Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's Not Too Late ...

... to make a 2009 tax-deductible donation to a nature organization. The philanthropy challenge continues at White's Wetlands this week!

Today's featured organization is NATURE CANADA. Their mission is to protect and conserve wildlife and habitats in Canada by engaging people and advocating on behalf of nature. Their strategies are based on sound science and a passion for nature.

Nature Canada's newsletters have kept me informed all year about endangered species and species-at-risk as well as their many initiatives and achievements on behalf of wild Canada. When you support Nature Canada, your money works hard to

inspire kids to connect with nature. Educating kids to respect the natural world will ensure that future generations will continue to value wildlife and take care of the environment.

protect endangered species. Thanks to Nature Canada's petitioning and legal action, vital habitats have been protected and policy wins have been made: the Canadian government has now agreed to address a backlog on recovery planning for over 50 endangered animals and other species! You can be sure that Nature Canada will be there to make sure the government keeps its promise!

protect critical habitat and critically important areas, such as Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary — the only federally protected area in the Mackenzie Delta. Kendall Island is a haven for thousands of shorebirds. A massive pipeline project could cause this sanctuary to be flooded, destroying critical habitat forever.

If it proceeds, the Mackenzie Gas Project will trigger a rush of oil and gas development throughout the Mackenzie. Nature Canada is working to stop any development that threatens this delicate Arctic ecosystem.

There are so many species at risk in Canada. Nature Canada has taken positive and practical steps to reverse the decline, and they do so with a real passion for nature, true dedication and lots of hard work. So take a moment to visit the site. Join the Nature Nation, read the blogs, and most of all read the 2009 Success Report! Then make a new year's resolution to connect more with nature in 2010.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays from White's Wetland

It's always a "white" Christmas at White's Wetland!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Philanthropy Challenge Continues: The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada

Hello, Dolly!

Meet Dolly, one of the residents of the Donkey Sanctuary located in Guelph, Ontario.
In fact, just visit the site right now! You can get to know all of the donkeys who make this delightful place their home by reading their life stories. Then consider a generous donation this Christmas! Remember, donkeys play a very special role in the Christmas story.

And let's not forget their service to humankind down through the centuries. Sadly and far too often, these humble, hardworking animals have been subjected to terrible abuse, cruelty and neglect. The sanctuary welcomes all donkeys, regardless of the reason for their need of a new home, and gives them a pleasant, peaceful place to live out their lives, safe from harm and free of fear.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Philanthropy Challenge Continues: Salthaven

From Iraq to SW Ontario. Not far from White's Wetland, in Mt. Brydges in fact, injured and distressed wildlife have a sanctuary at Salthaven, a volunteer wildlife rehabilitation facility that receives 25 to 30 calls a day regarding displaced, sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife.

"With patience, persistence and attention to detail, Salthaven's dedicated group of volunteer caregivers has successfully treated and released countless healthy wild birds and animals back to their appropriate habitat in the wild."

Please visit the Salthaven site and learn more about their mission.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Philanthropy Challenge Continues: Nature Iraq

"It turns out Saddam Hussein did possess a weapon of mass destruction and he used it in a slaughter that few have heard of until now: after the Gulf War in 1991, the dictator spent untold millions on this weapon, designed to exterminate an ancient civilization called the Ma'dan, also known as the Marsh Arabs."

Last month, CBS ran a story on 60 Minutes that touched me deeply. Azzam Alwash, founder and CEO of Nature Iraq, is an amazing, extraordinary man. Please visit the Nature Iraq site and learn about his efforts to restore a very special wetlands area in Iraq that was home to people, plants and animals. If you missed the CBS story, you can view it on the Nature Iraq site. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Philanthropy Should Include All Species: A Donation Challenge

November 15 was officially designated National Philanthropy Day in Canada. This is a good thing! A reminder to one and all of the importance of social engagement, compassion and altruism in our community.

Our sense of community, however, must be challenged and widened to include non-human species and the natural world, because our "community" really is the entire planet, and the future of life on this planet is in jeopardy. If we fail to protect the delicate web that forms this precious community, then we will all suffer.

