Posts filed under ‘Wildlife protection and preservation’

Don’t forget to feed the birds!

iStock_cardinal_at_feederIt’s migration season, and as many species of birds are winging their way across the landscape, no doubt they could use a bite to eat and some clean water to drink. So far I’ve had visits from a downy woodpecker, juncos, lots of house sparrows and a pair of mourning doves. Last winter I had a pair of cardinals at the feeder as well.

I have a large hanging feeder (with anti-squirrel features, thanks Aunt Sue!) and a wire cage for a seed cone hanging in my backyard. I put a seed mix in the feeder that includes peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn and millet. I like to put thistle / niger seed bells in the wire cage, although the last one was greeted so enthusiastically it’s all but gone, so I better go shopping.

I’d love to attract other types of birds, such as nuthatches and chickadees, so I’d better go looking for a suet ball. To protect the birds from the legion of cats that prowl through our yard, I hang all of the feeders from a clothesline, away from the reach of fences and branches.

I’m sure that the little guys build up a thirst after flying hundreds of kilometres, so although it’s been wet lately, I have a couple of dishes of water out. I’m keeping my eyes out for a larger black dish, something that will heat up a lot in the warmth of the sun, so there’s water for the birds even on sub-zero winter days.

A bird’s life can’t be an easy one, but they are so darn cute, they’re fun to watch. A sack of bird feed makes for some very affordable entertainment, and hopefully supports the little guys through the cold months.

Have you seen any interesting birds visit your feeder lately?

October 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM Leave a comment

Fall planting: blowing in the wind

iStock_milkweedOut for a walk in the Thousand Islands area last weekend, I noticed what looked like a light snowfall drifting across my path. Except it was around 10 degrees C outside. Much (much!) better than snow, it was wafts of milkweed silk, seeds in tow, tumbling across the tops of the shrubs and grasses.

Considering how much anxiety goes into planting fall bulbs (when I do it – how deep should they be? How do I protect them from squirrels?) it amazes me that milkweed’s lofty white drifts result in well-planted seeds. But, having seen telltale bits of the white fluff attached to people, pets and most anything that moves, milkweed seeds do get around.

And that’s a good thing, considering that milkweed is a principal source of food for the monarch butterfly. As I noted in an earlier post, I didn’t see many monarchs this year. I resolved to plant some milkweed in my garden in an attempt to be a small part of the solution. So right now, as the milkweed pods dry out and pop open, releasing their tufts of silk and seeds, it’s time to put some of those seeds in the ground. I planted several seeds this weekend, and of course a few got away.

I hope the neighbours don’t mind. After all, with “weed” in its name, perhaps milkweed isn’t valued by everyone. But it does produce bright pink flowers – and entice our orange and black friends.

Have you tried to help out birds, butterflies or other species? For more tips on doing just that, check out this article on

October 19, 2009 at 9:46 AM 2 comments

Ocean Wise: help prevent overfishing

ocean wise text-icon white2 [Converted]Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

The Vancouver Aquarium’s conservation program, Ocean Wise, now has over 2,000 restaurant partners who use the Ocean Wise logo on their menus alongside better fish and seafood choices. It can be hard to make a good menu choice — after all, if it’s on the menu, how can a species be threatened? But according to the Vancouver Aquarium website, about 90 per cent of large predator fish from the world’s oceans have been harvested. So much depends on the interrelationships of species within the ocean, from healthy conditions for plankton and zooplankton growth all the way up the food chain to responsible, sustainable fishing practices. I think that if we make good choices for dinner, whether at the supermarket or at the neighbourhood bistro, we can steer the food industry to better practices.

“Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem,” says the Aquarium site.

Bottom trawling and dredging are two of the most harmful fishing methods, because they produce a lot of bycatch and can harm the ocean environment, including damage to coral reefs. But improvements to seafood farming techniques, including inland farms that are closed to natural waterways, are offering better fish options. Looked for farmed tilapia, sturgeon, rainbow trout and Arctic char.

October 14, 2009 at 6:27 PM Leave a comment

So what’s wrong with burning coal?

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

As a followup to my recent post about Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, I thought I’d note a few of the reasons I think it makes sense to move to renewable energy from burning coal.

