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The Polar Bear: Rider of Icebergs
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The Polar Bear: Rider of Icebergs

Legendary commercial actor, close friend of Santa Claus, and explorer of the North, the Polar Bear is nothing if not the symbol of Arctic life. Their Latin name, Ursus maritimus, translates to sea bear and provides great insight into how they live. As apex predators, polar bears spend lots of time hunting in and around Arctic waters for their prey, their favourite of which is the ringed seal. Polar bears are recognisable by their white coat and their large size. Males tend to weigh between 350-600 kilograms while females will weigh between 150-290 kilograms, both can be over 10 feet tall when standing. Their bodies are made to withstand all the cold that the Arctic climate has to offer, as their two layers of fur and thick layer of blubber offer them more than enough warmth to survive – sometimes even too much warmth for the summers! Apart from the big screen, polar bears live across the Arctic region, particularly in five countries: Canada, the US, Greenland, Russia, and Norway. As such, polar bears represent history for many peoples across the Arctic. For millennia, various indigenous groups have counted on polar bears as key contributors to their ways of life. They are still hunted today as part of their long-held traditions, but the process is very monitored and respectful of the prey. Nearly every part of a polar bear is used by the hunters, whether for weather-appropriate clothing or for calorie-rich meals. Many regulations have been imposed on the hunters, serving to protect polar bear populations from being threatened by direct human action. So what’s the issue? According to both SARA and COSEWIC, polar bears are a species of special concern. Although effective in curtailing over-hunting, the regulations do not address the main threat polar bears face; climate change. Polar bears rely on sea ice as their habitat. This has historically worked very well for them as it allows them plenty of room for hunting, but lately, with rising global temperatures as a result of climate change, living on the ice has become more trying for them. Different polar bear populations face different challenges, but among the most threatened are those living in regions of Seasonal Ice and Polar Basin Divergent Ice. The existence of Seasonal Ice, as the name suggests, is dependent on the season as it melts in the summer and begin to return in the fall. When the ice melts it leaves polar bears unable to hunt, forcing them into a fast. Fasting is not new to them, but the duration of the melt is getting much longer than it used to be, making it more challenging for polar bears to fast through longer summers. For Polar Basin Divergent Ice regions the challenges are similar. The sea ice builds up near shores and will retract from the shores as it melts in the warmer months. Climate change accelerates this process and melts more of the ice near the shore. This forces the bears to either go back to land where they would have to fast or swimming further out in search of more ice.  What can we do? The most important thing we can do to keep polar bears safe is to support environmental initiatives in government. Making green choices from the top-down is essential to fighting climate change on a macro scale, and the best way to do this is to stay informed on the issues along with the candidates who advocate for them. On a more personal level, supporting polar bear charities or conservation organisations goes a long way in furthering research, and making eco-friendly decisions in our daily lives can push others to follow suit.

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.
 

Climate Change is costing Fred, Martha and Canada’s biodiversity
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Climate Change is costing Fred, Martha and Canada’s biodiversity

[caption id="attachment_36177" align="alignleft" width="150"] Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation and General Counsel[/caption] On Thursday May 24, Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation and General Counsel at Nature Canada, testified before the Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He voiced Nature Canada’s support for the proposed Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. This proposed legislation would put a price on carbon emissions (initially $10 per tonne) released when fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel oil are burned. Stephen opened by stating that climate change is probably the biggest global threat to nature and biodiversity, and pointed out that carbon pricing clearly has been demonstrated to be the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After describing the failed promises and inaction over three decades of Liberal and Conservative governments to put a price on carbon, Stephen reviewed the catastrophic impacts that extreme weather events linked to climate change have had on Canadian communities in the past decade

The Cost of Catastrophes

  • The City of Calgary had two “100-year floods” in 8 years, the most recent of which in 2013 resulted in $6 billion in financial losses and property damage.
  • In May 2016 almost 90,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray due to wildfires. Thousands of homes were reduced to ash. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Fort McMurray wildfire is the costliest insured natural disaster in Canadian history, with an estimated $3.77 billion in claims filed by mid-November 2016.
  • In spring 2017, the military was called in to deal with flooding in Montreal, Gatineau and Ottawa. The flooding caused more than $220 million dollars in insurable damage in Ottawa alone.
  • Last summer, British Columbia recorded the worst fire season in the history of the province. More than 1,300 fires burned more than 1.2 million hectares, displacing 65,000 people from their homes and costing B.C. over $500 million.

