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Reducing Anxiety Through Nature
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Reducing Anxiety Through Nature

Sherry has taken her upbringing in rural Saskatchewan, together with a career in public health, to the "natural" conclusion that time in nature is good for us, physically, emotionally and socially.

Is “fight or flight” a friend or foe?

For millennia, the biological 'fight or flight' reaction has served to protect members of the animal kingdom from harm. It kicks in when there is potential danger; for example, when a rabbit senses a fox.  There is an autonomic cascade of reactions that is activated in the amygdala in the brain.  In turn, it signals the hypothalamus which launches a series of reactions of the sympathetic nervous system.  Adrenaline floods the body causing increased heart rate and respiration.  Glucose goes to the muscles for instant energy; senses are heightened to hear, see and smell danger.  If the threat continues, additional hormones are released, including cortisol, to sustain the stress reaction for longer periods of time[i]. This physiological response enables the "fight"- the buffalo charges the wolf, the blue jay attacks the owl, the mother bear protects her cubs.  In some species it enables the 'flight'- the slap and swim of the beaver, the skittishness of songbirds, the sudden dive of a frog. Quick response to danger is vital to survival of the organism, and ultimately of the species.

The Human Experience

Humans also experience this biological phenomenon when we are stressed. Nowadays, the stress is seldom related to a predator's attack, but we do experience a stress response to difficult life events as well as day to day challenges.  We feel our heart pound, our breathing quicken, our muscles tense, our gut clench. This response helps us respond to emergencies and extract ourselves from uncomfortable situations.  Mild stress can be positive; it heightens our senses, motivates us and improves performance. But what happens when our body stays in a persistent stress response?  We become overly anxious, worried, tense, tired and even depressed.  We experience panic attacks without provocation.  Chronic stress with elevated hormones is hard on our blood vessels and cardiovascular system; it increases the appetite leading to weight gain[ii]. If it reaches a level where it interferes with daily living it can become a clinical anxiety disorder:  phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder[iii].  According to Statistics Canada 8.6% of Canadians have a diagnosed anxiety disorder[iv].

The Effects of Time In Nature

Time in nature can directly counteract some of the physiological and psychological effects of anxiety.  Research is showing that for healthy individuals time in greenspace contributes to mental health; for those with diagnosed mental illness, including anxiety disorders, time in nature can be an effective component of treatment[v]. Spending time in, or even passively viewing, greenspace, has beneficial psychophysiological effects[vi] by lowering blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate.  Cortisol is lower in people when they are in nature.  The Attention Restoration effect reduces some of the mental fatigue of being in protracted fight or flight mode.  Time in nature decreases rumination, which is the persistent recurrence of unwanted negative thoughts[vii].  The affiliated effects of time in nature, in particular increased physical activity and increased social connectedness, in and of themselves, are beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety[viii].

Getting nature in your day

With the hectic holiday period soon upon us, let all of us ensure that we build time in nature into our daily routines.  Walk through the park on the way to work, watch the birds at the feeder for a few extra minutes, get out on the snowshoes in the woods.  Use a natural scene as your computer screensaver, put up some photographs from your camping trip, get some plants or fresh cut flowers for the house, start a nature journal to record thoughts, observations, doodles and poetry. There is some irony that nature where generations of humans experienced “fight or flight” is now our respite from stress. The natural world is balm for the senses; even in the winter, the smell of balsam, the fresh cold on the face, the sound of running water, the serenity of snow covered trees can help us de-stress and calm the anxious mind. Wishing you all time in nature, and may it bring you peace and good health in 2019! Sherry, RN BSN
[i] Harvard Medical School.  Understanding the stress response.  Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response [ii] ibid [iii] Canadian Mental Health Association.  Anxiety Disorders.  Downloaded November 9, 2018 from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders [iv] Statistics Canada.  2017. Mental Health Disorders and Life Satisfaction in Canada. Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2017033-eng.htm [v] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf [vi] Beyer, K. M. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health: Evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin . International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(3), 3453–3472  Downloaded November 8, 2018 from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/3/3453/htm [vii] Bratman et al. 2015.  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507237/#!po=8.62069 [viii] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf
 

Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!
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Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!

Ever wonder how life is in the deep blue sea? What lives among coral reefs, undersea mountains and volcanos, grooves and caves? What the differences are between freshwater and saltwater biodiversity? What’s the biggest species? The fiercest? The weirdest? Well, we wondered too; and thus, let’s go Swimming with Species to find out all about animals that lurk in the waters around Canada!


Today’s species is the Porbeagle Shark!