Sure, we must support hospitals, feed the homeless, educate young women the world over, fight crime and fight disease. But we must never underestimate or deny the fact that without the healthy, thriving life support system that is Planet Earth, we are doomed to extinction. This is not sensationalism. This is reality. Committing ecocide means we are killing ourselves.

At a certain point, it won’t matter if our local hospital has the latest medical equipment or that we have cured the incurable, because there will be no future for our children. If they can no longer breathe clean air, drink clean water, grow crops, have children of their own … what then?

This is not just about creating more "green spaces." This is not just about shopping "green" this holiday season. This is about survival. Our survival.

Even the tiniest creatures—the moth, the ant, the aphid, the ladybug and the beetle—have a role to play in the scheme of things. Each is vital. Each holds one precious thread to the whole beautiful pattern of life. But it is unravelling at breakneck speed.

Some stats for you, courtesy of the Canadian Wildlife Federation:

• Approximately 75 per cent of Canada’s reptiles are listed as being of special concern or higher.
• The International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently confirmed that 12 per cent of the world’s birds are at risk.
• Approximately 10 per cent of marine mammals (e.g. whales, porpoises, etc.) are ranked as at risk by Canadian standards.

This is just the iceberg tip of the whole damn tragedy. Honeybees are dying. Ice flows are melting. Even the magnificent lion—the so-called King of Beasts—is endangered. Recent numbers figure that only 30,000 of the big cats still exist in the wild.

In Canada alone, close to 600 species are endangered.

I realize people want optimistic stories and bright, "upbeat" stories—and there are plenty! Every day, I read about how someone is going the extra mile for wildlife and for the planet. I am moved, motivated and inspired by their efforts.

But we need to be nudged now and then by the sobering reminders of how much more we need to do. How little time is left. There is a sense of urgency now, as never before. There is no time to waste.

This holiday season—which is fast approaching—please consider a gift to one or several of the splendid, hardworking organizations in Canada and around the world dedicated to saving species, saving habitat, saving land and saving life on earth, in all its magnificent variety.

I will try to give as much as my wallet will allow in the coming weeks.

But I will also add my voice.

Every few days, from now until the 24th of December, I will feature an organization on this blog. Please follow the link, read about their work and their campaigns, and if you can give any amount—or any amount of time—to the cause, please do.

To begin today, I am featuring The Canadian Wildlife Federation, which provided the statistics quoted above and the magnificent photo of the stag and doe.

So if you are at all moved by this appeal, please pass it on. Spread the word. Let's see if we can hit record numbers of donations for nature, wildlife, animal welfare and environmental organizations this year.

We have a world to heal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Protection for the Wild Turkey

North America's wild turkey was hunted almost to extinction. Both Canada and the United States experienced severe declines in their numbers. My father long lamented the fact that he had not seen a wild turkey in our woods in many, many years.

Then, just a few years ago … there they were! We were all thrilled to see these birds take up residence in our woods. When species return to an area after long absences, it is encouraging. You really do begin to feel optimistic about the state of the natural world. Maybe there is hope! Our environmental programs might just be working after all.

So it is especially disheartening when the hunters turn up at the first whiff of a "wild turkey" dinner. This happened on Thanksgiving Sunday. Unfortunately, we cannot do too much about what neighbouring landowners allow on their properties, but when the damage affects what we are trying to achieve at White's Wetlands, it is particularly disheartening.

That Sunday I witnessed a flock of wild turkeys flushed out into our open fields as shots rang out from the woods. The birds were clearly distressed and confused. I felt so helpless. There was no action I could take at the moment because I would have caused them to fly back into the line of fire. Fortunately, they flew into our south woodlot, nearest me.

I never did see the hunters, although I heard their guns as I stood at the end of the lane. I am not sure if these big "weekend" game hunters bagged any members of the flock for their Thanksgiving meal, but I am hoping not. Not when domestic turkeys are in abundance in the supermarkets.

The other aspect to this whole sickening affair was the fact that the gate to our Wetlands was ajar, evidence of trespassing. Not only is trespassing on private property illegal, firing a weapon within city limits is as well. White's Wetlands is within city limits.

For the record here, hunting is not allowed on White's Wetlands. We are trying to protect existing species as well as their habitat.

So a word of warning: hunters beware! You are spotted on our property, the police will be called. You are breaking the law.

