Sep 222018
 

Peterborough Field Naturalists Sunday AM Nature Walk (Sept. 30)

Today, a group of us walked along the hydro corridor west of Hetherington Dr. (just south of Woodland) and into the north end of University Heights Park. We enjoyed the abundant asters (e.g., New England, Heath, Panicled, Heart-leaved), Zig-Zag Goldenrod, White Baneberry with its doll’s-eye fruit and a single Jack-in-the-Pulpit with its ball of red fruit. Birds of interest included White-throated Sparrow (20), White-crowned Sparrow (1), Song Sparrow (12), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), Golden-crowned Kinglet (1), Eastern Towhee (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Palm Warbler (1), Belted Kingfisher (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Northern Flicker (1) and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1). Earlier, we found a single Swainson’s Thrush on the Parkway Trail, just south of Cumberland Drive. Drew Monkman

White-crowned Sparrow (immature) – University Heights Hydro Corridor – Sept. 30, 2018, Reem Ali

 

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a prominent eye ring. (Karl Egressy)

Golden-crowned Kinglet – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln’s Sparrow (2) via eBird
– Reported Sep 30, 2018 07:36 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Peterborough–Trent Rotary Rail Trail, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Lincoln’s Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barred Owl (1) via eBird
– Reported Sep 27, 2018 13:01 by Daniel Williams
– Ingleton-Wells Property (Kawartha Land Trust), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Barred Owl on Northey’s Bay Road – Jeff Keller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peregrine Falcon  (1) via eBird
– Reported Sep 27, 2018 08:12 by Iain Rayner
– Peterborough–Millennium Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Large adult eating bird atop 300 Water St.”

Peregrine – by Stephanie Pineau – Jan. 13, 2015 – PRHC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal (2) via eBirds
– Reported Sep 23, 2018 10:36 by Rene Gareau
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Blue-winged Teal – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrels hoarding rocks:  I just found your site and wanted to add my comments regarding gray & black squirrels stealing rocks. Here in Chilliwack, BC  we have been observing squirrels stealing hundreds of rocks every fall and winter. They steal all sizes, types, and work all day to take away their treasure. This usually starts when seasons change with wet and cooler days arriving. I think they hoard the rocks to stabilize their dreys and also putting the flat ones inside the nest to warm the bed over the winter for the young when they are born and vulnerable. I’m basing this on many hours of watching squirrel behavior from our living room which faces a heavily forested back garden. My husband and I are constantly renewing our landscaping rocks with humour at the hard work of these amazing little critters. Jenne Breedon, Chilliwack, BC

(Note: For other reports on this behaviour, see November 30, 2014 )

Gray Squirrel with stone – Nov. 2014 – Ginny Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln’s Sparrow (2) via eBird
– Reported Sep 23, 2018 13:53 by Luke Berg
– LHT Redmond Rd to Drummond Line , Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Lincoln’s Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starry Stonewort, a new aquatic invasive species:  I want to let you know about a (new to me) threat to our Kawartha Lakes. A macro  algae has infested Lake Scugog and is now thriving in parts of Stony, notably the Lost Channel. Starry Stonewort has no roots and forms masses up to six feet deep floating below the surface.  Carol Cole, a cottager on Stony Lake writes: “It was first noticed there a couple of summers ago.  The channel is not open water really; it is more of a wetland environment.  The alga is now covering large sections of the wetland and has spread incredibly quickly into the bays on either end.  One of the bays is now almost totally covered.  It used to be a very weedy area but now it looks clear of weeds – unless you look down.  The bay at the other end isn’t quite as bad but it will be by next summer.  Both of these bays lead directly to the main boating channel of the Trent-Severn Waterway.  Both have cottages and boat traffic. Not far from the bay already covered is a wetland that has been declared provincially significant. Starry Stonewort spreads by fragmentation and the only way to stop it from spreading to other lakes is to clean, dry and drain out boats, canoes or kayaks before leaving the lake. Since this is already in Stoney Lake there isn’t anything we can do about it. All we can do now is prevent it from reaching other lakes. ”

