Leave it to Nature: Lessons on fall colours

If you’re anything like me you know the feeling of sheer excitement when the leaves begin to change colour in fall. As trees begin to brace for… dare I say, for those less excited, winter, our favourite natural spaces in Ontario transform into colourful works of art.

It’s also a busy time of year within natural areas as many birds begin their migrations, and mammals, herptiles, insects and even fish begin adjusting for the coming months of winter.

Trees are no exception. Each year green leaves found within Ontario landscapes turn into rich red, gold, yellow and orange foliage. Imprinting our memories once more of how wondrous nature truly is.

Before the shift from green to red, gold and yellow, the anticipation of this process inspires many, like myself, to get out and explore. The natural environment is constantly changing and I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Lake Dalrymple in Carden. But not in the way that you would first expect.

On October 1st the leaves had barely begun their transformation from [mainly] green to red, yellow and orange, when their seasonal norms would suggest they would typically be changing.

When speaking with residents and cottage-goers I knew that there was concern for the lack of vibrance among the treeline. Day trips to Algonquin Park were postponed, resulting in a shift in demand from tourism operators.

So why the delay in leaf colour change, you ask?

Warmer temperatures this fall have had the biggest impact on the delayed fall colours, and made for an extended growing season. In a way, like us, the trees are taking advantage of the extended “summer-like” weather that we have experienced in Ontario.

The arrival of fall colours is strongly influenced by factors such as soil moisture, and available hours of sunlight per day. As temperatures begin to plummet, soil moisture decreases, and the sun sets earlier as days progress, trees will begin to “shut down”, or conserve energy for the winter. This primarily applies to deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in preparation for winter), like the sugar maple. As opposed to coniferous (or cone-bearing) trees such as white pine which are able to sustain their leaves (needles) throughout the winter months.

The colour transformation process in leaves occurs when their chemical composition changes. The result is classic fall colours that are sought after, year after year for viewing.

When looking through an optimistic lens, it’s clear that nature is continually teaching us valuable lessons. How to be patient, resilient and adaptable when awaiting the colour displays. In the face of a changing climate, all Earth systems are adapting, or will try and adapt in some way or another. The delayed fall colours of fall 2017 are no exception.

I’m grateful for opportunities to view the marvels of nature in every season. I’m confident in saying that lessons learned from the natural environment fuel passion for nature conservation.

Originally appearing on www.MudInspired.com. Also published in the Orillia Packet and Times, for www.CouchichingConservancy.ca Land Trust. 

What Drives Your Pride for Nature?

In Canada, carrying the legacy of nature conservation into the future is often associated with having a strong sense of national pride. Having recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, it’s time to reflect on the beauty of nature in your neck of the woods in a bigger effort to celebrate what makes us Canadian.

Looking closely at home for inspiration, the Couchiching-Severn region has several special natural features, stewarded by the Couchiching Conservancy, that vary in terms of landscape, plants and wildlife. The Canadian Shield as well as the Carden Alvar are two landscapes that provide ideal habitat for hundreds of plant and wildlife species. The species richness observed within these habitats provide countless opportunities for all Canadians to enjoy; growing their appreciation and pride for Canadian wild spaces.

Interacting with wildlife is a great way for Canadians in the Couchiching-Severn region to connect at with nature at the local level. In the springtime a walk at various properties on the Carden Alvar sparks opportunities to view everything from moose, visiting from the wildlands of the Canadian Shield, to bololinks boasting their marvelous melodies. These are sounds that connect people to places of intrinsic value, bringing them back in time to the moments that inspired them the most. Taking pride in our landscapes means taking action to protect the health of species.

Not only does protecting natural features such as forests, waterbodies, grasslands and other features contribute to species conservation, it also positively influences human health. Clean water, air and a healthy community are greatly impacted by how we treat the natural environment.

There is value in encouraging people of all ages to visit and appreciate the natural environment. Go for a hike, sit outside and relax, or take to the waters of your favourite lake. Whatever activity you choose to do in nature it’s sure to build a sense of connectivity to the landscape and associated natural wonders. Award-winning environmental advocate and scientist Dr. David Suzuki puts protecting the natural environment in Canada into perspective:

“This is about the type of country we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

Being proud and conserving nature for future generations is a feeling ingrained in most Canadians and, if not, should be encouraged.

The Couchiching Conservancy is a leader in the local land trust movement, taking action to protect special natural areas for perpetuity. Local volunteers, expert staff and generous donors, among many others, turn the concept of environmental conservation of local wonders into a reality.

The white-throated sparrow says it best: “Home sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” How about you? What makes you proud to call Canada, and particularly the Couchiching-Severn region, home?

Originally appearing on www.MudInspired.com. Also published in the Orillia Packet and Times, for www.CouchichingConservancy.ca Land Trust. 

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 Nature Festival 2014: “Plain” and Simply Inspiring

I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Carden Nature Festival which fell on the weekend of June 7th & 8th, 2014 at the Carden Community Centre on the shores of Lake Dalrymple. Touching a special place in my heart due to its location, this event proved to be a success with respect to spreading conservation awareness and coming together as a community in an effort to sustain the natural lands of the township of Carden and the Carden Plain.

The event was an opportunity for a wide range of environmental professionals, knowledgeable locals and passionate nature enthusiasts to gather and simply appreciate nature at a local level. Through educational seminars participants like myself got to visit select properties owned and managed by the Couchiching Conservancy.

During the festival I got to explore North Bear Alvar, Little Bluestem Alvar and Prairie Smoke Alvar. All of the sites showed many signs of wildlife including bear, moose, fox, coyote, rabbits, amphibians, insects and birds! Click here to view my entire album of photos from the weekend.

One of the highlights of my experience at the Carden Nature Festival was having the opportunity to travel a segment of Wylie Road monitoring eastern bluebird boxes. Herb Furniss, leader of the Carden Bluebirds program, took me and 3 other festival attendees (including our marshall) to roadside locations near and along the road in search of eastern bluebird chicks. Herb tracks and documents nesting activity in over 75 nesting boxes in the area. Based on previously recorded data he knew where the best opportunities for observing active boxes would be. In total, we got to see 3 active bluebird boxes and 1 active tree swallow box, all containing newly hatchedand/or fledging young.

Practical, hands on work with wildlife such as with the Carden eastern bluebirds project can help community members and beyond to appreciate the value of nature. Being able to hold the fledglings in the palm of your hand allows for a more intimate understanding of what is at risk. To put it simply, real-life experiences of getting your hands dirty have great potential of making a difference in ecosystems that may be potentially threatened by human activity. Thanks, Herb for this fantastic experience.

So, if you’re located in the Greater Toronto Area, Carden, Ontario is a short 90 minute trek by car; take the time to understand why the Carden Plain is so significant and worth protecting! Learn more at CouchichingConserv.ca.

– Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography: Nature Harmlessly Captured.

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