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5 Weird Facts about Blue Jays
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5 Weird Facts about Blue Jays

[caption id="attachment_31795" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Amanda Simard Amanda Simard, Writing Intern[/caption] This blog was written by writing intern Amanda Simard. This month’s calendar photo features a Blue Jay. While you may be familiar with the sight of this large blue songbird, here are some facts about the Blue Jay you may not know – some of which you may find downright strange! Blue Jay Descriptionimage of a Blue Jay

  • Common name: Blue Jay
  • Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
  • Habitat: forests edges
  • Lifespan: the eldest wild, banded Blue Jay was 26 years old.
  • Size: 25-30 cm long; 70-100 g
  • Description: The Blue Jay is a large blue songbird with a perky crest. Its underside is white, and its back is blue, white and black.

Fact 1 – Blue Jays rub ants on their feathers.

Yes, you read that correctly. The jays rub ants on their feathers, draining the ants of their formic acid before they gobble them up. This is known as “anting.” Over the years, several theories have been proposed to explain this bizarre behaviour. One theory hypothesized the excreted acid served as a safeguard against parasites and bacteria, though testing the acid on bacteria cultures showed this to be unlikely. The most probable reason is simple: the ants taste better without the acid. Ornithologists tested this theory by exposing jays to ants with and without formic acid – the ants without acid were eaten immediately while the ones with it were treated to the rubbing ceremony.

Fact 2  – The pigment found in Blue Jay feathers is actually brown.

Melanin, the same pigment found in human hair and skin, is a brown pigment – and it is the pigment found in Blue Jay feathers. Why, then, do they appear blue? Bird colouration is produced in a variety of ways, of which pigmentation is just one. The blue appearance of many blue birds is due to refraction – a light scattering phenomenon. The barb structure of Blue Jay feathers is such that, when light hits them, the blue light is refracted while the other wavelength of visible light are absorbed by the melanin, making them look blue. If you come across a Blue Jay feather, try backlighting it. Without direct light, the blue is no longer reflected and the feather will look brown.

Fact 3 – Blue Jays mimic hawks.

Blue Jays can make a variety of sounds and it is common to hear them mimicking hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. Ornithologists suggest they do this for one of two reasons, or perhaps both. The first theory is the mimicry serves as a warning to other jays about any lurking hawks. The second is that jays are trying to fool other species into thinking there are hawks nearby.

image of a Blue JayFact 4 – Blue Jays collect paint chips.

Blue Jays have been known to chip at and hoard light-coloured paint, probably to stockpile a source of calcium for the spring. If Blue Jays are chipping away at the paint on your house, try providing an alternate source of calcium like crushed egg shells – this usually stops the unwanted behaviour.

Fact 5  – Blue Jays are noisier in the fall than in the spring or summer.

Many notice that Blue Jays, who are fairly quiet during the spring and summer, are noisy little neighbours during the fall. In spring and early summer, when they are nesting, jays tend to be more secretive. Come fall, when they are scavenging for food and hawks are more present, they communicate a variety of information and warnings through their calls. Which of these facts are new to you? Which had you already observed? Let us know about the Blue Jays in your NatureHood in the comments, or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.
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7 Ways to Enjoy an Environmentally Friendly Fall
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7 Ways to Enjoy an Environmentally Friendly Fall

[caption id="attachment_34904" align="alignleft" width="150"]mbriere Michelle Briere, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Michelle Briere. As the weather cools and the seasons change, it is time to think about how you can make better choices for the environment this fall!

1. Shop for local foods

My favorite part of autumn is absolutely the harvest. From pumpkins, to onions, to potatoes, most of us here in Canada have a variety of delicious vegetables come into season during the fall.vegetables-752153_1920 A tip to acquire the most delicious and fresh vegetables around is to buy locally-grown produce. Not only does it help support the local economy, but it reduces the environmental impact associated with long-distance food transportation. Head to your local farmer’s market, and the next time you’re out in the country, keep your eye out for food stands where farmers often sell their freshly-picked produce. Another fun way to enjoy local produce is to pick it yourself! Grab some friends, family or your significant other and make a date of picking at a local apple orchard.

2. Indulge in sustainable fall fashion

When the cold weather rolls around, some of us long to revamp our style and revel in the cozy big sweaters and earthy palette that fall fashion brings. Thankfully, there are several ways the environmentally-conscious fashionista can indulge during the fall. To reduce waste, avoid fast fashion, and even save a few bucks, visit thrift stores in your area. You may have to dig around a bit, but with some patience you’re sure to find some gems hidden within the racks. If you have no luck at the thrift stores, seek out local and environmentally-conscious companies to shop from. My personal favorite eco-friendly Canadian brand is Matt & Nat, a Montréal-based company which uses recycled water bottles to make a wide variety of sophisticated purses, briefcases, backpacks, wallets and shoes.

