Hola Monarcha!

Guest blogger Donna Cook is a nature interpreter who writes about her recent visit to the Monarch Butterflies’ overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Lying down in a high mountain meadow looking up at the sky, we are thrilled to see thousands of Monarch Butterflies flying in a stream above us.

Orange, black and white wings flutter along in a light breeze heading for the large fir trees where the Monarchs roost from late October through March of each year. Fellow visitors speak in hushed voices so as not to disturb the insects and there is a sense of excitement in the air.

Like many Canadians, we love visiting Mexico. This February we headed inland to see where the Monarch butterflies overwinter.

Mariposa Monarcha

The butterflies are called “Mariposa Monarcha” in Spanish — a fittingly beautiful name for a brilliant insect that has an incredible life cycle.

Like us, they have flown all the way from Canada. Unlike us, they have had to dodge hurricanes, find enough food to fuel their flight and deal with changing weather. Monarch numbers have been decreasing over the past two decades and there have been calls to add them to the Canadian endangered species list.

Cerro Pelόn

© Donna Cook

There are a handful of Monarch Reserves in Mexico. We decided to go to Cerro Pelόn first. It is one of the least visited areas.

Horses lead us along a steep trail through the forest passes and dense patches of wildflowers. Our mounts stop for us to dismount and we walk to the roosting trees. I imagine the butterflies feeding on these colourful plants, storing up energy for the journey north.

The roosting trees are large with millions of butterflies clinging to the branches. The branches droop with the weight of so many insects. A few roosting trees are visible from the trail and I wonder how many there are in total.

We continue walking uphill to an open meadow where we lay down to watch the skies. Here, about 50 other visitors share the experience.

It was a spectacular day. We came down from the trail covered in dust and walking on air.

El Rosario

© Donna Cook

Our second destination was El Rosario. This is where thousands of visitors arrive each weekend from Mexico City and abroad.  As we hike from the village to reach the trailhead, a couple of local kids skip along beside us. They greet us with “Hola” then sing a Monarch song. We smile as we share their enthusiasm.

The Monarch reserves are important to the local communities, providing them jobs and income. These kids are hoping to sell us butterfly souvenirs to help support their families.

As we hike into the reserve, it appears that the old growth trees have been logged nearly all the way to the roosting trees. Deforestation is one of the threats to the Monarchs’ survival here. New trees have been planted and there is a determined effort to protect these wintering grounds.

The environment at El Rosario is similar and there are more butterflies here. We are fortunate as it is mid-week and the crowds are thin. Butterflies engulf us and some land on the people in the group. Cameras are clicking, and binoculars are passed around. Another amazing day!

Regresando al norte

We will return to Canada, but this generation of Monarchs will not. They will fly north in April and find wild milkweed plants to lay eggs on. The next generation will continue the trip reproducing along the way.

The grandchildren of the butterflies we saw in Mexico will arrive in southern Canada in late May. I plan to welcome them here by planting some native milkweed and wildflowers to help them along.

Say “Hola Monarcha” in your garden too! Learn how with CWF’s Gardening for Wildlife.

 

 

 

 

Devastating Downfall for Western Monarchs: A Harbinger of Things to Come?

All along the California coast in fall and winter, there are places you can visit where colonies of adult Monarch butterflies overwinter.

At the ocean’s edge, dozens or even hundreds of the brilliant orange butterflies gather, lighting up the coastal vegetation. I have always intended to visit with my kids. Sadly, recent survey results suggest that it would be best to hurry.

Many people are aware that Monarchs overwinter in Mexico. And this is true: the Mexican overwintering site contains mainly the Monarchs that migrate from breeding areas in central and eastern North America.

 

Monarch migration map
Map of the Monarch Butterfly migration. There are two distinct migrations: western and eastern. The western migration terminates on the California coast (see red highlighted area). Map © Xerces Society

Lesser-Known Western Monarchs

Much less known to Canadians is the fact that there is also a western migratory population of Monarchs. Most of these Monarchs breed on western species of milkweed as far north as southern BC, Oregon and Idaho, and aggregate every fall in hundreds of small clusters of coastal Pacific forest from northern California to Mexico.

