Why I Am Choosing to #DoMoreForWildlife

I was born in the late 1980s in a small log house built by my father on the edges of the Mississippi River in a small village called Appleton. My mother, a young Inuit woman from the northern tips of Canada decided to have me at home despite the push back she received from surrounding communities and western medical professionals. To top off my welcoming into this world, none other than Betty-Anne Daviss (Google her), my parents’ midwife, caught me as I took my first breathe.

Perhaps being born into a circle of activists set me on this path of environmentalism and fighting for a more compassionate world, or maybe this became my path due to the life I have lived. Either way, I’m here to share my story so I can hopefully inspire you to do more: more for our communities, more for our planet and more for our wildlife.

What you may or may not know is that we’re all connected, whether you live in a city, a town, a village, or alone in the woods, we all share our next breath on the same planet, together. And when one of is suffering, that suffering will find its way to all of us, even if we don’t feel it immediately. We have a moral obligation to our future generations to start taking better care of our planet.

Haley connecting with nature

I can’t tell you exactly when the moment of urgency happened for me. I grew up in northern Canada among First Nations and Inuit communities and then back to our nation’s capital where I had a mix of small town and city experiences. I’ve shared moments with wolves, bears, whales, birds, amphibians and insects of all sorts — all interactions made me appreciate them. Situations like this gave me a profound respect for the animals that guard and guide us, even when we’ve stepped onto their territory. My university degree allowed me to learn about every environmental issue there was and unpack how we got here as a global community. Through all of this, the confirmation of our interconnectedness on this planet was written into my DNA.

What I can tell you is that we all live on this beautiful planet together and it’s up to us to take care of it. The health of our wildlife reflects the health of us and the scariest part is that we need them and we might lose them. Wildlife take care of everything. They offer us pollination so that we have many foods and different medicines.  They also help to largely shape the landscape so that we have healthy forests, fields, rivers and oceans.

More than half of the oxygen we breathe comes from our oceans. Yes, you read that right. Marine photosynthesizers like phytoplankton and seaweed use carbon dioxide, water and the energy from the sun to make food which then releases oxygen! This is just one example of many that reflects how irreplaceable our wildlife.

So let’s return the favour and make a promise to do more; do more for the wildlife that provide us with nutritious food, healthy forests and clean oceans.

I’ve made the promise, will you?

Learn more about how you can make a promise, too #DoMoreForWildlife

Big Little Lies

When it comes to wildlife, we’ve believed some pretty silly things over the years.

If you cross your eyes they might stay that way. If you swallow gum it’ll stay in your stomach for seven years. How many silly lies have you believed in your life? Well there are plenty of lies we’ve been told about wildlife that many people still believe.

We’re here to set the record straight.

MYTH #1: Bat poo will make you sick.

bat

Not true! So many people blame bats when a lot of different poo can make you sick. The fact of the matter is that the fungal spores that cause histoplasmosis (a lung infection) can be found in all sorts of poo. Yes that includes bat poo (also called guano) but also human, horse, dog, cattle, cat, bird, skunk, rat and opossum feces as well! You wouldn’t kick Fido out for that, would you? Truthfully, when you come into contact with any decaying organic material, you’re at risk of harming your health.

MYTH #2: If you touch a baby bird, its parents will abandon it.

eagle chick

Birds don’t ditch their young just because someone touched them. It doesn’t seem like birds recognize their young by smell in the first place. But that’s not because they have a terrible sense of smell, like some people think. Research is definitely showing otherwise. It is now known that turkey vultures and seabirds actually have a well-developed sense of smell. And research on zebra finches show that these songbirds use smell to recognize relatives.

MYTH #3:  If you touch a toad, you’ll get warts.

american toad

Really? Errrr…I hate to break it to you but it’s the grubby shower floors at your local gym that’s given you those lovely plantar warts, not toads. Toads might look bumpy but that’s just their skin! Some toads have bumpy skin that actually releases toxins to keep predators at bay.

MYTH #4: Bats are blind

Bats can see very well, thank you very much. I think people most often get confused on this point because they know most bats are reliant on echolocation to make their way. Since most bats can’t see in the dark, when they are most active, they rely on their built in sonar system to navigate at incredibly high speeds in absolute darkness!