3. Start next year’s vegetable garden early

Growing your own food is a fun and rewarding way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with large-scale food production. Whether you already have a vegetable garden or not, you can start parts of next year’s garden this fall! Like tulips, certain vegetables are best planted before the winter. Depending on where you live, this usually includes garlic, onions, and shallots. 6-8 weeks before the expected last frost, start a new garden plot or prep your existing one. Remove any remaining plant material (excluding perennials), lightly fertilize and work your soil, plant your garlic, onion and shallots accordingly, and cover lightly or heavily with mulch (depending on how cold your winters are). Planting these foods in the fall will produce a bigger crop with fuller flavour, ready to be enjoyed late summer the following year.

4. Have a plant-based Thanksgiving

Animal agriculture is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and consumes extremely large volumes of water. One fun and festive way to reduce your environmental impact this fall is by hosting an entirely plant-based Thanksgiving! As recognition of the environmental, health and animal welfare benefits of a plant-based diet grows, it’s easier than ever to find tasty alternatives to traditional meat and dairy-based recipes. There are several dishes you can make that will keep your Thanksgiving traditions alive, while keeping your environmental impact low; for example, stuff a butternut squash with your go-to stuffing recipe, and replace butter in your apple pie recipe with margarine. Find yourself short of ideas? Check out some plant-based cookbooks or online food blogs (my favorites are here and here). [one_half] [caption id="attachment_34619" align="alignnone" width="300"]Photo by Michelle Briere Photo by Michelle Briere[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_34620" align="alignnone" width="300"]Photo by Michelle Briere Photo by Michelle Briere[/caption] [/one_half_last] Recipes for plant-based versions of classic fall favourites are widely available online. Left: 3-bean chilli served in roasted pumpkin bowls. Right: dairy-free pumpkin spice “cheesecake”.

5. Help out the feathered fall migrants and winter residents

Fall and winter are challenging seasons for our feathered friends. Many bird species make the long, difficult journey south during the fall, while others stay and endure Canada’s sub-zero winter temperatures. Food scarcity is often a major challenge for both parties. The best thing you can do to help is avoid pruning your fruiting, flower and seed-bearing plants until the early spring. These plants provide an excellent food source for migrants to refuel on their way south, and help sustain the species who stick around for the winter. [caption id="attachment_34621" align="alignleft" width="300"]Photo by Michelle Briere Photo by Michelle Briere[/caption] Fall is also great time to clean any bird feeders, bird baths and birdhouses you may have; this can help prevent the spread of disease. Birds benefit year-round from fruiting trees. Avoid trimming these plants in your yard until the spring to help keep more food sources available for birds.

6. Go green for Halloween

Whether you’ll be going door-to-door, giving out candy, or heading to a costume party, you can be festive this Halloween while staying environmentally-conscious. Dressing up? Dig out an old costume you wore years ago, swap with a friend, or head to a thrift store. Alternatively, if you’re the creative type, make a DIY masterpiece using things you already have around the house. Decorating? Pinterest is your best friend. You can find countless DIY Halloween decoration ideas that don’t require you to buy anything new, or that are free of plastic and other environmentally-harmful products. Giving out candy? Source out ones that uses the least amount of packaging (while remaining safe for kids, of course).

7. Try keeping a cooler house

This is an easy tip to reduce your impact, but it may take a little adjustment time. If you own a home or rent a place where you can control the thermostat, try keeping the temperature a bit cooler than you normally do during the fall and winter months. Break out your cozy sweaters, bundle up in some blankets, and enjoy hot cups of tea. After a few days, you’ll adjust to having your place a few degrees cooler. Plus, you’ll save a few bucks on your energy bill! What are some things you do to enjoy an environmentally-friendly fall? Leave a comment below!
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Member Spotlight: Nature Lover, Canadian Senator and Honorary Chair of Women for Nature Diane Griffin
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Member Spotlight: Nature Lover, Canadian Senator and Honorary Chair of Women for Nature Diane Griffin