The Porbeagle shark is found in open seas in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. In the North Atlantic, if you are anywhere from Newfoundland to New Jersey to Greenland and Russia, you might have the opportunity to witness one. But do not fear, the Porbeagle shark is known not to feed on other mammals, and is actually recognized for its playful behaviour!  The main diet of the Porbeagle shark consists of herring, lancetfish and mackerel. However, they do also dine on cod, redfish, haddock, squid and shellfish. Overall, their diet consists of pelagic (open sea) creatures. If you think you see a Porbeagle shark, look for its distinctive features. It has dark bluish-grey to bluish-black colouring on its back with white colour underneath. On its tail, it has a secondary keel underneath its longer primary keel. This shark has a stout head, with a pointed snout and large black eyes. Its teeth are small and smooth-edged narrow, with lateral cusps at the base of each tooth. But its most recognizable feature is the white spot at the base of the first dorsal fin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHmWe0Qj4w8 The Porbeagle shark joins the other species of sharks found in Canadian waters including the white shark, salmon shark, and shortfin mako. Different from other shark species', the Porbeagle shark has to keep moving in order to breathe. It also has a heat regulating mechanism that keeps its body temperature 3 to 8°C above the surrounding water temperature. This shark is limited to where it can go, and so, it spends most of its time in waters between 8 and 13°C. When not in the cooler waters, the mature female Porbeagle sharks migrate south to the seas between Cuba and Bermuda. It has also been seen near Brazil and Chile. It is in the warmer waters that the females pup, which occurs in late winter or early spring. Yet, their mating occurs in southern Newfoundland, in September to November. The Porbeagle shark prefers to remain in deep waters between 1,350 to 4,400 feet, but they often shift from shallow to deep, even being sighted in waters as shallow as 3.3 feet! The female can produce between 1-5 pups, but generally it is only four that are between 60-75cm long at birth. The female Porbeagles reach sexual maturity at a size of 217 cm long (which they reach around 13 years of age), while males mature at 174 cm (8 years old). The adults can reach a size of over 3 meters (10-12 feet)! Usually, it is only between 1.5-1.8 m and 135 kg (298 lbs). They have a life expectancy of 30-40 years, with most Porbeagle sharks indicating growth rings in the vertebrae that indicate at least 26 years of age before death. The biggest threat that the shark is facing is overfishing, both by fishing on purpose and by accident. This makes the Porbeagle very likely to be caught as bycatch. Luckily, directed fishing has been suspended, which does provide some hope for this helpless shark, but they still continue to be caught as bycatch. When caught, fisheries have strict rules that they must be returned to the water in a way that is least harmful. Since the fishing of the Porbeagle shark was suspended in 2013, no licenses that have been issued since that year. The population has not been estimated since 2009, but it was estimated between 197,000 to 207,000 individuals, including approximately 10,000 to 14,000 spawning females. The Porbeagles are very vulnerable to over-exploitation because they have a late age of maturity, and a small number of pups (average of 4 per litter). Sadly, the mortality rate for the Porbeagle shark is estimated at 100 tons per year (that is approximately 600-700 Porbeagle sharks per year). In addition to threats posed by fisheries, there are other human related threats. These threats include noise associated with offshore petroleum exploratory seismic surveys, and marine pollution. This species is endangered, but there are things you can do to help!
  • Learn about sharks to better understand them!
  • Reduce purchasing shark products, anything from meat to oils (found in any beauty items and health nutrition)
  • reduce your seafood consumption, this would also assist in stopping the accidental bycatch as seafood would be in less demand, so less fishing would occur.
  • In order to reduce pollution, begin your ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ regime! You have the potential to make a difference.
  • Lastly, share this with your friends and family so that can learn about this 'playful shark' that needs our help!

Herping Around with the Blanding’s Turtle
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Herping Around with the Blanding’s Turtle

Ever wonder about unusual creatures? What’s it like to be cold-blooded? Or to breathe with your skin? Ever think about what it’s like to have scaly skin and no limbs? What about hoping versus walking? Or having a shell on your back? What’s the smartest species? The cutest? The strangest? Well, we wondered too; and thus, let’s go Herping Around in Canada and learn about snakes, lizards, toads, frogs, and turtles!

Today’s species is the Blanding’s Turtle!