Fred & Martha need the government to take action on Climate Change

The bottom line is that the costs of inaction on climate change now far exceed the costs of action. In response to a question from Sen. Neufeld about how the ‘Freds & Marthas’--average Canadians struggling to make ends meet-- could pay higher gas prices, Stephen noted that he also worries about the Freds and Marthas whose homes have been flooded or burned down in the Saint John Valley, Gatineau, Fort McMurray and Grand Forks as well as Freds and Marthas in Surrey who may lose their homes as sea levels rise. Stephen added that there are Freds and Marthas across Canada who seriously affected by climate change already, and we have to look after all of them. Stephen then argued that the key is to make a start now to reduce Canada’s carbon pollution and stop fiddling while our communities burn and drown. Nature Canada urges the Senate to complete its review and enact this bill in an expeditious manner.

Watch the video below for more on Nature Canada's stance on the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

https://youtu.be/hZ_uHIH9Vw8  
For more on this Nature Canada's advocacy work, please consult the following Hazell at the House of Commons on Bill C-69 Graham Saul on Climate Change, Carbon Pricing and Ordinary Canadians
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Indigenous Action and The Red Knot
Claudio Timm
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Indigenous Action and The Red Knot

Image of Rufus the Red KnotThe Red Knot The Rufa Red Knot is a subspecies of arctic-breeding shorebird that breed in the central arctic of Canada. It has a long, thin beak for probing sand, silt and mud. Its long legs allow it to navigate the shallow waters of the tidal flats, beaches, rocky headlands and coastal wetlands where it gathers to find safety in numbers from predators. Long wings allow it to travel thousands of kilometres per day during its migratory period. Rufa Red Knots fly over 30,000 kilometers a year, traveling from the central arctic of Canada to the southern tip of Chile. They brood up to four eggs in June for about three weeks, after which the mother starts her migration soon after the eggs hatch, while the father continues to tend its young until they can fly. These unique and vital birds are officially endangered, with only one Red Knot currently living for every ten that were alive 50 years ago. Red Knots face many challenges when migrating, which have become only more numerous over the years due to humanity’s influence on the environment. Stop-over habitats are especially at risk of being destroyed by industrial and urban development projects that range from city expansion to resorts and to even shrimp farms. Recreational human activities, as well as feral cats and dogs, can often scare away shorebirds from stop over areas, leaving them unable to rest or feed appropriately on their journey south. These difficulties are further complicated by their migration season lining up with tropical storm season. [button link="http://naturecanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Rufus.pdf" size="medium" target="_self" color="red" lightbox="true "]Make sure to check out our short comic illustrating the struggles of being Rufus the Red Knot here![/button] James Bay Cree Community Involvement with the Red Knot Communities such as the Moose Cree First Nation (MCFN) on southern James Bay are very interested in conserving Red Knot populations that pass through their homelands on James Bay, with the help of their partners in government, research, and non-governmental groups. The habitat used by the knots is the same habitat that supports geese that migrate through at a different time.  Geese are a staple of the Cree diet. The MCFN are increasingly participating in surveys of shorebirds, including Red Knots. For the knots, many are outfitted with bands on their lets, including a coloured “flag” that, based on the colour, can be used to determine where the bird was captured.

Keeping an eye out for the colored flags of previously banded birds is one way that local people are able to add to the knowledge of this species. Furthermore, to help scientists further track the movements of Red Knots, MCFN has participated in CWS-led efforts to attach nano transmitters to little backpacks on some birds that can be detected by receiver antennae erected around the James Bay and throughout other locations in North, Central and South America. This system is known as Motus, and is a project of Bird Studies Canada that allows for tracking of bird movements in real time. The transmitter’s signal can be detected within about 15 kilometres of a receiving station.

The Moose Cree First Nation is pursuing nomination of the coastal area of James Bay within their homelands as a WHSRN (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network) site. A WHSRN is a conservation strategy created in the 1980s aimed at preserving nesting, breeding, and staging habitats. Establishing a WHSRN in James Bay would be a great achievement for the Cree, and the shorebird conservation community, who have recognized the importance of this area for shorebirds for decades. Nature Canada has been supporting MCFN efforts with the nomination, and continues to do so, through the support of the Commission on Environmental Cooperation.

