NCC Creative Conservation Challenge: Mud Inspired 2015

There’s no question that I had a ‘wild’ 2015. My experiences in nature encapsulated discovery, wilderness, adventure, learning, and community-building. Through these experiences, I learned an abundance of natural heritage and ecological information about the Carden Alvar and other areas in Ontario.

Close encounters in globally-rare environments have been ingrained into my memory thanks to countless days roaming the transitional southern boundary of the Canadian Shield in Central Ontario. I also became acquainted with several new species, some of which I heard, but never actually had the opportunity to see!

I believe my conservation efforts contributed to the greater health of the natural environment. In return nature was there for me in times of need, as well, especially when I had to say goodbye to a couple influential people in my life during summer 2015.

Part A: Look back on your year

What species did you learn about for the first time this year?
This summer I learned about several new species, most of which were, but not limited to, birds:

Blue-winged teal, Northern Harrier, Virginia rail, Whimbrel, Ovenbird, Gray catbird, Semipalmated plover and various sparrows. Fortunately I was living in an “Important Bird Area” known as the Carden Alvar just east of Orillia. Here, I repetitively experienced the sounds and sights of these, and many other birds which helped me to learn their unique attributes.

What is your most memorable close encounter with nature from 2015?

I have quite a few memorable encounters from 2015. However I would have to say the one that stands out most occurred at the Carden Alvar Provincial Park on June 25th. A coyote was predating on two adult Sandhill cranes. Quickly, the coyote caught sight of my group and headed off in the other direction. This occurred mid-morning and was just like a moment straight out of a national geographic documentary.

Balsam ragwort and Painted cup alvar wildflowers of Carden
Balsam ragwort and Painted cup alvar wildflowers of Carden

Blue sky, beautiful alvar landscape, slight breeze – pure silence – broken by the rattling call of the Sandhill cranes being chased by the beautiful coyote. Truly an unforgettable moment. Also equivalent in the ‘most memorable’ category were my first-ever moose and bald eagle sightings in Carden township! These sightings were greatly overwhelming.

What fact did you learn about the natural world in 2015 that most surprised you?

One of the most surprising facts I learned about the natural world was that adult beavers are very territorial. They will attack any beaver that enters their territory if they are not related. This is mostly due to the limited resources that a beaver may have access to in its given territory.  Overall I resonate with the beaver in that family is important. Haha.

beaver
Beaver

What three things did you do that helped the natural world in the last year?

Supported the Couchiching Conservancy land trust. This was my second year as a volunteer with the organization. I also had the privilege of working for the Couchiching Conservancy as a Conservation Assistant. Efforts of the conservancy and its volunteers help protect nature for current and future generations.

Saved turtles from becoming road kill. Specifically, I assisted one snapping turtle, one Blanding’s turtle, and 3 painted turtles off of the road throughout the summer. Fortunately, no significant damage was done to any of the animals.

Participated in a stewardship activity at Point Pelee National Park collecting Big Bluestem grass seeds for park-wide ecological restoration initiatives. Learning about the natural history of Point Pelee definitely put the rest of Southern Ontario into perspective regarding topics such as habitat protection, etc.
What natural areas did you explore for the first time?

Natural areas that I explored for the first time include: Carden Alvar Natural Area: Sedge Wren Marsh Walking Trail, and Prospect Marsh.
What species did you learn to identify, by sight or sound?

I had the opportunity to practice identifying several species of birds while living in Carden, Ontario in 2015. Some neat birds by sound include: Wilson’s snipe, White-throated sparrow, Grasshopper sparrow, Field sparrow, Eastern meadowlark, Common nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, and Indigo bunting. By sight, I learned to identify species such as: Broad-winged hawk, Northern harrier, Red-eyed vireo and Brown thrasher.

Part B: Your 2015 year in nature — Collage

2015review-2

 

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Hay Bales: Perfect for playgrounds – and conservation

Who cares about environmental conservation?

