Tagged: birds

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


The importance of snags and downed logs to wildlife

by Christine Hanrahan

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and increasingly as wildlife trees. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and increasingly as wildlife trees. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Walking through our local forests and along trails at the city’s edge, your eye may be caught by the stark form of a standing dead tree or by a fallen log stretched across the forest floor. Perhaps you have seen a woodpecker fly from a hole in the tree’s trunk, or noticed a squirrel running along the log, using it as a sort of elevated highway through the forest, and recognized the value of this dead wood to birds and other forest creatures. To many people, however, standing dead trees represent a threat to their safety, or an eyesore to be felled. Yet these standing dead trees and downed logs are an important feature of forest ecology.

A forest is a living entity, constantly changing and evolving. Old trees die, new ones sprout up and, over many years, the very composition of a forest changes as climax species eventually come to dominate the early and middle succession periods of the forest community. An important component of all forests are dead and dying trees, whether standing as snags or lying on the forest floor as downed logs. So vital is their role in the forest ecosystem that it is not an exaggeration to say that dead trees give life to the forest. Norse (1990), writing of a Pacific Northwest rainforest, states:

“Rotting snags and logs provide the tunnels, dens, and nesting cavities needed by animals from black bears and spotted owls to land snails and springtails. They are the birthplaces for western hemlocks, Sitka spruce, and smaller plants…. They are sites of biological nitrogen fixation, adding to the nutrient wealth of the forest.”

Although writing of the Pacific Northwest, his words ring true for our forests as well, albeit with some species difference.

Snags or wildlife trees

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and, increasingly, as wildlife trees. The latter term is especially appropriate for their value to wildlife is immeasurable, as they provide food, safe nesting sites in the form of cavities and platforms, roosting and denning sites, hunting perches, display stations, and foraging sites for a wide variety of species (Guy 1994).

From the time a standing tree dies until it falls to the forest floor, its many stages of decomposition attract different birds, mammals and invertebrates. Charles Elton (in Kennedy, 1991) observes that “dying and dead wood provides one of the two or three greatest resources for animal species in a natural forest… if fallen timber and slightly decayed trees are removed the whole system is greatly impoverished of perhaps more than a fifth of its fauna.”

Not all snags occur within a forest. Sometimes isolated trees, left standing by design or chance, hold a lonely vigil over fields or cottage lots, or some other cleared area. These, too, represent an important wildlife resource, offering nesting platforms for Ospreys (if near water), or hunting perches for flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, swallows and other birds, as well as food in the form of invertebrates inhabiting the tree.

Death of a tree

How a tree dies In human terms, most species of trees are effectively immortal, but urban and suburban environments can be stressful in various ways, and trees may be killed by disease or insect pests, various problems with water, light, and nutrients, and especially by disturbances inflicted on their root system.  - Fred Schueler

How a tree dies
In human terms, most species of trees are effectively immortal, but urban and suburban environments can be stressful in various ways, and trees may be killed by disease or insect pests, various problems with water, light, and nutrients, and especially by disturbances inflicted on their root system.
– Fred Schueler

The primary “colonizers” of snags are insects and fungi, which soften the wood allowing it to be easily shredded by birds and mammals. If you usually think of insects as pests, you might be surprised to find out that they’re essential to all the other wildlife species that depend on or make use of cavities. The variety of invertebrates inhabiting dead and dying trees is staggering: millipedes, mites, earwigs, beetles, spiders, ants, and even earthworms These insects then attract woodpeckers and other forest-dwelling animals who in the course of excavating for food, create holes or cavities that become, in turn, nesting sites for birds and small mammals. Biologists call those species that greatly influence other species, “keystone species.” Woodpeckers are one such example, for the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. Fungi also provide food for other creatures, as well as being used by many insects.

A standing dead tree can remain in place for many years. Smaller trees come down sooner, but even they can last for many years, and this should be remembered when considering the “safety” aspects of snags in public places.

Downed logs

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes.  (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

An old-growth forest is full of fallen trees, or downed logs, whereas in second-growth eastern hardwood or pine forests, logs are much less in evidence. Yet even here they form an important part of the overall ecosystem just as they do in any forest or wooded area. In fact, biologists are now calling logs the “hot-spots” of the forest ecosystem.