Please spread the word! Sandra Burri, Kawartha Park, Clear Lake

Starry Stonewort from Lake Scugog – Scugog Lake Stewards photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More about Starry Stonewort:  CLIMATE CHANGE REALITY IN SCUGOG SHOULD CHANGE OUR PEOPLE-CENTRIC VIEW OF OUR LAKE. Ours is a shallow lake held at its current height by a dam at Lindsay. As a result of increased temperatures, increased storm water runoff, difficult invasive species due to our location in Southern Ontario and increased development, ours is an ecosystem that is vulnerable and susceptible to change. This year, the lake has generally been excellent for recreation and surface aesthetics because of a vast understory of the invasive alga, Starry Stonewort (SS) and abundant zebra mussels that enjoy co-habiting with SS. But is this good habitat for everything else that lives in, on or above the lake? The Stewards and our colleagues at U.O.I.T. and Kawartha Conservation are studying this new invader which seems to be spreading rapidly up throughout the hard-water Kawartha Lakes and Lake Simcoe. We have one more year in our Trillium grant funding for research, but we hope to extend our research for two more years, trying to ascertain the Ontario-wide spread and effects of this nasty invader. Use a rake to pull up a sample from the lake bottom. If you find a crunchy, green fishing line type bottom cover that is the algae — Starry Stonewort. CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY your boat before coming into, or going out of, Lake Scugog.  Scugog Lake Stewards, City of Kawartha Lakes

Cooper’s Hawk: We have a bird feeder outside our condo living room at the corner of Parkhill and Ravenwood Dr. On September 21, we were able to get this picture of a Cooper’s Hawk. We had never seen this bird before.  John & Stephanie MacDonald

Cooper’s Hawk – John MacDonald – Sept. 22 2018 – Peterborough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake: My nephew and sister came across this Eastern Hog-nosed Snake recently at Wolf Lake near Apsley. Bill Astell, Peterborough

(Note: The Eastern Hog-nosed is a species at risk in Ontario and only rarely seen. DM)

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake – via Bill Astell – Sept. 2018 – Wolf Lake near Apsley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A “dew” bath: I witnessed something absolutely new for me on the morning of September 18. At about 7:30 am, I saw two Song Sparrows giving themselves a bath in the heavy dewed grass. They burrowed down and splashed the dew on by rapidly flicking their wings onto their backs. Michael Gillespie, Keene

Song Sparrow – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhill Cranes: It is that time again when the Sandhill Cranes begin to gather before migrating south. In the area west of Lindsay (Black School Rd area) the gathering has already started. These pictures were taken on September 18.   Tim Corner

Sandhill Cranes – Lindsay area – Sept. 18 2018 – Tim Corner

Sandhill Cranes – Sept. 18 2018 – Lindsay area – Tim Corner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poecila Sphinx:  On Friday, September 14, we came across the caterpillar of the Poecila Sphinx Moth (also called Northern Apple Sphinx). It measured about two inches long. We had  never seen one before.  The caterpillar was on a Sweet Gale bush, a species that dominates the banks of the Indian River near our home. This plant can be used as an insecticide, can treat scabies, used with discretion to flavour soups and stews, flavours Gale beer, repels fleas, and the roots and bark produce a yellow dye for wool.  Quite a list!  The scent on the leaves was rather faint when I checked but given the time of year that’s not surprising.    Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Poecila Sphinx Moth caterpillar on Sweet Gale – Indian River – September 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

Poecila Sphinx Moth caterpillar on Sweet Gale shrub – Indian River – September 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Screech-Owl (via eBird):  – Reported Sep 13, 2018 20:10 by Patrick Scanlon- Indian River Road., Peterborough, Ontario- Map: – Checklist: – Comments: “Singing from the west side of the river.”

