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The Biggest Global Bird Event of the Year: International Ornithological Congress Vancouver
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The Biggest Global Bird Event of the Year: International Ornithological Congress Vancouver

[caption id="attachment_36273" align="alignleft" width="150"]Ted Cheskey, click for contact information Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director.[/caption] Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director of Nature Canada attended the 27th International Ornithological Congress in late August, in Vancouver with about 2000 other delegates from around the world.  The congress was organized by the International Ornithological Union and co-hosted by Bird Studies Canada (BSC), Nature Canada’s co-partner in BirdLife International.  Here is a first person account of the week-long event.

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network - Friday

Many other national and international bird partnerships organized meetings around the IOC to take advantage of their supporters travelling there and being the same place at the same time.  The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, the network of bird observatories across Canada, did just this, and organized their biannual meeting on Vancouver Island just prior to the Congress.  I arrived on Friday morning at Vancouver airport, and quickly travelled to Vancouver Island where I joined the CMMN meeting.  Many of the CMMN organizations are part of Nature Canada’s Cats and Birds partnership, and are also part of the Canadian Nature Network.  Nature Canada’s recent priority of helping small organizations (like bird observatories) become stronger through “engagement organizing” is something that interests several of them.   I shared a new resource that Nature Canada has created on engagement organizing as part of my participation in the meeting.  A highlight of this meeting for me was attending Dr. David Bird’s talk about the use of drones in ornithological research.  Dr. Bird is also well known as an advocate for the Canada Jay to be recognized as Canada’s official bird.

Delta tour - Saturday

[caption id="attachment_38310" align="alignright" width="368"] Anne Murrary talks about Boundary Bay.[/caption] BSC organized a bus tour of the Fraser Delta for about 40 participants representing a wide range of interest groups sharing interest in protecting the Delta.  We made four stops to experience key habitats and issues.  At each stop an expert provided a commentary on a major issue for participants. For example, Anne Murray, past Nature Canada Board member and author of two books on Boundary Bay, shared her thoughts on the history of and challenges faced in this biologically rich section of the Delta.  Roger Emsley of BC Nature talked of his campaign to stop a major expansion of the container shipping terminal at Robert’s Bank that threatens habitat which supports hundreds of thousands of Western Sandpipers and other species.  At another stop, we visited a farm, where the farmer, whose barn was home for the Endangered Barn Owl, lamented about how rodenticides used on some farms in the Delta are gradually killing off the Barn Owls.  This trip painted a rich portrait of this remarkable area and the incredibly complex issues and relationship affecting it.  Nature Canada is calling for protection of the Delta and a re-invigorated version of the Fraser Delta Management Plan.

Partners In Flight all-day session - Monday

Partners in Flight (PIF) is a network of organizations throughout the Western Hemisphere engaged in all aspects of landbird conservation from science, research, planning, and policy development, to land management, monitoring, education, and outreach. PIF’s mission is: “keeping common birds common and helping species at risk through voluntary partnerships”. To halt and reverse bird population declines before they are listed as threatened or endangered is a cost effective and common sense business model for the future.  As many PIF partners were attending the IOC, this “side event” was organized to bring PIF partners together to share international conservation initiatives.  Many of the participants were from Latin American countries with which Canada shares the same birds (they breed in Canada and spend their non-breeding season in Latin America).  Nature Canada works with PIF partners on the Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative among other initiatives.

Congress Official Opening – Monday

Organizers of the Congress including a rich mix of culture, art and science, and twinned the Congress with their week-long inaugural Vancouver International Birding Festival.  The festival included outings throughout the region for visitors, and pre and post Congress outings for the delegates.   Official remarks were made by dignitaries, including newly minted Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson, the Provincial Minister of the Environment for British Columbia, the Honorable George Heyman, and Dr. Lucia Liu Severinghaus, President of the International Ornithologists Union.  After two inspiring speeches by the respective Ministers, Dr. Severinghaus took the stage and lamented how she wished that the same thoughtfulness, inspiration and commitment to environmental protections and bird conservation expressed by the Ministers’ speeches needed to be brought back to her country, and those of most of the other delegates that lack positive political leadership on the environment.  This was indeed a moment when I felt proud to be Canadian!

Canada Night - Tuesday

Canada Night celebrated Canada, and some of the people who have made great contributions to bird science and bird conservation.  The featured event was a speech by renowned Canadian author, Margaret Atwood.  Ms Atwood talked about the many issues that impact birds, naturally including roaming cats. She gave a humorous introduction to her graphic novel series Angel Catbird, which aims to raise awareness and motivate positive action on the issue of cat predation on birds.  Listen to an excerpt of her talk by clicking here.  This was another proud moment for me – to be Canadian and to be part of the Nature Canada campaign that was kick-started by Ms Atwood to Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives. [caption id="attachment_38312" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Margaret Atwood in cat ears and bird wings delivers power messages on solutions to bird predation by cats in her unique style[/caption]

Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative (CWICI) - Wednesday

Nature Canada has been involved in efforts to recover the population of Canada Warbler since 2013.  We host the CWICI website on behalf of the partnership and have contributed significantly to this initiative.  I presented to a room of 30 scientists and conservationists, the history of the CWICI.  The international effort to develop a range-wide integrated conservation plan for this threatened species is nearly complete.  At the session, we focused mainly on the challenges on its non-breeding grounds, the majority of which are between 800 and 2000 metres along the northern Andes from Venezuela to Colombia.  That is where the main threat to Canada Warbler is thought to exist.  Dr. Anna Gonzales, who very recently received her PhD in part for her work establishing the connectivity between breeding grounds and wintering grounds, provided a summary of her findings for the group.  We had a lively discussion on the value of promoting shade-grown coffee in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America to support the Canada Warbler, and other species with which it shares this habitat. In Canada, Balzac’s and Birds and Beans are two retailers who sell certified, bird-friendly coffee.  Nature Canada staff drink only Bird-friendly coffee in the workplace.

Poster on Horned Grebe - Thursday

In 2015, while conducting surveys led by Nature Canada along Charlton Island in the territory of the Cree Nation [caption id="attachment_38311" align="alignright" width="300"] Figure 2 Myself with Editor of the Birds of Nunavut, Anthony Gaston with my poster[/caption] of Waskaganish, in Southeastern James Bay, Marc-Antoine Montpetit, our crack birder, found a family of Horned Grebes, including adults and two young, in a beaver pond just back from the shore.  He went on to find three other families over the next several days on other beaver ponds.  That discovery represents a significant range expansion of the species at risk.  The nearest confirmed breeding is over 700 kilometres to the west and about 1300 to the east.  I was able to present this story in the form of a poster at the IOC, during one of the poster sessions.  The way that works, is that I put my poster up for three days, and had to stand in front of it for 90 minutes on Thursday afternoon to engage interested passersby.  We are always grateful to work with the Cree communities around James Bay.  One of the unexpected benefits of this work, largely focused on shorebirds, is the discover of threatened species in places where they were previously unknown.

Stewardship Roundtable

The final event in which I participated was called the Stewardship Roundtable, organized by the BC Stewardship Centre and BSC.  The Roundtable consisted of a series of 90 minutes sessions, that included a panel of experts presenting, followed by an open discussion on significant bird conservation issues of interest locally and beyond.  This Roundtable was also open to the public and attracted many people who were not attending the Congress.  Our Cats and Birds Program Manager Sarah Cooper and I were panelists with three other cats and birds experts on one of the first sessions on stewardship solutions to this difficult problem.   We had a lively but polite discussion that included the participation of Dr. Pete Marra, Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre.  After that session, went immediate to a second panel, this time under the theme of agriculture and birds.  One of my fellow panelists was Dr. Christy Morrissey, of the University of Saskatchewan.  Dr. Morrissey is a world expert on the impact of neonics on birds and other wildlife, though she largely steered clear of the issue in the session. My presentation was on the relationship between trends in agriculture in Canada and trends in bird populations. [caption id="attachment_38309" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Agriculture and Birds panelists including Dr. Morrissey on far left and me, third from the left[/caption]

A final word

Most of this post is about the events I participated in, mainly as a presenter. But one of the reasons why there is enormous value in these types of conferences is the casual and formal conversations with colleagues, friends and potential partners that take place every day at this type of event.  On that level, the meeting was extremely rich, and I am grateful to Nature Canada for supporting my participation, and to Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson for supporting Sarah Cooper’s participation.
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Angels and Cats and Birds…Oh My!
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Angels and Cats and Birds…Oh My!

[caption id="attachment_31533" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Laura Couvrette Laura Couvrette, Women for Nature Member[/caption] A conversation with Margaret Atwood by Women for Nature member Laura Couvrette. While she may be best-known for her critically acclaimed novels “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Blind Assassin,” “Alias Grace,” and the like, Margaret Atwood made a special appearance at the Toronto Reference Library on Tuesday February 22nd, to present the much-anticipated 2nd volume of her graphic novel series, ANGEL CATBIRD: TO CASTLE CATULA. More than 200 people eagerly awaited Margaret’s arrival, sitting patiently yet excitedly in the spacious atrium of the library. The diverse crowd of literary enthusiasts, students and Atwood fans spanned all ages, and was a true testament to the universal appeal and continued relevance of Margaret’s works. Those who are fortunate enough to have heard Margaret speak know that she is a witty, eloquent, and captivating storyteller with a hint of mischief behind her words. Image of Margaret Atwood Toronto Reference Library Book Launch The lively conversation, moderated by host Mark Asquith of the Space Network, and joined by Johnnie Christmas, illustrator of the Angel Catbird series, spanned a variety of topics including Margaret’s childhood interests, the changing political climate, the enduring appeal and influence of comic books, and of course, the inspiration behind the Angel Catbird graphic novels. As a long-time environmental advocate and a founding member of Nature Canada’s Women for Nature, Margaret created the perfect opportunity to blend her passions for bird conservation and cat welfare with her special interest in graphic novels and her talent for writing, through the Angel Catbird series. Angel Catbird is a curious combination of bird, cat, and human being who faces an ongoing identity conflict. Sprinkled throughout the novels are statistics and tidbits of information related to Nature Canada’s Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives outreach campaign, aimed at protecting birds by keeping pet cats from roaming unsupervised. It’s an entertaining story that aims to educate readers about the declining bird population in Canada, and the ripple effect it has on our forests, and wildlife in general. So, what’s next? Margaret assured her fans of a third installment in the Angel Catbird series, but as for further volumes? Margaret says we’ll just have to wait and see. Something tells me that whatever she comes up with, it will be worth the wait! Until then, we encourage you to take the pledge to keep your cat from roaming free outdoors. Visit www.catsandbirds.ca and join the movement. 


