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.

More news on FWG’s wonderful volunteers!

There are several things most visitors don’t understand about the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, and new volunteers admit to being no exception.

1) That the FWG is not just the BYG, but an almost 7 ha area with trails and multiple habitat types.

2) That FWG is not an extension of the Arboretum – we lease the land from Ag Canada on behalf of the OFNC.

3) FWG is a project of the OFNC; though we tend to operate slightly separately, we go through them for major decisions and we are under the same charity registration number.

4) That there are many more things to do as a volunteer than ‘traditional’ gardening. We have differing levels of fitness activity (try swinging a scythe around for an hour through the DSV!) as well as work in different habitats. There is also construction work, wall building and various handy projects to do.

On that last point, volunteer Al was recognised as the Friends of the Farm Volunteer of the Month. The FoF are the volunteers who labour faithfully in the Arboretum. Al is one of our resident uber handy people, and was responsible for building the brochure box in front of the Interpretation Centre – no mean feat given it involved hand-waving about theoretical dimensions from those commissioning this well-used feature!

Al in the Arboretum. Photo (c) P McColl

Al and Erma are known for getting things done quickly, without fuss and with great diligence. They show up early before most people on Fridays, Tim Horton’s coffee in hand. They also share their photographs on our PBase photoblog, and stories of plant or butterfly spottings during their many hikes through national parks. Erma also makes delicious sweets bars!

Hats off to our great volunteers – we’re glad other people appreciate them as well!

FWG has amazing volunteers (but, of course, we already knew that!)

FWG volunteers are amazing people who are dedicated to creating wildlife habitat and beauty not because they feel like they ought to , but as they genuinely enjoy mucking about!

Isabelle always says how much she loves the BYG!

Isabelle always says how much she loves the BYG!

At this year’s volunteer potluck, Isabelle was recognised with our Annual Volunteer Award. Isabelle is the Habitat Manager for the Backyard Garden. This season was especially difficult as many regular Friday volunteers could not attend and the drought caused even the hardiest plants to consider taking a rain check until next growing season. Barry joked that whenever he walked through the BYG with Misti, he would regularly come across Isabelle toiling away busily in the heat, trying to keep one of our best-loved habitats picture perfect for visitors. The chipmunks were so accustomed to her presence that they would run up to her feet and keep her company at lunch!

Diane and her medal!

Diane and her medal!

Another volunteer recognised this year was Diane, who received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for her work in establishing the Monarch Waystation Project and developing the Butterfly Meadow strategy. Anyone who has done a stint in the BM knows that the fight against DSV is hard-core and ongoing – not for the faint of heart! Diane, with her volunteers, has created one of the most picturesque natural habitats at FWG, which is also extremely popular with grateful pollinators who think their little wild oasis is the bee’s knees! (Sorry, just had to get that in there!) The Jubilee Medal was created to recognise Canadians who have given back to their community.

Sincere congratulations and biggest thanks from all of us for the contributions you both make to FWG – the garden wouldn’t be the same without them and you!

Environmental Studies students take to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden [FASS News]

Dated 9 OCT 2012; Re-posted from Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences News page.

Written by Nicholas Ward, Photos by T Stanton-Kennedy

FWG volunteer Renate found a way to incorporate learning goals with FWG’s objectives. Over two work sessions, her students helped clear an area by the Butterfly Meadow of invasive species, non-native dying birches and large woody debris. The woody debris will be mostly used for animal shelters – perfect timing given the early cool weather! Native White and Allegheny Birches were planted, adding more biodiversity to FWG’s canopy cover. The soil in this area was a joy to work with as it is very sandy compared to the planting projects in our Ravine – full of that glorious, heavy Ottawa clay! Below is the article as posted on the Carleton University website.

Environmental Studies students take to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

This fall, students of the class Environmental Studies 2000: Nature and Environment crossed the Rideau Canal to help volunteers at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden with some urban wildlife habitat work.

Instructor of ENST 2000, Renate Sander-Regier, organized this field trip as a way of facilitating an important ‘outside of the classroom’ experience for her students.

“It’s good for students to get out of the classroom and get some hands-on experience related to their studies,” explains Sander-Regier. “I feel it’s particularly important for environmental studies students to get outdoors and help a local group with some environmental work. It can be a rewarding and empowering learning experience, and it’s a nice break from sitting in a classroom.”