Monarchs breed on western species of milkweed as far north as Oregon and Idaho.
Monarchs breed on western species of milkweed as far north as Southern B.C., Oregon and Idaho.

By November, most western butterflies have arrived on the coast and have formed stable colonies that will persist until February.  Every year at American Thanksgiving, the Xerces Society coordinates volunteers to conduct a census of these overwintering populations.

“Devastating” Downfall in Numbers

western monarchs on pink flower

Preliminary census results for the 2018 western Monarch counts are nothing short of alarming.

Counts this past Thanksgiving showed that California’s overwintering butterfly population has declined 86% over the previous year, which was already one of the lowest on record.

In the 1980s, the California coast hosted over 4 million butterflies. Early estimates from 2018 data are projecting just 30,000. Words like “catastrophic” and “devastating” are emerging from normally-restrained senior scientists.

Why Are Western Monarchs Declining?

What has caused such a tremendous decline? The precise reasons for the 2018 decline are unclear, but California’s devastating wildfire season, combined with historic droughts in the west could be to blame.

Wildfires in California
The 2018 wildlife season was the most destructive wildfire season on record in California. Approximately 8,527 fires burned over an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha).

The uncomfortable truth is that Monarchs across their entire North American range have faced many unrelenting threats for at least two decades. Loss of larval milkweed plants due to herbicide and pesticide use, crop intensification, and climate-related changes have already brought Monarch numbers across North America to all-time lows.

Foretelling the Future

monarchs-flying-blue-sky

Do the western survey results predict the future of the eastern migratory population? Time will tell.

Every February, scientists at MonarchWatch estimate the amount of area in the Mexican Oyamel fir forests that is occupied by overwintering Monarchs from central and eastern North America.  This population has also declined by around 90% since record keeping began.  

In 2018, many of us observed an excellent summer for Monarch in eastern Canada. But migration is risky, and intense tropical storms or prolonged drought during the fall migration can lead to high mortality.  We are both hopeful and anxious about this year’s results.

Working Towards Restoration for Monarchs

monarch restoration sign

Still, at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, we are not intending to sit and wait for the news. It is unthinkable that a beloved species that was previously abundant could be facing a perilous future. In 2018, with the help of the Ontario Trillium Fund, CWF launched a pilot habitat restoration project. With fantastic partners including Hydro One, Lanark County and the National Capital Commission, we are restoring 10 acres of native meadow habitat along roadsides and rights of way. Four sites are prepared, and are ready for seeding with native plants in the spring of 2019.

It’s a small start, but we have a vision to expand habitat along linear migratory networks through southern Ontario and beyond.

We Must Act Now

monarch-on-child-hand

One thing is clear: the Monarch across North America is in  a precarious situation, and it will take all hands on deck to prevent its further decline.

If we are to succeed, it will be due to hard work and commitments by all levels of government, industry partners, the agricultural community and private citizens.  That is the best way to ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to witness the spectacle of Monarch migration and overwintering.

It can’t wait anymore.

Stay tuned for further updates on the status of Monarch Butterfly and CWF’s Monarch Habitat Restoration Project.

The Next Extinction Level Event — Is It Already Here?

Are we witnessing a mass extinction?

Life began on Earth 3.8 billion years ago. Since then it’s been through a lot — including five mass extinctions.

That last extinction occurred 65 million years ago when it is believed that a six mile wide asteroid hit the earth killing off the dinosaurs. Many scientists agree that the next mass extinction might happen sooner rather than later — as in, it’s already underway.

The Sixth Extinction

Vancouver Island Marmot

You see, species are going extinct at a rate that this planet has never seen before. According to The Sixth Extinction – An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, we’re losing some species 45,000 times faster than we ever did before. With the rate we’re going, we could lose between 20 to 50 per cent of our species within the century.

We could lose between 20 to 50 per cent of our species within the century.

Scientists believe that one-third of freshwater mollusks, sharks and coral reefs are well on their way to vanishing from our waters. Moreover, a quarter of our mammals, a fifth of our reptiles and a sixth of our birds are on their way out too. And every time another species goes extinct, we are all witnessing something we shouldn’t be able to witness.

The Cause? You Guessed It…

city smog

Why in the world are we headed in this downward spiral? Sadly, the culprit is largely because of you and I.

