Category: Monthly meeting

Birds of the Galapagos

Blue-footed Booby showing those namesake feet! Photo by Justin Peter

Blue-footed Booby showing those namesake feet! Photo by Justin Peter

by Marissa Carroll

Justin Peter, director of programs and senior naturalist for Quest Nature Tours and vice-president of the Toronto Ornithological Club, brought his extensive knowledge of fascinating Galapagos birds to the Ottawa Field-Naturalist Club’s monthly meeting this past Tuesday.

Host to unique and interesting species, the Galapagos Islands are home to the swallow-tailed gull, the albatross, the Galapagos hawk, a variety of Boobies, and Darwin’s finches. Although some of these species live on the islands year-round, others come and go with the seasons.

Interactions between these species are varied. The Nazca Booby is known for its antagonism toward other birds and its general lack of intelligence. Darwin’s finches’ claim to fame includes the slight differences between birds of different islands, variations that were key to the development of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Overall, the Galapagos Islands host an impressive array of interesting birds. Whether of historical importance, or present day comedy, the birds found on the islands draw ornithologists from all over the world. Luckily for us, the natural seclusion of the Galapagos means none of the species found there have learned to be afraid of humans. The Galapagos Islands are an incredible place to observe fascinating fowl up close.

"The Game of Love". This male Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour appeared to be exhausted from courtship duties. Photo by Justin Peter

“The Game of Love”. This male Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour appeared to be exhausted from courtship duties. Photo by Justin Peter

Peary Caribou: an iconic High Arctic species

OFNC monthly meeting, 13 September 2016

By Marissa Carroll

Dr. Micheline Manseau, an associate professor at the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Manitoba and an ecosystem scientist for Parks Canada, was the featured speaker at the OFNC meeting this September. She lectured on the iconic High Arctic Peary Caribou. Understanding the species’ origins and unique characteristics is key to the management and conservation of this fascinating animal.

Dr. Micheline Manseau (second from the left) posing with club members (left to right) Irwin Brodo (former OFNC president), Murray Citron (OFNC poet laureate), and Michael Davidson.

Dr. Micheline Manseau (second from the left) posing with club members (left to right) Irwin Brodo (former OFNC president), Murray Citron (OFNC poet laureate), and Michael Davidson.

Contrary to popular belief, caribou and reindeer are the same species, Rangifer tarandus, but different subspecies. The Peary Caribou is a subspecies found in the High Arctic islands of northern Canada. Although unproven, there is strong evidence to suggest they descended from populations that survived in a High Arctic, unglaciated region. Peary Caribou were named after Robert Edwin Peary who is known best for his three attempts to reach the North Pole. He learned from Northern peoples and used animal skins and traditional food practices on his expeditions.

Peary Caribou are small. Their short legs and large hooves are useful for dealing with the tough snow and ice that covers lichens and low-lying plants in the north. Peary Caribou are generally sedentary, but are known to move when necessary. Their main predators are wolves.

Many Aboriginal groups have their own names for caribou. For instance, the Mi’kmaq word for caribou is “Qalipu,” meaning “an animal that shovels snow.” Caribou dig through the snow to find lichens, one of their primary foods. Dene people have different names for caribou found in different habitats.

The search for flower flies – an exploration of Australia and its wildlife

by Danielle Chiasson

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

Jeff Skevington is a research scientist with the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He is also an adjunct research professor at Carleton University and an active member with the OFNC.

Jeff, along with his wife and son, Angela and Alexander, embarked on a five-month research trip across Australia last year to study insects. Jeff, who completed his PhD in Australia, returned to Australia with his family to collect, study and identify flower flies as well as give talks across the country.

Alexander, a boy of 11, began the night with his own presentation of photos and anecdotes from their Australian adventures. It was a heart-warming and informative account from a young boy with a growing passion for wildlife and photography. He recounted the numerous species they came across, some common and tame and others that were out of the ordinary.

