Month: April 2016

What a difference the time of day makes!

Last week I traveled up to Cobble Hill to help put up bird boxes at my work’s bird and wildlife sanctuary. The bird boxes are the final part of our wetland restoration project, we initially started by creating a pond on the outskirts of the wetland, clearing out the overgrowth, and last summer we developed even more ponds further into the site. This means that it is now a mixture of open water, reedbed and vegetation. The aim of the project is to increase the biodiversity on the site, and to help the species that call the area home.

The property is about an hour from Victoria, and I often see a large variety of species during my regular visits. However this was the first time I had been on the site in the evening, and it certainly had an impact on the wildlife I encountered. I met with our wonderful volunteers and our first stop was to the barns to see if our Barn Owls had returned from migration, Barn Owls are a listed species here in British Columbia, so to have them is something of a rarity. As with all species, migration is a dangerous process, so it is not always a guarantee that they will return; after nervously creeping into the barn we saw a glimpse of the back-end of a Barn Owl as it shot out of the side entrance. The owls we have on the property are certainly not used to people, but the glimpse is all we needed, one of the adults has returned and fingers crossed its mate returns too (it often comes a week or two later). We will be putting up a box in the barn for them and hopefully we will get some owlets!


After that little excursion we walked to the wetland to put up some swallow boxes on posts in the wetland. After balancing on logs we waded out to the posts to put up the boxes. One huge change between the wetland during the day and in the evening is the amphibians, frogs could be heard calling around us, and we saw our first Red Legged Frog, another listed species and one we had hoped to attract with our restoration! This exciting spot was only magnified by the sighting of a Muskrat using our new ponds. This was a first for me, we had proof they were probably using the site, seeing droppings and trails, but we had not actually seen them. This one was swimming very fast through the pond before disappearing into the vegetation. Our resident Marsh Wrens were hopping through the reeds, adding to the cacophony of sound, which already featured frogs, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer and Canada Geese.


As the sun went down we finished putting up the boxes and started to suss out locations for our new camera traps, we found some interesting looking trails, possible Deer, but maybe something bigger (Bear or Cougar), I shall be putting out the cameras very soon to see. Before leaving we caught another glimpse of the Barn Owl, and found a large Eagle nest in one of our tall Fir trees! Before heading home we had one final first for me on the property, a Barred Owl hooting (‘who cooks for youuu’ is the best way to describe the Barred Owl call) away somewhere in the forest. I managed to get some pictures of the bird boxes, but of course, I left my larger lens at home accidentally and missed most of the wildlife we saw. Having done surveying and research at various times of day I know the difference this has on wildlife, but this trip certainly showed the shift in species in just a few hours. My next trip up to the site will be all about camera traps, which is something new for me so I am very very excited!

New Video! Incredible Amazon Discovery

Scientists last week announced they have discovered a 3,600 sq mile coral reef underneath the muddy waters of the Amazon basin off the coast of South America. This extraordinary find is so unusual as normally large rivers flush nutrients into marine waters and change salinity, chemistry, and light penetration, which blocks the formation of reefs and in this area it had been presumed that given the Amazon is one of the muddiest rivers in the world, that sediment would coat the floor and nothing could survive. However this reef is surviving deep below the outflow of the river, whilst the area is not as diverse as a tropical reef, scientists have so far found over 60 species of sponges, 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, stars and other reef life. This discovery is certainly exciting, and shows that despite living in an informed and explored world nature can still surprise us!

Embrace Boaty McBoatface, environmental science needs the publicity.

The naming of the Natural Environment Research Council’s new £200 million boat was opened to the British public and the winning name with 124,000 votes is Boaty McBoatface. However, despite the vote, there are some strong suggestions that the public will be overruled and the boat will be given an entirely new name. Whilst I understand that a more serious and science based name would be appropriate, I feel that getting rid of the name chosen by the public is the wrong decision. Whilst this is a bit of a joke, we should embrace the name and build upon the publicity it is getting. Environmental sciences are often underfunded, and stories from the field can be bleak and overlooked. However, since Boaty McBoatface the Natural Environment Research Council has seen their Twitter following increase dramatically, and traffic on their website has been so high, it has crashed a few times. Media coverage has spread across the world, including here in Canada.