[caption id="attachment_38567" align="alignleft" width="317"] © Joe Crowley[/caption] Is that an army helmet laying on the ground? NO! It’s a Blanding’s Turtle! The shell of a Blanding’s Turtle is medium-sized, dome-like and resembles that of an army helmet; which is unlike most other turtles that have a wide, flatter shell. It is easily identified by its bright yellow throat, chin and shell underbelly. Its shell has black to brown yellow flakes and streaks and can reach up to 27 cm long. Apart from its bright yellow throat, its head and limbs are black-grey. Unlike other Ontario turtles, the Blanding’s Turtle can completely close their shell after pulling in their head and feet, because the bottom of the shell is hinged. This is very useful when the Blanding's Turtle is in danger! The Blanding’s turtle lives in the Great Lakes Basin, with a few other populations in the United States and elsewhere in Canada. It is found in shallow water, usually in large wetlands and shallow lakes with lots of plants. If you see one a few hundred meters away from the water, do not panic, as they often venture to find a mate or nesting site! When in hibernation, they are in the mud at the bottom of permanent water bodies, from the Late October to end of April. What’s interesting, is that the female species do not mature until at least the age of 14, with individuals living to be over 75 years old! That’s old for something so small! The female will lay up to 22 eggs in late May or early June after excavating a nest in a sunny area with good drainage. Hatchlings three to four centimeters in length, emerge in the fall and the incubation temperature of the eggs determines the gender of the offspring! Blanding’s Turtles are omnivorous (feed on plants and animals), specifically on crayfish, insects, fish, frogs and a variety of plant material. Different from other aquatic turtles who feed exclusively in the water, Blanding’s Turtles feed both in the water and on land. Blanding’s Turtles are threatened primarily due to the destruction of wetlands, their home. Not only this, but shoreline development can destroy nesting areas and disturb the land beside the water. Since Blanding’s Turtles can wander from the water a few hundred meters, that creates a new threat if the turtle ends up on the road. The more that they wander on the road, the more likely they are to be crushed. This is especially harmful to the females who need to return to the nest. Shockingly, this is one of the species that people remove from the wild to use as food or as pets! But don't worry, you can help! If you see a Blanding’s Turtle, report the sighting! This will hopefully help the city create signage for drivers or pedestrians, so that everyone can be more careful around that area! Also, you can volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park in surveys focused on species at risk. And if you live on property near the habitat where Blanding’s Turtles can be found, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of the species and its habitat. As well, if you are interested in purchasing a turtle, never buy a native species of turtle, or any that have been caught in the wild. If you see a turtle for sale that came from the wild, REPORT immediately. If you are reporting illegal activity regarding plant or wildlife, call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667). Lastly, share this so that your friends and family can learn about the danger that the Blanding’s Turtle is in, and how they too can help!

Ants in Autumn – Nature Notes
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Ants in Autumn – Nature Notes