MYTH #5: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away.

blood in water and shark

Sharks absolutely use their sense of smell to sniff out prey. But you’re going to have to bleed a heck of a lot more to get their attention. A drop of blood might attract a shark if it was living in a small swimming pool, but not in the vast ocean.

 

5 Activities to Do With Trees

When you have the chance to look at a tree with a child, or even by yourself for that matter, there are many ways you can focus your attention.

You can admire its beauty, examine its role in that ecosystem, stimulate imagination or you can get artsy by creatively incorporating it into crafts. Here are some ideas for some of your nature walks.

1. Tree Bark or Leaf Rubbing

Leaf rubbing @CWF

Put a sheet of paper against the side of a tree and, with a crayon, rub up and down to reveal the bark’s pattern in colour! If you want to do a large area and don’t have a lot of time, either use wide crayons or remove the paper off regular crayons and use the long side for a larger surface area. Compare the differences in the leaf rubbing to see if you can spot patterns between other tree species or the different heights along the trunk.

For leaves that will fall later this year, collect and press them so they don’t dry curled up. After a few days or weeks (before they get too dry and brittle) put the leaves under a sheet of paper and make rubbings for fun, as a journal or as a picture for decoration.

2. Walk or Climb on Fallen Trees

kids outside walking along a fallen tree

Caveat: only ones that you feel are safe to use (sturdy, free of lots of prickly branches etc.)! This is both fun and great for developing balance and confidence. If need be, hold the children’s hands until they feel comfortable doing it themselves.

3. Observe Leaf Shapes

Leaves do more than just make oxygen and make lovely sounds in a breeze. Leaf shapes (or even leaf buds in the colder months) can help identify a tree species and sharpen observation skills.

4. Imagine

woman standing by lake

Imagine what it must feel like to be a tree with roots grounding you into the earth and branches raised high up to the sky. Pretend to be a tree and feel connected to the earth and sky.

For very young children this might be enough. For older children get them thinking about the role of a tree. How are the roots helping (they stabilize soil) ? How are the branches helping (they are homes for animals and leaves help make the air we breathe)? How does the trunk help (they provide wood for furniture, houses, paper, tissues and toilet paper as well as homes for cavity nesting animals) ?

5. Sit Under or Near a Tree for a Period of Time

girl outside sitting under trees

A few minutes would do for a young child, but longer for older participants. While one can do this activity anywhere, there is something about trees that can help a person slow down and be fully present. You can simply use this time to quiet the mind, becoming calm and present. Or you can use this time to engage all your senses to notice what is happening around you and wonder why that is so.

For instance, are there animals singing or scampering about or are they quiet and still? If there is a breeze, do different leaves move differently? Perhaps they have a different shape to catch the wind or their leaf stem is longer or narrower allowing them to move differently (as with Trembling Aspens). Is the tree trunk smooth or bumpy on their back? Is there sun on their face or are they in the cool shade?

Liked this? Get more educational resources from The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s website.

Herbs for Wildlife — Planting Edible Herbs for You and Wild Neighbours!

Each year I grow herbs, mainly for me but a little for wildlife, too.

For my part, I enjoy their fragrance when rubbing leaves between my fingers. I enjoy seeing their varied colours and textures on the deck and in the garden beds. And, of course, I enjoy tasting their lovely flavours.

There is something so satisfying about making a meal and simply popping outside to pick fresh basil for a pizza, parsley for a salad or lemon thyme for tea. I also like to dry my own herbs so I have lovely vibrant green herbs in my jars during the winter rather than the brownish herbs you often find in stores.

hoverfly herb

But I also get satisfaction when I leave some stems to go to flower as I know their tiny blooms are useful for loads of pollinators. From flower flies to little blue bees, they all come and work busily amongst my flowers.

I have a large oregano patch that has prolific clusters of pinky purple flowers that always seems to be full of insects. I tend to leave most of the patch alone, harvesting only a section of it for myself. But even a small pot of basil with a few flowers can help our insect allies.

