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Dozens of Events Welcome Birds Back to Canada
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Dozens of Events Welcome Birds Back to Canada

OTTAWA, ON (May 7, 2018) - Dozens of groups from coast to coast are celebrating World Migratory Bird Day this coming Saturday, May 12, with events ranging from bird watching to face painting. Spring is when hundreds of species of birds are on the move, with many returning to Canada from as far away as South America. “We’re thrilled so many groups are participating in this year’s Bird Day,” said Graham Saul, Executive Director of Nature Canada. “Birds go through incredible journeys to be with us, and we owe it to them to step up our conservation efforts so that they can continue to thrive.” A new report from BirdLife International, State of the World’s Birds 2018, reinforces what we already knew - birds are in trouble. Forty percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline, and one in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction. Threats to birds include habitat loss, climate change, chemical use, window collisions and outdoor domestic cats. Nature Canada and its partners encourage Canadians to take positive actions on behalf of birds, including keeping cats safe from roaming, making their gardens bird-friendly, reducing window and car collisions, and celebrating birds -- on Bird Day and throughout the year. World Migratory Bird Day was created in 1993 and is a project of Environment for the Americas to raise awareness on the need to conserve birds and their habitats. “Birds are a fantastic subject matter to engage people in nature,” says Jody Allair, National Conservation Outreach Manager for Bird Studies Canada. “Participating in a bird-themed event on World Migratory Bird Day is a sure-fire way to become inspired by Canada’s amazing birdlife.” “With the arrival all of these migratory birds happening in May, it seems as though nature is making its claim against the long winter that we just had,” says Jean-Sébastien Guénette, director of Québec Oiseaux. “It is by far the most exciting time of year for ornithologists and nature lovers alike.” Groups across the country have listed their events on a map hosted at www.birdday.ca [journeedesoiseaux.ca]. The World Migratory Bird Day initiative in Canada is a joint project of Nature Canada, Bird Studies Canada and Québec Oiseaux.


For more information contact: Graham Saul at 613-710-2819 Jody Allair at 519-586-3531 ext.117 Jean-Sébastien Guénette at 514-252-3190
ABOUT NATURE CANADA Nature Canada is the oldest national nature conservation charity in Canada. Over the past 75 years, Nature Canada has helped protect more than 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, Nature Canada represents a network comprised of over 65,000 members and supporters and more than 350 nature organizations across the country with affiliates in every province. Learn how you can support our nature conservation efforts across Canada
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Women for Nature: Concrete Solutions for Biodiversity Conservation
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Women for Nature: Concrete Solutions for Biodiversity Conservation

[caption id="attachment_36775" align="alignleft" width="150"] Jaime Clifton-Ross[/caption] This blog post was written by Jaime Clifton and provides the summary of the keys points of discussion during the latest Women for Nature E-Dialogue. Changing the Conversation and Nature Canada’s Women for Nature just led the final e-Dialogue from the Biodiversity Conversations: How important are the common loon and polar bear to Canadians series. Over the last 8 months, over 20 female researchers, practitioners, and civil society leaders explored local to global actions and strategies for biodiversity conservation. Since the series began in September 2017, several critical reports have been published. WWF’s 2017 Living Planet Report for Canada in 2017 disclosed that 50% of species in our country are in decline. The newly published 2018 State of the World’s Birds global study states that 1 in 8 birds are now facing the threat of extinction. Furthermore, the world’s greatest forests could lose more than half of all wildlife by the end of the century, according to another WWF study. Given these alarming trends, the protection of biodiversity has never been more imperative. While there were many great recommendations and ideas, here is a snapshot:

