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Calendar Species Spotlight: July Gosling!
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Calendar Species Spotlight: July Gosling!

This blog was written by guest blogger Tina-Louise Rossit  What’s black, white and brown, and maybe more Canadian than maple syrup? If you guess the Canadian Goose, well, spot on! Now here’s 4 fun facts you probably didn’t know about our lovable geese! #1 Did you know you’ve most likely mistaken the Cackling Goose for the Canadian Goose? But it’s only because they’re virtually identical! The difference is seen is their size and vocalizations. The Cackling goose is tiny compared to our Canadian goose, and whereas the Canada goose has a familiar honking call, the Cackling goose impressively sounds like an old lady laughing at a very funny joke. Have a hear here to check out the differences: Canadian Goose: [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CANGOO_1.honkingofseveralgeese_KYle_1.mp3"][/audio] Cackling Goose: [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CACGOO_1.callsofseveral_AKkc_1.mp3"][/audio]   #2 V is not for victory! The familiar V formation in the sky we see each spring and fall actually has a cool scientific purpose for this choice of letter! In a V formation, the geese synchronize their wingbeats from one other to catch the uplift eddies from the goose in front. This will efficiently save physical energy for their long-distance migrations. (So, I guess it is like a victory?) What’s more, is that this formation has amazed engineer and behavioural scientists for decades, even inspiring the flight mechanics for man-made aircraft. #3 Contrary to popular beliefs, Canadian geese do not naturally eat bread! (Shocker, I know). Actually, all birds don’t naturally eat bread. It’s quite bad for their digestive systems just like junk food every day is bad for ours. Canadian geese are herbivores. They like grasses, leaves, sedges, seeds, grains, aquatic plants and fruits (apparently blueberries are a winning favourite). In addition, they will occasionally add in a juicy aquatic insect and/or aquatic invertebrate. #4 Canadian geese are pretty family-orientated! A male and a female will bond and mate for life, i.e monogamous. The pair will return to the same nesting area year after year. Usually this spot is where one of the parent themselves, hatched. Canadian geese represent a bird species that has both maternal and paternal care for their offspring, named goslings. Mom and dad will be very protective to the point of being quite aggressive to anyone, or thing, that seems like a threat to their goslings. A family sticks together often walking in single file with mama as lead, goslings in the middle, and papa in the rear! What a beautiful sight. And there you have it! Time to share these fun facts at your next party! (Sure to steal the limelight!).

Save the Bees, the Birds, and the Planet from Neonics
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Save the Bees, the Birds, and the Planet from Neonics

[caption id="attachment_37466" align="alignleft" width="135"] Julie Lopez[/caption] This blog was written by Julie Lopez, the Digital Campaign Organizer at Nature Canada. The Save the Bees and Save the Birds movements have gained mainstream attention in the past few years, but governments, environmental groups and industry have been discussing the impact of pesticides on humans, plants and wildlife species for decades. Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book by Rachel Carson, was published in 1962 and highlighted the dangers of DDT for humans and wildlife alike. She presented evidence that linked DDT to health problems in humans, and severe declines in bird populations. This ultimately led to the ban of DDT for agricultural uses, and, since then, the many species that were severely impacted by its use, most notably peregrine falcons and bald eagles, have made dramatic recoveries. Now, four decades later, neonics (Neonicotinoids) have taken centre stage due to the harm they are inflicting upon bird and bee populations around the globe.