In the meantime, check out how wild turkeys are being protected in the United States on the Care 2 site:


Nature London

The McIlwraith Field Naturalists have been a part of the London Ontario community since 1864. The name of the organization honours Canadian pioneer and ornithologist Thomas McIlwraith. The group undertakes a variety of projects to promote environmental awareness, enhance habitat and protect natural areas. The club owns an 11-hectare nature reserve near Delaware. MFN members participate in the Christmas Bird Count, the annual Butterfly Count and other initiatives that encourage the study of local natural history and promote birding.

Check out their website and the Nature in the City flyer, which details the 2010 schedule of co-sponsored nature talks with the London Public Library. Of special note to wetland enthusiasts is the February 9, 2010 talk on the tenacity of wetland wildflowers: WETLAND WILDFLOWERS: Ingeniously Adapted to Life with Wet Feet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Means Thanking Our Farmers

Giving thanks this harvest time means thanking our farmers for all the great food we enjoy every day and in every season.

Foodies and farmers must join forces says Thomas Pawlick in his new book, The War in the Country. The author of The End of Food warns that the demise of the family farm and local independent farming to "corporate farming" is a serious threat to both rural life and a nutritional food source for all of us. Rural residents and urbanites have one common enemy: the factory farm.

But before any joining of forces or bonding between the two groups can take place, some age-old misconceptions, prejudices and animosities have to be replaced with enlightened awareness and a shift in attitude.

As someone who has a foot in both the rural and the urban, I can't help but lament the average city dweller's lack of awareness (and respect) toward the rural and farming community. There is a rather obnoxious hypocrisy about the urban rush for organic or fair trade food, the general "greening" of the urban dialogue, and the concern over sustainability when indeed the most sustainable and healthy mode of life—the rural life right here in Canada—is under threat.

Unfortunately, urbanites really don't really know where their food comes from or know much about the precarious existence that the providers of that food often endure in order to preserve a way of life that is very precious to them.

There is real misunderstanding about farmers and farming. Farming is most often a choice. Farming isn't something people do because they can't do anything else. Farmers are first and foremost business people—entrepreneurs, if you will. And because they must live with risk—a constant factor in a farmer's life—they have to be astute, patient, optimistic, even visionary. It is their dedication and toil, through weather fair or foul, that ensures that our supermarket shelves are always well stocked with food.

The next time you buy a bunch of carrots, a dozen eggs, a bag of milk or a package of pork chops, give some thought to the source. Where did my food come from?

As more and more Canadians ask that question, the possibility of forging a mutually beneficial and respectful dynamic between urbanites and farmers becomes a reality for the future—and that can only be good for all of us.

More on the misconceptions and misunderstandings about agriculture and rural life in other posts. I'm off to order my copy of The War in the Country.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Working for Nature: The Nature Conservancy of Canada

Every October, the Nature Conservancy publishes a supplement for the Globe and Mail, and today is the day to get your copy. If you want a paperless copy, you can download the pdf from the Nature Conservancy website. Of special interest to local readers, in and around London, Ontario, there is an article about Beryl Ivey's legacy of 762-acres of forested and wetland area.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More About Wetlands from the Canadian Wildlife Federation

Here is an update from CWF about wetlands on the west coast: Cleaning Up

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Migration Time in Southwestern Ontario

Our autumn skies are filling with birds on their way south for the winter. These tiny creatures are undertaking long and difficult journeys. Is there any way we humans can help? Nature Canada offers some precautionary tips.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Turtles in the News Again

Another unfortunate oil spill incident. Read the BBC article.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Plight of the Honey Bee

Being away from the Wetlands for the past few weeks has been difficult. There is something to the old adage "home is where the heart is." I would say home is where the head is too, and indeed my wetlands are never far from my mind ... or my heart.

That said, inspiration can be derived from other sources, and no less so from the Toronto International Film Festival, affectionately known as TIFF. On Saturday I felt privileged to be able to attend the screening of an important new documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Simply titled Colony, this is a very up close and personal film that follows the double whammy of vanishing honey bee populations and last year's economic crisis on the lives of the people severely impacted by both - the keepers of the bees.

I hope this documentary receives wide distribution. Here are some details about Colony.