Eastern Screech-owl – Beaches area of Toronto – via Jamie Brockley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merlin: My husband, Michael, noticed this Merlin while we were having lunch on September 13. We watched it for about 10 to 15 minutes. It was looking at our bird feeder (and doing a bit of head bobbing) from the top of the umbrella of our outdoor picnic table. A few minutes  later it landed right on top of the bird feeder. Our feeder has been quite active with American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, chickadees, cardinals,  a few jays and some sparrows. The bird sort of half-heartedly swooped downward toward a scurrying squirrel before it left our yard. There were no smaller birds during the time of the visit of the Merlin. Not surprising. It was very cool!!  Helen Bested, Lynhaven Road, Peterborough

Merlin – Lynhaven Road – September 13, 2018 – Michael Bested

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imperial Moth caterpillar: On September 7, this Imperial Moth caterpillar, a member of the Giant Silkworm Moth family, was making its way along our side path, heading for river rocks abutting a flower bed.  I gather it feeds on a variety of plants including pines and oaks which we have in abundance.  And later that day, I saw another one floating vertically, head out of water, in our small creek that empties into the Indian River. I managed to retrieve it but there was no sign of life.  I hope one day to actually see this beautifully colored moth, though it is said to be in decline.  As you have explained in your book ‘Nature’s Year’, it is extremely attracted to light making it highly visible to predators.  Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Imperial Moth caterpillar – September 2018 – Indian River – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 212018
 

Additional obstacles to taking action on climate change

When Al Gore described climate change as an inconvenient truth, it was a mamoth understatement. In fact, it is more like a perfect storm. As I argued last week, a huge number of obstacles make it near impossible for humans to engage with the issue. Many of these relate to the very nature of our brains. We are brilliant when dealing with an immediate crisis like hurricanes, but largely paralyzed when facing a slow motion threat like climate change. I also introduced a framework in which to think about these barriers, namely the Five D’s: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial and iDentity. This week, I will briefly touch on a number of other hurdles, which together point to the enormity of the challenge. The bottom line, however, is that we have at most 20 years – at current worldwide emission rates – before runaway, catastrophic climate chaos will be unavoidable.

1. It’s complicated: Climate change is complex. Unlike “the hole in the ozone layer”, it can’t be reduced to a single striking image. Greenhouse gases are invisible, and it’s hard to wrap our heads around concepts such as “a ton of carbon dioxide.” In addition, notions like “3 C of warming would be catastrophic” are not intuitively easy to understand. You therefore can’t blame people for thinking, “Yesterday was 3 C warmer, so what’s the big deal?”

2. Scant media attention: People who limit their information on climate change to traditional media like television, radio and newspapers have little sense of the urgency of the situation. The media works with our politicians to take the edge off the climate crisis. For example, pundits talk non-stop about the Trans Mountain pipeline fiasco, but make no mention of climate change. It’s only about the jobs at stake and how building the pipeline is in the national interest. There is implicit denial that a life-threatening situation is at hand. Hurricane Florence is another good example. Watching CNN, I heard no mention of climate change as a proven contributor to the intensity, size and slow motion advance of this storm. To be fair, the CBC, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Peterborough Examiner have greatly increased their coverage of the issue.

Weather reporting is even more problematic. Take The Weather Network, for example. Why isn’t there a dedicated, daily segment for climate change-related stories and basic climate education? The only time it’s ever mentioned is on their News segment. Is the reason because the depressing message would drive away listeners and alienate advertisers – car manufacturers, for example?

Daily weather forecasts don’t mention climate change, either. For example, there is never a comment comparing recent temperatures to the long-term normal and framing this in the context of climate change predictions proving accurate. We should be hearing statements like “Peterborough had four times as many 30+ C days this summer as usual. This is predicted to be the new normal by the 2030s.” All we hear is how wonderful all the heat and sunshine are.

