Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

With the passing of “No Mow May”, many might find themselves curious about the overall importance and impact of seemingly simple gestures such as letting a lawn grow out for one extra month each year. The short answer: when it comes to conservation, it can be easier to appreciate the interconnectedness and the impact of each moving part when we zoom out. A lawn is not just a span of grass that needs tending for aesthetic purposes, it is a habitat. Not only is it part of a wider network of similar habitats (i.e. other people’s lawns, fields and the like), but it is one that, if left to its own devices, grows a much wider variety of plant species that eventually flower making it much more valuable to wildlife, pollinators in particular.

This article is not about “No Mow May”, however, but rather the overarching concepts of biodiversity, conservation and how they pertain to the plight of pollinators. As summer approaches and we begin to move forward with the Massawippi Foundation Monarch Butterfly Project, we are sharing more about the concepts underlying efforts of this type to protect the Monarch population.

 

Understanding Biodiversity

You have likely heard the term before, but what does biodiversity mean to you? It may conjure images of a thriving ecosystem with a variety of species living alongside one another. Without a doubt, we can appreciate variety, the beauty of it, and the notion of “richness”, but what exactly is biodiversity and why is it important?

Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. (Worldwildlife.org)

The above definition highlights that biodiversity includes not just the elements we can see, nor the ones we deem “beautiful”, but all of the living parts, right down to the microscopic players. It also weaves in the notion of working together. Each species in a biodiverse ecosystem has specific roles to play that will impact the survival of other species in the ecosystem to varying degrees.

This does not mean each species has a role all its own without any overlap. In fact, redundancy is one of the key ways in which biodiversity sustains healthy, resilient ecosystems. There are various ways of envisioning how this operates. Think of biodiversity as Nature’s built-in contingency plan. Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1981) compared each species in an ecosystem to the rivets on a plane – if one is removed, the impact is minimal, but the more rivets removed, the greater the risk of catastrophe.

Another way of looking at it is likening an ecosystem to a tower of Jenga blocks. Each block represents a species (and the roles it plays) within that ecosystem. The more blocks (species) removed, the less stable the tower (ecosystem) becomes. As blocks are slowly removed, the tower may stay upright, but is much more vulnerable to disruption – a breeze, the floor shaking… This is not unlike how an ecosystem becomes more vulnerable to disasters such as storms, droughts or invasive species. The more diverse the system, the sturdier the tower and the more resilient it is to adversity.

 

The Importance of Encouraging Biodiversity

Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter. (Worldwildlife.org)

From a purely anthropocentric standpoint, biodiversity serves us and we therefore have a vested interest in maintaining it. That being said, we often have a tendency to focus on the grander species or charismatic megafauna. The thing is, the bigger the animal does not necessarily mean the greater the importance.

Insects comprise two-thirds of life on Earth and each year they are responsible for providing ecological services valued at $57 billion. Perhaps one of the most valuable services is that of pollination. According to Pollinator Partnership, we can thank pollinators for two out of every three bites of food we eat and they sustain overall ecosystem function by helping plants reproduce.

 

Zooming Back In: The Massawippi Foundation Monarch Project

As you might imagine, there is a lot more to the big-picture conversation on biodiversity, conservation and pollinators. When it comes to passing from learning to action, however, zooming back in is essential if we want to avoid overwhelm and downright discouragement. So how, where and when can we start?

Put simply: Start small, focus close to home and start as soon as you can.

In March, we shared an article on the Monarch Butterfly, introducing an exciting new project spearheaded by the Foundation in collaboration with Nature Nerding. This project is the Foundation’s way of taking action by zooming in on how it can have a concrete impact on the pollinator population in its own backyard.

 

Starting small and close to home: Milkweed and Monarch conservation at Scowen Park

As soon as we can: Launching this summer!

This project also encompasses the four tenets of conservation which are fundamental to the Foundation’s conservation mission:

  1. Preservation – The natural milkweed and monarch habitat in the fields at Scowen Park will be protected and we hope to eventually lead initiatives that protect the milkweed populations throughout neighboring communities.
  2. Research – The project will include a citizen science component like several existing Monarch Butterfly projects (see list below).
  3. Recreation – Project elements will be available for all visitors to view, admire and enjoy when they come for a walk at Scowen.
  4. Education – The project will involve the installation of information panels as well as educational activities and visits open to the public (more details coming soon).

The hope is to make use of resources and partake in programs that already exist (adapting them where necessary) while also developing a conservation and education model unique to Scowen Park and the Massawippi Foundation.

For this to be a success, we are counting on the participation from our beloved community!

 

How to Get Involved

Are you interested in learning more about the Massawippi Foundation Monarch Butterfly Project? Do you have ideas you would like to share? Perhaps you would like to watch over metamorphosing Monarchs when the time comes?

No matter your level of interest, we would love to hear from you. We plan to assemble our first ever “Butterfly Brigade” for the summer of 2023 with a first meeting in late June.

To put your name on our list of potential Brigade members, please complete the short form here: 2023 Butterfly Brigade Registration Form

You may also write to the following email with any questions you’d like to ask or thoughts you’d like to share: [email protected]

 


Build Your Nature Vocabulary

Use the text and search the web to build your nature vocabulary and try using it the next time you’re out and about in nature, either making observations by yourself or with friends!

