Dog, fox or coyote? Mouse, vole or shrew? Who left these tracks, when and where were they going? These were just some of the many questions heard on Saturday morning (January 21st) when the Berwick YNC Chapter went winter tracking near the Kentville Bird Sanctuary.
With almost fifty people and one dog out on the trails, there were many questions to be heard and frequent shouts of excitement when another clear set of tracks was found in the thin layer of snow that dusted the ground.
Tracking in snow (or other clearly visible substrate like sand or mud) is magical. It brings to life the activities of our non-human neighbours, leaving clues as to how they live their lives. The mystery that accompanies many tracks also fuels deeper observation and research and that was no exception for our group; out came the tracking guides and stories about similar tracks seen elsewhere and what people thought they were.
There is a deep satisfaction that can be gained just from the questioning and the more people the more diverse the questions, but its also satisfying to receive expert insights to confirm or refute a theory or idea about a particular track. Fortunately, we had Soren Bondrup-Nielsen, ecologist and conservation biologist along for our tracking journey and he was able to point out certain details the amateurs amongst us can’t (yet) see and helped us look for details that would help us in future. Beyond the recognised expert, there were also some amateur experts in the mix and as with any nature outing I have ever been a part of, the co-learning was rich and satisfying as people shared the tidbits they had picked up in their tracking travels.
With such a large crowd, a few splinter groups evolved and those who wanted to warm up their feet after a slow walk and much stopping joined an epic game of Vole and Weasel, a fast and furious tag game in which we imitate the lives of this prey and predator pair in their underground burrows (except we stay above ground).
All around it was a fantastic morning with perfect conditions provided by mother nature and our enthusiastic group of participants. My gratitude to all who came out, including our woodsy neighbours who obviously had had an active night and morning before our arrival.
You can view our photos
The Berwick Young Naturalist Club was busy building natural abodes this weekend and we wanted to share our efforts.
After our opening circle of intros, gratitude and song we warmed up with a game of Elf Tag before heading into the woods at the Black Rock Community Trails on the North Mountain. The promise of shelter building, or perhaps the mild weather (or both) brought out an enthusiastic crowd on this first Saturday of December. With 11 kids (including a tiny baby) and 7 adults, we followed the pink trail watching for possible animal shelters along the way to inspire and inform us before we attempted our own.
As we gathered under the bare deciduous trees beside the trail we reviewed some principles of wilderness survival and shelter building before exploring the area and deciding on the shelter we want to work on. We discussed the importance of location, location, location. Location will inform:
1) materials (can you find what you need close by without expending too much energy?);
2) conditions (what’s it like where you plan to build e.g. weather, prevailing winds, wet or dry underfoot? etc.); and
3) safety (what are the hazards and where do you need to build to stay safe?) All of these will inform where and what you should build.
We explored the area we were in which had may fallen ash trees from Hurricane Arthur a few years ago, and lots of fallen leave along with some older falling or fallen spruces. We broke into a few groups to pursue three shelter projects. A large group embarked on completing a partially built debris hut started by me some weeks earlier that I had to abandon when it got so soggy In early November and then I got called out of province for a few weeks. A small team of boys found a spacious tree-root cave and proceeded to make it cozy. And the third was a father-son duo who built a small lean-to with a soft mossy carpet.
We out in a god hour of work and were pretty pleased with our results although no one was volunteering to sleep out overnight. We imagined how we might market our new green buildings and here is what we can offer:
Three eco-homes, close to trails, Bay of Fundy and a community centre. All three built of all-natural materials meeting tried and tested architectural standards. Energy bills are exceptionally low. Sizes vary: 1) spacious 7-person cave with soft floors and decorative ceiling; 2) Airy, child-friendly abode (fits 1 small child) with green shag carpet; and 3) contemporary design, cozy A-frame – sleeps one large adult or a few children and their dog. Can you match the ‘shelter’ descriptions with the pictures?
Thanks for another fun outing Team Berwick and guests from away. Looking forward to seeing you for our next outing on Dec. 31st. Watch the events section for details soon.
