On the hard, frozen surface of winter wetlands it looks like all is calm, all is bright.
But if you could plunge beneath that icy crust as if a pond or marsh were an aquatic Creme Brule, you’d see a slow, but still-living world where mammals fish, insects and amphibians might not thrive, but they survive. They’re hunkered down to wait out that season that makes our brave Canadian hearts swell with pride.
Jacques Bourgeois is the communications and marketing coordinator of Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre in Manitoba. He explains how dragonflies turn into snowbirds, frogs freeze and thaw like Butterballs and fish chemistry to their advantage. Oh, and turtles? They breathe from an unexpected orifice.
In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Mrs. Cratchit makes a small goose into a family feast. And she renders it delicious and delicate. But, how, many Canadians -- who think of goose as a greasy nightmare before Christmas -- "How did she pull off that Christmas miracle?" To find out I spoke with Pat Kehoe with DUC and a game roaster of renown. If the Great British Bake-off had Goose Week, Pat would win hands down. He shares secrets for goose goodness.
In this episode we explore the intertwingled intersection of conservation and hunting. Can you both care about wildlife and its habitat and take an animal’s life?
Next, rain, snow and sleet show up on meterologists’ radar screen. But sometimes weather boffins spot something else on their glowing monitors. Something else that has nothing to do with clouds, forecasts or humidex reports.
We start with the fine art of bird banding. Researchers find a bird they want to track and, as Beyoncé might say, “put a ring on it.” We’ll discover the history, purpose and process of avian bling.
Then, we travel to Cape May, New Jersey where we chat with a birding expert and author who wants to help us identify birds in their habitats. Richard Crossley has created a series of books, including one on ducks, to help us do just that.
Eider feathers, or down, aren't just for duvets. In fact, a hormone in those feathers called corticosterone, can indicate the stress eider ducks have been under as they molt. Yukon-based eider researcher Jane Harms explains that stress can be due to nearby predators or sometimes changes in their environment. So, not only can the stress hormone indicate eiders' health and their ability to reproduce, it may also be an indicator of climate change. Get undercover and tune into the tale.
Wetlands are delicate ecosystems. So the last thing researchers really want to do is churn up those wetland waters just to sample them. But what if a flying robot could do that for them? How? We do a flyby visit with a young inventor, Nathan Hoyt, who worked with a small team of high school students to figure it out. Plus, they're making a business out of it. Listen in. We promise we won't drone on.
A map of Lake Ontario, like one in an old geography textbook, might miss Cootes Paradise. Without detail it can seem this great lake runs dry at western shore of Burlington, about 50 kilometres from Toronto. Some more careful maps have it end in Hamilton Harbour. But no, Lake Ontario fades out in a little 320 hectare triangle of marshland called Cootes Paradise. It’s really a river delta, but a remarkable one. On either side over two dozen streams, the largest being Spencer Creek, flow over the Niagara escarpment and the shallow basin.
Once, those waters made this a hunting and fishing Mecca. Then its location at the head of the lake and some industrious canal work n the 1820s turned Cootes Paradise into a short-lived shipping lane. A century later it almost became an airport. It’s also been home to shantytown of “canal rats”, a ragtag community. Those homes, sometimes on stilts, clung to the marsh’s shores in the 1920s and 30s. Residents playing hockey on its frozen surface in the winter and sometimes hosted hobos from the railway that ran across the sandbar that separated it from Hamilton Harbour.
These days, though, the shantytown is long gone. So are much of the indigenous plants and waterfowl. They’ve been upstaged by voracious carp and relentless phragmites and manna grass. In a canoe, as the sun creeps to the horizon, you can see the trouble in paradise. In the murky marsh, carp jump and shimmer. A paddle shaft vanishes from sight two feet down. High water a couple of years ago submerged a barrier that was to keep the bullying bottom feeders out.
Now what was once so dense a marsh it was surveyed as land, is now open water. In 1941, when the environmental trouble from industrial and urban runoff was becoming obvious, the Royal Botanical Gardens was given stewardship of Cootes. It’s been a hard row to hoe for the environmental champion. Bad luck, climate change, urban expansion, oxygen-sucking algae have set the RBG’s plans of recovery by years.
But there is a hero in this story, the man who’s in charge of saving paradise. His name is Tys Thysmeyer, the head of natural lands for the Royal Botanical Gardens. I spoke with him about his work and his passion for saving a remarkable wetland.