How I got my Zen on

by Michelle St-Germaine

As I had a milestone birthday last year (I turned 50), I treated myself to a week in Paris alone and spent many hours in beautiful parks, contemplating life. In addition to this trip, I took a retirement course (yes, they exist!) and was pleased that I am on the right track financially.

However, I found out that successful retirement planning also includes planning how I want to spend my time. What do I want to DO when I grow up? The life coach at the seminar had an interesting approach. “Ask yourself: What did I enjoy most when I was a child?”

  • I spent all my time in nature, most of the time alone.
  • I dreamed about being a zoo keeper.
  • I spent a lot of time building tree forts, which was a segué to my career.
  • I later developed a love of gardening and bird watching and continue to be fascinated by all animals.

I am blessed in many ways: health, family, and a stimulating career (sometimes TOO stimulating as with many careers) and, as I plan to retire in 4 years, I have started my search for my new calling (or at least a hobby I enjoy), which led me to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Prior to my first guided walk with Sandy, I had only visited the garden once. Offering my help, I was first assigned to removing Burdock, but quickly got addicted to removing Dog Strangling Vine (DSV)! Ha!

As I am not available weekdays for now and enjoy spending time by myself, I particularly liked the idea of “owning” a node of my own: an area I could take care of on my own schedule.

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Although this is not Michelle’s area, it is very similar in that DSV had taken over and was twining up into sumac trees – so a good “before” picture of what she was facing.

After “cleaning up” an area of sumac that DSV had choked out and killed, I had only intended on controlling the spread of its seeds this year by pulling down the vines before they flowered. However, I was fortunate to recruit some helpers: two regular volunteers plus one time help from four others. This summer, we managed to remove all the DSV by the roots in a large area and fill in the bare areas with 2 Serviceberries, 5 Shagbark Hickories, 1 Red Osier Dogwood, 1 Hackberry, 1 pine, 1 White Spruce, 1 birch, 1 Weeping Willow, 3 Wild Raisins, 1 rose bush, 16 Ostrich Ferns, 7 White Snakeroots, 3 native white clematis, and 15 Zigzag Goldenrods.

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After pulling out DSV, Michelle discovered many “good” plants and shrubs that will now be able to thrive.

I’m looking forward to watching this area grow and taking on another project next year.

With this new hobby, I have discovered a highly effective stress reliever, a kind of meditation, in which I lose track of time. And depending on my mood, I can either aggressively hoe at the roots of DSV or delicately clear the path for a new oak sapling while watching the Eastern Cottontails, groundhogs, American Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrels, American Toads, Eastern Gartersnakes, and numerous bird species enjoy my patch as I do. I also practise my audio bird identification and discover new frog calls while I work away.

This may be my new calling. If not, I will enjoy the journey.

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In late summer, Michelle was able to plant some new wildflowers, White Snakeroot and Zigzag Goldenrod, in an area where she and her colleagues had spent time digging DSV out – roots and all.

The plight of the bumble bee

by John Davidson

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Tricoloured Bumblebee at work in the FWG’s Butterfly Meadow

Punch “bees” into your search engine and, within seconds, you’ll get a screenful of headlines, something like this:

Why are bees dying?
Plant flowers to help declining bee populations
Could pesticides be limiting the ability of bees to reproduce?

We are all aware of the crucial role bees and other pollinators play in the plant world. And we are growing aware of the perils these species face. As alarm bells ring over declining bee populations worldwide, scientists and environmentalists are attempting to answer the question, why?

Bumble Bee Watch

This summer (2016), the Fletcher Wildlife Garden became one of the focal points for Bumble Bee Watch (bumblebeewatch.org), a continent-wide effort to gather data on and better understand the health of bumble bee populations. During July and August, representatives from Friends of Earth Canada, a partner in the program, held several presentations at FWG. Each included a talk, a documentary film, a question and answer session, and finally an on-the-land hunt for bumble bees.

The program encouraged “citizen scientists” to look for bumble bees and upload data on their findings to their website, including date and time of the sighting, location, species identification, and a photograph.