Humans have really taken over. Our population is exploding and we are digging our grubby fingers into things all over the globe — tinkering with the soil, water, air and more.

Think about it, since the industrial revolution we’ve added nearly 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, and 180 billion tons more by cutting down forests. We’re also placing dams in our rivers, fishing immense amounts of the ocean’s fish, and using more and more of the world’s water.

Plus, thanks to us, species are getting around in a way that would never have been possible just a few short centuries ago. Species are being transported in airplanes and cargo vessels from one continent to another, introducing a range of invasive species that put native species at risk.

The Cost of Convenience

What we need is a little bit of perspective. So many of our decisions are based on convenience and making life easier that we forget to ask ourselves — but at what cost? Who will pay the price? It might be the brightly coloured butterflies that visit your garden every spring. Or the majestic whales that have swam our oceans for centuries. Are we really willing to risk losing these beautiful creatures?

Reviewing the Risks: The Latest Assessments at the COSEWIC Meeting

Three Canadian species at risk of disappearing from Canada are…

The assessment of 22 wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in November has highlighted a need for provincial and federal governments to work towards preventing the loss of Canada’s native species.  COSEWIC found the risk status of three species at risk of disappearing from Canada – the Polar Bear, Black Ash tree and Chinook Salmon.

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

These gorgeous bears rely on seal hunting to survive. However, scientists are predicting longer Arctic summers which will make hunting this crucial prey harder. Inuit are hopeful that Polar Bears will be able to adapt and that this ability may save this at-risk bear. The Committee has listed the bear as of Special Concern.

Chinook Salmon

The Chinook salmon migration to the Upper Yukon River must travel around the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Facility via a 300 m long fish ladder. A viewing chamber partway through the ladder provides an incredible opportunity for the public to observe Chinook salmon as they approach spawning grounds

Did you know that Chinook Salmon complete the longest migration in Canada? Sadly, their journey is wrought with challenges and threats along the way.  The committee found 13 populations to be in significant decline and has listed eight populations as Endangered, four as Threatened and one as of Special Concern.

“As a founding member of the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, CWF is concerned that 13 of the 16 population groups of Chinook Salmon assessed from southern British Columbia are at risk of extinction,” says David Browne, CWF Director of Conservation Science. “Declining quality of marine and freshwater habitat is sighted as a key factor. This is yet more reason to invest in habitat restoration and protection in the Fraser River watershed and address the Cohen Commission recommendations. This is also sad news for Southern Resident Killer Whales as their main prey, Fraser River Chinook Salmon, are determined to be at risk of extinction by Canada’s experts.”

Black Ash

Black ash leaves
@ Keith Kanoti

The malicious Emerald Ash Borer has wedeled its way into many forests in Canada. This invasive species has wiped out approximately two billion trees in North America and has no intention of slowing down (or showing much mercy).

It’s unclear how the 162 million Black Ash trees still standing will survive, and so the committee listed the tree as Threatened. Black Ash are a very important tree to our forests. They’re the most widely distributed trees in Canada and are used to make commercial items like baskets, furniture, flooring and snowshoes.

What You Can Do

upload observations to inaturalist.ca
Upload observations to iNaturalist.ca

The last thing we’d want is for you to feel helpless after reading the state of some of Canada’s wildlife. That’s why, we’ve got plenty that you can do to help!  Did you know 13 of the 22 species assessed have been observed by iNaturalist users? You can help to inform assessments of other species by downloading the iNaturalist app and be part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring team!

 

Santa’s Got Company

The Arctic tundra is a fascinating area between the edge of the boreal forest and the permanent ice caps closer to the North Pole.

This areas spans across Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northeastern Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. Such a vast and harsh arctic climate is home to a limited variety of species that must adapt to the long, cold months and major snow fall.

The Great White Bear

polar bears

The North Pole wouldn’t be complete without the Polar Bear. Unfortunately, the Polar Bear is a species at-risk in the tundra. One of the main threats is climate change which is impacting the sea ice patterns. Sea ice patterns doesn’t sound like a big deal but the Polar Bears, along with many other species at-risk rely on the ice for migration and foraging. When the ice is sparse, it can result in famine and even death.