A few animals he featured included:

The short-nosed echidna – an anteater native to Australia and New Guinea. The Skevingtons had an interesting encounter with this creature. When threatened the echidna will curl up into a ball similar to a hedgehog and begin to dig downwards into the earth.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The plains-wanderer – a bird species endemic to Australia and of particular interest to the Skevington family. Their plumage gives them great camouflage and when threatened they puff out their cheeks. Similar to sand pipers, the plains-wanderer will run away instead of flying when disturbed.

The Lumholz’s tree kangaroo – There are many different species of kangaroo. This one (below) was spotted by the Skevington family in the northeast rainforest of Australia. Unfortunately many species of tree kangaroo are threatened because of habitat loss.

A Lumholz's tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

A Lumholz’s tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a "selfie" with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a “selfie” with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The quokka – A cute little macropod with little fear of humans and a face that seems to smile. Alexander recalls this as his favourite part of the Australian trip. They took many photos with the quokkas and had the chance to give them water.

After Alexander’s presentation Jeff discussed the more technical side to organizing a 5-month cross-country research trip. He said that the trip had been very difficult to arrange and was surprised to find Australia had gotten more expensive since he and his wife were there last. They decided to camp during their stay and were faced with many challenges, the main one being the dangerous road conditions in the Australian outback.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Jeff then continued to present the main reason for the trip, insect research! Many insect species in Australia are undescribed. Jeff’s research brought his family across Australia, finding insects in the desert outback, across the wet East coast of Australia and the heights of hilltops.

Flower flies (also called hover flies) make up the insect family Syrphidae. Jeff talked about three subfamilies: Eristalinae, Microdontinae, and Pipizinae.

Collection methods for these flies include the use of traps, many of which are ongoing, maintained and emptied by others. More tedious collection methods include hand collecting and flower collection. These insects are great pollinators!

They also set off to collect more rare species and to hopefully find undescribed ones at higher elevations. Many insects are found on hilltops because it is an ideal place for them to find food and mate.

Austalis pulchella (Eristalinae). Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The presentation ended with a further exploration of many bird and mammal species they came across during their trip. Australia is home to many endemic birds. Here are a few examples (click on images for a full-size slide show).

Jeff and his family brought a beautiful array of photographs from their trip and many stories to accompany them. They presented many unfamiliar species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians and gave a wonderful introduction to the natural history of Australia.

For more information on Jeff Skevington and his research please visit his web page at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes.

The changing world of birds in the Ottawa Gatineau District – a 50-year perspective

by Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a student at the University of Ottawa. As part of the university’s Community Service Learning program, he has volunteered to report on several OFNC outings and meetings.

On Tuesday November 10, the monthly OFNC meeting started with a few announcements from Mark Brenchey. After drawing our attention to the sale of lens wipes by the Education and Publicity Committee, Mark went on to talk about the Youth Summit, now in its eight year, and the OFNC’s role in sponsoring young people to attend this event. This year, Sophie Roy was chosen, and she was at the meeting to give us a presentation on her experience.

Sophie-Roy

Sophie Roy at the 2015 Youth Summit. She says, “We were doing something called blanket toss. Like First Nations did. You lie in the middle of the blanket, then get thrown into the air by people who pull on the blanket all at once. I believe the blanket toss was originally used to see across icy flat landscapes, but now it’s an event in the northern games.”

Sophie, who is a birder, spoke about how on the first day of the camp she got a chance to interact with threatened species such as the Hognose Snake. There were also a variety of outings including hiking, canoeing, and camping. They even got a chance to look at the stars at night with a telescope. The summit was held near Lake Couchiching, and it sounded like Sophie had a lot of fun.

Mark also talked about coming events and how the Events Committee needs new members.

The main presentation of the evening was given by Bruce Di Labio. Bruce is a well known among birders of the Ottawa region as a journalist, speakers, but most of all as an avid birder. He told us about how he started birding at an early age, when he and his friends would go out on their bikes to take photos of birds.

Bruce-Dilabio

Long-time OFNC member, Bruce Di Labio

Bruce explained how Ottawa is in the path of a major migratory route because of its location south of Hudson and James Bays. According to Bruce, you can find around 361 species in the 50-km radius circle around Ottawa, 406 in eastern Ontario, 493 in all of Ontario, and 672 in Canada. Almost half of the birds in Canada can be found close to Ottawa!