  • Habitat
  • Biodiversity
  • Charismatic megafauna
  • Ecological services

References

What is biodiversity? Why it’s under threat and why it matters (World Wildlife Fund)
Pollinators need you. You need pollinators. (Pollinator Partnership)
Pollinisateurs (Fondation David Suzuki)

 

Bat flying

Reading time : 2 minutes

© CERFO

There are eight bat species present in Quebec. Three are migratory and five are resident. The residents look for places to hibernate each winter. They need a dry place, but with access to water to drink from time to time. The temperature needs to remain above zero during the winter in the chosen space.

Three species are designated as endangered in Canada: the little brown bat, the northern bat and the eastern pipistrelle.

Bats (CERFO)Our conservation partner, Appalachian Corridor, is part of a conservation program with Conservation Chauve-souris des Cantons-de-l’Est (CCSCE) since December 2020. Press release.

This month we have reproduced CERFO’s article on bats. CERFO’s scientists publish articles in layman’s terms so that we, the general public, can better understand them.

Who is CERFO?

CERFO (Centre d’enseignement et de recherche en foresterie), is the Centre collégial de transfert de technologie (CCTT) en foresterie affiliated with the Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel (CÉGEP) de Sainte-Foy (Québec, Canada), founded in Québec City in 1984. More recently, it has extended its activities to a broader forestry field, including agricultural and urban areas. 

Click on the link to read the article: “ Comment favoriser les chauves-souris en milieu agricole ”

The article is available in French.


The authors:

Bérubé-Girouard, V. and E. Boulfroy. 2023. “ Comment favoriser les chauves-souris en milieu agricole ” (How to encourage bats in agricultural areas). Fiche d’accompagnement pour l’implantation d’aménagements favorisant la biodiversité en milieu agricole no 3. Centre d’enseignement et de recherche en foresterie de Sainte-Foy (CERFO). 6 p.

 “This project is an initiative of the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ), funded through the Advisory Services Program, implemented under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.”

We are also sharing with you a video that was produced on this same theme. Here is the video link YT Screenshot

Our partner Appalachian Corridor, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Granby Zoo, has prepared three videos on the theme 

Bats: Legends and Wonders (Videos)

Bats in your home is a good article from Appalachian Corridor on what to do and what not to do if you find a bat in your home.

Ladies birdwatching

Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

Ladies birdwatchingWhen you think of birdwatching, you may be inclined to picture a group of people of a certain age walking slowly along a trail, most wearing a bucket hat and a vest of some sort. As they meander slowly along a trail, they periodically stop, look up to the treetops and lift their trusty binoculars to their eyes, excitedly whispering to their fellow birders about what they are seeing.

And you likely are not alone in picturing this! Birdwatching has a bit of a reputation as the hobby of choice for retirees, a passtime reserved for “later in life”, if you will. As a thirty-something who has been fascinated by birds her whole life and who has taken to birdwatching more seriously in the past decade, I am inviting a shift in perspective that just might have you reaching for that dusty pair of binoculars you almost relegated to this year’s yard sale pile…

 

Birds as a Gateway to Nature

Kids Birdwatching

Birds “connect us with here and there, with then and now, as they chatter outside our windows or soar past our lives” (Slow Birding, Joan E. Strassman). In a time where our connection with nature can feel tenuous, birds offer a means of reaffirming the existence of wild animal life amidst our daily human existence.

Whether flitting from bush to feeder in your backyard, singing from the depths of the forest as you walk the trail or paddling leisurely in an urban park pond, birds are very much present in our lives, providing an accessible way of acknowledging, appreciating and connecting with the natural world.

 

Give Birdwatching or “Birding” a Try this Spring

Birdwatching is sometimes slightly more challenging (possibly downright discouraging) because we tend to hear birds much more often than we actually see them. And while identifying birds based on their song is a rewarding endeavour all its own, it can be frustrating and might not be the best starting point for the “birding curious”.

That being said, there are indeed more opportune times for bird watching.

In April and May, while many eagerly await the arrival of summer, others are completely content with the spring window of opportunity for birding. Not only are various migratory species returning from overwintering grounds making for a rich diversity of species, but the trees and skies are simply buzzing with activity as our feathered friends forage, claim territories, court mates and begin building nests. Spring is primteline and the possibilities for observation are endless!

The added bonus earlier on in spring: the treetops are still relatively bare making it MUCH easier to spot birds as they go about their activities.

Taking the above into consideration – if ever there was a time to try your hand at birdwatching, this is the time of year!