The Arctic Fox

arctic fox

The Arctic Fox is another common and welcomed sight in the tundra. This mammal perfectly adapts to the harsh conditions by changing the colour of its fur from a brownish-grey to white in the winter months. They also use their thick bushy tails as a warm cover to protect themselves from the harsh cold wind. The Artic Fox, like many other fox species, will travel long distances in search of food like lemmings, birds and their eggs, leftover carcasses and even plants.

Arctic Hare

arctic hare

Like the Arctic Fox, the Arctic Hare have adapted to survive the tundra. They sport short ears, black eyelashes that protect the eye from the glaring sun, and have incredibly thick fur that changes from a blueish-grey to white in the winter. To protect themselves from the cold and predators, the Arctic Hare will dig dens in the snow or soil which helps them conserve body heat. Here, under the snow, they can also find some winter grubs like shrubs, mosses and lichens to keep them full all winter long.

Arctic Char

arctic char

Very few fish species call the Great White North home in its coldest months. One of the fish that lives in the lakes and rivers of the tundra is the Arctic Char. It plays an important role in the tundra as these fish are an important source of food for many birds of prey in the summer and for mammals in the winter. The Arctic Char spends part of its life cycle in fresh water and the other part in salt water. However, some Arctic Char have adapted and made fresh water their primary address after become land locked.

Birds in the Tundra

Greater White-fronted Geese © Nathan Clements
Greater White-fronted Geese | Oies rieuses © Nathan Clements

Birds are the most diverse group in the tundra! It is home to important birds like the Common Eider, Thick-billed Murre and the Arctic Tern. These birds primarily live near the Arctic Ocean and rely on the marine environment for some grubs to feast on.

Plants and Fungi

tundra
@ Martin Prentice

When you think of life in the tundra, plant and fungi aren’t exactly the first thing to come to mind. There are nearly 2,000 species of plants, mosses, sedges, grasses and flowering plants thriving there! Adaptation isn’t only for birds and mammals, plants in the tundra have adapted to shorter growing seasons, lack of humidity and low nutrient level in the soil. Plants grow shorter and closer to the soil which aids when tumultuous windstorms arise. Huddling together for warmth isn’t only for mammals! Plants have adapted to grow huddled together to stay warm.

Celebrating World Soil Day

“Essentially, all life depends on the soil … There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”
~Charles E. Kellogg

 

These words of Charles Kellogg are as pertinent today as they were in 1938 when he was quoted. Ask any farmer what is the most important thing that sustains agriculture, and most will tell you soil health.

farmer field snow soil

Truth: Healthy Soil is a “Must” for Agriculture

Why is that? Well, among many things, healthy soils support sustainable food production – for humans as well as for all terrestrial species. Even predators need healthy soil. Healthy soil produces healthy food for their prey.

Healthy soil also helps to control erosion and reduce impacts of drought and flooding.  It cleans and stores freshwater. These are essential functions to supporting life on earth.

And yet, most of us give soil no more than a passing thought. This is probably because the goings on in the soil are invisible to the eye. There are no mega fauna underground.

There are billions of microflora in soil going about their daily business of supporting all terrestrial life on the globe.

Truth: The Greatest Amount of Biodiversity is Found in Soil

When it comes to biodiversity, no other structure on earth is more diverse than soil.

A single gram of soil can support up to 100 billion bacterial cells and an estimate of up to 500,000 species.

And that is only bacteria. The diversity of fungus in soil is immense; fungi make up 90 per cent of the total biomass and in forest soils and 50 per cent in agricultural soils.

Other microflora include actinomycetes, fungi and protozoa. Larger soil fauna include mites, springtails, earthworms, nematodes, ants, termites, many insects and larger organisms such as burrowing mammals.

Truth: Soil Helps Regulate Climate and Climate Change

If the important functions of soil were not enough to elevate the status of soil in your eyes, how about the fact that soil helps to regulate climate and holds a key to mitigating climate change? Soil organisms regulate the dynamics of soil organic matter and soil carbon sequestration. Soil organic carbon captures carbon from the atmosphere and plants then fix carbon in the soil.

Human activities have degraded soil organic carbon.