  • Indigenous Collaboration and Leadership: Prioritize collaboration and authentic partnerships between Indigenous systems and western systems at all levels. The newly released ICE (Indigenous Circle of Experts) report speaks to re-inventing institutions to reflect a systems-based approach.
  • We are a part of nature, not apart from nature: Our governance systems are profoundly linear and fragmented, and reflect the dominant belief that nature and culture are separate. Seeing ourselves as a part of nature, not apart from nature, even in our cities, will help (re)connect Canadians to biodiversity and is a critical communications strategy. Also, reposition conservation as an urban initiative and challenge to speak to the growing number of urban dwellers in Canada.
  • Investment and Finance: Greater education about the Aichi Targets for the Canadian public, but more specifically, business and investment leaders should be invited to contribute to enabling the financing and financing tools that will be necessary for Canada to reach its goals.
  • Language and Messaging: Given the overwhelming and negative messaging on biodiversity loss, communicate issues clearly and present them in a positive and personal way. Also, showcase successful efforts and innovations to help spur change at the personal, community, provincial, national and international levels.
  • Mapping: Create/expand an interactive and ongoing map of the critical habitat of endangered and near to endangered species and make these priority areas, as a learning and awareness tool.
Now that the series has come to a close, Women for Nature co-chair, Professor Ann Dale will be drafting an action agenda for Canadian decision-makers summarizing the concrete recommendations for biodiversity conservation in Canada.

Imagine if we design with biodiversity in mind, the possibilities that would open up!

Click here, to view the full conversation transcript.


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Tell President Trump:  No Oil and Gas Drilling on the Calving Grounds of the Porcupine Caribou
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Tell President Trump: No Oil and Gas Drilling on the Calving Grounds of the Porcupine Caribou

[caption id="attachment_36177" align="alignleft" width="150"] Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation and General Counsel[/caption] One of my best wilderness experiences happened on a rafting trip on the Firth River in northern Yukon in June 2006.  One day, a good part of the Porcupine caribou herd—we counted 10,000--crossed the flooding river and trotted past our camp on their way north to calving grounds on the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic Refuge. Now U.S. President Donald Trump has recklessly decided to open up of the coastal plain to oil and gas development. The population of the Porcupine herd is still strong at 218,000 (unlike many other caribou herds across Canada), but the last thing they need is oil and gas development on their calving grounds. These caribou are extremely important as a food source and culturally to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in northern Yukon. The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is overseeing a 60-day comment period (winding up on June 19) during which folks can comment on the scope of environmental assessment of the drilling program; several other public consultation stages will follow before any drilling can start. Here is the link to the BLM site: https://www.blm.gov/programs/planning-and-nepa/plans-in-development/alaska/coastal-plain-eis. It is important to note that Canada has taken some significant action to defend these caribou by establishing two national parks (Vuntut and Ivvavik) along the Alaska border. As well,  Canada and U.S. also signed  a treaty in 1987 that requires the two countries to “take appropriate action to conserve the Porcupine Caribou Herd and its habitat”. Oil and gas development in the critical habitat of the calving grounds may well be a violation of the treaty as well as a breach of the human rights of the Vuntut Gwitchin.

Nature Canada urges Canadians to be a voice for conserving the Porcupine Caribou.

Tell President Trump:  no oil and gas drilling on the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou.


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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eh?
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eh?