Numerous studies have shown that various neonicotinoids are contributing to the die-off of honeybees and other pollinators, like bumblebees. Four years ago, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan found that songbirds given small doses of imidacloprid lost weight and lost their sense of direction, preventing them from migrating south. Most recently, the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and Environment and Climate Change Canada showed that the harm caused by the use of neonics does not limit itself to bees or small birds. [caption id="attachment_37975" align="alignright" width="300"] Photo by Carla Radke[/caption] These scientists found nine detectable levels of neonicotinoids in the livers of 40 wild turkeys in Southern Ontario, thus raising the question about the breadth of the impact that these pesticides have on all wildlife species. In late April of this year, the European Union banned the use of three prevalent neonicotinoid that have caused harm to bees and birds. The 28 member states decided to build on a limited ban in effect since 2013 and completely ban their use by the end of 2018. Most recent to join the movement is Costco, a grocery store chain that has 600 stores in the United States and Canada. In May of 2018, Costco took a stand on insecticides, urging its producers to stop using neonics. They are now asking their suppliers of fruits, vegetables and garden plants to phase the use of these insecticides, and are seeking to partner with suppliers who share their commitment to pollinator health. As well, 232 global scientists published in the scholarly journal Science  on June 1, 2018, to "greatly restrict" the use of neonics around the world, writing an open letter to policy makers demanding action around neonics due to the threat they pose to pollinators and ecosystems. (Science magazine, June 1, 2018).
The Canadian Government is currently reviewing the use of neonics. Considering that even ingesting a small amount of neonics can cause songbirds to be impaired and unable to migrate, and has lead to the die-off of bees, this issue requires immediate action from the Canadian government.  Thanks to the thousands of Canadians that have signed our petition to ban neonics. If you have yet done so, please consider signing our petition today!

Support Nature Canada as we urge the government to follow the European Union’s lead and protect all our wildlife species from harmful chemicals!


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Celebrate Canada’s Parks Day!
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Celebrate Canada’s Parks Day!

[caption id="attachment_37287" align="alignleft" width="150"] Jill Sturdy, NatureHood Program Manager.[/caption] There are so many reasons to spend time outdoors and explore in nature. It’s a great way to connect with nature and learn about local biodiversity. There is more and more research exposing the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Simply put, exploring nature is good for you and good for your soul. What’s more is you don’t need to go far to get into nature. In fact, our NatureHood program is all about that: exploring nature right where you live. Watch and listen to the birds in your neighbourhood. How many species can you identify? Early morning is the best time, as that’s when birds are most active. Find out how you can attract birds and other wildlife to your yard – it can be as simple as planting native flowers to attract butterflies. Learn more about ways you can be a good neighbor to wildlife here. Another way to get out into nature is to go for a hike at your local nature trails. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the plants you shouldn’t touch! Hint: poison ivy thrives along trail edges – another good reason to stick to the trails! Summer is also a great time to venture out a little farther and explore our beautiful parks! Saturday, July 21 is Canada’s Parks Day – a day to celebrate our parks and all that they have to offer. Depending where you live in the country, you won’t have to go far to get to a park.

Summer is short so get out and explore! What’s your favourite nature-based activity?


Here are just a couple of examples of park initiatives happening next weekend: Healthy by Nature is an initiative developed by the BC Parks Foundation. They are promoting Parks Day by encouraging people to join a family-friendly walk in one of BC’s provincial parks on July 21st. Healthy Parks Healthy People is an initiative developed by Ontario Parks to promote the link between a healthy environment and healthy society. On Friday, July 20, ALL of Ontario provincial parks will offer FREE day-use to encourage Ontarians to explore a provincial park near them.
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How to deal with Dog-Strangling Vine
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How to deal with Dog-Strangling Vine

This blog post was written by Nature Canada guest blogger Robin Wakelin. Dog strangling vine has been taking over Southern Ontario for years. This invasive species, also known as swallowwort, poses big problems for Ontario’s wildlife and anyone who enjoys being out in nature. While the name might bring to mind ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, I don’t think there are any reports of this plant actually harming pets. Yet as I walked my medium-sized dog through a nearby conservation area, it’s near impossible for her to avoid the large patches. The vines grow several feet high and have made my normal walking paths feel like Jungle territory in a matter of weeks since the warm weather hit. I watched the vines wrap around her legs and occasionally trip her and I could see how a small dog could potentially get stuck, so it’s definitely something to be aware of. However, the strangling nature of these vines pertains more to nearby plants and small trees, suffocating native flora and quickly taking over any available land. Not only a threat to native plants, deer and other grazing animals avoid dog-strangling vine, which means less food for them as well as more pressure on the plants they do eat. The monarch butterfly, a species already at risk in Ontario, is also further threatened as their larvae are not able to survive on these plants.[1]

What is an invasive species?