[caption id="attachment_33387" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Jodi Joy Jodi Joy
Director of Development[/caption] “We all need peace and quiet, beautiful natural places to be our touchstones and to replenish our souls. A walk in nature does that for me. Also, just knowing we have natural places and wildlife is satisfying”. – Senator Diane Griffin Senator Diane Griffin is a lifelong and passionate environmentalist. She’s had a stellar public service career including serving as PEI’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Energy and as a Town Councillor in Stratford, PEI. She’s also served as the President of our Board of Directors and received our Pimlott Award for her incredible dedication and work to protect nature. An accomplished writer, who published a book of Atlantic Wildflowers, she has also penned numerous articles on topics ranging from agricultural, eco-economics, national forest strategies, natural heritage and more. [caption id="attachment_34742" align="alignright" width="421"]Image of Senator Diane Griffin Senator Diane Griffin[/caption] Senator Griffin encourages Canadians of all ages to explore nature, and take action in ways that make sense in our own homes and hearts, acknowledging recently thatwhat we do in our individual homes and communities is going to be significant for the conservation of Canada’s natural resources. Today, she brings a strong voice for nature and conservation to Canada’s Senate and is also the Honorary Chair of our Women for Nature program. Three Women for Nature projects are launching this year. Together with your gifts, we’ve supported six projects imagined by Young Women for Nature. As well, we’ll launch 10 new mentorships empowering up and coming nature leaders. And the Women for Nature E-Dialogues series, moderated by Professor Ann Dale, will begin later this month. These real-time, online discussions will stimulate ideas, dialogue and local action around the critically important topic of Biodiversity. You can find out all the topics, and join the conversation here. By instilling a passionate commitment to nature within our young nature leaders, Women for Nature members are investing in the future of conservation in Canada. The Women for Nature mentorship program and E-Dialogue series will bring strong voices together for nature to support the future protection of nature and wildlife in Canada. “As the Honorary Chair of Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, I am delighted to see that Canada’s nature is in good hands. These young women and their projects are a step in the right direction to help enable more young Canadians to connect with nature and assist in protecting our precious wildlife and habitats.” You can find the latest news on Women for Nature here. And if you are interested in learning more about our initiative, I would love to connect with you! You can reach me at jjoy@naturecanada.ca or 1-800-267-4088 extension 239.

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Building with a Light Touch: My Off-Grid Straw Bale Home
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Building with a Light Touch: My Off-Grid Straw Bale Home

This post was written by BC-based guest blogger Sharon Bamber (www.sharonbamber.com). I live in a straw bale off-grid home. My husband Simon and I designed it and built it together from the ground up, with no special tools, no help from paid contractors (except for the final roofing) and no prior construction experience. It was a challenging, frustrating, exciting, demoralizing, enlightening, joyous and exhausting endeavour. I thoroughly recommend it! I was introduced to natural building 20 years ago when I lived in Cornwall, UK, and learned about the traditional cob buildings. Cob is a traditional building technique using hand-formed lumps of clay earth mixed with sand and straw which is laid wet. In England, there are tens of thousands of comfortable cob homes, many of which have been continuously inhabited for over 500 years. Building in this manner made sense to me as this ancient technology is aesthetically beautiful and doesn't contribute to environmental degradation, dwindling natural resources or chemical contamination. When I came to Canada, I wasn't sure if cob would provide the necessary insulation for the winter months. I still wanted that beautiful, unique, hand-built home that I'd dreamed of for so long, but didn't want to hurt the environment in the process. Conventional building materials are non-renewable, difficult and intimidating for novices to work with and the environmental cost is high. I needed an alternative solution. [caption id="attachment_34430" align="aligncenter" width="940"]Sharon and Simon building their straw bale house. Sharon and Simon building their straw bale house in British Columbia.[/caption] I asked myself a number of questions: Where do the materials come from, are they sustainable and how much damage is done to the land when they are extracted? The straw: I was able to source straw bales from a farm 148 kilometres away - further than I would have liked, but much closer than those conventional materials! The nearest oriented strand board (OSB) manufacturing plant is 650 kilometres away and the nearest fibreglass insulation manufacturing plant is 830 kilometres away. In comparison with other building materials, timber/lumber seems like a sustainable material, but it takes a long time to grow compared to straw. Straw is a renewable material, taking just one season before it is harvested. The earth plaster: The soil that we were going to extract as we dug the foundations contained enough clay to make a good plaster. So one of the major plaster ingredients was there on site. Using the soil extracted for the foundation as the basis of our plaster was much less damaging to the land than using cement or lime plaster and we minimised the physical footprint of our house as best we could. The other ingredients were chopped straw (sustainable), fresh horse manure (sustainable) and fresh cow manure (sustainable), both of which we collected daily from our neighbour's horses and cows, and sand (not sustainable). The sand came from a local quarry 26 kilometres away. All very local! What is the embodied energy of the materials?Image of Embodied energy graphic Embodied energy is a common measure used in comparing the environmental impact of different materials, products or services. In this case, it is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the mining and processing of natural resources to manufacturing, transport and product delivery. Straw bale construction has extremely low measures of embodied energy when compared with conventional building materials. What are the costs of heating and cooling the completed house? Our house is extremely cool during the summer and very warm in the winter. Straw, when encased in earth plaster has a very high R-value. Other buildings can achieve the same R-value, but only by using more expensive materials and a more material-extensive system. It has been estimated that straw bale buildings are on average 20% more efficient than standard stick-built construction. What happens to the building materials eventually, when the home is no longer needed? At the end of its life, when the building is no longer needed, the walls can just compost into the ground. The walls and plaster are 100% biodegradable when the time comes. As an interesting side note, during the whole of the construction we only had to take two standard-sized black garbage bags to the dump. None of that came from the wall construction. [caption id="attachment_34425" align="alignright" width="409"]Baling with our family and friends. Baling with our family and friends.[/caption] I love that I know that the materials are natural, that I know where they come from and how they are made, that there are no glues, chemicals, toxins or off-gassing. I love that I collected, sieved and mixed the plaster with my own hands. I love that I built every inch of the house and that I felt safe and comfortable doing it. I adore the really thick, solid walls with their gentle undulations, soft curves, rounded edges and deep window seats at each window. Those characteristics add a special warm, welcoming feeling that is impossible to describe until you experience it for yourself. My home is powered by solar and has a composting toilet (a rather nice porcelain toilet with the nasty “working box” hidden away), and I have plans for a greywater system now that this is allowed under BC wastewater regulations. It is by no means the perfect environmentally friendly house. Except for the walls themselves, there were areas where we had to compromise because of budget, and I really hope that alternative sustainable green products eventually become more affordable and mainstream. It is however, the best that we could possibly do and we love it.