What is coal? It’s a type of rock made of carbonized plants that holds a lot of C02 and, when burned, releases harmul toxins, including lead, mercury, and even radioactive components such as uranium and thorium. And we’ve found a way to mine this energy-rich, abundant material relatively cheaply.

To mine the coal, we clear-cut the trees, then scrape away the topsoil exposing the rock below so we can carve out the mountain sides to expose the carbon-rich black material. Naturally this process destroys habitat, creates blights on the landscape and causes long-standing health issues in humans, not just wildlife.

The journal of the American Public Health association says of study subjects who live near a coal mine: “high levels of coal production were associated with worse adjusted health status and with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.” OK, that sounds pretty bad. A York University study on a mining area near Nanaimo, B.C. cites research showing that water leaching from coal mines builds up a lot of sulphuric acid, which in turn releases heavy metals, such as lead, zinc, copper and mercury. Delicious!

Not long ago, we ran this story on the surprising range of health effects of air pollution in Homemakers.

Having enjoyed an afternoon picnic under a massive wind turbine, chatting about the future of power, it’s hard to imagine that coal could somehow be better. I try to be open minded, but I just don’t see the logic.

October 5, 2009 at 3:42 PM 1 comment

The Lady Bug: Old friend or foe?

The seven-spotted lady beetle

The seven-spotted lady beetle

I thought I saw an old friend on the weekend, but now I’m not sure I ever knew her at all.
After years of seeing orange lady bugs (I think I’m supposed to call them Lady Beetles), which I learned were an Asian species, I was out in the garden watering plants when I saw a bright red, black-spotted lady bug. I froze, afraid of shooing it away. I think it’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen on of these, and it was like seeing a friend I didn’t know I’d lost.

I looked up ladybugs online, hoping to learn what had happened to my red-shelled friend. But to my surprise, I learned that the iconic beetle is the seven-spotted lady beetle, a species introduced from Europe in the 1970s to control aphids. That childhood friend was not a native insect, not a part of the landscape as I had thought! For a picture of the lady beetle native to Ontario, the pink-coloured Spotted Lady Beetle, click to see the explanation from the University of Guelph.

Apparently all forms of lady beetles are helpful in controlling aphids, and also feed on dandelion pollen. They do not munch garden plants.

Are there insects you like to have in your garden? Are there others you’re trying to control?

August 31, 2009 at 1:24 PM Leave a comment

Have you seen any Monarch butterflies?


The mighty Monarch

The mighty Monarch

To me, Monarchs are a symbol of summer, of that relaxed state of mind that comes from being outdoors on a sunny summer day. I find it centering to walk across a hillside or along a country road lined with native plants, where the warm breezes and sunshine are pouring into my mind, making me see things a little abstractly, yet helping me live in the beauty of the moment. Those are the kind of moments where Monarch butterflies appear. When they are nowhere to be found, I get a little worried.

Every spring, those delicate little winged wonders fly from Mexico to the Great Lakes, where they lay eggs on milkweed plants. The emerging caterpillar feeds on the milkweed plant, then forms a chrysalis. The adult Monarch butterfly emerges about two weeks later. According to this article, monarch butterflies likely had a good start this year, since there were good conditions in their wintering ground in Mexico. But on their migration route, things got dry in Texas, and that meant food shortages. And our rainy spring and early summer meant difficult times for Monarchs as well.  Never mind the tremendous amount of development that has swallowed up butterfly habitats over the past 50 years. Still, some Monarchs have been spotted in Canada.

There are definitely a few things we can do to support our orange and black icons of summer. Pesticide bans in many areas across Canada will no doubt help protect Monarchs. We can also create small habitats on the land we control. Naturally, milkweed is an important species for Monarchs. Unfortunately many people think of milkweed as a weed, and it is often curtailed from roadsides and private property. And these days, more and more of what was once natural space is now private property. If you want to grow milkweed, take a handful of seeds from a ripe seed pod and sow them into the ground in the fall. Milkweed prefers well-drained soil in a sunny location. from For a list of additional plants you can grow that help support butterflies, click here.

Have you seen any Monarch butterflies this year?