[caption id="attachment_36590" align="alignleft" width="150"] Tina-Louise Rossit,
Guest Blogger.[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Tina-Louise Rossit. Canada is pretty lucky; we’re home to many animals that stay year-round annnnd we’re also a perfect summer home for a number of species! Around springtime, Canadians get to enjoy seeing spectacular birds, mammals and fish that migrate to Canada for summer. Some animals have pretty neat characteristics that set them apart. Sometimes it’s a funny appearance, other times it’s a unique behaviour, but there’s always an interesting evolutionary history. Learning about them makes us appreciate how fantastic wildlife actually is! Today’s honourary species is a fan favourite for bird watchers; hummingbirds! Have you ever noticed you can’t really focus on their wings, even if you take a photograph? Ever wonder, how is this tiny bird hovering so fast? Well, today is your day because it’s time to chat about these tiny flyers! Canada has five species of hummingbirds that migrate here during our warm months. The most widespread species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird ranging from Nova Scotia to Alberta. It’s easy to recognized hummingbirds since before you see them, you’ll hear them. As their common name suggests, hummingbirds make humming sounds as they flap their wings 80 times per second. They can zip through gardens and flowerbeds foraging for food and hover in the air for long periods of time. All that flying needs energy, and hummingbirds will feed on nectar primarily, but also tree sap, small insects and pollen. A hummingbird will consume about twice their body weight in nectar per day! They forage for tubular-shaped flowers that fit their long beaks and tongues. When calculated, it’s a lot of non-stop flying! And then, add in the migration mileage every year, it’s no wonder their tiny bodies had to accommodate. Scientists use newer computer technologies to make 3D stimulations of hummingbird aerodynamics. Results show that hummingbirds have evolved a balanced middle between the insect and the avian flight mechanisms. A hummingbird’s wing is more triangular-shaped then other birds. Their shoulder-to-wrist bones are compacted near their abdomen, leaving a straighter wrist-to-phalanges. This shape allows optimal aerodynamics for lift, wingbeat, and manoeuverability for both hovering and rapid back-and-forth movement. Physiologically, hummingbirds can uptake oxygen very fast, allowing the heart to beat faster and constantly supply oxygen to their muscles to perform. Their metabolic rate is fast and surprisingly efficient despite the main source of energy being a sugary drink! Even their muscle-mass-specific metabolism, or how each muscle uses up fuel, was found to have the highest rates for vertebrates. Hummingbirds inhabit a variety of regions from the tropics to the mountains, however changes in altitude and air chemistry doesn’t seem to be a problem for a hummingbird’s cardiac and respiration systems to adapt. Honestly, hummingbirds should make any athletes jealous!   In all, hummingbirds represent many extremes in the natural world. Being so small and so fast is just what we see on the outside. Biologists want to continue studying hummingbird physiology, because there are still unanswered physics related questions! In the meantime, with springtime arriving, keep some binoculars handy to scope out hummingbirds in your area. You can watch them zip through your gardens, flying backwards and forwards, hear their wings humming and see their evolutionary adaptions for yourself!

Tune in every month for many more fantastic animals to read about!


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Sources http://www.simplywildcanada.com/hummingbirds-in-canada/ https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruby-throated_Hummingbird/sounds https://www.nature.com/news/hummingbird-flight-has-a-clever-twist-1.9639 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12124359 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27595850 http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/colibri-hummingbird/En/Hummingbird/The-Life-Of-The-Hummingbird/diet.html

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.

Who inspires you? | Remembering Great Canadian Naturalists
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Who inspires you? | Remembering Great Canadian Naturalists

This blog was written by Nature Canada guest blogger Sherry Nigro.


Most Canadians regard Nature as part of our collective identity - but where does our connection to Nature begin? 

Much of the credit lies with great Canadian naturalists past and present.  Their ability to celebrate, educate and advocate, for the geography, flora and fauna of Canada, has inspired generations of naturalists.  They are explorers, scientists, teachers, environmentalists, policy makers, health care providers, spiritual leaders and artists.  They are farmers, fishermen and hunters.  They are parents, grandparents, friends and social clubs.  Here are a few of the Canadian naturalists who have inspired me.
Indigenous peoples The wisdom of Canada's First Nations and Inuit has always been captivating to me- how they lived in harmony with the natural world based on their deep knowledge of plants and animals, the cycles of Nature and their respectful spirituality.  Imagine the hardships of the prairie blizzard, the mosquito infested boreal forests, the heaving relentless oceans.  Survival depended on their ability to create shelter and clothing, obtain food, and utilize the offerings of the natural world.  And it depended on their ability to see beauty, find joy, and develop a sacred connection to Mother Earth.  How fortunate we have been to have these wise stewards and environmental champions as part of our Canadian heritage. [caption id="attachment_36261" align="alignright" width="150"] David Suzuki, picture from the David Suzuki Foundation.[/caption] David Suzuki He is a passionate environmentalist who came into my living room to explain the mysteries of Nature.  Named one of the greatest Canadians of all times in 2004, David Suzuki has inspired hundreds of thousands of Canadians to care about the natural world. David Thompson Perhaps most famous for his cartography skills in mapping the interior of the continent in the late 1700s, David Thompson's keen observational skills introduced the Canadian wilderness to Europeans.  He was prolific with interest in astronomy (indigenous peoples knew him as Man Who Looks at Stars or Stargazer), plants, animals, birds and natural phenomenon. [caption id="attachment_36265" align="alignleft" width="150"] Robert Bateman, pictured by Acadia University.[/caption] Many of the early explorers were naturalists; Henry Kelsey, Alexander Mackenzie, Samuel Hearne, Anthony Henday left journals that document their travels detailing geographical, biological and sociological aspects of the great Canadian wilderness[1]. [caption id="attachment_36617" align="alignright" width="150"] Mabel Frances Whittemore.[/caption] Robert Bateman What David Suzuki did with television, Robert Bateman did with a paint brush.  His detailed renderings of animals in their element have raised awareness of the strength, grace, ferocity and fragility found in Nature. Reginald Whittemore & Mabel Frances Reginald Whittemore founded what would eventually become Nature Canada in 1939 when he launched the magazine Canadian Nature. The magazine was published in honour of Reginald’s late wife, Mabel Frances — an educator and nature lover whose main goal in life was to share her passion for nature with others.
Other great Canadian naturalists include Catherine Parr Trail (1802-1899) who was one of the first to document wildflowers and native plants.  Leon Abel Provancher (1820-1892) was a Catholic priest and naturalist who is known as the father of Natural History in Canada.  Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910-2010) is the father of Canadian Ecology.  Jack Miner (1865-1944) used the practice of banding to better understand migratory birds. He established bird sanctuaries that still exist today.  Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894-1992) became a renowned ornithologist. Of course I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the influence of my parents.   Both were born of Saskatchewan homesteader stock and have a deep respect and love for Nature. They always made time to share their discoveries- the first crocus of the spring, moose tracks in the yard, an osprey nest, a spectacular sunset.  There is research that shows that parents are instrumental in helping children connect to nature[2]. Research aside, my relationship with Nature is very much related to my parents' values and beliefs. At a time when we worry that Canadians are losing touch with Nature, it is important to remember the great accomplishments of our naturalists, and how they engage, educate and inspire us, whether they are career environmentalists, weekend hobbyists or great bed time storytellers.