Bruce talked about the history of birding in Ottawa from 1881 to 1969. Some recent additions to the Ottawa bird population are the Razorbill, Cave Swallow, and Violet Green Swallow. We also looked at species that have been threatened by habitat loss, such as the Henslow’s Sparrow, Bobolink, and Meadowlark. There were also many introduced species, such as the Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Towhee.

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Unfortunately the Great Horned Owl has dropped in numbers. There were quite a few declines in bird species in the last five decades. For example, because of the change in style of chimneys, the Chimney Swift has seen a loss in nesting areas and, therefore, a drop in population. The Whip-poor-will is another species that has seen a recent decline.

Bird feeding has caused an increase in some populations, such as the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren. Bird feeding can give birds a foothold in an area. For example, if a bird is migrating in search of seeds, then it might not need to go south if there is enough bird feeding in the Ottawa area. One thing I found surprising was the Wild Turkey is an invasive species.

Bruce talked about records since 1954, where the Barrow’s Goldeneye has seen a rise. Although still rare, the Arctic Tern remains a regular migrant. Red Knots have seen a rise from the 70s to the 80s, but their population has been falling since. Hunting caused the Great Egret population to fall, but since 1972 it has been recovering. Finally, Bruce talked about the effects of DDT and how bird populations have risen since it was banned. The best example of one of these species is the Bald Eagle.

All in all, the presentation was informative and interesting.

Butterfly Hunting in the National Capital Region

By Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a 2nd-year environmental studies student at the University of Ottawa. This fall, he is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.

DSCN0726

Presenter Rick Cavasin

On Tuesday, October 13, at the Central Experimental Farm’s K.W. Neatby Building, 960 Carling Avenue, Rick Cavasin gave an in-depth presentation on the butterflies and butterfly habitats of the Ottawa region. Rick is a butterfly enthusiast and an expert butterfly photographer whose images have appeared in many publications, including the new ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario. For those in attendance, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn about butterflies in our region.

The main part of Rick’s presentation comprised a depiction of the five families of butterflies found in the Ottawa region, as well as a description of the many different sites where butterflies can be found, such as Luskville Falls, Constance Bay, Mer Bleue, and Larose Forest, to just name a few.

Mottled Duskywing

Mottled Duskywing.

Each species has its own habitat requirements that will dictate where it can be found. For example, the Bog Copper is specific to bog habitat, such as Alfred Bog and Mer Bleue, whereas the more generalist Northern Crescent can be found at a range of Ottawa sites. Some habitats, such as dense forests, are generally less favorable to most butterfly species. Forest edges and open meadow and grassland areas are great places to start your butterfly hunt.

This was also a great presentation for anyone who wants to start photographing butterflies, as Rick provided many useful tips. For example, he recommended turning off your flash, using a macro lens if possible, and not using a tripod (by the time your tripod is set up, the butterfly will usually have moved on). Rather than recommending a specific type of camera, Rick stressed that it is more important to know how to use your current camera properly. A fancy DSLR or a point-and-shoot can both take wonderful butterfly pictures. If you’d like to keep track of your findings and photographs, then check out the citizen science project e-Butterfly.

The art of photographing butterflies

The art of photographing butterflies

Rick also talked about how some butterflies in our region are in serious decline. One example is the Mottled Duskywing (photo above right). Most of its colonies have been built over, and the remaining sites are also at risk of development. If something is not done to stop the habitat destruction, then this butterfly will disappear from the Ottawa region.

This was an eye-opening presentation. I never knew that there are so many different types of butterflies in the Ottawa region. For more information on butterflies visit Rick’s personal web site, Butterflies of Ontario and the Ontario Butterfly Atlas online.

Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas: a call for sightings

By Bailey Cooke

Bailey Cooke is a second-year University of Ottawa student in environmental science. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.

Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

Ontario is home to 15 species of snakes, 8 turtles, 1 lizard, 13 frogs/toads, and 11 salamanders. But, with approximately 35% of Ontario’s amphibians and 75% of its reptiles listed as species at risk, chances of spotting some of these rare, hidden jewels are quickly decreasing. Threats, such as habitat loss, traffic mortality, and persecution are putting great pressure on these populations and are quickly leading to declines, and even extirpations.

