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.