Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm going to work for Planet Earth in 2012...How about you?

Our planet can no longer wait for us to grow up and wake up! So with a new year only hours away, let's make a commitment - a resolution if you will - so that 2012 is the year that grassroots humanity takes charge and takes back the Earth, for all people and all species.

So goodbye Greed, Waste, Carelessness and Irresponsibility. Tell bad corporate citizens what they can do with their dirty products and practices. Remind governments what they should be doing for their people and the planet, instead of serving big business and the investment bankers. Take action. Speak up. Become an activist for Earth.

It's our only home, this pale blue dot swimming in a sea of space...

Let's mobilize for Mother Earth! There is so much we can do, so much work to be done.

Bless the Earth this New Year's Eve.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


A must-see documentary from the U.S. The situation is slightly different in Ontario, where the McGuinty government has shown little regard for rural rights and has aided Big Wind to walk all over the province without really addressing the complexities of the issue first.

Yet the stunning lack of democracy on this side of the lake is perhaps not all that different from the frontier-like free-for-all happening in upper New York state, because in the end there is only one winner in this seedy little shell game that touts itself as "green" and that's Big Wind - the wind corporations, now the billionaire heirs to Big Oil.

Funny how it's always the little guy who gets hoodwinked and stomped on. Make no mistake, neither you nor the planet is going to benefit from this latest big bucks, big business bamboozle. Certainly not the birds, the bats and the butterflies.

We must ensure a moratorium on ALL new wind facilities before any more are erected and we must demand that ALL wind farms undergo independent environmental assessments by scientists, biologists, ornithologists and ecologists.

We cannot lose our precious million-year-old migration routes to the latest wave of corporate greed just because it come wrapped in green packaging.

Learn and read about the true cost of wind, and why we need to look at alternatives to the alternative.

We can do better than this. And we must if we want to call ourselves environmentalists.

On a final note, I took a trip to the Port Burwell wind farm a few months ago, where some 60-odd turbines tilt at the skies from their jagged stride across the lush southwestern Ontario landscape. That is to say, the ones that were actually working were "tilting." A few stood motionless, a small red light indicating they were not functioning.

I watched two tiny specks come into view. Birds. Blackbirds, I believe. I did not have my binoculars, so I am surmising. I watched the two birds for several minutes. They were flying ominously close to a turbine, ominously close to the giant multi-ton paddles. I sucked in my breath. I was hoping against hope...

and then there was only one speck left.

One. The other bird was gone. Vanished. Annihilated.

I did not have my binoculars. But one second there were two birds, lazily and leisurely drifting across a late summer sky...

and then there was one.

I have been bloody angry ever since.

Record Day for Raptors of All Kinds

And there's more about the marvels of migration in this recent London Free Press article.

The sheer number of birds that were observed should serve as a reminder to all why this must remain a migratory corridor, not a wind turbine corridor.

Record Day at Hawk Cliff

Migration of the Raptors - Hawk Cliff, Lake Erie

A couple of pictures taken at Hawk Cliff, on the shores of Lake Erie, one of the key sites for observing migrating hawks in North America.

Learn more about Hawk Cliff Foundation

Hawk Bander: Cyril Crocker

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Industrial Wind Turbines, Migratory Birds and Political Shenanigans

If you are interested in expanding your understanding of this issue, the impact of IWTs on migratory birds, I urge you to read Wayne Wegner's passionately argued and brilliantly articulated essay, Location, Location, Location…Migration, Migration, Migration, embedded in the Middlesex Wind Action Group website. Scroll down through Issues, you will find it under the category "Wildlife."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Wind Issue

As a follow-up to the previous post about wind farms, here are two links of note:

If you live in Middlesex County and have serious reservations about the continuing construction of wind farms in the county and in southern Ontario without proper environmental assessment and public input, then see what the Middlesex Wind Action Group has to say.

To gain a greater understanding of the issue and to learn more about the actual efficacy of wind energy, please visit Ontario's Wind Performance.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Can't Fully Support Wind Farms in Ontario

Of course we need alternative energy sources. We cannot rely on fossil fuels much longer and I am certainly opposed to the cavalier approach most oil and gas companies take when it comes to the environment. And I don't buy their greenwashing either.

However, as environmentalists we would be wise to really question and examine all of our alternatives. In the province of Ontario wind energy has been promoted, above all other energy alternatives on the table, as the way to go. The problem is the Ontario government has been rubber-stamping projects willy-nilly, with very little concern for the surrounding environment or wildlife. The Ontario government repeatedly refuses to listen to biologists, naturalists and other members of the scientific community, many of whom merely want to point out the folly of some of the proposed locations, not denounce the industry as a whole.