Retired Harvard professor and entomologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson, now 89, is the undisputed world expert on ants. He has spent his entire life studying them and has written and published a long list of books and many scientific articles about his findings. In this Nature Notes essay about these fascinating insects I draw heavily on Wilson’s insights and several other sources in an attempt to summarize what we know about these interesting creatures. Ants cover the planet in almost unimaginable numbers – a million billion by Wilson’s conservative estimate. They are found everywhere, except in polar cold, but it is in the tropics that ants achieve spectacular diversity. There are 10,000 named species of them worldwide, and likely another 10,000 unnamed ones. Canada has more than 100 species of ants, and there are 93 species in Ontario. Ants are a complex and fascinating group of insects. In terms of numbers and individuals they are the most abundant six-legged insects on Earth, making up about 10% of the total animal mass. One hectare of rainforest contains more than nine million ants. They dominate a wide range of habitats, including arid deserts, frozen tundra – and kitchen garbage cans. Ants are related to bees and wasps and are completely social insects, dependant on others in their colony for survival. They pass through life in four stages – egg, larva, pupa and adult. They are well adapted for life underground because they are almost entirely blind. Their life is run by chemical smells and tastes. Ants are generally easy to recognize; their colour is usually black, dark brown, red, or tan. Depending on the species, their size can range from 1 to 13 mm in length, with some exceptions. Like all insects, the body of an ant is divided in three distinct parts: head, thorax and abdomen. The thorax is joined to the abdomen by constricted petioles, also known as nodes. All ants have three pairs of legs used for walking, and they do not have wings, except for the reproductive swarming ants, which have two pairs of functional wings used for mating flights. Ants are social insects that live in sophisticated societies, colonies with populations often reaching hundreds of thousands. Most ant colonies build nests in soil. Some species, like the carpenter ant, tunnel into wood to create nesting chambers. A colony functions as a single organism, centered about the queen, who is the mother of the colony. Her task is to constantly lay eggs to keep the colony populated. Most colonies have only one queen and will die when she dies, although in some species a colony can have several queens. Most other colonies’ numbers can vary from 100,000 to 250,000 individuals. A typical ant colony consists of three distinct social castes: the queen, drones, and workers. To establish new colonies, ants undertake nuptial flights: swarms of winged sexual ants depart the nest in search of another location and mate for about 30 minutes. The males die shortly thereafter, along with most of the females. A small percentage of the females survive to initiate new nests. Pharaoh ant workers live only a few weeks. Workers of many other ant species can live up to three years. Most queens live more than five years. An anthill, in its simplest form, is a pile of earthsandpine needles, clay, or a composite of these and other materials that build up at the entrances of the subterranean dwellings of ant colonies. Legions of worker ants carry tiny bits of dirt and pebbles in their mandibles and deposit them near the exit of the colony.  They normally deposit the material at the top of a hill to prevent it from sliding back into the colony, but some species sculpt the materials into specific shapes and may create nest chambers within the mound. Some ant behaviour is truly remarkable. Fire ants build rafts with their bodies to escape floods. Others, again using their bodies, build towers. Ants have no architectural plans, they operate on a few rules, such as “wander aimlessly upward and if you find a non-moving ant, attach yourself to it and become a building block.” They build tower structures on wide rings at the bottom and narrow rings at the top, spreading out the weight so that any individual ant has only to support the weight of three other ants. Another striking thing about ants is that some of them just sit around doing nothing. Researchers at Georgia Tech studied groups of 30 colour-coded ants digging tunnels. About 30% of them did 70% of the work. Others did very little or nothing. Interestingly, when the researchers removed the hard-working ants, some of the previously less active ants stepped up and began working harder. Ants are also better traffic engineers than humans. They never run into stop-and-go traffic or gridlock on their trails. If an ant comes across a blockage on the road, it will pick up the obstacle, move it off the road and continue walking, making sure that traffic is not interrupted. There never is a traffic jam. Although the brains of ants are smaller than pinheads, they are engineering their highways and adjusting road traffic. They establish routes from their nests to their foraging areas, then straighten out the roads, maintain them, and create shortcuts. While on the road, they adjust where they go and how fast they go. One of the key roles that ants display in an ecosystem is dispersing seeds. European fire ants are very good at that, better than native woodland ants. A new study from the University of Toronto suggests that European fire ants are also helping to spread an invasive plant, the greater celandine. Most ant species found in Canada are omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of food sources. The dietary requirements of ants change throughout the year, depending on the season and needs of the colony. During mating season, from spring and into the summer, the colony requires ample protein to facilitate the development of the maturing larvae. Consequently, the ants forage for food high in protein, including preying on other arthropods and small invertebrates during this time of the year. As the summer continues, the colony begins to focus on preparing the nest for winter or relocating to a suitable overwintering site. Due to the energy needed to perform such tasks, ants switch from a protein-based diet to one primarily consisting of carbohydrates. The varied diet of ants regularly includes fungi, plants and organic matter, seeds, and a wide range of food items stored and consumed by humans, as well. Common structure-infesting ant species found in Canada include the black carpenter ant, pavement ant, pharaoh ant, odorous house ant, Argentine ant, and thief ant. Pavement ants, depending on the location of nests, can be a bit of a nuisance, especially if nesting indoors. Reddish pharaoh ants are another indoor nuisance pest, often attracted to foods high in protein and sugar. They commonly nest in small cavities inside furniture or behind baseboards. Carpenter ants build colonies of 3,000 or more. They are drawn to damp areas, easy-to-chew wood, often around window sills and door frames. Controlling ant predators of crops or pests in a home is a daunting challenge. Despite the vulnerability to cold (these insects do not thrive in temperatures below 20 degree Celsius) ants are remarkably hardy. Some can survive flooding. One species can live up to 14 days submerged in water! Peaceful ant colonies flourish at a greater rate than warring colonies. By studying pairs of colonies, scientists observed that after 70 days, non-aggressive colony pairs had significantly higher population numbers than combating colony pairs. Ants thrive as a cooperative female society. Perhaps these are messages we should think about. S.G.


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Sources: Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ontario Nature, Wild City (Bennet & Tiner), The Green Book (Gahbauer), E.O. Wilson, articles and personal filed 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.
 

Swimming with Species – Orcas
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Swimming with Species – Orcas

Today’s species is the Orca!