Doug Ford has promised to cancel Ontario’s Cap and Trade program and to fight the federal government’s plan to impose a carbon tax on provinces who do not have their own. Photo from Wikimedia

 

3. Politics: The policies and actions of politicians such as Donald Trump and Doug Ford make it clear they don’t take climate change seriously. This attitude makes people feel we’ll be fine doing only a bare minimum – or nothing at all. When faced with a choice between economic growth and environmental responsibility, politicians invariably choose economic growth – the worldview of most voters and donors demands it.

Trudeau’s policies send mixed messages, as well. He seems to be saying that we can reduce carbon emissions while increasing the extraction and exporting of tar sands oil. He concluded that the only way to get Alberta on board with a pan-Canada price on carbon is to push forward for a pipeline. In terms of political realities, he may be right. However, climate change will not abide a “politics as usual” approach. We are facing a situation akin to wartime.

The policies of Premier Ford are even more  damaging. He has no known plan to address climate change and is quickly dismantling the many excellent programs brought in by the Liberals. Like Trump, he has framed climate change as politics of the left. Therefore, in an increasingly tribal mentality, more and more Conservatives are against any action as a basic principle.

4. A successful denial campaign: The blatant lying from the fossil fuel industry, which continues to willingly and knowingly suppress the truth about climate change, has been tragically effective. The tobacco industry used the same strategy to great success. By stoking fear, uncertainty and doubt, they have succeeded in delaying aggressive action. The difference is that most smokers only killed themselves.

5. Economics: Right wing politicians have been increasingly successful in framing initiatives such as a price on carbon as a tax grab. Consumers want low prices and a wide variety of choices with minimal government interference on our consumption behaviours. To make matters worse, the portfolios of many investors, both individuals and organizations, are heavily concentrated in fossil fuels. People expect profitable returns, so these companies have a mandate to deliver growth and profits. We therefore accept greenhouse gas pollution and ecosystem destruction as the necessary requirements of economic growth. In a modern world so disconnected from nature, environmental protection is almost seen as an expensive luxury.

On September 19, Kate Grierson, a climate change communicator, spoke at the Lion’s Centre. She discussed how to tackle climate change issues at the local level to a crowd of 50 people at an event organized by Ashburnham Ward councilors Gary Baldwin and Keith Riel. Photo from Wikimedia

6. Distrust of experts: Public understanding of science and the scientific method is poor. There is also a widespread perception that no single opinion is better than any other is – even when it comes from the scientists themselves.

7. Faith in a technological fix:  There are also people who assume some technological fix will solve the problem. However, there are no technological solutions under development, which can be perfected and implemented rapidly enough to avoid runaway climate change. Getting off fossil fuels is the only solution.

 

8. Our schools have failed: Our education system does an abysmal job addressing environmental education. Part of the problem, however, is an absence of pressure from parents to make it a priority. Most schools won’t even let the kids play outside anymore when there’s the least issue with the weather. Add to this the inordinate amount of time children spend in front of screens along with their over-scheduled lives, and it’s little wonder that the natural world has become a foreign entity. Students therefore grow up with the illusion that modern society is only tangentially dependent on nature and a stable climate.

9. The internet: Social media has made it possible – almost to the point of an addiction – to connect daily with like-minded people who reinforce our perceptions and worldviews. You can simply “unfriend” or no longer follow people you don’t agree with. This happens to me all the time on Twitter when I tweet about climate change. The internet is also chocked full of pseudo-science and right wing websites that deny climate change in the first place. Our lack of critical thinking skills and science literacy makes many of these sites appear legitimate.

10. Limited options: The number of ways an individual can act, either personally or publicly, seems – on the surface at least – to be limited. This results in a perceived lack of control. “What can I as one person do? Even if I do everything I can, it won’t make a difference.” There is lack of opportunities for civic engagement – rallies, for example, are not everyone’s cup of tea. There is also the attitude that once politicians are elected, they aren’t going to change their mind no matter what public pressure is brought to bear. Tragically, Doug Ford is proving that perception right now. Individual action can also seem meaningless, since we have reached a point where only a collective, political response will make a difference.