 

Where and How to Start

If you are even the slightest bit intrigued, here are a few tips for dipping your toe into the wondrous world of birdwatching this spring:

  • Location: Choose a place you already frequent. This could be a nearby park, beach or even the birdfeeder in your own backyard. It is fun to visit new places and discover the wildlife that inhabit them, but starting with somewhere close by that you visit often ensures you have regular occasions to engage with the species of that area and practice your skills.
  • Approach:
    • Brush up on your bird vocabulary. It is much easier to describe something when you are able to use the correct terminology. Start broad with what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology deems the main divisions:
      • Beak (or bill)
      • Head
      • Back
      • Throat
      • Breast
      • Wings
      • Tail
      • Legs
    • Start with species you already “know”. Take a step back and imagine you are seeing them for the first time. You may immediately recognize a Blue Jay, for instance… but have you ever stopped to consider what makes a Blue Jay… a Blue Jay?
    • Practice careful observation before jumping to identification. As humans, we have the tendency to want to name everything as quickly as possible. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions as you observe the birds that cross your path. Some cues for guiding that careful observation, as outlined by The Cornell Lab:
      • Size: What size is the bird relative to species you know? Say you are seeing a Blue Jay for the first time. Size-wise it is larger than a Sparrow, but smaller than a Crow. It is roughly the same size as a Robin.
      • Shape: What about its body shape? A Blue Jay may be similar in size to a Robin, but what features of its body shape can help set it apart? One noteworthy feature could be its crest. It also has less of a pronounced belly than the Robin.
      • Colour Pattern: What stands out first? The Blue Jay’s vivid blue is certainly not one we come across in all birds. Beyond that, where do we notice contrast? Its face, breast, and belly are white save for one stark marking: a black “chin strap”.
      • Behaviour: A few times observing Blue Jays and you may remark that they are quite vocal and far from shy when it comes to taking up space at feeders, for instance.
  • Equipment: Start with what you already have. If you have a pair of binoculars or can borrow one, great! If not, practice birdwatching with the naked eye. Especially if you have access to a birdfeeder, this can be much more effective than you might think. I also recommend keeping a journal where you keep track of your observations, whether in writing, sketches or both! One of the best parts of birdwatching is that it requires relatively little investment – mostly just your time and attention. The bucket hat and vest can come later 😉

woman birdwatching

Above all else, slowing down and refining your birdwatching process ensures that it slowly becomes more intuitive. This makes the experience of encountering new species all the more rewarding and enjoyable as you find yourself increasingly adept at narrowing down the identification possibilities and admiring the wide diversity of species in your very own backyard.

Like with many things in life, the fact birds are so present and available might make us more inclined to disregard them as background features. Life gets busy, time passes quickly and stopping to truly take note of what’s happening around us is a tendency that takes practice. Each opportunity to engage with birds invites one to slow down, engage the senses, get curious and observe carefully.

Consider this as encouragement to all from the birding curious to the seasoned birders to seize these opportunities, even if only from time to time, as they result in boundless peace, wonder, and joy, reminding us of our interconnectedness and shared dependence on this beautiful planet.


Build Your Nature Vocabulary

Use the text and search the web to build your nature vocabulary and try using it the next time you’re out and about in nature, either making observations by yourself or with friends!

  • Migratory
  • Forage
  • Court
  • Crest

References

– Building Skills: The 4 Keys to Bird Identification by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Cornell University)

 

Wood Frog

Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

Every seasonal transition has its own flavour, but perhaps the most highly anticipated transition is the one from winter to spring. After months of cold, snow and fleeting sunlight, there is nothing quite like the elation one feels at the first taste of spring.

We start noticing subtle hints mid-winter… but what are the cues indicating change is truly coming? The days get longer, the temperatures warm… and the natural world responds in kind with its own array of displays and transformations reassuring us that spring is indeed in full swing.

This month we are inviting you to slow down so as to notice and perhaps even acquaint yourselves with a few spring classics:

 

VERNAL POOLS – MORE THAN SPRINGTIME FOREST PUDDLES

 

Photo de https://appalachiantrail.org/official-blog/vernal-pools-temporary-habitats-for-a-t-wildlife/As a child, I remember a certain time of year when the forest would suddenly be full of “ponds”. This was an exciting time as the possibilities for play and exploration were multiplied tenfold! What I did not realize, however, was how important these ephemeral habitats are to the ecosystem.

Vernal pools are small bodies of freshwater that naturally form in low-lying areas in the forest thanks to rain and snow melt. Though temporary by nature, these seasonal wetland habitats are critical for a variety of species. One reason for this is that they have the unique feature of not containing certain predators, such as fish, due to the fact they are isolated from other bodies of water. As such, frogs, salamanders and fairy shrimp rely on these havens to complete their life cycles with a significantly lower threat of having their eggs or other life stages eaten.

According to Nature Conservancy of Canada, vernal pools are under threat. While their seasonal nature has always implied a certain level of unpredictability, factors such as climate change and habitat loss and degradation are taking their toll on the viability of these habitats. Pools do not last as long, do not swell to as big a size, or – in some cases – do not form at all due to changes in rainfall or landscape. This can mean pool-dependent species suffer from higher resource competition or lack of space (in the case of smaller pools) or simply do not have enough time to complete their lifecycle (in the case of shorter pool lifespan).

Invitation – One of the most beautiful things about nature is the inherent purpose of every element in a system, no matter how trivial it might seem to the untrained eye. Vernal pools are no exception. This spring, as the snow gives way to damp leaf litter and mud, see if you can notice the forming of vernal pools in the forests you frequent. Stop and take the time to see if you can spot any of the critters that typically occupy them. Consider the temporary world you are witnessing and how, within a few weeks, it will disappear, not without first fulfilling a vital role in the surrounding ecosystem.

