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Nature Canada’s Guide to Indoor Birding
A Baltimore Oriole
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Nature Canada’s Guide to Indoor Birding

Canadians across the country are practising responsible physical distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19—but also...it’s the first day of spring! The return of migratory birds means this is the perfect time to let your indoor naturalist bloom.

Nature can reduce stress and anxiety and ground you during these trying times. This is true even when you experience the “outdoors” from the comfort of your home. 

New to birding? Check out Nature Canada’s two e-Books on backyard birds to familiarize yourself with the birds in your area, and follow the steps below to get started!

3 Steps to Indoor Birding

  1. The most crucial aspect of indoor birding is the most simple one: find a place that provides an adequate view of the outdoors. In an ideal situation, this view would include trees, tall grasses, shrubs and wildflowers, and other natural elements that attract birds.
  2. Once you have found a suitable location, make yourself comfortable. Grab some pillows and blankets, get some snacks, a notebook, pencils, and—of course—binoculars!
  3. Finally, patience is key to bird watching. If you have ever been birding, you will know there is sometimes nothing much to do but watch and wait. This can be challenging if you are eager to see birds, but the reality is it’s often worth the wait. But let’s face it, we have a lot of time on our hands these days!

Indoor birding is a family-friendly activity, and can include children and older folks. You can also engage kids by asking them to draw the birds they see. Want to contribute to citizen science? Add your observations on the eBird platform.

How to Build a Nest Box

Your family can take advantage of the additional time indoors by building a nest box. A nest box is a human-constructed box in which a bird can build its nest. Many nature enthusiasts install nest boxes to increase available nesting habitat for birds in areas which may not provide enough natural habitat space. This activity can include all members of the family, old and young, and help build a connection to nature.

Most nest boxes can be built with relative ease and efficiency if you have help and design plans. With spring’s arrival, nest boxes can also increase the breeding chance for birds in your area. 

It’s important to know which bird you are trying to attract when building your nest box. That way you can follow the best practices that are available to ensure nesting success and to protect the birds from predation. The species will differ depending on your area. However, with a little bit of homework you can ensure the work you are doing has a positive impact on local bird populations.

To learn about the birds you can support in your area, and see their nest box plans and requirements, visit: https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/right-bird-right-house/

And for more information on how to make your birdhouse safe and successful, visit: https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/features-of-a-good-birdhouse/

Happy backyard birding!

Editor's note: This blog post was updated on Monday, March 30 to reflect the shift in language from "social distancing" to "physical distancing."


Nature Canada thanks the frontline medical workers for their efforts during this time. We follow the advice of the World Health Organization and Health Canada. Please visit these two websites for the latest information on how to protect you and your family from COVID-19.

Nature is also important to our health and well-being and we hope you’ll consider supporting our efforts to save nature. Thank you for caring!

Yours in nature, the Nature Canada team. 

Coping with the Help of Nature
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Coping with the Help of Nature

First and foremost, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. If you are anything like me, you’re feeling anxious, isolated, and struggling to create a new routine. This unprecedented period represents a significant shift in the way we spend our time at work, at home, and in nature. 

In the weeks ahead, it will be crucial to maintain our physical and mental health. Our team believes in the power of nature to restore and revive—this was true before COVID-19, and it remains true today. 

Fortunately, spring arrives in three days. Spring! The birds are returning. The sun feels warmer. Green things are sprouting. 

Nature Canada has taken responsible steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our staff are working from home. We have cancelled all of our public events until the end of April and will be reviewing future plans as well. We sympathize with the many in our community who have put a lot of work into events which may now not go ahead. 

Many of us share a common love of wide open spaces, and the weeks ahead present a time to take advantage of that natural solitude. The physical distancing advised by public health officials can happen within the comfort of your home, but is also an opportunity to visit a park or forest in your neighbourhood. Nature can be part of our solution to dealing with this crisis.