Why Fletcher Wildlife Garden? Because, “it’s a gem!”

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Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive officer, Friends of the Earth, Canada.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth, Canada, said that when her organization was trying to sort out how to involve people in Ottawa, “It was very obvious that we wanted to work with the people from Fletcher Wildlife Garden, the volunteers and the people who do interpretation.

“I think this garden is an amazing gem in Ottawa. I don’t know if everyone in Ottawa is aware of it: if they aren’t they should be! Friends of the Earth is so happy to have been able to work with the Fletcher Wildlife Garden folks. I hope we’ll be able to do some good things together and hope we can attract more volunteers to help out with all of the good things Fletcher Wildlife Garden is doing for Ottawa and for nature.”

I tried out the Bumble Bee Watch ID program on the web several times and found it quite easy to use, although, even with tips and graphic aids on the site, it was tricky for this unpracticed eye to identify the precise species among the 48 that inhabit North America. Luckily, the uploaded photo was there to allow scientists with Bumble Bee Watch to confirm the IDs.

Although the Friends of the Earth count ended on August 15, Bumble Bee Watch is ongoing and you can submit your photos and data any time.

We know more about honey bees that the wild native species

Ms Olivastri visited Fletcher Wildlife Garden on June 26 to explain the program.

“Many people have become concerned about bees, typically honey bees, and their exposure to a particular kind of pesticides, called neonicotinoids. And while honey bees have a voice —the beekeepers, and their associations — we don’t know nearly enough about how wild bees are doing.

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David van Olst (grey tee shirt) of Friends of the Earth, leading a Bumble Bee Watch bee identification field trip at the FWG.

“We do know that they are stressed out by climate change. We do know that they are negatively impacted by habitat loss through urban development or land converted to commodity crops, such as corn and soy and canola. And we know they are affected by diseases, sometimes shared from honey bees or even from domestic bumble bees which are used in greenhouse operations and which sometimes escape.

“We know that there is a decline.

“We know that there are specific wild bees, like the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee that was remarkably common the 70s in Southern Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec, and is completely gone now in Canada. It is listed as endangered, and was last seen in Canada in 2009, around Grand Bend, Ontario.

“Six other species in 2016 have been listed for protection under the federal Species at Risk Act.

“So, something is happening.”

Let it bee

Ms Olivastri said, “What we are trying to do at Friends of Earth is, first of all, inform people about how remarkable and important wild native bees are.

“By helping us count them, by helping us take pictures and recording them on Bumble Bee Watch, it will help scientists learn more about these threats, and what we can do differently to help us protect these bees,” she said.

How you can help in your own backyard

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Even if you missed the four Friends of Earth presentations at the FWG this summer, you’re still in luck. Neil Losin and Morgan Heim’s award winning documentary film A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, that was part of the presentations, has been posted on line. You can watch it here.

Ms Olivastri stressed that there are many things you can do, if you have a back yard or garden, to make a habitat that helps support wild bumble bees.

“The best thing you can do to help save the bees,” she said, “is in your own back yard. Let it be: leave your yard more natural to support the wild bee populations.”

To learn more about how to create a “Bee and Bee” accommodation in your own backyard, see the helpful guide Friends of the Earth have provided online.

More about the plight of the bumble bee

Editor’s note: John Davidson had a chance to talk further with some of our Friends of the Earth colleagues during fieldwork at the FWG and made this excellent video.

The Plight of the Bumble Bee from John Davidson on Vimeo.

Communing with bats at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

Alex MacDonald, of Nature Canada, demonstrated how to find bats using a small hand-held detector.

Alex MacDonald, of Nature Canada, demonstrated how to find bats using a small hand-held detector.

by John Davidson

“I can hear one, I can hear one!”

The excited cry cut through the night at the same time as the device in the young boy’s hands burst into a cacophony of staccato crackles.

This was the first time he, or any of the other 20 or so people around him, had ever “heard” a bat.

“But you can’t hear bats,” we can hear you, remembering your high school biology, starting to protest.

