May 282018
 

Whimbrels, Dunlin and Cattle Egret:  Seen in Brighton, Ontario, on May 27.  Don Munro

Whimbrels & Dunlin – Brighton, ON – May 27, 2018 – Don Munro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cattle Egret – Brighton, ON – May 27, 2018 – Don Munro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) (1)
– Reported May 26, 2018 11:03 by Bill Crins
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

male Blue-winged Teal in flight (Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2018 11:00 by Dave Milsom
– Lakefield water tower, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “watched it singing from branch of an apple tree.Continuing bird.”

Clay-colored Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2018 13:20 by Bill Crins – Rice Lake–Island View Drive, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 2 Photos
– Comments: “mature male; small, slim oriole with black head and breast, wings, tail; dark auburn lower breast, belly, undertail coverts, shoulder patch, white wing bars; occasionally sang warbling song with more burry notes interspersed; active, seen at close range in small shrubs, and at wet pool on road, heard singing from large silver maple at lodge; found where Islandview Rd. veers sharply to the east, at the lodge driveway”

Orchard Oriole – Wikimedia

May 252018
 

I’ve just returned from my annual birding trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau parks in southwestern Ontario. And, yes, the birds of spring were present in all their diversity and beauty. Every year, however, I notice something deeply unsettling: the reduction in abundance. Take the Wood Thrush, for example. Instead of seeing and hearing dozens or even hundreds of individuals, we maybe counted ten.

Wood Thrush – Greg Piasetzki

The park experience is changing in other ways, too. Each year, more and more trees are being blown over by severe windstorms. This spring, near-record rainfall also caused so much flooding at Rondeau that the campground was closed and rubber boots were a necessity to access several of the park trails.

The upcoming provincial election only adds to my anxiety level when it comes to issues such as these. The front-runner, Doug Ford, is clearly unconvinced – or simply doesn’t care – that a conservation or climate change problem even exists. He is promising to get rid of Ontario’s cap and trade climate tax. He was also prepared to open up part of Ontario’s Greenbelt to housing development, until he reversed his position for largely unknown reasons. Despite the reversal, this speaks volumes of where his heart lies – and it’s not with land conservation or enlightened urban planning.

Ford is also promising to reduce government spending to find billions of dollars in savings. This will probably mean drastic budget reductions to government departments as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. We can also expect rollbacks to the Liberal’s urban planning legislation – the most progressive in North America and a key tool against urban sprawl. I’m sure that progressive urban planners across the province are shaking in their boots about what may be coming. As for Peterborough, a bridge over Jackson Park will probably be much more likely.

Doug Ford in Thunder Bay in May 2018 – Wikimedia

The Great Thinning

British environmental writer Michael McCarthy describes the reduction in wildlife numbers such as those I’ve alluded to as “The Great Thinning”. Thinning doesn’t grab headlines or spur campaigns the way that extinction does. It inhabits a space below the radar, especially to those who aren’t really paying attention. Something similar could be said about climate change. Unless people are flooded out of their homes or forced to evacuate because of forest fires or sea level rise, a changing climate remains an abstraction. The mountains of science-based data about how dire things are becoming don’t resonate with those not directly affected. Polls still show that climate change remains far down the list of concerns for most Canadians.

As a naturalist living in the 21st century, everything that means the most to me – beyond the well-being of family and friends – is under siege. I live in a world of loss – a thinning in abundance of everything from bees and butterflies to reptiles, mammals and birds. Where diverse, abundant nature was once at our doorstep, most Ontarians now have to make a concerted effort to see many species and experience healthy, rich habitats.

When I lived on Westbrook Drive in the 1980s, Barn Swallows nested each spring in our carport; the calls of Common Nighthawks resonated over downtown Peterborough on summer nights; large swarms of bats fed over the pagoda pond in Jackson Park; and Monarchs were so common that we hardly noticed them. Even a car drive on a summer night spoke volumes of species abundance. I clearly remember how the windshield and headlights would become so splattered with moths and other flying insects that I sometimes had to stop to wipe them clean before carrying on.