It is estimated that one third of the world’s soils are now degraded and this has caused the release of 100 Gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Canada is not immune to degradation of soil carbon. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada keeps track of Soil Organic Carbon. The situation has improved in Prairie Canada over the past few decades but has worsened in eastern Canada. See Agri-Food website for an interactive map of soil carbon in Canadian agricultural lands.

Let’s Make Soil Healthy Again!

So what can be done to restore soils to optimal health?

  • crop rotation
  • cover crops
  • ending the destructive practices of draining wetlands
  • stop harvesting peatlands
  • protecting native grasslands: grasslands are a powerhouse of carbon sequestration, storing more than twice the carbon than any other agricultural use.

Healthy soils are so important to life on earth that the United Nations declared World Soil Day to be December 5. This day is an opportunity to celebrate healthy soils and to resolve ourselves to support the restoration of soil health in all countries around the world – for biodiversity, food security and climate change mitigation.

Learn more Canada’s Forests & Fields and how to help.

Over 83,000 CWF Supporters Have Joined With Half a Million Canadians Who Want Neonics Gone

Concerned citizens are calling for an immediate ban on bee-killing neonic pesticides in Canada.

Ottawa concluded consultations on the latest neonic risk assessments on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

Experts Agree

On this issue, the Canadian Wildlife Federation joined with 13 conservation, environmental health and advocacy groups, including the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association. Together we called on the federal government to end the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in Canada without further delay.

While the groups support the federal government’s proposed ban on neonics, they urge the government to accelerate the timeline to protect pollinators, aquatic insects and other beneficial species. An urgent ban is needed to prevent endangerment of the environment.

Since 2013, more than 460,000 people in Canada have participated in various campaigns to ban neonics, signing petitions and writing letters to the federal government in support of a timely ban. Over the last few months, CWF supporters added over 83,000 to this growing list of concerned citizens by supporting our five-step plan to not just ban neonics, but also work with farmers and policy-makers and help the environment recover from the devastating effects of these pesticides.

The Risks are Unacceptable

This week, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) concluded public consultations on proposals to phase out the neonics clothianidin and thiamethoxam in three to five years. In 2016, the PMRA proposed to phase out a third neonic, imidacloprid — a decision that has yet to be finalized. The results? The risks from most uses of neonics are unacceptable.

The proposed slow-motion phase-out of the main neonics would allow their use to continue until 2023 or beyond, even though environmental risks have been shown to be unacceptable. This unjustifiable delay will lead to further widespread and preventable ecological damage and is contrary to the pesticides law Health Canada is bound to uphold.

In contrast, the European Union’s new comprehensive ban will enter into effect in December 2018, just seven months after member states approved regulations. In France, a full ban on neonics has been in place since September 1, 2018.

“The science on neonicotinoids is in. Banning neonicotinoids is the only option if we are to avoid long-lasting serious impacts on the very ecosystems that support farming in Canada. ”
Carolyn Callaghan, Canadian Wildlife Federation

CWF’s five step plan includes:

  • Calling for a ban on the use of neonics
  • Recovering affected species
  • Encouraging research and development of safer pest control technologies
  • Supporting farmers in transitioning to alternatives
  • Advocating for reform to how government protects our food supply

For more information, visit BanWithAPlan.org

 

Diving into Winter

Below zero temperatures, chilly winds, snow covered grounds…. How do Canadian wildlife prepare themselves? Let’s dive right into wildlife in winter!

The change in colours, the brisk air, the frost… It can only mean one thing – winter is coming. Winter is a beautiful time of year. It can be quiet, calm and serene but can also be uncertain, unforgiving and challenging for wildlife. As we’re preparing for winter, wildlife is too.

Don’t Wake Me Up

black bear winter
Bears are one of the most famous sleepers in Canada!

Some species cope with colder weather by sleeping right through winter using a few tricks up their sleeves.

Bears are one of the most famous sleepers in Canada! They enter their dens as soon as the temperature becomes chilly – typically between September and October and emerge around April. They survive this long stretch by reducing their breathing rate to one breath every 45 seconds, slowing their heart rate way down to eight to 19 beats per minute and relying on their fat store.

Bats like the Little Brown Bat are also well-known hibernators in Canada. They were known to effectively hibernate throughout winter in their caves surviving off their fat stores. This is no longer the case for many millions of bats. White-Nose Syndrome is severely impacting their hibernating abilities by keeping them more active and using up their precious fat stores quickly during the chilly winter months.

