Tagged: Ontario Nature Youth Summit

Youth Summit 2016: thanks for the opportunity

by Priya Nagpal

Experiencing nature up close. Photo by Daynan Lepore

Experiencing nature up close. Photo by Daynan Lepore

I am high school student from Ottawa. At my school I run the environment club with a group of friends and have been involved with environmental leadership. When I saw an application for a grant to attend the Ontario Nature Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Environmental Leadership, I decided to go for it and apply. When OFNC told me that I had received the grant and would have the opportunity to attend the summit I was excited; I could not wait!

The summit took place in Orillia and our facilities were surrounded by a beautiful forest. I was able to meet people from all over Ontario and learn about environmental initiatives taking place in their hometowns’ from school pollinator projects to community gardens. It was great to meet so many youth who share my interests

I was able to meet people from all over Ontario and learn about environmental initiatives taking place in their hometowns - from school pollinator projects to community gardens. Photo by Daynan Lepore

I was able to meet people from all over Ontario and learn about environmental initiatives taking place in their hometowns – from school pollinator projects to community gardens. Photo by Daynan Lepore

I attended a number of workshops ranging from different topics over the course of the summit. In “Livin’ La Vida Local” I learned about the impact of eating local and different programs put in place to making eating local easier. This workshop was hosted by Youth Council members who had faced challenges eating local especially while at university.

There was also a workshop about emotional intelligence that I really enjoyed. Matt Tod, the speaker, talked about what emotional intelligence is and how to become aware of it. In this interactive workshop, we learned what the qualities of a good leader are. This provided us with many tips to improve our leadership skills to become better environmental leaders at home.

During our weekend in Orillia an Aboriginal leader from the local community joined us. He brought all of us together with his captivating stories by the campfire and shared many important lessons.

An Aboriginal leader from the local community brought all of us together with his captivating stories by the campfire and shared many important lessons. Photo by Daynan Lepore

An Aboriginal leader from the local community brought all of us together with his captivating stories by the campfire and shared many important lessons. Photo by Daynan Lepore

I also went canoeing one morning on Lake Couchiching. It was wonderful to be out on the calm water in the early hours. Some students went on a birding hike and others braved the cold water and went for the polar dip.

Overall the summit gave me some ideas for my environment club and showed me different ways to protect the environment. Thanks OFNC for this opportunity!

It was wonderful to be out on the calm water of Lake Couchiching in the early hours. Photo by Daynan Lepore

It was wonderful to be out on the calm water of Lake Couchiching in the early hours. Photo by Daynan Lepore


Thanks for sponsoring me, OFNC!

by Sophie Roy

Dear OFNC,

I would like to thank you for sponsoring me for the Ontario Nature Youth Summit in Orillia. I had an amazing time and learned so much during my weekend by the lake!


I really wanted to go to the summit because I felt that I needed to involve myself in the community more. I am new to the OFNC, and before this group I knew of no group or community that was interested in nature.

This summit has introduced me to Ontario Nature, which is an amazing organization that I look forward to being involved with in the future. I also got to meet loads of bright young naturalists, which was very refreshing and inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised that there are so many other young people that want to make a difference. The summit has given me the opportunity to connect with these people, discuss environmental issues and to work with them to find solutions to those issues.

I really enjoyed myself and learned about so many things; birds, herps, plants, astronomy, insects, and much more! Here are some of my highlights.

12285715_857953770987413_1846869087_nOn the first day, we were lucky enough to be able to hold many of Ontario’s reptiles. I learned so much that night; I had no idea we had so many types of snakes and turtles! We learned about eastern fox snakes, hog-nosed snakes, blue racers, spotted turtles, wood turtles, and Blanding’s turtle, among others.  My favourite was the hog-nosed snake, an incredible species that is, unfortunately, threatened.

I learned about sunspots, and got to see some close up.  There was an astronomer at the summit, and he had brought his telescope to give us our first look at Saturn. He had told us his first time seeing Saturn is exactly what got him hooked on astronomy. You could clearly see the rings, and even one of its moons! It really was an amazing sight.

I met an amazing man called Skid Crease. He gave an inspiring (and entertaining!) presentation, and I had the pleasure of sitting with him during lunch the next day. It was incredible to be able to talk to someone who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, or to take action. Whether it’s for a healthy environment or for other causes, we need more people like him.

Finally, I got my 200th bird at the summit! Each morning, there was a nice little hike offered by some of the organizers of the summit. I got to see a lot of familiar (but no less exiting) birds, and my first blue-headed vireo! What a great way to start the day.

I am going to try to learn more about the subjects that were covered at the summit. The summit has inspired me to report (and look for!) reptiles and amphibians, learn to ID native plants, and keep an eye on the sky.  I really enjoyed being introduced to so many different fields!

Coming back from the summit, I have decided to make an environmental club at my school for next year. I talked to so many young naturalists who had successful clubs, and they have inspired me to do the same.

Thank you so much for this experience. The summit has taught me so much, and I have met so many interesting people. It really was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Sophie Roy


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 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.


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.

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.


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.

My Experience at the Ontario Nature Youth Summit 2013

By Sarah Wray
Reprinted with permission from Trail & Landscape 2014; 48(1)

Sarah Wray describes her experience at the 2013 Youth Summit

Sarah Wray describes her experience at the 2013 Youth Summit

In September 2013, I was sponsored by the OFNC to attend the 4th annual Ontario Nature Youth Summit focusing on biodiversity and green solutions. It was held over a weekend at the Geneva Park YMCA in Orillia. 104 youth participated in this event, the biggest turn out yet! On arrival on Friday evening we were divided into our color teams to get ready for the great team challenge the following day. After dinner and getting to know our teammates we headed off to bed looking forward to a fun filled day on Saturday.