 

SKUNK CABBAGE – A REAL BOTANICAL TRAILBLAZER

 

Most flowering plants wait to bloom once the threat of snow has more or less passed, but one of our local flowering plants has other plans. Keen to claim its place in the moister sections of the forest floor, this plant slowly begins to emerge from the still-frozen ground…

One of few plants capable of thermogenesis, the Skunk Cabbage is able to grow and thrive in snowier conditions. The flower absorbs oxygen and transforms it into heat, which melts the snow surrounding the plant, protects the plant’s cells from freezing and provides a favourable microenvironment for its flowers to develop.

 

Very cool. But why? What is the advantage of showing up so early to the party – especially when there is still snow to contend with? Simply put, the Skunk Cabbage fills a niche that is otherwise unoccupied. It may not look like your conventional flowering plant, but its blooms are one of the first available food sources to pollinators. Named for the pungent odour it emits, meant to resemble that of decomposing flesh, Skunk Cabbage appeals to flies and gnats primarily. However, other insects such as beetles and bees may find themselves visiting the plant either because it is a rare food source for the time of year or, it is speculated, because of its warmth.

Invitation – At a time when many other species are laying low, waiting for more favourable conditions, the Skunk Cabbage challenges what we think we know about the growing season in our climate. I encourage you to set yourself the goal of finding Skunk Cabbage in a humid wooded area near you. Beyond its ability to act as a botanical space heater, it is a flower of stunning character. Bring a magnifying glass with you – what can you learn simply by observing closely with the help of all your senses?

 

THE SOUNDS OF SPRING – A MULTI-SPECIES SYMPHONY

 

What does spring sound like? For me it sounds like…

  • a cacophony of “chicks” and trills rising up from the reeds in the morning sun
  • a whistle and whisper on the wind high above your head as the sky slowly darkens
  • a lone, almost hesitant “cluck” in the mild night air, eventually followed by a resounding chorus of croaks

 

Of course, the sounds we associate with spring depend on the habitats that surround us, who occupy them and at what precise moment of spring we choose to tune in. Even then, the exact composition can differ according to the day, hour, weather and so much more.

Spring is a time of awakening, homecoming and preparation which has the natural world abuzz with activity. Territories being claimed, food being foraged, mates being wooed – everything has a sound that goes along with it. So what is the soundtrack to spring in your neighborhood?

Invitation – Two taxa that take centre stage in the background soundtrack to spring are birds and amphibians. Who do you notice in your surroundings? Below is a list of species you may just be able to hear this spring. Click the link associated with each one, listen carefully and see if you can detect their sounds amidst the ever-evolving chorus throughout April and May.

1. Red-winged blackbird
2. American robin
3. Ruffed grouse
4. American woodcock
5. Wilson’s snipe (winnow)
6. Wood frog
7. Spring peeper
8. American toad

 

At first, it can be challenging to learn how to recognize a species by its sound which is why I recommend learning one at a time. It helps to keep a journal where you not only describe the sound but take note of when you hear it (date and time of day) and where you hear it. This helps you contextualize the sound and also observe any changes from one point in the season to another. Bonus: if you keep a journal this year, you can look back on it next year and compare!

Sometimes we are so focused on the destination of ‘summertime’ that we forget to enjoy the journey that is the spring. Consider this an invitation to slow down more than usual this spring and soak in all of the signs of the natural world re-awakening.

 


Build Your Nature Vocabulary

Use the text and search the web to build your nature vocabulary and try using it the next time you’re out and about in nature, either making observations by yourself or with friends!

  • Vernal
  • Fairy shrimp
  • Thermogenesis
  • Niche
  • Taxa (singular, taxon)

References

– Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey through the Fields, Woods, and Marshes of New England par Mary Holland
– Maine Department of Environmental Protection – Fact Sheet Vernal Pools: A Significant Wildlife Habitat
– Nature Conservancy of Canada – Vernal pools (Part One)
– National Wildlife Federation – Skunk Cabbage
– University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin Horticulture – Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

Photo d'oiseaux
Reading time : 3-4 minutes
© CERFO
As our thoughts turn to Spring, we start to think more about birds. A renewed membership with SLOE (La Société de loisir ornithologique de l’Estrie), exchanges between members and a link towards an article published by the scientists at CERFO, led this author to reprint the CERFO article here.
Many of our readers are landowners who might be interested in learning more about field birds.The worldwide goal of 30% of the world’s water and land to be conserved and protected by 2030 is a huge goal. Let’s break it down to see what we can do, right here at home, in our own backyards. Everyone can make a difference and play a role in conservation and protection. Let us focus on the here and now in order not to be overwhelmed.

Please click here to read the article (available in French), published by CERFO.
“Comment favoriser les oiseaux champêtres en milieu agricole”
(How to encourage field birds in agricultural areas.)