Canadians have always weathered the storm. Be kind to one another. Support your local community. But also remember, nature can help. Go for walks. Listen to the birdsong. Remember the permanence of the Earth.

We would like to thank our donors, especially those who give on a monthly basis, for remaining deeply dedicated to our organization and to nature. Our economy is being affected and the grants that we rely on for much of our work are gravely in question. It is in such uncertain times that we are reminded of how grateful we are to have supporters whose devotion to nature is truly unparalleled.  

Together, we’ll get through this. 

Yours in nature,
Graham Saul and the Nature Canada team

Editor's note: This blog post was updated on Monday, March 30 to reflect the shift in language from "social distancing" to "physical distancing."



Nature Canada thanks the frontline medical workers for their efforts during this time. We follow the advice of the World Health Organization and Health Canada. Please visit these two websites for the latest information on how to protect you and your family from COVID-19.

Off-the-Beaten Path: A Visit to Mexico’s Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Reserve
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Off-the-Beaten Path: A Visit to Mexico’s Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Reserve

Each autumn, millions of monarch butterflies make the journey thousands of kilometres south from east of the Rocky Mountains to a small area of high-altitude forest near Mexico City. This is where they roost in colonies from November until March. It’s a beautiful annual migration—butterflies return to the same trees in the same forest that earlier generations left three or four years earlier.

Cerro Pelón (which loosely translates to Bald Hill) is one of four mountain-top butterfly sanctuaries open to the public; and what a fabulous experience we had there in late February! Cerro Pelón is the most pristine and least touristic of these sanctuaries—partly because access is more challenging. Cheryl Witoski and I hiked six kilometres (with an ascent of 800 metres!) up to the colony; the other visitors that day rode horses from the sanctuary entrance in the village of Macheros (which, appropriately, translates to mean stables). Both sites also provide super bird watching opportunities. We identified a mountain trogon, a red warbler, and a Oaxaca sparrow among other less-flashy species.

The most awe-inspiring part of our hike began halfway up the mountain. It was sunny and late in the morning, and what I estimate to be hundreds of thousands of monarchs were fluttering down the narrow canyon to seek the warmth of the sun. We had to stop in places to avoid trampling masses of butterflies that were resting along the path’s sunny spots.

https://youtu.be/0Z_pe05oskY

Monarchs roost in different locations on Cerro Pelón depending on the year, and their colony often shifts as the season progresses. The butterflies do not limit themselves to oyamel fir trees as has been suggested; at Cerro Pelón they also roost in Mexican pine and Mexican cedar trees.

Illegal logging threatens monarch butterflies and the high-altitude forest ecosystem that supports them. Local villages such as Macheros are not wealthy, and tourist revenue associated with monarch sanctuaries (e.g., guiding, accommodation) is an important part of the local economy that reduces the economic attraction of illegal logging. The conclusion from my visit is that local communities should be more involved in the management of the sanctuary through monitoring of monarch populations, public education, forest conservation, and silviculture.

Monarch butterflies in Mexico

To that end, Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno, the owners of J.M. Butterfly B&B in Macheros, established Butterflies and Their People, a non-profit organization that creates jobs for local people and protects the monarch’s valuable forest habitat. Five local villagers are currently employed as guardians to watch over the Cerro Pelón Monarch Sanctuary and conduct forest patrols to dissuade illegal logging. Since its launch, the organization says clandestine logging of the sanctuary’s core protected area has dropped by 87 percent.

Please consider making a financial donation to support this remarkable project to conserve the monarch butterflies that share a home between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

We can also do our part to conserve and create Monarch Butterfly habitat here in Canada—imagine flying south for the season only to return and realize your northern home had shrunk! Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes each have pockets of butterfly habitat.

Creating monarch-friendly habitat starts in your own backyard, where growing native flowers and milkweed plants provides the preferred food for our fluttering friends. At a larger scale, creating pesticide-free open spaces and protecting our grasslands and meadows will ensure monarchs always get the welcome home they deserve. Making room for nature means supporting the migration of monarchs for years to come.