For an earlier look at CCD, you can visit PBS's Nature site to read more about Silence of the Bees, which aired in October, 2007.

It's wise to point out, however, that CCD is not manifesting in Canada. And while this film was funded in Ireland, the focus is on the current American honey bee situation.

Regardless, this is a very serious situation and the loss of honey bee populations anywhere in the world would and will affect the well-being of the entire planet. We are all inextricably linked and connected to our natural world and to one another. The reason for the disappearance of millions of bees, not just in the United States but around the world, needs to be determined and remedied as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More About Turtles

Sea turtles this time. Namely, the Loggerhead.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey is a beautiful documentary that follows the extraordinary life of a plucky little loggerhead turtle. Screening now at the Toronto International Film Festival, it is a must-see film for children and adults alike. When it is eventually released in theatres, go see it!

In the meantime, however, you can take a sneak peek at: Save Our Seas Foundation.

This is an uplifting, inspiring film. The story of this amazing, ancient species encourages a profound respect for all ocean life. We must value their lives as we do our own. There is no other way forward if we too want to survive.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ecology and Education

Education has been on my mind a lot lately. Perhaps because another academic year is about to begin. I don't know.

But in the spirit of this new season of learning, I would like to share this passage with you. From Lewis Thomas, the eminent science writer:

"Teach ecology early on. Let it be understood that the earth's life is a system of interliving, interdependent creatures, and that we do not understand at all how it works. The earth's environment, from the range of atmospheric gases to the chemical constituents of the sea, has been held in an almost unbelievably improbable state of regulated balance since life began, and the regulation of stability and balance is accomplished solely by the life itself, like the internal environment of an immense organism, and we do not know how that one works, even less what it means.
Teach that."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Departure of the Barn Swallows

The soundtrack of summer has changed: the barn swallows are gone. And so begin the migrations. September! Such a bittersweet month. Sun and warmth, but all is changing…

For more about barn swallows and their migratory patterns visit The National Wildlife Federation site.

You can learn how global warming is affecting migratory patterns.

"Birds that depend on wetlands are suddenly without habitat as
global warming dries up their homes."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Get to Know Your Neighbours: Watch WhoTube!

I just added a link (see Important Sites to Visit below) to one of my favourite Canadian sites: Hinterland Who's Who. This is a great site to bookmark for your kids because it's a fun site with lots of videos, pics, stories and info about our neighbours - the wild critters with whom we share this country, from our rural wetlands to our urban backyards.

Education is the key to making this world a better place. One way of making this world a better place is by appreciating nature and respecting other species. Learning to cherish our wild neighbours for what they are—not just animated Disney characters—is a great first step for kids of all ages.

A respect for wildlife taught early on truly does last a lifetime.

I know. Thanks, dad.

The Turtles of White's Wetland

I've been watching for "Big Daddy" to make an appearance since I first caught sight of him on July 7. Big Daddy is one of the largest snapping turtles I have ever seen. He is enormous. To give you an idea of his size, I first thought that someone had flung a large green garbage onto the embankment of our pond.

As I approached the pond, however, I felt a rush of excitement. I realized that it was not a garbage bag at all. It was a massive snapper, sunning himself on the rocks. He was green because his shell was covered in the algae from the pond. He had, evidently, only recently emerged from the water. Completely motionless for a good long while, he suddenly turned his huge head. What a thrill to see that prehistoric profile! I named him Big Daddy because that is exactly who he is - the big patriarch of our pond. There are two others, females, and they are much smaller. But Big Daddy is impressive.

My only regret is that I did not have the camera or the handycam with me that day. Since then, I have been on the lookout for this extraordinary creature. To no avail. And as August becomes September, the chances of a Big Daddy spotting will become more and more unlikely. That's because snappers begin their hibernation cycle in mid-September. It is more than probable that Big Daddy has moved from his summer home in the pond and is travelling back to the wetlands via the creek. The females are long gone too, busy with their young.

Sadly, I have no photo, no video of Big Daddy for our blog. However, please check out this link to the Muskoka Wildlife Centre and learn about Sam, their resident snapper.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Tiny Insect Carries Human Civilization on its Wings?