On Saturday I had 3 workshops; “Snapshot Biodiversity”, “Foraging Foods from Forests and Slimes”, and “Scales and Citizen Science”. In Snapshot Biodiversity I learnt how to take pictures in different settings and really think about what it is you are trying to capture and portray. My favorite workshop on Saturday would be Slimes, Scales and Citizen Science since it was very hands on with going and looking for reptiles and amphibians in the back fields of Geneva Park. I learnt a lot about myths and issues that concern specific species and cause humans to impact their population numbers.

In the evening there were a number of university presentations introducing us to different programs and opportunities for the future. We also watched the movie Sharkwater which shows the problem of shark finning and how the disappearance of sharks would cause a huge reduction in the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere. During the team challenge the green team (which I was in) won the cheer competition for creating a green protest.

On Sunday I had 2 more workshops; “Medicinal Plants of Ontario” and “Birds of Prey”. Birds of Prey was my ultimate favorite workshop since they had real birds and I learnt a lot about their lifestyles.

Filmmaker and conservationist, Rob Steward, talks about his struggle to get Sharkwater into production

Filmmaker and conservationist, Rob Steward, talks about his struggle to get Sharkwater into production

Sunday was also the day ROB STEWART, the renowned filmmaker and conservationist came to give us an insight on his journey and future projects. It was really interesting to hear about his struggles and how many times his movie Sharkwater got rejected but then managed to overcome these set-backs. One really interesting fact I learnt was that to keep our earth from getting hotter we would need to leave 80% of all known oil reserves in the ground and convert to more renewable energy.

This Youth Summit has changed me since I’m a lot more aware of some of the threats and concerns on many species not just well known but more low key species in Canada and how if change isn’t made now there will not be green future. I hope to continue pursuing my interest in the environment and possibly look towards a career path in environmental studies. My thanks to the OFNC for providing me with this wonderful opportunity and letting me pursue my interest in a greener world.

Editor’s note: Sarah is currently a Grade 10 student at Nepean High School, very active in competitive soccer and numerous school activities, and an enthusiastic volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Turkey vulture vomit and memories of Lac Deschênes

By Natalie Sopinka

At the November monthly meeting members were treated to an overview of the Ontario Nature Youth Summit by OFNC ambassador Sarah Wray, and amazed by Bruce Di Labio’s ability to recall memories of birding at Lac Deschênes.

Sarah Wray attends youth summit
When she’s not playing soccer and basketball, you can find Sarah Wray, a grade 10 student at Nepean High School, volunteering in the FWG’s Butterfly Meadow. This year Sarah was sponsored by the OFNC to attend the 4th annual Ontario Nature Youth Summit held at the YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia. Sarah enthusiastically shared her stories and photos from the summit with OFNC members at the meeting.

During the summit Sarah learned how to identify edible mushrooms and medicinal plants and take photographs of wildlife from unique and unusual perspectives. She also found out which birds of prey vomit. Sarah’s new favourite bird, the turkey vulture, will vomit when under the threat of predation in hopes their regurgitated stomach contents will distract the predator.

The summit’s keynote speaker was Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, whose words inspired and motivated Sarah. Sarah told OFNC members that it’s “not just polar bears” that need our attention; we must also consider the many small-scale and local conservation issues that need to be addressed too. Find out more about the summit here!

Youth Summit attendees. Photo: Brendan Toews

Youth Summit attendees. Photo: Brendan Toews

Bruce Di Labio’s work at Lac Deschênes
Bruce Di Labio is tackling local conservation issues through his work on the Lac Deschênes IBA (important bird area). The large lake, comprising various habitats (e.g., grasslands, deep waters, mud flats, rapids), is a valuable feeding and resting stop for birds that travel between James and Hudson Bays and the Atlantic shores. Over 350 species have been recorded in the Lac Deschenes IBA, with several new species spotted since 2011 (e.g., razorbill, violet-green and cave swallow).

Merganser family at Lac Deschênes. Photo: Don Hackett

Merganser family at Lac Deschênes. Photo: Don Hackett

Bruce started birding at Lac Deschênes when a bicycle was his only mode of transport and a pay phone call to alert fellow birders cost 10¢. At the meeting, he took OFNC members on a journey through his meticulously kept records. He first observed Arctic terns in Lac Deschênes on June 11, 1972, their distinctive short legs perched on log booms. Armed with 10-pound Tasco binoculars, Bruce observed over 2000 red throated loons circle frantically through the air on a foggy day in November 1984. An army of 2500 black scoters flew in on October 21, 1987 and an epic 11 000 brant on May 26, 2011. Be sure to check out Bruce’s Lac Deschênes birding spots: Britannia Point, Britannia Pier, Dick Bell Park and Shirleys Bay. More on Lac Deschênes here!

Continuing bird records will ensure Lac Deschenes remains an IBA. Although the Bird Status Line is no longer in service due to operating costs, members can still submit counts to the OFNC (ofnc@ofnc.ca) and Bob Cermak (sightings@ofnc.ca).

The meeting ended with Bruce receiving one of the OFNC’s new lens wipes. The lens wipe attaches to your camera, binoculars, hand lens and glasses. Lens wipes are on sale now for $8 each or 2 for $15. Also available are handcrafted maple hiking sticks donated by Gillian Marsden ($20 each).

Compact and expanded form of the new lens wipe. Makes a great stocking stuffer!

Compact and expanded form of the new lens wipe. Makes a great stocking stuffer!