Invasive species can be plants or animals, which were brought to a location where they did not originally grow. These species “not only threaten to transform the wildlife, woodlands and waterways that Canadians depend on, they cost this country billions of dollars”.[2] Other types you may have heard of are zebra mussels (affecting our water bodies) and the Japanese beetle. Dog-strangling vine first occurred in North America in the 1800s, originating in Eurasia. Invasive species like this are usually very adaptable and easy to spread.

What can I do?

If you often go for walks through wooded areas, you may want to familiarize yourself with local invasive species and their removal efforts. By walking through dog-strangling vine or removing it incorrectly, you can spread their seeds even further.  If you have a yard or garden, keep an eye out as it is best to start removing it before it can grow into a large thicket. When removing, cut at the base near the soil to starve the plant. Do not pull as this may spread seeds and also breaking at the root may cause more shoots to grow.[3]
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[1] http://www.invadingspecies.com/dog-strangling-vine/ [2] https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/LEARN-ABOUT-INVASIVE-SPECIES1 [3] https://www.torontogardens.com/2009/03/warning-dog-strangling-vine.html/
 

How Human Activities and Climate Change Affect Wildlife
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How Human Activities and Climate Change Affect Wildlife

This blog is written by Steve Gahbauer, who has been regularly contributing Nature Notes for many years.


Canada’s wildlife is in peril. From bees to birds, butterflies, boreal caribou, polar bears, whales, turtles and salamanders - species are in decline. Sea levels are rising, putting low elevation islands at risk of flooding. Sooner or later thousands of coastal communities around the world will become uninhabitable. Antarctic melt rate has tripled in the last decade. The ice shield is diminishing faster than ever. It is now pouring more than 180 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually. Since 1992, the Antarctic ice shield has lost nearly three trillion tons of ice. Of that loss, 40% occurred in the last five years. North Atlantic Ocean currents have slowed down by 15% since the middle of the last century. Africa’s Lake Chad is in a state of crisis, and drinking water reservoirs are drying up in many places. Man-made pollution of air and water exacerbate the situation. There is no doubt that the issues are complex and that addressing and solving them is a daunting task. Complexity calls for collaboration. We live in a pivotal era which presents significant stakes. There is a growing need for finding solutions to meet growing energy demands and environment protection needs, while at the same time remaining cognizant of our impact on the health of our planet and its finite and depleting resources. Climate change in general, and accelerating human activities in particular, have significant impacts on wildlife. These are a few of the wildlife species that are being affected by the changing climate in Canada.

Birds

Studies show that birds start egg-laying at an average of 6.6 days earlier every 10 years. Raising their young is no longer matched with the time of maximum food availability. And many birds are migrating earlier because of warmer Spring temperatures, while Arctic birds are challenged by an army of new parasites. To learn more about bird lives, see BirdLife's recent study on how climate change will affect birds. [caption id="attachment_37899" align="alignleft" width="300"] Eastern Meadowlark, photo by Connie VanderZwaag Kiers.[/caption] One hope for the preservation of grassland birds will be farmers who adjust their hay harvest times to the nesting times of birds. For decades, nesting Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks have been on a collision course with farm tractors and livestock, contributing to drastic population declines among these birds. Ontario’s Bobolink numbers have plummeted 77% since 1970. While grassland birds seek a place to hatch and rear their young, farmers are scything down hay fields with their mowers and have cattle grazing on bird breeding grounds. The consequences are usually disastrous for the birds. But now, some farmers are steering a new course, hoping to reverse the slide. They attempt to revise their times for harvesting hay in June – the height of nesting time for grassland birds – and by implementing more rational grazing. Keeping mowers and livestock out of fields until mid-July, when young birds have fledged, is a good idea, but it creates another dilemma for farmers: lower quality hay and animal welfare costs. Milk cows demand higher levels of protein than other livestock, so dairy farmers must cut hay more frequently to harvest fodder that is less mature and higher in protein. They also opt for high protein species, such as alfalfa, which is poorer habitat for Bobolinks. Efforts to maintain grassland are beneficial not only to Bobolinks and Meadowlarks, but also to Field Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, Eastern Kingbirds, Kestrels, Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls.