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are among the best-known marine animals. They are iconic mammals of Canada’s wildlife, and hold an important symbolism among the Native communities. Orcas are super easy to identify with their unique tuxedo-like colouration and white “eye” patches. Since they live in all five oceans, we can find them to the east, west, and north of Canada! Now, we really should call them Orcas because “killer whales” is quite misleading. You see, Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family, (not whales)! By large, we’re talking males up to 9 meters long and weigh 6 to 9 thousand kilograms, that’s 7-10 tons! Females are a bit smaller, and are about 7 meters long and 4 to 7 thousand kilos (5-7 tons). [caption id="attachment_38463" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.[/caption]   Like most members of the dolphin family, Orcas are highly social. They live in groups called a pod which can consist of 10 to 40 related individuals. Research has found that there are different “types” of pods, for which scientists have used to classify and identify groups of Orcas. These are; Northern and Southern Resident type, Northern and Southern Transient type, and Offshore type. Differences between types can be subtle such as variations in vocal patterns and dorsal fin shapes, or more pronounced such as their preferred diet. Offshore and Residents Orcas will feed predominantly on fish; schooling fish for the Offshores, and coastal fish and squid for the Resident Orcas. Transient pods, on the other hand, feed almost exclusively on other marine mammals. Speaking of food, Orcas got their nicknames, killer whales, from their hunting strategy. Orcas are apex predators, or top predators of the oceans, and hunt in packs, quite fiercely. When a pod isn’t hunting, they spend time socializing with each other. They’ll travel, rest, explore, and play together. The most famous play behaviour is called breaching; when they dived out of the water’s surface into the air with leaps and twirls. In essence, they need to breach to come to the surface for respiration, but, they do so with fantastic style! Orcas aren’t the only ones though, most whales and dolphins perform these jumps, twirls and tail slaps. In addition, Orcas communicate with echolocation, which mean the use of sound waves to locate and identify objects within their surroundings. This helps them navigate for foraging and just for an Orca to tell another Orca their location. Orcas have long lifespans! They can live up 40-50 years old. However, females tend to live longer and can reach up to 80 years of age. Both females and males reach sexual maturity in their “teens” being 12-17 years old. Pods of different families will find one another to mate with. This keeps their genetic make-up stronger, versus if they were to inbreed. The gestation period is a little more than a year with 17 months. Babies are born with the same colouration as adults, so they really do look like miniature versions of their mother! [caption id="attachment_38462" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Eileen Redding[/caption] As social animals, offspring need their mother and pod members to learn behaviours, feed, and be safe from predators. It takes about a year before a baby is weaned, therefore it is crucial that mom and baby stay together during this time. If a baby gets lost, or gets separated from their mom, they will have a high chance of dying, not knowing how to survive on their own. Once weaned, the offspring stays with its natal pod for life. Orcas intrigue scientists with their complex behaviours. They are still so much to learn about them since scientists have only be able to conduct studies close to shores, and/or in captivity. Not only are parenting behaviours observed among pods, but pod members have been observed to teach younger members foraging and hunting skills. Pods of different “types” developed their own “dialect” for whistles, calls, and clicks, which is passed on to their offspring! But most fascinating is their ability to mourn. For example, when a baby dies, a mother will carry the body for days until she has “moved on”. This has been called a “Tour of Grief”. According to the ICUN, there is insufficient data to conclude a species assessment status other than “Data Deficient (DD)”. However, Orcas are still victims to many threats, most of them human-related. For one, commercial fisheries contribute to increased accidental net entrapment and decreased prey availability to native wildlife. Oil spills and toxic build-up via human waste affects all large species like Orcas, because toxins will accumulate in dangerous amounts within their fat cells. In addition, just as there are more cars on the roads, there are more ships asea. We don’t think of it; however, water traffic affects water acoustics, which then effects echolocation for Orcas and all other species that use this method of communication! Fortunately, they are people who do not take the threat of Orcas’ disappearance lightly. Conservation organizations like Nature Canada are pressing governments to urge the continuation of research projects, recovery plans, and imply more wildlife protection. Do you want to help out but think “oh well I’m just one person, right?” Wrong! You can help! Every step counts. Become more aware of what you’re buying and try to buy environmentally friendly items. Support sites such as Nature Canada that educate the public about our endangered species and provide guides to good stewardships. Participate in Orca educational programs with your provincial wildlife organizations. And lastly, spread the word! Post, share, and tweet about saving orcas. References: http://naturecanada.ca/what-we-do/naturevoice/endangered-species/know-our-species/orca/ http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15421/0 https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Orcinus_orca/ https://bc.ctvnews.ca/orca-s-tour-of-grief-over-after-carrying-dead-calf-for-nearly-3-weeks-1.4049902  

A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas
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A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas

Growing up in Toronto, where the city seems to slowly creep ever farther over the landscape, parks provided the perfect green haven away from the concrete jungle. It’s where I saw my first moose, learned how to canoe, and, most importantly, where I first connected with nature. Over the next twenty years, I would realize how far-reaching the positive effects these parks would have, not only on me, but on the national conservation of our wilderness. [caption id="attachment_38437" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario.[/caption] While inspiring me to enter into the field of biology, these parks also gave me my first scientific job - working as a student naturalist. Here, the park shifted from being a playground to a teacher. In the park, we ran a variety of programs including guided hikes celebrating the overlooked plants of the understory and pond explorations where families caught darting aquatic invertebrates. They would peer through foggy glass at these wonderful and freaky creatures from the deep, eyes wide with wonder. Kids would go running back to their campsites to share all the amazing things that they had learned with their family and friends, allowing the knowledge to grow and gain a life of its own. We had some kids return in future years who were inspired to create their own “Interpretive Centres” full of antlers, rocks, and anything they were lucky enough to scrounge up back at home.  It was surreal to know that these park educational programs could form an intricate understanding between the public and nature. It was here that I realized that a park is a place of inspiration, where future generations can learn more about the natural world. Parks aren’t just refugia for humans however. Of course, they are also a home to a beautifully diverse range of species. These areas act as a haven to maintain pristine environments which, in turn, allows wildlife to thrive in peace. After graduating from university, I had the opportunity to delve into this realm wherein I worked on a variety of biomonitoring projects in parks across the country. Some of these projects were hands-off, including using motion-sensing trail cameras and timed audio-recorders to track species remotely throughout the landscape. These tools allowed us to non-invasively capture the shy and elusive critters in the area and gives us insight into their behaviours and habitat preferences. [caption id="attachment_38436" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Snug Harbour in Gros More National Park, Newfoundland.[/caption] For example, at Blue Lake Provincial Park, this system allowed scientists to discover the presence of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, a species-at-risk within Ontario. Other research projects were species-specific. For example, in Gros Morne National Park, scientists set up a fish fence every year in the park’s streams to monitor Atlantic salmon populations. These counts allow them to track the population trends and actively manage this declining species. Over time, I realized that the list of research conducted in our parks goes on for miles, from vegetation monitoring to species re-introductions. Through this vast array of scientific work, we are expanding our understanding of these ecosystems which consequently allows us to better preserve the many species that call our protected areas home. [gallery columns="4" link="none" size="medium" ids="38670,38668,38673,38675"] What I’ve learned through my life spent in parks is that they are wildly complex. From inspiring people to appreciate and learn more about the great outdoors, to actively managing species-at-risk, our parks play a huge role in ensuring that the landscapes and wildlife we enjoy today are still here for future generations. Parks are living organisms, acting as playgrounds, teachers, and scientists. They fill up our imaginations and hearts, transporting us from the confines of the city into vast and untamed landscapes. These parks are so much more than what meets the eye, you only need to take the time to get out there and then you can begin to appreciate and explore. Parks have helped shape who I am today, and I am excited for what else they will teach millions of other Canadians in the years to come. The author drew her inspiration for this post from her time spent as a naturalist for Ontario Parks at Blue Lake Provincial Park.

Sable Island – “The Smile of the Atlantic”
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Sable Island – “The Smile of the Atlantic”

This blog was written by Sue Ratcliffe, Sue is a photographer with a deep passion for shooting wildlife, horses, birds of prey and people throughout her travels around the globe. Sue’s passion is capturing the beauty and grace of nature, and all that lives and thrives within it. Sue was one of the winners of the 2017 Nature Photo Contest, her beautiful photo of the Bald Eagle soaring over the clear water is the feature image of the Nature Canada Calendar this month. Feel free to email Cheyanne, at crichardson@naturecanada.ca if you have any questions about the Nature Photo Contest or would like to make a donation and get a copy of the Nature Canada Calendar.


Sable Island is a narrow, crescent-shaped sandbar, giving it the name “the smile of the Atlantic”. It is wild, windswept and remote, fascinating and mysterious. For years I have been entranced by the tales of Sable Island and passionately drawn to the wild horses that have long lived there. These famous horses lend a near mythical and ethereal quality to this elusive island whose allure is pure and magical and has long kept us captivated and spellbound. Sable Island is nearly 42 kilometers long and about 1.5 kilometers across at its widest point with shifting sand dunes that change from year to year. The island’s extensive beaches are home to the world’s largest colony of grey seals, and freshwater ponds that sustain rare plant life. Plants, birds, and insects have adapted to life on Sable, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. The island is prone to intense fall and winter storms, frequently making travel there difficult. The only way to get there is by air or by sea. I traveled there with Adventure Canada on “The Ocean Endeavour”, traveling to the island daily on a zodiac. Sable Island is the most hurricane-prone part of Canada and the foggiest spot in the Maritimes. I visited Sable Island in July and encountered fog three days out of the four days we permitted to visit the island. The federal government announced in May 2010 that protection of the island would be transferred from the Canadian Coast Guard to Parks Canada. Sable Island became a National Park Reserve on June 20, 2013. The island is home to over 550 free-roaming horses and are protected by law from human interference as by the 1950s they were in danger of extinction from round-ups. The horses likely descended from horses confiscated by the Acadians and released on the island in the late eighteenth century and soon became feral. Additional horses were later transported to the island to improve the herd's breeding stock. The horses are small and usually dark in color. The herd is unmanaged, constantly exposed to the elements and shifting landscape, surviving off the wild marram grasses that grow in the sand and what grows in the few freshwater ponds. Sable Island has a long and fascinating history spanning more than four centuries. 350 plus vessels have been wrecked due to rough seas, the fog, and sandbars surrounding the island, earning the title “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Several bird colonies are resident there including the Ipswich sparrow which breeds only on the island. The unique landscape, the history and the wild horses have made Sable Island an iconic place in Canada. It is a photographer’s dream. Myself and my wild horse photography friends, affectionately referred to as “the pony girls” on our trip with Adventure Canada, photographed the horses and all that we experienced on the island. Each day was an adventure as we drank in the beauty of the landscape and sat with the wild horses. We were in awe but blessed for what we were experiencing … not knowing when or if we would have the chance to return. We were experiencing the wildest and most remote island in the world. As we slowly departed Sable Island watching the horses graze, we were in reverence of what we had experienced and the fact that we had finally lived our dream was the more astonishing … wild and natural Sable Island … live your dreams and visit the island that fables are made of.
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Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas
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Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

This blog was written by writing intern Gabriel Planas Over the history of nature conservation in Canada, parks and protected areas have been little more than backdrops to human recreation rather than concerted efforts to preserve natural environments. As a result, these projects often forced indigenous populations to relocate or imposed heavy jurisdictions that eliminated Indigenous practices and economies that benefited Canada’s biodiversity. Fortunately, in 2015 the Indigenous Circle of Elders (ICE) was formed to advise the Federal Government of Canada on ways in which Indigenous communities can contribute to Canada’s commitment to reaching the Aichi targets by 2020. These targets were created in 2010 during the Conference of Parties in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture of Japan when countries from around the world, adopted a plan regarding biodiversity. In order to meet these targets, the federal government has been working in tandem with ICE in order to establish Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) around the country. IPCAs focus on protecting and conserving ecosystems through indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Indigenous communities in these areas take on the responsibility of protecting and conserving ecosystems. While the individual conservation objectives of each IPCA will differ, all of them endeavor to elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities, by affirming the validity of Indigenous legal traditions, customary and cultural practices as well as their abilities to help conserve biodiversity in Canada. [caption id="attachment_34526" align="alignleft" width="366"]Image of a Semipalmated Sandpiper Semipalmated Sandpiper[/caption] IPCAs present a unique opportunity to heal both the land and the people who inhabit it by moving towards true reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and settler societies. Things once withheld or unavailable to these communities may be developed through these areas, such as a stable foundation for local Indigenous economies, opportunities for Indigenous peoples to reconnect with the land and the revitalization of indigenous languages. The promoting of respect for the knowledge systems, protocols and ceremonies of Indigenous peoples provide an opportunity for Canadians to formulate a greater understanding of Indigenous cultures. While these areas mainly centre on promoting Indigenous communities and their cultural independence, IPCAs have profound benefits for Canadians. These areas have the ability to alleviate the stress of unsustainable human and industrial development. Indigenous groups who will operate these areas integrate holistic approaches to conservation of biodiversity that results in healthier ecosystems. These ecosystems in turn provide cleaner air and water which contribute to healthier populations and a reduction of Canada’s contribution to climate change. It is vital to both our environment and Canada’s obligation to reconciliation that areas like these are supported. They allow Indigenous communities to flourish in ways that were previously unavailable to them and promotes their culture practices in a positive manner that may just help Canada reach its Aichi target by 2020.

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Spring Bird Feeding: Tips And Tricks To Get Birds Into Your Backyard!
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Spring Bird Feeding: Tips And Tricks To Get Birds Into Your Backyard!