Groundhogs, also known as the national symbol that spring has arrived, are one of Canada’s largest true hibernators. They go into hibernation around September or October and reduce their heartrate from 80 to five beats a minute. They also drop their body temperature to as low as 3°C to last the entire winter.

Garter Snakes hibernate in groups of a hundred, sometimes thousands, in holes or burrows to stay warm. When spring arrives, they head out of their winter homes to soak all the Vitamin D they can get.

Into the Cold I Go

snowshoe hare winter
The Snowshoe Hare helps keep other species alive like lynx, foxes, coyotes and more during these cold months.

Some species really know how to make the most out of winter and have the best of both worlds – a cozy home and a wintery wonderland to explore.

Snowshoe Hares are one of the most well-known species that are active all winter long. Their fur gets thicker and turns white to blend into the snow. Snowy storms and weather may put a damper on their daily foraging plans but they are known to ride out storms and rest in sheltered spots, known as “forms”, and under logs, stumps and bushes. Because these little guys are always on the move, they can easily find shelter and food like buds, twigs and bark. These little guys also play a crucial role in the food chain during Canada’s harsh winters. The Snowshoe Hare helps keep other species alive like lynx, foxes, coyotes and more during these cold months.

Foxes adapt well to wintery conditions too. During the winter months, foxes take shelter in thickets and heavy bushes. Foxes explore the winter grounds and rely on small mammals such as Snowshoe Hares, mice, voles, rabbits and more as a source of food during the colder months. Foxes have excellent hearing and can actually hear the sound of small mammals scratching and rustling under the snow resulting in the most incredible nose dives into the snow to scrounge up a snack.

Life Under the Snow

mouse snow
Small mammals like voles, shrews and mice build a network of tunnels that allow them to move freely on the bottom in search of food.

Don’t let the serene calmness of a perfect snowfall cover fool you, there’s a bustling network under it. Small mammals like voles, shrews and mice build a network of tunnels that allow them to move freely on the bottom in search of food. For them, the more snow the better! The snow acts as moderate insulator keeping them warm and cozy on the coldest days and keeps them somewhat protected from predators. There is an abundance of food under the snow like seeds, nuts, dry grasses and torpid insects which keeps them well-fed.

Helping At-Risk Freshwater Turtles: From Start to Finish

In June of this year, CWF’s turtle team spent many long evenings searching for turtles laying eggs.

In particular we were looking for Snapping Turtles and Blanding’s Turtles in the process of laying their eggs. Our goal was to let the females lay their eggs and afterwards we would dig up and collect the eggs to incubate them back at CWF headquarters.

Why?

Hannah moving a Blanding's Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns
Hannah moving a Blanding’s Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns

All eight of Canada’s freshwater turtles are now considered to be species at risk. Turtles face a lot of threats such as loss of wetland habitat, and traffic mortality. In many areas 50 per cent or more of turtle nests will be destroyed and eaten by predators such as raccoons. Nest predation is a natural process, but giving turtles a helping hand by protecting their nests can benefit their populations.

From Start to Finish

1. Collecting Eggs

Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field
Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field | Marquage des œufs de tortues hargneuses.

Collecting turtle eggs is not as easy as it may sound. After a female turtle has laid her eggs, she packs the soil back into the hole and there is often no sign of the nest. The surest way to find a turtle nest is to find the female during the few hours she is in the process of laying her eggs. This can involve a lot of searching in the evening, when turtles are most apt to lay their eggs.

Great care has to be taken not to startle the turtle, or she may abandon her search for a nesting site until another evening. Once the female has finished nesting, we carefully dig up the nest and collect the eggs. After many long and late nights, the Turtle Team gathered more than 400 eggs from roadside nests!

2. Egg Incubation

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator | Œufs dans un incubateur

The eggs were kept in a special reptile egg incubator that maintains a constant temperature. Eggs from two species at risk turtles were collected: the Blanding’s Turtle and Snapping Turtle. Blanding’s Turtle eggs are oval, whereas Snapping Turtle eggs are round, like tiny ping-pong balls. Blanding’s Turtles lay about a dozen eggs, whereas Snapping Turtles lay 30 to 40 eggs.