Bees

There is a pressing need to protect bees and other pollinators from neonicotinoid pesticides and herbicides. Bees are hard-working, industrious creatures, small but mighty, that are essential to pollinate many edibles we consume. Glyphosate is a weed killer that has a devastating impact on the life of bees. It also takes out all milkweed and nectar-producing wildflowers. Sign Nature Canada's petition to ban neonics today!

Boreal caribou

Caribou and our other at-risk species are more than just “nice to have.” Scientists consider boreal caribou as bellwethers of the health of the boreal forest. Protecting Canada’s remaining boreal caribou habitat is one of the most important means at our disposal for maintaining fully functioning ecosystems within forests and wetlands. Yet, companies are routinely exempt from rules that are supposed to protect caribou habitat. Despite a 2012 federal government recovery strategy that outlined the need to protect at least 65% of boreal caribou habitat from disturbance, industrial development is still allowed. Boreal caribou are estimated to occupy 2.4 million square kilometres of Canada’s boreal forest. Their critical habitat extends from Labrador to the Yukon, across nine provinces and territories. They have been part of our landscapes for more than two million years.

Polar Bears

[caption id="attachment_37913" align="alignright" width="271"] Polar Bear, photo by Michelle Valberg[/caption] Shrinking pack ice and longer, warmer summers are forcing Polar Bears to move south. One has even come on land in Newfoundland in June. There are between 25,000 and 30,000 Polar Bears in the world, of which about 15,000 live in Canada. Females give birth about once every two years and normally have twin cubs. The average life span of these wonderful animals is 15 to 18 years. This average is now reduced due to human activities and climate change.

Monarch butterflies

[caption id="attachment_37904" align="alignleft" width="300"] Monarch Butterfly, photo by Diane Gelink[/caption] A recent report by COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, stated that Monarch butterflies are at high risk of disappearing forever and raised their status from “special concern” to “endangered.” The report says the status change is due to the impacts of ongoing habitat loss in the Monarch’s wintering grounds in Mexico, coupled with increasing destruction of milkweed caterpillar breeding habitat and nectar plants. The precipitous decline in North America’s Monarch butterfly population of up to 90% has unfolded since the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides. The good news is that Nature Canada, among other environmental organization, are taking action to protect Monarch Butterfly populations.

Turtles

Half of Canadian turtle species are in decline and need urgent conservation action. Besides road mortality, the main factors driving down turtle populations are habitat loss, nest predation and poaching. What’s needed to counteract this impact of human activities is education, outreach and engagement, with the ultimate goal of changing the way we behave around turtles and other wildlife. Legislation alone cannot create that. The key is engagement by people who share the earth with wildlife and take ownership and stewardship of species. Read more on how you can help save turtles' lives today!

Whales

[caption id="attachment_37909" align="alignright" width="300"] Humpback Whale, photo by Tobias Brueckner[/caption] Many whale species are endangered by the consequences of human activities and climate change, especially the orcas on Canada’s west coast. There are three main causes for their decreasing numbers: starvation, water contamination, and underwater noise. Overfishing of Chinook salmon has reduced the orcas’ primary food source, requiring them to travel farther for less food. Pesticides in the water concentrate in their bodies because orcas are at the apex of the predatory food chain. And ship propellers and engine noise from tanker traffic interferes with their echolocation of prey. Increasingly, many whales are becoming entangled in fishing and lobster trap lines. They suffer injuries, are being maimed, and often drown. Several species of large whales in the Northwest Atlantic are under endangered species legislation, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched a $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan, starting a new and much needed commitment to protect marine mammals.