Or rather, how does one develop the deep care and concern to advocate for true preservation of our natural environment? I was struck by this question last week while I drove home from Carden Alvar Provincial Park in Sebright, Ontario.

Following a sharp bend in the road I was face-to-face with a hayfield, where recently baled hay dotted the entire landscape.  I noticed 3 youngsters frolicking about hay bales, and wondered what these kids were thinking besides how much fun they were having.

After watching a rather ‘awakening’ video on YouTube [as seen below] regarding the deprivation of nature in the lives of youth today, I jokingly asked “were the kids just outside passing time while their iPads were inside charging?” Or, were these kids genuinely enjoying the raw beauty of planet Earth? Assuming the latter, I was absolutely thrilled to have witnessed these children playing; likely within the rural setting in which they had been raised.

Screaming, chasing, and pure smiles of joy were radiating from the farmland. Children are being deprived of these forms of interactions when they invest time in the various types of virtual reality; such as video games.  I believe, that by just simply engaging with nature, the children I witnessed in the hayfield were subconsciously strengthening their bond with it. This is critical to conservation efforts at all scales.

Today, we live in a modernized society where engaging with various forms of media is inevitable. In order for children to develop a true passion for nature, and indirectly for conservation, it is probably best that they balance [or outweigh] quality time outdoors to their ‘screen time’.

Carden Field Journal: Amphibians, reptiles and insects

It’s starting to feel like summer here in Carden! Over the course of weeks five and six, I continued working with species at risk and partook in an invasive species control effort with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. This is meaningful work which will help Carden Alvar Natural Area thrive ecologically. Aside from work I had encounters with various wildlife.

Amphibians, reptiles and insects delivered much excitement while I was driving down or exploring the back roads. One rainy day I was driving on a road which passes through a swamp, and I came across a snapping turtle. Unfortunately, it scurried off the road so quickly that I didn’t have time to take a decent photo. The good news is he made it off of the road, safe from passing vehicles.

On the same road, the next week, I had to assist a blandings turtle across the road. This animal posed for a few photos which was cool, and it had a decent sized leech attached to its shell. I took a moment to peer into the swamp, adjacent to Lake Dalrymple, where the turtles had been travelling to and from, and admired the details and colour the wetland had to offer.

In addition, I handled my first smooth green snake on the warmest day of this two-week span. The snake was approximately 30cm in length. It didn’t mind being handled for a brief moment, so we had time for a photo-op. I also saw a spittlebug for the first time; many times I see evidence of it which looks like saliva on grassy vegetation. The foam-like substance, essentially bubbles, acts as the bugs natural defence mechanism.

Other neat moments from weeks five and six include seeing a natural nesting cavity  of an American kestrel, observing the changing wildflower colours and finding karst geology on the Carden plain. Oh and I can’t forget the turkey hen that I startled unintentionally while hiking… it caught me off guard majorly and I laughed it off.

Carden Field Journal: Busy time

One month has passed in Carden!

Some great observations this week included: Yellow warbler nest with eggs; Sparrow nest with chicks; Great blue heron with 3 chicks; Tree swallow chicks; Watching the Eastern phoebe chicks fledge; American kestrels nesting in a box; Eastern meadowlark chick, waiting for its four siblings.

The 9th Annual Carden Alvar Nature Festival, was also held in week four, which I will dedicate an article to in place of week five.

Carden Field Journal: Fast pheobes

May 24th to May 30th was the quick period between the Carden Challenge last week and the forthcoming Carden Nature Festival. It was neat to check up on the Eastern phoebe chicks from last week, which I will now make a weekly habit. The Eastern phoebe chicks are doing well! They have grown significantly and have occupied all available space in their nest. Other interesting sightings this week included intense thunderstorms, white-tailed deer, and the entertainment of Carden cows.

Next week will be intense as we have the Carden Nature Festival – Saturday, June 6th!