11. Culture and religion: Many Canadians grew up in a country that didn’t have the luxury of worrying about environmental issues because of poverty and the huge challenge of simply surviving from day-to-day. For these people, worrying about climate change might still seem like a luxury. Less understandable, however, is the attitude among some Evangelical Christians. According to a 2014 survey from Forum research, climate change denial is higher in this group than any other sector of the Canadian population.

12. Young people: Numerous surveys have shown that young people care deeply about climate change and are better informed than most of the population. However, they also suffer from higher levels of anxiety than any previous generation – and, for good reason. They deal with job insecurity and fear for the future on multiple levels, environmental devastation being one of them. It’s therefore understandable that some believe that the generation who created this mess – Baby Boomers like myself – ought to be held accountable and take the lion’s share of responsibility. Many teenagers and millennials also see climate issues as intimately bound up with issues like poverty, civil rights and the exploitation of people and land.

13. The emotional impact: An increasing number of people suffer from an overwhelming sense of grief, mourning, anger and confusion caused by an acute awareness of environmental destruction. This anxiety and despair helps explain why some choose to avoid engaging with climate change at all. It’s simply too much. If such feelings go unacknowledged, however, they too can thwart action.

Despite this litany of impediments to action, exciting new approaches to breaking the logjam are on the horizon. These range from incorporating indigenous knowledge and values into education, to new strategies to bridge the political divide. Only through collective, political action can this problem be solved. To be continued.

 

 

Sep 142018
 

Low turnout at climate rallies highlights the huge disconnect between the evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and a sense of urgency for action

Last Saturday, with its sunny skies and cool temperatures, was a beautiful day for a rally. More than 150 people showed up for Peterborough’s “Rise for Climate” event to listen to speakers, enjoy poetry and join a New Orleans-style funeral march with a banner featuring Tahlequah, the orca, holding her dead calf above the water. The message was the extreme gravity of the climate crisis. This was one of more than 900 rallies held worldwide demanding more serious climate action from politicians.

Forcing political action is a numbers game. If there had been a couple of thousand people at the rally, politicians might react, but 150 can be written off as a special interest group. It was also clear that probably half of the participants were the same faces as at previous climate change rallies. Most, too, were 40 years of age or older. I couldn’t help but wonder why more and different people didn’t come, and why younger people were largely absent. Weren’t this summer’s record wildfires and heat waves enough to inspire people?

About 150 people turned out for the “Rise for Climate” rally last Saturday at Confederation Square. Organizers, however, were hoping for many more, especially if politicians are to pay attention. Photo by Clifford Skarstedt

Despite the science on human-made climate change being absolutely conclusive, there is still a huge disconnect between the evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and a sense of urgency for action. As Barak Obama said in 2015 ” No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Why don’t severe climate-related events and disturbances resonate more with people, given their huge financial, social and ecological impacts? Why doesn’t the evidence motivate governments, corporations and individuals to take immediate serious action? How could Ontarians elect a government that campaigned on getting rid of cap and trade and other mitigation measures without promising anything to replace them?

I do believe that most people care about climate change, but being concerned is not the same thing as taking action. The climate crisis is still near the bottom of people’s concerns when compared to other societal problems. This week and next, I will present some thoughts on this disconnect from reality.

The Five D’s

Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist, examined several hundred peer-reviewed social science studies and was able to isolate five main barriers that keep climate messages from engaging people. They are what he calls “the Five Ds”: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial, and iDentity. I would highly recommend his Ted Talk, entitled “How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming”.