And I don't even want to delve into the issue of who stands to profit or gain from all of this. That's a murky and mucky issue. Murkier and muckier than any swamp, bog or fen. No, there's even more to this preference for wind energy than meets the eye, and it's not all about folks who are simply concerned about the well-being of our planet. This has more to do with the pocketbooks of a small group of investors than it does with saving Planet Earth.

Let's not be naive. As with coal, gas, and oil, there are going to be wind barons, people who stand to get very rich from the wind energy industry. Let's not forget that this IS an industry, not a philanthropic endeavour led by a group of well-meaning, good-intentioned people. This is going to be about profits.

The Ontario government too hastily adopted wind as THE solution to our energy woes. We needed to explore and weigh other options - solar, for one. And what about geothermal energy? At the very least, the government should have been taking a more informed and enlightened approach when choosing wind farm locations. Not on migratory routes surely!

In any case, all this to preface the most recent update about TransAlta's Wolfe Island wind farm. This 86-turbine wind farm is a death trap for thousands of birds and bats. It should never have been built where it was built. The scientific and environmental communities were silenced and held at bay.

As a resident of the Great Lakes I am so deeply disturbed about the rampant, unchecked and unexamined proliferation of wind farms along our shores. And we have yet to really see how these turbines will perform. During this most recent heat wave, wind energy came up short, producing very little energy to offset our consumption when we needed it the most. A reliable source of energy for our future? Hardly.

Ontarians should all be very angry. Great Lakers should be very angry. No more wind farms without environmental impact studies first!

There's an election coming. Demand that!

Please visit the Nature Canada blog now to read the latest about TransAlta's Wolfe Island Wind Farm and the decimation of our bird populations.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy Victoria Day from Canada's "Deep South"!

The magnolias are blooming, the turtles are swimming lazily along the edge of the pond, damselflies, bluets and swallows skim the surface, while tadpoles wriggle and dart in the pools between the reeds. Red-winged blackbirds send shrill notes from nearby perches on rails and wires.

Now everything, from the tulip trees to the maples, oaks and willows, is lush and green in Carolinian Canada. And every blade of grass shimmers after the rain.

This is Canada's Deep South, and another sultry deep south summer is upon us.

Bring it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fawns: A Cautionary "Tail"

With spring comes new life, and fawns are born in May. Here's a word to the wise:

If you happen to come across a fawn alone in a secluded spot or in tall grass, do not make the mistake of thinking that it has been abandoned by its mother. Nothing would be further from the truth. A doe can leave her fawn unattended for hours at a time. This is possible because of the natural camouflage of the fawn's spotted coat and its almost scentless condition, both of which help to conceal it from predators. The doe knows that her fawn will be safe.

So the little animal should not be touched! Rest assured, the doe will eventually return to her offspring. But if she does detect human scent on her baby, chances are she could abandon it. In this case, your well-intentioned efforts intentions could have disastrous consequences.

Just walk away.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Reflections

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”
Native American Proverb

I don’t know about you, but every Earth Day my mood oscillates between despair and exhilaration. On one hand, I use the day to be spirtually uplifted by the natural world that surrounds me, and so I experience a sense of deep gratitude for the beauty and bounty of our magnificent home, Planet Earth. Then despair sets in, as I realize that many people on this planet are still so defiantly disconnected to the earth, choosing instead to mock those of us who revere nature and to deny that our species is indeed contributing to the wholesale destruction and degradation of the only home we have. Perhaps mockery and denial make it easier to just go on one’s merry way, plundering the earth without a care in the world. Greed still seems to “trump” green, doesn’t it? (Pun definitely intended.)

Despite every victory, every successful petition or successful community action, we seem to take a few steps back as a species. More land is being laid waste for mining activity or palm oil production and more of the world’s seas bristle with oil rigs, imperilling marine life if—and when—the unthinkable happens. And governments everywhere seem increasingly reluctant to cross the agendas of powerful multinationals, mostly because they like the idea of the wealth these corporations generate for their money-hungry, job-hungry nations.

Are things improving or are they getting worse? Clearly, the global economic crisis exacerbated the situation, but we are fast approaching a moment of convergence that we will no longer be able to ignore, as the increasing shortage of accessible fossil fuels, a shortage of food globally, a dwindling supply of clean fresh water, the loss of workable land and rising coastal waters due to a changing climate (and I will not debate the cause of climate change, as we are well past the point of fingerpointing and assigning blame—we simply need to act, and now) will create even more unrest, more crises, and eventually result in vast numbers of environmental refugees around the world.