Learn more about what the Moose Cree First Nation are doing for Shorebird populations here:

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Carbon Pricing, Climate Change, and Ordinary Canadians
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Carbon Pricing, Climate Change, and Ordinary Canadians

Image of Graham SaulOn Monday, May 7th Graham Saul, the Executive Director of Nature Canada testified before the Finance Committee at the House of Commons, who are considering Bill C-74. Graham remarked that Nature Canada is truly excited about the promise of expending this $1.3 billion prudently over five years to reverse the decline in biodiversity in Canada by establishing and managing protected areas and recovering species at risk. He continued by thanking the Government of Canada, and the 116 members of Parliament that supported the Green Budget Coalition's recommendation for this historical investment.


During his testimony, Graham touched upon the subject of Greenhouse Gas pollution, and highlighted the impact of inaction - which has seemingly been the status quo since 1992. It was over twenty-six years ago, in May of 1992, that Canada signed the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.
"It has been over twenty-five years since Canada promised to reduce its Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and we've barely begun to follow through on that promise."
Continuing on that thought, Graham noted the promise that was made fourteen years ago, when Prime Minister Paul Martin first announced plans to put a price on GHG pollution by creating a market for emission reductions in all sectors of the economy. "[...] and it never happened." [caption id="attachment_36844" align="alignright" width="300"] Graham Saul, at the House of Commons. Photo by Alex Tétreault.[/caption] Graham then moved on to more recent events, or lack thereof, in 2008 when the Conservative Federal Environmental Minister John Baird called carbon trading a "key part" of the government's new turning the corner plan to reduce GHG emissions, and then, later on that year the Conservative government of Stephen Harper won a minority mandate with a campaign that clearly pledged to develop and implement a cap and trade system for GHG and air pollution. Moving onto 2015, Canadians supported a Liberal election platform that made a clear commitment to put a price on GHG pollution. None of these have happened. While there was inaction in Government, mother nature wasn't one to wait. From the devastation caused by two "100 year floods" in Calgary in only eight years, then the forest fires that forced 90,000 people from their homes in Fort McMurray, followed by the forest fires in British-Columbia, the flooding in Gatineau and Ottawa, and the current flooding in New Brunswick - there is no denying that climate change is  probably the biggest global threat to nature and biodiversity in Canada, right now. During the questions period, Graham highlighted "the fundamental philosophical difference that we have is, do you actually care about that problem?" He continued on by saying that "If, in fact, everyone around this table does truly care about this problem ... then every party around the table has a responsibility to come forward with a plan that reflects the fact that they truly want to try to address it. And in absence of that plan it's very difficult to come to the conclusion that we do in fact share a concern about this problem."
After the committee hearing, Graham reiterated two main points. Watch below to hear Nature Canada's thoughts on the historical investment into nature in Canada, and desired outcome for the https://youtu.be/SArBFeFrz4s
For further media coverage by CBC who highlighted how Graham brought to the committee's attention that: "[...] we have a serious problem on our hands. If you actually believe in the science ... then you have to draw the conclusion that it would be reckless and irresponsible to continue on the trajectory that we are on today. That it would fundamentally undermine the well-being of our children and that it would cause potentially unprecedented harm to our economy and to future generations," As well as in the National Observer, when Graham brought attention to the flooding in New Brunswick, stating that "We need to stop fiddling when places like New Brunswick drown [...]"
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A Warming Planet – Can Wildlife Keep up with the Changes?
Roosevelt Elk. photo by Brian Miller.
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A Warming Planet – Can Wildlife Keep up with the Changes?

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


It is undeniable that climate change is one of the greatest problems that we are facing around the world. It is redrawing the boundaries of where plants, animals and living organisms can survive. The problem is that not only is the climate changing but that it is changing so fast. Nature always adapts, but can it do so quickly enough? The fast global warming creates a whole host of problems affecting birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, aquatic creatures, insects and plants in different ways. Roughly half of all animal species are on the move. The average range of poleward shift for land-based species has been pegged at between six and 17 km per decade. Marine species are moving more than four times as fast.