Tell me, who inspires you?


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[1]Waiser, Bill.   2016.  A World We Have Lost:  Saskatchewan before 1905.  Fifth House Limited. Markham, Ontario. [2] The David Suzuki Foundation. 2012. Youth Engagement with Nature and the Outdoors: a summary of survey findings.

International Day of Forests: Saying Thank You to Our Tall, Green Protectors
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International Day of Forests: Saying Thank You to Our Tall, Green Protectors

International Day of Forests This blog was written by Intern Gabriel Planas When is it? March 21 So what is it? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations created the International Day of Forests in 2012 to celebrate the importance of forests by raising awareness about the ways in which trees help and sustain us even in our increasingly urbanized environment. This year’s theme is around ‘Forests and Sustainable Cities’ with a focus on the urban forested areas. What’s the significance? While we are all accustomed to the presence of trees in our neighbourhoods, the sight of widespread forests is becoming rarer with 13 million hectares of forests destroyed globally every year. This is becoming an increasingly larger concern as forests play an important role in providing habitat for almost 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity. Forests also provide an invaluable tool to help curb climate change by storing carbon, filtrating air and water, and reducing noise pollution. Just one acre of trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people to last a year. In addition to their irreplaceable ability to filtrate both air and water, forests provide other benefits to our day-to-day urban life. Urban forests help to prevent flooding, disease and have shown to cool the air by between 2 and 6 degrees. Well-maintained urban forests and other greenspaces can help improve mental health, encourage physical activity and provide a space for communities to come together. These greenspaces can also provide comfortable and calming areas, and help reduce noise from the rest of the city. Not to mention, a city with an abundance of trees and greenspace is much more aesthetic and beautiful too!      On this International Day of Forests, take a moment to appreciate the trees around you, and all that they do. How do I get involved?

  • Step out of your front door into your NatureHood, your local forest is teeming with things to see and places to explore! Even better, bring your families outside into nature and learn about the types of trees that are in your neighbourhood!
  • Make sure that while you are out there exploring to take a picture of a tree in your yard or neighbourhood and share on social media with the hashtag #IntlForestDay. Compete with your friends for the best picture or just show off what your city has to offer, and help spread the good word about the trees!
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eh?
Flip Nicklen/Minden Pictures
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eh?