Laura Couvrette is a fellow Women for Nature member through Nature Canada, and a Partner at Fuller Landau LLP, a dynamic mid-sized accounting, tax, and business advisory firm. Fuller Landau is a proud sponsor and supporter of Nature Canada, and has had the privilege of providing professional advisory services to Margaret Atwood for many years.
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Count Catula & Two Women for Nature, a Conversation
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Count Catula & Two Women for Nature, a Conversation

[caption id="attachment_12842" align="alignleft" width="150"]Picture of Bridget Stutchbury Bridget Stutchbury, Women for Nature[/caption] Bridget Stutchbury is a founding member of Women for Nature, author of Silence of the Songbirds and The Bird Detective, and a professor at York University. Since the 1980s, she has followed songbirds to their wintering grounds in Latin America and back to their breeding grounds in North America to understand their behaviour, ecology and conservation. Her latest research uses “geolocators” to track the amazing migratory journeys of Wood Thrushes, Purple Martins and Red-eyed Vireos. We invited her to interview Margaret Atwood about their mutual interest in bird conservation, Angel Catbird, and the importance of Women for Nature. Volume 2 of Angel Catbird, To Castle Catula is available February 14, 2017. For a preview, click here. [caption id="attachment_31201" align="alignright" width="144"]Margaret Atwood. Credit by Liam Sharpe Margaret Atwood. Credit Liam Sharpe[/caption] Bridget Stutchbury (B). In the introduction to Angel Catbird you wrote that you drew cartoons of flying cats when you were a child. I am wondering where you got the inspiration for the bat-cat-vampire character Count Catula? Margaret Atwood (M). Well I think it was just a natural because of his name. So, Dracula just naturally suggests ‘Catula’ when you are thinking in those terms. But he is one of my favourites and I hope we are going to be able to work in some bat conservation along the way. B. How does Count Catula develop in Volume 2 of Angel Catbird? M. Count Catula becomes a very helpful force on the side of the Angel Catbird and his friends. He helps them out quite a bit but he can only help them out at night, as you might expect. But we are going to find ourselves visiting Castle Catula and we will meet the wives of Catula. Count Dracula only had three wives as you will recall, but Count Catula, being a cat, has many more. B. Angel Catbird is your first graphic novel. Why did you write this book? M. As you know, this started its life as a way of thinking about one of the big threats to migratory songbirds, which are cats (both domestic and feral). It’s been a very hard issue for people in bird conservation to deal with because, of course, they can’t say “flush your kitty cats down the toilet” because nobody would do that and also, they would get very angry. And, having been a cat person, I know how people feel in that respect, so it seemed to me that the best solution would be to have a flying superhero who combined both cat and bird, and therefore could see both sides of the issue. And, to join that at the hip with Nature Canada, who could provide the science and the website, where you get lots of hints about how better to take care of your cat and make it safer, particularly in cities where they have a high rate of being run over by cars and being attacked by other cats, raccoons, and foxes. So, if people really love their cats as much as they say, they ought to treat them more the way we treat dogs and take better care of them. So that’s part of the campaign and the other part is also raising awareness of the issues, which a lot of people just don’t know about. In Volume 2, for instance, we introduce the window-strike issue. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but one of the evil super-villain’s weapons is a deployable glass window. We all know that it’s cats, windows, habitat loss and toxins that are the four apocalyptic threats to migratory songbirds. Although we are concentrating on the cats and birds, we can mention the others and get them in there. B. Angel Catbird features humans who are part Snowy Owl or part Common Raven. If you were to want to represent yourself in a graphic novel as part-bird, I wonder what bird species would you choose? Image of a RavenM. Oh, absolutely a Raven! They are so smart and quite social. Although, if I couldn’t do that I would be the Gray Jay; they are also very smart. I am very fond of owls but there are a lot of birds that are not meat-eaters so if you are feeling pacifist that day you might choose a seed or fruit-eating bird, or maybe just a worm-eater. B. How did you first get involved in bird conservation? M. I grew up in it. My father was a biologist. You know that Graeme [Gibson, her partner of many years] is heavily involved as well, and he would be what you call a convert, he came to it later in life. I was just there amongst the biologists and that was just something people knew. Somebody came up to me last night and said I knew your parents and they were early members of the Sierra Club. So they were into it quite early on. My Dad was also a member Toronto Anglers and Hunters, which people who don’t know about it think that’s just guns, which is it is, but let us not forget that Ducks Unlimited do a lot of conservation work. So, it stands to reason that if you are fond of hunting and fishing you are going to want a place where you can do it. Where there is are fish and things to hunt, so not a wasteland. B. Many people seem unconcerned about biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental degradation despite all the scientific evidence and media attention it gets. Why do you think this is the