Carden Field Journal: Wildlife and The Carden Challenge!

Week two was action-packed and full of exhilarating wildlife sightings! Highlights of the week included watching nesting birds with their young, attending the 10th annual Carden Challenge, and coming across several painted turtles.

Throughout the week my co-workers and I saw several nesting birds. Some nests contained eggs, while others were home to already-hatched chicks! We had flushed an Eastern meadowlark from its nest on Windmill Ranch in Carden to find 4 healthy looking eggs in the grass-based nest. This was a unique find that will be reported to the Royal Ontario Museum. Next, Eastern phoebes had hatched and were being safely guarded by their mother. Upon two visits, I was able to see the chicks as the female was off foraging. Lastly, a favourite bird of mine, the Great blue heron, was seen feeding at least 3 young on its nest near the north shore of Lake Dalrymple. I was able to snap a photo with my cell phone through a viewing scope. My week was made by having the opportunity to capture these birds from 100s of meters away.

The Couchiching Conservancy fundraiser, the Carden Challenge, took place over the span of 24 hours starting on Friday, May 22nd, 2015. Teams assembled to compete in different categories, to see who could come across the highest number of species within a set buffer zone on the Carden Plain. I got partnered with 3 experts from Bird Studies Canada, so I was fortunate to learn the songs, calls, and physical characteristics of tens of new birds I had never seen or known. To the Bittern End was our team name, which near the end of the competition, served to be appropriate.

In total, our team found 111 birds. Of special note, we saw a Merlin, a Whip-poor-will, and a Blue-winged teal. I learned the sounds of birds such as the American bittern (Glug, glug), and the Least bittern (heh, heh, heh). As our team name suggested, we left taking the chance to observe the Least bitterns to the very end of the challenge… half an hour before the end at Prospect Marsh. We were very certain we heard one, but couldn’t say for sure… leaving it out of our count. We were excited to receive second place in the competitive category, and were awarded the Teeter-Ass Trophy for best sportsmanship. Overall, the Challenge was an amazing learning experience which raised over $15,000 through pledges for the Couchiching Conservancy.

Despite their abundance in South-Central Ontario, I am still excited to find painted turtles. On Alvar road, I saw 8 painted turtles during one car ride. They were basking on dead, fallen trees in a swamp landscape. This made for a great photo-op. These turtles were very shy as one-by-one, they’d fall into the water as I crept closer with my camera.

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

Another day I helped remove (so heavy…) another Painted turtle, which wasn’t shy, from Victoria road. There are many chances to see turtles which never fail to amaze me. Enjoy my other photos from week 2:

Carden Field Journal: Intro to field work

Monday, May 11th, 2015 marked the start of my 16 week adventure in the wilderness of Carden, Ontario.

I will be working as a field/ conservation assistant, for my 5th UW co-op term, with the Couchiching Conservancy, an Environmental NGO – Land Trust. The organization aims to protect 12,000+ acres of natural land for the future in the Couchiching-Severn region, near Orillia, Ontario.

I will be posting a weekly personal journal article documenting highlights from my experiences, including a few photos showcasing what subjects I am able to capture. My goal is to have a set of notes and visuals, synopsizing my experiences this summer, in one of my favourite places.

Following the completion of administrative tasks, I was able to venture into the field with one of my supervisors, David Hawke, Stewardship Program Manager, to the Butler Reserve in Severn, Ontario for a garlic mustard pull. Volunteers also joined us. Afterwards, we hiked the glacially-influenced landscape, where wild columbine, tent caterpillars, and various dragonflies were present. I learned that moose desire striped maple, giving it the nickname moose maple.

On Thursday I worked in Carden where I met another one of my supervisors, Ron Reid, Carden Coordinator. I learned about the projects I’ll be involved with which pertain to Species at Risk.