Oh, but indeed you can, thanks to a handheld device, about the size of a smartphone, which translates the ultrasonic (and hence inaudible to human ears) echolocation signals that flying bats constantly emit into audible sounds. Loud, crackling, audible sounds.

And not only can we now “hear” bats, we can even identify the particular species of bat by the frequencies the device registers.

It was the night of June 29. About 20 people, many of them young, were out to participate in a bat detector workshop put on by Nature Canada under its Naturehood program. And for some, children in tow, it was obviously a family outing.

Both adults and kids huddle together over the detectors waiting for the staccato sounds that indicate a bat is flying overhead.

Both adults and kids huddle together over the detectors waiting for the staccato sounds that indicate a bat is flying overhead.

After a short briefing at the FWG Resource Centre on how to operate the bat detectors, devices were handed out to participants, and off we went over toward the wetland pond.

The magic of the night

The short walk over to the pond was magical. The darkness of night sky — moonless — obliterated all the familiar trails and landmarks of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, leaving all us a little disoriented, as if we were in a strange and new territory, relying on the stabs of flashlights to guide the way. But it was the sounds of the night that captivated us most of all. Our hearing suddenly became more acute. The deep, regular bass of frogs, the soprano whirring of insects, an occasional bird: the nighttime symphony was present and compelling. And along the way, fireflies hovering in the underbrush flickered greetings as we passed.

Workshop leader Alex MacDonald wasn’t sure how much bat activity there would be, or if there would be any at all. But on the wooden bridge crossing the pond, barely five minutes in, the first detector erupted with a crackle. The closer the bat, the louder the sound, and it was soon obvious that bats were making the most of the early evening. Most of the action overhead could only be heard on the detectors. But every once in a while, as the bats crisscrossed the pond in their search for flying insects, we could see their ethereal silhouettes flitting against the dwindling light of the night sky.

Alex says, “The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is ideal for this sort of exercise since it’s one of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the urban centre here in Ottawa.”

The workshop was not only a valuable experience for urban nature lovers, it fulfills an important scientific purpose as well.

Endangered bat species: you can help!

Endangered bat species found locally. Photos courtesy of Nature Canada

Endangered bat species found locally. Photos courtesy of Nature Canada

As Nature Canada explains on its web site, “We’re not doing this for just any reason. Here’s the scoop: Have you heard about White-nose Syndrome (WNS), an introduced fungal disease (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that’s decimating many bat populations in North America? Estimates place the death toll from WNS at over 6 million bats since it was first detected in North America in 2006…. Sadly, populations of up to 7 bat species found in and around Ottawa have been impacted by WNS, and 3 of those species currently legally designated as ‘endangered’ by the government of Ontario: Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) and Eastern Small-footed Myotis (Myotis leibii). Given this situation we need to understand the habitats these bat species are using and how local populations are doing. That’s where the bat detectors — and YOU — come in.”

So, while part of the workshop was to create greater awareness of the issues facing bat populations, Nature Canada also wants to engage “citizen scientists” to help in data collection. Anyone can borrow one of these detectors through Nature Canada’s lending library, and use it to help feed data into the program on the local presence (or absence) of these endangered species. Complete information about the program is available at on its web site.

What’s in your “Naturehood”?

The way Nature Canada sees it, if you can get urban people — especially young urban people — out and about in nature, they will develop an early and lasting appreciation for the environment.

That’s the thinking behind Naturehood, a program to connect urban residents to nearby nature. And the Fletcher Wildlife Garden has all the necessary criteria for an ideal Naturehood: a diverse wildlife habitat and close to the city centre. That’s why Nature Canada chose it to launch its bat detector workshop program.

Kinship

Bats have always remained enigmatic creatures — rarely seen and often misunderstood. But after an hour listening to them through our machines, and hearing from Alex about their lives and the challenges they face, we felt a certain — what’s the word I’m looking for? — a certain kinship with these champions of the night. We returned to the city, reluctantly, but content that we had been able to learn a little more about nature that night. And to connect with it.

More about bats and a glimpse of the workshop

The Bat Detectors from John Davidson on Vimeo.