Monday, December 27, 2021

One of the Greatest Biologists of All Time

     The Valley of the Giants is impoverished today.


Edward O. Wilson 10 June 1929 - 26 December 2021

Friday, December 24, 2021

Book Review - Turtles of the World - Princeton University Press

"“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible god and destroys a visible nature, unaware that this nature he's destroying is this god he's worshipping.”
Hubert Reeves

    The introduction to the book sets the stage with a gloomy backdrop, "More than half the world's turtles require some form of conservation action to protect them - the proportion of turtles in trouble eclipses virtually all other major invertebrate groups except primates. They survived the extinction of dinosaurs, "drifting" continents and numerous ice ages punctuated by rising sea levels. Whether they will survive humans remains to be seen."

 It's a sombre statement, isn't it? Sadly, it applies to many other organisms too. Degraded habitat for turtles is equally catastrophic for the other creatures that share their habitat.
     The anatomy and physiology of turtles renders them especially susceptible to environmental irresponsibility, and over-exploitation by humans is common in many parts of the world.

     This book is, therefore, both a wonderful guide to the turtles of the world, gloriously illustrated, yet at the same time almost certainly a requiem for some species already living on the brink of extinction.

     The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is one of the most colourful of all turtles, yet it is endangered wherever it occurs.  It is relentlessly hunted for its carapace to make trinkets and jewelry.
    What is wrong with us? Are we really willing to drive a creature to extinction for bling? The answer appears to be yes.
     In numerous jurisdictions around the world there are strong laws to protect turtles, but enforcement seldom accompanies legislation, and poaching and black market transactions occur in many areas, frequently with complicit officials who turn a blind eye to the activity and/or profit from it. 
     Many species are removed from the wild for the pet trade, with dire consequences for local populations. Furthermore, when pet owners become tired of them they are often released into local waterways, where native species are out-competed and the possibility of diseases being introduced into aquatic systems is always a threat.
     It is probably safe to conclude that there is not a person on earth who is not aware of the debased state of the oceans due to plastic pollution. Floating plastic bags are but one of the problems we have created, and they are a particular threat to Leatherback Sea Turtles who mistake them for jellyfish, the mainstay of their diet, and ingest them. There have been lots of platitudes about banning single-use plastics, but little action has resulted, and consumers seem unwilling to abandon bad habits.
     I cannot heap too much praise on this book. It brings turtles to us so vividly and in such a compelling manner, but it has been a difficult book to review. One is confronted with the calamitous probability that some of these exquisite creatures are facing imminent extinction, with little will to save them. For several species, the book will soon serve to remind us of what we once had, and squandered, and let slip away into the abyss of extinction. And we did nothing.
     How utterly, utterly sad.

Turtles of the World, A Guide to Every Family
Authors: Jeffrey E. Lovich, Whit Gibbons
Hardcover - US$29.95 - ISBN 9780691223223
240 pages - 250+ colour photographs
6 3/4 x 9 3/8 inches (16.875 x 23.44 cm)
Publication date: 7 December 2021   

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Waterloo Region Nature Winter Outing

     It has been highly therapeutic for Miriam and me, and no doubt for the participants on our outings, to have been able to undertake a whole series of nature walks as an antidote to COVID-19 and all its malevolent variants.

19 December 2021

       On a bright sunny day, a quintessentially beautiful Ontario winter's day in fact, a group of eager naturalists gathered to enjoy a fine day of birding and friendship. When we all met as a group to head to our first destination it was minus seven degrees and minus one by mid-afternoon when we broke up, with bright sun most of the time and no wind to speak of. It really doesn't get much better.

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Lisa Den Besten, Victoria Ho, Lucas Liu, Greg Michalenko, Marcel O'Gorman, Roger Suffling, Selwyn Tomkun, Kathy Waybrant

Guests: Rapunzel Clary-Lemon, Tina Den Besten, Annie Li, Mark Waybrant
Greg, Mark, Kathy, Rog, Victoria, Lisa, Tina, Selwyn, David, Jennifer, Marcel, Rapunzel, Annie, Lucas
     It was a good-sized group and it was very encouraging to see three young people out with us. Up until almost the last moment we had seven others registered for the walk; two cancelled due to Omicron concerns, two fearing poor driving conditions, and three went to help a family member who had slipped on ice and broken an ankle.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Odds and Ends

      Winter has been a strange affair so far, with snow and relatively cold temperatures one day, followed by above freezing conditions day after day thereafter, with precipitation in the form of rain. The regular species  have been active at the feeders, including a very welcome Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). 

     More often than not a male has graced us with his presence, so we were especially happy to see this female.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Book Review - Crabs - Princeton University Press


     I first got interested in crabs, I suppose, when as a very young boy I visited the seashore a couple of times, and was immediately fascinated by probing in tide pools, always being astonished at the myriad life forms I found there. On occasion the most visible, and the most active organisms, were crabs. They walked funny, had pincers and looked prehistoric!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Waterloo Region Nature Outings, Columbia Lake, Waterloo, ON

     The latest in the series of outings I have been conducting for WRN recently saw us visit Columbia Lake. As always, there was a mid week venture for people who do not have the daily grind of a job to occupy their time, and a weekend jaunt for the benighted souls who do.

 08 December 2021

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Lynn Conway, Pauline Copleston, Lisa Den Besten, Bob Fraser, Beth Hobson, Graham Macdonald, Marg Macdonald, Geoff Moore, Rog Suffling, Judy Watson, Kathy Waybrant

Lynn, Graham, Lisa, Geoff, Marg, Rog, Pauline, Bob, Beth, Judy, Kathy

      It was a crisp minus seven degrees as our hardy group of winter warriors set out to see what birds wished to join us on our snowy promenade.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Bald Eagle (Pygargue à tête blanche)


     The history of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) across North America is an odd mixture of disinterest, abuse and tragedy. Until relatively recently Bald Eagles had a bounty on their heads, and hunters received financial reward for killing them. There is a level of unfathomable irony in the United States that the Bald Eagle was adopted as its national symbol, displayed in every manner imaginable to incite sentiments of strength, power and patriotism, yet its extermination was a sanctioned goal.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

I know you're ready for more of Lily!

11 November 2021
Bechtel Park, Waterloo, ON

     My mom always confers with David and Miriam about where we should go for a walk, and I was glad that they chose Bechtel Park. That's where you can see an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) and that is very special.

     It occurs to me that I may have seen a screech owl more times than anyone my age.

     My Mom always tells me the correct name - no baby talk - and David says that he is going to make sure I learn the scientific name too!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Introduction to a local artist - Adrienne Zoe

      One of the great pleasures of leading bird walks is that I get to meet new people. It was not so long ago, on an outing to Lake Ontario, that I first had the pleasure of getting to know Adrienne Zoe, an accomplished local photographer.

     Adrienne is passionate about her art, much of it involves nature, although she is always eager to explore other subjects and experiment with new techniques, to enhance her work and her enjoyment of it.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.