This spring while we are all in self isolation it’s important to remember that exposure to nature can be a great way to reduce your stress levels. That’s why on March 28th Steward’s Notes will be holding Peterborough’s first ever self-isolation backyard bioblitz! Be a citizen scientist, make the world a better place, and feel good while you do it. With the spring migration in full swing and plants emerging from the winter, now has never been a better time to be a naturalist!
On March 28th make sure you have iNaturalist installed on your smartphone or tablet and go out into your backyard, watch from your window or look under your couch for as many different species of animals and plants as you can find. (It is also possible to submit sightings using your computer) With spring in full swing, there should be plenty of opportunity to see birds, plants and insects of all types! You can learn to use iNaturalist here. I’d recommend submitting a few sightings of wildlife before the big day!
We will be offering a prizes for the most observations, so be sure to submit your sightings early and often over the course of the day. Also, share your photos on social media using #ptboBYBB (Peterborough Backyard BioBlitz) We’ll also award a prize for the best photo posted online!
You can sign up for the project at the above link. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email using the contact form and I will get back to you ASAP. Alternatively, you can communicate using the iNaturalist project page.
Around Ontario and the globe many people will soon likely be confined to their living quarters for many days or weeks. Even at home, there are still plenty of opportunities to help make the world a better place. Citizen science has revolutionized the way we do conservation and restoration work around the globe, and you can contribute to the movement from the comfort (Or quarantine) of your home! It can be fun for kids too! With the spring arriving fast (along with all the migrating creatures!), there’s never been a better time to learn to be a citizen scientist.
Citizen Science:“The collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project” – Oxford Dictionary
There is no need for you to be an expert on any particular topic, you just need to be willing to learn. There are a multitude of resources out there to help you on your citizen science journey, and hopefully this article can be your starting point.
For kids and students who are burgeoning environmental scientists may I suggest you create a worksheet or workbook that records the date and time you spot the plant or animal, the weather, who spotted it, where you spotted it and any other special notes. Notes might include that the animal was building a nest, or that the plant was the first to emerge, anything that might be special about your sighting. If you have a printer at home download and print the attached worksheet to track your sightings! If you want to use one of the below citizen science programs, may I suggest starting with Journey North. It is an easy and intuitive website to use for beginners.
Journey north is a citizen science tool for tracking the migration and emergence of creatures and plants in North America. It is incredibly easy to participate and you might already have the skills to take part! On the projects page they are tracking the migration of American Robins, Monarch Butterflies, Earthworms, and frogs to name a few. If you are a beginning citizen science this is a great place to start! This website is probably a great way to get the kids involved in tracking different species. With the spring on its way, this is an excellent project to get involved with.
eBird is one of the world’s largest citizen science communities. Using their smartphone application or their website, you can submit all of your bird sightings. These sightings can be used to track bird migrations declines or increases in species numbers as well as the availability of food. To participate from home all you need to do is look out your window and try to identify as many birds as you can! If you need help learning to identify birds Merlin Bird ID is a great and intuitive tool to learn how. I personally started using ebird nearly 5 years ago and I found it was a great way to learn how to identify birds while contribution to the knowledge of our local bird populations. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn how many different bird species you can already identify!
iNaturalist is another excellent tool for participating in citizen science. This global community is dedicated to the identification of all living things big and small. The sightings submitted by naturalists have been used for things like planning large conservation projects or making better decisions around municipal planning. Many bioblitzes are organized using this website. Any skill level is encouraged to participate, and sightings are often verified by an expert. If you have difficulty identifying creatures, you can use the accompanying app Seek by iNaturalist. With projects like “Never Home Alone: The Wild Life of Homes” you don’t even need to go outside!
If invasive species get you excited, then look no further than EDDMaps! EDDMaps tracks the distribution of invasive plants, animals, diseases, and insects. This information can be used to plan response efforts for controlling or eradicating invasive species. They provide a multitude of resources on their website for identifying invasives in your neighborhood or back yard. There are over 3,100 species they are tracking so there are sure to be some in your area! When you’re done identifying invasives in your neighborhood or back yard you can plan a stewardship project to remove them and replace with native plants!
Recently the city of Peterborough released their draft
official plan for public comment. The official plan will guide the development
of the city for the next several years and council cycles and provide some
certainty to members of the public about how the city will develop over the
next couple decades. The official plan is divided up into several sections, the
one that I am personally most interested in is the Natural Heritage System. The
natural heritage system is made up of all of the natural areas in our city, and
the connecting features between them. This section includes a map of all
identified features in our city, as well as a section of policy that will
determine how these areas are regulated and managed. Over the past several
years several people including myself have taken part in stakeholder meetings
that will help determine the contents of the official plan before it is
presented to council to vote on. With the release of the official plan, I have
a couple comments and suggestions for the policy portion of the official plan.