August 5, 2009 at 11:40 AM 2 comments

Biosphere Reserves: the home of Canadian biodiversity

Canada’s ecological richness is reflected in the fact that there are 15 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves here, while there are only 500 in the entire world. Yesterday Canada’s federal government announced some funding for 14 of Canada’s 15 Biosphere Reserves, a total of $5 million over five years (the funding actual began in 2008). Each Biosphere Reserve in Canada gets approximately $57,000 per year, a helpful start in the funding required to run their many programs.

You may have a Biosphere Reserve in your area and not even know what makes it so special. This summer, why not visit the one closest to you and find out why UNESCO awarded it the sought-after designation as a place of biological diversity that is striving for sustainability in cooperation with the communities within it. Here is a list of our reserves and their websites:

Charlevoix, Quebec
Frontenac Arch Biosphere, Eastern Ontario (My favourite, since I’m from the Frontenac Arch / Thousand Islands, and my Dad is the executive director of this one)
Fundy Biosphere Initiative, New Brunswick
Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, Ontario
Biosphere du Lac-St.-Pierre, Quebec
Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, Southwestern Ontario
Manicougan, Northern Quebec
Mont St-Hilare Biosphere Reserve, Quebec
Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere, B.C.
Niagara Escarpment Biosphere, Southern Ontario
Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve, Saskatchewan
Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, Manitoba
Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, Nova Scotia
Waterton Biosphere Reserve, Southwestern Alberta

What are your favourite parks, reserves and conservation areas around your area?

July 17, 2009 at 11:28 AM 1 comment

Creating real habitats within a city park

Yesterday, day four on my visit to Tokyo, my partner and I took a break from the city’s well-organized, chaotic, architecturally impressive built-up areas and paid a visit to the Institute of Nature Study, which I believe is part of the National Museum of Nature and Science. Formerly the site of dignitaries’ residences, the 200,000-square-metre area has been naturalized since 1917, and the gardens of those palatial homes were returned to native plants.

We walked through roped-off paths through the park; most of the area is not accessible. It seems that the zone is truly left to its own devices because there is a rich understory of ferns, vines, and other rich flora. I admire this use of space — so often urban parks are really for people (and their dogs), and end up with a somewhat trampled feel.

Have you visited a wild urban park anywhere around the world?

June 25, 2009 at 9:18 PM 2 comments

Great documentary: Addicted to Plastic

plasticsonbeachI had a chance to watch the documentary Addicted to Plastic over the weekend. Although I had heard about the areas of the ocean that tend to accumulate plastic, it was fascinating (and scary) to see just how much plastic was in the area of the Pacific shown in the film (especially compared to the relatively insignificant amount of plankton in the same area). It was scary to see just how much plastics have infiltrated our food chain — the film shows a dissections of dead gulls from a beach in Holland; their stomachs are loaded with bits of plastics, and shows how toxins from plastics make their way into the fish we eat.

I appreciated that the film doesn’t lay blame on society for becoming reliant on plastics, showing that we just got caught up in its convenience without seeing the looming issues down the road. It seems that if we can contain plastics, largely by avoiding convenience plastics and reusing as much of the material as we can for new things, we’ll really reduce the severity of the plastics pollution problem. Beyond that, Addicted to Plastic shows many case studies of people who are doing a terrific job of recycling plastic into new goods (such as Interface carpets), or creating plastics from plant material such as corn.

My bet: We’ll be mining old landfills for plastics, metals and other valuable materials within 15 years.

Do you think you could live without plastic?

June 15, 2009 at 2:07 PM 3 comments

Rockin’ Robins: Baby birds’ nest

babyrobinsWhile visiting my grandmother and my aunt in the Point Pelee area (Canada’s most southern locale and bird watchers’ paradise!), I had an opportunity to see some baby robins up close. At this stage, a few days out of their bright blue shells, the baby birds just looked like little lumps of furry flesh with big orange beaks, beaks they’d open wide when they thought food was near. The adult robins weren’t far away, and the mother got a bit agitated when I went to take this photo. 

A friend of my aunt’s made this nesting box for her; it’s essentially a platform with an overhang to keep the birds somewhat protected from the weather. It’s mounted near the top of fence, hopefully out of reach of neighbourhood cats and other predators.  

Do you have birds nesting in your yard?

June 8, 2009 at 11:10 AM Leave a comment

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