Never before in the history of humanity have we faced a crisis so multifaceted, so severe and so final. More than ever we need a new way of looking at the world, a new attitude. We need to wake up to the reality that we are a part of the natural world and that everything we do has a consequence. But we need everybody on board in order to save the ship. Time is running out. This isn’t about choosing sides, being an environmentalist or a humanist. We have to both—they are not contradictory concepts. Humanism and environmentalism are one and the same word, and you spell it “survival.”

So what’s to be done? Plenty! Most of all, stay positive and on message, even knowing as we do that there are those who will never listen…until it is too late.

And what is the message? The message is VALUE. If you value something, you will protect it. We humans must value and learn to hold sacred every living organism on this planet. If we cannot make that colossal leap past our human egos, then we are surely doomed. We can certainly learn from the wise frog in the proverb, who understands and practises the concept of sustainability.

But can the call of red-winged blackbird on a spring morning pierce the heart of someone who has no sensitivity to the natural world? Can a blade of new spring grass captivate someone who prefers to count dollar bills instead? Can you teach someone’s heart to soar with the red-tailed hawk? Can you entice a person to imagine what it must be like to be a turtle, swimming in the still green waters of a pond? Or how it feels to be a muskrat, or a bittern or a heron, making your way patiently among the reeds?

Herein lies our challenge. To awaken others to the true nature of what it means to be human. Maybe that’s why we need this symbolic day after all. Maybe every year a few more people drop their cynicism, sign a petition, or plant a tree.

Now, some thoughts from others for this Earth Day:

"I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."
e.e. cummings

"If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers."
Joseph Wood Krutch

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

"The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future."
Marya Mannes

"…when I saw the Earth from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind's most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations."
Sigmund Jahn, (German cosmonaut)

"Once you have heard the lark, known the swish of feet through hill-top grass and smelt the earth made ready for the seed, you are never again going to be fully happy about the cities and towns that man carries like a crippling weight upon his back."
Gwyn Thomas

"The color of the mountains is Buddha's body; the sound of running water is his great speech." Dogen

"The poetry of the earth is never dead."
John Keats

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Those Birds in Black

How fitting that just as I finished the final paragraph of Crows by Candace Savage, a pair of these raucous rabble-rousers flew in for a morning visit, joyously announcing themselves from the tall pines. I have lovingly dubbed them Heckle and Jeckle (I know, I know, they were magpies). They first arrived a few weeks ago and became frequent visitors at the feeders, heavy snow and the scarcity of food probably driving them in. I don’t see them as often now that the snow is finally, albeit slowly, receding.

I have always felt honoured to be visited by crows. When a crow flies in, there is a moment of magic. The atmosphere suddenly changes, and all things seem possible. It’s as if they come from another world, another kingdom, where animals talk amongst themselves and share a knowing chuckle about our so-called human superiority. Crows can be disconcerting. Humbling.

Yet they are definitely part of our world, if we would only take the time to pay attention to them and to realistically acknowledge the extraordinary evolutionary journey the Corvidae family has taken.

I am glad for their presence in my life. I realize, however, that many people do not share this view of the crow. More’s the pity. They would do well to read this informative book, which deftly shifts between science and lore, thus giving us a 360° perspective on this highly intelligent creature with whom we share the planet.

Noisy? Well, so are we humans. And I would much prefer to listen to crows gabbing overhead than hear car horns, drills, heavy machinery, bulldozers or football fans any day.

Savage’s book has been on the shelves since 2005, so I regretfully confess that I just got around to reading it this month. And while I eagerly recommend this book to fellow Corvidae enthusiasts everywhere, critics and curmudgeons who regard crows only as pests and nuisances ought to read this too.

Here is a tantalizing excerpt to tease your curiosity, or unsettle your disdain if you are not yet a fan of “the bird in black”:

It is disconcerting to find so much of ourselves reflected in a feathered reptile: a bird. Disconcerting, but also revelatory. Our kinship with crows reminds us of the irrepressible creativity of evolution, that endless free-form expression of the miraculous that has shaped all of Earth’s beings, including us. In the vernacular of creation, crows and humans are a kind of living pun, two species with different meanings but the same vibration. It’s the kind of double entendre that the mythic Raven would have loved, a cosmic witticism that both puts us in our place and raises our spirits. When a crow leaps into the air, our hearts take wing with it and we join in the rowdy revel of existence.