Other cool sightings included seeing a porcupine in a tree for the first time, a mother noisy killdeer with its 5 chicks, American kestrel and indian paintbrush and prairie smoke alvar wildflowers in bloom. A great first week, with many long, eventful, and exciting days to come!

Future journal articles are primarily going to consist of sightings, and activities that happened in the field. If interested, I hope you enjoy following my adventures this summer!

The Role of Recreational Fishing in Environmental Conservation

With the spring season upon us, the excitement to venture outdoors has struck many nature enthusiasts in full force.

Of the countless ways Canadians choose to enjoy the outdoors, recreational fishing serves a dual functionality. It is a great way to get outside and promote environmental conservation as well as achieve good health and wellness at the same time.

While at first, recreational fishing may appear contradictory to environmental conservation, I believe it has the potential to be an impactful ecological tool when conducted responsibly.

The question can be asked: How is fishing, which has the potential to harm the animals, and impact their populations, beneficial to the aquatic environment?

Let’s examine the situation from the perspective of defending native fish habitats.

Inland waters such as Upper and Lower Lake Dalrymple, in Carden Township, Ontario, have experienced the introduction of invasive/ non-native fish species in the late 1900s. This lake will be examined as a case study. These non-native species of fish include northern pike and black crappie.

 

Both of which pose direct threats to the reproductive success of native fish species in Dalrymple such as muskellunge and walleye. Spawning periods of non-native and native fish overlap and the invasive pike often outcompete the muskies for their breeding grounds. The black crappie prey on young walleye shortly after they have hatched, lowering their survival rate.

Not coincidentally, on August 6th, 2014, I caught and released my first muskie! That’s another story on its own!

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has recognized this problem, and addressed it by altering the fishing season for northern pike and black crappie. Beginning in 2010, an open year-round fishing season was introduced at Lake Dalrymple (Fisheries Management Zone [FMZ] 17) in an effort to alleviate some pressure on the native fishery. This brings increased fishing opportunities to local anglers. Ice fishing becomes involved and more attention is drawn to the lakes in FMZ 17 on an annual basis.

Realistically, there are several options to perhaps consider with respect to the issue of non-native species in Lake Dalrymple and how fishing can play a positive role in overall lake health. I will outline some suggestions that I think are important to consider:

Target the invasive [fish] pike and crappie, removing them from the ecosystem;

Go fishing to indulge in the outdoors, to help yourself and others better appreciate nature; and;

Fish for native species with the intent to release them, strengthening their populations

Although some may view fishing as a negative impact to ecosystems, I believe it is important to outline the various positive environmental and human health benefits from the activity.

Overall, recreational fishing is a tradition that provides outdoor enthusiasts an escape from urban life. Other hobbies and interests can easily be discovered through recreational fishing. Personally, it has served as a gateway to my nature photography, which in return attempts to promote conservation awareness. I have dropped my fishing rod several times in order to capture magnificent scenery and unique wildlife sightings with my camera.

By considering the suggested options, ones choice of wetting a line through the sport of fishing can actually influence the ecosystem to achieve an equilibrium closer to its natural balance. The choice of allowing the invasive species completely take over the classical ecosystem, becoming a “novel” or new ecosystem, serves as a second option to the above suggestions. This system would be a Northern pike-dominated community. I don’t currently view this as necessary.

Using the example of the inland waters situation above, you can understand the benefits and drawbacks of fishing with respect to sustaining the ecological health of natural areas.  If considered, anglers might see more success on the water in the long-term.

This article is opinion of the writer and all facts have been learned through word of mouth and through some consultation from https://www.ontario.ca/ministry-natural-resources-and-forestry.

Post-Storm Commotion in Carden : Eastern Screech Owls

Learning about species that I have never encountered in the past is one of the main factors that drives my desire to keep exploring!  The evening of Saturday, June 28th, 2014, around 10:30p.m. was no exception; I observed my first owls.