The Caterpillar Connection

swallowtail caterpillar herb

Then there are plants like dill, fennel and parsley that are not only useful for their flowers but Black Swallowtail caterpillars enjoy the leaves as much as we do. If you are willing to share your plant then you will likely get to enjoy the experience of young caterpillars growing and then the final stage of a magnificent butterfly to grace your garden, even if it is only for a short time.

In this case, if you are concerned about not having any leaves for yourself, you can grow or buy extra plants or start a second crop a few weeks after you planted the first. If you are buying plants, you can always keep a few plants in a screened in area if you have one.

Of course, it’s best if you have lots of nectar plants for the adult butterflies to enjoy. Include annuals such as zinnias and calendula or perennials like milkweeds, Echinaceas, Monardas (Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm) and Joe-pye Weeds.

Growing Herbs

Growing herbs can be quite simple as most are happy with a big enough pot in full sun. Be sure to water daily, especially for plants like Basil and those in smaller pots that dry out more easily. Some will like fertilizing so add a bit of compost to your soil mix when planting.

bee herb

When it turns cold, some herbs survive the winter in my garden, like Oregano and Lemon Balm. Tender plants, however, need to come inside to a sunny window sill in order to live another year.

The Importance of Proper Window Placement

As the days are shorter in the winter, the sun becomes more important than ever. I’ve learned the hard way that I just don’t have the windows suited to help them all survive the cold for seven months. In one house I didn’t have enough space with windows that get full sun. In another house I had the window but with a baseboard heater below which meant my plants were between extremes of temperature, overriding the lovely sunny spot. So typically, I only bring inside my one Rosemary plant. The rest, like Basil and Thyme, I start from scratch each year.

Learn more about edible plants and how to garden for wildlife.

My Solo Experience — Winter Camping Adventure

Simon is a member of Group 7 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

 The morning of solo, we had to indicate how comfortable we were going into the overnight camping experience in our own snow shelter.

Since it was supposed to be a much warmer day and night than our previous -20 to -30 nights, I felt confident that I could resist the cold. I opted to give myself an 8/10, trying to secure myself a spot with a lakeside view.

I started digging my trenches in a spot well covered by the trees. I saw a woodpecker knocking on nearby trees. It looked really cute so I stopped to observe it. Then it suddenly came really close and started knocking on my snowshoes. This made me smile and gain energy to go back to work. When I finish digging my quinzee trench, I felt confident, and was truly enjoying my experience. However, this was quickly about to change…

Since I was quite nervous about the idea of sleeping in a quinzee, I had already planned to make a secondary shelter where I was actually intending to sleep. However, as I was perfecting my cave to give myself more room to move, it suddenly all collapsed. I would now have to rely on my quinzee to sleep.

I had to work with my knees on the snow. I didn’t like that because it meant that my pants would get humid or wet. But it was the best way to go so I kept on digging. Then suddenly, my entrance collapsed. I saw that the quinzee was still big enough for me to fit, so I dug my entrance again and managed to go deeper. As I got about a quarter in, I heard my quinzee collapse by 1-2 cm.

Everything seemed to be all right as I made it to about half of my quinzee. But then, I heard the same noise that happened when my quinzee collapsed a ¼ of the way in. I instinctively jumped out, and a second later, everything crumbled. My quinzee had a huge crack right in the middle. In the frenzy I let go of my shovel which was still under the snow. I started digging in with my gloves, and luckily found it, as I feel this is the most important of all my belongings, and the only thing I can’t afford to lose. I’m now definitely not confident anymore and pretty scared that I won’t be able to spend the whole night out in the woods.

sled sleeping outside in winter

I started working on another sled shelter. I managed to make it long enough to fit me, so I try putting my sled on top. I gathered some pine tree branches and used them to cover the entrance to my cave. I put my sleeping bag in my cave and gave it all a try. As I got in, I felt pretty squished, but thought to myself, as long as I don’t move, I’ll be just fine.

