Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods..."

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, by George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Late Autumn Sun

"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do."

"Wayfarers All"

Into The Wild Wood

Last of the Summer Hollyhocks

Apples Anyone?

Old Growth

New Growth

Monday, October 25, 2010

Which Way to the Enchanted Forest?

A Sleepy Hollow

A Carpet Below

A Tangle of Tree Tops

October Woods

Our Patient Heron

Autumn Walks

Mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine are like a siren song come October. With so few really pleasant days remaining before the weather turns nasty, the great outdoors is far too appealing and time too precious to waste staring at a computer. Instead of words, I'm just going to post some pictures that were taken during the month of October.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Great Blue Heron paid the pond a visit. Thanksgiving Day, we took advantage of the fine weather and strolled through the woods.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our Fabulous Trees – An Update

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”– from Essays of Travel, Robert Louis Stevenson

Kettle Creek Conservation Authority dropped in last month to do their Survival Assessment on the 1200+ native species trees that were planted on the property on May 17, 2010. Happily, we can report that KCCA was very, very pleased with the site's progress overall. The trees are doing well, with very few failing to thrive. This is great news. We are absolutely thrilled with our Carolinian “plantation.” Pictured above, one of the little tulip trees.

As for the for the quote above, I couldn’t resist “re-cycling” it from a recent Nature Conservancy Canada e-newsletter regarding Gillies Grove. Gillies Grove is a fine example of one of Ontario’s remaining old-growth forests. Part of a Parks Canada national historic site, Gillies Grove contains some of southern Ontario’s tallest White Pine trees and supports species like the Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated Woodpecker. Recognized as a natural treasure for its old-growth trees, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, along with the Land Preservation Society of the Ottawa Valley, purchased and protected Gillies Grove in 2001.

So, tree lovers, please visit the Nature Conservancy of Canada to learn more about NCC’s contribution to conservation in our nation!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Swallows Depart

“What, already?” said the Rat, strolling up to them. “What’s the hurry? I call it simply ridiculous.”

Our swallows have departed, leaving us as dismayed as Rat was to see his swallows readying themselves for departure. But this is how the swallows describe it:

“First, we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come the recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter through our dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day. We hunger to inquire of each other, to compare notes and assure ourselves that it was all really true, as one by one the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us.”

And like Rat, we wish it were not so.

“Couldn’t you stop on for just this year?”suggested the Water Rat wistfully. “We’ll all do our best to make you feel at home. You’ve no idea what good times we have here, while you are far away.”

...from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Latest Buzz

It has been a busy summer at White’s Wetland. Consequently, not much blogging! So this September update is all about honey. The 2010 crop is in and it is bee-autiful. It seems that our bees were just as busy this summer, providing us with significantly more honey than last year. The colour is exquisite and the taste divine.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Sultry Summer in Canada's "Old South"

A string of steamy, sunny days came to an end overnight with a sudden rain shower, just after midnight. Today it's overcast but still muggy. The air, somewhat stagnant. I am not complaining, however! For this is summer in southwestern Ontario, and while the rest of the country was gasping through an unprecedentedly long heat wave, we who live in the most southerly part of Canada just smiled and took it all in stride. What's the fuss?

This is Canada's "bayou" in a way, the last stand of the remaining Carolinian Forest north of the border and home to more species of amphibians, reptiles, and plant and animal life than probably any other part of Canada.

For that alone, this territory is precious. And I haven't even mentioned the Great Lakes yet! The largest inland waterway in the world surrounds us in its blue embrace. Lake Huron to the west and Lake Erie to the south. A green elbow of lush deciduous woods and rich farmland in between. Can you tell that I love it here? You bet!

So this morning's sightings were a feast for my city-weary eyes: great drops of rain dripped from the majestically tall tulip tree; everywhere I looked, green, green, green, green. And the birds: a flicker, a brown thrasher, a hummingbird, and two tiny goldfinches—a splash of brilliant yellow in the deep green foliage.

Then, from the tall grass along the banks of the creek, our blue heron rose suddenly, slowly, struggling (or so it seemed at first) to carry himself aloft on his great wings. Right behind him, a very vocal, very upset red-winged blackbird. The smaller bird relentlessly pursued the long-legged heron, as red-winged blackbirds are wont to do when protecting their nests in the marshes, until the heron was well out over the pond. Of course, no camera on me at the time.

Last year, the blue heron wintered here. I am hoping, in view of the travesty of the oil disaster in the Gulf, the heron chooses to remain here at White's Wetland again this winter. Even in this seemingly secluded, serene sanctuary that is our wetland the utter horror of the destruction of the Gulf's wetlands and marshes is never far from my mind. I worry. I am concerned about the birds who will be migrating straight into Hell this fall. And I feel so helpless.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oil Spills Kill

The photos are gutwrenching. Those of us who value the lives of wild creatures and who are concerned about wetlands are anguished by what we are witnessing. We knew already how fragile those wetlands, deltas and marshes were, but this oil spill disaster will cause a mass destruction and depletion of species in the Gulf of Mexico the likes of which we have never seen. But the sickening pictures of crude-covered, gasping pelicans show only what we can see with the naked eye. What we cannot see is equally worrisome and troubling.