Surely the point of the ‘name the boat’ campaign was to create some public attention and to connect people with the boat itself. By throwing out the name and choosing another they risk a backlash, and most importantly a loss of interest. If through this campaign one person has learnt one thing about environmental science, then it surely was a success. Why not through the vast attention it is getting, use this publicity and the #BoatyMcBoatface to highlight the scientists that will be on board the ship and their work. To me, this seems like an opportunity many science based organisations would dream of, if you look on social media, there are thousands of people who are genuinely excited and interested in the ship. The name is not only catchy, memorable and let’s face it, funny, it is also a chance to connect with the wider public and younger generations; if they play their cards right the Natural Environment Research Council could inspire and build an interest in the field that spreads beyond Boaty McBoatface.

It seems a shame to waste the chance of highlighting environmental sciences, and after all it is just a name, it has no implications on the research conducted on board. In a few years time if the public attention dies down, then it can be changed, there really is no harm in trying out the chosen name. I really hope that the Natural Environment Research Council takes this unique opportunity and embraces Boaty McBoatface.


Magical meadows

This week during some presentation preparation I stumbled across some amazing mini-meadows. Beacon Hill Park is the main park in central Victoria, it has a lot of wildlife and wildlife areas, but is more of a public park rather than a designated nature reserve. However after doing a little bit of exploring I found some Garry oak meadows, which happen to be blooming this time of year. Garry oak is the only native oak in western Canada, and the habitat associated with it is rare, with southern Vancouver Island being a stronghold. The ecosystem is significant in this part of British Columbia, it supports 104 native bird species, 7 amphibians, 7 reptiles and 33 mammals. With eight hundred insect and mite species relying directly on the Garry oak trees.

This time of year the Garry oak meadows are bursting with life, the area I explored was filled with mostly camas lillies (blue/purple flowers) and what I believe are western buttercup. There are huge variety of insects and I was pleased to see so many bees in the area!


I tried to record some of the meadow and made a little video highlighting this beautiful ecosystem!

Return of 30 Days Wild | 15 ways to be wild everyday

So it was announced today that the brilliant Wildlife Trusts will be bringing back their 30 days wild campaign in June. The challenge is to do something wild everyday for the whole month. Now this may sound tough, but in reality doing something wild can be as simple as you want. The wonderful thing about this campaign and generally about getting more involved in wildlife is that nothing is too simple or too small. If you want to spend June hiking Britain’s highest peaks or travelling the country searching for our rarest wildlife then fantastic, but equally, if you want to sit outside with a cuppa and a biscuit (or something stronger) watching the birds in your garden that is also wonderful.

Getting some daily nature is shown to have a huge positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Wildlife watching can also be slightly addictive so be warned, you may be hooked for life!

There are 2 months (almost) until the campaign starts, so you have lots of time to think of ideas! But if you are scratching your head,  here are 15 simple ideas for June, and next month I will put up 15 more.

  1. Identify a butterfly.
  2. Listen to the birds singing.
  3. Find 3 different plants on your walk to work/school.
  4. Watch the birds in your garden/area.
  5. Smell a flower.
  6. Touch a tree.
  7. Read a nature book.
  8. Visit a local nature reserve.
  9. Sit outside in the evening and look for bats.
  10. See the sunset.
  11. Let your grass grow for the month.
  12. Make a hedgehog hole in your fence.
  13. Dip your feet in the sea or lake or reservoir or river.
  14. Feed the birds.
  15. Look for amphibians at a local pond.

Don’t forget to
sign up for 30 days Wild here: (1)

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