Crows, Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World
Candace Savage
Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2005

And thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A dash of cocoa and a sprinkle of cinnamon, please!

I’m not talking about having a creamy cappuccino on a winter afternoon. I’m talking about the feathers of the most beautiful bird at my feeder this winter—an Eastern Towhee. Well, I think she’s the most beautiful. And she’s certainly the most singular. I've not seen any others.

I first noticed her early in December, shortly after that first major snowfall of the season. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. For the longest time, she seemed content to fly cautiously between the blue spruce and a feeder a few feet away to pick up the fallen seeds scattered on the ground. But she soon discovered the other feeder, the one for the finches and other small birds. This one hangs in the Burning Bush in the front garden and is filled with tiny Nyjer seeds. Smart and adaptable, the towhee now cleans up what the finches leave behind, the seeds that have dropped in the tray. So I rarely see her on the ground these days. I’ve also seen her up in the branches of the bush, leaning out to snatch the odd remaining berry and hanging out with the female cardinals, the juncos and the American tree sparrows.

She’s a joy to watch. To learn about the Eastern Towhee, check out the Cornell Ornithology Lab website.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Year in Review Part III: All the “Tiny Green Things”

I’ve always had a profound love for wild things—I’m a big kid really, having never lost that childish instinct to reach out and pet something. It’s like a biological imperative, this need and desire to touch an animal. Silly, I know! Dog, cat, horse, deer, hare, crow…I revel in how animals and birds feel. I love their fur, their feathers, their feet, their hooves, their ears and, most of all, their eyes.

But I seem to have plumbed new depths of awareness and gentleness this year, which has astonished even me. Kneeling on the ground, stretching out in the ticklish grass or on the cool brown earth, just getting down close to the tiniest inhabitants of the wetland has yielded the most extraordinary joy. They have faces! They wear their skeleton on the outside. They have so many intricate moving parts, like marvelous articulated toys.

Only insects are much more precious than any manmade thing because they are living, breathing organisms—right under our feet, near us every day, even though we might not always be aware of their presence. They are indeed the silent majority. We think of them only when they bite us, sting us or ruin our picnics. But they are so much more than pests and pains.

If you say you love wild things, you cannot just love the big, charismatic creatures, like lions and zebras and elephants. No! You’ve got to embrace them all—the small, the pesky, the ugly—the faces only a mother could love. The “bugs” we humans call pests are truly marvels of nature. Even the house fly up close is a wonder of creation. E.O. Wilson knows it. Walt Whitman knew it. Now we all need to acknowledge it. And soon. We have to start valuing every living organism from plankton to polar bears or else we stand to lose them all. Lesson for humanity: the mighty depend on the miniscule.

So now as the snow lays thick and deep all around us, my mind is turning to the coming of spring and summer. I am eagerly looking forward to meeting up with a whole host of new insect buddies, learning more about them and watching them go about their daily, important work. In the depths of winter, I’m dreaming of damselflies and dung beetles.

Yes, 2010 was a good year. I learned that lymantriidae—tussock moths and kin—are no less lovely than a lynx.

Follow news from White’s Wetland on Twitter @tinygreenthings! Check it out from the sidebar...

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Year In Review, Part II

Tonight’s Nature London talk is In Praise of Spiders. Indeed, let’s praise all insects. Insects should not be overlooked or underestimated. Arthur V. Evans of the American Wildlife Federation aptly, and I believe reverently, calls them “the silent majority.” Small but significant, insects, spiders and butterflies are key members of a healthy ecosystem and the very foundation upon which all other life forms rely. And in order to protect all life on earth, we must value the insect kingdom. Where, for example, would we be without the pollinators?

My childhood fascination for insects was renewed in 2010. I found myself wanting to look at them “up close and personal.” By really taking the time to look at insects, butterflies and spiders you get to see how extraordinary they are and how really quite breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, everyone would agree with me that butterflies and pond damsels are beautiful; I can see how beetles and spiders might be a harder sell.

But take a closer look. And be prepared to be amazed, astonished and delighted. They are exquisitely constructed and extremely intelligent. Last summer I marveled at a host of fascinating creatures I never knew I shared space with. Ironically, my worldview actually expanded the more I focused on the tiny things. I bought books. I rummaged through the books I already owned. I scoured the Internet, with my descriptions and sketches in hand. What a joy to be able to put a name to some of these creatures! What a thrill to watch them!

