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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Expert Profile: Falconer Genevieve Zaloum

In Arts, Features on May 2, 2016 at 9:14 pm
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Zaloum and one of the falcons she brought with her to the bird day fair


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unshine the snow white Barn Owl swoops majestically through the air before landing amidst the crowd. “She might be a bit nervous,” Falconer Geneviève Zaloum says, before fetching the bird from between the spectators. However, it’s hard to imagine such a majestic looking creature (and fearsome predator) could be easily intimidated. Sunshine is one of many birds of prey that were shown at Ottawa’s Bird Day Fair held May 31st in Andrew Haydon Park.

After the show, I got a chance to do a Q & A with Geneviève about her falconry career and the birds she trains and advocates for.

Dylan Copland (DC): What is your job at Falcon Environmental Services?

Geneviève Zaloum (GZ): Since I started in 2009, I’ve had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything; from taking care of the animals to training, to visiting schools and educating children. It’s a very dynamic position.

DC: What sorts of animals do you work with?

GZ: I only work with birds of prey. It’s constantly interesting though because I think each one has their own personality and style. They have their own quirks and each one does its own thing, so I’m always guessing at what they’re going to do next. You have to learn how to interact with each individual.

DC: Can you describe one of these unique animals personalities?

GZ: Figaro, the Harris Hawk, presented last Saturday, is 18 years old. Born in captivity, and having always been amongst humans, this is a bird who knows the business. No matter where we are, I can count on this bird to do the job! He is comfortable around people, and loves his perches. It is not any Harris Hawk that can accomplish that, however the years of experience and the many handlers this bird has encountered makes him an extremely valued asset to our bird team.

DC: What inspired you to get into this line of work?

GZ: Well, I knew I always wanted to work with animals. I have a B.Sc. In Zoology, but I think I have the ability to work well with not only animals, but also people because you have to be open and answer the public’s questions and to have the patience to listen to people. I like doing it all and the dynamic nature of the position is what makes it exciting.

DC: What is one of the most memorable experiences you have had while working with birds?

GZ: One of the most wonderful experiences so far in my career has been training our Great Horned Owl, Darwin. In order to have an owl that is comfortable in schools and show presentations, we made the decision to imprint. In the wild, babies imprint on their parents, and therefore associate themselves as that species. However, in our case, we wanted Darwin to associate himself as human, and therefore we raised him ourselves. I can honestly say that it was one of the coolest experiences watching this little owlet grow into an adult. We acquired him at three weeks old, and as any baby does, he mostly ate, slept and pooped! As he started to get older, he started to explore his surroundings more and more. Looking around, trying to access taller surfaces, flapping his wings to get those muscles working! The rate at which he grew was just unbelievable, doubling his weight in just a couple of weeks, growing in size, in plumage and in courage. It didn’t take long for him to be able to access heights, and soon travel a few meters at a time. By the age of two months, he was fully feathered and flighted. Being able to witness the entire process is a moment in my career that I will never forget.

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DC: As an educator, what is one thing about the animals you work with you think everyone should know?

GZ: I think it is important that everyone know that these birds, although they look very friendly during a show, are still wild birds at heart. They maintain their wild instincts despite being born in captivity and this emphasizes that a bird of prey should never be considered a pet. They have no affection towards their trainer, but trust that we are not there to cause harm. This makes for a very different relationship than one may be used to when working with animals.

DC: How can an individual get involved in helping to protect these animals or conserve their environment?

GZ: There are many rehabilitation centres that encourage help from volunteers. This can be offered through help with installations (cleaning, preparing food) to helping with fundraising activities that better inform the public of risks and threats to different species. Otherwise, projects that promote protection to nature reserves, nesting success of certain species can also be supported.

DC: What do you like to do in your free time?

GZ: I like to figure skate and snowboard! Falconry is hunting which occurs mainly in the fall. When there’s no hunting I have time to participate in other activities.

DC: Where do you see yourself in the future?

GZ: Right here! I’ve made it!

Falcon Environmental Services, based out of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, features both both educational and business divisions. The company specializes in the removal of unwanted birds and animals from human development sites such as: airports, military installations and landfills using techniques like: live trap and release, falconry, trained dogs and pyrotechnic devices. They also provide teaching seminars and demonstrations on ecological preservation and birds of prey at schools and public events in Canada and the United States.

You can find them on the web at http://www.faucon.biz or at http://www.falconed.biz.