The predictability of climate, too, was taken for granted. Snow usually arrived in early December and stayed until mid-March. The odd January thaw would occur, but it was still possible to have a backyard rink for most of the winter. Extreme heat, rain and wind events occurred on occasion but were far less common.

Peterborough is already feeling the effects of climate change such as the flood of 2004 – Janine Jones photo

Fast-forward three decades. With luck, you might find a barn where swallows still nest; you sometimes see nighthawks during their fall migration; if you know exactly where to go, there are still a few small colonies of martins on Rice Lake; I still hear of the occasional single bat turning up in older homes; and seeing one or two Monarchs in the garden has become an event of great excitement, rather than the norm. As for night-flying summer insects, our windshields are eerily clean.

When it comes to climate and weather, we no longer know what to expect, other than it will be an extreme of some sort. Over the past 15 years, Peterborough has experienced an epic flood, numerous severe wind and freezing rain events with a huge loss of trees and record-cold winter months interspersed with record-warm winter months. More and more, our weather is delivered in extremes. All of this is playing out against a background of three months out of four being warmer than the 1971-2000 average.

Sad and frustrated

In light of all these changes, the feelings I experience most are sadness and frustration. Sadness that my granddaughters who love nature will probably never experience its richness and diversity the way I have, and frustration that I can’t even convince many close friends that aggressive action on climate change has to be a bare minimum for anyone seeking public office. I find it appalling that politicians like Doug Ford can get away with putting short-term political gain ahead of the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. Just as Ontario is making progress on fighting climate change, Ford is promising to undo it all by getting rid of the cap and trade agreement with Quebec and California. That a political party could get itself elected in 2018 on a program that includes ditching a price on carbon is horrifying. It’s almost like someone saying, “Vote for us and we’ll roll back the laws on same sex marriage, restrictions on smoking in public places and equal pay for work of equal value”.

Everywhere we look, climate change predictions are being confirmed. If you believe in science – humankind’s best way of discovering what’s true – you have to believe that forecasts for the coming years will prove true, as well. Yes, it’s difficult to think beyond the present moment and the many worries and stresses of everyday life. However, we can’t put our heads in the sand. Parents who are outraged when their child is exposed to second-hand smoke or unsafe playground equipment remain somehow paralyzed when it comes to the infinitesimally  greater threat represented by climate change.

Our very civilization depends on a stable, predictable climate, but we fail to grasp the enormity of the climate calamity at our doorstep. In most areas of our lives, the majority of human beings are kind, moral people. However, where is the morality of ignoring what science is telling us? Do we really think we’re better informed than the scientists are? Where is the morality in letting a politician like Doug Ford get away with cancelling a carbon tax and muse about opening protected land to housing development? Ford is making us look like a bunch of fools.

We have no true sense that the Earth is our larger body that we breathe, drink, eat and turn to for inspiration and spiritual well-being. We still haven’t learned to look at nature – be it wildlife or climatic systems – as part of ourselves, as something in which we are deeply embedded. It remains something “out there” and apart. If we truly understood the importance of nature – for our spirits, our souls and our physical and emotional well-being – the on-going destruction of species, habitats and climate systems would never be tolerated. At the very least, we wouldn’t let politicians get away with campaigning on policies that will only lead to greater destruction.

Hope

I still hope that there might be “a great turning” — a transition from a society shaped primarily by unbridled economic growth and the savaging of the natural world to a more life-sustaining ethic. And, to be fair, progress is being made. We see it in ways of generating energy, producing food, learning from the wisdom of indigenous people and even new metrics for measuring prosperity, happiness and wealth. I think our love and awareness of nature is growing, too. In Peterborough, this is apparent in things as simple as the number of “I brake for turtles” bumper stickers on cars and the many people who now garden with pollinators in mind. Respect for smaller-scale, more conservation-minded agriculture can also be seen in the huge public support for locally-produced food.

Now is not the time to turn our back on this progress. Climate change and conservation are not problems like the others. We are in a race against the clock. If greenhouse gas emissions are not brought down to almost zero in the next couple of decades, the very worst impacts of climate change are a near certainty. As for conservation, once species and habitats have disappeared, they are gone forever.

On June 7, vote for a party that is honest about the climate threats we face, supports a tax on carbon and believes in conservation and progressive urban planning.

