By: Corina Brdar, Southeast Zone Ecologist, Ontario Parks
There is some cutting edge research on preemie health and survival taking place in Ontario Parks. The “preemie” babies in question are Blanding’s turtles –a species at risk in Ontario. Each year the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC) in Peterborough takes in injured (or sadly, dead) female Blanding’s turtles and rescues their eggs. Injured turtles treated at this unique animal hospital are “induced” to release their eggs using oxytocin, just like an expectant mom would be. The eggs are hatched at the centre and raised until they are 2 years old.
Get out your binoculars, cameras, smart phones and pack a baggie full of bread, cheese and raisins. The fascinating world of the winter Canada Jay breeding season is underway at Algonquin Park. And if you’re lucky (as most Canada Jan fans are), these delightfully social birds will feed right off your hand.
“Canada Jays are a fascinating bird,” says retired Algonquin Park naturalist Dan Strickland. “They are very confiding and quickly learn that people can be a source of food and so they come to people, rather than the other way around. They are often tame and will land on your hands.”
The century-old skins, skulls and specimens inside the Collections Room at Algonquin Park live like little hermits in the basement of the Visitor Centre, stunningly preserved and rarely seen by anyone except park naturalists and visiting scientists.
Yet every now and again, the doors swing open and the public is invited to visit this treasure trove of natural history dating back 50 to 100 years.
Scientists are combing the backcountry of Ontario this winter scooping up samples of wolf and caribou scat, hoping the DNA-rich pellets will provide precious clues into the lives of these endangered species.
The collection is part of ongoing efforts to capture the important data far less invasively than by trapping or collaring the animals. Every winter for the past few years, scientists have flown by helicopter over parts of the province and landed where they have spotted certain tracks. They then follow the tracks on foot and bag the scat along the way. That way they can capture the samples they need without ever having to frighten or interact with the animals in any way.
Christmas bird counts have been a tradition that has been taking place for the past 114 years. In 1900, A single man set out to count the number of different bird species and now these counts take place in over 2000 localities in Canada, US, Latin America and the Caribbean. Bird Studies Canada now coordinates with all the local organizers to help make these counts possible. This year, all counts must take place between December 14 and January 5. Birds are counted in a 24km diameter circle; the same area is then used every year.
Growing up, I spent quite a bit of my time wandering through the woods, and exploring – looking at flowers, flipping logs, catching insects and watching them in a clear bucket – the type of thing many children do. As I worked my way through university, I realized that there was more to nature than being a naturalist and as I begun to be exposed to wildlife biology I realized that this was the path I wanted to follow. When I headed off to graduate school, and was offered the opportunity to take the lead on a project involving reptile and amphibian conservation in Presqu’ile Provincial Park, in addition to my mammal work, I was thrilled. For someone as interested in conserving the biodiversity that I grew up loving, reptiles and amphibians couldn’t have been a better fit – they are after all, two of the most imperiled groups of animals on the entire planet! Reptiles and amphibians are two of the most diverse classes of animals in the world. Sadly however, they are also experiencing among the fastest extinction rates on the planet.
Government agencies of both Ontario and Quebec, as well as hydropower producers, Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Algonquin’s of Ontario, and other stakeholders are working together to restore the American eel (Anguilla rostrate) within its historic range in Ontario waters. Earlier this summer, over 400 juvenile eels (yellow eel) were collected from the eel-ladder at Hydro-Quebec’s Beauharnois Generating Station in Quebec and released in the Ottawa River at Voyageur Provincial Park. This marked the first assisted passage of American eel into the Ottawa River, and the beginning of a long journey to help restore populations of eel in the Ottawa River Watershed.
Facilitating scientific research is one of the four objectives of Ontario’s Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. This advances our learning about protected areas and enhances Ontario Parks’ ability to maintain ecological integrity. Much of this research is conducted by universities and graduate students. In the last two years Ontario Parks has received over 300 applications to conduct research in parks.
A PhD biology student from Queen’s University has made an important discovery that could inspire the manufacturing industry worldwide to better understand the long-term environmental damage to lakes and other bodies of water, caused by emissions that cause acid rain. The impacts of acid rain were first noticed early on at one of Ontario’s most famous provincial parks – Killarney.
The next time you take your kids or grandkids for a trek through your favourite Ontario provincial park, stay on the lookout for salamanders. Some of these wondrous little amphibians are on the endangered species list so if you see one skulking through your park, snap a selfie and send it to Ontario Nature, or download a free app at ontarionature.org/atlas. Your scientific discovery could help scientists understand more about why these fascinating creatures are disappearing.
According to a study done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians such as salamanders, frogs and toads are experiencing one of the biggest declines globally. In fact, 41 percent of amphibians worldwide are endangered or threatened, including here in Ontario.
Imagine having the power to help endangered species become not so endangered. Actually, you do! Right here in Ontario! All you have to do is grab your binoculars, smart phone or digital camera and become a Citizen Scientist.
Citizen Science is taking off around the world as a way for everyday people to become directly involved in helping to record nature and preserve endangered species. No scientific degree required, just a healthy dose of curiosity and concern for the environment and a way to share your information.