case? M. I don’t know whether they are absolutely unconcerned. I think that when the issues are that big, unless you give people something they can do, something they can engage with, they just feel helpless. So I think part of it is finding them points at which ordinary people, with not a lot of extra time on their hands, can make in their own area a small difference. B. I am wondering if you were ever tempted yourself to become a field biologist? M. I was tempted to become a biologist when I was in high school because I was quite good at it. And, unlike English literature, they didn’t take points off for spelling. I was quite good at spelling things like Ranunculus [buttercup] but I was bad at spelling things like weird. Image of a buttercupMy brother, you know, he did become a biologist. Our marks were the same. His English marks were the same as my English marks, and my Biology marks were the same as his Biology marks. And, I did Botany in Grade 13 as a subject that I studied without taking classes, which I did on my own, which worked out pretty well for me because I was able to use that as one of my top marks instead of my rather poor showing in Latin. But I think my Dad was always a little bit mopey that I had not become a botanist. B. I am teaching a graduate course right now in Conservation Biology and this is something that we discussed yesterday in our class. That we are in the midst of the so-called 6th mass extinction in the history of our planet, the “Anthropocene”. Do you see any signs of hope that this mass extinction can be avoided? How do you feel about the future? M. There have been some reversals in species that just looked as if they were just going down the tubes. For instance, pandas apparently have made somewhat of a comeback. And, as you know, Bird Life International is rather quite dedicated to preventing the extinction of every single threatened species. They have made quite a few successes. It looked as if Indian Vultures were going to be completely wiped out, for instance, until it was discovered that what was causing it was an antibiotic being used on cows. And, they were able to intervene once that was known, and persuade the Indian government to ban that particular one. Now they’re working on the poachers who to poison vultures because when you poach an elephant the vultures descend and their presence signals the authorities. They put poison in the dead elephant, killing not s not only the vultures but every single piece of wildlife that has anything to do with it. I managed to work the vultures into Angel Catbird Vol. 3. When the causes are known, and when they are specific, you can often do something about them, and the encouraging thing to me is that is that there are so many people all over the world in the Bird Life International partnerships, of which Nature Canada is one of the Canadian partners, who are dedicating themselves to this. And, there are also now some green environmental but also financially viable projects going on with respect to the regeneration of tropical and sub-tropical forests and wetlands. And, it is known if you do regenerate the biodiversity that it is helpful to the livelihoods of the people who live there. So, if you combine a plus-plus, good for people and also good for biodiversity, then that can work. B. What inspired you to become a member of the Women for Nature partnership that was created by Nature Canada? Image of Niagara FallsM. I think it’s a very useful thing in that it creates a number of spokespersons who can speak directly to the connection between a good environment and things that might particularly concern women, such as the health of their children. Who doesn’t want healthy air, healthy water, and healthy food for their kids, and how do you get those things? How do you for instance test for those things? We have to have people who constantly telling us, doing the science, and saying “don’t drink this”. So, we have to have the science but then we also have to have the communications. So I think it exists at the interface between people doing the science and people communicating the results and suggesting solutions. It’s no good to tell people don’t drink the water if there if there isn’t any good water they can drink. B. Do you plan to continue to writing graphic novels after the Angel Catbird trilogy? M. The next thing we are going to do with Angel Catbird is to turn it into an audio book like an old-time 1940s radio show. And as for Angel Catbird volumes 4-6 we will see if Johnnie Christmas is up to it. It’s a lot of drawing, with Tamra Bonvilliain colouring it, and of course we have Dark Horse publishing it so we will have to see if the team is up for doing it. I’m up for it but other people have to be up for it too. B. Thank you for time Margaret I really appreciate it. Do you have anything else you would like to add? M. Well, it’s been amazingly more successful than I thought it would be. Angel Catbird has been, I think, 13 weeks on the New York Times bestseller comics and graphics list and it has acquired some cult followers. Do you remember the Elmer the Safety Elephant? I think it would be great if Angel Catbird turned up in full costume with some of his friends and visited schools but that is pretty far down the line I think. At Fan Expo we did have our first cosplay. Well, somebody had dressed up as Cate Leone in the full kit, she had everything like she had the ears and she had the outfit and she was just gorgeous. And that was our first cosplay and Johnnie Christmas said “that’s so early, usually you don’t get cosplay until a couple of years later” and we were very encouraged by that and then got a picture of me with her.

To learn more about Women for Nature, click here. And to learn about our Save Birds Lives initiative, click here.