 

May 222018
 

Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) (1)
– Reported May 23, 2018 07:23 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Peterborough–Trent Rotary Rail Trail, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “singing”

Orange-crowned Warbler by Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) (1)
– Reported May 21, 2018 09:11 by Iain Rayner
– Ptbo – Centre Line Rd Smith, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Heard calling. Known location”

Greg Piasetzki – Upland Sandpiper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) (2)
– Reported May 22, 2018 10:15 by Bill Crins
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Cliff Swallow building nest – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) (2)
– Reported May 21, 2018 15:43 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Sand Road–between Asphodel Line 7 and 4, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Vesper Sparrow – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) (1)
– Reported May 21, 2018 15:43 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Sand Road–between Asphodel Line 7 and 4, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.3472688,-78.025353&ll=44.3472688,-78.025353
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45902970
– Comments: “adult male singing from roadside Bur Oak at gravel pit”

Orchard Oriole – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Wigeon (Mareca americana) (2)
– Reported May 21, 2018 11:55 by Dave Milsom
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 2 Photos
– Comments: “males”

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) (1)
– Reported May 21, 2018 11:55 by Dave Milsom
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.4180879,-78.2587266&ll=44.4180879,-78.2587266
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45912749
– Media: 1 Photo

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) (6)
– Reported May 21, 2018 11:55 by Dave Milsom
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.4180879,-78.2587266&ll=44.4180879,-78.2587266
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45912749
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “head with slight bump at rear, small bill.Coarser markings on mantle.”

Whimbrels:  I was out kayaking this morning, May 21, and got a very good look at four Whimbrels standing on a log on the edge of Lakefield Marsh. Annamarie Beckel, Lakefield

Whimbrel – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More shorebirds:  At 11 am, Monday morning (May  21) there were 2 female Wilson’s Phalaropes in remnants of pond on south side of 2nd Line about 500 metres east of  Highway #28. This is the pond which held several rare geese in April and early May. Also there were 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Semipalmated Plovers, 2 Dunlin, Killdeer, and many Least Sandpipers. No sign of male Wilson’s Phalarope on Choate Road, Port Hope, but 4 Black-bellied Plovers flew in. Sanderling and Dunlin on breakwall rocks close to harbour in Port Hope.   Dave Milsom

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:  This morning, May 21, I had a visit at my feeder from a male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Derry Fairweather, Buckhorn Lake

Rose-breasted Grosbeak – May 21, 2018, Derry Fairweather

 

May 212018
 

 

Great Horned Owl:  I took this owlet picture yesterday, May 17, at a nest 1 km west of Springbrook, Ontario. Don Munro

Great Horned Owlet – May 17, 2018 – Springbrook, ON – Don Munro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) (1)
– Reported May 17, 2018 11:45 by Ben Taylor
– Peterborough–Mervin Line, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Small bluish gray bird with white eye ring singing softly in a tree quite near Mervin line. As seen by previously.”

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) (1)
– Reported May 17, 2018 09:39 by Mike V.A. Burrell
– Otonabee Gravel Pit Conservation Area, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Singing normal song, visually confirmed. At the small clearing immediately east of the lower gate.”

Blue-winged Warbler – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sora (Porzana carolina) (3)
– Reported May 13, 2018 08:27 by Matthew Garvin
– Peterborough–Fairbairn Street wetland, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist:
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “Responded immediately to So-RAh playback with rattle calls”

Sora (rail) – Wikimeda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leucistic American Robin:  This robin was in the backyard at 71 Pellissier St. S. in Campbellford.
Paul Smith

leucistic American Robin – Campbellford – via James Burrett – May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Bittern: This bittern was caught on a trail cam video at Gannon’s Narrows Conservation
area May 12, 2018 @ 2:30pm.  Kingsley Hubbs

AMBI – May 12, 2018 – Kingsley Hubbs – Gannons Narrrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker:  We have had these Red-bellied Woodpeckers coming back to nest for about five years. They are here all through the winter at the feeder. I think that they nest in the maple in front of the house. We are located at 1520 Blezard Line. Nancy Salonius