When a tree falls to the ground, it is quickly taken over by insects, especially beetles. Earlier, woodpeckers were referred to as a keystone species; beetles serve that same function in downed logs (Norse 1990). As they bore into the log they open up the way for fungi, which in turn help to decompose the inner bark. As the beetles tunnel further into the log they provide access for spiders, ants, millipedes, and salamanders and the process of decomposition initiated by the beetles continues.

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes. Small animals such as squirrels use logs as easy routes through the forest.

Logs also act as “nurseries” for plants, allowing them a nutrient-rich base in which to take root. Many plants take root on downed logs and it is a fascinating exercise to count the number of plant species growing on a single “nurse log.”

Ecologists have classified five stages of decay in a downed log, from the first stage when a log is intact and not yet decayed, to the fifth, where the log has crumbled into a mass of organic material. Because logs are more moisture-retentive than snags they decay more slowly since oxygen is excluded from wet wood (Norse 1990). Large old-growth logs can take 200 or more years to decompose completely. Smaller logs, such as those found in this region, will decay much faster.

“Coarse woody debris”  refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

“Coarse woody debris” refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

The term “coarse woody debris” or CWD, refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. As Fred Schueler points out, our eastern forests are more full of CWD in recent decades thanks to the influx of invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer. He says:

“Now, largely due to Dutch Elm Disease, and successional squeezing out of Aspens, there seems to be a plethora of CWD, and when the Emerald Ash Borer is done with us we’re going to have huge quantities of both standing and fallen wood which will presumably make the woods much more old-growthy than their age would indicate.”

According to Owen Clarkin, it has also been pointed out that various woody plants require a good layer of coarse woody debris in order to regenerate.

Thus, not only standing and fallen dead trees, but stumps and other woody debris contribute to the overall ecosystem of the forest and the wildlife therein.

Wildlife using snags and downed logs

Woodpeckers are "keystone species" because the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Woodpeckers are "keystone species" because the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Many people perhaps do not realize that when they put up nest boxes each year they are offering homes to cavity-nesting birds whose natural nest sites are holes (or cavities) in snags; hence, the use of the terms den or cavity trees. Some of our most familiar birds are cavity-nesters along with numerous other species, perhaps less familiar. However, nest boxes can never be a complete substitute for natural cavities, for while certain species readily adapt to man-made nest boxes, many others will not, or cannot adapt.

Not all birds make use of the cavities in snags for nest sites. For some birds, such as the tiny Brown Creeper, it is the loose bark on dead trees that gives shelter for nests, while for others such as Ospreys, standing dead trees near water provide platforms on which to build their large, bulky nests.

Not all uses of wildlife trees are for nesting purposes. Ruffed Grouse use downed logs for “drumming” in their spring courtship ritual. And as noted earlier, many birds use snags as hunting perches or display stations.

Mammals also make use of snags for both shelter and for rearing young. Martens, weasels, squirrels, other small rodents, bats, even bobcats will den up in cavities. Black bears may sometimes find winter refuge at the base of large snags, as well as in hollowed out downed logs. Squirrels and chipmunks and other small rodents use logs as forest highways.

As noted earlier, a multitude of insect species thrive on dead and dying trees whether standing or down on the forest floor. In turn, these insects provide much needed food for a variety of wildlife. When these trees are removed from the forest ecosystem, the insects associated with them are also removed, and in turn, the wildlife that feed upon the insects.

Standing dead trees in your garden

A snag surrounded by lilacs. (photo by Fred Schueler)

A snag surrounded by lilacs. (photo by Fred Schueler)

Unless you live on wooded rural property, your backyard is certainly not part of a forest ecosystem. But if you are a gardener wanting to create a healthy, viable wildlife habitat in your own backyard, you will by now recognize the role that dead trees play in attracting birds and other species. As well as harbouring food for insectivores in the slowly rotting wood, snags also offer safe nesting cavities. In the winter these cavities are often used as roost sites, providing the necessary insulation that nest boxes cannot. (However, nest boxes are a suitable supplement to natural cavities in your garden.)