A field trip report by YNC volunteer (Halifax chatper) Mirabai Alexander
Wonderfully windy day at the ‘Backlands,’ a Jack Pine Barren behind new residential development near Mica Crescent Rd. Huckleberry leaves blushed a light shade of red, tousled by the 65 km gale. The afternoon was punctuated with periods of light rain, but no complaining young naturalists were deterred, instead distracted by the sweet pieces of the winter green plant we found along the trail. Hiking through small wetland areas we considered how these areas may act as a seed refugia, or protect against fire. As we moved towards Williams Lake, several dwarf spruce, and grey birch dotted the path, while rolling rocky slopes made excellent slides, and widely spaced planks of stream crossings meant for mountain bikers required extra caution for small rubber boots! Forming a circle against the wind we listened to our guest lichen expert (Frances Anderson) show how lichens clustered more densely on rock faces exposed to wind, getting caught in the tiny crevices. Moss expert (Anne Mills) taught how moss succession can change in a slow hot forest fire, and a fast forest fire. Our leader Karen pointed out a rare S2 species, Mountain Sandwort, which is also found along the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario. Only a single black-capped chickadee announced himself on our hike back; though I had my eyes to the sky in hopes for a Common Nighthawk, which had been reported in the area before. Common Nighthawks may breed in the barrens; their nest a mere scrape with two eggs.
As I’ve come to expect from most forest outings, nature never fails to deliver her fair share of mysteries as I travel along. But when I go out with a group of inspired people, I also find many of those mysteries are resolved in the best possible way: people putting their minds together, asking key questions and piecing together information to deepen our collective understanding of the world of the woods. And then there are always the questions that didn’t get answered that sends me home to my field guides or conversations with others so that next time I am equipped with just a little more knowledge to bring to my journey. And so it was on our drizzly outing Saturday morning when the Young Naturalist Club Berwick chapter got together for a wander in the beautiful Woodville Community Trails.
Despite heavy rains and wind through the night, 16 of us ventured out in the morning in full rain attire to be greeted to just a light drizzle (that soon stopped) and mild temperatures. Decked out in our hunting orange gear we followed the lower trail for a bit being almost immediately rewarded with some delicious apples from a rogue tree and then our first mystery – a beautiful birds nest woven with lichen and twigs. Of course we know its the home of one of our feathered friends, but who built it and lived there? And where have they gone? Will they be back?
Leading the way we had a high energy group of kids and we soon found ourselves off-trail, attracted initially by a deer blind but then by the adventure of going off the beaten track. One of our little scouts left a sign on route having collected a yellow birch twig and we were let in on the secret of dental hygiene off-trail: chew the wintergreen tasting twig and you’ll never need to carry to a tooth brush into the bush.
Our next inspiration came from the thrill of climbing up a step embankment, for the kids (releasing energy was definitely a theme of our morning too) and some fascinating lichen growing on the side of trees and another kind growing rocks. Maybe you can tell what kind they are from the pictures in the gallery?
After the tiring climb it was snack time and at this point we found ourselves on trail number 12 in the Woodville network and wandered along that for a while noticing interesting bits and pieces here and there. A fun find was a giant collection of ½-¾inch long, oval shaped scat piling up on the inside of a dead, hollowed out tree. Our field guide wasn’t giving us any plausible answers but with the experience in our group it didn’t take long to get resolution to that mystery. But there are still unanswered questions? When was the toilet last used and where is its user now?
For our walk back to the trailhead we practiced the ways of some of the inhabitants who had left clues for us – we practiced our discreetness skills with a game of sink and fade – a form of hide and seek where you have to sink and fade off the trail the group is walking along within 10 seconds. With our hunters orange we really stood out like sore thumbs to begin with but as the game progressed we all became more savvy with our strategies and figured out how we can better blend in with the environment – it usually meant getting down low, quickly scurrying into divets or sidling up against a fallen log.
And the crowning adventure of our day for most of the kids, I’ll venture to say, was the lure of a swollen stream that they decided to forge to get back to the trail head rather than following the path. Back and forth they went through the water on or over fallen logs. The screech of cold water seeping into boot tops finally ended our day together as everyone hurried home for a well-deserved meal and some dry feet.
Thanks to all who came out and helped make magic on our adventure. Looking forward to next outing on Saturday December 3rd when we will focus on shelter building (see event listing).
In the meantime happy trails and mystery solving!
The Nature Guardians Program of the Halifax Chapter worked at the Common Roots Urban Farm in Halifax to make a pollinator hotel for solitary bees. Solitary bees are amazing pollinators and they do not live together like honey bees. They include Mason Bees, Leafcutter Bees, Sweat Bees, Bumble Bees and Digger Bees.