As it was getting dark, I gathered a few more pine tree branches, and then settled in my shelter. I was too uncomfortable to take notes, so the only activity I had was my rubiks cube. After solving it once or twice, I decided to try to get some shut eye. I woke up, and it was completely dark. I had to go to the bathroom….

I tried everything I could, but still didn’t manage to finish the night outside. Today, I think that this experience showed me a lot about my character, and how I handle myself in difficult conditions.

How Do Animals Communicate?

Sounds aren’t the only way species communicate with each other

Birds will chirps, wolves will howl, ducks will quack and owls will hoot…but what about other ways of communicating? Take a look below at the incredible world of non-verbal communications!

There was something in the air that night

Ever wonder how all the ants just seem to know when there’s a piece of food on the ground? That’s because when an ant finds a new food source, it will release pheromones near it and along its path to help direct its fellow ant-friends to the food source. When the food source is almost gone, they stop releasing pheromones to let the scent trail fade away.

We all know that when Pepé Le Pew feels threatened, it will defend itself by spraying a special eau de skunk spray towards the predator. This is the skunk’s non-verbal way of communicating to those around to stay far, far away!

Wolves mark their territories with urine and scats to warn other wolves this area is already occupied and to move along. Not only this, but they use a variety of non-verbal body language such as facial expressions, and body movement and positions to convey the rules of the pack and exert their dominance.

So you think you can dance

sunflower beesBees will return to the hive to tell other bees that it found that sweet pot of nectar by performing a bee waggle dance to indicate the location. The dance is interpreted by other bees through touch in darkness, inside the nest. Could the bee waggle be the next fortnite floss dance phenomenon? We sure hope so!

Touted as one of nature’s greatest dancers, the Greater Sage Grouse sure know how to strut their stuff to impress that special lady. They show off their dashing good looks by puffing themselves up and popping their air sacs on their chest in and out. This is one dance you must Google right now.

Courting pairs of Whooping Cranes are also best known for their dance performance. They perform an elegant and elaborate dance display that involves leaping, flapping their wings and tossing their heads. Sign this duo up for So You Think You Can Dance pronto!

It’s all in the flick

fawn deer and skunk

 The tail of a deer is more than just a tail – it can tell you what the deer is feeling. Deer will wag their tails if relaxed and feel no imminent threat. Things start to change at the half-mast, a tail that is halfway up. It’s the first sign that something just doesn’t feel right. Then there is the flare when their tail is sitting straight up, and this means they are on alert and know that there is danger around. And finally, they perform the warning flicks. These are fast and they’re telling others to get ready to make a run for it.

A squirrel’s tail does more than just help them with their balance. It’s a way to communicate! When squirrels see something that makes them feel a bit uneasy it will wag its tail and do tail flashing to let their fellow squirrels-mates know. When squirrels approach a member of the opposite sex, its tail will tremble or have shivering like motions to help draw attention to itself.

Slapping good time

dolphin

We know Dolphins make those famous whistles and clicks sounds to communicate to others and to determine their locations, but they communicate in so many more ways! Dolphins will often slap its tail and flippers on water producing a loud sound to get the attention of others in the area.

Friend or foe? Only a kiss can tell

prairie dog

Greeting kisses are an important way of communication for Prairies Dogs. It may appear like their kissing, instead they’re actually baring their teeth and pressing mouths together to see if they are friends in the same social group or foes. If they are friends, then it’s business as usual, but if it’s a foe, they’ll fight it out.

A New Threat for Bats

When it rains it pours. How can we help bats with this new threat?

Canada is home to 19 different species of bats and each and every one of them are important to our environment and also our economy.

When the sun goes down, bats get to work chowing down on the annoying pests in your backyard (I’m looking at you, mosquitoes!). They’re also extremely beneficial to the agricultural industry. In fact, bats save the agricultural industry $30 million every year. But sadly, they’re facing overwhelming threats that could eradicate them. From habitat loss to White-nose Syndrome, Canada’s bats have some mighty challenges. And now researchers are concerned that they could be dealing with yet another threat – neonics.