If your standing dead tree is quite large, you may be worried about heavy falling branches. Cut away some or all of them and leave the trunk. If you still think the snag is too tall and overpowering, topping the trunk to a reasonable height might be a solution. A “reasonable height” depends on what you feel comfortable with and what is in the immediate vicinity of the snag (i.e., your house, neighbouring houses).

But if you cut the snag back too much, you might as well fell it completely and leave it as a log; it will have little value as a nest site if it is only a couple of metres tall. Naturally the best thing to do is nothing, leaving the tree to take its own course, but in a small suburban lot, safety concerns must be evaluated.

If you’ve left the snag at 4.5 metres or better, but want to disguise it somewhat, plant lightweight climbers such as wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) or native clematis (Clematis virginiana) to twine up the trunk. You’ll need to provide some support for these vines to get started. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and wild grape (Vitis riparia) grow fast and can quickly cover a snag with a dense green cover, but these vines are very heavy and can hasten its collapse.

If you want to “dress up” your snag, you can hang seed feeders from its branches or from simple hanging brackets. Suet feeders can be affixed right to the trunk. If you really want to turn your snag into a work of art, hang flower baskets as you would the feeders. Plant them with nectar-rich flowers for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds (see the FWG information sheet on butterfly gardening).

When the snag eventually collapses you can either leave it where it falls, or move it to a more remote part of your garden where it will continue its work of feeding insects, birds, and your soil.

If your neighbours complain about your snag, tell them what you are doing and why; you might change their way of looking at standing dead trees. It is only by changing how we view the land around us that we can begin to help restore and nourish both it and its wildlife.


  • Guy, Stewart. 1994. More than dead wood. Protecting the wildlife tree resource in British Columbia. BC Naturalist 32(1): 4-6.
  • Kennedy, Des. 1991. Death of a giant. Nature Canada 20(2): 18-26.
  • Norse, Elliott A. 1990. Ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Island Press.

This is the third in a series of suggestions from the OFNC’s Conservation Committee for things you can do around your home in aid of wildlife and conservation. They are all based on personal experience – ours and colleagues’. We would love to hear your thoughts about these practices and your experience with them – good or bad. And your suggestions for further good practices are very welcome.

Other “Conservation how to” articles

The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Birds Committee

By Claire Elliott


The 2014-2015 OFNC Birds Committee.

Every month a dedicated group of OFNC bird enthusiasts meet at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to discuss bird-related news in the Ottawa region and to plan bird-related events and conservation initiatives. If you have participated in a bird-related OFNC event, visited a bird feeder located in an Ottawa greenspace, or requested help with an ID from identifications@ofnc.ca, there is a good chance you have come in contact with the work of the OFNC Birds Committee.

Weekly Bird Report for Ottawa/Gatineau Region

Every week, notable sightings data is packaged into a report and disseminated on the Ontario Field Ornithologist’s OntBirds email list, the OFNC website, and the OFNC Facebook page. If you are thinking about going birding in the Ottawa region, these reports are a great resource for finding local birding hotspots at any time of year. Due to increasing and widespread concerns regarding disturbance of wildlife and property, the OFNC Birds Committee no longer reports owl sightings on the internet, though reporting of all bird occurrences to the committee is encouraged for the maintenance of local records.  Please direct your sightings to sightings@ofnc.ca.

Christmas Bird Count

Since the inaugural Ottawa event in 1920, the OFNC has participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Each December, the Birds Committee in partnership with Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais organizes the Ottawa/Gatineau chapter of the count.  New and seasoned volunteers are encouraged to participate each year.  The 2014 report will be available shortly on the OFNC website.  As well, a write-up on the 2014 event appeared on this blog in late December.


Clementine, one of three chicks from the 2014 Data Centre brood, tests the wind, June 29, 2014.

Peregrine FalconWatch

The Ottawa Peregrine FalconWatch began in 1997 as an initiative to protect local nesting falcons and promote the recovery of the species. Each summer, volunteers monitor Peregrine chicks and wait for the young to make their first attempt at flight.  Once the young birds gain their wings, volunteers ensure the safety of chicks, rescuing them after any crashes, returning the chicks to the nest, or if necessary seeking medical attention for the chicks.  A detailed account of the last FalconWatch season can be found on the FalconWatch website.

