Kid-friendly, nature-themed activities to do during COVID-19

While outside, stop a moment and watch. You might see a rabbit hop by or birds searching for a snack

Kid-friendly, nature-themed activities to do during COVID-19I know how tough it is to amuse kids when times are normal, but during this COVID-19 crisis, I can appreciate that it’s much harder. I raised three wonderful children and two of them are now raising children of their own. So I thought I’d share some ideas on how to engage your kids and…

Why birds practise their mating songs in winter

In winter a young bird will practice singing as it tries to mimic its elders

As winter settles in and the cold enshrouds our northern landscape, we expect the woods to be pretty quiet, with only the rustling of windblown leaves and the occasional chirp of a chickadee or the scolding of a red squirrel. But what’s that? Is that bird singing its spring song when it’s so cold outside?…

Is the polar bear’s life becoming even more perilous?

Life's tough for polar bears: climate is extreme, ice varies, food's scattered. Yet they persist

Is the polar bear’s life becoming even more perilous?I recently had several encounters with polar bears in the Canadian Arctic at Coningham Bay on Prince of Wales Island, along the Nunavut coast. We had been advised that bears sometimes frequented this interesting area because Beluga whales often came here to moult and feed, and they are a plentiful and reliable source of food…

How animals use mimicry to survive and thrive

Mimicry is usually designed to protect prey from predators. But some also use the tactic to fool prey

How animals use mimicry to survive and thriveWhat you see may not be what you get when it comes to the natural world. Many animals use mimicry to fool predators and prey into thinking they’re something else, with insects putting on the best show in this regard. Tens of thousands of species of insects aren’t what they seem at first glance. But…

Raptors on the move are a sight to behold

Food and weather are driving migration forces. The best places to look are along coastal areas

Raptors on the move are a sight to beholdNo, this article on raptors isn’t about basketball – it’s about birds. Raptors – including hawks, eagles, falcons, harriers, owls and vultures – undertake prolonged and extensive migrations over a protracted period. What drives them? Where do they go? Let’s talk about owls first. Most owls are actually quite sedentary and only move short distances…

How to catch the fall blue jay migration spectacle

The path of jays follows major waterways: Lakes Ontario and Erie representing major pathways

How to catch the fall blue jay migration spectacleAlthough there are many references to the autumn passage of blue jays (cyanocitta cristata) through Ontario and Eastern Canada in literature, the migration isn’t well documented from a quantitative perspective. The fall passage of blue jays through Ontario has long been observed, with reports at least as early as 1906 by the famous naturalist Arthur…

Do you have smelly neighbours? (Skunks, not pot growers)

To avoid being sprayed, watch for the signs: foot stomping, hissing and tail raising

Do you have smelly neighbours? (Skunks, not pot growers)Ask almost anyone what they think of skunks and their nose will curl up and they’ll frown. I kind of like the smell. Don’t get your knickers in a knot – personal preferences are, well, personal! So why don’t we explore the life of these common, but maligned, mammals? But before we do … although…

Fungi fundamentals: the truth about mushrooms

Fungi have great names – turkey tail, pigskin poison, honey mushroom – and come in all shapes and sizes

Fungi fundamentals: the truth about mushroomsMy local nature club recently hosted a mushroom walk. No, that’s not where you take your pet mushroom for a walk. We visited some trails in central Ontario looking for different types of mushrooms, poisonous and edible. We weren’t foraging so we left the woods as we found them, although many others go to local…

Want to enjoy wildlife? Here’s how to do it safely

Don’t be afraid to enjoy nature – just do it on their terms and with their survival in mind

Want to enjoy wildlife? Here’s how to do it safelyWith COVID-19 an overriding part of our lives, many folks have begun to see and appreciate nature like never before. Whenever we encounter nature, and while our actions may seem harmless, they might be dangerous to wildlife. Wildlife can be negatively impacted by what we do and how we do it. Having studied wildlife most…

Climate questions that make me pause

I bought some hardware items the other day. The plastic wrapping outweighed the things I was buying

Climate questions that make me pauseA few columns ago I started a dialogue about climate issues and how we could, and should, react to them. I become more confused than enlightened as I strive to learn more about the issue and the proposed solutions. I have a few questions that trouble me: If we should reduce our dependence on fossil…

Is there a good side to forest fires?

Fires are a form of selective harvest

Is there a good side to forest fires?The media is abuzz with the devastating wildfires in western and central Canada and across parts of Europe. Tens of thousands of hectares and countless lives and families have been impacted. As you read on, please don’t think for a moment that I’m uncaring for those affected. But is there an upside to these fires…

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?

Insects reduce their functions so only essential processes work: respiration and waste elimination

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?I know it’s still summer but soon it will get colder and things will be radically different. Sometimes I wonder where all the bugs go in the winter. Seems a bit silly but they’re out there somewhere all winter – at least most of them. But where are they? Insects and their allies (e.g. spiders,…

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolves

The wolf came within 25 metres and stared at me as if looking through me, then trotted back into the bush, satisfied that I was neither tasty nor a threat

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolvesThe eastern grey wolf is a mysterious animal that evokes different emotions in us. How you react comes down to how much time you’ve spent with them or, more importantly, how much time you’ve taken to learn something about them. I’ve always revered them, having had several close encounters over the years. Each has left…

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humans

Only the female mosquito seeks a blood meal. She needs to penetrate the skin of warm-blooded mammals to get her meals

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humansAs a naturalist, I wonder about things – sometimes obvious things, sometimes odd things but always interesting things. Today’s thought surrounds interactions with insects, their kin and other critters that on occasion negatively interact with us. People often claim to have been bitten by an insect. “That mosquito just bit me!” But did it? Or…
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