The indirect impacts of shifting of species ranges are just as profound. Climate change is altering the distribution of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, of insects that transmit the dengue and Zika viruses, and of various ticks. It also affects the determination of sex for animal offspring whose sex is determined by temperature. For Green Sea Turtles it is the temperature outside the egg that influences the sex of the growing embryo. This endangers their sex-balanced future ina warmer world. Some sea turtle populations are already so skewed by heat that the young reptiles are almost entirely female. [caption id="attachment_36499" align="alignright" width="300"] Maple Leaves, photo by Bea Gravelle.[/caption] Sugar Maples are also threatened by climate change. Warmer temperatures and dry conditions are a predicament for this drought-sensitive species. It has been observed that there is an earlier bud burst in Sugar Maples and an earlier flowering period for aspens. In fact, based on climate records from the previous 100 years, Canada’s growing season has increased considerably. Tree lines have also expanded upward and northward. Studies demonstrate that climate change has already an impact on Canada’s forests. As new species move into Canada, there’s always the risk of some of them being or becoming invasive. Just look at the Mountain Pine Beetle and the devastation it brought to British Columbia and Alberta forests, and the work of the destructive Spruce Bark Beetle in the Yukon. There is also the loss of aspens in the southern boreal forest and the western aspen parkland. The Gypsy Moth, a defoliating forest pest, is causing havoc in woodlands. The Kudzu plant, native to eastern Asia and introduced initially to the United States, is now spreading and taking over anything in its path. Caribou were once one of Canada’s widespread animals, but today their numbers are dropping dramatically. Boreal caribou rely on the boreal forest and wetland ecosystems for survival. In northeastern Alberta, industrial activity has resulted in the destruction and fragmentation of boreal caribou habitat, which also increases wolf predation on caribou. Seven out of 12 boreal caribou herds in Alberta are already in decline.

If we want to keep this threatened species from continuing down the road to extinction, we need to protect its habitat and shield caribou from the effects of human industrial activities, as well as from the consequences of climate change. Global warming increases rainfall that freezes on the ground and blocks the growth of plants and lichen on which caribou feed. It also means more insect harassment, which interrupts feeding and drains caribou energies. Inadequate industrial development planning affects migratory habits and caribou calving grounds, leading to reduced birthrate and lower survival of the calves. Where migratory caribou herds live, the environment is changing fast.

There is no doubt that climate change is having a serious impact on wildlife. Will some species be able to change their habitat? Which animals might we find in our own backyard that we never expected? Just how dire will the future look for our beloved species? One way for species to adapt is to shift or expand their range. There are many examples of species that are already on the move in response to climate change, or at least partially due to climate change. For instance, there are now Triggerfish (a tropical fish species) in Maritime waters, Giant Swallowtail Butterflies (once restricted to extreme southwestern Ontario) are now spreading northward in the province, and Blacklegged Ticks (deer ticks) are increasing their range in North America. As temperatures warm it also brings other issues for many species. Gray Jays, for instance, don’t migrate and therefore stash food in the fall to help them through the winter. Warmer autumns are causing a lot of their stored food to decay before it freezes. [caption id="attachment_36497" align="alignleft" width="300"] Polar Bear and Cub in Churchill Manitoba. Photo by Charmaine Paquette.[/caption] Arctic areas are warming quicker than other areas and sea ice melting along with glaciers and ice caps has far-reaching impacts. There is more at risk from a warming Arctic than just Polar Bears – there are also the Atlantic Walrus, Ringed Seals, Black Guillemots and many more that are affected. Atlantic Walrus’ like to climb out on ice or islands. With climate change, many areas are now ice-free and with rising sea levels some islands are no longer above water. Climate change also brings with it another threat for this species – increased shipping and people – definite threats to this sensitive and easily disturbed animal. Ringed Seals typically give birth in early April in areas that are dug in snowdrifts. But with warmer springs, these birth lairs can collapse, exposing the pups to predators, like Polar Bears. Black Guillemots are birds of the northern seas. Arctic Cod was the preferred food for the parents to feed the chicks, but with Arctic Cod becoming scarce due to an increase in sea surface temperatures, chicks are now fed sculpin which doesn’t offer near the same amount of nourishment. Not all species are able to move north and it seems that for many of them, even for those that can, climate change is happening too quickly for them to keep up. Even if they are able to expand their range, it doesn’t happen without consequences. Entering new territories could mean more competition for food and interactions with new species. Some species are already at their northern limit. Where would they go? While some animals are able to respond to these changes, many species won’t be able to move fast enough, which may result in die-offs if they are not able to adapt in other ways. Even some birds and butterflies – mobile species – are not able to expand their ranges fast enough to keep up with the speed of climate change, and for some there may be nowhere else to go. [caption id="attachment_35058" align="alignright" width="300"]Image of Northern Leopard Frog Northern Leopard Frog by Elena Kreuzbert[/caption] A warming planet changes the spread of invasive species (both animals and plants) and habitat loss threatens Canada’s ecologically significant species. Time is running out for the Northern Leopard Frog in the prairies and the Rocky Mountains; there are many more species of flora and fauna that are affected by global warming. We cannot continue to simply ignore climate change. Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment. While global warming has happened in the past, it is – this time -- hastened by human activities. It is up to us to slow it down and mitigate its impact. Wild species are worth protecting. Let’s remember that we have a responsibility to other creatures and to the planet. Let us all do our part. Steve Gahbauer
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Sources: Canadian Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Toronto Wildlife Centre, CBC documentary, and field notes. Nature Notes are posted as blogs on the website of Nature Canada. Earlier editions are archived on the websites of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre and of the Rouge Valley Naturalists.