Bird Study Group

The Birds Committee occasionally offers workshops and talks on bird-related subjects, including bird identification and biology.  The most recent Bird Study Group meeting took place in early December covering winter bird field identification skills in preparation for the 2014 Christmas Bird Count.  If you would like to be put on the email list for future Bird Study Group meetings, send an email to birdstudy@ofnc.ca.

These 13 migrating birds flew into a glass building in Kanata this morning. No one likes looking at dead birds. Let's support F.L.A.P. and see if we can prevent this.

These thirteen migrating birds flew into a glass building in Kanata. Let’s support F.L.A.P. and see if we can prevent bird-building collisions.


The Ottawa chapter of the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) was founded in 2014 by Anouk Hoedeman of the OFNC Birds Committee.  This group aims to document bird-building collisions in Ottawa during spring and fall migration, while concurrently raising awareness of collision prevention and bird-friendly building design. For her work, Anouk was awarded the 2014 OFNC Conservation Award. New volunteers to FLAP are always needed.  Please contact FLAP at Ottawa@flap.org if you are interested in getting involved this spring.

The Ontario Field Ornithologists’ Convention 2014

In October 2014, the Ontario Field Ornithologists held their annual convention in Ottawa.  Many Birds Committee members actively participated in this event, leading field excursions and helping to contribute to the 152 species observed over the weekend.  Recently, Birds Committee member Bob Cermak was awarded the OFNC President’s Prize for his contribution to the convention for organizing the OFNC-led field trips.


The backyard feeder with a Black-capped Chickadee visitor at Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Bird Feeders

There are six winter bird feeders in the Ottawa/ Gatineau region that are maintained by the Birds Committee.   Maps of the feeder locations can be found on the OFNC website.  Stop by to enjoy some winter birds!

If you would like to learn more about the OFNC Birds Committee and their past and present activities, you are encouraged to visit OFNC birding and bird sightings webpages. Membership information on the committee can be found in the April-June issue of Trail and Landscape. Lastly, if you bump into any birds committee members at a meeting or on an outing, feel free to ask about the committee and its activities!

NCC resources and land management: problems and possible solutions

By Bailey Cooke

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

On Wednesday, February 18, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club held a workshop at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to discuss natural history conservation in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The evening kicked off with a presentation by Eva Katic from the National Capital Commission (NCC). Eva, manager of Natural Resources and Land Management – Greenbelt talked about various ongoing conservation initiates on NCC lands. A brief Q&A and an open discussion followed the presentation.

What is the NCC? What do they do?

Created in 1959, the NCC is a crown corporation of the government of Canada that seeks to protect, preserve, and promote natural heritage in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The NCC administers land-use planning, water management, biodiversity conservation, and the sustainable use of resources, in various areas throughout the region, such as Gatineau Park, the Greenbelt, urban lands, official residences, and leased lands.

These lands are home to abundant wildlife and many rare species like the Eastern Red-cedar and the Peregrine Falcon. Over 27 ecologically valuable ecosystems & habitats have been identified; the NCC aims to conserve these areas.

Why conserve these lands?

Aside from their rich biodiversity and critical habitats, there are other compelling reasons for conserving these regions. The 55 identified at-risk species that find refuge on these lands leave the NCC with legal and ethical obligations to protect their habitat. Conserving these lands also mitigates risk to the water quality of nearby campsites and beaches, and aids control of waterborne diseases. NCC’s conservation efforts protect its lands from some of the land-use pressures that profoundly affect adjacent areas: habitat fragmentation, pollution and dumping, and unauthorized activities (ATVs, campfires). Control of invasive species (Emerald Ash Borer, Dog-strangling Vine, etc.) is imperative, as they are the second most important cause of biodiversity loss in the area. Another concern is the overabundance of some species that pose a risk to human safety and also alter ecosystem processes. As an example, Eva mentioned the White-tailed Deer’s herbivory of native vegetation, which is having a significant effect on forest succession.

What are some of the NCC’s current management efforts?

During her presentation, Eva outlined a few major management projects and scientific studies that have either been her focus in the last decade or will be the focus of upcoming years.