The White family has been keeping bees and producing honey since 1919. My grandfather, Harry Oliver White (MP, Middlesex 1945-1963), was a respected apiarist who decades ago expanded the family honey business, shipping tons (literally!) of pure white honey to England during World War II.

Today, our bee colony is a much smaller enterprise, consisting of only a few boxes tucked into a quiet clearing in White’s Wetlands. This colony continues to supply the family and a dedicated following of “honey purists” who know and appreciate the quality of the honey my father—with the help of his little friends, of course—produces every year. Every September, after a frantically busy summer hovering around the pretty woodland wildflowers, pollinating and gathering, our hardworking bees honour us with the fruit of their labour. What we eventually pail for human consumption is the colour of liquid gold.

In fact, honey might one day become as rare and as costly as a precious metal. The honey bee and many other natural pollinators are in jeopardy. If the survival of pollinators is threatened, then our survival is too. Anyone who likes to eat—and I don’t mean just honey—will be impacted by the loss of the honey bee.

I guess that means all of us, uh?

In other words, honey bees are essential to human existence. One could even go so far as to say that the future of human civilization rests on their ability to survive all that we have inflicted on this planet. Simply put, humans need bees more than bees need humans.

Consider these well-documented facts:

 At least 80% of our world's crop plant species require pollination.
 Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants (Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996; Free, 1970 In Tepedino, 1979; and McGregor, 1976 In Tepedino, 1993).
 Indeed, one out of every third bite of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators.

And finally,

 Pollinators support biodiversity! There is a positive correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity (Heithaus, 1974 In Tepedino, 1979; Moldenke, 1975 In Tepedino, 1979; del Moral and Standley, 1979 In Tepedino, 1979).

Our honey bees are a respected part of the White’s Wetland family. We believe that respecting bees for what they are and recognizing their service to humanity are the first steps to ensuring that they remain with us for a long time to come.

The story of the honey bee is just another example of how humanity has survived and thrived thanks to the gifts of the natural world. Our sad track record shows that we humans have rarely repaid nature in kind. The ultimate moral of this story is that we might end up paying the biggest price of all.

To learn more about the potential loss of honey bees and other pollinators, please view this video and visit some of the organizations listed below. And “spread” the word, because education is key to making sure that everyone understands what is at stake.

Pollinator Partnership
Canadian Honey Council
Ontario Beekeepers’ Association

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Extinction is Very Real for Many Species

"That last bottled sparrow is what a species looks like when its habitat has vanished for good."

That line is from an article called "Last One" and you can read it online at National Geographic.

It would be a shame to see this tiny bog turtle end up as a specimen in a jar on display in a museum somewhere, just because we couldn't make the effort now to change how we live in order to accommodate "the wild ones" a little better.

We need to be more than just compassionate now; we need
to do things smarter, better, with more imagination and
innovation, more intelligence and wisdom. We humans need
to realize that we're not the only ones living on this
planet and that we can modify how we build, develop, grow,
work and play so that all species get a chance to live,
raise their young, perpetuate their uniqueness and continue
to contribute to the magnificent diversity that is life on earth.

Please visit National Geographic and view all of Joel Sartore's compelling photos of endangered species...
and take a good, long look.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Flying Frogs and Ancient Geckos

Recently I blogged about diminishing frog populations. Here
is an interesting article from the World Wildlife Fund about
"new" species of frogs, reptiles and animals found in a very
different but equally fragile ecosystem, the Eastern

"The Eastern Himalayas are now known to harbour a
staggering 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977
bird species, 176 reptiles,105 amphibians and 269 types of
freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of
the Bengal tiger and is the last bastion of the charismatic
greater one-horned rhino."
Read more!

Of pics, flics and videos: questions and answers

Yes, all of the nature photos on this blog are of White’s Wetland! Stock photos have not been used. Although I have much to learn about nature photography specifically and outdoor photography in general, I will doggedly keep taking the photos for this blog myself.

The one exception, however, is the black and white photo used in the August 8 post about birds.

No, that is not me, and it’s not my mother. That’s actress Tippi Hedren, who appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. Ms. Hedren, a longtime animal lover and devotee of the big cats, founded Roar in 1983, which exists to support her big cat sanctuary, the Shambala Preserve, “a meeting place of peace and harmony for all beings, animal and human.”