David Seburn, an Ottawa-area atlas coordinator, came to discuss the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (or Herp Atlas) at the OFNC monthly meeting, Tuesday, March 10 at the Central Experimental Farm’s K.W. Neatby Building. The Herp Atlas, a program of Ontario Nature, seeks to document the status and distribution of the province’s amphibians and reptiles. It follows up on the Ontario Herpetofaunal Summary which began in 1984.

The Herp Atlas uses 10 X 10 km grid squares to map sightings of amphibians and reptiles, reported by interested citizens. Online maps are colour coded to illustrate which areas have recent sightings (green) and which areas have historical sightings (black dots).

Distribution map for the Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Although the atlas is still actively collecting data, some preliminary trends have been noted. A few species appear to have increased their known range (based on the number of grid squares they have been reported from) like the Eastern Foxsnake (8%); this improvement was great news. However, the increased distribution of some species, like the Red-eared Slider (82%), was not as positive. Exotic to Canada, this turtle is most recognized as the typical “pet shop turtle” and is identified as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species. This increase in range is the result of pet owners dumping the turtles into local waters, which may affect native species through competition or the spread of disease.

Unfortunately, a number of species have been reported from fewer grid squares than historically. Both the Queensnake and the Blue Racer appear to have declined by about 70% and many other snakes and most salamanders have apparently declined by approximately 50%. Such declines, if real, are very disturbing news about the health of our amphibian and reptile populations. It is possible that these species have not declined so dramatically, but are just underreported, but without more observations it is hard to know for certain.

American Toad

American Toad

The data used to build the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas flow from a variety of partner organizations, researchers, and citizen scientists. In fact, the project is very dependent on sighting submissions from people in the Ottawa community. To contribute, you can report observations (past or present) of amphibians or reptiles online, via email, or by phone. You can also easily submit your data through an app on your smart phone. It is important to remember, however, when participating to respect the wildlife, park rules, legislation, and private property. Although much of the information is available to the public, the atlas does not share exact locations of species at risk with the public.


Email: atlas@ontarionature.org

Telephone: 1-800-440-2366 (extension 243)

App: Ontario Nature – Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (easy to locate if you search for Ontario reptile in iTunes)

Website: www.ontarionature.org/atlas

Coming soon: Keep an eye out for Google Fusion Maps, which will overlay the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas maps and allow you to discover which species have been spotted in individual 10 x 10 km grid squares across the province.

Wildlife on vacation – an all inclusive look at Cuba

By Bailey Cooke

Bailey Cooke is a 2nd-year University of Ottawa student in biology and geology. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.

IMG_8939_Cuban-Trogon_Guamuhaya_Topes-de-Collantes_Parque-Cubano-W-of-Trinidad_Sancti-Spiritus-province-Cuba_Jakob-Mueller_12Jan2015

Cuban Trogon

Tuesday, February 10, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club held their first monthly meeting of 2015 at the Central Experimental Farm’s Neatby Building, situated at 960 Carling Avenue. After a short social, the meeting kicked off with a poem read by OFNC’s long-time member and resident poet Murray Citron. The fantasia-themed poem, inspired by the line “if a flute could be a flower, it would be a trillium” set the tone for what turned out to be a delightful evening.

Jakob Mueller presented the main talk of the night. Jakob is a member of the OFNC’s Events Committee and has previously led several club excursions, such as turtle watching at Petrie Island and a winter birding trip to Amherst Island. He will also be leading the club’s Snowshoeing in Stony Swamp excursion on Saturday, February 28 at 10 a.m.

Jakob has visited Cuba three times and has taken a keen interest in the island’s wondrous wildlife. Most people know Cuba for its warm weather, picturesque beaches, and enticing culture. Many can’t help but also notice the breathtaking countryside throughout the island. As Jakob pointed out in his presentation, naturalists see beyond the countryside: they see the many living things inhabiting it. Jakob took us on a voyage that gave us a sneak peak at the diverse wildlife the island has to offer.