The Greenbelt Master Plan
In 2013, the NCC identified the Greenbelt as being crucial to natural ecosystems, agriculture, and outdoor recreation/educational opportunities. The NCC aims to increase local and international recognition of the Greenbelt, making it a welcoming outdoor space in the capital.

Natural areas in the Greenbelt increased from 50% in 1996 to 61% in 2013 and continue to be managed by the NCC. Currently, Greenbelt sectors such as Shirley Bay, Stony Swamp, Southern Farm/Pinhey Forest, the airport, Pine Grove, Mer Bleue Bog, and Green Creek are some of the regions of conservation focus by the NCC.

Restoration projects

  1. Pinhey Sand Dune: Along with the Biodiversity Conservancy, the NCC is working toward restoring three open sandy areas that are connected by trail to the Pinhey Sand Dune site to enhance the experience of Greenbelt visitors. (More about the project and winners of OFNC 2012 Conservation Award)
  2. Black Rapids Creek: The creek flows east from Greenbank Road (NCC experimental research farm) to Prince of Wales Drive (Black Rapids Locks), where it empties into the Rideau River. In partnership with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA), the NCC seeks to restore the wetlands adjacent to Black Rapids Creek.

Research projects

  1. Bird monitoring – Least Bittern: This project involves volunteers locating and monitoring the Least Bittern in Ramsey Marsh (Greenbelt, Mer Bleue Bog).
  2. Stony Swamp – Dog-strangling Vine: The NCC is conducting a 5-year pilot project (2013-17) to determine how to control this invasive species in Stony Swamp. Tarping, cutting, and spraying methods have already resulted in the removal of 72 patches of Dog-strangling Vine.
  3. Butterfly habitat – Monarch: In the coming season, the NCC hopes to partner with multiple levels of government, local universities, and local stakeholders to restore meadow habitats to enhance Monarch butterfly habitat in the Greenbelt and urban lands.

What can we do?

The NCC is seeking volunteers to help with the documentation of bird species and the restoration of meadow habitat beginning this summer. A familiarity with bird identification is an obvious asset. Volunteer labourers for forest/wetland restoration and to tackle threats to healthy habitats (invasive species removal) are also needed. Please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com for further information on how to get involved in these initiatives.

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.


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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The taste of salt

Robert Lennox submerged in his study of salmon migration

Robert Lennox submerged in his study of salmon migration

Robert Lennox is a PhD student at Carleton University. He is working on Atlantic salmon migration in Norway in Steve Cooke’s lab (more info). He is also an avid naturalist with a special interest in birds.

Every winter the first snowfall brings out an army of trucks, ploughing – and heavily salting – Ottawa’s streets and highways to keep them safe. But safety comes at a price. Not only does it coat our cars and boots, we apply so much road salt in Canada (5,000,000 tonnes a year) that it creates environmental risks.

Much of the salt eventually finds its way by meltwater into local water bodies. There, it poses a risk to fish, freshwater ecosystems, plants, and animals that normally regulate the amount of salt in their bodies but are not adapted to saline water and cannot function properly in it (Rosenberry et al. 1999, Kelly et al. 2007, Environment Canada 2015).

Salt is toxic to wood frog larvae, which live in ponds throughout North America. If these larvae are exposed to salt for long periods they take longer to metamorphose into adult frogs, have physical abnormalities and reduced activity, weight, and survivability (Karakker et al. 2008, Sanzo and Hecnar 2006).

mooseLarge species, such as moose, and small winter finches in the Fringillidae family are attracted to road edges where they can satisfy their salt requirements. However, the downside is they may be struck by passing vehicles (Mineau and Brownlee 2005).

To reduce the environmental impact of road salt, most municipalities have adopted the 2004 national code of practice for organizations that apply more than 500 tonnes of salt a year. The code includes measures for salt storage (under cover and on an impermeable pad), application equipment and techniques, and salt vulnerable areas (identifying, monitoring and protecting areas that may be particularly sensitive to road salts).

Road-saltRecently, Environment Canada reviewed the effectiveness of the code and set national targets for improved road salt management, notably, an increase in the number of road organizations that identify salt vulnerable areas and prepare an action plan for them.