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Canada’s Creatures of the Night

In Features on May 2, 2016 at 8:56 pm

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We began our walk along the dark trail guided only by the beams of light provided by our head lamps and flashlights. The low, constant hum of crickets could immediately be heard from the brush lining the path and was occasionally punctuated by the chirp of birds that had bedded down for the night. We approached our first bait station, located near the trail entrance, to see what creatures our fermented brew had attracted.

By day, Ottawa’s Mud Lake is host to a wide variety of active creatures from snapping turtles, to blue heron and all manner of insects, but by night, the wooded areas surrounding the lake transform and — if you’re lucky or have a particularly attuned set of eyes – a very different set of creatures can be seen.

On this evening, a group of visitors had gathered at Ottawa’s Mud Lake to explore the often overlooked bio diversity of the area at night.  A prized sighting would have been a nighthawk or screech owl and our eyes periodically darted up to the sky hoping to see the silhouette of one of these illusive creatures.

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Preparing for the upcoming night walk at Ottawa’s Mud Lake.

Spotting nocturnal animals is a fun activity, but it’s also an important one if we are to know the makeup of Canada’s biodiversity. Nature Canada conducts a bio count in the spring and fall seasons as both a fun public event to help people connect with their natural environment, but also as a scientific exercise — to highlight the importance of paying attention to the state of Canada’s local biota. Shifts in the biological makeup of an area could signal environmental changes or problems that we as stewards of the environment need to know about.

We had no luck at the first bait station. Our mixture of brown sugar, oats, yeast, molasses and maple syrup should have done the trick to attract some of Canada’s over 2000 species of moths, but the cool night time temperatures of the approaching fall season were hindering our bait’s effectiveness.

“Moths are cold blooded so it may be too chilly for them this evening,” Our guide Alex MacDonald said. “They actually need to warm up in order to digest their food, otherwise they can’t eat.”

We carried on deeper into the woods, a rabbit stopped to observe our group at one point, its eyes glowing eerily from the reflected light of our camera flashes. At our second bait station we encountered not moths, but a group of white banded ants that our sweet potion had attracted. The ants quickly scurried away from the gaze of our lights, but we were able to get a close look at a black spider that had set up a web between two bushes nearby.

As we made our way to the final bait stations, we stopped to look out on the lake. A muskrat bobbed up and down in the dark water as it made its way to the far shore.

At the final station we found that our bait had attracted a moth! It stayed still long enough on the tree for us to identify it as a sharp-winged shade. Based on what we know about moths (and our own limited success at spotting them at the Mud Lake nature walk) in the fall season, moths become more difficult to see due to falling temperatures. However, there are plenty of other nocturnal creatures that can be seen year-round in the Canadian environment.

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Field guides are used to determine what plants or animals are seen on nature excursions.

Chris Earley is an Interpretive biologist at the Guelph Arboretum at the University of Guelph, where he’s been leading night time nature walks for close to 20 years. He says that many of Canada’s nocturnal creatures can still be seen when the temperature drops including: great horned owls, barn owls, flying squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and other small mammals.

“Nature walks are actually a great winter activity,” Earley said. “The freshly fallen snow makes it a very pretty environment to go owl watching.”

Earley leads evening nature sightseeing events and workshops called Owl Prowls in which a group of visitors learn about the creatures before heading out into a wooded area at the arboretum to attempt to spot or hear the owls using territorial calls.

Earley says going out and exploring Canada’s nocturnal creatures can lead to some interesting nature stories and sightings.

“One time, As I was doing a screech owl call we actually had a flying squirrel swoop down and fly over our head. It was a really cool thing to see.”

For those interested in going on, or organizing their own, nature walk we offer the following tips to improve the experience:


Dress Warmly

 Often times you’ll be standing still listening for creature noises or stopping to examine an animal you’ve come across. Don’t underestimate the drop in temperature during the night.

Bring Flashlights, but use them sparingly

 Flashlights will not harm nocturnal creatures, but they will scare them off. It’s often best to let your eyes adjust to the natural light reflected by the moon than it is to use battery powered lights.

Bring a recorded owl call

 Recorded owl calls are a great way to induce a barn or screech owl to return a call, but use them sparingly as owls will assume a potential rival is infringing on their territory and you don’t want to disturb them too much! It’s best to start with small owl sounds first, like the saw-whet owl, and work your way up to the larger owls because the calls of larger owls will scare away the smaller creatures.