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Introduction to Angel Catbird
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Introduction to Angel Catbird

Some find it strange that a person known for her novels and poetry would take to writing comic books, especially comic books called Angel Catbird. Why is a nice literary old lady like me—an award-winning nice literary old lady—a nice literary old lady who should be resting on her laurels in her rocking chair, being dignified and iconic—why is such a nice old lady messing around with flying cat-owl superheroes and nightclubs for cat people, not to mention giant rat men? Strange. But I myself don’t find it very strange. I was born in 1939, and was thus of a reading age when the war ended and colour comics made a booming comeback. Not only did I read masses of comics in magazine form, I could encounter many of the same characters in the weekend newspapers, which had big spreads of colour comics. Some of the comics were funny—Little Lulu, Li’l Abner, Mickey Mouse, Blondie, and so forth—but some were serious—Steve Canyon, Rip Kirby, and the unfathomable Mary Worth. And some were superheroes: Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Superman, Plastic Man, the Green Lantern, the Human Torch, and their ilk. Some were even aimed at improving young minds: the Classic Comics series had an educational bent. And some were just weird. In this last category I’d place Mandrake the Magician, Little Orphan Annie—in which nobody had pupils—and Dick Tracy: surrealist masterpieces, all of them, though somewhat disturbing for children. A criminal who could assume anyone’s face, behind which he looked like melting Swiss cheese? It was alarmingly close to Salvador Dalí, and kept me awake nights —as did Salvador Dali, when I came across him years later. Not only did I read all of these comics, I drew comics of my own. The earliest ones featured two flying rabbit superheroes, somewhat too jolly and fond of somersaults to be considered heavyweights. My older brother had a much larger stable of characters. They had more gravitas: they went in for large-scale warfare, whereas my own superheroes just fooled around with the odd bullet. Along with the superhero rabbits I drew winged flying cats, many with balloons attached to them. I was obsessed with balloons, as no balloons were available during the war. So I’d seen pictures of them, but never the actual thing. It was similar with the cats: I wasn’t allowed to have one because we were up in the Canadian forests a lot. How would the cat travel? Once there, wouldn’t it run away and be eaten by mink? Very likely. So, for the first part of my life, my cats were flying dream cats. Time passed, and both the balloons and the cats materialized in my real life. The balloons were a disappointment, liable as they were to burst and deflate; the cats were not. For over fifty years I was a dedicated cat person, with a few gaps here and there when I was a student. My cats were a pleasure, a comfort, and an aid to composition. The only reason I don’t have one now is that I’m afraid of tripping on it. That, and of leaving it an orphan, so to speak. As the 1940s changed into the 1950s and I became a teenager, the comic that preoccupied me the most was Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which, with its cast of swamp critters combined with its satire of the McCarthy era’s excesses, set a new benchmark: how to be entertainingly serious while also being seriously entertaining. Meanwhile I was continuing to draw, and to design the odd visual object—posters, for the silk-screen poster business I was running on the Ping-Pong table in the late fifties, and book covers, for my own first books, because that was cheaper than paying a pro. In the seventies I drew a sort-of political strip called Kanadian Kultchur Komix for a magazine called, puzzlingly, This Magazine. I then took to drawing a yearly strip called Book Tour Comix, which I would send to my publishers at Christmas to make them feel guilty. (That didn’t succeed.) It’s no great coincidence that the narrator of my 1972 novel, Surfacing, is an illustrator, and that the narrator of my 1988 novel, Cat’s Eye, is a figurative painter. We all have unlived lives. (Note that none of these narrators has ever been a ballet dancer. I did try ballet, briefly, but it made me dizzy.) And I continued to read comics, watching the emergence of a new generation of psychologically complex characters with relationship problems (Spider-Man, who begat Wolverine, et cetera). Then came the emergence of graphic novels, with such now-classics as Maus and Persepolis: great- grandchildren of Pogo, whether they knew it or not. Meanwhile I had become more and more immersed in the world of bird conservation. I now had a burden of guilt from my many years of cat companionship, for my cats had gone in and out of the house, busying themselves with their cat affairs, which included the killing of small animals and birds. These would turn up as gifts, placed thoughtfully either on my pillow instead of a chocolate, or on the front doormat, where I would slip on them. Sometimes it would not even be a whole animal. One of my cats donated only the gizzards. From this collision between my comic-reading-and-writing self and the bird blood on my hands, Angel Catbird was born. I pondered him for several years, and even did some preliminary sketches. He would be a combination of cat, owl, and human being, and he would thus have an identity conflict—do I save this baby robin, or do I eat it? But he would be able to understand both sides of the question. He would be a walking, flying carnivore’s dilemma. But I realized that Angel Catbird would have to look better than the flying cats I’d drawn in my childhood—two-dimensional and wooden—and better also than my own later cartoons, which were fairly basic and lumpy. I wanted Angel Catbird to look sexy, like the superhero and noir comics I’d read in the forties. He would have to have muscles. Angel CatBird page So I would need a coauthor. But how to find one? This wasn’t a world of which I had much knowledge. Then up on my Twitter feed popped, one day, a possible answer. A person called Hope Nicholson was resurrecting one of the forgotten Canadian superheroes of the wartime 1940s and fundraising it via Kickstarter. Not only that, Hope lived in Toronto. I put the case for Angel Catbird to her, we got together in a strange Russian- themed pub, and lo and behold, she came onboard and connected me not only with artist Johnnie Christmas, who could draw just the right kinds of muscles and also owl claws, but the publisher, Dark Horse Comics. The Dark Horse editor of the series is Daniel Chabon, who from his picture looks about fifteen. I have never met him, nor have I met Johnnie, nor the excellent colourist Tamra Bonvillain, but I am sure such a meeting will take place in the future. All of these collaborators have been wonderful. What more could an illustrator manqué such as myself possibly ask for? What fun we have had! At least, I have had fun. Watching Angel Catbird come to life has been hugely engaging. There was, for instance, a long email debate about Angel’s pants. He had to have pants of some kind. Feather pants, or what? And if feathers, what kind of feathers? And should these pants be underneath his human pants, and just sort of emerge? How should they manifest themselves? Questions would be asked, and we needed to have answers. And what about Cate Leone, the love interest? Pictures of cat eyes flew back and forth through the ether, and at one point I found myself scanning and sending a costume sketch I had done. What would a girl who is also a cat wear while singing in a nightclub act? Boots with fur trim and claws on the toes? Blood-drop earrings? Such questions occupy my waking hours. What sort of furniture should Count Catula—part bat, part cat, part vampire—have in his castle? Should some of it be upside down, considering the habits of bats? (Count Catula is important in his own right, for bats are in a lot of trouble worldwide.) How to make a white Egyptian vulture look seductive? (You know what they eat, right?) Should Octopuss have a cat face and tentacle hair? Should Cate Leone have a rival for Angel Catbird’s attentions—a part girl, part owl called AtheneOwl? I’m thinking yes. In her human form, does she work at Hooters, or is that a pun too far? So. Like that. There is, of course, a science-and-conservation side to this project: it is supplied by Nature Canada, who are not only contributing the statistics that can be found here and there in the book in the banners at the bottoms of the pages, but are also running a #SafeCatSafeBird outreach campaign to urge cat owners not to let their cats range freely. The mortality figures for free- range cats are shockingly high: they get bitten, hit by cars, eaten by foxes, and that’s just the beginning. So, it’s good for cats and good for birds to keep the cats safe, and in conditions in which they can’t contribute to the millions of annual bird deaths attributed to cats. On CatsAndBirds.ca, cat owners can take the pledge, and as the pledges mount up, we can hope that there might be an uptick in the plummeting bird counts that are being recorded in so many places. It may also result in better conditions for stressed forests, since it is the migratory songbirds that weed insect pests out of the trees. Cats aren’t the only factor in the decline of birds, of course—habitat loss, pesticides, and glass windows are all playing a part—but they’re a big factor. There used to be an elephant who came around to grade schools. He was called Elmer the Safety Elephant, and he gave advice on crossing streets safely and not getting run over. If your school had managed a year without a street accident, Elmer gave you a flag. In my wildest dreams, Angel Catbird and Cate Leone, and maybe even Count Catula, would go around and give something or other—a flag, a trophy?—to schools that had gathered a certain number of safe-cat pledges. Who knows, maybe it will happen. Before we act, we imagine and wish, and I’m wishing and imagining a result like that. If it does happen, I’ll be the first to climb into my boots with claws on the toes, or maybe sprout some wings, in aid of the cause. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Angel Catbird as much as my partners and I have enjoyed creating it. It’s been a hoot! Or a meow. Or both. -- Margaret Atwood, excerpted from Angel CatBird with the permission of the author and Dark Horse Comics