Oil spills kill. It's as simple as that. What is really happening to the birds, reptiles, crustaceans, amphibians, fish and mammals? It's not just the oil on their feathers, wings or shells; the oil is doing significant internal damage as well.

No, it is not a pretty picture at all.

Here then a little "Oil Spill 101" in order to fully understand what is happening to the wildlife in the Gulf. As hard as it may be to read, these are the facts (thanks in part to Wikipedia for helping me to explain this):

External Damage and Effects

Oil penetrating up the structure of the plumage of birds reduces its insulating ability, making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations. Birds also become much less buoyant in the water. Furthermore, oil impairs their flight abilities to forage and escape from predators.

Internal Organ Damage

As oiled birds preen (in a desperate attempt to clean themselves), they ingest the oil that covers their feathers, which causes digestive tract irritation, kidney damage and altered liver function. This (and the limited foraging ability) quickly causes dehydration and metabolic imbalances. Moreover, hormonal balance alteration can also result in some birds that have been exposed to petroleum.

Unfortunately, most birds affected by an oil spill die without human intervention at this point. Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are similarly impacted—insulating abilities are reduced, which leads to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil causes dehydration and impaired digestions.

Loss of Life at the Organic Level

All levels of marine life and habitat are jeopardized when a significant maritime oil spill occurs. Because oil floats on top of water, less sunlight is able to penetrate the water, which in turn limits the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton. Ultimately, this adversely affects the food chain of the entire ecosystem.

You could say that the damage to the food chain, or ecosystem, is both a "top down" and a "bottom up" phenomenon—not only do the birds and mammals that live on or near the water suffer physiologically from contact with the oil, even the tiniest organisms that depend on sunlight to thrive are choked off under the dark, sunless waters. It is, therefore, the death of the entire infrastructure.

From the largest predators to the tiniest microscopic organisms, maritime oil spills are utterly devastating.

Environmentalists, ecologists and animal lovers alike, we are all venting our outrage, because what we are witnessing in the Gulf these days is a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. I do not believe I exaggerate.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rivers to Oceans Week: June 8 - 13, 2010

Did you know...?

"Canada has the longest coastline in the world – 243,793 km – and is home to almost one-quarter of the world’s wetlands. More plants and animals actually live in water than on land, and there are many ways we can contribute to their survival through our everyday activities." (CWF)

Water, water everywhere ... but one day there may not be a drop of (clean) water to spare. Unthinkable in Canada, you say? Not necessarily. Canada's pristine waterways and the precious life they support need to be protected. Water is essential to life. Period. Without it, we all die - salmon, turtles, birds, beasts, humans.

Wetlands - yes, wetlands! - streams, creeks and rivers are part of the discussion about healthy lakes and oceans, which is why the week is called Rivers to Oceans.

So check out The CWF site to learn more. There are some great pics of the leatherback seaturtle too. CWF dares you to care about the quality of Canada's water and about endangered aquatic species. So get "in the flow" next week...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The "Environment Scene" This Week

This is Canadian Environment Week, from May 30 to June 5, 2010, which leads up to World Environment Day on June 5th. I must admit, the distressing reports on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are derailing my usual drive and optimism. Forty years of concerted environmentalism and this kind of catastrophe still manages to occur, despite the efforts of dedicated people everywhere?

So this week and on World Environment Day, let's take a moment to first honour all the victims of the BP Spill and then renew our individual commitments to the green revolution. Plant a tree, sign a petition, donate to a wildlife charity, leave the car at home. Whatever. Maybe a million small acts of kindness ...

Monday, May 31, 2010

The BP Oil Spill

I haven't been blogging about the BP oil spill in the Gulf because, quite frankly, I can't seem to summon the words—my sorrow and my anger just get in the way each time I begin. Here, surrounded by the beauty of our own wetland, I have such a difficult time grasping the fact that so many people on this planet are simply unable to respond with awe and wonder when confronted with the splendid magnificence of the natural world. Indeed, they are so unmoved by it and care so little about it that they are willing to put the environment in harm's way to serve their own ends. Amassing money and wealth is a mirage, a foolish and fleeting illusion—you can't take it with you! So why not leave something behind for your children to truly enjoy—like a living, breathing, healthy planet that will be able to sustain them?

Vast acres of shoreline, inland waterways, marshes and wetlands will be irreparably damaged for decades to come. Entire populations of migratory as well as resident birds, marine animals, reptiles, amphibians and insects—many of which were already on the endangered species list—will be devastated. The death toll is rising every day. We won't see the full extent of the effects on living organisms, including humans, for a long time to come. The entire web of life in the Gulf bioregion is going to be compromised like never before. And BP seems no closer to a solution. I won't even begin to air my feelings about BP and their disingenuous PR patter here on this blog. As far as I am concerned, they are criminally negligent.

So no images of oiled birds here. At least not today. Such photos abound on the Internet. I'm not going to embed links to the countless articles and reports circulating. Yet please read and follow reports from CNN, PBS and other sources as well, such as Natural News. Learn the truth. Learn as much as you can about this heinous and disgusting event, which could have been avoided if BP had been a responsible corporate citizen in the first place with both preventive and emergency measures in place. Today, I simply needed to break my silence.