Birds, reptiles, butterflies, insects, amphibians, and much more – Jakob showcased a wide variety of fauna and flora through a picture presentation while providing the audience with brief insights on the organisms he captured on film. He told us of the Greater Antillean Grackle whose melodious chirping is intriguingly coupled with rolling its eyes to the back of its head. Jakob also talked about the Black-throated Blue Warbler with whom he played peek-a-boo as he tried to get a picture.

Green Anole

Cuban Green Anole

One of the most curious stories came from Jakob’s last days in Cuba on his most recent trip. Despite having encountered numerous creatures throughout his stay, Jakob explained how he had yet to spot an indigenous lizard he had been longing to find: the Cuban green anole. What was so interesting about the story was what Jakob witnessed after coming across the lizard on his last day. He described an especially fascinating feature of this creature: when tense, the anole folds the skin on its back into a crest.

Some other sightings made by Jakob included:

Birds: Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Blackbird, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird,  Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Common Ground-Dove, Brown Pelican

Butterflies: Mangrove Buckeye, Great Southern White, Zebra Heliconian

Amphibians/reptiles: Brown Anole, Cuban Tree Frog, Curly-tailed Lizard, Cuban Iguana

Jakob made it quite clear that Cuba has a vast variety of wildlife, and any naturalist would revel in the opportunity to come face to face with it. He plans to return to Cuba again in the near future. The only question that remains is what unnoticed wildlife lurks throughout the island awaiting to be discovered?

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A Conservation Plan for the Ottawa Valley

By Jessica Sutton

Jessica Sutton is a 2nd-year University of Ottawa student in Environmental Studies and Biology. This fall, Jessica is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning (CSL) program.

Report from the 2014 Youth Summit

The November monthly meeting kicked off with a presentation by Emma Kirke and Emily Pollington – two youth from the Ottawa-Gatineau area who attended the 2014 Ontario Nature Youth Summit in September. The OFNC sponsored Emma and Emily to attend this yearly event that brings together Ontario youth interested in biodiversity and sustainability. The theme for this year’s summit was “Community Action”.

2014 Ontario Nature Youth Summit attendees. Photo: Brendan Toews

Emma and Emily talked about the various workshops they participated in:

  • Reptile and amphibian ramble – a workshop to try out the Ontario Reptile/Amphibian Atlas Program. The program helps users identify reptiles and amphibians, and users can contribute pictures and sighting details to the atlas.
  • How to ‘be the change’ – a workshop about personal and community changes that can be made to better the environment.
  • Becoming a hero for sustainability – a workshop about communication and leadership, how to step up and take action on environmental issues, and what to expect with these initiatives.

Other workshops included Ontario’s birds of prey, DIY terrariumMedicinal plants of Ontario (with an Aboriginal elder instructor), and a Pollinator and pesticide debate about whether or not neonicotinoids should be banned.  Since attending the Youth Summit, Emily has applied for a position on the Ontario Youth Nature Council, and Emma has become more active within her school’s Eco-Club. Congratulations to Emma and Emily on a successful summit – the club looks forward to sponsoring local youth to attend next year’s summit.

The Conservation Plan for the Ottawa Valley

Gary Bell, who works for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), then gave a captivating presentation on NCC’s conservation goals for the Ottawa Valley and how these goals are to be accomplished. In the fall of 2013, the NCC completed a Natural Area Conservation Plan (NACP) for the Ottawa Valley, in collaboration with a number of partners including the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The new Ottawa Valley NACP plan incorporates a broad area of the Ottawa Valley in both Ontario and Quebec, from approximately Deep River in the west to Hawkesbury in the east. The NACP sets priorities within a 5-year timeframe.

Fig5_Conservation_Actions_v3

The biggest issue in determining land conservation priorities is first identifying land that will have the greatest conservation impact if protected. This requires a detailed understanding of the species diversity in an area, as well as its vulnerability to threats such as development and invasive species. To determine which areas to prioritize for protection through acquisition, large datasets for the Ottawa Valley were compiled. Based on specific factors (e.g., size of natural area, species diversity and significance, connectivity, invasive species, etc.), all natural areas in the Ottawa Valley were evaluated to identify primary and secondary priorities. Primary priority lands will now focus interest of potential partner organizations for purchase and protection activity.