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Nuts About Chipmunks? Discover the 5 Canadian Species!
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Nuts About Chipmunks? Discover the 5 Canadian Species!

[caption id="attachment_31795" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Amanda Simard Amanda Simard, Writing Intern[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Amanda Simard. This month's calendar photo features an Eastern Chipmunk. How much do you know about chipmunks? Did you know chipmunks hibernate? They burrow in subterranean nests, waking frequently to feed on stored food. They are omnivorous, eating seeds, nuts, invertebrates and even small eggs. Chipmunks are small rodents in the same family as squirrels. Most species of chipmunks bear one litter each summer with five to six young, but Eastern Chipmunks bear two litters per year with three to four young each. Learn more about this adorable mammal and the five species found across Canada! [custom_table style="3"]

Common name: Eastern Chipmunk
  • Scientific name: Tamias striatus
  • Range: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, eastern Saskatchewan
  • Size: 66-115 g; 25.5-26.6 cm long
  • Description: Eastern Chipmunks have greyish to reddish-brown fur with a distinguishing yellowish to reddish patch on their rump and a white underside. They have five dark stripes along their sides and back, the longest stripe running along their midline. They have narrow white bands between the dark stripes, and stripes continue on their face around their eyes. Their tail is hairy but quite flat. They have rounded ears and large cheek pouches.
[caption id="attachment_32125" align="alignright" width="230"]image of an Eastern Chipmunk Eastern Chipmunk[/caption]
Common name: Least Chipmunk
  • Scientific name: Tamias minimus
  • Range: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Québec, Saskatchewan, Yukon
  • Size: 42-53 g; 18.5-22.2 cm long
  • Description: Least Chipmunks are the smallest of all chipmunks. They have five dark and four light stripes along their sides and three dark and two light stripes on the face. Their fur is orange-brown, and their underside is greyish-white. Their tail is bushy, long, and pale brown.
[caption id="attachment_32126" align="alignright" width="230"]image of a Least Chipmunk Least Chipmunk[/caption]
Common name: Townsend’s Chipmunk
  • Scientific name: Tamias townsendii
  • Range: British Columbia
  • Size: 60-118 g; 22-38 cm long
  • Description: Townsend's Chipmunks have dark brown and striped backs. They have five dark stripes alternating with four lighter stripes, and two grey and three brown stripes on their faces. Their underside varies from creamy white to grey, and their ears are black in front and grey behind. Their tail is bushy, dark brown and tipped with grey and brown.
[caption id="attachment_32128" align="alignright" width="230"]image of a Townsend's Chipmunk Townsend's Chipmunk[/caption]
Common name: Yellow-pine Chipmunk
  • Scientific name: Tamias amoenus
  • Range: Alberta, British Columbia
  • Size: 30-73 g; 18.1-24.5 cm long
  • Description: Yellow-pine Chipmunks are small compared to other chipmunks. They have five black stripes down the back; three dorsal stripes extending from shoulder to rump and two lateral strips extending to mid-body. The pale stripes are usually white or greyish. Their fur varies from tawny to pinkish-brown and their ears are whitish behind and black in front.
[caption id="attachment_32129" align="alignright" width="230"]image of a Yellow-pine Chipmunk Yellow-pine Chipmunk[/caption]
Common name: Red-tailed Chipmunk
  • Scientific name: Tamias ruficaudus
  • Range: Alberta, British Columbia
  • Size: Approximately 60 g; and around 23 cm long
  • Description: The Red-tailed Chipmunk is darker and larger than most chipmunks. It is often reddish-brown on the shoulders and sides, the colour fading out towards the hips. The back is orange-brown, the rump is grey and the underside is whitish. The tail has a black stripe and is yellowish at the tip. Red-tailed Chipmunks have five dark stripes, the central one running from between the ears to the tail. Its four pale stripes are greyish to white and it has two pale stripes and three brown stripes on its face.