What can we do? Some cities are testing creative solutions, including using garlic salt, cheese brine, and molasses (see news story) as alternatives to road salt on city streets and highways. At home you can try sprinkling sand on your icy paths and walkways, or save and spread some ashes from the yule log (see Road salts and alternatives). Maybe these can be practical solutions for you.


Environment Canada. Road salts. January 8, 2015.

Karraker, N.E., Gibbs, J.P., Vonesh, J.R. 2008. Impacts of road deicing salt on the demography of vernal pool-breeding amphibiansEcological Applications 18(3): 724-734.

Kelly, V.R., Lovett, G.M., Weathers, K.C., Findlay, S.E., Strayer, D.L., Burns, D.J., Likens, G.E. 2007. Long-term sodium chloride retention in a rural watershed: legacy effects of road salt on streamwater concentration. Environmental Science & Technology 42(2): 410-415.

Mineau, P., Brownlee, L.J. 2005. Road salts and birds: an assessment of the risk with particular emphasis on winter finch mortality. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(3): 835-841. (Abstract)

Rosenberry, D. O., Bukaveckas, P.A., Buso, D.C., Likens, G.E., Shapiro, A.M., Winter, T.C. 1999. Movement of road salt to a small New Hampshire lake. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 109(1-4): 179-206. (Abstract)

Sanzo, D., Hecnar, S.J. 2006. Effects of road de-icing salt (NaCl) on larval wood frogs (Rana sylvatica)Environmental Pollution 140(2): 247-256.

Second annual OFNC members’ photo night

By Claire Elliott and Barry Cottam

Snapping Turtle by Josh McCullough

Snapping Turtle by Josh McCullough

On Saturday evening, January 17, Barry Cottam and Hume Douglas hosted the second annual OFNC Member’s Photo Night. To accommodate the growing popularity of this event, the meeting was held at the Central Experimental Farm’s Neatby Building, the location of the OFNC monthly meetings.

Fourteen club photographers presented to a group of a couple of dozen onlookers. The emergent theme of the night seemed to be naturalists on vacation, as there were many wonderful photos from all over North America. However, the natural history of the Ottawa region was also well represented.

Starting in the south, Hugh Metcalfe introduced us to the many birds he encountered during his work as a bird surveyor in Florida and Mississippi. Suzanne Deschệnes also showed pictures from this region, all from 25 of Florida’s 27 National Wildlife Refuges. The first butterfly presentation of the night came from Gillian Marston, who visited Mission, Texas, for the Butterfly Festival held during fall butterfly migration. Heading east, Barry Cottam introduced us to the many wonderful insects of rural eastern Prince Edward Island.

Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaf Sundew) by Eden Bromfield

Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaf Sundew) by Eden Bromfield

Traveling west across the continent, our resident butterfly expert Rick Cavasin (see Butterflies of Ontario) took us on a second butterfly tour of Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming, while Gordon Belyea presented his lifer birds from a trip to Arizona and New Mexico. From Vancouver we saw beautiful western trees with Lorne Peterson. And in the north, Eden Bromfield combined scenes of the beauty of ice and snow with his interest in rare flora, and Claire Elliott exhibited an inventory of the flora and fauna of the Barrenlands in the Northwest Territories.

The photos taken in the Ottawa region showed the amazing diversity of our local natural history. The first presenter of the night, Dale Poulter, captured our attention with a wonderful display of caterpillar diversity, seen around her home in Perth. Victor Rakmil then presented a series of portraits entitled “Animals with Attitude.” Local flora were well represented by Brian Carson and his study on Trillium colour variants and by Josh McCullough’s artistic macro and landscape shots. Lastly, Diane Lepage, who was recently featured in a member profile, took us on a broad tour of our local fauna, focusing on insects she’d never seen before.

Thanks to Barry and Hume for organizing this event for a second year, to all of the photographers for sharing their beautiful photos, and to the audience for giving their support. We look forward to the 2016 photo night!

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Christmas Bird Count 2014: Downy’s and Hairy’s and Grebes, oh my!

by Lucy Patterson

Lucy Patterson is a an OFNC member and a PhD student in Biology at the University of Ottawa. Peter Lin very kindly provided the photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Sunday, December 14th, 2014, over a hundred birders dug out their binoculars, bird guides and datasheets, and headed out to count every feathered creature they could find in the Ottawa area. It was the day of the 2014 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Ottawa, and the weather was near perfect: temperatures hovering around zero, and no wind or precipitation.