As we face these truly dark days ahead, however, let us all be more wary of corporations who apply a thin coat of green wash to their company policies then continue on business as usual, of environmental agencies and governments who are willing and complicit partners in the rape of the world by allowing themselves to be bought by big money, of the sad reality that collusion and greed are destroying this planet.

Politicians love to trot out the words "economic" and "employment" to mollify the populace, to have us believe that jobs and the economy must trump all other concerns.

Nothing is further from the truth: if we do not have a healthy, clean environment first and foremost—air, water and soil—then we will have nothing. We will not need jobs and we will not need dollar bills if we cannot eat, cannot breath and cannot find potable water to drink. It will not matter at some point if you are rich or poor. There is no insurance policy in the world that is going to get us out of this mess unless we humans change the course of events with our anger, our outrage and our sorrow. It is down to us.

The term sea change means "a marked transformation." We need a massive and global transformation in attitude about the environment. We ARE the environment. Brown pelican, sea turtle, dragonfly, human—we are all part of the web of life on this planet.

Unfortunately, for much of the marine life in the Gulf and the humans who hug its shores, depending on the waters for their livelihoods, it is already too late.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trees Planting Day at White's Wetland

Approximately 1200 - 1300 trees were planted today at White's Wetland! Kentucky Coffee Tree, Shagbark Hickory, Bur Oak, Tulip, Tamarack, White Pine, to name just a few of the species. It was a perfect day for tree planting - blue skies, fresh breezes and sunshine. Pictures, video and details to follow. Thank you, KCCA!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Trees Are Almost Here...

No, Birnam Wood is not on the march, MacBeth! But 1500 native species trees will be arriving at White's Wetland very, very soon. Indeed, a mini-forest will be springing up! Stay posted for pics and vids of this first-ever WW event. Over the years we have planted a lot of trees, but never this many at one time.

Needless to say, we're very excited to be doing our small part to help replenish the Carolinian woods in the Kettle Creek watershed. We look forward to the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority's arrival next week with great anticipation.

In the meantime, enjoy this photo of yours truly and her favourite maple tree taken many years ago when both tree and reader were, well, shall we say, a little bit younger! This is a lovely summer memory I'll always cherish.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lives of Trees: An Old Friend Falls as New Ones Arrive

Trees, like people, have a natural life cycle and a finite life span. Trees grow up, grow old, and eventually die. The life span of a tree is influenced or determined by a variety of natural events, not the least of which is the variety itself. Some tree species simply live longer than others. Other factors that affect the life span of a tree include the availability of water, sun, the presence or absence of wind, fires, insects, as well as specific diseases.

It is said that sugar maples can live up to 400 years. While we do not have an exact figure on this tree, we estimate that this particular maple is most likely well over 150 years old. It was probably here when the land was cleared for the first house. It was a mature tree as far back as my father can remember, and I grew up loving this lofty beauty. Its sheltering foliage has shaded me from the hot southwestern Ontario sun many a summer. I have often read beneath its lush green canopy, or sat with a dog at my side and my back against its sturdy trunk. At one time, many years ago, that area was fenced. Happily for me and my horse, there was a gate directly beneath the two old maples, and kids and horses just love gates: I liked to perch on the top rung and my horse liked to hang his head over it. We spent some good times together in the shade of that tree. Winter, spring, summer and fall—it has been there all the days of my life, so I shall miss it terribly if it has to come down.

I think this will soon be inevitable, however. It is not looking healthy at the crown. The foliage is small compared to that of its equally elderly neighbour, another big old maple tree just a few feet away. While only one of the largest limbs has sheared off, the interior texture of that limb was soft and spongy. I am no expert, but I think this once sturdy sentinel is probably at the end of its life cycle. Will it last the summer? Even as we welcome 1500 new trees this month, it seems we will soon be saying goodbye to a dear old friend.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Comes to the Wetland

One of the female snapping turtles has returned to the pond. Red-winged blackbirds are suddenly in abundance, their distinctive, shrill call piercing the calm spring air. The barn swallows are back too, swooping giddily over the water in search of insects. There are shoals of minnows in the creek. The geese and the mallards have been contentedly spending entire days here together. Not even Monty (our rambunctious Alsatian) seems to faze them. Across, in the wetlands proper, the trees are full and green, and it is a welcome sight. Around the house, the apple trees are bursting into blossom. So too are the lilacs and the magnolia. It's May in southwestern Ontario.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Oil Spill is Massive ...

Satellite pictures from NASA are showing us the size of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is an environmental disaster of monumental proportions, and one that further threatens an already threatened coastline.

The coastal areas of Louisiana, like delicate lacework, are a web of marshes, deltas and wetlands that are home to migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. What is happening in the Gulf right now is deplorable. Louisiana was already losing critical coastal habitat - and now this. It is truly heartbreaking.

Visit America's Wetland Foundation for information, press releases, statements, and ways to volunteer or help.

To learn more about "dead zones" you can visit Microbial Life. Unfortunately, there is a dead zone in Lake Erie too.

The pond "springs" to life ...