Salamanders

North America is home to more than half of the planet’s salamander species, including 21 in Canada. Many are rare and only occupy small areas. In the Netherlands, endangered Fire Salamanders were nearly wiped out by a skin-eating fungal disease, believed to have arrived with pet salamanders from Asia. International trading is another human activity that results in an impact on wildlife. In an effort to prevent the fungal disease from reaching North America, the Canadian government has banned any salamanders entering this country. The ban is aimed at the estimated 17,000 salamanders (including newts) that have, until now, arrived each year to supply the pet trade or researchers needing study animals. There seems to be no end to the impact from diseases and human activities, in addition to the overall effects of climate change.

We are an integral part of nature and are sustained by it; we share our planet with all other creatures. Wildlife and humans will always conflict where and when their interests intersect. We have to understand that it is our destiny to be intertwined with the natural world. But it is important to address the growing disconnect between people and the natural world. Taking better care of the natural world encompasses conservation initiatives. Support for conservation is stronger when we care about places and their natural values. 

Help fight for nature in Canada today by supporting Nature Canada as we fight to protect wildlife species from coast, to coast, to coast.


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Note:  Bird Studies Canada is hosting the International Ornithological Congress from August 14 through 26 in Vancouver. More than 2,000 bird scientists from 100 countries around the world are expected to participate in the world’s biggest celebration of birds and bird science. Check out www.iocongress2018.com Sources: Nature Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Bird Studies Canada, Ontario Nature, BBC documentaries, Ecojustice, National Post, Corporate Knights magazine, National Audubon Society, field notes. Earlier editions are archived on the websites of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre and of the Rouge Valley Naturalists.
 

Ocean Quest: Diving into Newfoundland’s hidden gems
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Ocean Quest: Diving into Newfoundland’s hidden gems

This blog was written by Halima Sadia, a public relations student from Algonquin College and intern at Nature Canada. Newfoundland is known for its historical WWII shipwrecks that were sunk over 70 years ago by the German army. They serve as a time capsule to remind us of our great history as you swim by some original artifacts and vibrant soft corals. Ocean Quest Adventures is offering a once in a lifetime chance to dive in the majestic Bell Island Shipwrecks and the abandoned but not forgotten Bell Island Mine, snorkel with Humpback Whales and dolphins, and to explore the hidden gems of Eastern Canadian landscape. This year all Nature Canada Photo Contest participants will have the chance to win some amazing prizes donated by our generous sponsors, including a grand prize from Ocean Quest Adventures! Winner gets a multi day adventure package including Ocean Safari and Coastal Close Encounters! You can explore true Canadian wilderness in Newfoundland with 5 nights of accommodations and 7 days of adventures valued at $2,500. We are so pleased to work along Ocean Quest because of their constant dedication and efforts to conserve and protect the environment and the marine resources and remain non-invasive. Nature Canada and Ocean Quest both appreciate and recognize that without our natural wonders, we wouldn’t exist. Upon arrival, all guests are reminded of the zero-tolerance policy with interacting with marine life.

“Take only pictures, leave only bubbles,”  meaning nothing comes out of the water and nothing is left behind.  
Ocean Quest is an award winning, full service dive and adventure business located in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was established in 1997 to provide high quality services to the recreational, technical, scuba and cave diving community within Newfoundland and Labrador.  With over 20 years of experience, instructors ensure that safety is incorporated in all their services from teaching safe diving techniques to new and functional rental gear. So not only do you get to experience a thrilling marine life/diving adventure, you are also invited to explore the adventure packages across the inland. To top off your trip, they now include an indoor training pool, a dive/adventure shop, commercial service facility and a spa that uses local ingredients from the land and sea. We can almost feel the peace and serenity from here. Fun fact: Ocean Quest won the 2015 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence for providing adventurers with outstanding attractions and accommodation. Over many years, Nature Canada has been known for several accomplishments but one that comes as no surprise is our Nature Photo Contest over the summer months. It gives Canadians an opportunity to reconnect with nature after the harsh months of winter and to appreciate the Canadian beauty be it wildlife, landscape or flora and fauna. The photo contest inspires you to travel to every natural wonder in Canada or to rediscover the wildlife in your backyard. It is a celebration of the plants and animals, landscapes, and nature moments that bring us joy and happiness. Good luck to our Nature Canada Photo Contest participants! For more captivating photos, testimonials and information please visit Ocean Quest Adventures  All photos in this blog are © by Ocean Quest Adventures. 