The authors:

Bérubé-Girouard, V. and E. Boulfroy. 2023. Comment favoriser les oiseaux champêtres en milieu agricole. Fiche d’accompagnement pour l’implantation d’aménagements favorisant la biodiversité en milieu agricole no 4. Centre d’enseignement et de recherche en foresterie de Sainte-Foy (CERFO). 6 p.

“This project is an initiative of the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ), funded through the Advisory Services Program, implemented under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.”

We are also sharing with you a video that was produced on this same theme. It presents the testimonies of two agricultural producers who have implemented this type of development and praise its merits! Available in French.

Migrations in Motion
© Nature Conservancy

 Reproduced from an article from the Nature Conservancy. Justine E. Hausheer
Justine E. Hausheer is an award-winning science writer for The Nature Conservancy.

Reading Time : 3-4 minutes

Justine writes :

New research from Conservancy and university scientists revealed that only 41 percent of the natural land area in the United States retains enough connectivity to facilitate species tracking their preferred climate conditions as the global climate changes. As part of that study, scientists modeled the distribution and habitat needs of 2,903 vertebrate species in the Western hemisphere against land use and projected climate patterns.

Conservancy cartographer and analyst Dan Majka brought this data to life in a series of maps that show what corridors mammals, amphibians, and other animals will use as they move to new habitats under projected climate change. Inspired by wind maps of the United States, and using code from Earth global wind map, adapted by Chris Helm, Majka’s dynamic map allows scientists and the public to see the continent-wide impact of climate change on animals and visualize corridors they will need to move.

The question is, as the animals move to find new habitat because their old habitats are changing due to climate change, where will they go and how will humans interact with them? Looking at the map for the southern part of Quebec, the most heavily populated part of the province, you see the density of the animal migration in this sector.

How can we help?

COP15, the United Nations Biodiversity conference which took place in Montreal in December, concluded with a landmark agreement to protect 30% of the world’s inland waters, land and coastal areas by 2030.
This is a BIG ambitious goal which can cause people to have environmental anxiety.
What if we break it down and see what each community can do in their own backyard?

The Massawippi Conservation Trust (MCT) has been working on land conservation projects since 2011. Together with Appalachian Corridor (est. 2002) and 16 other conservation groups, we are raising awareness, hosting research projects, protecting land through donations, purchases and servitudes. We are building education programs to teach and grow a community of future conservationists.

The majority of the land that we have protected to date is connected, creating a `corridor` for flora and fauna. As we continue to grow, we are looking for more connectivity. We started in an area identified by Appalachian Corridor as being the most vulnerable to human development. These lands, with a very high ecological value, needed urgent attention before they would be lost.

Who protected them? A group of concerned individuals, not scientists, not environmentalists, but people who knew in their hearts that the Massawippi Valley was a special place that needed to be protected for the benefit of all – environmentally, aesthetically and historically.

Although the MCT trustees and Fondation Massawippi Foundation (FMF) board members have changed over time, the current members of the board are still passionate volunteers who bring to the table various skills. We have learned to identify and recognize problematic areas. We are working with our various partners, municipal governments, and other NGOs to see how we can protect more land or change the way we care for the land.

The benefits of ensuring private land conservation in conjunction with local and national conservation projects help mitigate the effects of climate change. Individuals have so much to contribute in terms of helping to regulate water quality and protect irreplaceable natural zones and ecosystems. Achieving objectives in the southern portion of Quebec depends on the contribution of private individuals and local land trusts. After all, most of the land is privately owned.

Some statistics on the land usage of the Massawippi Watershed

512 kms2 in Canada (another 90 kms2 in Vermont)
8.17 kms2 Lake Massawippi
239.6 kms2 of forested land
187.8 kms2 of agricultural land
4,86 kms2 protected by the Massawippi Conservation Trust

We have a long way to go; however, we are making progress. Some conserved lands are providing access to forests and lands for recreational activities and education, contributing to human health and well-being, as well as protecting environmentally sensitive lands, home for insects, birds, and other flora and fauna.  Others are being left untouched for the exclusive use of wildlife.
Climate change is global, meaningful action is local.

COP15 global 30/30, MCT and FMF in the Massawippi Valley 30/30

Metamorphosis
Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time : 5-6 minutes

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
(Quote from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax)

We often think of conservation as taking place on a large scale, fuelled mainly by grand sweeping gestures like protests and game-changing legislation. But what if I told you that something as simple as caring “a whole awful lot” could be just as important, especially when it comes to finding and claiming our piece in the conservation puzzle?

Caring can take on many forms and in the case of the following story, caring took on the form of a mesh laundry basket…

Back in late August 2018, a retired Townships-dwelling couple stumbled upon an incredible discovery. A pale emerald gem, dotted with gold, hanging from their basement window. What a sight! It was so perfect and beautiful that it hardly looked real. Being of the Nature Nerd persuasion, they suspected it was the chrysalis of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), though it was somewhat uncommon for them to spot one in those days. Intrigued, they began to look around the surrounding plants and much to their surprise and delight came across multiple black, white and yellow-striped caterpillars! More Monarchs! This moment of wonder spurred so much interest they began to do some research.