The CBC is an annual survey run by the Audubon Society. Now in its 115th year, it is the longest-running citizen science program in the world! From December 14th, 2014 to January 5th, 2015, citizens will be counting birds in over 2,300 locations across the Americas. The count provides valuable information about increases or declines in bird populations over time and space.

The OFNC has taken part in the CBC since 1920, and has partnered with the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais in recent years. It is currently coordinated by the OFNC’s Bernie Ladouceur. Overall, the Ottawa count covers the area within a 12-km radius centred on the Peace Tower. This area is divided into six sectors (Gatineau, Hull, Aylmer, Britannia, Ottawa and Gloucester) and participants are assigned to a smaller area within one of the sectors. At the end of the day, the datasheets from each team are handed in to the sector coordinator, and the data are tallied at a compilation dinner.

This year, roughly 27,000 individual birds of 77 different species were observed. Although the numbers are still preliminary, the general findings are as follows. 2014 was a record year for woodpeckers: records were broken for downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers; and tied for the red-bellied woodpecker. This may be related to rising levels of the emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle living under tree bark, in the region. Record highs were also found for white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals, wild turkeys, and gray catbirds.

Also notable was the first-ever record of a black-crowned night heron during a CBC in Ottawa. There were additionally some tied records: northern saw-whet owl, rose-breasted grosbeak, and pied-billed grebe.

The highest number for any species recorded in Ottawa in 2014 was for American crows (8,827), although this falls short of the 2008 record of 21,000. Canada geese, gull and finch numbers were lower than average. Finalized totals will be posted on the OFNC website in the New Year.

The OFNC Birds Committee organizes a number of birding events. Any club member interested in participating in any of these activities can read more about them at www.ofnc.ca/birding.php.

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Photos by Peter Lin

Member profile – Stewart Curry

Members of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club are as diverse as the taxa they study; from birders to botanists, highschool students to university professors, backyard garden admirers to conservation officers. The OFNC blog will be featuring profiles of members to showcase the incredible array of natural history enthusiasts. Whether you’ve just joined or are a lifetime member, please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com if you’d like to share your natural history story!


By Stewart Curry

Stewart Curry - Photographer by trade, birder in training

Stewart Curry – Photographer by trade, birder in training

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for photography. Whenever I am awake, I want to be outside with my camera. It started when I received my first Brownie box camera for my tenth birthday. Before I had snapped my first still, curiosity got the best of me and I took that camera apart piece by piece, never managing to put it back together again. Seeing how that shutter worked filled me with wonder at the mechanical wizardry of image capture.

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Not long after, on what I still think of as my best Christmas Day ever, my parents gave me my first 35mm rangefinder camera. My father made sure my new camera had full manual control over shutter speed and aperture and not just the programmed automatic mode we all know today. He knew that my best shot at making great photographs was to build a detailed understanding of the whole process. There was no turning back.

I took some great photographs with that little camera, shots I remember vividly to this day. Eventually, seeking even greater control of the art, I saved up and headed with my father to Mendelsohn’s Pawn Shop on Craig Street in Montréal. There I traded in my rangefinder for (somebody’s) Minolta SRT-101 SLR. With the trade it set me back $80 — big bucks for a 12 year old. At last I felt like a grown-up.

Day after day, I spent hour after hour in fields and forests just minutes from my parents’ house in Pierrefonds, near Rivière des Prairies at the northwestern limit of the Island of Montréal. While most kids were racing their bikes with baseball cards whirring in the spokes, I was out examining landscapes — sun dappled havens filled with endless species of birds, trees, lichens, and beetles, and endless arrays of plants and flowers, spectacular in their tangled waves of colour. I knew nothing about nature other than that these things were beautiful.