Have you ever heard frogs burst spontaneously into song to welcome a spring rain? I have, just this morning. Dark clouds had moved in early and all was quiet. The rain soon followed, like a hail of swift silver arrows. In a matter of seconds though, another sound was distinctly audible. What a thrill to realize that the rising voices were those of frogs. Full chorus now, their joyous song rose up from the pond as if they had all been awakened at the same time from their winter slumber by the warm spring showers. In unison, they sung their grateful appreciation to the universe.

This is Nature's choir. This is the gospel of Gaia.

To hear frogs responding to the rain is an experience everyone should have. It is a privilege we may lose. We live in a magical world—nature's magic kingdom—and we need to experience these moments and allow ourselves to be touched by how other species live in it. It is their world too, and they have their own joys and sorrows.

Humans love Spring. And so do frogs.

To learn more about disappearing frog populations, please visit Save The Frogs and check out their frogblog.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Word About Whales ...

No, no whales at the wetlands, but here is a distressing bit of news, and it's something that I need to share. I imagine that, like me, you believed the moratorium on commercial whaling was effectively protecting the world's whale populations from being decimated for profit.

Turns out the opposite is true—the number of whales being commercially hunted has actually gone up since 1986, not down. This has led to the concept of an "arrangement" that would allow some commercial whale hunting, since the moratorium doesn't appear to be working.

A good idea, or a really bad compromise? Would the three countries that simply refuse to acknowledge the moratorium even respect the notion of quotas? Call me cynical, but I think that would be highly unlikely. Where there's money to be made ...

Anyway, check out the Time article and see what you think. Either way, it seems to me that the whales will still be the losers in this latest "war."

Maybe the best way to end this post is with the words of Joanna Macy, from her Bestiary:

Dive me deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother ocean where once I swam, gilled and finned. The salt from those early seas still runs in my tears. Tears are too meagre now. Give me a song ... a song for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We Are The Rocks Dancing...

This is a line from Thinking Like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings, written by John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, and the "father" of the Deep Ecology Movement, Arne Naess. It is a book about ritual and prayer and healing, not only for an ailing planet but for the ailing soul, because those of us who care deeply about our planet's environmental well-being and mourn the loss of wild habitat and the extinction of species due to human folly and ignorance often endure despair and a loss of hope.

It is also a call to move beyond just thinking about nature and to start feeling what it must be like to be another species. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," said the Harper Lee character, Atticus Finch.

Well, this takes it a step further, shall we say. We are asked to put ourselves into the skin of "the others" with whom we share this planet; for example, the Swift Fox, the Bowhead Whale, the Peary Caribou, the Mountain Plover, the Lake Erie Water Snake and the Leatherback Turtle, as well as howler monkeys, hummingbirds, bottle-nosed dolphins, curlews and condors, yes, even the lichen, the weeds, the leaves and the rocks.

"In Geneva, the international tally of endangered species, kept up to date in loose leaf volumes, is becoming too heavy to lift. Where do we now record the passing of life? What funerals or farewells are appropriate?"

If we can inhabit their world in our imagination for only a few moments, perhaps we can feel reconnected to something bigger—and grander—than ourselves. We need to leave our human egos at the proverbial door.

"I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots. And am stuccoed with quadrupeds and birds all over" wrote Whitman.

The premise of Deep Ecology is that we are not isolated from nature but very much a part of it. In fact, we are Nature. One and indivisible from it. We're just another mammal here on Planet Earth.

Modern man has suffered a serious disconnect from this fact, this reality. The very real effect of this disconnect is the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves. We have big brains and wield the power, and so we have dominated the earth, but we have behaved with such careless disregard and ignorance that now even we are in peril. The Native way has been the wisest, perhaps, as their spirituality and cosmology have remained deeply respectful and connected to the earth.

Deep Ecology is not just about recycling, reusing and reducing, although these are important activities that deep ecologists engage in. Deep Ecology is about changing one's entire attitude and way of perceiving the world. It is about re-connecting with the world and realizing our role in the great scheme of things. It's about recognizing that we are not separate beings, divorced from nature.

Now, humankind is just as threatened by imminent extinction as the other species. We are just one more species that will not make it if we fail to be wise, right now, at this point in time. So given that we have this consciousness, which is surely itself a product of nature, having emerged and evolved according to the same laws as everything else, we must now use it to make a lasting change, a change that will save our planet, ourselves.

Only we can do this. Yes, we must use our intellects to do the practical work that needs to be done. And there is much work to be done. But today, on Earth Day, feel the connectedness in your bones...

Don't just say, "I am protecting the rainforest."

Be the rainforest.

Awaken your mind to a new way of being in the world.

Remember this: that every atom in your body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. We share this in common with "them," the other living species of this planet. We are atom, we are mineral, we are water, we are the elements … we are the rocks dancing.

To learn more about Deep Ecology today, please follow the link at the bottom of the blog.

Quoted text above is from Thinking Like A Mountain.

Revel in the joy of being alive today and here on Planet Earth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Walk in a Carolinian Woods

On the eve of Earth Day 2010, I'd like to draw your attention to Canada's disappearing Carolinian forest. Did you know that a full 80 percent of this precious natural heritage has already been destroyed?