Even at that time, a few internet searches painted a fairly dismal picture with the words ‘threatened’ and ‘endangered’ making several appearances as they tried to learn more about the Monarch Butterfly. Equipped with some background information, the next step seemed not only obvious but completely feasible: they would care for the Monarchs in their own backyard in whatever way they could. This started as simply “keeping an eye on things”. When they noticed the caterpillars being predated by other insects at an alarming rate, they made the decision to intervene. Enter the mesh laundry basket.

With a handful of caterpillars to house, a mesh laundry basket became the perfect nursery. Placed under the gazebo on their front balcony, furnished with a few sprigs of milkweed and a water source, the caterpillars were able to feed to their hearts’ content and begin the process of transforming, undisturbed. That year the couple released a total of seven adult monarchs and documented three individuals in their backyard who survived natural circumstances.

Fast forward to the present day and every year since they have found themselves eagerly anticipating the waning of summer so they can relive the magic all over again. Their operation has evolved according to all they have learned along the way and they take detailed notes on every cohort. In addition to the nursery (now larger and more sophisticated), they have started to place orange flags along the roadside every August. These flags indicate the location of precious milkweed plants and serve as a means of communicating with town workers who are charged with mowing the tall grass- “Let this grow, please!” It has become a tradition, an annual summer ritual and with each adult Monarch Butterfly that floats by, they relish a feeling of wonder, gratitude and connection for their piece of the conservation puzzle.

This story serves as a heartwarming example of the difference individuals can make when they care about something enough to take notice, learn more and then take action. It is also part of the inspiration for an upcoming project the Foundation has brewing…

Milkweed & The Massawippi Foundation Monarch Project

 

As a migratory species that travels thousands of miles every year to overwinter in Mexico, a multitude of factors have caused a significant decline in the Monarch population. When you zoom out and focus on the scale and complexity of the Monarch’s plight, it is discouraging, to say the least. Deforestation of their winter habitat and extreme weather caused by climate change have taken their toll. Where to begin? When you zoom in and consider the factors that are important in our region specifically, however, the situation seems far less daunting maybe even simple.

While Monarch butterfly adults will feed on the nectar of various indigenous plant species, Milkweed alone is the food source for hungry Monarch caterpillars who will eventually undergo metamorphosis. Unfortunately, this native plant has suffered a significant decline due to the use of herbicides throughout the Monarch’s range. What’s more, studies conducted within the last decade suggested the decline in Milkweed was the most important factor influencing the more recent Monarch population struggles.

Not unlike other plant species, the fact it was once “everywhere” and the fact its name contains the word “weed” likely contributed to it being disregarded by many as a plant of little consequence. But this article is not about lamenting the past, it is about looking to the future.
Once you know what it looks like, it is impossible to ignore the abundance of Milkweed flanking the first section of the trail at Scowen Park in North Hatley. In summer it grows tall and blooms with gorgeous, ample umbels of pinkish purple with a surprisingly pleasant fragrance. In the fall, the plant slowly desiccates and the seed pods mature and eventually crack open displaying a fish-scale arrangement of seeds. Even now, in winter, the dried-up stalks and split pods protrude from the snow. For the Massawippi Foundation, this habitat represents a world of possibilities.

Starting this spring, the Foundation is excited to launch its very own Monarch Butterfly Project. Inspired by stories such as the one above and by various initiatives of organizations across the country (see list below), the Milkweed-filled meadow at Scowen Park will become a hub for learning about and protecting the Monarch Butterfly population that breeds in our area.

The plan is to adopt and build on elements of programs started by other organizations so as to create a project that contributes to existing conservation efforts and is also unique to Scowen Park. Central components of the project include:

  • Learning about and preserving the Milkweed and meadow habitat at Scowen Park
  • Raising community awareness about Monarch conservation
  • Leading educational activities and citizen science data collection days
  • Building a nursery where the public can witness the magic of Monarch metamorphosis

Consider this article as Part I of several outlining this exciting project as well as the fascinating natural history of the Monarch, pollinators in general, and the habitats on which they depend. We could not be more thrilled to be moving forward with this and we invite you to get in touch if you have resources to share or have an interest in getting involved.
Build Your Nature Vocabulary

Use the text and search the web to build your nature vocabulary and try using it the next time you’re out and about in nature, either making observations by yourself or with friends!

  • Chrysalis
  • Endangered (vs. Threatened)
  • Deforestation
  • Indigenous plants
  • Metamorphosis
  • Umbel
  • Citizen science

References

About the author of this article :
Mark Gloutney is Ducks Unlimited Canada’s national Director of Science, Education and Business Planning.

 

Originally published in The Globe and Mail on September 9, 2022
Thank you for granting us permission to share this article.

Reading Time: 4-6 minutes

Chances are high that you saw it over the summer at your favourite lake: thick scum on the water’s surface, often resembling pea soup. Blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) can render water unsafe for swimming and often makes people, pets, livestock, and wildlife sick.

In July, Nova Scotia listed 26 waterways suspected to have blue-green algae blooms. Officials with Alberta Health Services identified blue-green algae in areas of Camp Lake, east of Edmonton, and Haunted Lake (an ironic name for a place fouled by the sinister sludge), east of Red Deer. The Saskatchewan Health Authority issued a blue-green algae warning for Little Manitou Lake, southeast of Saskatoon. British Columbia’s Capital Regional District saw toxic algae blooms in three different lakes across two regional parks in August.

