KFN 75 Years Logo

The Kingston Field Naturalists: Past & Present (1949 to 1982)

by Mike Evans

Hosting the FON Annual Conference represents an important milestone in the life of one of the most active of the clubs within the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. Occasions such as this also provide one with an excuse to look back into the club’s past and to review some of the accomplishments of the organization and its members.

The FON conference is being held in Kingston for the fourth time, the previous occasion coinciding with the KFN’s 25th Anniversary in 1974. At that time Helen Quilliam wrote a history of the club in which she described with obvious affection and justifiable pride the highlights of the first 25 years (Quilliam 1974). In the early years the leadership and expertise of Dr. George M. Stirrett, now an Honourary President of the club, played a major role in building a firm foundation.

Although many members have made notable contribution since Dr. Stirrett’s departure for Ottawa in 1959, Helen Quilliam stands out above all others for her devoted service to the KFN. Many of its successes are due largely to her efforts. Perhaps Helen’s best-known accomplishment in the field of natural history has been her book, “The History of the Birds of Kingston, Ontario,” published in 1965 (Quilliam 1965). The book contains a wealth of information on the status of birds of the area compiled from the records of club members and from the writings of earlier naturalists who had lived in or visited the Kingston area. The second edition published to commemorate Kingston’s Tercentenary in 1973 proved as popular as the first, and soon sold out. A supplement to the book updating the earlier editions has recently been compiled (Weir and Quilliam 1980)’.

Most of the KFN’s activities over the years have involved some aspect of bird study within a 50-km (30-mi) radius of Kingston. Within this circle falls a diversity of habitats supporting a wide variety of breeding bird species, and providing important resting places for birds during migration. Foremost amongst these locations is Prince Edward Point which lies southwest of Kingston just within the 50-km circle. The club was founded, however, to help protect and preserve all types of wildlife, and in 1963, with this in mind, members purchased 81 hectares (200 acres), of land some 30-km north of Kingston as a sanctuary for wildlife, and as an area in which members could either carry out natural history projects or just quietly enjoy nature. A further 41 hectares (100 acres) nearby was purchased in 1967.

Since the last FON conference in Kingston in 1974, one of the most ambitious projects of the KFN has been its bird migration study at Prince Edward Point. A daily census of migrating birds at Prince Edward Point in the spring of 1971 and repeated in 1972 established that the area was to the north shore of Lake Ontario what Long Point and Point Pelee are to Lake Erie. Subsequently the old lighthouse at PEPt was leased by the KFN to serve as the headquarters of the Prince Edward Point Observatory and a banding permit obtained from the Canadian Wildlife Service. Since then over 75,000 birds have: been netted, banded and released by KFN banders assisted by numerous helpers from the Kingston area and elsewhere. The program has been organized and carried out almost entirely by volunteers and by students employed using funds provided by various agencies and generous club members.

One aspect of the KFN’s activities at Prince Edward Point which has attracted widespread publicity has been the banding of Saw-whet Owls. A hitherto unknown migration of these small owls occurs along the shores of Lake Ontario in the fall, resulting in hundreds of them reaching PEPt. Netting and banding of these delightful little creatures has attracted visitors from various parts of Ontario and from further afield. Some of the results of the studies of Saw-whet Owl migration have been published (Weir et al 1980)(see also pp 29-32 below).

In December 1976 a proposal was made by the KFN to the Canadian Wildlife Service for the acquisition of land at PEPt for the establishment of a wildlife sanctuary. After lengthy negotiations with the owner of the property the area officially became the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area in September 1978. For this effort, the KFN received the FON Conservation Award in 1981

The other notable achievement of the club in the past few years has been the expansion of the Otter Lake Sanctuary. Club funds together with over $20,000 in donations from members enabled the KFN to purchase an additional 190 acres which joined the original 81 hectares (200 acres) to the 41 hectares (100 acres) purchased in 1967..

In addition to these major accomplishments the KFN continues to be involved in a number of on-going projects. Studies of gull and tern populations on Pigeon Island in Lake Ontario started by Martin Edwards in 1963 still continue. Several members have run breeding bird surveys for the CWS since this scheme was started in the late sixties. Additional routes selected by the KFN within our 50 km area have also been run for over ten years resulting in much useful information on the status of breeding birds in the area, and on fluctuations in their populations. Many members are now involved in collecting information for the forthcoming Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas for which Ron Weir is acting as regional coordinator.

Six Christmas Bird Counts take place in the Kingston area, and KFN members usually participate in all of them. Occasions such as these, and spring and fall “round-ups” remain popular among members because of the friendly rivalry involved and the enjoyable get-togethers afterwards. In addition to field trips within our immediate area, weekend field trips to Cape May, N.J. in April 1980 and to Algonquin Park in February 1981 proved to be very popular and will no doubt be repeated in the not too distant future.

Mention should also be made of the Kingston Junior Naturalists’ program which has thrived for the past ten years under the enthusiastic leadership of Anne Robertson. It is fitting that Anne’s efforts are to be recognized by the FON at this year’s meeting here in Kingston.

The list of KFN presidents includes many who have served the FON and various other conservation organizations in various capacities. Martin Edwards (KFN President 1956-1958) has been president of both the FON and the Canadian Nature Federation, as well as being involved in conservation action at the national and international level. Fred Cooke (1967-69 and 1975-76) was one of the prime movers in founding the Rideau Trail and has also served as a director of the FON. Jim McCowan (1966-67) was largely responsible for the setting up of the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority and was its first chairman. He also served a term as Recording Secretary of the FON. Pip Nation (1971-73) and Bob Stewart (1954-55 and 1969-71) have both been members of the FON Executive, Bob Stewart presently being 2nd Vice-president. Ron Weir (1973-75) has been a director of the FON, a member of the St. Lawrence Islands National Park Advisory Committee. He has recently become Ontario regional editor for the National Audubon Society’s publication “American Birds”. Faith Avis (1978-80) is a director of the FON, and has been chairman of the organizing committee for this year’s FON conference, a task which she has handled admirably. Many of those mentioned above are still keenly involved in KFN activities. With people such as these it is no wonder that the club continues to thrive.

Recollections of the activities of a club such as the KEN inevitably bring to mind many other loyal members in addition to those already mentioned. It is to be hoped that I have not offended any of those I have mentioned by name by any inaccuracies, nor those I have not named who have made invaluable contributions to the well-being of the club.


Quilliam, H.R. 1974. A History of the KFN. Blue Hill 21:26-31.

Quilliam, H.R. 1965. The History of the Birds of Kingston, Ontario. Published privately. 216 pp.

Weir, R.D. and H.R. Quilliam. 1980. Supplement to “The History of the Birds of Kingston, Ontario” KFN publication 40 pp.

Weir, R.D., F. Cooke, M.H. Edwards and R.B. Stewart. 1980. “Fall Migration of Saw-whet Owls at Prince Edward Point, Ontario” Wilson Bull. 92:475-488.