What is a Carolinian forest? For those of us lucky enough to live in southwestern Ontario, we know that we are "in it." This low-lying region of the Ontario peninsula, enclosed by lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, is the same, continuous vegetation zone that stretches across the eastern half of the United States. There are regional differences, of course, and the "borders" of this zone are hard to determine precisely, but this vast region is generally defined by the predominance of deciduous trees. Conifers are found too, but the broad-leaved deciduous trees far outnumber the conifers, which characterize the boreal forests and the mixed forests to the north of us. In other words, the forests people tend to think of when they think of Canada.

In truth, we should really use the term "Eastern Deciduous Forest" to describe this zone. How the name "Carolinian" came into use is a fascinating story in itself, and you can read the full history of it at Carolinian Canada. But whatever you want to call it, this most southerly corner of Canada is unique. Carolinian Canada is also very small. Altogether, it represents less than one-quarter of one percent of the total land mass of this country.

Yet despite its small size, it is an area rich in species variety. Found here are more rare species of plants and animals than in any other region of Canada. Parks Canada gives us a glimpse of this astonishing variety:

"There are over 70 species of trees alone. Nowhere else in Canada are there more species of reptiles (27) and amphibians (20). The zone is also home to 50 species of spiders and insects not found elsewhere in Canada. Acadian flycatchers, Carolina wrens, blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and yellow-breasted chats are at the northern limit of their breeding range. But many Canadians call the Carolinian zone home, too. As a result, much of the land has been cleared for cities and used as farm land."

I started this post with a bleak statistic. Let it stand as a reminder and a call to action. This unique and special part of Canada is in danger of disappearing entirely because what remains of it is scattered and disconnected, and continues to be threatened by ill-informed, shortsighted development.

We must do all that we can to preserve what is left of our natural heritage. I believe that if we understand how truly precious, rare and unique this region is, we will not only be enchanted by it—yes, these are enchanting woods, worthy of wonder and respect!—we will be inspired to act, painfully aware of what will be lost if we do not.

I love deserts and I love mountains. The islands of the Caribbean, the west coast of Canada and the landscape of New Mexico have all lured me and captured my imagination with their beauty. But when I dream of Home, it is southwestern Ontario. And when I dream of southwestern Ontario, I see my lush, green deciduous trees, their broad leaves swaying in the summer breeze, their immense, sheltering beauty extending over shores, streams and creeks and hugging the quiet, off-the-beaten-path rural roads of my childhood.

Turn up the volume and enjoy! The footage below was filmed at White's Wetland in July of 2009. Just another lovely summer's day in the woods. And to learn more about the Deciduous Eastern Forest Zone, please visit Carolinian Canada.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Thoughts on Earth Day

It seems to me that many people associate Earth Day only with climate change and global warming issues. That's too bad, because while world leaders, scientists and citizens debate and argue over the stats, the planet's environmental health coughs and sputters along, wild habitat is being bulldozed and levelled, wetlands drained for development, and more precious species are ending up on endangered lists or lost to us forever.

Earth Day is more than the global warming debate. It's about celebrating this beautiful planet and engaging in efforts to save it on many fronts. And we can each do our part. Don't let the naysayers discourage you. Do what you can. Find something in the natural world that you love and then say—yes—I want to protect that! I want to save that! It can be a tree or an entire woodlot, or a species that you feel passionately about.

What do you love? What fascinates you?

Elephants? Moose? Polar bears? Brown bears? Butterflies? Sumatran tigers? Turtles? Frogs? Warblers? Wrens? Snakes? Salamanders? Owls? Orangutans?

What do you feel passionately about?

Your neighbourhood ravine? A marsh you have visited? A national park? A wildlife sanctuary you saw on the news? The oceans? The Amazon?

It's all important and it all matters. You just need to (a) really care about something and then (b) stand up and be counted.

This week, support what you love about Planet Earth with your actions, your energy, your voice and, where necessary, your dollars.

That’s Earth Day. People everywhere doing something good for the planet.

And believing that change is possible.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Trees Are Coming!

We love trees! In fact, the more the merrier. And this year, there will be even more trees at White's Wetland.

We are committed to good stewardship of the land, and that includes reforestation. Reforestation is good for a number of reasons. Of course, it's really important to make sure that the plants and shrubs native to this area, which are part of our natural heritage, have a chance to regain territory and flourish. But trees also maintain a healthy watershed. The Kettle Creek Conservation Authority is working hard to make this happen. Every year since 2001 KCCA has been planting Carolinian and native tree and shrub species in the watershed. To date, more than 400 acres have been reforested in the KCCA watershed, or, in other words, 100,000 trees a year!

This year, White's Wetland is getting in on the act. Some time very soon, once the soil is dry enough and ready, KCCA tree planters will be planting some 1200 to 1500 trees here! Very exciting.

Among the species we have chosen to plant are the Kentucky Coffee Tree (which is an endangered species), Honey Locust, Tulip Tree (deciduous), and Tamarack (coniferous).

I'll blog more about the full "palette" of trees that will be planted as planting day approaches, and about the Carolinian zone in general too, but it is gratifying to know that so many of the original growth Carolinian trees are going to be reintroduced to White's Wetland.

I will keep you posted with the progress and hope to have pictures—even video—of this momentous event.

To learn more about KCCA's reforestation project, please visit their website. Lots of great information there as well about the importance of a healthy watershed.