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Nancy Salonius

 











Orchard Oriole: This Orchard Oriole has been eating oranges at my feeder on Ford 
Crescent in Cavan since May 9.  Ken Rumble

1st summer male Orchard Oriole – May 11, 2018 – Ken Rumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Thrasher:  We spotted this Brown Thrasher in our Peterborough yard this lovely May 5 morning. Helen and Larry Keller

Brown Thrasher – Peterborough – May 5, 2018 – Larry Keller


		
May 182018
 

From botanical gardens and wildlife centres to museums and coffee farms, the San José area has much to offer

As we boarded the bus to San Isidro de Heredia, we were sorry to leave Puerto Viejo, but felt satisfied that we’d experienced much of what Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has to offer. Our friends, Mike and Sonja Barker had especially enjoyed the music scene and yoga; my wife, Michelle, was enamored by the restaurants and cafés; while all of us were enchanted by the prodigious wildlife  However, we were also looking forward to our final 10 days of the trip in the much cooler San Isidro area, located in the Central Valley northeast of San José.

San Isidro, and nearby Santo Domingo, have wonderful farmers markets – Drew Monkman

Although the region of San Isidro is much more developed and not as biologically rich as Puerto Viejo, it offers much of interest, including farmers markets, picturesque villages and great dining. Michelle was able to find us a very comfortable, modern house through VRBO. The American owner, Steve Huffstutlar, was everything you could expect in a host:  tour guide, problem solver and authority on all things Costa Rican. I especially enjoyed chatting with him about Costa Rican Spanish, which has some unique features. For example, the familiar personal pronoun “tu” is not used at all, while the use of “usted” is ubiquitous, even between parents and their children. The signature Spanish expression of the country is “pura vida” which means “pure life”, but is commonly used as a salutation or exclamation.

Mike Barker and my wife Michelle watching some of Costa Rica’s amazing birdlife (Photo by Drew Monkman)

I also enjoyed chatting with Steve’s bilingual on-site manager, Eduardo Chumpitasi, who is a very knowledgeable amateur lepidopterist. He showed me his huge collection of moths and butterflies, many of which he had collected in his own yard. His wife, Agnes, showed me the Monarch caterpillars she was raising with her grandchildren. Monarchs are a non-migratory, resident species here and surprisingly common.

Steve’s property had a good selection of flowering shrubs and trees – including many conifers – which attracted a wide diversity of birds. Blue-and-white Swallows coursed overhead, while Grayish Saltators sang from trees and Rufous-collared Sparrows fed on the lawn. Every night, a Common Pauraque – a bird closely related to the Whip-poor-will – serenaded us with its loud, whistled “kweeeuu” call. The laneway, which crossed a nearby creek, turned out to be a great place to see North American migrants like Baltimore Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. In all, I was able to find 37 species within five minutes of the house.

Steve provided us with a long, detailed list of places to visit within an hour or two of San Isidro. This included a number of museums in San José. We especially enjoyed the National Museum of Costa Rica with its butterfly conservatory and amazing exhibit of pre-Colombian artifacts. The only downside of going into the capital was the horrendous traffic.

Bougainvillea Hotel

The number one destination on Steve’s list was the Bougainvillea Hotel. The grounds are essentially a two-acre botanical garden. The plants are all identified, so a visit here provides a great introduction to Costa Rican flora. There are even ponds created specifically for endangered frogs. The grounds also attract a wide variety of bird life, including motmots, tanagers and many migrants like Tennessee Warblers. My favourite viewing spot was an observation tower, which afforded great photography opportunities. At only a half-hour from the airport, I would recommend the hotel to anyone travelling to Costa Rica and wanting to spend a restful night or two upon arriving or departing. The hotel is very environmentally conscious and the dining is superb.

The observation tower in the botanical garden at Hotel Bougainvillea – (Photo by Drew Monkman)

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

One of our most memorable days was a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, situated northwest of San Isidro on the way to the Poas Volcano. We loved the scenic drive as we passed by coffee farms and grazing dairy cattle. The views of the valley below were spectacular. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the most popular privately-owned ecological attraction in Costa Rica and offers a marvelous introduction to Costa Rica’s iconic wildlife. It has the most esthetically-pleasing wildlife enclosures and beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. La Paz has been developed in such a way as to combine environmentally conscious design with maximum educational impact.