The Ottawa Valley is rich, with large areas of forests and wetlands. Within the valley, certain rare ecosystem types have been selected as priorities for conservation focus. These include ecosystem types occurring on shallow limestone, including karst and alvar ecosystems. Large core natural areas have also been highlighted as high priorities for conservation.

Gary highlighted some specific priority areas within the Ottawa Valley that have been selected as conservation targets by the NCC in the NACP. Some of these are already well known to OFNC members as high-quality natural areas.

  1. Alfred Bog – The majority of this large, provincially significant wetland is owned by Ontario Parks and the NCC. During the 1980s and 1990s, the OFNC played a major role in raising funds and public support to purchase and conserve about 95% of the bog. Some remaining privately owned areas are of high priority for protection by NCC.
  2. Burnt Lands Alvar – There is a high abundance of rare species at this well-known alvar. Much of the alvar is owned by the NCC and managed by Ontario Parks. Remaining areas are conservation priorities for NCC.
  3. Wolf Grove – This large natural area in eastern Lanark County has a unique association of plant species and provincially significant wetlands. The NCC currently owns a 91-hectare property at Wolf Grove, and the eventual goal is to transform it into much larger protected area, of perhaps up to 500 hectares.
  4. Plantagenet Cave System – East of Ottawa (off of Old Highway 17), this natural area is home to many rare species and ancient cedars. The area is close to a limestone escarpment and contains the largest sinkhole in Ontario. An asphalt plant is currently being proposed in this area. Many of local residents and property-owners support the area being protected. Some are donating their property.
  5. Ottawa Valley Caves (Gervais Caves property) – This newly purchased property consists of freshwater, underwater caves that are connected to the Ottawa River. There is immense diversity in these caves: 53 known fish species, and 13 freshwater mussel species are found in pools throughout the caves. One of the most interesting aspects of the Ottawa Valley Caves is the presence of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), a species at risk. NCC’s recent purchase of this property was made possible by an OFNC donation of funds from the bequest of Violetta Czasak, an OFNC member who passed away last year.

Overall, the 5-year goals of the NCC are to establish 500 hectares of high priority land in the Ottawa Valley, assist partners in acquiring key lands, and promote partnerships to enhance habitat connection and conservation. To accomplish these goals, the NCC will be promoting science-based site planning, improving our knowledge of key ecosystems, and lastly, raising a whopping $3.8 million.

Hearing about the conservation work of the NCC, especially at a local scale, was very inspirational. Generous and thoughtful donors are helping to conserve and protect many important areas. The OFNC is very proud to play a role in this important work, so that high priority conservation lands may be protected forever.

A national symbol honoured by a local naturalist

By Natalie Sopinka

At the September monthly meeting OFNC members were treated to an enlightening and entertaining presentation on Canada’s national animal, the beaver. Showcased on The Hudson’s Bay Company’s coat of arms and Parks Canada’s logo, and the first animal to be featured on a postage stamp, the beaver is a well-recognized emblem of Canadian culture and history. The beaver is also the topic covered in a new book by naturalist, OFNC member of 40+ years, and Carleton University Instructor Michael Runtz – Dam BuildersThe Natural History of Beavers and their Ponds. Through photographs and stories, Mike shared many fascinating aspects of beaver natural history.

Beaver basics
Here in Canada resides the North American beaver (Castor canadensis). Their orange teeth are iron rich and tough enough to chew through trees. This is a good thing because beavers are quite fond of trees – different kinds (e.g., willow, alder, birch, poplar) and their different components (branches, twigs, leaves, bark). Wood (primarily bark) not only forms a major part of the beaver’s diet (along with terrestrial and aquatic plants including water-lilies) but is also used as building material for their structures.

Construction usually starts with the building of a dam, which results in a pond. Next, a lodge is built. Beavers are especially industrious during the autumn, ensuring their lodges are well insulated with mud that helps keep them warm during the cold winter months. In addition, near the lodge they create a food cache, of which the top portion is often adorned with less edible sticks that get frozen in the ice while the edible branches placed on the bottom remain accessible all winter.

