Canada Jay is the best choice to be our national bird

The Jay lives and breeds from coast to coast to coast

Canada Jay is the best choice to be our national birdMy friend and colleague Dr. David Bird, formerly of McGill University, has been driving a movement to have a national bird declared for Canada. Although many thought it was a done deal already and we had affirmed the Canada Jay as our national bird, Canada has not yet done so. Starting in 2016, the community…

There’s room for everyone in nature – if we’re respectful

The only time we need to stand up is when nature is negatively impacted by someone’s actions

There’s room for everyone in nature – if we’re respectfulI sometimes wonder how people with disparate desires share a common resource while respecting other people’s differing ideals and goals. I’m a dedicated birdwatcher, as I think you might have figured out by now. Years ago, I went to Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario to look for a very rare bird – a sage thrasher…

When is the right time to mow hay fields to protect birds?

Knowing birds' behaviour and nesting habits allows nesting and mowing to coexist

When is the right time to mow hay fields to protect birds?Every year about his time I feel sadness for the many birds and small mammals killed by haying. I know there are many and varied reasons why fields are cut, and I respect that, so please don’t think I am criticizing farmers. Mowing hay fields is a necessary and important part of agriculture. We forget…

What the heck are jumping worms?

Though we think they’re helpful, all worms upset the balance, making soil quality poorer

What the heck are jumping worms?Worms are meant to crawl and slither … aren’t they? Then how come some are jumping? We’re all familiar with earthworms, which can be quite large but essentially always look alike. They’re pinkish and look sort of like small snakes. Gardeners among us will also recognize wrigglers, which are small, bright pink worms that favour…

My neighbour the osprey in all its grandeur

These magnificent birds often nest in odd places, such as the light standards and hydroelectric towers

My neighbour the osprey in all its grandeurThe waterfront of Port Perry, Ont., is hosting new neighbours. Two osprey have taken up residence right in the middle of town on the waterfront. These magnificent birds inspire awe but often nest in odd places, such as the light standards and hydroelectric towers. A pair has nested for years at the ball fields at…

Does the internet make us better naturalists?

While the amount of information available is astounding, it is usually hard to find the answers

Does the internet make us better naturalists?When I was a kid, we didn’t have cellphones, the internet or even computers. Facebook, TikTok, Tumblr, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram or myriad other social media platforms didn’t exist. Add to that the many apps that are available to help us learn bird songs or identify everything from plants, mammals and insects to mushrooms, and we…

Give a hoot and support the Great Canadian Birdathon

The Great Canadian Birdathon is designed to raise much-needed funds to protect Canadian birds

Give a hoot and support the Great Canadian BirdathonOne of the biggest challenges birds face is the journey north each spring. Migration is rife with obstacles to survival. This spring is especially problematic due to the cold and wet weather we’ve had. Birds that rely on insects to fatten up for the migration face unprecedented challenges as snow, rain, wind and very cold…

Birdwatching in Honduras – plumage aplenty

Daily delights greeted us – toucans, parrots, butterflies, flowering trees, towering mountains

Birdwatching in Honduras – plumage aplentySpring is an exciting time of year as everything awakens and regrowth is rampant. I always eagerly anticipate the return of the birds that migrated southbound last fall. Their beauty and – more importantly – their song delights and revitalizes me. I know where they go, but I seldom get a chance to see them…

Breeding bird study offers insights into health of the environment

Continuing intensive breeding bird survey involves thousands of volunteers, hundreds of thousands of bits of data

Breeding bird study offers insights into health of the environmentEvery spring, I get excited as the birds start to return to Ontario from South and Central America. Life is emerging everywhere. Even though nature sometimes seems to conspire against them with cold snaps following sunny days, birds persist. Fire, rain, wind, predators, agricultural and industrial activities, cars, cats and inadvertent human disturbance all work…

Cluster flies on your window? Spring has sprung

They share our home until the weather warms enough, then emerge and try to find their way home

Cluster flies on your window? Spring has sprungIt isn’t hard to see that the land is awakening as spring slowly unfolds before our eyes. One of the revelations I always marvel at in the spring is the rapid emergence of insects when it’s still so cold outside. Even though the outside temperature was only a few degrees above freezing at my house…

Are we Earth’s protectors if we carelessly wipe out species?

The well-being of the animals and the benefits they provide us rarely factored in

Are we Earth’s protectors if we carelessly wipe out species?Typically I note articles that cross my desk that report negative stories about nature. Historically, they didn’t emerge that frequently and nature, in general, was doing pretty well, despite some ongoing issues with overhunting, predator control, urbanization, pesticides and poaching. I read and keep these stories because sometimes lessons can be learned by studying other…

Seasons come and go, but where did they get their names?

Plants "spring" forth and leaves "fall" but what about the other two seasons?

Seasons come and go, but where did they get their names?Last fall when I looked out my door, most of the leaves had fallen, the nights were very chilly and there truly was frost on the pumpkins. Now, as the end of the winter season approaches, I thought again about the seasons and how they got their names. I simplistically thought I could come up…

Is the majestic bald eagle making a comeback?