Home to MJ’s two tigers, Thriller and Sabu, the Shambala/Roar Foundation has two highly admirable missions, as I see it: it seeks to educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals and provides permanent homes to rescued big cats so that they may “live out their lives with love and dignity.”

Another question was prompted by the video of the moon above a cornfield. Yes, that is also part of White’s Wetland. To take a step back, let me describe our wetlands to you in greater detail.

The ESA that has been officially identified as White's Wetland lies on the north side of our road; the house, barn, lawns and surrounding fields are on the south side. The wooded wetlands are also surrounded by fields that belong to us and are currently being farmed.

As you can see, the field in the photo has been planted with corn. Crops are rotated annually, but I most love the years in which corn is planted in the horseshoe-shaped south field that hugs the house and barn. Once the tall, graceful stalks reach a certain height, they seem to wrap around our home like loving arms. Tall, green and elegantly tassled, the cornstalks provide a high, natural fence that is both inviting and sheltering.

Our wetland is properly “buffered” from the agricultural activity, in accordance with the regulations governing wetland stewardship and management.

More about agriculture and the environment in another post. It’s high time to enjoy the day.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Virtual Walk III - Night Falls on White's Wetland

Full moon this week. It was a bit hazy the other night, but we still managed to capture these sights and sounds. Sweet dreams!

This morning's "cast of characters"

That “perfect string of summer days” has come to an end. It is cool, overcast to the point of being downright gloomy … and rain is on the way.

We woke to an unusual sight for early August—hundreds upon hundreds of birds were flying in, seemingly from the southwest field, landing on every available perch and gathering on the lawn. Their en masse arrival and general rowdiness had the mourning doves cowering at one corner of the roof, visibly unnerved by it all. Even the barn swallows and the sparrows were staying well out of the way. The interlopers were noisy and voraciously hungry, pecking in the grass and poking around the flowerbeds. There were birds on the antenna. On the satellite dish. On the tree stumps. In the bushes. On the eaves.

Casting call for a remake of The Birds perchance???

Their behaviour, however, seems to have had all the indications of a migratory event. So soon? This early? This is something we generally start to see late in September or early October. I spoke to a neighbour about it and she, too, had been visited by several hundred birds last night before dusk. Given what we saw, we believe we witnessed not a flock of starlings but possibly a flock of Rusty Blackbirds migrating from their summer breeding area to their winter home south of the border. Jury is out on this one. But we are pretty sure what they are not. Starlings have yellow beaks; these "black birds" did not.

And the blue jays are back. No, not the baseball team. They’re happily being trounced in some stadium somewhere. I’m talking abouth those colourful, crested songbirds who usually winter with us. Today I spotted six of them, as a matter of fact, flitting back and forth between the spruce and the pines. Unusual to see jays here in the summer. Although, according to their range and migration patterns, jays are supposedly here with us all year round, we tend to see them throughout the winter, spring and fall, less so during the peak summer months. Do they prefer cooler climes to the hot, humid days of a typical southwestern Ontario summer?

But this has not been a typical southwestern Ontario summer.

So a morning of rather unusual bird observations, given the time of year and the area. With these sightings, autumn could be “in the air” so to speak. This is a bit of a twist to Shelley’s oft-quoted line from his “Ode to the West Wind” — if summer comes, can fall be far behind?

Indeed, this year, we are to some extent, still waiting for summer to come. She’s been an elusive tease.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Nature Blog Network

I am thrilled that White's Wetland has been welcomed
into the Nature Blog Network, which offers some of the
most interesting nature writing and photography on
the web. Check out other blogs on the network by
clicking on the logo at the top right.

Summer in Southwestern Ontario

There is nothing quite like a southwestern Ontario summer.

“There’s a different feel to the summer air in southwestern Ontario,” wrote Paul Wells in UWO’s alumni magazine recently. He speaks of the “impossibly lush green fields” and the “just-right humidity.” Anyone who has spent any time in southwestern Ontario will know exactly what Wells is talking about. For me, these words evoke exquisite sensory memories as deeply synesthetic as any Proustian madeleine or violin melody.