Be as quiet as you can

 In the dark, listening to creatures can be as important (and rewarding) as seeing them with your eyes. Naturalists are just as happy to hear an owl as they are to see one. However, you do stand a greater chance of seeing animals if you’re not making a lot of noise.

Have people look in different directions

 Organize your group so that your eyes cover as much of the surrounding area as possible. A sighting is a sighting whether it’s done by you or someone else!

Know the trails before heading out

 The last thing you want is to be lost out on the trails in the middle of night. Make sure you have prior knowledge of the pathways and always no how to get back to the entrance. Bring a map, if possible, and ensure you have some a cellphone in case of an emergency.

Thanks to Alex MacDonald with Nature Canada, Chris Earley with the University of Guelph and Casey Whiterock with the Stanley Park Ecological Society for providing information for this article. For those looking for more information on the Guelph Arboretum’s Owl Prowl events, please visit http://www.uoguelph.ca/arboretum/. For information on the Stanley Park Ecological Society’s  Creatures of the Night theatrical Nature Walks visit http://www.stanleyparkecology.ca.

 

Inside the Mud Lake Biodiversity Project

In Features on January 3, 2015 at 6:48 am

“Do we have this one yet?” Harold Sotomayor asked his friend and project partner Patrick Killeen after we came across a white capped mushroom covered by bushes to the side of the trail.

“Well, let’s snap a photo of it anyways, just in case.”

Welcome to the world of the Mud Lake Biodiversity project, an ongoing citizen science experiment in which the goal is to document and record every living organism in the Mud Lake area of Ottawa, Ontario. The project, which has attracted photo contributions from outside members of the community, is a brilliant mix of deductive science and taxonomic gamification and has helped its creators learn a lot about their local environment and its biodiversity.

   mud lake biodiversity

Sotomayor explained the initial idea stemmed from the television show and video game Pokemon which he used to watch and play as a child.

“When I started, the idea for the project was to create a catalogue like a Pokedex” Sotomayor said. “I genuinely thought we would come out here and find like five birds. I had no idea about how much I did not know.”

Home to over 200 species of birds, around 50 varieties of moss and hundreds of different trees and plants, Mud Lake is a naturalist’s dream. Located just west of downtown Ottawa, the area contains many ecological biomes including: a riparian section along the bank of the Ottawa river, a woodland area and wetlands around the lake itself.

Unlike the mass of wildlife found at Mud Lake, the project has remained reasonably quiet and contained. For the past four years, Patrick and Harold have been making trips out to the lake with a camera and documenting any life they find. Nothing is omitted from the project. Plants, animals, fungi, insects… even bacteria and protists, which Harold collects and analyzes at home under an electron microscope, are included and added to the growing database and website.

under microscope

“We began with just animals and plants, but once people started visiting the website, we sort of felt an obligation to expand and include everything,” Sotomayor said.

Patrick Killeen, 20, makes up one half of the pair. He is currently a computer science student at the University of Ottawa and is credited by Harold as having the greater taxonomic knowledge of the two.

white breasted nuthatch

“I wasn’t really interested in biology before the project,” Killeen said. “Growing up my dad would tell me stuff and I was sort of forced to learn the information. But then, after the project began, I actually wanted to learn so that’s when I gained a huge boost of knowledge.”

Harold Sotomayor, 29, is the creative mind behind the enterprise. He is currently using the site to work on his programming skills while working part time and also managing the biodiversity project.

The two have been able to parlay the project into educational opportunities with outside organizations. Harold and Patrick have led educational tours through Mud Lake with adult high school students as well as by leading tours at Nature Canada’s fall bio blitz event.

The pair want the project to remain small and and without ads and said their next goal is to include more of the areas diverse mosses and insects. They are also collaborating on a for-profit historical Android application video game about western American slave trade.

For those interested in learning more about the project, or contributing to the growing collection of photos you can check it out at: www.mudlakebiodiversity.com. The site is also expected to receive a coming user interface revamp in the coming weeks with new graphics.

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The Rapid Growth of Community Gardens in Canada

In Features on January 3, 2015 at 6:39 am

Vancouver now has over 75 of them; Halifax 25; and Ottawa, at least 40. No matter where you look in Canada, community gardens are becoming one of the country’s quickest growing outdoor activities as more people look for a way to get outdoors, grow their own plants and get back to nature.