To learn more about the endangered Kentucky Coffee Tree, check out the ROM site.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Makes a Healthy Wetland?

There is no one definition that describes a healthy wetland because of the vast diversity of wetland types. However, wetland health can be determined, to a degree, by simply observing and becoming familiar with what is "normal" for your wetland.

We can get very technical and talk about a wetland's structure and function, such as its water quality, soil condition, carrying capacity, surface and ground water storage, sediment retention, nutrient cycling, biomass production, reduction of erosion and purification of water. I am not an environmentalist or a scientist. I am just beginning to learn about the science myself.

What I can talk about is the observation of returning species, and the variety and depth of those species, which is telling us a great deal about the health of White's Wetlands. "Species composition" and "food web support" are terms that we could use to describe these visual observations. What I am really saying is "biodiversity" and "the food chain."

We are seeing species return, creatures that we have not seen for a number of years. The most recent arrival is the muskrat. The muskrat is a natural inhabitant of shallow wetlands, where they feed primarily on aquatic plants, such as cattails, arrowheads and duckweeds. They occasionally eat crayfish, snails, mussels, frogs, insects and slow-moving fish. We have not had muskrat in the wetlands for many years. The reasons for this could be numerous. However, the fact that the muskrat is here does mean that they are finding the food they need to sustain themselves.

This is also their breeding season, so there may be young soon. Since we do have snapping turtles, this could pose a problem later in the season, as the turtles move from their winter home, down the creek and into the pond, where they generally tend to spend their summers, basking in the open, warm water and under a hot sun. Snapping turtles have been known to take young muskrat, so they are potential predators.

We can observe the changing species composition over the spring and summer.

The creek is also populated with suckers this year, and quite an abundance of them too, which is all good because these fish are bottom feeders and do an excellent job of keeping the water clean and clear. They're Mother Nature's clean-up crew!

From songbirds and insects to the larger predators, we are seeing more and more evidence that this is truly becoming a habitat that can cope and manage, a self-sustaining ecosystem that will regulate itself internally with the vegetation and animal life required to maintain balance and biodiversity.

Quite a precious thing, really.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trees ...

...make good homes. A black squirrel lives in this old maple on the property. He's a bit camera shy, however.

More about trees in the coming days, as we count down to Earth Day and to a very special event at White's Wetland.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Countdown to Earth Day 2010

April 22 is Earth Day, but let's make every day Earth Day. As Walt Whitman wrote, "Love the earth and sun and the animals..."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wildlife Week at the Wetland

It's Friday, but it's still National Wildlife Week in Canada! So get out there and walk for wildlife this weekend. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is trying to get everyone to "clock some kilometres" for wildlife. So rather than me re-explaining everything, just visit their website to learn more. Walk for Wildlife officially kicked off during National Wildlife Week and will end on May 22, International Day of Biodiversity.

Visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation. As they say, "Nature is coming alive again. Migrating birds are returning home. Trees are beginning to bud, animals are coming out of hibernation, and spring flowers are beginning to bloom."

And I think it has finally stopped raining. Or snowing. Or whatever that was. So there's no excuse!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wildlife Week at the Wetland: Deer!

Spotted yesterday: "our" deer family on the move!

Did you know that white-tailed deer are relative newcomers to much of the range they now occupy in Canada? Long ago, when the first Europeans were exploring this land, this graceful mammal was found only in the most southerly parts of Canada—such as our own southern Ontario region—but not beyond Lake Nipissing to the north. The current range of the white-tailed deer in Canada is quite extensive.

What caused this change in range? Probably a combination of events, but high on the list most likely is the extent of human settlement in southern Canada, pushing deep into every corner of southwestern Ontario and pushing the deer range farther north.

Over time, southern Ontario has become increasingly urbanized, further reducing deer habitat. However, it is still possible to see them in our southern Ontario woods and bush areas. Still, between winter food shortages and the continual loss of habitat, the white-tailed deer, while having greatly expanded its overall range, has also experienced declines in population levels.

There are sixteen sub-species of white-tailed deer in North America. Only three of these species live in Canada.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hey! It's National Wildlife Week!

Yes! All week long! And I'll be "blogging from the bog" every day this week, but in terms of wildlife, it's been very quiet here despite the fine weather and the sunshine. No sightings or observations of note. In fact, only the mallards have been making a daily appearance on the pond. But the natural world is coming to life and it's a beautiful thing.

What can you do for National Wildlife Week? Well, one of the most important things we can all do is teach our kids to appreciate/love nature. Education is the key. But not just the facts and the figures. Get out there — hike, walk, explore, learn as you go. Experiencing the natural world firsthand is the surest way of falling in love with it.

Find out what activities and events are going on in your local area to celebrate wildlife week. Even museums and science centres are getting involved, so Toronto, no need to feel left out of the fun — it's Nature Month at the ROM this April.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's National Wildlife Week: April 4 - 10, 2010

Did you know that National Wildlife Week has been celebrated annually since 1947?

The National Wildlife Week Act was drawn up as a memorial to Jack Miner, in recognition of his outstanding conservation efforts. When the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on April 18th, 1947, it passed without one dissenting vote. As a matter of fact, it was the first time since Canada's confederation that a Bill was passed unanimously.