Among the highlights are a huge, jungle-like aviary with numerous species of native birds, a butterfly observatory and exhibits of live frogs and snakes. You can also see some of the country’s iconic mammals like Howler and Spider Monkeys, Three-toed Sloths, Ocelots and even a Jaguar. Seeing these animals up close gives a real sense of how precious – and fragile – Costa Rica’s wildlife actually is. If you’re interested in plants, the orchid and Heliconia gardens are a must-see, as well. The high point of the day for Michelle and me, however, was the hummingbird garden, where feeders attract wild birds living in the area. No fewer than 26 different species have been documented here. The birds are so close that you can feel the air displaced by their wings as they zip by your head and feed only metres away. Just make sure your camera has a memory card with lots of space!

Hanging out with the Black-mandibled Toucan at La Paz Waterfall Gardens – Michelle Monkman

Finca Cristina and Ark Herb Farm

On another occasion, we drove southeast of San Jose to Finca Cristina, an organic shade-grown coffee farm. It is located near Cartago, which has the country’s grandest colonial-era church, the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. Finca Cristina is dedicated to producing Arabica coffee while at the same time protecting and preserving native flora and fauna. The farm is located in the middle of a major flyway for neo-tropical migratory birds and provides important habitat for threatened North American species like Cerulean and Canada Warblers. While we were tasting some of the outstanding coffee the farm produces, we watched the fruit and nectar feeders and the constant coming and going of both resident and migratory species.

We toured the farm with one of the owners and learned about the labour-intensive process of producing shade-grown organic coffee. I have a new appreciation for why it’s more expensive! Managing the shade trees, most of which are banana plants, is nearly as involved as tending to the coffee trees themselves. Pest management, too, is also a huge part of the operation.

Another memorable tour was at the Ark Herb Farm, which has one of the largest collections of herbs and other medicinal plants in Central America. It is a focal point for herbalists, botanists and plant lovers. The plants are all identified and marked with symbols signifying how they can be used. Our guide was a wonderfully informative   ethnobotanist who regaled us with all kinds of anecdotes and stories. He was especially passionate about the dream-inducing qualities of Brugmansia and how the leaves can be used to treat skin problems. We also tasted incredibly sweet Stevia leaves and learned about the relationship between passionflower vines and Heliconius butterflies. The study of these butterflies has helped scientists to understand how new species are formed and why nature is so diverse.

 Barva Volcano

My birding highlight of this second leg of our Costa Rican trip was a visit to Barva Volcano, north of San José. At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, it is home to beautiful cloud forest habitat with trees draped in lichens and moss.

When I arrived at 6 am with my guide, Michael Jimenez Quesada, we were greeted by    the ethereal song of the Black-faced Solitaire and the far-carrying calls of Prong-billed Barbets. It wasn’t until the sun climbed higher in the sky, however, that bird activity really increased. Much of it came courtesy of hummingbirds. Tiny Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds dashed around like over-sized bumble bees, while male Green Violet-ears chipped their incessant two-note song. A beautiful female Purple-throated Mountain-gem posed obligingly for us for several minutes, its orange breast and throat standing out clearly against the green leaves.

As we walked along the road towards the park entrance, we quickly added other high-altitude species like Mountain Elaenia, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher and Golden-browed Chlorophonias. The latter were carrying lichens to line their nest in a bromeliad, nestled on a tree branch. A rare but obliging Black-billed Nightingale Thrush hopped out onto the road and allowed close-up views.

My guide, Michael Quesada, watching a quetzal at Barva Volcano – Drew Monkman

Upon entering the park, we took a trail that eventually led to the Barva Lagoon, the largest caldera on the volcano. The climb was quite a workout in the thin air, and I swore to myself that if I ever return, I’ll do so 20 pounds lighter! When I stopped to catch my breath, I tried out some pishing. Almost immediately, a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler popped out of the vegetation and lingered on a branch only metres away. It was soon joined by a pair of Collared Redstarts that posed for us for nearly five minutes. It was then that Michael heard the plaintive call notes of a pair of Resplendent Quetzals. Only seconds later, the male flew in and perched briefly above the trail, its emerald green chest and crimson-red belly glowing in the sunlight. When it flew off, the tail coverts streaming behind the bird were as long as its body. Michael was as excited as I was and remarked, “I often have birders that cry when they see their first quetzal!”