In other areas, the issue has been a recurring problem. For the past two decades, federal authorities have been closely monitoring algae conditions in three lakes with chronic blooms – Lake Winnipeg, Lake of the Woods and Lake Erie. The recently released State of the Great Lakes 2022 Report, published jointly by Canada and the United States, suggests there’s still a long road ahead for some of these iconic waterbodies, citing “significant threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem, including the impacts of nutrients.”

While algae occur naturally in water, excess nutrients feed overgrowth. The problem often begins far away. Runoff water from the watershed flows downstream, carrying nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. This could be a result of agricultural runoff, sources such as improperly managed septic fields, or wastewater treatment overflows.

Climate change is only making matters worse. Hot weather creates favourable conditions for blue-green algae blooms. August saw heat warnings issued in five provinces, spanning Eastern Canada from Ontario to the Maritimes. British Columbia also saw days of record-breaking temperatures this summer. As heat waves drive more people to seek respite in the water, the sickness plaguing Canada’s lakes may turn them away. People and animals exposed to toxic algae blooms can experience sudden flu-like symptoms and neurological problems.

Facing this, what can we do to keep our lakes healthy and clean? Protect and restore our natural wetlands.
Wetlands are amazing ecosystems that slow runoff flows, keeping excess phosphorus, nitrogen, and other harmful nutrients from lakes and streams. But they continue to be undervalued. Shrouded by cattails, the still and shadowy waters of marshes, ponds and bogs are often mistaken as a symptom of poor water quality rather than a solution to it. But don’t let appearances fool you. Wetlands are one of the most powerful solutions for chronic water issues.

Conservation organizations have long touted wetlands as water filters and a natural defence against the growth of blue-green algae. New research is quantifying this power.

For two years, Ducks Unlimited Canada studied eight small restored wetlands on the north side of Lake Erie to measure their ability to reduce nutrients in water before it reaches a lake. These small wetlands were low-lying, “edge-of-field” areas that had little value for crop production but enormous value in catching runoff from the surrounding agricultural lands. The wetlands retained 60 per cent of the most problematic form of soluble-reactive phosphorus from the water. They also retained 46 per cent of total phosphorus and 47 per cent of total nitrogen. Complementary research conducted in Manitoba showed that draining wetlands increases the amount of nutrients delivered to rivers and lakes downstream.

The good news is we have a strong understanding of what’s causing these outbreaks of blue-green algae and what can be done. The bad news is we’re not investing nearly enough to have a significant impact on the problem. Ducks Unlimited Canada estimates about 32 hectares of wetland are lost every day in Southern Canada.

Until we do more to conserve and restore wetlands, we can expect more beach closings and health advisories. Beyond the obvious drain on summertime fun, the economic, social and ecological repercussions will be significant. Depletion of fishery stocks, losses to tourism, as well as additional expenses related to water monitoring and treatment are all costly realities.

Wetlands are life preservers amid our water crisis. But these ecosystems are stressed. Will we move to protect them before it’s too late – for them, for our freshwater and for all of us?

Click on the link for more information and articles on wetlands written by our friends at Ducks Unlimited: https://www.ducks.ca/stories/

Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)

Reading Time : 5-7 minutes

Two of my most memorable Nature Nerding experiences happened in the Massawippi Foundation’s trails last winter and both came about because I followed my nose…

While hiking back up from the lake at the Massawippi Trail in Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley last February, I paused abruptly because I caught a hint of something pungent in the fresh winter air. Being quite certain what it was made me keen to have a poke around the trail. My friend watched as I let my nose be my guide, finally stumbling upon the source of the odour.

“Fox pee!” I exclaimed. My unbridled enthusiasm piqued hers and so I went on. “See? If you crouch down just here and sniff, you’ll smell a ‘skunky’ smell.”

Because she knows me and loves me just as I am, she obliged and a bemused, yet intrigued look came across her face. The investigation ensued. We followed the tracks leading to and from the urine and came across yet another goldmine of discovery: a mini kill site. Some small mammal had met its maker at the hand (paw) of a hungry Red Fox. And we got to see the disturbed snow and a few tufts of fur. Not so cool for the little critter, but a very neat find for a keener like me.

Fast forward to March 2022 and we are leading one of our first school activities at Scowen Park when that familiar smell wafts my way. With approximately 20 elementary school students in tow this time, the process of stopping is somewhat trickier. The look of excitement on my face manages to get everyone’s attention, however, and so I proceed to share my observation. And while talking about what my nose is picking up, I scan the surrounding area for tracks and traces. There it was, as though I had planned it. Right next to the trail is a spot of fox urine on a snow-covered log.

The kiddos who were curious enough, got up close to smell. Some were, understandably, content to “take my word for it”. Regardless, the conversation that followed around Red Foxes in winter and animal signs, in general, was quite possibly, one of the richest I’ve had. It was one of the rare occasions where we could actually talk about something and observe at the same time, feeling like we got a special glimpse into the world of this elusive canid.