That just goes to show you that parliamentarians can set partisan politics aside now and then to agree on something that matters.

While Jack Miner would be thrilled to know that we have been recognizing National Wildlife Week each year, I am not so sure he would be happy about our track record on species protection and habitat conservation. We need to do better, because Canada has far too many species on the endangered list already.

So if "we" all agreed once long ago that a national week to raise awareness for wildlife conservation was a great idea, just maybe we can get everyone to agree again, especially during the International Year of Biodiversity.

So, all in unison now, everyone say it and mean it …


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Great Lakes United

Living in the Great Lakes Bioregion is an enviable privilege that we should not take for granted. This is the single largest inland fresh water network in the world. Over the decades the Great Lakes have had their share of troubles, such as pollution and waste from the industries and the major urban centres that hug their shores. But the latest threat, the invasive Asian Carp, could be utterly devastating, changing our lakes—and our lives—forever. So it is imperative that the asian carp do not pass into the Great Lakes.

If you want to follow this issue or participate by adding your voice, you need to know about this amazing organization: Great Lakes United. Join, donate or subscribe to their informative newsletter to track all the issues currently impacting our beautiful lakes. Both Canadians and Americans who share these lakes can now share in the dialogue to save them. In GLU's own words, we who live here "enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the planet. It is now time to focus our prosperity on restoring the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. This responsibility falls on all of us."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Birds Are Back

At White's Wetland, we have been welcoming returning bird species all week, a sure sign of spring. Taking up residence this weekend: a pair of mallard ducks, a blue heron, a screech owl, two pairs of Canada Geese and more robins, sparrows, crows and mourning doves than you can count. With warmer days coming by the end of this week, we hope to see many more birds and many more signs of life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

Well, mostly the birds this time.

Spotted on Tuesday: two downy woodpeckers. They flew in, and a few moments later flew out. Obviously just passing through! They were not seen again. All winter long we have been visited by several pairs of red-bellied woodpeckers, but never any downy woodpeckers. Until today. So this was a rare and special treat.

Now, the story of "our" Canada Geese. Every March for the past several years a pair of Canada Geese have claimed our pond for themselves, shooing other pairs away bold enough to intrude on the idyll. Monday morning, right on cue, two Canada Geese flew in. They took turns in the water; while one stood guard on the bank, the other glided around the pond. They lingered for hours, dividing their time between the bank and the water, dabbling at the water's edge or grazing on grass. Watchful yet oddly relaxed. They might not be the same geese every year, but observing this pair, one gets the definite impression that they know this spot well. You know, like those tourists who return to the same resort year after year.

Then suddenly both took to the water together. As if connected by an unseen thread, they were never more than a few inches from one another. Gracefully, elegantly, they swam in unison, making wide, leisurely circles on the glass-green water. Canada Geese, generally speaking, mate for life, and these two soul mates were a beautiful sign of spring.

Spotted today: two pairs of Canada Geese! "Our" geese (assuming, that is, that they are the annual regulars) have finally decided to share the pond with another couple. A truly lovely sight – four Canada Geese gliding gracefully on a morning-still pond drenched in sunlight, undisturbed, unhurried.

Unfortunately, yours truly left her camera and camcorder in Toronto. So no pretty pics for the blog this time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Comes to My Corner of the Earth

So it's definitely starting to look like spring at White's Wetland. Oh, there may be flurry or two left in the season. It wouldn't be Canada if we didn't have frost and flurries in April. Still, the earth is waking up. You can see it: tiny, early shoots poking up through the ground. A robin bobs across the grass in search of a meal. All morning I've watched an indefatigable black squirrel carry last year's leaves up to its nest in the hollow of a maple. Like homeowners flocking to Home Depot this weekend, the wild creatures are preparing for spring in their own way.

And you can feel it. It's not so much a matter of temperature; rather, it's in the slant of the sun, the tilt of the earth. The natural world is responding. So breathe deep, fill your lungs with the fresh, cool air. Celebrate spring. Celebrate planet earth. A tune keeps running through my head ...

Like every humming bird and bumblebee
Every sunflower, cloud and every tree
I feel so much a part of this
Nature's got me high and it's beautiful
I'm with this deep eternal universe
From death until rebirth

This corner of the earth is like me in many ways
I can sit for hours here and watch the emerald feathers play
On the face of this I'm blessed
When the sunlight comes for free
I know this corner of the earth it smiles at me
So inspired of that there's nothing left to do or say

That's how I feel about White's Wetland. It's my corner of the earth, and coming home this first weekend of spring, it sure feels like the earth is smiling at me.

So for those of you who are feeling a little frisky with the arrival of spring, join the chorus, kick up your heels and celebrate with nature. To get you into the spirit, here's a little music, courtesy of White's Wetland ... and Jamiroquai, of course!

This Corner of the Earth

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tell SARA You Support the Protection of Endangered Species in Canada

Did you know that the public is invited to comment on matters pertaining to the protection of endangered species? Yes! Your voice is important. The Government of Canada is committed to working with all Canadians to ensure that species at risk and their critical habitats are protected. SARA (the Species At Risk Act) actively supports this commitment, providing the public with an opportunity to comment on proposed documents. Visit the Species at Risk site and get involved today.