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Margaret Atwood Pens Graphic Novel in tandem with new Nature Canada Cats & Birds Campaign
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Margaret Atwood Pens Graphic Novel in tandem with new Nature Canada Cats & Birds Campaign

Image of Angel CatBird Cover Nature Canada is pleased to announce a new collaboration with author Margaret Atwood. As profiled in The New York Times today Ms. Atwood is publishing a series of graphic novels, Angel CatBird, to be published by Dark Horse Comics starting in the fall of 2016. The announcement marks the debut of an exciting collaboration between Nature Canada and the world-famous author under the banner 'Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives'. Launching in the spring of 2016, this initiative will celebrate the contributions cats and birds make to our lives, our environment, and our communities, and invite Canadians to consider what they can do to make Canada a safer place for both cats and birds. For the announcement from Dark Horse Comics click here. For the New York Times announcement click here. Email Signup

Ever wonder what Nature Canada has in common with Batman, Lou Gehrig, Margaret Atwood and Frank Sinatra?
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Ever wonder what Nature Canada has in common with Batman, Lou Gehrig, Margaret Atwood and Frank Sinatra?

[separator headline="h2" title="18 neat facts you probably don't know about life in 1939"] [three_fourth]Nature Canada turns 75 this year. The first edition of the magazine Canadian Nature — the precursor to what would eventually become Nature Canada — was published on September 30th of 1939. Ever wonder what the world was like when Canadian Nature made its first debut?  Here are 18 interesting facts about what life was like 1939!