2019 Christmas Bird Count Photos
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2019 Christmas Bird Count Photos

Nature Canada staff and friends headed out on a wintery Sunday morning Dec. 15 for the Christmas Bird Count in Gatineau. Highlights included Pileated Woodpeckers, colourful Cardinals and a fresh layer of snow covering every surface in the woods.

The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed each winter by volunteer birdwatchers who document the number of each species seen in a given area on a given day.

Check out our photo gallery from the day:

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Fraser River Delta
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Fraser River Delta

The fight to protect one of North America’s most important migratory bird stopovers.

Despite having already lost almost 80% of its natural habitat, the Fraser estuary today continues to support millions of birds and Canada’s largest migration of wild salmon. Not only is this area popular for many species, it is an important location for Canada’s international trade. Over the past decades, the estuary has been highly developed in order to become one of our major transport and trading hubs, and is now known as Canada’s ‘Gateway to Asia’.

The area is critical habitat for many migratory birds, and the destruction of it poses a species-level risk to the Western Sandpipers who rely on tiny organisms called biofilm, a special feature of the ecosystem, as their primary food source to fuel their migratory trip.

Together with our partners Birds Canada and BC Nature, we are asking those in power to put in place a Fraser Estuary Management plan before any more development takes place. This will ensure a balance between the economic development and the biodiversity value of the region.

We are behind schedule to save the Delta, but it is not too late.  The time to act is now.

Federal government promises landmark nature protection
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Federal government promises landmark nature protection

Mandate letters are the government's promises to Canadians, made public to ensure accountability. This morning the government released mandate letters for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard - and they contain some very hopeful news for nature. The letters pledge that both ministers will work together to introduce a new ambitious plan to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s land and 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025. They will both also work towards 30 per cent of each by 2030. The federal government will also advocate at international gatherings that countries around the world set a 30 per cent conservation goal for 2030 as well. The letter says science, Indigenous knowledge and local perspectives will guide in meeting the goal. “The government just committed to the most important nature protection initiative in Canadian history," said Nature Canada's executive director Graham Saul, in response to the news. “The government already showed immense leadership in meeting and surpassing the marine target. During the election, we heard from the Liberal Party that they were committed to the next phase of protecting 25 per cent by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. “The clear commitment to expand protected areas in the throne speech and today's mandate letters, as well as the focus on pursuing nature-based solutions to fight climate change, and the commitment to plant two billion trees, is great news for nature. “The world is facing the twin crises of climate change and a mass extinction of species unlike anything since the time of the dinosaurs. Habitat loss, caused by human activity, is the leading cause of species collapse and we need urgent action. “Canada has the longest coastline in the world, the largest intact forest on earth and a population of citizens who care deeply for our iconic species. Today’s commitments demonstrate global leadership and position Canada to be a conservation superpower," he said. This is exciting news for the species, outdoor spaces and nature that we love and defend here at Nature Canada. Do your part and join the Make Room for Nature campaign to ensure the government stays on track.

Introducing the 2019 Charles Labatiuk Scholarship winner
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Introducing the 2019 Charles Labatiuk Scholarship winner

The winner of the 2019 Charles Labatiuk Scholarship is looking to nature for solutions. 

“By conserving nature we learn that nature has already solved many of our problems,” wrote Micah May, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Biology student at the University of Northern British Columbia. 

May’s focus on “biomimicry,” the way that human design can be enhanced by studying systems in nature, was a focus of his application to Nature Canada. 

“Nature conservation challenges us to commit to lifelong learning about the complex and intricate natural systems. By applying the principles of biomimicry, which uses nature as the inspiration for designing solutions, we can create sustainable products, industries and economies.” 

May plans to expand biomimicry research and education opportunities in BC by organizing week-long workshop on biomimicry and climate change that will bring together international biomimicry experts, post-secondary students and people with knowledge of local ecosystems. 

May is also using his university education to continue to explore more of the world.  