A little background on neonics: the agricultural industry has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years in terms of how they deal with pests. Systemic insecticides, like neonicotinoids (neonics), have been introduced and these insecticides get right into the plants – from the roots to the leaves. We’ve already learned that neonics are having terrible impacts on bees, butterflies and other pollinators, but it seems bats are very likely to be affected by them too.

There are three ways that neonics could impact bats by:

  1. Reducing the number of insects available
  2. Poisoning them when they eat insects that have been exposed to neonics
  3. Attacking their immune system, thereby making them more vulnerable to disease

Hunger

Bats need a lot of insects to fill up their tummies. In one night, a single bat can eat up to its own body weight in insects. While neonics isn’t the only culprit responsible for the global decline in insects, they certainly aren’t helping matters!

Poison

When bats do get hold of an insect or two, they’re at risk of ingesting the pesticide. Insects can be exposed to neonics and can carry around the pesticide on their wings, scales or hairs. Chowing down on multiple infected insects can affect a bat’s ability to move around using echolocation and more.

Disease

Neonics can remain in a bat’s body over a long period of time. One study tested bat tissue over the winter months and detected neonics. Carrying neonics for a long time could reduce a bat’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to disease such as White-nose Syndrome.

They Came From Below

Kilometres beneath our feet, deep in cracks under the Earth’s continents lives a vast, secret world of microbes

Every now and again, science comes up with a finding so revolutionary that it shakes up the way the rest of us see our planet. Those moments are pretty rare. I can point to only a handful in my life, including the time a very patient theoretical physicist from the California Institute of Technology explained quantum field theory to me. (Thanks, Sean Carroll!) I could never see the world the same way after that.

These are not the incremental — but important — findings that sharpen what we already know, like the news that more methane than ever is seeping out of Arctic permafrost, for example. Or that sea stars are melting like papier mâché, victims of a ferocious wasting disease. They are not like the discovery of a new species or the news flash that a creature once endangered has come back from the brink or the welcome research showing how an animal is adapting to planetary change.

These are the mind-blowers. And one showed up on my doorstep late last year.

It turns out that kilometres beneath our feet, nestled deep in crustal cracks under the Earth’s continents and far below the seabed floor lives a vast, secret world of microbes.

DEEP BENEATH US, MICROBES HAVE EXISTED FOR TENS OF MILLIONS OF YEARS TRAPPED IN A STATE OF SUSPENDED ANIMATION… LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF SCIENCE FICTION

Most are strangers to science. But because of novel scientific drilling techniques and DNA sequencing, scientists are beginning to find them. It’s all part of the Deep Carbon Observatory project that has been going on for about a decade, run by hundreds of scientists across dozens of countries.

They’ve come up with a bunch of ways to describe this newly discovered part of the planet: microbial dark matter. The Galapagos of the deep. The life of the Stygian sphere. The creatures themselves are mainly bacteria and single-celled archaea (microbes with no nucleus). And they are weird. Far weirder than their relatives on the surface. These fellows survive the underworld equivalent of fire and brimstone. They live under unimaginable pressure in high-temperature extremes long believed inimical to life. They manage with no light and almost no food, some nourished only by the meagre energy shed by rocks.

Some individuals seem to have existed for millions or even tens of millions of years trapped in a state of suspended animation. It’s like something out of science fiction. They don’t divide or grow. They are barely alive. How do they do it? Are they zombies, never capable of revival? Or are they just in purgatory, waiting for the moment when they can spring back to full life? Scientists don’t have a clue.

What they do know is that there are a lot of these microbes of the netherworld. Scientists calculate that 70 per cent of the planet’s bacteria and archaea live in these underground lairs. That means there are more inside the Earth’s crust than on top of it.

This space, dubbed the “deep biosphere,” is twice as big as the volume of the vast global ocean, making it the biggest ecosystem on the planet.

And it’s a massive carbon store. There’s so much life hidden in the innermost reaches of the crust that it contains anywhere from 245 times to 385 times more carbon than that held in all the humans now alive. Not only that, but these odd creatures are similar no matter which part of the planet’s deep recesses scientists sample. What’s underneath Seattle, Washington, is similar to what’s underneath South Africa.

