On a mild(er) day during the holidays, nine winter hearty Young Naturalist Club (YNC) members helped contribute to an important continent-wide citizen science project, counting birds for the long-standing, annual, continent-wide Christmas Bird Count. Our group was coached by George Forsythe, retired teacher, avid birder and member of the Blomidon Naturalists Society (BNS) – http://blomidonnaturalists.ca/. We want to thank the BNS for helping make this event possible and for their own 30+ year dedication to various bird counts – they organise annual migration counts, raptor counts, nest counts and swift counts, to name just some of the counting they do.
The Christmas Bird Count, started in 1900, is North America’s longest-running Citizen Science project and arguably the most wide-spread, with counts taking place in over 2000 locations throughout the continent. According to Bird Studies Canada (http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/ ), “results are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds.” This year the YNC put Berwick on the map.
It was a good morning to be out – not so frigidly cold as it had been the days before and after and very little wind. We met at the Berwick Legion on Main Street and received a backgrounder from George on the Bird Count and its importance for tracking the state of bird populations over more than a century. We were excited to be able to play our part in this critical work. George also gave us an essential tutorial on how to use binoculars and several of us not-so-young naturalists learned about our dominant eye and how to account for it in setting the field glasses.
We then ventured outside where we practised some pssshing and were soon rewarded with our first sighting: a few Chick-a-dees. The first 10 minutes in the parking lot, despite a few Chick-a-dees and some chips in the bushes, seemed to be rather quiet (and boring for some) but we all learned that good things come to those who wait…. soon we had spotted a number of Song Sparrows, more Chick-a-dees, a few American Goldfinches and heard a Cardinal. A good start for a group with limited to no birding experience. No doubt George’s keen eyes, ears and years of experience helped us hone in on many of the birds.
We walked from the Legion east along Main Street to the sewage ponds where we had permission to walk around. On route, we saw a number of Crows, Mourning Doves and Blue Jays and a single Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker as well as a White-breasted Nuthatch. At the ponds, we spotted Mallard and Black Ducks, several Rock Doves (pigeons), saw more Song Sparrows and watched in anticipation as a Bald Eagle and two Crows flew past. Watching that scene, which ended with the eagle flying off with something the Crows had had (a chicken foot perhaps), we heard a Pheasant in the bushes but were unable to spot it.
As we turned to leave we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk pestering some Pigeons. On the way back we saw most of the same birds and ended our outing with a tally of all we had seen back at the Legion hall. In all we saw 21 different species and counted 95 individual birds. As first-timers, we all felt really good about the diversity we had encountered and the things we learned along the way. And then we enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies!! I’m already looking forward to next year and establishing an annual counting tradition amongst the young naturalists and their families in Berwick.
Well the results are finally in! We have our 2017 Youth Nature Writing and Art Contest winners. Thank you to all the youth who entered the contest, once again the judges had a hard time choosing just a few to acknowledge. We are always thrilled to see the knowledge and skill Nova Scotia’s young Naturalists show during this contest. Keep an eye out for shows in New Glasgow, Berwick and Halifax in the new year that will showcase these great young artists!
OUR WRITING CONTEST WINNERS….
First Place – Robson Rievaj, Lewis Lake
First Place – AinsIle Gale, Head of St. Margarets Bay
Second Place – Laura Worth
Third Place – Harper Brett, Bedford
First Place – Michael Delong, Kentville
First Place – Ashalen McCulloch, Weymouth
Second Place – Kaitlyn Kemp Cheevers
Third Place – Siena Hammermeister, Tatamagouche
Caitlin Bowman, Dartmouth
OUR ART CONTEST WINNERS…..
First Place – Natalie Pegg, Middleton
Second Place – Lauren Hill, Dartmouth
Third Place – Hannah Michels, Dartmouth
Erinn Bowman, Dartmouth
Freja Cambell, Sydney
Yewon Chung, Pictou
Maetia Aleses Contant, Woodville
Alexander Hazelwood, Aylesford
Johnathan Michels, Dartmouth
First Place – Mary Elliott, Middleton
Second Place – Isabella Young, Truro
Third Place – Iris Gamble, Shad Bay
Gabby Carter, Wedgeport
Lauren Doucette, Bell Neck
Skyla Gidge, Margretsville
Varya Kuznetsova, Halifax
Larissa Lemoine, Iona
Andrew Michels, Dartmouth
Keanna Pierre, Wagmatcook
Macy Shand, Charlesville
We had a great weekend during our annual youth programming at Nature Nova Scotia’s Celebration of Nature this spring. With 17 youth from ages 6 to 13 we had an interesting mix of activities to satisfy all interests. On Saturday we started the morning talking about migrating birds and had a warm up playing the Migration Game. We then tackled a bird geocaching course where we used our GPS units to find 8 hidden stations that had bird related activities at them. It was a big hit. Later that morning Jill Francis from Parks Canada came and talked about Mi’kmaw hunting and everyone got to try their hands using an Atatl, a spear throwing tool that helped native hunters achieve greater distances.
That afternoon everyone joined a field trip in the local area and rejoined us at the lodge for a musical performance by Little Miss Moffat! Nobody forgets the lyrics to “Raven or Crow?”. Even some of the adults joined in with their owl hoots. After dinner we had a very moving bonfire chat with Frank Meuse and shalan joudry from Bear River First Nation. Everyone slept well that night, even it was a little chilly!