Growing up in a small acreage outside Nelson, British Columbia, his exploration of nature started in his backyard mountain home. His tenacity and curiosity for nature has since taken him from Baffin Island to the California coast. 

In highschool, May raised $100,000 in order to organize a cross-cultural exchange between his school and an Indigenous school in the Northwest Territories. 

Later he sold firewood and grocery gift cards in order to fund a place on a 2013 Students on Ice expedition to Greenland and Baffin Island. In the following year, he was selected as a youth ambassador for the impossible2Possible expedition in California. 

At university he spent the past summer at an environmental consulting company owned by Tsay Keh Dene Nation in northern British Columbia. This summer he will add another far-off destination to his list of experiences while he completes fieldwork in rural Mongolia. 

May hopes that post graduation, he’ll be able to contribute to solutions that can help solve the nature crises we’re now facing as a society.  

The award from Charles Labatiuk Scholarship will help him get there. 

“I am excited by the possibility of working in teams to design nature-inspired solutions that support conservation, including in land management, ecological restoration, sustainable energy, food production and green climate technologies,” he wrote. 

 

ABOUT THE SCHOLARSHIP 

The Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award was established through the legacy gift of Charles Labatiuk and the Charles Labatiuk Nature Endowment Fund. Charles Labatiuk was an avid nature conservationist, mountaineer and world traveler who enjoyed and excelled as a photographer, writer, gardener, and pianist. These awards were introduced to honour his life and his passion for nature. The scholarship value is $2000.00, non-renewable.

 

Young Nature Leader Kristin Muskratt introduces a new generation to land teachings
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Young Nature Leader Kristin Muskratt introduces a new generation to land teachings

Nature is in trouble, and we need all the help we can get to take on the big environmental questions facing us. Young Nature Leader recipient Kristin Muskratt is making sure Indigenous youth are equipped with the traditional ecological knowledge we’ll need to move forward. Muskratt herself is Anishinaabe-kwe. Growing up on Curve Lake First Nation, a community located north of Peterborough, she was exposed to traditional cultural teachings early. But as a preteen, she said she began to lose touch with land teachings, especially since the education system didn’t emphasize outdoor experiences. “I had to relearn those things when I hit 22 or 23,” she said. “Now five years later, I still feel far behind. I’m still so much on a learning journey.” All teachings can be connected back to nature, according to Muskratt. For her, a focus on water teachings, including the need to protect water and its cultural connection to womanhood, was particularly powerful. “That connection really pulled me in,” she said. In her role at Trent University, Muskratt works for TRACKS (TRent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and Science) a youth program providing education for youth between the ages of six and 17. The program explores Indigenous and western science as ways of understanding the natural world. In particular, youth explore complex environmental issues in part by learning about traditional knowledge. Creating those connections depends on Knowledge Holders, Elders and other community leaders who carry traditional teachings and pass them on. In May, Muskratt organized a “Land Based Storytelling and Sharing Panel” at Trent University with help from a grant from Nature Canada’s Women for Nature. The event had four panelists sharing their stories with around 50 Indigenous high school students. Panelists included Anne Taylor and Jack Hogarth (two Knowledge Holders from Curve Lake First Nation) and Jazzmin Foster and Nihahsennaa Peters (two students from Trent who are also involved in the TRACKS program). Together they answered questions to foster a discussion about relationships to the natural world, connection to language and the journey to rediscovering and reclaiming culture. There were no one-minute answers–each panelist had different experiences to share. “We had a really good level of engagement with questions and had students going up to the panelists and talking to them individually,” she said. In particular, Muskratt said it was very important to have young people involved in the program at Trent to look up to as leaders. She wants younger people in the community to know that programs like the Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences are options. “I want high school youth to be able to have those experiences with traditional teachings so they don’t go down the same path as I did [and have to catch up later in life],” she explained. “I want them to know this knowledge is very important.”   Young Nature Leadership Grant is a program by Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative that seeks to encourage new ideas for nature. Young emerging leaders chosen from applicants across the country are given $1,000 to help bring their nature initiatives to life.