[caption id="attachment_32127" align="alignleft" width="230"]image of a Red-tailed Chipmunk Red-tailed Chipmunk by Terry Gray (CC BY 2.0)[/caption]
[/custom_table] Which chipmunks are running around in your backyard? Let us know in the comments, or send us pictures on Facebook or Twitter. Acknowledgements: Animal Diversity, IUCN Red List, and the Canadian Encyclopedia
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The Healthy Houseplant: Ten Feline-Friendly Selections
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The Healthy Houseplant: Ten Feline-Friendly Selections

[caption id="attachment_33210" align="alignleft" width="150"]becka-tulips Guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger and cat mom of two Rebecca Kennedy. It’s no secret that plants are a lovely and valuable addition to the home. They can liven up a sterile room and elevate our mood. As natural air purifiers, plants also remove harmful pollutants from the air, notably gases emitted by common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene and formaldehyde. VOCs are found in many household and hobby products, and exposure to them can cause health problems such as headaches, nausea, and irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat. Some VOCs are known to cause cancer in both animals and humans. By filtering out these noxious fumes, plants help us and our animal companions breathe easier and be healthier. Before introducing a plant to your home, consider the safety, health, and habits of your indoor feline friend. Some plants, while harmless to humans, are poisonous to cats if bitten or consumed, causing minor to devastating adverse reactions. These can range from mild symptoms like drooling and lethargy to worse like vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, bloody stools, kidney and liver failure, heart problems, and death. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintains a large database of common toxic and non-toxic plants, both indoor and outdoor varieties. This resource, although not comprehensive, is an excellent place to check which plants are safe for cats, as well as for dogs and horses. We selected some of our favorite nontoxic houseplants below—check them out! [caption id="attachment_34238" align="aligncenter" width="700"]L to R: Hens and chicks, gerbera daisy, spider plant L to R: Hens and chicks, gerbera daisy, spider plant[/caption]

Ten Indoor Plants That Are Safe for Cats:

  1. African Violet
  2. Aluminum Plant
  3. Calathea
  4. Candle Plant
  5. Gerbera Daisy
  6. Hens and Chicks
  7. King and Queen Fern
  8. Parlour Palm
  9. Spider Plant (also known as Spider Ivy)
  10. Variegated Wax Plant
For more information on household toxins, ways to make your home safer, and how to create a pet first aid kit, read the Pet Poison Hotline’s Guide to Pet Safety. [caption id="attachment_33853" align="alignleft" width="300"]aluminum plant The aluminum plant is safe for cats. Image courtesy of ASPCA.[/caption] If your cat is a biter, you may want to take measures to protect your houseplants, even if they’re not poisonous. One of mine enjoys biting leaves and stems and has shown great interest in my potted king and queen fern. I have encircled the plant with chicken wire, which while unattractive, has kept him mostly at bay, although he does try to stick his paw through the wire. Other methods suggested to me have included employing spray-bottle discipline, placing citrus peels in the pots, and cultivating distracting (sacrificial?) plants that he is allowed to eat, such as catnip and cat grass. It turns out he doesn't like fresh catnip, but cat grass is a definite winner (and distraction). What plants do you keep in your home? How do you keep your cats away from them? Acknowledgements: ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List, Banfield Pet Hospital, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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Eat in Season: Fruits and Vegetables to Put on Your Plate During the Last Days of Summer!
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Eat in Season: Fruits and Vegetables to Put on Your Plate During the Last Days of Summer!

