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Mar 3

Can we help? Assisted migration in an age of global warming

As the planet warms, species are on the move. The phenomenon has been observed in oceans, with fish populations shifting to the poles, and on land, with creatures moving to higher elevations in search of cool. Many species are struggling for survival in shrinking habitats.

And here in Ontario, higher temperatures are taking a toll of an iconic northern bird. The Gray Jay – the friendly Whiskey Jack of the boreal forest – has undergone a 50 per cent population drop in Algonquin Park over the past 25 years. The decline has been linked to spoilage of its perishable winter food caches, once kept reliably refrigerated by cold winters. Areas that in the past supported the Gray Jay are now abandoned.

The plight of some species – the American pika, the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly, the California newt – is so critical that the question being posed is whether they need assisted migration, which means being moved by us to locations where we deem the climate to be suitable for them, now and 50 to 100 years from now.
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Feb 1

Dreaming of ponds... and wetlands

‘Tis the season to daydream… of garden ponds and other summer projects. Although I already have a small pond, I’m planning to dig another one – and there have been some lessons learned since my first venture in 2004.

First lesson: no fish. As my interest is in supporting wildlife – particularly frogs – stocking the pond with goldfish was a mistake. The fish eat the frogs’ eggs. The prevailing wisdom is that you need fish to keep mosquitoes under control. That’s not true, despite dire warnings to the contrary. You need to make your pond attractive to other predators interested in mosquito eggs and larvae, like dragonflies and damselflies (whose larvae are also eaten by fish) and, of course, frogs.

A dragon/damselfly pond should be in sun for at least six hours a day and should have varying depths of water, for submerged plants that will provide habitat for the nymphs (pre-dragonflies) and for emergent plants that the nymphs can climb out on and the dragonflies can perch on. Read more
Jan 20

Time to start perennial seeds

The snow’s streaming horizontally past the window and the spruces are being whipped from side to side. I braved the elements earlier to put out some seed, and now under the pale wintry sun a host of jostling redpolls is working hard at depleting the store.

They disappeared during last week’s warm spell – they prefer what they can glean when the earth is bare – but in a white landscape, they return. A solitary junco joins them. A blue jay swoops in, grabs a seed, and goes off to consume it, deep in the middle of a shrub thicket.  

I watch them, seated at my desk, a few feet from a blazing woodstove. The sight of a neat stack of wood outside, protected from the blizzard by a tarp, is almost as warming as the stove. I’m working on my seed order.

That’s good, my husband says. “It means that summer’s coming.”

Yes, in the midst of winter we can dream of drifts of Lupin and waving fronds of Indian Grass.
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