So what does it mean? For one thing, it’s likely to redraw the tree of life, the schematic showing which species evolved from which. Is this dark world where life on our planet originated? Or did life seep into the crust from the surface and then evolve into wholly new forms?

Can these communities of underworld microbes move? Do they rely on earthquakes or tectonic plate movements in any way? Are they affected by waste products that humans are injecting into the deep Earth?

Perhaps most intriguingly, how are these new microbes connected to their cousins on the surface, if at all? Are they part of the planet’s biological cycles? Geological cycles? Chemical ones?

So far, we don’t have the answers. But isn’t it intoxicating to think of all that life underneath us, going about its business for millions of years, maybe influencing how our lives unfold? What else don’t we know?

How To Set Up a Natural Playground

Including natural elements in a playground is now considered the best thing we can do for our kids.

Children themselves say the spaces are more fun. It is evident that they play better and have more natural team building as well as enhanced learning in having more to do themselves.

building a natural playground @david derocco
© CWF | David DeRocco

Advice From the Professionals

But don’t just take our word for it! Adam Bienenstock and his highly respected team at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are inspiring positive change, supporting educators and creating “nature-based playspaces around the world.”

“As a kid, nature was everywhere — it was part of us and it was fun,” says Adam. “Play is the greatest teacher. The more sensory rich the play, the better the lesson. A natural playground is the perfect venue for children’s minds to expand and their immune systems to grow strong.”

We need to stop looking at contact with nature as a problem to be fixed and start looking at contact with nature as a solution to the problems we must solve. ~ Adam Bienenstock

@ Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam says: “These great tips will help you and your kids have a blast — you don’t even need to tell them that it’s good for them!”

  • Include what natural materials are at hand – straw bales in the fall, slices from an old tree as stepping stones or building pieces, some sturdy sticks for making a teepee or lean-to and hanging rope from a strong tree branch.
  • Partner with locals such as a hydro or tree removal for chipped mulch below play structures and retired carpentry teachers, wood working groups or high school woodworking classes to help make structures.
  • If you have a budget consider adding larger elements like a sand pit.
  • Involve all players including all teachers, administrative and grounds staff etc. in the planning as well as exploring solutions to problems that arise.
  • Encourage positive involvement from parents by explaining how the benefits outweigh any risks and give them options to minimize distrust and maximize participation. For example, do they want their child to have a change of clothing for playtime.

In the Field

These two videos from three UK schools and an American child care offer wonderful insights into how they changed their outdoor play area. They also outline the many benefits noted by all adults involved with behavior, mental states, physical abilities and learning.

For instance, children began naturally using mathematics in building and organizing items. They looked forward to going to school! Imagination and desire to play, move and create increased and boundaries between the ages dropped.

While supervisors need to be actively engaged, they found the environment to be more peaceful – to the point that their own enjoyment in the experience increased.

Did you do this at your playground? Do you have tips or resources to share? Please comment below!

Chickadees Lead to Owls?

Julien is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

One day during my Stage 2 field placement I was assisting the visitor safety team of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve with upgrading the signage of an unofficial trail. As it often happens within our field unit, two members of the ecological integrity team crossed path with us on their way back from an amphibian survey. We were still exchanging pleasantries when Jonas, a walking encyclopedia for wildlife, squealed with his binoculars in hand. “OWL!” A northern pygmy owl, to be more precise.

“Where?”

“Oh, I see it. Hello tiny buddy,” excitedly followed a coworker while I continued to scan the trees aimlessly, feeling somewhat stupid.

Handing me the binoculars, Jonas ultimately proceeded to expertly describe the location of the tree branch on which the owl stood still 30-40 meters away—not a small feat.

At last, I could see. Stunning—probably my first owl sighting ever. A magnificent creature.

Impressed, I asked Jonas how he spotted the owl. It turns out he had not “spotted” the owl like I thought he might have had by chance walking down the trail. No, rather, he heard it. Or rather, he heard the commotion of agitated chickadees trying to mob the owl away. That’s how he knew to look up. I learned something.

“How do you know all those things?” I keenly asked?

His simple answer: he spends a lot of time outside, observing and attuning to signs.

Are you listening?