This blog is written by guest blogger Tina-Louise Rossit. Task someone with naming a Canadian species and they are likely to mention the polar bear, the moose, the beaver, or the loon. However, we really do have more animals than simply those on our coins! Canada is so spacious, and there are thousands of animals that have found their place amongst the different ecosystems. There are the mountain animals, the forest dwellers, those accustomed to the tundra and those of the sea. Today’s honorary species is the legendary sea unicorn, the Monodon monoceros, or in plain terms, the Narwhal. This “sea unicorn” has a unique feature that has allowed humans to come up with spectacular stories about the it for centuries. Let's uncover the truth to those tales!


[caption id="attachment_35979" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photo by Glenn Williams[/caption] The most common misconception is that the Narwhal has a horn, when in actuality - it’s a modified tooth! The Narwhal belongs to the family of toothed whales called the Odontocetes. Its closest relative, the beluga, has the similar stocky body, short head and absent dorsal fin. However, unlike other toothed whales, the Narwhal only has two teeth, one incisor tooth that remains embedded in the skull, and the second incisor tooth that elongates into a long, spiral tusk. [caption id="attachment_35978" align="alignleft" width="300"] Range of narwhal populations in Arctic Canada (From Narwhal, Underwater World)[/caption] But why this feature? What’s its purpose? To find out, marine biologists and dentists have teamed up to study the Narwhal in its home habitat. There are three recognized populations of Narwhals for which two of them are the cold Canadian waters of Baffin Bay and Hudson Bay. These expeditions brought back fascinating results. Firstly, the tusk isn’t even used for defense or sparring as one may hypothesize. Nor it is for impaling prey or to break up ice sheets! Secondly, only males have them. Females may develop them on rare occasions and even rarer is a male with two tusks. Interestingly, Narwhals don’t have any other teeth. That means their mouths are toothless. This may be why they eat fish and squid that are nice and easy to slurp down. Yum! Here’s what else; with an exceptional amount of nerve endings from the base to the tip of these tusks, the Narwhal tusk is a giant sensory organ. The nerve endings can detect even the slightest changes in temperatures, salt content and pressure of the waters. With only males with tusks, it means that sexual selection played a big part in its evolutionary development. If the males with longer tusks and more nerve endings were able to detect the location of females to mate, they would be the one to pass on their genes. [caption id="attachment_35980" align="alignright" width="300"] One of these is Real, from Pierre Pomet's "Histoire générale des drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux, et des minéraux." (Paris, 1694)[/caption]   Next, scientists are going down to the molecular level to map out the mechanism for this trait expression. What genes signal the spiral formation of the tusk? What are the structures of the hydroxyapatite crystals, which are the main mineral in enamel and dentin? Do the structures differ from other toothed-whales and other mammals? And why? Until we find out more, there’s still a magical aura around the Narwhal’s natural history. There aren’t too many animals whose mythical nature have graced as many history books, or that have inspired legend and lore since the time of Ancient Greece. Despite the mystery of the Narwhal, if one thing is for sure, it is that these sea-unicorns will continue to leave us in awe.
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Information used in this post is from the following sources: Narwhal: At a Glance Narwhal Tusk Research Narwhal: Monodon monoceros COSEWIC: Assessment and Update Status Report For a dentist, the narwhal’s smile is a mystery of evolution

An Artist’s Profile: Suzanne Paleczny
HumanNature, Suzanne Paleczny
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An Artist’s Profile: Suzanne Paleczny

I was looking forward to the opportunity to interview Suzanne Paleczny. Her focus on the human relationship with Nature is very relevant to me, as I find myself brought back to it time and time again in my work and life. I believe that the way we understand our relationships with the land dictate how we react to our environment, how we make decisions, and how we shape our culture.
This blog post was a collaboration between our featured artist, Suzanne Paleczny and Chloe Dragon Smith, who interviewed Suzanne. [caption id="attachment_36001" align="alignleft" width="150"] Chloe Dragon Smith[/caption]

Part 1: Suzanne/Nature

First, I wanted to understand a bit about Suzanne’s personal relationship with Nature. Learning about Suzanne in this context would help me to understand much more about who she is, her worldview, and her art.