[caption id="attachment_32211" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Leanne Lovsin, Guest Blogger Leanne Lovsin, Guest Blogger[/caption]

This blog is written by guest blogger Leanne Lovsin. 

Did you know that choosing to eat locally-grown fruits and vegetables is good for the environment? Local produce doesn’t have to travel very far to arrive on your plate; this helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a win-win situation! You help support the local economy, eat fresh and delicious food, and improve your carbon footprint.

As the days begin to get shorter and the wind becomes a little brisker, you may catch yourself thinking about the upcoming fall season. But wait! There’s still some summertime left. Next time you go grocery shopping, celebrate the late summer harvest with fruits and vegetables that are grown locally during this fleeting time of year.

Blueberries (available July-September)

[caption id="attachment_34489" align="alignright" width="391"]Image of Blueberries Blueberries[/caption]

Who doesn’t love fresh blueberries? Packed to the brim with disease-fighting antioxidants, this indigo-hued fruit is a super healthy—and tasty—addition to your diet. You can find this fruit almost everywhere during this time of year: grocery stores, farmers markets, and pick-your-own fields!

If you do opt to pick your own blueberries (the more, the merrier!), they can be frozen and stored for later use. Amazingly versatile, add them to smoothies, desserts, and on top of salads, or make some jam!

Nectarines (available August-September)

Nectarines are a juicy stone-fruit that stay in season just a little bit longer than peaches, which they are closely related to. Unlike peaches, nectarines are smooth and have a smaller pit, which arguably makes them more enjoyable to eat! High in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and fiber, this is one fruit you want to get your hands on while you can!

Although they taste delicious as is, nectarines also make great additions to smoothies and cobblers. Next time you have guests over, try adding it to your dessert for a seasonal treat!

[caption id="attachment_34493" align="alignleft" width="394"]Image of an artichoke Artichoke[/caption]

Artichokes  (available August-October)

Artichokes are one of the coolest vegetables around! Well, it’s not technically a vegetable—it’s actually the bud of a flowering plant from the thistle family! Covered in a green armour-like exterior, we typically only eat the sweet-savoury tasting heart.

The options are endless with artichoke. Try it grilled on the BBQ with some herbs or roasted in the oven with other veggies. It also steams and sautés easily, so next time you need to add some nutrients to your meal, opt for artichokes!

Eggplant (available August-October)

A much-loved favourite of vegetarians and vegans, eggplant (or aubergine) has a naturally neutral taste which makes it ideal for soaking up other flavours! It’s also really nutritious; it’s full of fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6.

A great substitute for traditional meat dishes, try making eggplant parmesan or veggie lasagna on your next Meatless Monday. Eggplant also roasts really well and tastes great with root vegetables like sweet potato!

Happy eating! Share your favourite summertime recipes in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter!

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The Maddening Mosquito: Pesky and Pervasive
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The Maddening Mosquito: Pesky and Pervasive

