now numbers around 40,000 birds and is at risk. Our flocks fly from feasting on crabs in Virginia, travel nine hours through the night, and arrive on Lake Ontario in the morning. Sam Smith Park is one of the only places in the East to be situated on their pathway to the north. Not to be missed, this is one of nature’s spectacles.
To participate in the Whimbrel Watch reach out to us!
Photo by Nancy Barrett
Of the five species of swallow that are known to have bred in Colonel Samuel Smith Park, Tree Swallows are the first to arrive from their winter vacation in the southern states and Central America. They start turning up in the last week of March and are present in the park in large numbers by the middle of April. Tree Swallows winter farther north than other swallow species and return to their nesting grounds long before the others come back. They can eat plant foods as well as their normal insect prey, which helps them survive the cold snaps and wintry weather of early spring. It can be an amazing sight to see them eagerly flying in from the southern warmth while it is actually still snowing!
The best place to see them in spring is in the Swallow Field. It is located south of the waterfront trail that runs through the park and immediately east of the yacht club. Friends of Sam Smith Park, a local community group dedicated to protecting, enhancing and promoting the natural areas of the park, has been installing Tree Swallow nest boxes there over the past ten years. There are now more than sixty in the park. Every spring, volunteers prepare the boxes for the swallows by cleaning them out, repairing and sterilizing them against parasites.
When the Tree Swallows arrive, there begins a fierce competition for the precious nesting spots, not just with other swallows, but also with House Sparrows. House Sparrows, an abundant, non-native invasive species, are heavier and more aggressive than the native swallows. They will even destroy eggs and nestlings to secure a box for themselves. The only way to humanely deter sparrow occupation is “eviction” by FOSS volunteers before they lay eggs.
Tree Swallows are declining in number because of increasing insect scarcity caused by the overuse of pesticides, climate change and pollution. Their preferred natural nesting spot is a cavity in an old tree, like a woodpecker hole, but, because of the removal of old trees and wetland drainage where old snags are commonly found, those spots are getting scarcer. So, the nesting boxes definitely help fill a need. To date, FOSS estimates that well over a thousand young swallows have been raised in that field over the years and that could explain why we see ever increasing numbers each breeding season.
Fortunately, Tree Swallows will happily take to man-made nest boxes and like living close together in colonies. Their beauty, playfulness and tolerance of people close by have made them true ambassadors for the park’s wildlife.
They are primarily “aerial insectivores” that catch insects in flight. Many of those insects are the very ones that pester us – and they catch and eat a lot of them. Each adult can consume two thousand a day and, when their brood of four to seven nestlings has hatched, the catch goes up to six thousand. It is interesting to watch them skimming over the water in the marina, drinking and bathing while in flight or feasting on insects emerging by the thousands from their larva stage in the water below.
To help volunteer with the upkeep of the Swallow Field please contact us!
Photo by Terry Smith
Our annual park clean-up blitzes, usually held in April, help protect our precious urban green spaces by reducing the amount of garbage in the park and along the shoreline. Garbage bags and water are supplied; draw prizes, giveaways and community service hours are available.
Park users are encouraged to pick up trash items they find and discard them in the waste receptacles any time they visit.
Spring Bird Festival
A celebration that’s for the birds takes place each May at Colonel Sam Smith Park. With 292 documented species observed, the park ranks as the second most important birding area in Toronto. A star attraction of the festival is the passage of up to one quarter of North America’s population of Whimbrels as they make their way to their northern nesting grounds.
The Bird Festival is held during peak migration time with the aim of promoting an interest in birds as well as the protection of their natural nesting and safe resting habitats. It is a family friendly event and offers hourly guided bird walks, live bird and reptile demonstrations, photo displays, nature talks, children’s activities and workshops that feature the building of bird houses and feeders. Admission is free.
Red-Necked Grebe Platforms
FOSS President Brian Keaveney and his family, along with welcome assistance from the Lakeshore Yacht Club, have been building and maintaining a number floating nesting platforms to provide Red-necked Grebes with safe, accessible nesting sites. In April, three new platforms and one refurbished platform were installed and immediately occupied by grebe pairs. New this spring is the addition of ramps, allowing the birds easy access to the nest.
Photo by Brian Keaveney
In an effort to engage and inspire community members, FOSS mounts juried photography exhibitions at the Assembly Hall to celebrate the diversity of wildlife and beauty of the natural landscapes in the park.
All skill levels are welcome. Winners are announced at the opening reception and prizes presented. In the winter of 2020-2021, we pivoted due to the pandemic and hosted a popular Winter Photo Contest in our Facebook group.
Boxing Day Bird Count
Every December 26, FOSS hosts a Boxing Day Bird Count. Bring your family, a friend or just yourself to observe and count the birds you discover. Using the provided map and winter bird count list and keeping track of the time of day you visited the park, record all the bird species you saw in the park or on the water as well as how many of each species you found. Send your lists along to the provided address so we can add them to the overall Christmas Bird Count. If the weather is poor on the day of the count, try again the next day.