  1. Women did not yet have the right to vote in Quebec provincial elections. They wouldn't gain that right until 1940.
  2. King George VI was the newly crowned King of the United Kingdom and Canada, having just inherited the throne from his brother Edward three years earlier. In 1939, King George VI toured Canada along with his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth  II, who was just 13 years old at the time.
  3. Canada declares war against Germany on September 10th, marking the beginning of Canada’s involvement in World War II. The magazine Canadian Nature would make a conscious effort to try not to mention the war as much as possible in order to provide a respite for readers during this difficult period.
  4. The Boston Bruins, lead by coach Art Ross, defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the 1939 Stanley Cup Championship.
  5. Iconic singer and future movie star Frank Sinatra makes his recording debut in March, 1939.
  6. Newfoundland wasn't yet a part of Canada. It wouldn't join Canada until 1949.
  7. First Nations people did not yet have the right to vote in Canada unless they surrendered their treaty status.  They would not gain that right until 1960.
  8. Future Prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark were both born this year, as was prominent Nature Canada supporter Margaret Atwood.
  9. Famed Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot turned one year old.
  10. Most people living in Saskatchewan still relied on outhouses. It wasn't until a massive public infrastructure campaign in the 1940s and 50s that most people in Saskatchewan were able to use indoor toilets with plumbing for their… ahem, “business”
  11. Bobby Hull, the hockey legend known as the “Golden Jet” for his blonde hair, fast skating and a very powerful slapshot, was born on January 3rd.
  12. Batman makes his first appearance in the pages of Detective Comics #27 in May, 1939. If you'd bought a $0.10 copy of Detective Comics issue #27 in 1939 and kept it, it would be worth over $1,075,000 (USD) today. If you'd bought a copy of the first issue of Canadian Nature that same year, we wouldn't be able to offer you quite that much money, but we'd think you were pretty swell!
  13. It was a landmark year for cinema! Two all time classics were released in 1939: The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Gone with the Wind would go on to win 10 Academy Awards and remains to this day the highest-grossing film in box office history (adjusted for inflation).
  14. Legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone is released from Alcatraz prison. American prosecutors had been unable to convict Capone on more serious offenses, so he had been serving time in Alcatraz for tax evasion.
  15. The first NCAA basketball championship was held.
  16. Canada's first transcontinental commercial flights were less than a year old. They were run by Trans-Canada Airlines — better known today as Air Canada.
  17. On May 2nd, 1939, New York Yankee's Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig ended his 2,130 consecutive games played streak on account of his battle with ALS, a disorder now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease in North America. After the stadium announcer informed the audience that, for the first time in 14 years, Gehrig wouldn't be playing that day, Detroit Tigers fans gave Gehrig a standing ovation while he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes.
  18. In 1939, Robert L. May and Montgomery Ward introduce Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as Santa's 9th reindeer.
Those are some pretty amazing facts! Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know your favourite fact about 1939![/three_fourth] [one_fourth_last] [caption id="attachment_14921" align="alignnone" width="175"]Cover of first issue of Canadian Nature, 1939 First edition of the magazine "Canadian Nature", published in 1939.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14923" align="alignnone" width="175"]Frank Sinatra in recording studio Frank Sinatra in a recording studio with his tie loosened.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14927" align="alignnone" width="175"]image of an outhouse Outhouses were commonly used in Saskatchewan at the time the first edition of "Canadian Nature" was published.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14924" align="alignnone" width="175"]First appearance of Batman cover of Detective Comics #27 Batman first appeared in "Detective Comics #27" within months of the first publication of the magazine "Canadian Nature".[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14922" align="alignnone" width="175"]Lou Gehrig playing baseball for the Yankees Lou Gehrig played his last major league game of baseball in 1939 a few months before "Canadian Nature" was first published[/caption] [/one_fourth_last]  
This blog post was made possible by the research of guest blogger Jacob Longpre.

Prominent Nature Canada supporter named Ontario’s new lieutenant-governor
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Prominent Nature Canada supporter named Ontario’s new lieutenant-governor

A very big congratulations goes out to Nature Canada supporter and member Elizabeth Dowdeswell for being named Ontario's new lieutenant-governor today!

[Elizabeth Dowdeswell's] public service career spanned provincial, federal and international borders. She served as a deputy minister of culture and youth in Saskatchewan and was later assistant deputy minister at Environment Canada. [...] 'Ms. Dowdeswell has a wealth of expertise in education and public service, and has dedicated herself to the betterment of her community, province, and country," said Harper. "Her impressive skill set and vast domestic and international experience are exceptionally well-suited to promoting Ontario’s future, and I am confident that she will bring a fresh and dynamic perspective to the position.' -Statement by Prime Minister Harper today
Elizabeth Dowdeswell is a founding member of Nature Canada's Women for Nature initiative alongside many other incredibly accomplished women including famed novelist Margaret Atwood and Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, the wife of Canada's Governor General David Johnston. 2014 has been a banner headline year for Nature Canada supporters. In February,  Julie Gelfand, Nature Canada's former president, was named as Canada's federal environment commissioner.  