How did your childhood influence your connection to Nature? In my first childhood home we lived on the edge of town with only two houses neighbouring our own. We were up on a hill and could see Lake Timiskaming from our yard although it was quite distant, and train tracks, roads and houses separated us from the lake. An enormous Manitoba Maple tree grew at the front of the house, its branches rising up beyond the height of our two storey house and then curving back down until they almost touched the grass, enveloping the entire front yard in this huge leafy umbrella. We played outside all the time, both under this tree and in the adjacent fields, bush and ravine. My father, in particular, influenced my love of the outdoors. One of my earliest memories is of him taking my sisters and me for walks in the bush. We would start out walking along the train tracks and then would strike off into the forest. Eventually we would stop and make a fire and he would make us hot chocolate from his army rations. If it was spring he would make us whistles from the green willow branches. It was magical. As we got older we hiked and camped, paddled, rock climbed, skated and cross-country skied as a family. We returned again and again to the forests of my dad’s childhood in Northern Ontario. What are your favourite things to do outdoors today? I still love to camp and canoe, hike, skate and cross-country ski. The Yukon provides wonderful opportunities for all of these activities. For me, there is nothing better than sleeping outdoors. And although I don’t particularly like to cook, I love cooking outside over a fire! When I was creating the sculptures for my recent body of work, Human/Nature, I spent two summers working outside in my carport. The sculptures are built from driftwood and range from 7 to 11 feet tall so required a working space that was beyond the size of my studio. We live about 30 km north of Whitehorse, in a quiet, rural setting and working outdoors was wonderful. The carport meant I was protected from the rain and direct sun, but I could still feel the wind and hear the birds, and in our seemingly endless summer days, enjoy the view of the mountains as the sun worked its way almost full circle around me. While I worked away I was visited by foxes, squirrels and birds, and on one occasion a mother bear and her two cubs even wandered through, deftly winding through the maze of sculptures without knocking any of them over. Luckily, I had just stepped inside to get something and so was not in their way! The first summer, I worked well into October, which was far too cold to be outside with bare hands and power drills, but I was not anxious to return to the confines of indoor work space. [caption id="attachment_35993" align="alignright" width="221"] Weight of the World, Suzanne Paleczny[/caption] Have those things changed throughout your life? When our children were born we initiated them early into our favourite activities; our son was only 5 weeks old when we took him on his first overnight canoe trip in Bon Echo Park, and our eldest daughter, the ripe age of two weeks, for her first camping trip to Presqu’ile Park as we participated in the Bailey Bird Count. When our family grew too large for all of us to fit into one canoe, but the children were still too young to paddle, we did more camping in Provincial and National Park campgrounds. Once the kids were big enough to paddle and carry their own packs, we went back to doing more extended canoe trips and back-country hiking (which we continue to do now that we are again on our own). How do you see them changing as you continue to age? We continue to hike, paddle and ski and hope to spend many more years exploring the Yukon mountains and rivers. I suppose that we may become less willing or able to ‘rough it’ as we age. I have seen my own father change from someone who never passed up an opportunity to strike off into the bush with just a pack and an ax, to someone who now enjoys nature strictly through the window from the comfort of his arm chair.

Part 2: Art and life

Suzanne inspired me with her honesty, and stories of a life lived close with the land from her perspective. I was curious about how this lifestyle dedicated to connection with environment contributed to her path as an artist.

How much of your work throughout your life has been influenced by Nature? Because nature has always been a large and important part of my life, it has influenced my art in various ways. Learning to observe nature influenced the way I observe everything around me. I am always on the lookout for effects created by sunlight and shadow and am inspired by colours and patterns that I see in nature. I am not, however, a landscape painter; the human figure is almost always incorporated into my artwork. Human/Nature is my first large body of work that is not just influenced by, but is specifically about nature. Where did you get the ideas for your most recent exhibit – Human/Nature? [caption id="attachment_35991" align="alignleft" width="200"] HumanNature, Suzanne Paleczny[/caption] In many ways, my exhibit Human/Nature is a culmination of concerns and ideas that have come together throughout my life. The exhibit is loosely based on a thesis that I wrote in 2011, but even as a very young child, I remember being aware of and worried about pollution and the health of the planet. The exhibit was also created from a combination of both intellectual and visual ideas. The intellectual ideas were influenced to a great extent by an undergrad degree in Cultural Studies and Philosophy that I completed in 2011 at Trent University. In my final thesis I examined our relationship with wilderness and our understanding of it, as indicated through its depiction in art and culture over thousands of years. In preparing to create Human/Nature I also read about ancient thought and philosophy, creation myths throughout the world, patterns in nature, interaction of trees in forest communities, recently extinct species, evolution, the beginning of the universe, etc. Collecting visual ideas is a continuous and on-going process. Ideas can come from something as simple as a combination of colours that I see, a particular gesture that I observe, or other situations I encounter that can be used as visual metaphors. People, places and situations, in both Yukon and Egypt, came together to provide the visual inspiration for the paintings in Human/Nature. The driftwood sculptures, on the other hand, were inspired by a visit to a specific place in Yukon called Sucker Bay. The bay lies at the juncture of two very long and narrow lakes. Any debris that falls into the waters gets channeled down by the prevailing wind and collects in the bay. As a result, the bay is chock full of driftwood; an endless supply of free art material! The first time I was introduced to the bay by some of my fellow art colleagues, I was struck by how much the individual pieces of driftwood resembled parts of our human anatomy—bones, muscles, tendons—and I could see its potential for what would eventually become the Human Forest installation. Rather than force a pre-determined pose for each of the tree figures, I let the shape of the driftwood determine what the gesture would be. Check out more of Suzanne’s work here.