In the meantime, here is just one of the species on the endangered list — the Eastern Foxsnake, pictured above. White's Wetland, being situated in the Carolinian forest zone of southwestern Ontario, is particularly concerned about the plight of species such as the Eastern Foxsnake, whose numbers have been severely reduced by the extensive loss of wetlands through drainage and development. From what I have observed, with the push of industrial and residential development ever southward from the City of London, this loss of habitat is only going to get worse in the future. Land is being sold at unprecedented rates and small wooded areas along Wellington Road, some of the last remaining stands of woods in this area and no doubt home to small mammals and other species, will soon be bulldozed.

We need to remember that ALL species, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to humans, play an important role in the scheme of things. Biodiversity must be protected.

Here is some data, courtesy of SARA, about this endangered snake:

The Eastern Foxsnake is found only in the Great Lakes region of North America. Approximately 70% of the species’ range is in Ontario, Canada, with relatively isolated locations in southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio in the United States. Within Ontario, the species’ distribution is highly disjunct, occupying three discrete regions along the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Eastern Foxsnakes in the Essex-Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk regions constitute the Carolinian population, and those further north, along the shores of Georgian Bay, constitute the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population.

There are no reliable estimates of population sizes for Canadian populations of the Eastern Foxsnake. Despite the lack of direct quantitative data demonstrating a decrease in the Carolinian population, the sheer magnitude of wetland loss in southwestern Ontario, along with the proliferation of roads in that region, makes the probability of range contraction and population reduction extremely high.

The Eastern Foxsnake is the second largest snake in Ontario; it typically reaches lengths of 91 to 137 cm.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity

“Much of the food we eat depends on the services provided by a diversity of pollinating insects and animals.”

The United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity and people the world over are starting to realize that biodiversity is crucial to human survival.

But what is meant by “biodiversity,” and why is it so critical to protect, preserve and maintain it?

Biological diversity encompasses all living species on Earth and their relationships to each other. This includes the differences in genes, species and ecosystems. Having many different living things allows Nature to recover from change.

So, if too much biodiversity is lost, there is a problem, because Nature finds it increasingly difficult to compensate and adapt. The web of life is weakened.

Humans depend on Nature to survive. It's that simple. We cannot continue to recklessly and irresponsibly destroy habitat and species. By doing so, we condemn ourselves.

Did you know that Canada has a Biodiversity Strategy? Yes! The vision for Canada?

"A society that lives and develops as a part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in its biodiversity."

You can read the entire document by visiting Environment Canada’s Canadian Biodiversity Information Network (CBIN). This site offers a wealth of information on Canadian biodiversity topics—documents, reports, news and events. Learn about the factors that contribute to biodiversity loss and the actions that can be taken to conserve biodiversity.

Thanks to Environment Canada and the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy for the above quotes.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Another Great Organization Working for Wildlife

"Coyotes have a tremendously positive impact on an area's biodiversity and ecological integrity..."

The Ontario SPCA Wildlife Centre is located in Midland, Ontario. It provides care and treatment each year to nearly 1,500 animals, including more than 100 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Their goal is to rehabilitate these animals for release back into their wild habitat.

But the Centre works hard to educate the public as well, and this is really important, because in crowded, urbanized Ontario, wildlife and people will continue to come into contact with one another. And sometimes even the most well-intentioned efforts do more harm than good. So we all need to know how to help the right way. The Centre's website provides access to two series of Fact Sheets: Living With Wildlife and How to Help Sick, Injured or Orphaned Animals.

In the Centre's own words:

"...there are simple and humane solutions to help us coexist in peace with these amazing survivors who deserve our compassion and respect. When dealing with wildlife please consider the enormous hardships wild species encounter because so much of their habitat has been destroyed. Each year they are forced into closer contact with humans and must compete with us for food, shelter and space. With a little understanding, patience and a few precautions and common sense steps, we can all enjoy the wonderfully interesting wild animals who share our backyards and cities."

In light of the current hue and cry about coyote encounters, I invite you to read the fact sheet provided by the OSPCA. Please!

So, before acting in haste or out of fear, take the time to consult the experts and learn. It's a wonderful feeling to know that you have acted responsibly to help an animal in distress or that you have learned to understand a wild creature's needs.

Thank you, OSPCA Wildlife Centre!

Hurry Spring!

It's great to be back at White's Wetland this week, and March is such a special time of year. While there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground, the drip-drip-drip from the eaves, the puddles in the lane, and the abundant sunshine are all positive signs. Winter is on its way out, and even if we do have to deal with one more snowstorm (but let's hope not), spring is not far away now. You can feel the anticipation in the air, as all of nature is poised, at the ready, for the new season to begin.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Great Lakes Under Threat

For those of us in the Great Lakes Region, a very real environmental disaster is looming if we cannot prevent the Asian Carp from entering our lakes, the largest fresh water system on this planet and home to precious indigenous aquatic life that could be annihilated by this voracious, invasive foreign species. Both Canada and the U.S. must now work together to prevent the Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. To learn more about the issue and the steps currently being taken by our governments, here's a site that you can follow on Twitter too: Healthy Lakes.