A field trip report by YNC volunteer (Halifax chatper) Mirabai Alexander
Wonderfully windy day at the ‘Backlands,’ a Jack Pine Barren behind new residential development near Mica Crescent Rd. Huckleberry leaves blushed a light shade of red, tousled by the 65 km gale. The afternoon was punctuated with periods of light rain, but no complaining young naturalists were deterred, instead distracted by the sweet pieces of the winter green plant we found along the trail. Hiking through small wetland areas we considered how these areas may act as a seed refugia, or protect against fire. As we moved towards Williams Lake, several dwarf spruce, and grey birch dotted the path, while rolling rocky slopes made excellent slides, and widely spaced planks of stream crossings meant for mountain bikers required extra caution for small rubber boots! Forming a circle against the wind we listened to our guest lichen expert (Frances Anderson) show how lichens clustered more densely on rock faces exposed to wind, getting caught in the tiny crevices. Moss expert (Anne Mills) taught how moss succession can change in a slow hot forest fire, and a fast forest fire. Our leader Karen pointed out a rare S2 species, Mountain Sandwort, which is also found along the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario. Only a single black-capped chickadee announced himself on our hike back; though I had my eyes to the sky in hopes for a Common Nighthawk, which had been reported in the area before. Common Nighthawks may breed in the barrens; their nest a mere scrape with two eggs.
On Victoria Day (May 23, 2016) a group of 42 keen naturalists meandered down to Meander River (near Smileys Provincial Park). We visited the Meander River Conservation Lands, a small but amazing section of floodplain forest protected by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. This was the time of year to see some of the spring wildflowers in bloom, and we got to see some rare beauties, including Nodding Trillium. This rich floodplain also hosts a high diversity of ferns, and… lichens! Lichen expert Frances Anderson did a wonderful job of explaining a bit about the basic biology of lichens, and then showing us how to examine lichens using hand lenses. Along our hike we became familar with the calls of a few birds, including the Ovenbird (TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER!), and got up really close to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker busy with its works. After learning a number of identification tips while hiking into the property, on the way young naturalists had to correctly identify 6 species they had learned in order to get a prize.
Many thanks to all the familes who joined us and helped to make this field trip great. Check out the photos from the field trip on our Photo Gallery.
It was a very cool Sunday morning for the vertebrates among us, but for the aquatic invertebrates in the stream at McDonald Sports Park, it was actually quite warm. We went to the park with Lesely Carter, an expert in stream sampling of aquatic invertebrate at Environment and Climate Change Canada. She explained that there are things we can learn about streams from sampling benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates (bugs, and other organisms with no spine) that we can’t learn from water sampling alone. And so, we set out to sample the little stream that runs from Muddy Pond to Thomas Lake. Lesley had her hip-waders on and went into the stream. She placed her net in the river and kicked the bottom just upstream of the net. It was hard work to do it for 2 minutes!
She then pulled out the net and brought it ashore. The net had a kind of tube at the end that let out water but caught invertebrates. She emptied the contents of this tube into a tray and voila… tons of squirming bugs and things! From there, everybody got to use foreceps, sticks, hands and trays to sort the creatures into similar-looking groups. Using identifying cards and dichotomous keys Lesley brought, we found we had: mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, dobson flies, dragonflies, snails, and worms.
Whether we find certain groups of bugs, and what proportions we find them in, tells us a bit about the health of the river. We found plenty of the invertebrates that can’t handle pollution, so the river was deemed pretty healthy!
Thanks to all the tough, enthusiastic families who came out for the field trip, to Lesley, and to the Community Environmental Monitoring Network, who lent us some of the equipment we used. Here is that great invertebrate key Lesley shared with us. And check out photos from the event in our gallery!