Part 3: We are Nature

I was compelled by Suzanne’s choice to mindfully follow the driftwood pieces as they dictated shape and posture of her human-tree figures. This is a small example of how we could all be living our lives by the contours of Nature: physical contours like rivers and mountains, as well as the rhythm of the seasons, right down to life lessons about relationships and tiny decisions we make every day. By losing our connection, have we lost our intuition about how to take care of the earth and also live good lives for ourselves? This concept is something that Suzanne has spent significant time thinking about.

I believe very much in the statement ‘we are Nature’ – Nature is not something separate from us. I know this is something you strive to explore and depict in your work. What does ‘we are Nature’ mean to you? We are nature. This is not a metaphor, it is a fact. The phrase ‘we are Nature’ is a statement of awareness. With the exhibit Human/Nature, I was trying to make sense of why we treat the world so badly. I was trying to make sense of this disconnect between our awareness of the environmental crisis that is upon us and at the same time, the fact that we are not reacting with the urgency that this crisis deserves.   And the only thing that I could think of, was that we must have somehow forgotten that we too are nature; that we are so used to living in a human-made world, that we have forgotten that nature is not something outside of us—someplace we go hiking in on the weekend—but that it is us. And this led me to the notion of memory. [caption id="attachment_35995" align="alignright" width="300"] HumanNature, Suzanne Paleczny[/caption] Our own human story begins along with everything else in the world; as a bunch of chemical elements created through the life-cycle of the stars, and then as one-celled animals in ancient oceans and then as more and more complex animals until we eventually climbed out of the ocean. There are remnants of our ancient selves preserved in different structures of our bodies. For example, the fact that we get the hiccups is attributed to our earlier gill breathing days. If we have physical remnants of our ancient selves still present in us, then is it not conceivable that remnants of our ancient past might also be lodged in our memory?  And so I began to imagine what it would be like if we could actually remember our origins. What if we could remember what it feels like to be stardust, or to live in salty seas, or to feel that connection that we have with everything else? Through the exhibit I am asking “what would having that sort of insight mean for us and for our world?” With this awareness, would we behave differently? What do you think are the best ways to live that philosophy, as an individual, and as a society? I have realized over the years that my artwork is often a question, but is seldom an answer. I don’t know the answer to the questions that I am posing; I just know that we need to figure it out together. I guess an important step is to recognize our own connection to the rest of the world and to understand that ours is a shared destiny. We need to make individual and societal decisions that reflect that knowledge; decisions that are based not on short term gain but on a long-term view that takes into consideration the collective good of future generations and the planet. I know your exhibit was titled ‘Human/Nature’… This is very interesting to me, as I’ve had a lot of trouble with reconciling the concept of Nature in the past year or so. In many ways I see our language as a symptom of the way we relate to the world around us as ‘other’. I’d love to get your thoughts on that. I think that your point is exactly right. That notion of the outer world as ‘other’ is embedded not just in language but in every aspect of modern Western culture, and it is inevitable that it should affect the way we act. The way we think about ourselves has been influenced over time by attitudes and philosophies that we may not even recognize as cultural ideas, and may mistake as truths. How will we set that right?