Arriving at the observation platform over the lagoon, we had amazing views in all directions. On a clear day, it’s possible to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The birding had not been easy, but adding nearly 10 life birds to my list made it all worthwhile.

Our six weeks in Costa Rica was everything we hoped it would be. We are destined to return!

 

May 042018
 

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) (1)
– Reported May 03, 2018 14:37 by Warren Dunlop
– Bailieboro–442-470 Second Line Rd, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 2 Photos
– Comments: “In field south of road with CANGs.”

Greater White-fronted Goose – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) (1)
– Reported May 03, 2018 19:00 by John Bick
– Lakefield Marsh, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “As reported by others. Reddish brown head, face & neck, pale yellowish/buff crown – foraging off shore near campgrounds.”

Eurasian Wigeon – male – Wikimedia

May 032018
 

The Beekeeper’s Lament

“O bring me palanquin, All my companions have scattered”  Renée Sarojini Saklikar in “Listening to the Bees”

Several years ago, a Letter to the Editor appeared in this paper that struck me as particularly poignant. It was from a former Trent University student, Rick Fisher. In the 1980s, he was engaged in an intensive study of bumble bee ecology in the Peterborough area. After moving to New Zealand, he returned to Peterborough in 2013 for a summer visit. Rick wrote, “Despite intensive searches of all the areas where the bees used to be abundant, and despite favourable weather, I’ve found no evidence to support the existence of any of the bumble bees that were so common 30 years ago. To me, the woods and glades of beautiful places like Jackson Park now fill me with an aching sense of loss, and despair. Little did I know that my thesis studies would be more epitaph than ecology. What have we done?”

Tri-coloured bumblebee on sweet clover. Like honey bees, native wild bees face an uncertain future. (Drew Monkman)

Pollination Summit

Anyone paying attention to the degradation of our natural world is aware by now of the plight of native pollinators like bumble bees and of colony collapse in honey bees. It is a vexing problem with no single cause. It is happening by a thousand tiny cuts as a result of habitat loss, disease, parasites, climate change and pesticide use. It is estimated that one-third of our food items depend on pollinators. They also play a key role in biodiversity, as over 85% of the world’s flowering plants require bees, wasps, flies, bats and even hummingbirds for their reproduction. Any organism that consumes seeds, fruits or vegetables, is dependent on the services provided by pollinators. This includes not only human beings but countless other species as well.

World bee expert Mark Winston will speak at Market Hall on Saturday, May 5 

No one is more familiar with bee decline – and the lessons it contains for the future of human society – than Dr. Mark Winston, a world bee expert and Professor of Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Mark is also a senior fellow at Simon Fraser’s Centre for Dialogue, which creates a space for “respectful conversations between diverse stakeholders, where mutual curiosity and collaborative inquiry act as alternatives to adversarial approaches.” As a former director of the Centre, he achieved international recognition by creating leadership development opportunities for students that contribute to social change in communities. Much of his work still involves advancing communication skills and engaging public audiences with controversial issues through dialogue. Effective public interaction and honest dialogue are especially important right now. Pending decisions on oil pipelines, fossil fuel resource development and carbon taxes threaten the delicate balance between economy and environment.

This weekend, Mark Winston will be the keynote speaker at a Pollinator Summit hosted by Peterborough Pollinators. In collaboration with local non-profits, businesses and community members, the summit will be a two-day celebration of bees, pollinator gardens,  community-stewarded urban beehives and, maybe most importantly, of dialogue. Dr. Winston will be speaking Saturday evening at 8 pm at Market Hall. It promises to be a presentation rich in storytelling, connecting to nature and learning what lessons bees have for humanity. A book signing and a Honey Fair showcasing the products of local honey producers will start at 7 pm. Tickets are $28 ($18 for students) and can be purchased at the door.