A community garden is an urban green space allotted to the growing of plants by the public. All manner of plants can be grown, from herbs and vegetables to fruits and flowers. The green space is divided into plots and each plot is assigned to the public on a first come first serve basis. The spaces themselves are as diverse as the plants grown on them. Some are hundreds of plots large, while others only have allotments numbering in the single digits.tools edit

The community gardens are typically run by local groups that may organize a single or group of gardens. Anyone can apply to be a community gardener, but in many cities, plots are being filled faster than new gardens can be created.

Jordan Bouchard is the Interim Coordinator of Just Food’s Ottawa-based community gardening network. He’s seen first-hand the rapid increase of community gardens in the city.

“Community gardening is growing quickly,” Bouchard said. “We’ve more than doubled the amount of urban gardens in Ottawa in the last five years.”

It’s popularity has grown to the point that city websites are warning of wait times to receive a spot.

“Some waitlists are years long,” Bouchard said. “Because of this, many groups are working towards getting more set up in the city.”

There are a multitude of factors behind the recent surge of popularity of community gardening. Some people, like community gardener Brad Mitchell, 47, find tending to a plot of fruit and vegetables a good reason to get outside and into nature.

“I like to get my hands dirty,” Mitchell said. “Some of the gardeners will go and plant fully grown vegetables, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching a plant grow from seed and raising it all the way up.”

Mitchell spent five years waiting to get a shot at tending a space at the Laurier and Bronson community garden in Ottawa. While waiting, he volunteered by mowing the grass between plots, helping friends tend to their gardens and by doing general maintenance work around the site.

Mitchell grows beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and other vegetables that all appeared to be growing well, but he said there are a few dangers gardeners should be on the lookout for.

“Since the plots are so close together, everything grown is organic. Because of this, we get bugs and pests that will come in and eat the produce,” Mitchell said. He pointed to one of his leafier plants which was dotted with small holes and bite marks.

Another problem gardeners face is thieves who will steal produce. Mitchell said he has lost a fair amount of vegetables to other humans who have picked freshly grown vegetables from his garden.

“I came in one day, and one of my eggplants was just gone. Then I came in the next day, and the second one was gone,” he said. “And not only that, but whoever took it had snipped off the buds, so no more would grow.”

While taking food that a person has not grown is never encouraged, some gardens have begun to implement open pick spaces to combat food theft. The idea being that if someone is going to steal food from a garden, they should do so from a more communal plot that doesn’t belong to any one particular gardening member.

Despite the problems, Mitchell has now been growing for the past five years and said he still enjoys coming out nearly everyday to tend to his plants.

While gardening may be a fun outdoor exercise for many, there are also practical reasons why one might choose to grow in a community space.

Silvia Quintana, 50, works a patch of tomatillos at Ottawa’s Strathcona park. She says that gardening gives her an opportunity enjoy the outdoors, but also has economic and practical benefits.

Quintana watering her tomatillos at the Strathcona community garden in Ottawa.

Quintana watering her tomatillos at the Strathcona community garden in Ottawa.

“Tomatillos are very common in my home country Mexico, but not so much in Canada,” Quintana said. “Some people here know how to use them, but many people don’t even recognize them.”

Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) are used in salsas and dips like guacamole. Common in Mexico, Quintana says she would have to pay upwards of 15 dollars for a bag of them in a Canadian supermarket.

I come out every couple of days [to tend to the plants], but mostly for pleasure,” Quintana said. “They’re a very hardy plant and can grow well on their own.”

Quintana is able to reap multiple harvests per season from her tomatillos and says she has more than enough left over to give to friends and family.

As the public’s enthusiasm for local urban-agricultural spaces has increased, support and resources from government and non-profit groups has been made available to help those looking to garden in an urban environment.

putting on netting

Vancouver has instituted tax breaks for landowners who develop green spaces on their property. The city now allows developers to classify community gardens as class eight recreational property, reducing the cost owed to the government to about a third of typical commercial property tax fees.

In Ottawa, Just Food, in concert with garden organizers and the city government, works with an $80,000 a year budget to provide tools, equipment and construction materials to those looking to work in or organize a community garden.

And in Halifax, the Halifax Garden Network organized a creative initiative in 2013 called the Urban Agriculture Tour which brought together a group of growers from the city. The gardeners toured a host of local growing spots and exchanged ideas on what to plant as well as thoughts on gardening techniques.

For those who may be interested in joining a community garden, more information can be found on your city’s community gardening network web-page including: contact information of local garden organizers as well as helpful information on how to start working a new plot of land.

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