Whether it’s grooming between mom and kits, territorial disputes among rival males or aggressive tail slapping to deter a predator, beavers are social creatures and lodges house family groups spanning three generations.

Components of a beaver pond. Source: Google images

Components of a beaver pond. Source: Google images

 

A keystone species
A beaver dam dramatically changes its surrounding environment, in the process benefiting numerous flora and fauna. The formation of a beaver pond is coupled with growth of aquatic vegetation rich in sodium, which moose consume to fulfill dietary needs. Dead trees provide fodder for beetles, nest sites for Northern Flickers, and supports for the assembly of spiderwebs. Fallen trees provide basking spots for painted turtles and grooming platforms for ducks. Fish seek shelter in the submerged food caches, and breeding amphibians use ponds as nurseries for young tadpoles.

When a dam breaks, the beaver pond transforms into a meadow, a thriving ecosystem full of grasses, sedges and wildflowers that attract myriad pollinators and grazing bears. Meadow voles scurry about, providing sustenance for foxes, hawks, owls, snakes and weasels. Moose sometimes mate in beaver meadows and wolf pups play in the meadows while their parents hunt. Eventually forest growth engulfs a meadow, making the habitat suitable once again for the return of beavers and their ponds.

The human connection
The natural history of beavers is also intertwined with the lives of humans. Mike likened beaver ponds to living art galleries. For naturalists, photographers, educators, and families exploring beaver ponds is a year-round adventure. Next time you find yourself saying “I’m bored,” head outdoors and stop by your local beaver pond.

Don’t eat me – we mean it, folks, seriously!

By Barry Cottam

Invasive dog-strangling vine. Photo: Brewer Park Community Garden

Invasive dog-strangling vine (Cynanchum rossicum & C. louiseae) is being removed throughout Ottawa. Photo: Brewer Park Community Garden

Dr. Steven Chatfield’s presentation at the OFNC monthly meeting on June 5 was the result of a long molecular chain whose first component was his visit to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden the previous summer. Steven had come to the FWG to ask about collecting some seeds and find out how we dealt with dog-strangling vine, something that confronted him in good supply when he took over an abandoned garden near the biology building at Carleton University.

He had the good fortune to run into a particularly enterprising volunteer, Lynn Ovenden, who leveraged his query into a visit for FWG volunteers to his new research garden and the nearby greenhouses that house plants that make interesting chemicals, and he even offered to talk to the OFNC about them. We learned yet another way to handle dog-strangling vine: use a front-end loader. Alas, while it worked for Steven, it’s not something we’re ready to try yet at the FWG. He’s got us thinking, though.

Steven’s presentation will get you thinking about the microscopic and fascinating universe of plant defences. Anyone who thinks of plants as passive because they are sessile doesn’t get what’s going on: it’s a chemical war out there in Plant World, with tens if not hundreds of thousands of chemicals “talking” to one another in complex and myriad ways. These chemicals are produced primarily as secondary lines of defence in plants’ efforts to ward off attack from herbivores and competing plants.

Peppermint owes its aromas to terpenes, which also attract pollinators and warn insects/herbivores. Photo: Google

Peppermint owes its aromas to terpenes, which also attract pollinators and warn insects/herbivores. Photo: Google

Building on this, Steven went on to discuss the uses to which humans have put these defences. In human terms, plant defences have produced everything from medicines to hallucinogens, construction materials to perfumes, foods to the deadliest poisons. How humans over the millennia have steered their way through the plant kingdom to figure these things out is a topic for another day, although he does provide some hints at potential future uses. So click here and check out Steven’s presentation from the monthly meeting – you’ll learn a lot, find lots of things to follow up, maybe even get converted to studying botany, often and erroneously considered a modest cousin in the family of life sciences. Now, about that dog-strangling vine…

Postscript: The presentation ends with two references to TVO online videos; the url for Pain, Pus and Poison has been changed to tvo.org/program/204097/pain-pus-and-poison/#