Shelby Kutyn: An Artist, Environmentalist and Young Woman for Nature
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Shelby Kutyn: An Artist, Environmentalist and Young Woman for Nature

[caption id="attachment_37466" align="alignleft" width="150"] Julie Lopez, Digital Campaign Organizer at Nature Canada.[/caption] This blog was written by Julie Lopez, the Digital Campaign Organizer at Nature Canada. Shelby Kutyn is a Young Women for Nature mentee, and a student at the University of Victoria, where she will be completing the final year of her Bachelors of Science degree, with a double major in Marine Biology and Earth and Ocean Sciences. She is spending this summer working as a research assistant at an oyster aquaculture farm, where her research focusses on tracking environmental patterns that will enable them to predict when Vibrio parahaemolyticus outbreaks will occur, thus helping reduce the risk of sickness from eating oysters. Having grown up on Vancouver Island, and surrounded by nature, pinpointing a specific moment when she realized her love for nature was difficult. Shelby spent much of her childhood camping, visiting parks such as Goldstream Park during the salmon spawn and exploring the great diversity of beaches on the Island. She says that these childhood experiences are “what drove me to pursue biology, and more specifically marine biology in school. I want to be a marine biologist because I love the ocean and I want to contribute to restoring it to its historical health.” Shelby first became involved with Nature after her supervisor at Science Venture mentioned the Women for Nature mentorship initiative. At the time she was a science instructor with Science Venture, which a non-profit organization that delivers hands-on science workshops and camps for youth. Every week, Shelby would teach STEM to a girls club for students that flourished in non-traditional school settings. This presented Shelby with the opportunity to run hands-on experiments and activities with them, thus facilitating learning that was experiential. Being involved in the Young Women for Nature mentorship initiative turned the tables on Shelby, and was, as she puts it “inspiring, and thought-provoking.” Her mentor Stephanie Foster provided help whenever she needed, shared her perspective on environmental work from the consulting side, and connected her with other women who are pursuing research in areas of study related to marine biology. Shelby has felt the positive impact of this mentorship on her life – one that she aims to carry in her future endeavors as an environmentalist. While completing her BSc. Degree with a double major in Marine Biology and Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, she will also be working toward environmental conservation and awareness through her artwork. She says that her work “Focuses on animals that are native to the BC coast and those that are endangered. By showing the intrinsic beauty of these animals in their natural habitats I hope to make people aware of the environmental threats these animals face and inspire people to take action and speak out for these animals’ rights.” She sells prints and originals of paintings and donates part of the proceeds to non-profit organizations to help fund research, media campaigns, and other initiatives that work towards saving our environment and the biodiversity it contains.


Nature Canada would like to thank the Women for Nature members for generously supporting this mentorship pilot.


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Camp Smitty: Providing a quintessential Canadian experience
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Camp Smitty: Providing a quintessential Canadian experience