Killer Whales in the Canadian Arctic – A New Force to Contend With
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Killer Whales in the Canadian Arctic – A New Force to Contend With

[caption id="attachment_33210" align="alignleft" width="150"]becka-tulips Guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy. Known as “aarluk” in Inuktitut, the Killer Whale (Orcinus Orca) is featured as Nature Canada's calendar photo for March 2018.

About the Killer Whale

One of the world’s largest animals, the Orca belongs to the Dolphin family (Delphinidae). Males can reach ten metres in length and 22,000 kilograms in weight. Females are smaller, but still considerable, at 8.5 metres long and 7,500 kilograms. Highly intelligent and distinctive for its black and white colouration, these magnificent creatures are also deadly. Poised at the top of the oceanic food chain, they are carnivores whose diet is often geographic and population specific. The Killer Whale’s menu could be fish heavy—such as salmon, herring, and tuna—or comprise larger marine life, such as seals, sea lions, penguins, sharks, and other whales and porpoises. Extremely social, Orcas live (and hunt) in matriarchal family pods typically comprising five to fifty whales and use echolocation to communicate. [caption id="attachment_35651" align="alignright" width="384"] A Killer Whale surfaces in the Strait of Georgia. Image courtesy of Gary Sutton.[/caption] Killer Whales are distributed throughout the world, from the polar ice caps to the tropics near the Equator. In Canadian waters, there are noted populations in the northern Pacific along British Columbia, and, though less commonly, in the Atlantic and Arctic regions. In recent years, however, this has begun to change, as sea ice both recedes and occurs for shorter times each year.

Heading North and Staying There

One consequence of increasing melting and retreating ice and the growing unpredictability of ice formation schedules is the change in roaming patterns of Killer Whales, who now venture into far northern waters where they previously did not. Killer Whales typically avoid ice because of their high dorsal fins. With the loss of year-round sea ice in the Arctic, however, these cetaceans, once largely absent from the region, are now both spending more time there and going to areas that were formerly inaccessible due to permanent or seasonal ice cover. For example, Killer Whale sightings, once rare in Hudson Bay, have been reported not only during summer months but in winter as well. Up north, the whales can miscalculate when the water will freeze and become trapped in ice, like what happened near the small northern Quebec village of Inukjuak in January 2013. A pod of a dozen Orcas became stuck, stranded in an opening of water just ten feet wide in northeastern Hudson Bay. Visibly stressed, the whales thrashed and took frantic turns surfacing for oxygen. Fortunately for them, the weather changed, causing the ice to break, and they were able to escape. The incident called attention to the shifting patterns of Arctic freezing due to climate change. [caption id="attachment_35657" align="alignleft" width="300"] A pod of narwhals in northern Canada, August 2005. Image courtesy of Kristin Laidre.[/caption]