Winter is actually one of the best times to learn about wildlife. This is because not all activity ceases in winter, and for some mammals like the Red Fox, it can actually be a critical moment in their lifecycle. Furthermore, snow provides a beautiful substrate on which we can observe some of the most fascinating goings-on of the forest. These two factors coupled together have helped me learn more about the Red Fox over the years, a species whose presence can be much harder to detect in other seasons.

So how can you expand your forest walk horizons and become more acquainted with wildlife like the Red Fox, for example?

Pick up interesting nature tidbits: I was first introduced to the concept of skunky fox pee by a fellow Nature Nerd (and animal tracker extraordinaire). Without this, I may not have ever noticed the smell while walking in the woods or I may very well have made the obvious assumption – must be a skunk who woke up? Consider this article as your tidbit – now roll with it!

When in the forest, slow down and let your Nerdy senses tingle: I noticed the skunky smell by myself for the first time while on a solo wander in the woods. The odour triggered a memory and so I took the time to see where the observation would lead. Next time you are in the forest, whether you slow down your pace or decide to stop for a few minutes, consider this an opportunity to truly engage your senses. If you focus on your sense of smell, for instance, does anything stand out?

Follow the clues, ask questions and make more detailed observations: Imagine you’ve smelled the smell. Now follow your nose! Maybe it’s the spot of urine you notice or maybe you see a trail of pawprints – or both. Ask questions like: Where is the urine located? What are the characteristics of each individual paw print? What about the pattern of the trail as a whole? Gather as much information as you can and try to even take photos or notes because this will help with follow-up investigation at home.

Do some research at home: Researching further at home can help you confirm your observations and learn more about the animal in question. In the case of the Red Fox, I had two main questions I wanted to answer: Other than the skunky urine, how can you tell the difference between a fox trail and that of a similarly-sized dog? Why the more pungent pee in winter?

As far as tracks go, foxes are members of the dog family, explaining the resemblance in pawprint, however, their trail is much more cat-like. One big difference between a fox trail and a domestic dog’s is the directness of a fox trail. A wild animal with energy to conserve has no time to dilly-dally and typically moves straight from point A to point B. A dog guaranteed two meals a day, can meander from one tree to the next, sniffing to its heart’s content. Insofar as the cat-like quality of the fox trail, this is because they direct register – which means their back paws land directly in the prints left by their front paws as they walk.

What’s the significance of strong-smelling urine? Come to find out, tods and vixens are in their mating season at this time of year and are busy trotting throughout their territories scent-marking. Urine is more potent this time of year as it is chock-full of information. Our unrefined sense of smell picks up skunk… Foxes pick up everything from the other fox’s sex and age to its breeding and dominance status.

I’ve been known to refer to my ability to detect the smell of fox pee in the air as a Nature Nerd “party trick”… but anyone can train their nose to do it, really. It’s not what you would call a subtle smell. The thing is, many of us walk the woods with an objective in mind. Whether it be to breathe in some fresh air, move our bodies or connect with a friend or family member- the agendas we bring with us into the forest can often distract from all the magical things just waiting to be noticed. It’s only normal, but it’s also worth reconsidering how we engage with nature from time to time so we may give ourselves the chance to behold this magic by simply slowing down and… taking a whiff.

Build Your Nature Vocabulary
Use the text and search the web to build your nature vocabulary and try using it the next time you’re out and about in nature, either making observations by yourself or with friends!

  • Canid
  • Direct register
  • Tod and vixen
  • Scent marking

References

  • Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey through the Fields, Woods, and Marshes of New England by Mary Holland
  • Tracking & the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes

Once it is gone, it is gone forever!
COP15

COP15 Montreal, Dec 15, 2022

One of the key targets of the COP15 is the 30 x 30 objective, which aims to protect 30% of the world’s natural land and sea environments by 2030.

Margot Heyerhoff, who is a Trustee of the Massawippi Conservation Trust (MCT), gave a presentation aimed to inspire participants through telling the story of the MCT, framed by the 4 tenets of conservation (conservation, research, recreation, education). Margot walked them through the humble beginnings of the Trust, the challenges, the successes, the growth in size and scope, the power of passionate volunteers and the many lessons learned along the way. It is a compelling story, told beautifully and it was enthusiastically received and most often described by participants as “inspirational”.

The energy in the room was palpable and positive.

The presentations of the day were focused on biodiversity and accelerating conservation in southern Quebec. Participants included the QC Minister of Environment and Climate Change, conservation organizations and partners, and mayors from Montreal, Monteregie and the Townships.

Key messages were:
• Strengthening, and government investment in, the conservation partnership
ecosystem in southern Quebec
• Urgency in the face of increasing economic pressure on land development,
climate change and the dramatic surge in flora and fauna migrating north into
southern Quebec from the US
• We only get one chance at conservation; once it’s gone it’s gone forever

Appalachian Corridor Association and Nature Action Quebec (NAQ) did excellent work in coordinating the event and supporting us. We learned a lot over the course of the day, met new conservation partners, made new friends and clearly elevated awareness of the Massawippi Conservation Trust.