Second year ENST student and field trip participant, Marisa Ramey, agrees with Sander-Regier on the importance of application.

“Information becomes more solidified when you have a mixture of reading, lecturing, and then actually applying…The experience was very rewarding and informative.”

Fortunately for Carleton students like Ramey, being a stone’s throw away from the Rideau Canal means that a variety of green spaces to study and work on are entirely accessible. Continue reading

Join in on the Ottawa-Gatineau 2012 mid-Fall Bird Count

Location: Around Ottawa, HQ at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Interpretation Centre

3PM on Saturday, 20 October to 3PM on Sunday, 21 October

Come out for this great traditional birding event in the Ottawa-Gatineau area! You don’t need to be an “expert” birder to join in – even counting birds at your feeder from the comfort of your own home can be an important contribution. The more participants the better – to discover what’s out there in our area during the fall and winter seasons!

Volunteer for a few hours, or if feeling hardcore volunteer for the entire 24! Go solo, bring your kids or have a spotting party with friends – this is an opportunity to be involved in citizen science and develop a better understanding of local bird populations.

Ottawa is divided into zones, so you need to sign up first to receive or request an area as well as times and methodology.

The post-count compilation (free pizza, coffee, soft drinks and dessert for all participants!) will be held after the count on Sunday, at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Interpretive Centre from approx. 4:30 – 8 pm.

For more information, please contact birdcounts@ofnc.ca

Last weeding bee of the season a success!

Holding a pile of pulled DSV.

The last official weeding bee of the season was held 9 September, with a good turnout of over 20 people! There may be another bee scheduled depending on weather, so watch this space.

To try expanding our techno-reach, we made a little video detailing the most recent bee and the effect of the bees in general on our work at FWG. Continue reading

FWG Volunteer in the News: Hedrik on Urban Fishing

Hedrik is a volunteer at FWG, especially with the TISG contingent.

The Ottawa Citizen profiled him and discusses urban fish ecology in this August 2012 article and video by Andrew Duffy.

A great big fish story: Tao of the urban muskie hunter

BY ANDREW DUFFY, OTTAWA CITIZEN AUGUST 17, 2012
“Hedrik Wachelka grew up a stone’s throw from Dow’s Lake, the mitten-shaped pond that would form the improbable centre of his life’s obsession.

His father, a Polish Army veteran who came to Canada and raised a family after the Second World War, used to take young Hedrik with him to fish for dinner.

“My dad was always fishing bass or pickerel, or different types of panfish,” he tells me as we wait on the shores of the same lake for our boat to arrive. “Muskies were this great big fish that would sometimes show up and scare the stuffing out of you.”

The shadowy giant captured Hedrik’s imagination. He caught his first in Dow’s Lake in 1964 when he was 13 years old.” Click to read the rest and watch the video!

Interview with our resident buckthorn-spert: Mr Tony D

Tony clipping roots while another volunteer uses the weed wrench. Photo by C Hanrahan

Tony Denton is a regular and long-time FWG volunteer. His bailiwick includes tackling invasive tree species that keep popping up on our grounds. You could say that he is a regular ‘hatchet man’!

How long have you been a volunteer at FWG? Why did you decide to start?

The date is vague in my mind, it was soon after I retired and looked around for activities. I came to the annual ‘Migration Day’ in spring, took the birding tour with Jeff Harrison (co-founder of the FWG and chaired the management committee for many years) and decided that I liked the area. We talked for quite a while, back at the Interpretation Centre, about gardening in difficult conditions, which we shared. He convinced me that I should build a pond.

Continue reading

Christine’s FWG Walks: Late August #2

by Christine Hanrahan

Christine is one of FWG’s volunteer naturalists who writes in great detail about her visits to FWG. A great way to visit with us virtually and keep on top of what you might see when here in person!

Hi All,

This is really just a note to let you know that I have uploaded some fantastic photos by Diane Lepage, to the August Pbase photo blog.
She was there in the late afternoon, working with Brian, Sandy and Barry, to remove the abundant flowering rush from the pond.

Last year, by the way, the flowering rush was greatly diminished thanks to the work of the muskrats in the pond. I regularly watched them gathering and eating flowering rush roots. But we seem to have lost our muskrats this year. [Ed note – anyone have a spare muskrat to lend us ;) ] Continue reading