How will we set that right?

The weight of that question commands space to hang here; powerful yet without judgement, at the end of my conversation with Suzanne. How will we set that right? What do you think?

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Imperiled Species of the Ottawa River Watershed
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Imperiled Species of the Ottawa River Watershed

This blog was written by Sean Feagan. Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently conducting public engagement for the Ottawa River Watershed Study. This study aims to gather information about how best to protect, manage, and conserve the watershed, in part through public consultation. [caption id="attachment_35830" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ottawa River Watershed[/caption] The Ottawa River Watershed covers an immense area across two provinces (Ontario and Quebec), and has vast importance to the people, economy, and history of Canada. In addition, the Ottawa River Watershed contains an exceptional array of flora and fauna. These species inhabit the aquatic environments of the Ottawa River and associated tributaries, as well as surrounding terrestrial habitats, which include a diversity of wetlands and extensive forests. While the Ottawa River Watershed still contains many pristine areas, particularly upriver, it has experienced an extensive history of intense industrial activity, including logging extraction, dam construction for hydroelectric generation, and pulp and paper milling. Additionally, much of the land area of the watershed, particularly downstream, has been altered for agricultural activity and industrial development. Given these impacts, many of the species contained within the watershed have declined or become otherwise imperiled. Here are a few examples of the over thirty species at risk within the watershed: Perhaps the most threatened species within the watershed is the American eel, which has declined by up to 98%, mainly as a result of river damming along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. There are ongoing efforts to help the species recover within the watershed, including the catch and release of over 400 eels into the Ottawa River last summer to facilitate their movement. While ladder and bypass systems have been installed at some of the dams along the Ottawa, many others feature no mitigation measures to facilitate eel movement. While the Government of Ontario has released a recovery strategy for the species, and other [caption id="attachment_35831" align="alignright" width="150"] Spotted Turtle, photo by Helmy Oved.[/caption] conservation efforts are underway, the long-term persistence of the American eel is in serious peril. The Ottawa River Watershed supports a diverse assemblage of fascinating turtle species. The eight species of turtle inhabit a diversity of habitats within the Ottawa River and associated tributaries, as well as neighboring wetlands. Seven species are considered at risk, including the spotted turtle spotted turtle (Endangered), the Blanding’s turtle, stinkpot turtle, spiny softshell turtle, and wood turtle (each federally listed as Threatened), as well as the snapping turtle and north mapping turtle (both listed as Special Concern). Recovery planning for these species is underway, but they continue to be threatened by accidental mortality from roads, poaching, and habitat loss. The Ottawa River Watershed also supports a rich avifauna. [caption id="attachment_35829" align="alignleft" width="150"] Least bittern, photo by Steve Arena.[/caption] Perhaps one of the strangest bird species in the watershed is the least bittern, which is a member of heron family, listed federally as Threatened. It is one of the smallest herons in the world, as it typically measures from about 28 to 36 cm in length, weighing up to around 100 g. The species is elusive, as it is highly secretive, possesses excellent camouflage, and freezes in place when altered of potential danger. The species usually inhabits cattail marshes, many of which have been destroyed or altered for development and agriculture. Many of the confirmed breeding sites that remain in Canada exist within the Ottawa River Watershed in Ontario. [caption id="attachment_35828" align="alignright" width="150"] Kirtland's Warbler, photo by Joel Trick.[/caption] The diverse forests of the Ottawa River Watershed supports a rich community of songbirds, including many species of North American wood warblers. One of the rarest species in North America, the Kirtland’s warbler, has two confirmed records of nesting in Canada, within the Ottawa River Watershed near Petawawa, Ontario. As part of its federal recovery strategy, critical habitat for this species has been identified at a few select sites within Renfrew County. Other imperiled warbler species contained within the watershed include the spectacular cerulean warbler (Endangered), and the Canada warbler (Threatened). It is clear that the Ottawa River Watershed possess a spectacular array of wildlife and plant species, many of which are imperiled. If you would like to voice your opinion regarding the value and conservation of these species within the watershed, participate in the Ottawa River Watershed Study online at Placespeak, or participate in an upcoming meeting on March 1st, held in Gatineau, QC.

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