The Orca Effect on the Arctic Ecosystem

Killer Whales in the Arctic are also disrupting the region’s fragile existing ecosystem. The disturbance of Narwhals is one such documented effect. Narwhals, nicknamed “sea unicorns” for the prominent tusks seen on males, are shy, wary whales who have been difficult to study due to the remoteness of their chosen habitats—two of three recognized populations of Narwhals live in Canadian Arctic waters, with the third occurring in eastern Greenland. A 2017 study demonstrated that the presence of Killer Whales drastically alters the behavior and distribution of Narwhals. Narwhals will move to and remain closer to the shore when Killer Whales are nearby, rightfully fearful and frazzled by the predator in the midst. Killer Whales, who hunt in packs, will try to push Narwhals into deeper waters and then encircle their panicked prey. By moving to shallower waters to flee Killer Whales, Narwhals become farther from the abundant stocks of fish that they eat. Additionally, staying closer to shore makes them more vulnerable to hunters. With Narwhals an important food source for the Inuit, the encroachment of Killer Whales into the Arctic also increases the competition for limited food sources. In addition to the Narwhal, Killer Whales in the Arctic are also preying on Beluga Whales and Bowhead Whales. With receding sea ice and continuing climate change, Killer Whales are poised to become a major Arctic predator to contend with. Today scientists continue to monitor Killer Whales and their impact on the Arctic marine environment. One tool that has proven particularly useful is questioning the local Inuit who directly observe these whales’ behaviors and interactions in the Arctic every day. Known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), scientists combine these firsthand observations and cultural knowledge accrued over generations with their research to help form a clearer picture of Orcas in the Arctic. Acknowledgments: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, NOAA Fisheries, RCI, Science Daily
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‘Tis the Season … To Hibernate
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‘Tis the Season … To Hibernate

With winter finally here in full force, I see the appeal of stuffing myself with food and sleeping until all this snow melts away. While snow-covered trees and trails are beautiful, there seems to be less wildlife to look at in the winter. As animal sightings are less frequent, it had me wondering where they all go.image of a Grizzly Bear and her cubs When you think of hibernation, most people probably think of bears first. And while this is true, they’re aren’t actually the “truest” kind of hibernator, which includes a lowered heart-rate, breathing, and metabolism. This is because bears are in a much lighter sleep and can still be awakened. They get up more frequently than true hibernators, but can still sleep for days, weeks, or months — they go into what is called torpor. Skunks and raccoons are other mammals that can sleep for long periods of time to avoid the winter elements, but aren’t true hibernators. Bats, however, have some of the longest hibernation capabilities and can survive on taking just one breath every two hours. And did you know that bees hibernate in holes in the soil? Well, the queen bee that is. Worker bees die off every winter, but the queen bee hibernates in the ground for six to eight months until it is warm enough to rebuild. Garter Snakes are relatively harmless, but the idea of stumbling into a den of hundreds or thousands of them is not a pleasant one. While most snakes just become less active in the winter, garter snakes actually hibernate in dens in large quantities to stay warm. One den in Canada was found to have 8,000 garter snakes! And did you know? Climate change is already affecting the hibernation patterns of some animals, like chipmunks. Bears also give birth and raise their young during the hibernation period, which could lead to very negative effects on their populations if hibernation times are reduced. Acknowledgments: Live Science, Science News, Earth Rangers

Time To Fly South – The Wondrous World Of Bird Migration
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Time To Fly South – The Wondrous World Of Bird Migration