[caption id="attachment_33210" align="alignleft" width="150"]becka-tulips Guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy. Sunday, August 20 is World Mosquito Day! This annual day commemorates a major development in public health—the landmark 1897 discovery of the female Anopheles mosquito as the transmitter of malaria. The person behind this breakthrough was British physician Sir Ronald Ross, who went on to receive the 1902 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his pioneering work on the devastating disease. Thankfully, malaria is no longer found in Canada; however, the disease continues to persist elsewhere—worldwide in 2015, there were 212 million cases and over 400,000 deaths from the disease, disproportionately occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. There are around 3,000–3,500 species of mosquito depending on whom you ask. They belong to the family Culicidae and the genera AnophelesCulex, and Aedes. Over 80 species are found in Canada. The lifespan of a mosquito is mercifully short—ranging from a scant two weeks to six months. swarm of mosquitosOnly the Anopheles mosquito transmits malaria; however, different species are vectors for other grave infectious illnesses. For instance, the Culex variety spreads encephalitis and West Nile virus, while Aedes varieties such as the Aedes aegypti transmit dengue, yellow fever, and both West Nile and Zika viruses. While found mainly in tropical regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, these diseases could be transmitted by mosquitoes in Canada should a local mosquito become infected. For example, the first human case of West Nile virus infection occurred in Ontario in 2002. Although Canada has relatively very few cases of West Nile virus transmission to humans (just 80 in 2015), it is still advisable to take precautions. Regarding Zika virus, the main transmitting species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti, doesn’t live in Canada, as our climate is too cold for them. That said, it is still unknown whether the mosquito species that do reside here could become Zika carriers. Not all species bite. Of those that do, only adult females draw blood, which they use as a protein source for their eggs. (And technically speaking, a mosquito doesn’t bite—more accurately, it cuts and drills into your skin.) Only females have the complex mouthparts used to pierce and pump blood—a long, thin, tube-like structure called a proboscis that contains six needle-like parts that collectively work to locate blood vessels and suck blood. The itchiness and irritation at the site of a bite is caused by an anticoagulant enzyme in the mosquito’s saliva which produces an allergic reaction on the victim’s skin. Mosquitoes are cold-blooded, meaning they like warmer weather. In Canada, they are most abundant from May into July, but can endure throughout the entire summer and then become dormant during chillier times. Some species can be extinguished by below-freezing temperatures. Weather and topographic conditions, including the amount of rainfall and whether that precipitation drains or pools, play a key role in determining their presence and prevalence. With this knowledge in mind, here are three recommendations to help you plan a hike and keep mosquitoes at bay: marsh plantsHike when and where mosquitoes are least active. Mosquitoes can bite at any time of day, but generally in Canada they are most active around dusk and dawn, as well as evening hours after dark, so schedule your hike accordingly. When choosing a place to hike, factor in the area's general geography and environmental conditions. Mosquitoes are largely found in and around still, stagnant water—ponds, swamps, marshes, lake edges, and moist soil—as that’s where breeding occurs. Windy areas are not ideal to mosquitoes because even the slightest breeze will hinder their flying. During daylight, if temperatures are hot, they will congregate in shady areas. Wear protective clothing and minimize your scent. Cover yourself and your kids. Think light colors, loose clothing, and long sleeves. Avoid cotton and linen and choose clothing made from tightly woven fabrics, such as nylon or polyester, which make it harder for the bugs to reach your skin. If possible, tuck your pants into your socks. Keep in mind that mosquitoes fly very close to the ground, so take extra care to protect the lower half of your body. If you are doing more than a casual hike, consider using a netted hat and purchasing permethrin-treated clothing, which although not available to civilians in Canada, is not banned and can be purchased online from U.S. vendors. Reduce or avoid the use of scented hygiene products—shampoo, deodorant, or body wash—before your hike, and do not wear cologne or perfume. Use proven mosquito repellents on both your clothes and your skin. In Canada, only repellents that have been approved by the government for their safety and effectiveness are sold. Visit Health Canada’s Insect Repellents web page for a list of approved insect repellents and recommended concentrations for adults, children, and infants. Repellents are available in several forms, such as sprays, lotions, and moistened wipes. Their active ingredients are DEET, icaridin (known as picaridin in the United States), soybean oil, citronella oil, P-Menthane-3,8-diol, or a mixture of essential oils derived from lemon, eucalyptus, pine needle, geranium, and camphor. Whatever you use, follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully and be mindful of age restrictions and potential allergic reactions to ingredients. Acknowledgements: The Canadian Encyclopedia, Canadian Paediatric Society, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Health Canada, MacLean’s, Malaria Journal, National Geographic, Prevention Magazine, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization

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Birds and the Danger of Window Collisions
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Birds and the Danger of Window Collisions

[caption id="attachment_31138" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sarantia Katsaras Bird Conservation Program Technician Sarantia Katsaras[/caption] Windows are one of the leading human causes of death for birds. Windows are not always visible to birds due to reflected trees or skies, a view straight through the window, or potted plants or living walls on the other side of the glass that draw them in. In order for a window to become visible to birds, it needs to be “broken up.” Visual markers such as patterned window films, window curtains, or window screens make windows visible to birds. By adding these features, it breaks the window up and lets the bird know that it cannot pass through. [caption id="attachment_33763" align="alignright" width="225"]This photo is of 1,800 birds that fatally collided with windows in Ottawa this past year. This photo is of 1,800 birds that fatally collided with windows in Ottawa this past year. Demonstration put on by Safe Wings Ottawa/[/caption] As many as one billion birds fatally collide with windows in North America annually. According to Safe Wings Ottawa, as many as 250,000 birds are killed by windows every year in Ottawa and Gatineau alone. Most window collisions occur during the fall and spring when the birds are migrating. In 2016 there were 101 different species of birds recorded in Ottawa. This includes species at risk such as the Peregrine Falcon, Chimney Swift, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Wood Thrush, Rusty Blackbird, and Canada Warbler. FLAP Canada estimates that 1 to 10 birds die per building, per year. For reasons currently unknown, the Canada Warbler is highly vulnerable to window collisions compared to the average species. Canada Warblers are at 17.9 times greater risk of colliding with all building types, 25.8 times greater risk of colliding with high-rise buildings, and 46.7 times greater risk of colliding with low-rise buildings. The Canada Warbler is a threatened species and its population cannot withstand this easily preventable threat. Interestingly, birds are more susceptible to low-rise buildings than high-rise buildings. Birds typically collide with windows between 50 to 60 feet tall. Make your windows at home visible to birds by taking these steps To learn more about this issue and this significant threat to birds visit our Save Bird Lives page.