Being back at the Wetland this week, after a short stint in a stinky city just recovering from a six-week garbage strike, has left me speechless … and grateful. Grateful that such beauty exists. This string of perfect summers days has completely robbed me of words. I have shunned the laptop, the Blackberry and Twitter for the real twitterers! Our wetlands and our gardens are full of birds, and I have wanted only to experience every achingly lovely sight and every fleeting sound. I say fleeting because there are certain sounds that will only be heard now and over the next few weeks. Come September, the soundtrack will completely change.

Beautiful to begin with, White’s Wetlands has never been more verdant, more luxuriant than it is this week, the first week of August, 2009.

In fact, the entire area is breathtaking. After an inordinately wet July, southwestern Ontario is in full flourish now—the foliage is thick, the grasses tall and the ponds and creeks are full. Unusual for this time of the summer. The deciduous trees literally drip green and gold in the sunlight. The conifers are heavy-boughed and dark, their needles a deep green, reminiscent of April or May. There is not a brown blade of grass, a dry needle or a silent tree. Everything is alive with colour and sound. Birds sing, the grasses hum, the air buzzes. All the while, fat, fluffy clouds scud overhead.

Heaven truly is a place on earth.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caring for the not-so-cuddly creatures

Frog populations are dwindling all around the globe, while amphibian and reptilian populations in general are under serious threat as more and more wooded and wetland habitat is lost every year. It’s harder to encourage concern for these creatures who creep, crawl, slither and slide. Most humans seem to have a preternatural revulsion to them. Of course, they can’t be cuddled, and they have faces that clearly only their mothers can love. Our snapping turtle is downright ugly, if truth be told. But there is beauty in that creature, if you take the time to really look. Remember that when you are gazing at that carapace and observing that thick tail, you are getting a privileged glimpse at our prehistoric past. It’s actually a real gift and a blessing that these creatures still live among us.

Now consider the much-reviled snake. As a child, I was terrified of them. As an adult, having learned about the web of life and the delicate balance that the natural world must maintain, I have come to respect these creatures for what they are, and in doing so, I have lost my fear and lost my distaste. It is an extraordinary rush to feel empathy for something that you once loathed. It is cathartic - an emotional release.

Last week while filming at White’s Wetland, I caught sight of a lovely little snake. Of course, he vanished into the tall grass before I could see his head, but I did see the length of him: he bore yellow striping down his dark back. Once home, I tried to identify him by using Ministry of Natural Resources information.

(Here’s a good link, by the way, for Ontario residents interested in amphibians and reptiles: http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/subsite/glfc-amphibians/study)

Judging from the description, the photo and the habitat, I believe I saw a Northern Ribbon Snake.

But was it really?

I recalled another snake sighting, a few years ago, not fifty yards from where I spotted this fellow. He too disappeared very quickly into the grasses, but I saw a very long snake with an entirely black back, two characteristics of a now rare snake, the Black Rat Snake. If this was so, then it was indeed a privilege, as this snake’s numbers have declined considerable in southwestern Ontario due to loss of forest cover.

But seeing the striped snake last week so close to where I saw the black snake puts my identification in question because lo and behold there is another snake that fits both the profile and the habitat: Butler’s Garter Snake. According to the profile of this snake, found only in southwestern Ontario, some individuals lack striping and may be entirely black!

So what did I see?

I am just an amateur naturalist and these shy creatures slip away so fast, so I cannot claim any scientific certainty. But the good news is that White’s Wetlands is evidently home to a snake or two … or maybe three or four … or five or six…

This is a good thing. A very good thing. It means there is a healthy ecosystem present, one that can sustain both large four-footed creatures as well as amphibians, reptiles and insects.

It was a thrill to see the snake last week and it is a thrill to know that, hidden from us, they are there, living out their own lives with their own agendas completely and blissfully separate from ours, until we casually cross paths on a sunny summer’s day.

While it does matter what kind of snake I observed – stats need to be gathered to monitor populations – I am just glad at this point that they are there at all. A sense of balance has been restored. I am grateful for their presence because I have come to understand how precious and crucial they are. I feel protective of them because, as with all the wild things, they are vulnerable.