While sitting around a campfire with family and friends, strange moaning-like noises were travelling across to our site from an adjacent field lined by a patch of forest. Specifically, the noise sounded like 2 animals were engaging in a life-ending fight. This is not uncommon in the Carden area, and so I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

In the evenings I often hear wild animals such as coyotes, common loons, and amphibians.

However, this time, after the second or third occurrence of the bizarre sound coming from the bush/ field, it was decided (by family, friends and I) that I should go and investigate. Exciting! 

I slowly approached the area in which the distinct noises were originating from, keeping in mind not to startle or disturb whatever wildlife may be in the area. Within a couple of minutes, I determined that this animal was a bird, as silhouettes of small, but stout flying creatures periodically filled the fresh twilight sky.   

This was one of the first times I had ever engaged in night photography of an animal and so my method of capturing images was being created ‘on the fly’.  With the brief help of a flashlight I was able to pinpoint the exact spot the bird would sit before flying from tree to tree. This enabled me about a 10 second window to photograph; a fun challenge!

Once the bird was located, I used my 75mm-300mm telephoto lense, on manual focus to take fairly close-up photos of the mysterious avian creatures. After taking the first photo, I immediately knew I was seeing an owl for the first time in my life. The adrenaline from this moment was powerful.

 Having had no experience with owls and little knowledge about them, this encounter without question intrigued me. Upon capturing the first photo, I had no idea of what species I was dealing with. It wasn’t until capturing a few more photos that I began to think I was dealing with either a Northern saw-whet owl or an Eastern screech owl.

I was able determine that I was observing 1 adult owl, and 2 owlets based on feather development (fledging).

Basic identifying characteristics that I observed of these mystery owls included:

  • Sound: a ~3 second long whining noise (sounded painful)
  • Size: Appeared to be approxiamtely 15-20cm in height
  • Color: Adult: Brown/ beige/ white/ Grey — Young: Grey/ beige
  • Other: No apparent ear tufts

It was after I captured the photos and analyzed them on my computer that I realized what type of activity was occurring while I photographed the owls. The birds were perched within surrounding maple trees and would occasionally fly from branch to branch.

Additionally, I noticed that the owls were swooping/ flying down to the ground and then back up into the trees. I wasn’t sure why; if the young were just failing at making ‘the leap’ to another perch.

It was when the owlets returned from the ground to the tree  that I realized they had been preying on the abundant supply of northern leopard frogs in the field. Their method was to stalk the frogs from above, and then swoop down to capture them in their talons.

By using my Birds of Ontario book I was still undecided as to what specific species I was dealing with so I enlisted the help of others.

It was confirmed that this animal was an Eastern screech owl because of its 1) sound 2) size & physical characteristics 3) behaviour.

Being able to observe wildlife such as the Eastern screech owl was a special opportunity, and I was privileged to do so.

Go out and explore for yourself! On that note, I thought this was appropriate for this blog post: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” — Douglas Adams

“Miss[ing]” in the case of exploring the natural world, to me, is exhilarating.

— Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography | Nature Harmlessly Captured

* Thank you to Andrew MacDonald, Kathy Jones (Ontario Volunteer Coordinator at Bird Studies Canada), and Denis Lepage (Senior Scientist at Bird Studies Canada) for helping confirm this species to be Eastern screech owl. *

New Site this Summer

Whoa, the summer is flying by!

Over the past month, MudInspired.com has been undergoing an upgrade/ redesign/ change. With an estimated date of completion in August 2014, the new site will contain everything there is to share with the community including all nature photo albums, a highlights gallery, and The Mud Blog. As well as links to supporting organizations, and MIP social media outlets.

So far, all Mud Inspired-related posts from the 2014 Carden Nature Festival can be found on the site; feel free to explore!

Stay tuned to MudInspired.com as the summer draws to a close, for more frequent posting, especially into the winter. All Photos are currently on the MIP Facebook page until they are synced to mudinspired.com.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cameron Curran