This blog is written by Nature Canada member Steve Gahbauer and edited by Sam Nurse.  The summer peak is now long behind us. The sunlight is a little weaker, the flowers are drooping, the leaves of deciduous trees turn a brilliant colour and darkness creeps a little closer with each passing day. Nature is winding down and fall is here. [caption id="attachment_24879" align="alignright" width="374"]Hooded Merganser Pair Photo from Flickr, Christopher L. Wood[/caption] On crisp fall nights, shoals of Three-spine Sticklebacks sparkle in the moonlight, and Hooded Mergansers will make their annual visit. Noisy Greater Yellowlegs, returning from northern breeding grounds in August, linger until late November. A bit earlier, Ring-billed Gulls, that nest west of the Great Lakes, are winding up their migration to California and Mexico. By late November, Striped Skunks are looking for deep dens to spend the winter. By mid-December the breeding season is over for White-tailed Deer and female Red Foxes look for suitable dens. This is also the time of big bird migration, one of the most extraordinary events in the natural world. It begins at the end of August and ends in late fall. Raptor migration peaks in September and October *. Every year, thousands of birds migrate along the main flyways. The scale of the avian movement is truly awesome. Billions of birds navigate mountains, oceans, deserts and adverse weather systems on their remarkable journeys. Arctic Terns fly some 17,700 kilometres in their circumpolar migration throughout their lifetime between their winter abode in Antarctica and their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Greenland. Non-stop distance flown by Hudsonian Godwits are up to 12,800 km. Semi-palmated Sandpipers fly 96 hours non-stop from the Bay of Fundy to South America. Whimbrels are among nature’s most impressive wayfarers. They breed in the northern wetlands and tundra around James Bay and Hudson Bay and winter more than half a world away in Brazil. A few years ago, one banded Whimbrel was tracked covering 5,057 km in 143 hours at an average flight speed of more than 35 km/h! [caption id="attachment_3748" align="alignleft" width="320"]Image of an Arctic Tern Photo of an Arctic Tern[/caption] Of the birds that breed in Canada, 90% migrate. Shorebirds, like the ones mentioned above, are the most accomplished travellers. For most migrating birds, the journey takes three to four weeks. What helps them to make those long and arduous migrant flights is the way they breathe. Another thing that makes migration flights possible is the great versatility of a bird’s wings. To conserve energy, birds have to do their wing-beating in flight as economically as possible. One simple method of achieving that is to stop beating wings every now and then or regularly interrupt rapid wing beats. Bigger and heavier birds have developed other ways to economize on their wing beats like gliding in flight. Raptors and pelicans are known to do this regularly. With these long migrations, birds are likely to encounter challenges along the way. One challenge for birds is climate change as it can effect them in various ways. It alters their distribution, abundance, behaviour, and even their genetic make-up. Migration and breeding times are changing, the availability of food and nesting material changes, and there may be new parasites and predators to which they are not adapted. Other concerns are degradation and loss of critical stopover sites, such as coastal wetlands. A number of migrating species are already responding to climate change by northward adjustment in their distribution, upwards shift in altitudinal ranges, and earlier breeding seasons. There needs to be a stronger focus on conservation and education. We know so little about our feathered friends, but the mystery of bird migration is slowly being unlocked. With modern technology now allowing us to track even small migratory birds, the opportunities for new discoveries are endless. It is now possible to track birds by satellite, which has revolutionized our understanding of their migration routes and wintering grounds.


* Toronto’s High Park hawk watch ranks with Beijing and Istanbul as one of the world’s three best spots for observing migratory raptors in an urban setting. Other good hawk-watching places include Cranberry Marsh in Whitby, Hawk Cliff and Holiday Beach on Lake Erie near London and Windsor, respectively, the Leslie Spit in Toronto, and East Point Park in Scarborough. Sources: Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Parks Canada, Bird Studies Canada, Birdlife International, Ontario Nature, Wild City (Bennet & Tiner), Microsoft eNews, Metro, and field notes. For earlier Nature Notes essays visit www.rougevalleynaturalists.com and click on “Nature Notes.”
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Earth Hour – Lighting the way for change
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Earth Hour – Lighting the way for change

What is Earth Hour?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) created Earth Hour, a movement seeking to shed a light on climate change. In 2007, the world’s first Earth Hour took place in Sydney, Australia—thousands uniting and turning off their lights, a symbolic gesture demonstrating people care about climate change. Today, the movement has grown and spans all continents. With climate records continuing to be broken, now more than ever communities are uniting to show their support and to advocate for change. This year, Earth Hour is being held on March 30th, at 8:30 p.m.

Why it’s important:

Climate change is a global issue with widespread repercussions. Earth Hour lets world leaders know people care about the issue and want to see policies change. Though it started as a single-city event, today cities across the world hold events to show their support–each city fighting for the climate-related causes most affecting them. From promoting sustainable business practices to supporting policy changes calling for renewable energy, communities worldwide want to see change. Earth Hour helps raise their voices above the noise.

Some Facts about Earth Hour over the years:

  • More than 170 countries participated
  • More than 400 iconic landmarks switched off
  • More than 6600 Earth Hour events were created
  • More than 1.2 million individual actions were taken
  • 7 countries were aiming for policy change
You can read more about Earth Hour on the Earth Hour website and blog.

What you can do:

Taking part is easy! Grab your candles, pull out a deck of cards and turn out the lights. Earth Hour at its core seeks to highlight how much electricity we use—so power off as much as possible and spend some quality time with family and friends. What else? Join the Earth Hour event on Facebook. Find Earth Hour events near you, or create one of your own!

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