Mason and Leafcutter Bees are who we primarily designed our pollinator hotel and they need the following things for their homes:
- Access to mud
- Need protection from wind, moisture and direct summer sunlight
- Holes at least 8 inches long
- Larger sized shelter
- Shelter should face east or southeast to get early day sun
- Good nest materials are reeds or bamboo sections, holes drilled in wooden blocks, cardboard tubes, grooved boards
- Slightly overhanging roof to deflect rain
- A variety of tunnel hole sizes, ranging from 2-10mm. Leafcutter bees like smaller holes. Mason bees like 5/16 inch holes
- Woody stem materials with holes
We had help from Don and Doug of Halifax Builders Cooperative to make the hotel structure out of donated apple crates. We drilled holes in wood beams and logs cut to length and placed them in the crates. We also used bricks with holes and bamboo and japanese knotweed segments to create more tubes for bee habitat. Next time you visit the Common Roots Urban Farm go look for our pollinator hotel and learn about solitary bees!
On Victoria Day (May 23, 2016) a group of 42 keen naturalists meandered down to Meander River (near Smileys Provincial Park). We visited the Meander River Conservation Lands, a small but amazing section of floodplain forest protected by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. This was the time of year to see some of the spring wildflowers in bloom, and we got to see some rare beauties, including Nodding Trillium. This rich floodplain also hosts a high diversity of ferns, and… lichens! Lichen expert Frances Anderson did a wonderful job of explaining a bit about the basic biology of lichens, and then showing us how to examine lichens using hand lenses. Along our hike we became familar with the calls of a few birds, including the Ovenbird (TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER!), and got up really close to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker busy with its works. After learning a number of identification tips while hiking into the property, on the way young naturalists had to correctly identify 6 species they had learned in order to get a prize.
Many thanks to all the familes who joined us and helped to make this field trip great. Check out the photos from the field trip on our Photo Gallery.
The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts hosted a Community Welcome Day for new arrivals to Nova Scotia from Syria, and also the broader community. We held nature hikes and provided nature index cards with translations and images to help bridge language gaps. It was a great experience to reflect on how our natural environment is at the heart of the history, stories and experiences that help define us as Canadians. Please pass on the nature cards (attached) if you know of anyone who would find them a useful resource!
It was a very cool Sunday morning for the vertebrates among us, but for the aquatic invertebrates in the stream at McDonald Sports Park, it was actually quite warm. We went to the park with Lesely Carter, an expert in stream sampling of aquatic invertebrate at Environment and Climate Change Canada. She explained that there are things we can learn about streams from sampling benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates (bugs, and other organisms with no spine) that we can’t learn from water sampling alone. And so, we set out to sample the little stream that runs from Muddy Pond to Thomas Lake. Lesley had her hip-waders on and went into the stream. She placed her net in the river and kicked the bottom just upstream of the net. It was hard work to do it for 2 minutes!
She then pulled out the net and brought it ashore. The net had a kind of tube at the end that let out water but caught invertebrates. She emptied the contents of this tube into a tray and voila… tons of squirming bugs and things! From there, everybody got to use foreceps, sticks, hands and trays to sort the creatures into similar-looking groups. Using identifying cards and dichotomous keys Lesley brought, we found we had: mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, dobson flies, dragonflies, snails, and worms.
Whether we find certain groups of bugs, and what proportions we find them in, tells us a bit about the health of the river. We found plenty of the invertebrates that can’t handle pollution, so the river was deemed pretty healthy!
Thanks to all the tough, enthusiastic families who came out for the field trip, to Lesley, and to the Community Environmental Monitoring Network, who lent us some of the equipment we used. Here is that great invertebrate key Lesley shared with us. And check out photos from the event in our gallery!
- Feb. field trip - Snowshoeing adventure
Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
- Sledding Party and Reading the signs: Meteorology and weather patterns
Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
- Nature Guardians Winter Tracking Hike
Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
- Feb. meeting - The Truth About Black Bears and Coyotes
Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 10:30 am - 12:00 pm
- Feb. field trip 1 - Sky Tour *Feb. 3 is a go*
Friday, February 3, 2017 at 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
- Siting and building wildlife blinds and using a trail cam
Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
- Winter Wildlife Hike and Activities
Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 1:00 pm - 9:00 pm
- Jan. meeting - “One Sky, Many Stories”
Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 10:30 am - 12:00 pm
- Winter Tracking with Soren
Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
- Tracking the elusive Sasquatch
Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm