Pick your backcountry adventure

Choosing a park that offers the opportunities you are searching for can be the hardest part of the planning process.

Do you want to canoe or hike? Maybe a little of both? Are you looking to go out for two nights or two weeks? Do you want a challenging terrain or do you prefer a flat trail? Are you able to carry your canoe or kayak for 1400 m or do you prefer shorter portages?  The list of questions goes on.

We thought we would do some of the research for you.  Here are six different provincial parks that have great backcountry opportunities for beginners to advanced campers.

Continue reading Pick your backcountry adventure

Enjoy the Lakes in Ontario Parks!

Be BOATsmart!® This Summer!

Another open-water season has arrived (well, almost!) and we hope you’re as excited as we are to get back out on the water! The sun is shining, the ice is officially on its way out, and Ontario Parks are starting to open up for the 2015 visiting season!

Continue reading Enjoy the Lakes in Ontario Parks!

Your first interior trip

These expert tips will help you stay safe and have fun

All of us need a little solitude now and then. So why not consider heading to the backcountry this summer for a little communing with nature extraordinaire. You might just emerge a changed person, never to camp with the madding crowds again.

No matter how long your trip, by trying something new and embracing your inner explorer, you too can join the legions of long distance backpackers, canoeists and backcountry campers who venture into the backcountry every year.

Continue reading Your first interior trip

Why parks matter

David Bree (Senior Natural Heritage Leader, Presqu’ile Provincial Park)

Why do Parks Matter?  Unfortunately that is becoming an increasingly pertinent question in an age where screen time outweighs nature time on a regular basis.

Working in a park, I can answer that question in a number of ways.  The most obvious perhaps is that parks provide protection for a great many habitats, which in turn provide space and resources for the animals and plants of the province to function in a normal fashion.  This is in essence the definition of biodiversity, a whole bunch of things living and interconnecting in a complex web.  This is a bit of a catch word these days, but maintaining a high biodiversity in our world has been shown to make for a more robust and healthy environment. And a healthy environment is integral to our survival – it supplies our air, our water and our food, just to name the most obvious and crucial elements of life.  While to me this is a compelling and obvious argument, it has become sterile to many ears that have been bombarded by warnings of environmental doom and gloom all their lives.  After a while people just don’t hear.

Continue reading Why parks matter

Soundscapes from across Ontario

One of my favourite signs is from a lookout over the Grand Canyon.  It simply says,

ONE MINUTE.
DON’T READ.
DON’T TALK.
NO PHOTOS.
JUST LOOK…..AND SEE.

It is something that I hope you will do often when you visit our parks or other natural areas in Ontario.  But how about this variation?

TWO MINUTES.
PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE.
DON’T READ.
DON’T TALK.
SIT QUIETLY…AND LISTEN.

And you can do that right now.

Below are some one to two minute recordings of birds and amphibians. Several organizations contributed recordings from across the province.

On these recordings you will hear a multitude of bird, amphibian, and perhaps some insect species. You will even hear wolves in the recording from Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park!

So put on some headphones, sit quietly, and simply listen to these natural soundscapes.

You may need to increase the volume on your computer or device to hear them properly. Just don’t start at full volume! Download them to your computer or other device if you wish.

How do I survey birds and amphibians?

I Listen.

A trained person can identify bird or amphibian species from their distinctive calls. When I was an intern, I first trained by accompanying a more experienced birder. Now I listen to recordings of bird songs and amphibians calls. It is a skill one needs to practice to maintain.

There are great training apps for computers, tablets and smart phones.  There are also websites, such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library.

Surveying for birds can be passive or active. In passive surveying, I listen for a five or 10 minute period and record all the species I hear.

However, some species rarely call. For these species I use a portable sound system to broadcast their calls, and wait for a response. Broadcasting calls is a form of harassment, so I do it only a few times at any one site.

We strongly discourage park visitors from broadcasting calls, unless it is a research activity that we have reviewed and approved.

White-crowned sparrow and gray catbird.

Why do I survey birds and amphibians?

Sometimes I just want to know what species occur in our various parks.

Sometimes I am looking for specific birds or amphibians, such as a species at risk.

Which ones are common? Which species are rare?  What kind of habitat do they need?

Over time I could discover population trends that alarm me, comfort me, or even excite me. And sometimes I survey birds for environmental assessments, so that I understand which species may be affected by a new development or restoration project.

Why do birds and amphibians “sing”?

A pair of birds may call to each other as part of courtship behaviour. Birds may call to communicate with other members of their family or flock. However, most of the time it is the males that sing. For them it is all about defending territory and trying to impress a mate.  They are basically saying “This is my land. Keep out!” and “Hey ladies….check out MY colours!”

In songbirds, the song is learned from parents at an early age. For the researcher, young males practicing their ‘voice’ can be misleading. Within some bird species the variation in songs can be interesting, or even frustrating. For example, the American Redstart has several song variations.

American Redstart.

What’s that green box strapped to the tree?

A few years ago I invested in a few automated recording devices. These can be programmed to record at certain times of day, for almost any length of time.  At a minimum it is a 10-minute recording half an hour after sunrise, and a 5-minute recording half an hour after sunset.

These devices increase my ability to survey birds and amphibians. Essentially, they allow me to be in more than one place at the same time.

They may also record things I otherwise would not hear.  Why? Some species know when I am present, and may remain silent or avoid me. But they behave normally if only the device is present, and are more likely to be recorded.

Ivanhoe Lake, setting up a recording device.

I take the device back to the office, download the recordings, listen to them, and record what I hear.  I can listen to the recording as many times as needed. I am much less likely to miss or misidentify a bird than an on-site survey. And if still unsure, I can extract the confusing call and send it to an expert.

Can’t the computer identify the species for you?

Yes, but…

Current computer software may be used to search for calls of specific species, but I would have to train the software to recognize them.

I am interested in recording the entire bird and calling amphibian community, so I have not explored this software capability. Manually interpreting the recordings also ensures that I maintain or improve my ability to identify all species when I am working in a park.

I do use software to help me interpret what I hear, however. The software can help me isolate particular sounds from background noise, or sometimes the sounds of other species. It also produces a graphical representation of the bird’s or amphibian’s song: a sonogram. Different species produce distinctive patterns.

Sit quietly…and listen!

Chestnut-sided Warbler.

After hours of intense listening, interpreting, and tabulating data, I realized I had been mentally dissecting the recording but not really listening.  I “rewound” the recording and just enjoyed it without concerning myself with what species were calling.

So take a few quiet moments, sit back, and listen to these recordings.  You may find yourself transported to another place and time.

Ed Morris
Ecologist, Northeast Zone

Additional recordings supplied by:

  • Evan McCaul, Ontario Parks, Northwest Zone
  • Janet Jackson, Natasha Formsma, Dean Phoenix of MNRF Science & Research Branch (Thunder Bay, South Porcupine)
  • Dr. Lauren Fitzsimmons
  • Dr. Doug Tozer, Bird Studies Canada