This blog was written by intern Gabriel Planas Why Feed Wild Birds? Spring can be a stressful time for migratory birds, after arriving from their wintering grounds it can be difficult to find the food and resources they need to survive. Many of the berries and seeds these birds depend upon for food will have been eaten over the winter and will not have begun to grow back yet. Furthermore, these birds will also be attempting to build nests, fight for territory, find a mate, and incubate their young. This is no small task due to natural bird habitats are being destroyed by urban and industrial development projects as well as climate change. Image of a rose breasted grosbeakPreparation While well-constructed bird feeders are not necessarily required to feed birds, without one the food you leave out may attract unwanted animals such as squirrels or dominant birds such as starlings, grackles, and squirrels. If you already own a bird feeder, make sure to clean it of any feed from the last season to avoid any mold or possible parasite growth within the feeder. Be aware of what birds occupy your neighborhood to help you select the best ingredients and location for your feeder. Sometimes changing the location can attract or discourage certain animals and species of birds from stealing from your feeder. If you do not own a bird feeder but would like to purchase one, links to purchase high quality bird feeders can be found here and here. Feeding The most important part of feeding birds is the mix of ingredients you use to attract them. Many commercial bird feeder mixes can often be ineffective in enticing more desirable bird species. Products that birds find undesirable such as milo are used to fill up these mixes, resulting in birds picking through the mix, creating a mess bellow the feeder. This mess can often attract unwanted animals or form a sludgy mixture that can make birds sick, depending on the ingredients used. Ingredients for Feeder Image of an eastern bluebird Sunflower Chips: These unshelled sunflower seeds are great for attracting bug-eating birds like robins, warblers and tanagers before bugs resurface for the summer. Also good for attracting Chickadees, nuthatches, house finches and cardinals. Safflower: With its hard-thick shell it can be hard for some birds to consume this seed. It is however, a favorite of chickadees, doves, and sparrows. According to some sources, house sparrows, European starlings and squirrels do not like safflower. Results may vary according to area. Millet: Millet is a common grain that is very popular among ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, doves and cardinals. As this grain is most popular with ground feeding birds, it may be beneficial to serve this from a low-set tray feeder to attract more birds. Peanuts: Peanuts are an impressive source of nutrition for birds such as blue jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Unfortunately, they may also attract unwanted animals such as raccoons and squirrels. Mealworms: Mealworms are a great way of attracting bug-eating birds such as blue jays, robins, Wrens, Warblers and Mocking birds Suet: Suet can attract all manner of birds on cool spring days. It is a high-energy food made with the fat found around the kidneys and loin of cattle or sheep designed to keep the stomach of birds full and warm throughout the winter. While suet can spoil quickly in the warmer weather, there are a number of alternative recipes to prevent it from melting that can be found here as well as here. Nectar: Though humming birds require specialized feeders, you can attract them by providing them with homemade nectar, the recipe for which can be found here.

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Best Places to Bird in the Prairies
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Best Places to Bird in the Prairies

Published: May 5 2018 Price: $ 24.95 Authors: John Acorn, Alan Smith & Nicola Koper Published By: Greystone Books


[caption id="attachment_36427" align="alignleft" width="194"] Best Places to Bird in the Prairies by John Acorn, Alan Smith & Nicola Koper[/caption] Written by Nature Canada’s writing intern, Gabriel Planas Best Places to Bird in the Prairies is a wonderful guide, aimed at getting the average Canadian out of their stuffy home and onto the bird populated trails of the prairies. Three of Canada’s most experienced and respected birders came together to give their two cents on the best places to go bird watching in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Each author outlines their favorite birding spots in the province in which they reside, providing a unique personal perspective on each location. Alongside these descriptions by the authors are guides to properly find and observe the birds in each location, which is a huge help to those who will be going birding for their first time. Thankfully, directions are provided on how to find these locations, as many of these places are situated off the beaten track or may require long distance travel to find. Well-designed maps corresponding to each location supplement the directions to give readers a better understanding of the location. While I cannot speak for experienced birders, I believe that these descriptions and birding guides will help even those with prior knowledge have a more rounded experience when visiting these locations. Amusingly, beautiful pictures of the various birds you will find on the trails feature captions that range from cute, to informative, to downright funny. For example, the caption for a picture of a Baby Coot reads “A baby coot, with orange beard and bald head, so ugly it is beautiful.” While the other written sections are less irreverent, they still give off the distinct impression that not only were these authors passionate about birds; they have an absolute blast observing them. This attitude goes a long way in convincing a non-birder, like myself, of a sense of enjoyment I would not normally associate with the activity. The pictures that supplement the content also go a long way in portraying the majesty and mystery of birds, serving as great motivation to find them out on the trails. It is important to note that the introduction provides a brief look into birding ethics. This is important when considering that most people who do not actively participate in bird watching would not know about the ethical implications of an activity like this. Overall, Best Places to Bird in the Prairies provides a fun and high-quality guide for beginner as well as long time birders. Those with little experience are given enough information and encouragement to get themselves out of the house and on the trails, while the personal accounts and birding guides may help give experienced birders a new perspective on areas they may already be familiar with.
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