On Sunday, May 6, there will be an opportunity for people to visit some of Peterborough’s outstanding pollinator gardens and urban beehives. The public is also invited to participate in a community dialogue with Dr. Winston and local community dialogue practitioner Ben Wolfe. It will take place at Lett Architects on Simcoe Street. This “cross-pollination” dialogue, which is almost full, will bring together community members, beekeepers, gardeners and conservationists. It will explore the question: How do we empower citizens to protect pollinators and, in doing so, create, restore and celebrate natural environments?

For the past three years, Peterborough Pollinators has focused on this very question. The group has been working to encourage the creation of pollinator habitat including gardens of all sizes throughout the Kawarthas and on educating the public about the importance of pollinators. Not only do these gardens help pollinators, but they also bring greater food security, sense of place and community development to our neighbourhoods.

Books  

Drawing on a three-decade career researching killer bees, pollination and honey bee communication, Mark Winston is an eloquent and impactful communicator of science to the general public. He is that rare scientist who can take complex science and repackage it something a general audience can understand and appreciate. In addition to being a frequent guest on radio and television, Dr. Winston has had a distinguished career writing and commenting on environmental issues. His award-winning book “Nature Wars: People vs. Pests” has been recognized as the most probing and thoughtful discussion of pesticide use since Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Winston is also the author of “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive”, which won a 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award.

Most recently, Winston is the co-author of a new book, “Listening to the Bees”, with Canadian poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar. The book is something quite rare – an interaction between the poet and the scientist. It is a compendium of Winston’s research, accompanied by Saklikar’s poems inspired by this research. Saklikar, who is best known as the author of “Children of Air India”, has had a life-long interest in bees. She takes the poems in directions that connect to what the research was about and to her own Indian culture.

Listening to the Bees

Lessons for humanity

Like us, honeybees represent a pinnacle in nature of animal sociality. How they submerge individual needs into the colony collective provides a lens through which to ponder human societies. In “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive”, Winston explains how bees process information, structure work and communicate. He also examines how corporate boardrooms are using bee societies as a model to improve collaboration, how bees have altered our understanding of agricultural ecosystems and how urban planners are looking to bees in designing more nature-friendly cities. Bees inhabit a world of chemical communication, which involves more than 40 different compounds. It is a world we neither see nor hear. Winston’s focus on bee communication has made him realize how poorly we humans communicate with each other – do we really see and listen? – and how little we understand the various channels we use.

Bees have other important lessons to teach us. For example, a typical honey bee colony contains residue from more than 100 pesticides. Taken singly, each is relatively benign, but together their interplay can have serious impacts. These include reducing the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, which leaves them more susceptible to disease. What’s happening to bees as a result of pesticides is a useful lens to consider human health. Winston believes that the interactions of pesticides on bees can be compared in some respects to the interaction of prescription drugs on humans. Each, on its own, provides benefits, but when numerous drugs are used together, the interaction can cause harmful side-effects, particularly in patients who are already diseased-compromised.

As human beings, we cannot afford to ignore what the demise of bees tells us about our own tenuous relationship with nature. There is much to learn from bees in how they respond to the many challenges they face. In sustaining their societies, bees teach us ways to sustain our own. It is his hope that by communicating about the glory and the plight of all our pollinators, maybe we can make a positive difference in their future – and ours.

Winston also has much to say about wild native bees. In a 2014 New York Times article, he wrote that beyond honey bees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer many of the same pollination services needed for agriculture. Yet wild bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — are also threatened by heavy pesticide use, by the destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and by the destruction of diverse nectar and pollen sources from highly effective weed killers. Winston’s laboratory at Simon Fraser discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators. “The current challenges faced by managed honey bees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.”

In a recent interview on the PolliNation Podcast from Oregon State University, Winston describes his research and science communication as teasing around the edges of great mysteries we’ll never fully understand. “To me bees are unknowable, and I say that as someone who has done a lot of research… I love that mystery. I’ve felt that mystery ever since I opened my first bee hive. As I get older I find myself revelling even more in the unknowable.”

For more information on the Pollination Summit, please go to peterboroughpollinators.com.