1. Distance – For many people, climate change is seen as something far away in space and time. When climate models talk of 2050 or 2100, it seems like eons from now. When we hear about the loss of Arctic sea ice or see polar bears on melting ice floes, it might be disturbing but we struggle to see any bearing on our day-to-day lives.

2. Doom: Climate change is usually framed as an impending disaster, so our brains want to avoid the topic altogether. As one observer said, “After 30 years, we’ve become numbed to collapse porn.” That being said, the jury is still out on how much fear serves as a motivator or demotivator for action. It appears to resonate with some people but not all. It all causes a great deal of grief, too. As my daughter, Julia, told me, “It makes me so sad to know that the polar bears in the books I read to my girls will probably be gone from the wild when they are adults.”

3. Dissonance: When we think about taking action on addressing climate change, there is an inherent conflict between what most of us do on a regular basis – drive, eat red meat, fly, lead a high consumption lifestyle – and what we know we should do – greatly reduce all of these behaviours. Consequently, dissonance sets in, which is felt as an inner discomfort. It makes many of us feel like hypocrites, myself included. To lessen the dissonance, our brains start coming up with justifications. “My neighbour has a much bigger car than me. What difference does it make if I’m the only one to change my diet? How can I visit friends and family or go on a winter vacation if I don’t fly?” This last excuse always creates feelings of guilt and hypocrisy whenever I fly.

4. Denial: For some, the uncomfortable feeling of dissonance makes them turn to denial and to say things like “the climate is always changing”. For others – maybe most of us – we simply avoid thinking or talking about the issue, largely because we feel powerless to make a difference. As my daughter said, “Bringing up climate change with friends and family is a conservation stopper. The room goes silent.” We therefore take refuge in leading a kind of “double-life”, both knowing the science but shutting it out.

5. iDentity:  For some, cultural and political identity override the facts. A conservative-minded voter might say, “I believe in lower taxes, minimal government involvement in my life, and the right to drive as big a car as I want.” Someone on the left might say, “Government should be more involved in solving society’s problems. I’m fine with paying higher taxes, and we should all be driving smaller cars.”

There is still a huge disconnect between the scientific evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and the public’s sense of urgency for action. Photo by Clifford Skarstedt

Other factors

Other factors, too, help explain our lack of engagement with climate change and point to the overwhelming size the problem. Many of these are strongly linked to the five D’s above and all are inter-related.

1.  Our brains – Maybe the biggest reason why humans struggle to come to grips with climate change lies in the very nature of our brains. Like the frog in the proverbial pot of boiling water, we have trouble reacting to slow motion phenomena like a gradually changing climate. This is sometimes called “shifting baseline syndrome”. For example, we quickly forget how much colder winters used to be and how countless species were so much more abundant.

We also deal poorly with future threats and to threats that are characterized by a degree of uncertainty. Although scientists are 100% certain that human-generated greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change, they usually cannot say with certainty when the worst impacts will occur. Ironically, these impacts seem to be happening earlier and with more intensity than originally predicted. To make matters worse, gratification for action now is in the future. We therefore struggle to address issues that don’t necessarily impact us today. It’s not even clear if our brains allow us to care deeply about the generations to follow.

2.  All seems fine – For the most part, life in 2018 seems normal. We enjoyed a warm, sunny summer, albeit with four times as many 30+ C days as usual; our economy – on the surface at least – appears healthy; stores are overflowing with food and consumer goods; we don’t see much blatant poverty; and human thriving across the planet is probably at an all time high. In many ways, we live in the best of times, so why go to rallies or spend time worrying about climate change action?

Although we live in the worst of times when it comes to the environment, the immediate, visible impacts of problems like climate change are subtle (e.g., new species, earlier springs, later falls) and often only apparent to people who are really paying attention such as naturalists or anyone tracking weather data. There’s an absence of perceived change. There are also long gaps between extreme events such as Peterborough’s flood of 2004. This allows us to downplay the urgency of tackling climate action. Not enough people have seen it impacting their lives or the activities they enjoy doing.