I had to perform a number of rescues this summer too. Unfortunately, crickets and other insects end up in the pool on a regular basis. Even with the pool completely enclosed they manage to get in. Daily, throughout the long summer, I would sit for long periods of time with this or that insect on my finger, observing each one methodically drying off damp antennae.

Crane flies, for example, are exceedingly fussy. They make sure their gossamer wings are completely dry before they take flight. They’ll even do little test runs with their wings just to see how dry they are. If not, they keep drying themselves. They do this over and over until they are absolutely certain they can fly right. Then…they’re gone!

All of the tiny bugs and flying insects that I rescued this summer patiently let me carry them to gardens, fields or wooded areas. Bugs, beetles, ladybugs and skippers, they never flinched at my touch. I even rescued a couple of spectacular-looking fellows that I later learned were Bombardier Beetles.

And the crickets were a revelation. I carried one gorgeous big cricket over forty feet to his new home in the garden and throughout the journey he sat poised and erect on my finger, facing forward like a captain on the bridge of an ocean-going vessel, proud, alert. Did he enjoy the trip? I wonder.

And then there was the day of the magnificent Gladiator Katydid, who nonchalantly walked out of the vacuum cleaner that’s kept in the sun room. She let me carry her to the east garden, seemingly confident that she would not be harmed. She reluctantly left my hand only when I set her gently under a leaf.

As for spiders, where do I begin? The decorous Platycryptus Undatus has got to be one of the most interesting spiders we humans could ever encounter. Harmless, intelligent, inquisitive and easy-going, they seem more interested in us than fearful. Want to get to know spiders better or overcome an irrational fear of them? Start with handsome Platycryptus. You will be glad you did.

As for me, I can hardly wait for spring.

(Thanks to Nature London for the picture of Platycryptus Undatus.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Birds and Bugs and Butterflies: A Year in Review, Part I

What will I remember about 2010? One of the most delightful sights of my year was the daily stroll of the turkey mums with their young. Slowly and with great patience, these ungainly birds would take the kids out for an afternoon “constitutional” along the creek bed under the willows, all in single file. The little ones would straggle a bit from time to time, curious about their surroundings, but then they would hurry to catch up as best they could. But no youngster was ever left behind too long, as the attentive adults would occasionally stop and wait. Then the silent, methodical procession would resume. I counted twenty-six birds winding their way along the creek one day. By autumn, the young birds had grown so much it was hard to distinguish adult from offspring.

By the way, anyone interested in learning about wild turkeys can attend Nature London’s Talking Turkey on Tuesday, January 18, part of the Nature in the City series.

Looking back over 2010, I think I can safely say that, overall, the wild things that call this tract of land home seem to be doing reasonably well and holding their own. Sadly, the number of frogs and turtles was down this summer, yet the number (and variety) of birds observed was up. Birds not observed here in a very, very long time were turning up again, like the Bobolink. And there were birds we had never seen here before, like the Northern Mockingbird. Even now, with winter firmly entrenched and the snowdrifts deep, an Eastern Towhee has opted to stay around and seems to have taken up residence in a spruce tree. This is first time a Towhee has been officially spotted at the wetland and the fact that she is still here in December makes it doubly surprising.

And the butterflies! Giant yellow swallowtails were regular visitors, not to mention the many Red Admirals and more Monarchs than we have seen in years. These are all good signs. But I am still trying to identify one particular butterfly, an almost-black beauty that I caught only a fleeting glimpse of once I’m sorry to say. Hurry, summer!

I'll talk about "my bugs”in the next blog post…

As for the photo of the turkey hens above, I must thank D. Gordon E. Robertson and Wikimedia because I never seem to have the camera handy when I see my turkeys.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Our "Mascot"

Danny Boy may not live at White’s Wetland, but I like to think of this sweet white Standard mule as our mascot. Danny Boy’s home is the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Guelph, Ontario, where this docile and gentle creature gets lots of tender loving care.

This is the second year that I have participated in their Sponsor a Donkey Program. This program is a wonderful opportunity to give with both your heart and your pocketbook to help defray the costs of a donkey’s ongoing care through the year.

The DSC is home and refuge to donkeys and mules that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. So if you are interested in sponsoring one of the residents or just want to learn more about the DSC, visit their website or find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

I am told that Danny Boy is doing very well, and I am sure you will agree that he does indeed look the very picture of good health!

Bless you, Danny, and Happy New Year!