This blog was written by Halima Sadia, a public relations student from Algonquin College and intern at Nature Canada. On June 26th, 2018, I accompanied Jill Sturdy, our Naturehood program Manager on a visit to Camp Smitty located in Eganville, Ontario. My name is Halima Sadia and I am a public relations intern at Nature Canada and I have never been to a summer camp. Although Canada is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders, many Canadians do not have the luxury of enjoying it. This is especially true for new Canadian families. Since 1923, the Boys and Girls Club has provided a safe and supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life. Every summer, Camp Smitty hosts four 10-day camps, where children and youth discover their dreams and grow up to be healthy, successful and active participants of society. Camp Smitty is a free summer camp offered to children who wouldn't otherwise have the means to attend. Many of these families are new residents to Canada and in some cases, refugees.  During our visit, the Camp Manager, Rosie Warden, gathered all the senior staff and counselors for Jill's presentation. The  objective was to train the camp counselors on our NatureHood DIY NatureBlitz toolkit. The Toolkit is straightforward and can be helpful for every age group. The Nature Blitz is a fun educational experience that puts you in control of observing nature in a given area. The objective is to help the campers learn more about the natural world and learn to identify common birds and plants found at camp, which they can take home and expand their knowledge about local biodiversity and share with their friends and family. Materials required; checklist, pencil and of course, nature.  The purpose of our NatureHood program is to connect urban Canadians to nearby nature, and get people — especially children — outside and active right where they live. We are hoping that by exploring the nature around us, we can shape the minds of the next generation to respect and care for it. Nature Canada has provided Camp Smitty with all the tools required to make a it a summer of nature exploration. We even provided materials in Arabic, so campers can share it with their families when they get home.  Thanks to a grant provided by the Ottawa Community Foundation, the goal of this project is to incorporate NatureHood activities at Camp Smitty, and provide nature-based learning opportunities to help kids at camp foster a relationship with nature. For many kids this will be an introduction to nature-based exploratory learning. There are many benefits to spending time in nature including promoting mental and physical health and overall well-being. While participants will be immersed in nature during their time at camp, there is currently no nature-based programming. The NatureHood camp program will help fill this gap, and fit well with the Boys and Girls Club “Outdoor Enthusiasts” theme, one of multiple themes the camp kids choose. After the presentation, the Senior staff (many of whom work at the BGCO Clubhouses) were also excited to explore ways they can incorporate NatureHood programming during the school-year. We hope that his project serves as a template for other Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada to adopt. Growing up in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, I had never been to summer camp, and had no clue what I was getting into when we first arrived at the camp. It was lunchtime so we headed to the dining room where we were greeted by the Camp's Assistant Manager, Matt Singer. That’s when I heard the loud chanting so I peeped into the hall to see tables filled with camp counselors, singing their lunch call as they formed a line into the kitchen. I made my way to the back of the line, about to experience my first camp meal. What I was picking up was a sense of unity and fun and I wanted in. I sat down with the Senior staff and they explained how the camp works, common rules to follow and all the fun activities they had planned out for the campers. After lunch I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the camp and learned about all the activities that take place. At one point I looked at Jill and said,  

“Thank you for bringing me along on this trip because even though my time to be a camper has passed, I can appreciate how much summer camp can help you grow. I am grateful to be out in nature in a safe place surrounded by people who are determined to make this a memorable experience.“
  So today I am going to leave you with a couple things I learned about Camp Smitty and hopefully this serves as a summer camp guide to you.
    1. Beat the heat. Hydrate yourself, challenge yourself to drink 3L of water every day. Remember that animals feel the heat as well, so be mindful of bees, birds and other animals you might encounter at camp. Notify your counselors right away so they can take the necessary steps.
    2. Meet your new role models. Be ready to meet campers, counselors and staff from different walks of life. Being a camp counselor is no easy job but over the next couple weeks, they will become your friend, mentor and most importantly role model.
    3. Time flies. You would think that two weeks is a long time but when you are having fun, time moves quickly. It’s important to be present and live in the moment. It’s the best way to make the most out of your experience over the summer! Get excited before every activity (even laundry!)
    4. Nurture Nature. Be kind to the nature around you and don’t litter. You don’t have to stop learning just because it’s summer. Use this as an opportunity to learn something new about nature and the animals around you every day. Use Nature Canada’s NatureBlitz for some outdoor activities.
    5. Expect to leave the camp as a completely different person. By the time you get on the bus and head back home, reflect on everything you have learned, all the new experiences and memories and the amazing people. The things you learned over the summer will have a profound impact on you; the way you live your life, what you care about, and the way you see others. You may not even realize it, but a summer at camp will change you for the better!

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Nature Canada kicks off work to save Ontario’s swallows
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Nature Canada kicks off work to save Ontario’s swallows

Grassland birds and aerial insectivores (birds that feed on insects while airborne, including swallows and martins) are two of the most rapidly declining groups of birds in Canada.  Recently, I joined Ted Cheskey (Naturalist Director, Nature Canada) and Aric McBay (Membership Development & Special Projects Manager, National Farmers Union) on a tour of three organic farms in the Kingston area to learn more about the ways farmers are helping (or could help) these vulnerable bird populations. This tour was our first taste of fieldwork for Nature Canada’s exciting new project − with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation − aimed at helping Ontario’s declining populations of swallows. Our first visit was to Ironwood Organics in Athens, where we met with Mary Wooding and Ayla Fenton, who described several of Ironwood’s practices aimed at supporting species-at-risk, while also promoting sustainable agriculture. One of their major initiatives involves delaying their haying operations until mid-July. This is done to protect species like the Bobolink and Eastern meadowlark (both listed as Threatened under Schedule 1 of Canada’s Species At Risk Act), who often nest on the ground in the grasslands. Early hay harvesting adds additional stress to nesting grassland birds, who are more at risk of being impacted directly (i.e. crushed or trampled) or indirectly (i.e. more exposed to predators) from harvesting equipment. In addition to their delayed haying practices, Ironwood also protects vulnerable species on their property by reserving 14 acres of their land exclusively for grassland bird habitat (their ‘biodiversity field’), managing old barns for the benefit of Barn Swallows (another Threatened species in Canada) and maintaining a detailed index of all types of biodiversity that they find on their farm. Their hay and biodiversity fields are very close to the barns, allowing easy access for parent swallows looking to feed their hungry broods – during our tour we observed a great variety of insects in their fields, including the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. Ayla also told us about how the field comes alive at night in June with the magical aerial dances of fireflies: research has shown that the presence of fireflies is a reliable indicator of good overall environmental health[1].


Watch Ayla discuss the importance of sustainable, organic agriculture on Ironwood’s new bee colony!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=xfMEQZf3vUE
Our next two visits – to Patchwork Gardens in Battersea and to Sonset Farm in Inverary – were also very exciting. Both of these farms, like Ironwood, manage their agricultural practices in ways to support the natural wildlife on their land. At Patchwork and Sonset, we took tours through some of their barns, all of which supported several Barn swallow nests. Both Patchwork and Sonset ensure that their barn doors and loft windows are open during Barn swallow breeding season: these access points allow safe entry and exit for these swallows to/from their nests, and ensure that barns have adequate ventilation in order to prevent nest overheating and dehydration. [caption id="attachment_37810" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Ian Stutt (Co-founder, Patchwork Gardens) and Aric McBay (National Farmers Union) in front of Patchwork’s newly re-outfitted storage barn (and a Barn swallow paradise!) – photo: Ted Cheskey[/caption]
In short, our trip to visit local farms was exciting and informative. We learned about some of the incredible practices farmers are already employing to protect at-risk populations, and we also discussed new ideas that could be implemented on more farms in the future. One major discussion point that will need to be addressed further in the future relates to the use of herbicides and pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) to control invasive species on farmlands. While all three farms we visited were certified organic (no herbicides or pesticides are used at all), all farmers we spoke with expressed concern that these toxic chemicals could be one of the major causes of swallow decline in Ontario. One thing is clear: there is much more work to be done to rescue the declining populations of aerial insectivores and grassland birds in Ontario. That is why it is very important to continue collaborating with local farmers and farming organizations (like the National Farmers Union) in order to develop and learn more about other beneficial and best practices that will directly benefit these species on farms all across Canada.
1] Chow AT, Chong JH, Cook M, White D. 2014. Vanishing fireflies: a citizen-science project promoting scientific inquiry and environmental stewardship. Sci. Educ. Civic Engag. 6(1):23-31.

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