Green Cruising
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Green Cruising

This blog post was contributed by reader Emma Mardle. Even cruise lines – once notorious for their negative effect upon the environment – have wised up to fact that the wonder and beauty of nature is a large part of what draws in their customers and that they should therefore be doing their best to preserve it. Various initiatives from cutting emissions to reducing waste and implementing stringent recycling schemes have brought the cruise industry into line with the green standard which modern eco-tourists expect. Some cruise lines have even begun to make their ships a positive boon to the environment through the cultivation of natural resources on board ship. According to USA Today, “Cruise companies, working with horticultural experts, have developed methods to keep all sorts of green stuff alive at sea – even grass and trees”, thus both offsetting carbon emissions and providing the kind of nature-bound experience many modern tourists crave. Increasingly, cruise lines reflect this new eco-conscious stance by marketing their vacations towards nature-loving tourists. Planetcruise speak rapturously of the Canadian coast in the fall when “the cool…air turns the foliage a dazzling crimson and gold”, and promise their customers “abundant natural beauty”. Clearly this is a case wherein nature both draws in the customers and benefits from the eco-conscious outlook of those same customers. If such an attitude could be propagated amongst all vacation companies, the environment would undoubtedly be in a much better position – and, more to the point, have much more powerful backers. Along with the efforts of various cruise lines and vacation companies, Nature Canada is doing our best to take part in providing a green cruise opportunity. This year we offer you an experience to travel aboard Adventure Canada's "Newfoundland and Wild Labrador" cruise to gain more information on globally important bird areas. This is a great opportunity to see and learn about wildlife in their natural habitats while enjoying the Canadian scenery.

9 things you didn’t know about Newfoundland and Labrador
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9 things you didn’t know about Newfoundland and Labrador

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  1. The Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River, Newfoundland, is one of the most economically successful First Nations in Canada. This Mi’kmaw community places a high value on traditional values, including canoe-building and handicrafts.
  2. Gros Morne National Park helped change our understanding of the world. The park’s outstanding geology includes visible protrusions of the Earth’s mantle, and crust, which led to insights into tectonic plate theory and continental drift.
  3. L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland is the site of the only authenticated Norse settlement on the North American mainland. The settlement’s location was discovered by closely studying the text of ancient Viking sagas.
  4. Red Bay, Labrador, is Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. For several decades in the 1500s Red Bay was home to a thriving whaling station, seasonally run by Basques whalers. Multiple shipwrecks from the era lie in the harbour.
  5. Battle Harbour, Labrador preserves a classic cod fishing station, with superbly kept wharves, warehouses, ‘flakes’ (drying racks), a working general store, church and houses. Battle Harbour is a living museum of the traditional salt cod industry.
  6. Ever wonder what the Wonderstrands were? Two pristine sandy stretches of 20km and 25km along the eastern shore of Labrador are the leading contenders for the phenomenal beaches mentioned by Norse explorers.
  7. Rigolet, on the Labrador coast, has a unique place in literature: a fictional, future version of the hamlet (called Rigo), appears in the novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. In our time, the area is a haven for minke and humpback whales.
  8. The ghost settlement of Okak, Labrador straddles the tree line – and two cultures as well. The site was home to a Moravian mission from 1776 to 1919, and at its heyday was the centre of a large Labrador Inuit presence in the area.
  9. Torngat Mountains National Park in Nunatsiavut, the semi-autonomous Inuit region of northern Labrador, contains Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies, framing dramatic fiords. The Torngats teem with wildlife, including polar bears and caribou.
[/two_third][one_third_last][teaser img="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/newfoundland7.jpg"]Find out how you can join Nature Canada ambassadors Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson on a coastal cruise of Newfoundland this June 29-July 12. Call 1-800-363-7566 for details.[/teaser][/one_third_last]

Visit Newfoundland and Labrador with Adventure Canada
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Visit Newfoundland and Labrador with Adventure Canada

Torngat National Park by Claudette Kohuttorngat_ClaudetteKohut As part of its upcoming 75th anniversary celebrations, Nature Canada is excited to announce a travel partnership with Adventure Canada, in collaboration with Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood, honorary co-chairs of BirdLife International’s Rare Bird Club. You are invited to join Margaret and Graeme who will be sailing with Adventure Canada’s summer 2014 expedition cruise to Newfoundland and Wild Labrador (June 29-July 12) in support of the work of Nature Canada and Birdlife International. Canada’s easternmost province is an exciting destination for birders, especially in early summer as seabirds return to their nesting and breeding grounds. As dedicated naturalists, Margaret and Graeme have sailed with Adventure Canada several times. Travelling as Bird Ambassadors, they’ll enjoy the opportunity to guide guests and observe many coastal species at a peak time of year for viewing. Most importantly, they will have the chance to share their work on behalf of birds worldwide with you and fellow passengers. You will also enjoy some of Canada’s most spectacular sites like Gros Morne and Torngats National Parks, and L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. Should you be interested in travelling with Graeme and Margaret on the Newfoundland and Wild Labrador sailing, please contact Adventure Canada and mention this article (toll free: 1-800-363-7566, email: info@adventurecanada.com). A donation will be made to Nature Canada and Birdlife International for each Nature Canada member who books a trip. We are delighted to join Adventure Canada in welcoming Margaret and Graeme aboard “Newfoundland and Wild Labrador”—for the love of birds!  We hope you consider this special opportunity to learn about and celebrate the culture and nature of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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