The next day brought us a visit from Katie McLean from Clean Annapolis River Partnership who taught us about some of the different turtles they monitor and let us try our hands at trying to find the GPS units they attach to the turtles. Then we had Jeffie McNeil and some interns from the Mersey Tobeatic River Institute come and help the kids build some turtle nesting cages that they will use to protect newly laid turtle eggs from predators. Charlie from Milford House took some time to have some of the older kids help him make a new wood duck nesting box as well!
We are so fortunate to have been at such a beautiful location this year. Great kids and families and we are looking forward to doing it all again next May!
The Berwick Young Naturalists went mushrooming in the Kentville Ravine on a beautiful Saturday morning with Ken Harrison Jr. and Bill Shaw. We had 30 people at this event – our largest group yet! This was a joint event with the Annapolis Valley Chapter. Even though it had been a very dry summer, we did find many mushroom species that kept Ken and Bill hopping. The Young Naturalists were excited to look for mushrooms and the older kids ran up ahead to search with Bill and Nick Hill (local botanist and ecologist) while Ken and I staying back with the younger and more thorough investigators. Here are a few photos from our fun morning: http://nature1st.net/ync/mushroom-id-october-11th/
On the 20th of September we explored the multi-use railway-bed trail to the west of Berwick. It was a beautiful brisk late summer day and we had close to 18 kids and their families from the local area show up for the event. We used Environment Canada Biokits to explore nature with all of our senses. For more information about Biokits check out this link: https://www.ec.gc.ca/biotrousses-biokits/default.asp?lang=En&n=B8362F13-1.
We had a lot of fun learning about plants and ecology with Nick Hill (local botanist). There was a lot of Poison Ivy along the trail and now we know how to avoid it. We used our senses to explore the adjacent forest paths and had a silent sit in the woods that was relaxing for most but challenging for some. It was surprising to see the amount of colours we found in the woods that matched the coloured gems on the cloth.
Here are some photos from our trip: http://nature1st.net/ync/nature-around-berwick-september-20th-2014/
The Berwick and the Annapolis YNC Chapters joined Sarah Walton, a biologist from the Clean Annapolis River Project Wood Turtle Monitoring Project. Although we spent 2 hours searching for the little wood turtles (which have dark shells and orange underparts) and did not find any along a tributary of the Annapolis River by the Oaklawn Farm Zoo, we still had a great time exploring the area. The turtles were migrating to the muddy river bottoms this time of year to find a good squishy place to burry themselves for the winter. The Annapolis river and it’s tributary brooks and strams are ideal habitat for wood turtles according to Sarah. She also told us that when they are hibernating in the mud, they allow their bottoms to stick out into the water to absorb oxygen…. so… they breath with their bums! After our survey, Sarah was able to track down a large male Wood Turtle named Hanley. He was fitted with a radio transmitter that allowed Sarah to use an antenna to track him down. It took her a while fishing around under alder branches where he was hiding under water in the river. He was beautiful! Check out our photos page to see a picture of him! http://nature1st.net/ync/wood-turtle-monitoring-with-carp-october-4th-2014/
The Berwick and Annapolis Valley Chapters teamed up with the Blomidon Naturalist Society to build and launch nest boxes for Tree Swallows. Above are some pictures from the event. Around 15 young people and their parents attended this event on the warm sunny day of September 13th 2014. Visit the photos page to see some pictures of the event: http://nature1st.net/ync/tree-swallow-nest-box-launch-with-bns-sept-13th-2014/
Here is a message from the BNS Organizer after the event:
This is now an official project :)
Thanks for everyone’s insight and help this weekend. We are off to a really great start, and couldn’t have done it without you.
The hope, as we discussed previously, is that this will be a long-term joint project among our groups. In the next little while we should brainstorm some ideas around the kinds of projects we would like to see happen and how much time and effort would be a reasonable commitment each year.
The minimum we need to do each year, to ensure that boxes are safe and usable is repair, if need be, and clean them out after each winter. We could make this a yearly event (in early April maybe) with BNS/YNC…though it might not be that exciting for kids (birds won’t be around at that time)…maybe there are things we could do to make it more interesting…
Anything we do above and beyond, I think, is an added bonus – and the opportunities are great. Much of what we can do will depend on how many boxes are occupied, and it is possible that it will take a couple of seasons for boxes to fill up. We had a flock of at least 50 Tree Swallows hang out at the Marsh during spring migration this year and 2 that stuck around and tried to make a nest in the huge Wood Duck box that blew down in a storm. I’m betting that we’ll get at least a few pairs next year!
Interpretive sign about the project.
George made a great suggestion that this might work best near the entrance of the Marsh, and possibly accompanied by an additional nest box there. This would indicate what the boxes are for, that it is a joint effort between BNS and YNC and who they can contact for information.
Annual Nest Check Field Trip
In late May or early June each year, regardless of whether we are carrying out frequent monitoring, we could hold a dedicated BNS/YNC field trip to check box occupancy, do some nest checks etc..
Other possible projects for interested kids/adults…
– adult arrival dates (tracking these each year helps monitor effects of climate change on migration)
– feeding rates (watching parents feed chicks with binoculars or spotting scopes; measuring feeding rates and characterizing delivered food)
– food availability (sampling of insects)
– nest thermal properties (nest temperatures can be easily monitored with cheap data loggers, “ibuttons”, that sit inside the nest)
– nest box cameras (the island boxes will be harder to check so a fun DIY project could be to build/install a solar-powered infra-red nest camera that records nest activity or takes a snapshot of the nest every day to monitor nest success)
– vocalisation projects (characterizing vocal repertoires of adults and chicks, measuring chick begging rates)
– project website (building a website that gives information about the project, shows data collected and projects carried out with the boxes)
– photography projects…
These are just a few ideas and looking forward to hearing more thoughts from you folks.