Whether evidence will ever confirm that a Black Rat Snake, or a Butler’s Garter Snake, or a Northern Ribbon Snake resides along the southeast rim of the wetlands where the flat, open stretch of field meets the creek, I will continue to watch for him, eager to catch sight of a flash of movement near my feet and happy in the knowledge that we share this space. Named or not, he exists. Therein lies the real joy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Virtual Walk II - The Stream

There's something about the sound of a babbling brook that calms
the mind and soothes the soul. Enjoy a zen moment with us ...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Take a Walk with Us

Take a virtual walk in the woods. Just before the rain started today, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Join us ...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wetlands and Space Exploration

Do these two have anything in common? Of course they do! As John A. Murray wrote, “Nature is the universe.” The entire universe—from the tiny fireflies that spark and glow like miniature earthbound replicas of the stars to the distant red glow of Jupiter low on the eastern horizon this July night—is one.

And we are part of this magnificence.

I started thinking about this as my father and I stood in the dark last night near the edge of the cornfield, waiting for the International Space Station, and the shuttle, to approach from the NW at 31 degrees. The serenity of this unusually cool summer evening was only punctuated by the throaty grunts of the frogs in the pond. Would they be looking up too? Hardly likely. But it was interesting to consider all of the creatures of the wetlands—slumbering or awake at this hour—and think about the wholeness of it. The sparrows had long since tucked their new brood into the nest for the night, the rabbits had hunkered down in the garden, and the deer were again safely sheltered in the woods after their nightly crossing at dusk.

And there we were, dad and I, under the constellations again, and waiting for our second sighting of the ISS. Thanks to a NASA site, we had all of the coordinates. And right on cue, there it was. When it came into view, it was unmistakable. Not a plane, not a star, most certainly not a UFO. For we had the coordinates and we knew what we were seeing: an example of what great and fine things we humans are capable of when we put our minds to it and rise above our petty but destructive squabbles here on earth. Whether or not one supports the notion of manned space exploration, one can’t help but feel a thrill of achievement.

Yes, we need to clean up the planet and take care of business here on earth. That's a given. We should be doing this, and we must be doing this. We need to protect these wild areas and these wild things. Sleeping here under the stars, they are every bit as precious as the acquisition of new knowledge. But I believe that science and technology can save us—and them. For science—opening the mind to the true nature of things—is the only way forward to saving planet Earth.

This is the best of us, up there. Learning, exploring, gathering knowledge. And perhaps most important of all, there is the cooperation and the camaraderie we could have here on earth. Are these not fine examples of noble endeavours? Now, if we could only drag some people away from their reality TV shows and make them look up. Way up.

We need to look after the entire universe. And by look after I mean, learn about it, respect it and revel in it, for this is our home. All of it. The solar system and this ecosystem. We need to think better and dream big. With optimism. We need to take it all in with wonder again. Like children. Say Wow! now and then. Isn't this something!

Because it is. It is our magnificent blue and green planet in the vast ocean of the universe. And it is all wondrous and awe-inspiring, from the constellations to these little fireflies, flickering in the dark above the cornstalks.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Welcome to White's Wetland and to our inaugural post. More pictures, more history, more information and more links will be added in time.

It is summer in southwestern Ontario and that means the trees are green, the vegetation is thick and lush, birdsongs fill the sky during the day, frogs croak a chorus in the summer night, and dawn or dusk brings sightings of deer,coming down to the pond to drink. Turtles bask on the rocks,soaking up the rays after a long winter. Swallows swoop and tease. Hummingbirds gather in the gardens.

Everything seems to be at play, enjoying the sun and the warmth. Animals and birds, reptiles and amphibians - all welcome summer, just as we humans do.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, I hope to share stories about our wetland, introduce you to some of the main characters who share our space and talk about the importance of wild spaces in general. Everyone these days seems to talk about the environment and about being green; but when I come home to the Wetland, I see firsthand why it is so important. It's not just an agenda for me. This is a living, breathing entity, a wondrous space that I want to see preserved. As long as it is in my power to protect the species that also call this tract of land home, I will. They deserve to be here as much as I do.

So I won't be on the pulpit about the environmental movement every day, although I do want to convey the importance of wetlands. Most of all, I want people to feel something. I believe that we have a real chance of saving species and preserving biodiversity the sooner we humans realize that we are all connected.

You have to care about something in order to protect it. The wild world deserves our care, attention ...and respect.

So until the next post.