3. Day-to-day life: Many, if not most of us, struggle to meet the demands of everyday life. People have enough trouble simply making ends meet. Understandably, there is not much energy left to devote to the abstract future. Parents with small kids have little brain space and energy left for things outside of parenting. Many individuals are also dealing with mental health issues, poverty, social injustice and both job and personal insecurity. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that climate change seems too overwhelming and too abstract.

4. Optimism bias: People often overestimate the likelihood of positive events happening to them and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. In some ways, this is advantageous, because it reduces stress and anxiety about the future. The bias derives partly from a failure to learn from new undesirable information like climate change stories. It also makes it awkward to talk about climate change with family and friends for fear of accusations of being a worrywort or overly negative. It seems that climate change, like politics, religion and death has entered the domain of topics that are not discussed in polite conversation. If the topic does come up, it’s often dismissed by statements like “It won’t affect us personally, we’ll find a technological solution and really it will only be a problem for future generations.” Large numbers of people – in fact, many people I know – have developed unconscious cognitive strategies that allow them to remain optimistic despite evidence to the contrary. The problem, however, is that threats like climate change really must be considered with great urgency, and optimism bias can have significant negative consequences when it comes to discounting serious risk.

Next week, I’ll share more ideas on this theme, including distrust of experts, the impact of social media and the scant attention paid by traditional media to climate change. I would like to thank the many people who contributed their ideas for this article via Facebook. The response was extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 072018
 

Looking ahead to events in nature after another summer marked by climate change 

As it was in the summers of both 2016 and 2017, the biggest story of the past three months has been the weather chaos unleashed on planet Earth by climate change. Just in Canada, we saw the worst fire season ever in B.C. as well as 89 heat wave-related deaths in Quebec. In Peterborough, the last four months have all been well above the long-term monthly normals. July and August were a scorching 2.4 C and 3.3 C above the 1971-2000 averages. In fact, 75 of the past 104 months in Peterborough have been warmer than normal.

Since late June, Peterborough has registered 23 days above 30 C. When you compare this to the long-term average of only 6.3 days per summer, you get a sense of how exceptional this summer has been. However, according to the latest projections prepared for the City of Peterborough by ICLEI Canada, 23 days above 30 C will be the norm by the 2030s. In other words, summers just like this one where it’s often uncomfortable to do much of anything outside.

On July 3, Dr. Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo wrote in the Globe and Mail that suggesting that Canada’s recent heat wave and climate change are not linked “would be like arguing that no particular home run can be attributed to steroids when a baseball player on a hitting streak is caught doping”- an apt metaphor to use when explaining to friends and family how climate change and extreme weather events are linked.

On a more positive note, a heartening story this summer has been the abundance of monarch butterflies. For example, on August 30, I counted more than 80 monarchs migrating west along the shore of Lake Ontario – just in the space of 15 minutes. I have also had monarchs in my garden every day now for weeks. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, there is a good prospect that the overwintering population in Mexico will increase from 2.48 hectares last year to 5 hectares this coming winter.

Many people have also commented on the rich, backyard cricket chorus this summer. Most of the voices are courtesy of fall field crickets, ground crickets and both snowy and four-spotted tree crickets. If you haven’t yet taken in the performance, the music should continue for several more weeks.

Looking ahead to the fall, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas – an autumn that once again is projected to be warmer than usual.