In the draft plan. Natural areas designations are divided into “levels” to signify their importance and degree of protection. Under this system unevaluated wetlands are not defined under any level of protection. I would encourage the city to evaluate all wetlands within the city limits and re-evaluate wetlands within the city limits to further understand their boundaries and functions. Currently, although Harper Creek wetlands are designated as provincially significant there has been no effort to evaluate or update the wetland boundary. As a result several developments have had significant negative impact on the wetland function including flooding nearby neighbors.
The draft plan makes mention of the requirement to conduct environmental impact studies on new developments. I would encourage the city to lay out the exact requirements for an EIS as several other municipalities in Ontario do. In addition, the plan should encourage or development proponents to consult with municipal staff or our new environmental advisory committee. The environmental advisory committee will be an excellent resource for our city, so we should put them to work! This is a common practice and one need only look as far as the region of Durham to find an example.
Finally I would encourage the city to experiment with new ways in which citizens might become involved in the identification, protection and monitoring of natural heritage functions within our city. The city of Peterborough is home to one of the greatest concentrations of environmental knowledge in Ontario, and it would be a disappointment to not put that resource to use. Formally recognizing the role that citizen science and stewardship plays in protecting and enhancing our natural areas!
The draft plan is a great first step, let’s make this plan something we can all be proud of!
Next time you’re in downtown Peterborough, look up and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of Canada’s endangered species. The chimney swift is a bird that lives entirely on the wing, only landing to rest in its roost, often a chimney. Before European settlement, chimney swifts made their homes in large hollow trees that were common before the landscape was cleared for agriculture. Chimneys made a suitable replacement for their roosts, hence their name. Here in Peterborough, we have even erected a chimney swift “tower” in Beavermead Park to provide them with some additional habitat.
Often confused for a swallow, chimney swifts can be identified by their high pitched chirping as they erratically pursue insects above the downtown. They will generally forage within 1/2 km of their roost but sometimes as much as 6 km.
This year, several field naturalists including myself have identified chimney swifts in areas far beyond their typical range in Peterborough’s downtown, so I have started collecting sightings of chimney swifts around Peterborough. Send me your sightings on twitter @StewardsNotes or using the contact form. I’ll be sure to add your sighting promptly! (Special shout out to Alexandra Anderson for all the great sightings!)
If you’re interested in monitoring chimney swifts in greater detail join Bird Studies Canada on their Swift Watch I assure you it is a relaxing way to spend several evenings!
If you don’t know about ebird you should! It is one of the most widespread global citizen science projects in existence that helps track the migration an population of birds worldwide. To participate simply create an account on the website or app and go out to a nearby hotspot to start birding. Every species you are able to identify helps increase our collective knowledge of bird movements worldwide. Plus it is a great way to brush up your own birding skills. Peterborough and area has one of the most active Ebird communities I am aware of. We have as many active participants as the entire city of Toronto! Even still there are some gaps in the map that should be filled in. With the summer birding season upon us, let me make a few suggestions about how your next bird list could have an outsized impact.
As a follow up to the impromptu citizen science project that took place in November and December, I’ve created a map for everyone’s enjoyment and so you can all see the results! It was a lot of fun taking in everyone’s input and creating something together. This mini project has given me some ideas for fun projects in the future, but for now, enjoy this map and let me know what you think!
With all of the snow we have received in the last several weeks there is now a plethora of options in the Peterborough Area when it comes to cross country skiing. If you’re looking for more of a back-country experience, look no further than Harper Park. On February 11th we cut a trail through the park and conditions are ripe for an excellent skiing adventure! To access the park you can leave your vehicle on the side of the road and ski in on the trail marked on this map! Be sure to share your adventure on the Harper Park facebook page or @harperparkptbo on twitter.
This year nearly 80 members of the Peterborough naturalist community coordinated our 66th annual Christmas bird count. The count happened in December, but I’m only now writing about it since I have caught up from the holidays.
There have been lots of recaps and personal accounts in the newspaper and people’s blogs, but I thought there would be no harm in adding my story to the stack.
After finally meeting up with our group we made our way down to the area surrounding the Peterborough airport. It was a slow start to the morning, only making out some starlings and chickadees on the horizon. It was to be expected, the temperature was below 30 degrees. We made our way down the the Otonabee river and teased some red-bellied woodpeckers out of the silver maple swamp. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever seen on the Otonabee, steam coming off the river and the sun sparkling in the ice that had formed on the tree branches. (more…)