Nature Canada’s 80th year celebration
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Nature Canada’s 80th year celebration

On Tuesday Nature Canada celebrated 80 years as Canada’s voice for nature. Supporters gathered at a reception hosted by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. "I have had the privilege of being in conversations with Ontarians in every corner of this province. I do believe that they are united in a desire for a world that works for everyone, in which the environment thrives under our mutual care," said Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell. "So together, on this anniversary, let us recommit to raising awareness, to having productive conversations, and to sparking and taking the action this province and this planet need to achieve a brighter, greener future," she said. Board Vice-Chair Sheefra Brisbin joined her in thanking all members of Nature Canada from now and the past and encouraging action. "We believe it is more urgent than ever for Canadians to unite together to defend and restore nature for our future. With our courage, creativity and innovation, we can find solutions in this pressing time to reverse species loss and make room for the nature that we depend on for our survival and prosperity," she said. See photos from the event:

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  We also honoured our 2019 Volunteers of the Year Award recipients:
  • Ann Dale, for her work leading on the Biodiversity Action Agenda
  • Janet Bax, for her initiative on the Women for Nature mentorships
  • Dawn Carr, for her leadership on our Young Nature Leaders bursaries
As Canada’s voice for nature, our members and partners have protected over 110 million acres of wilderness and thousands of species across Canada over the past 80 years. Our contributions include conservation efforts in Ontario such as our work to establish Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and Rouge National Urban Park. Campaigns director Gauri Sreenivasan shared an update with supporters on our major Make Room for Nature campaign to expand formal legal protection for land and marine systems across Canada. “Nature is a key part of our heritage and our identity; of our sustenance and our economy, and of our wellness and connectedness with each other. But nature is in free fall. One million species worldwide are at risk of extinction. And so we thank you for coming because there is much to do. None of us can do it alone, but together there is much we can accomplish," she said. “Nature Canada is working hard with the support of donors and partners like you to mobilize Canadians in Ontario and across the country." Special thanks to our partners and sponsors of 80th Anniversary Celebration: Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Baker Tilly Professional Accountants, Royal Bank of Canada, Rae & Lipskie Partnership, Pollinate Networks, The Printing House and Agents of Good.

Green Budget Coalition releases recommendations for Budget 2020
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Green Budget Coalition releases recommendations for Budget 2020

Nature Canada is a founding member of the Green Budget Coalition, which includes twenty-two Canadian environmental organizations who urge the Government of Canada to invest in nature and the environment. Canada and the world are facing both a climate crisis and a nature emergency. A landmark UN report in May concluded that one million species worldwide are at risk of extinction. A recent study published in Science estimates one in four birds in North America has disappeared over the past four decades, which amounts to 3 billion missing birds. The Green Budget Coalition focuses on the federal budget because it’s consistently the most important federal document of the year for the environment, funding important programs and making key tax policy changes. This year the coalition is asking the federal government to step up to this defining moment in history with the necessary investments in Budget 2020 to enable effective action. You can read all the Green Budget Coalition Recommendations for Budget 2020 online, which include key steps to combat both climate change and species extinction. When it comes to defending nature, a few things we’re asking for include:

  • The necessary funding to achieve protection of 30% of land and freshwater by 2030.
  • More money to make sure the Species at Risk Act requirements are being carried out in a way that protects at-risk plants and wildlife.
  • In order to help conserve Canada’s migratory birds, we’re asking for funding over the next four years to protect international habitat and funding for science, conservation and the Species at Risk Act.
  • Investment in environmental farming programs, research and development, and a new facility for the National Insect Collection.
  • Enough resources to meet and enforce current laws around toxics and pesticides to protect the health of Canadians and our environment.
Implementing these Green Budget Coalition recommendations would lead to dramatic progress in advancing a healthier future for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Will the Canadian government listen? We’ll have to wait until the 2020 federal budget is released in the spring. Follow Nature Canada to stay informed.

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