The eggs from each nest were placed in a separate container filled with damp vermiculite, an artificial potting soil mixture. Our first eggs began to hatch in early August, but the eggs continued to hatch over the next few weeks. Excluding the eggs which weren’t fertilized, we had about 97 per cent of the eggs hatch successfully.

3. Hatched Eggs

Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching
Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching | Tortues mouchetées à différentes phases d’éclosion | Tortues mouchetées à différentes étapes de l’éclosion.

When the hatchlings first emerge, they have a yolk sac attached to their bottom shell. This contains nutrients and feeds the hatchlings for the first few days of life. We kept the hatchlings until the yolk sac was absorbed and then released each clutch of hatchlings back near where the eggs were found, at the closest wetland to each nest. By the end of August we had released almost 400 hatchlings back into the wild.

4. Releasing the Hatchlings

These hatchlings still have a hard life in front of them.

The parents do not provide any care for the hatchlings, so they are on their own to find food, avoid predators and find a safe place to hibernate for the winter. Without our help though, at least half of these eggs would have simply become food for raccoons. And possibly many of the hatchlings would not have successfully made the trek to water as the eggs are often laid 100 metres or more from a wetland.

Adding more turtles to wild populations is a good start, but there are many other threats that need to be addressed to help the turtles.

Learn other ways how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca.

It’s not Just my French That has Improved These Past Few Weeks…

Les dernières semaines à la Réserve.

It is only when I sit down to write these blogs that I realize how much I have been able to experience through this program.  From working on research concerning the overpopulation of White-tailed Deer on the mountain, to visiting weather stations in remote locations, to getting the opportunity to lead a camp group on a guided hike of the Gault Nature Reserve — I have had the chance to try a variety of things in the field that are definitely going to come in handy in my future.

Improved Skills

Fred speaking to a camp group at the top of the Dieppe summit @ Alexandra Falla
Fred speaking to a camp group at the top of the Dieppe summit @ Alexandra Falla

It is not obvious to me that I’ve changed much since I first arrived in Mont-Saint-Hilaire. The only thing I have noticed is that my legs are definitely more toned – thanks hiking! Another thing I have greatly improved upon is my French. I completed the French Immersion program from grades five to 12, so my French is above average, however it did take me a while to get used to Québecois – ben ouais, maintenant mon français c’est pas mal !

We installed cameras on the mountain and in the first round of shots,  we collected well over 1,000 pictures for data. These photos will be used to determine population density and which parts of mountain have the highest density of deer. With this information, researchers are hoping to better understand the effects that overgrazing is having on the undergrowth of the forest, and how this imbalance is negatively affecting the delicate mountain ecosystem.

I’m grateful for the opportunity of being a participant in the Canadian Conservation Corps every day – the lead intern is someone who knows the ropes and always makes sure the rest of the team is up to date with what is planned for the day. She’s given me a lot of advice about grad school and potential masters projects – how to find an advisor, how to get funding, etc. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that she has become a really good friend, and someone who I will definitely be visiting after Stage Two.

Conservation at the Gault

 A deer inspecting on of our camera traps
A deer inspecting on of our camera traps

As well as getting some insight into the life of a grad student, I’ve also learned more about the conservation efforts that the Gault Nature Reserve is partaking in. By collaborating with researchers from other universities such as UQÀM, the University of Ottawa, and the University of Guelph (woohoo!), McGill and the Gault Nature Reserve team are able to accomplish much more in the fields of biodiversity and conservation.

I have been brainstorming ideas of what kind of outreach I want to do when I get home, hopefully something involving the schools in my local community. Much of my field training has taught me many things I could apply during my school work and future job opportunities, so I’m trying to integrate what I’ve learned here into something I can present or lead with possible school groups. I got some ideas and everything is still in the early stages of planning, but I’m super excited to see where this will go!

As for now, it’s almost time to go back on the field. I’m trying to take in as much as possible during these last weeks, so I can bring as much of my experience home with me.

To follow along with my #CCCAdventure, find me on Instagram at @alexaoutside, and don’t forget to check out the Gault Nature Reserve as well at @reservenaturellegault

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.