September

  • On September 8 at 1 pm, the Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action will be hosting a “Rise for Climate” rally at Confederation Park, across from City Hall. There will be a short parade, speakers and information booths. If you care about climate change – and your children’s and grandchildren’s future – please try to attend.
  • Fall songbird migration is now in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”. To see a video I made on September 2 using this technique, go to http://bit.ly/2wKE2IH. The response I got was no less than spectacular.
  • Spectacular swarms of flying ants are a common September phenomenon. Some are females – the potential future queens – but the majority are males. A given ant species will swarm and mate on the same day over huge areas, sometimes covering hundreds of kilometres. The males soon die, and the mated females disperse to establish a new colony.
  • On the evening of September 12, the young waxing crescent moon will appear about “one fist” above Venus in the southwestern sky. A great photo opportunity!
  • Although their reproductive purpose is for another season, gray treefrogs and spring peepers sometimes call from woodland trees in late summer and fall. They are most vocal on warm, humid days like this past Labour Day Weekend.
  • If we continue to get rain, this should be a good fall for mushrooms. In fields, watch for giant puffballs, which look like an errant soccer ball or a loaf of white bread. This species is edible when young. If you step on an old one, dust-like brown spores will “puff” out.
  • Kawartha Land Trust’s Stony Lake Trails are a one of my favourite destinations for mushroom-viewing. Details at http://bit.ly/2h3nYJg
  • Peterborough Field Naturalists hold their Sunday Morning Wildlife Walks each Sunday in September and October. Meet at the Riverview Park and Zoo parking lot at 8 am and bring binoculars. Indoor meetings take place on the second Wednesday of each month (7:30 pm) at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre at 2505 Pioneer Road. On September 12, Scott Blair will speak on “Brook Trout in Harper and Byersville Creek… A Story of Survival”. For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org
  • As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath, panicled and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England, purple-stemmed and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit http://bit.ly/2fhW4sN (Ontario Wildflowers) for tips on identifying these beautiful but under appreciated plants.
  • Don’t miss the spectacular Harvest Moon, which occurs this year on September 24, rising at 7:21 pm. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (September 22). For several nights before and after this date, the moon rises at almost the same time. This allowed farmers to work into the evening under bright moonlight. Moonrise times for Peterborough can be found at http://bit.ly/2M1QOHr
  • Cuddly brown and black woolly bear caterpillars are a common fall sight as they look for a sheltered location to overwinter. Watch also for yellow bear and American dagger moth caterpillars, which are similar in size and also have a hairy appearance.

October

  • Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. As long as September is not too hot and dry, the sugar maples will provide most of the colour. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.
  • Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.
  • Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Ecology Park on Ashburnham Drive has a wide selection of native species.
  • Salamander hunting is a fun fall activity for the entire family. The red-backed, which is almost worm-like in appearance, is usually the most common. Look carefully under flat rocks, old boards, and logs in damp wooded areas and around cottages.
  • Flocks of “giant” Canada geese (the subspecies that nests in the Kawarthas), rIng-billed gulls, red-winged blackbirds, American crows, and American robins are widespread.
  • A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at month’s end, tamarack.
  • As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoon. It is located on the south side of County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Be careful to avoid blocking the gate when you park. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along. The sewage lagoon is one of the best birding locations in the Kawarthas.
  • The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2018-2019”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.
  • On October 24, the Peterborough Horticultural Society will present a talk on bees featuring Joe & Hazel Cook of Blossom Hill Nursery. The meeting, which is open to all, takes place at the Peterborough Lions Centre at 347 Burnham Street starting at 7 pm.

November

  • Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish-orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence. At a glance, you can see just how common oaks are in many areas of the Kawarthas.
  • We return to Standard Time on Sunday, November 4, and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 4th is at 6:54 am and sunset at 4:58 pm for a total of only 10 hours and 4 minutes of daylight. Compare this to the 15 1/2 hours we enjoyed back in June!
  • The red berries of wetland species like winterberry holly and high-bush cranberry provide some much needed November colour.
  • Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas.
  • Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside. In the spring, it will emerge as an adult fly.
  • Damp, decomposing leaves on the forest floor scent the November air.

I would like to thank Tim Dyson, Annamarie Beckel, Jo Hayward-Haines and Gordon Harrison for having done such an admirable job filling in for me this summer. We are fortunate in the Kawarthas to have so many people with extensive knowledge of nature and the importance of the natural world in our lives.