In the 70s, bald eagles, like many raptors, were devastated due to exposure to pesticides

Is the majestic bald eagle making a comeback?The majestic bald eagle never fails to arouse awe in observers fortunate enough to spot it. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it variously was considered common to rare in North America, depending primarily on where you lived. They historically nested in 45 of the 48 contiguous United States but have declined dramatically since. One…

Animal indicators abound in the wild if you can follow the clues

There are hundreds of clues all around us. Sights, smells, holes in trees, nests, songs and much more

Animal indicators abound in the wild if you can follow the cluesI’d like to introduce you to the signs that wild things leave when they share our landscape. We already know birds sing and come to bird feeders, and that animals leave tracks. But what other clues do they leave to tell us they were here? There are hundreds of ways we can see what shares…

Kid-friendly, nature-themed activities to do during COVID-19

While outside, stop a moment and watch. You might see a rabbit hop by or birds searching for a snack

Kid-friendly, nature-themed activities to do during COVID-19I know how tough it is to amuse kids when times are normal, but during this COVID-19 crisis, I can appreciate that it’s much harder. I raised three wonderful children and two of them are now raising children of their own. So I thought I’d share some ideas on how to engage your kids and…

Why birds practise their mating songs in winter

In winter a young bird will practice singing as it tries to mimic its elders

As winter settles in and the cold enshrouds our northern landscape, we expect the woods to be pretty quiet, with only the rustling of windblown leaves and the occasional chirp of a chickadee or the scolding of a red squirrel. But what’s that? Is that bird singing its spring song when it’s so cold outside?…

Is the polar bear’s life becoming even more perilous?

Life's tough for polar bears: climate is extreme, ice varies, food's scattered. Yet they persist

Is the polar bear’s life becoming even more perilous?I recently had several encounters with polar bears in the Canadian Arctic at Coningham Bay on Prince of Wales Island, along the Nunavut coast. We had been advised that bears sometimes frequented this interesting area because Beluga whales often came here to moult and feed, and they are a plentiful and reliable source of food…

How animals use mimicry to survive and thrive

Mimicry is usually designed to protect prey from predators. But some also use the tactic to fool prey

How animals use mimicry to survive and thriveWhat you see may not be what you get when it comes to the natural world. Many animals use mimicry to fool predators and prey into thinking they’re something else, with insects putting on the best show in this regard. Tens of thousands of species of insects aren’t what they seem at first glance. But…

Raptors on the move are a sight to behold

Food and weather are driving migration forces. The best places to look are along coastal areas

Raptors on the move are a sight to beholdNo, this article on raptors isn’t about basketball – it’s about birds. Raptors – including hawks, eagles, falcons, harriers, owls and vultures – undertake prolonged and extensive migrations over a protracted period. What drives them? Where do they go? Let’s talk about owls first. Most owls are actually quite sedentary and only move short distances…

How to catch the fall blue jay migration spectacle

The path of jays follows major waterways: Lakes Ontario and Erie representing major pathways

How to catch the fall blue jay migration spectacleAlthough there are many references to the autumn passage of blue jays (cyanocitta cristata) through Ontario and Eastern Canada in literature, the migration isn’t well documented from a quantitative perspective. The fall passage of blue jays through Ontario has long been observed, with reports at least as early as 1906 by the famous naturalist Arthur…

Do you have smelly neighbours? (Skunks, not pot growers)

To avoid being sprayed, watch for the signs: foot stomping, hissing and tail raising

Do you have smelly neighbours? (Skunks, not pot growers)Ask almost anyone what they think of skunks and their nose will curl up and they’ll frown. I kind of like the smell. Don’t get your knickers in a knot – personal preferences are, well, personal! So why don’t we explore the life of these common, but maligned, mammals? But before we do … although…

Fungi fundamentals: the truth about mushrooms

Fungi have great names – turkey tail, pigskin poison, honey mushroom – and come in all shapes and sizes

Fungi fundamentals: the truth about mushroomsMy local nature club recently hosted a mushroom walk. No, that’s not where you take your pet mushroom for a walk. We visited some trails in central Ontario looking for different types of mushrooms, poisonous and edible. We weren’t foraging so we left the woods as we found them, although many others go to local…

Want to enjoy wildlife? Here’s how to do it safely

Don’t be afraid to enjoy nature – just do it on their terms and with their survival in mind

Want to enjoy wildlife? Here’s how to do it safelyWith COVID-19 an overriding part of our lives, many folks have begun to see and appreciate nature like never before. Whenever we encounter nature, and while our actions may seem harmless, they might be dangerous to wildlife. Wildlife can be negatively impacted by what we do and how we do it. Having studied wildlife most…

Climate questions that make me pause

I bought some hardware items the other day. The plastic wrapping outweighed the things I was buying

Climate questions that make me pauseA few columns ago I started a dialogue about climate issues and how we could, and should, react to them. I become more confused than enlightened as I strive to learn more about the issue and the proposed solutions. I have a few questions that trouble me: If we should reduce our dependence on fossil…

Is there a good side to forest fires?

Fires are a form of selective harvest

Is there a good side to forest fires?The media is abuzz with the devastating wildfires in western and central Canada and across parts of Europe. Tens of thousands of hectares and countless lives and families have been impacted. As you read on, please don’t think for a moment that I’m uncaring for those affected. But is there an upside to these fires…

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?

Insects reduce their functions so only essential processes work: respiration and waste elimination

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?I know it’s still summer but soon it will get colder and things will be radically different. Sometimes I wonder where all the bugs go in the winter. Seems a bit silly but they’re out there somewhere all winter – at least most of them. But where are they? Insects and their allies (e.g. spiders,…

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolves

The wolf came within 25 metres and stared at me as if looking through me, then trotted back into the bush, satisfied that I was neither tasty nor a threat

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolvesThe eastern grey wolf is a mysterious animal that evokes different emotions in us. How you react comes down to how much time you’ve spent with them or, more importantly, how much time you’ve taken to learn something about them. I’ve always revered them, having had several close encounters over the years. Each has left…

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humans

Only the female mosquito seeks a blood meal. She needs to penetrate the skin of warm-blooded mammals to get her meals

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humansAs a naturalist, I wonder about things – sometimes obvious things, sometimes odd things but always interesting things. Today’s thought surrounds interactions with insects, their kin and other critters that on occasion negatively interact with us. People often claim to have been bitten by an insect. “That mosquito just bit me!” But did it? Or…
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