That blossoming passion for photography lasted for decades, leading me in my 20th year to the Dawson Institute of Photography in Montréal where my world of photography exploded outward with access to the world’s best gear under the guidance of seasoned experts. But eventually, the daily pressures of work and family allowed me less and less time to pursue my leisurely first love. Then, with the advent of digital photography, my passion seemed to dwindle right into oblivion. I simply could not imagine a world of photography without my prized Kodachrome slide film. I was a dinosaur that just couldn’t fit in to the new digital world. Despondent, I sold all my gear.

I had stopped but nature rolled on. Some years later, as my wife and I discovered the simple pleasures of hiking and kayaking and skiing and snowshoeing, the fields and forests once again seemed to come alive with tiny expressions of unstoppable and inexpressible life — creatures and views that cried to have their pictures taken. Everywhere I looked, I saw an opportunity to record a miracle.

Twelve months ago I acquired a DSLR and there has been no turning back. My wife and I now head out on most weekends with our cameras, and over the past year I have taken over 10,000 images. Birds have become one of our favourite subjects. Given our new fascination, we have bumped into many self-declared birders. We thought them quite odd at first, running around as they do with their Tilly hats, binoculars and notepads. But we quickly became aware of how little we knew about what we were photographing. So we invested in a Birds of Canada guide and started identifying (or at least trying to) each bird we photograph. Our knowledge has added a new depth to our pastime.

Mind you, I couldn’t care less if the bird in my viewfinder is a rare visitor or a common pest. My passion remains the photography itself; my only desire is to capture the beauty and magnificence that I see every day in our surroundings. I’m a birder on a mission. Coming at birds from a different direction than most, I know I have much to learn about bird life but plenty to offer about putting those critters on “film.” If you need any tips on capturing fabulous images with whatever camera equipment you have, just look for me in the woods. I’ll be the big bald guy flipping through the bird book and scratching his head.

All photos taken by Stewart Curry with a Canon 5D Mark lll and Canon EF L 100-400 zoom.

Stewart will be leading the “Getting to know your DSLR” photography workshop on Sunday, July 27th (9 am-2 pm) at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Interpretive Centre, more information at www.ofnc.ca!

Spring is in the air

By Natalie Sopinka

Ever get stumped trying to describe that smell after a misty, spring rain when the grass is dewy and lush? Well that smell has an official term, petrichor. Produced by interactions between plant oils, bacteria, and an organic compound called geosmin, petrichor is the earthy aroma after rain.

This spring, as the flowers bloom and the temperatures climb, the number of baby bird images being shared with OFNC’s Facebook group is also increasing exponentially. Time to test your baby bird vocabulary!

Goslings, or baby geese, are being spotted all around Ottawa this Spring.

Photo: Shelley Dinn Morphy, Macoun Marsh

Canada Goose Branta canadensis, Photo: Shelley Dinn Morphy, Macoun Marsh

No surprise here, these baby ducks following momma are ducklings.

Aix sponsa, Photo: Joe Wilson, Kanata

Wood duck Aix sponsa, Photo: Joe Wilson, Kanata

Ottawa’s very own baby peregrine falcons, or eyases.

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Photo: Anouk Hoedeman, Downtown Ottawa

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Photo: Anouk Hoedeman, downtown Ottawa

This cygnet/flapper will grow to be a majestic swan one day.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) Graham Checkley, PBase

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Photo: Graham Checkley, PBase

And a partridge in a pear tree, or in this case cheepers on a shoe!

Chinese Bamboo Partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus), Photo: Ishikawa Ken, Flickr

Chinese Bamboo Partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus), Photo: Ishikawa Ken, Flickr

A baby puffin can be referred to as a puffling, cute name for a cute chick!

Emily Pipher

Atlantic puffin, (Fratercula arctica), Photo: Emily Pipher, The Internet Bird Collection (IBC)

Might this young chicken pair be a pullet (female) and cockrell (male)?

Gallus gallus domesticus, Photo: Laura Alice Watt, Flickr

Domestic chicken Gallus gallus domesticus, Photo: Laura Alice Watt, Flickr

Nothing to see here, just a mother owl’s ridiculously fluffy owlets.

Barn owl Tyto alba, Photo: Jenelle, Living in the Woods

“It’s not easy waking up this good looking,” said the pigeon squab/squeaker.

Columba livia, Photo: Amanda Richards

Rock dove/pigeon Columba livia, Photo: Amanda Richards, Flickr