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The Sounds of Nature in Your Backyard: Furry Visitors in the Night
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The Sounds of Nature in Your Backyard: Furry Visitors in the Night

[caption id="attachment_33210" align="alignleft" width="150"]becka-tulips Guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy. Throughout the year, your yard and neighborhood are home to a plethora of nature sounds. They can be the pleasant and relaxing kind—a burbling stream, a gentle wind rustling through leafy trees, the avid chirps and splashing of bathing birds—of which spa music playlists are made. Or they can be perturbing and strange (always at night!)—haunting howls, screeches, and screams that bring a banshee to mind and seem better suited for a campfire ghost story. What curious, perhaps off-putting, noises are you hearing this summer? Your yard, whether in the country, the city, or somewhere in between, may be a prime destination for one of these furry creatures who are known for their sometimes disconcerting, but still fascinating, vocalizations.

American Badger

Nocturnal by nature, this solitary member of the weasel family is rarely seen, though maybe you will hear one. Badgers have over 15 discrete sounds, ranging from the chirps, coos, and clucks of cubs to the soothing purr of a mother to her young and the growling and yelping sounds of threatened adults. Though they feed primarily on rodents, badgers are opportunistic eaters and will consume whatever is near and available to them—small birds, eggs, rabbits, mice, and squirrels. The American badger is found across Canada, from southern British Columbia to southern Ontario.

American Marten (Pine Marten)

Image of an American Pine Marten

In this recording, the pine marten exhibits scolding behavior by producing squeaks and a low huffing noise. A member of the weasel family, it is about the size of a small cat with the characteristically long, slinky body and a small, fox-like face. This extremely active creature has a high metabolism and spends a lot of its time hunting. In addition to fruit and nuts, the American marten will prey on birds and larger animals like snowshoe hares and marmots. This boreal forest dweller is found throughout Canada, and the Newfoundland Marten (Martes americana atrata) is classified as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Coyote

In this recording, the coyotes sound like a pack of dogs. And no wonder, as coyotes and dogs, along with wolves and jackals, are all members of the Canidae family. Coyotes readily adapt to all kinds of environments—deserts, mountains, forests, countryside, and more recently, urban areas. As such, they have a wide distribution in Canada—British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the Maritimes. This carnivorous, nocturnal animal feeds mainly on rodents and rabbits, but also presents a threat to livestock and pets. (Another reason to keep your cat indoors.)

Grey SquirrelEastern Grey Squirrel

These backyard pests or pals, depending on your point of view, are highly intelligent, agile mammals who spend most of their time in trees and are masters of eating in season—maple buds in spring; berries, seeds, and apples in the summer; hickory nuts and acorns in autumn. They are also fast—moving up to 25 kilometres per hour when on the ground. Their alarm call is a series of rapid clicking sounds. This type of squirrel stands out for its bushy tail, parts of which it can sometimes lose in order to escape from a predator. Native to native to southern New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, this tree squirrel is active year-round and found throughout Canada.

Red Fox

The solitary, resourceful red fox is found in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. Some of its vocalizations can be uncomfortable to listen to, such as in this disturbing recording. This clever carnivore, however, makes a wide variety of sounds, from howling and barking to softer whining and squealing, depending on its age and situation. For example, its screaming howl occurs most frequently during springtime breeding season (and, interestingly, red foxes are usually monogamous). The red fox typically lives and hunts in forests and near farms. Among their favorite foods are rodents, insects, frogs, fruit, and poultry. Acknowledgements: Badgerland, British Library Sounds, The Canadian EncyclopediaCanadian Wildlife Federation, Hinterland Who's WhoLiveScience, Macaulay Library
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