Ontario Reptiles and Amphibians at Risk

The most recent Guelph Field Naturalists meeting featured Joe Crowley from Ontario Nature speaking about the Herpetofaunal Atlas program. They are trying to map the reptiles and amphibians in the province.
An astounding 18 out of the 24 species of reptiles (that’s 75%) in the Province are considered at risk through the Ontario Endangered Species Act. He also spoke about amphibians but I can’t find any literature on line about how many of them are endangered… although I am certain some salamanders and frogs among the 24 species (also) must be.
Joe’s slide show was excellent and included a map showing the wilderness areas favoured by the herptiles in Ontario. Not surprisingly most of the habitat was in the south-western corner or triangle of the province. Then he showed a map showing the roads in black for the same geographical area. Although I shouldn’t have been, it still surprised me how incredibly much those roads dissect the breeding areas. Reptiles and Amphibians are forced unto roads because of this but are also naturally attracted by the flatness and warmth that a road means to their senses. In fact our vehicles are, according to Crowley, an even greater source of mortality than loss of habitat. That is a sobering thought.
Roadways are not only a way for us to pollute and waste our meagre store of fossil fuels using our cars and trucks, they’re also killing fields for reptiles, amphibians among other animals. It reminds me of Margaret Atwood‘s poem The Animals in That Country.

Storm above a Walmart

White so white
gulls cycling
near the bottom
of battleship grey clouds.
Holding, barely,
against the stronger winds.

Lightning and long dark drapes
of rain to the west.
But not here quite yet.

And the parking lot
of this bastion of commerce
seems wholly


The Mysterious Oak

I’ve been thinking about oak trees lately.
There’s a large oak (looks like a white oak but I could easily be wrong) just beside a road that I pass on my way to work each day. It is magnificent. Easily among the oldest trees in Guelph and majestic in its dark, deeply indented bark and craggy limbs. At least a metre at the base, the sidewalk has to swerve around it. So tall that the hydro lines do not dare to trespass: they cross the road to avoid it and start up again after. It is rare that it doesn’t astonish me. On those few times when I, likely up too late the night before, bike past it unseeing I turn to face it. Even if I can’t see it I acknowledge it.
It’s got a strange presence. It might be the way the limbs jostle about at odd angles and with such careless strength. It’s hard to say in words.
Wikipedia authors have had a lot to say on the subject. I was especially intrigued to see the following in this article:

In Celtic mythology it is the tree of doors, believed to be a gateway between worlds, or a place where portals could be erected.

Oaks have had such an impact on our minds that we have given certain of them special names and significance. Check this out.  I wonder if my tree should have a name or already has one?

Planet Earth

I borrowed the Planet Earth series from the library and it blew my mind with its stunning visuals, breadth, drama and humour. David Attenborough, who I already thought was the best natural history commentator living on our planet, just gets better and better at his craft. There’s more to this series (at least on the DVD) than the scripted shows… the Diaries that run after each segment and show the difficulty involved in the filming process are just as good, if not better, than the shows themselves. It’s amazing what these photographers have to put themselves through just to get that elusive shot.
And what makes it all fresh is that we are often looking at extremely rare animals, plants and etc. Part of the allure is that this footage may be the last to capture some of these creatures. This isn’t just about biological voyeurism, either, there’s a healthy mix of geology, geography, environmental science and climatology thrown in. A very well rounded mix, actually. And they aren’t sugar-coating any of the predator/prey realities out there: there are wonderful cute animals but also the very real blood and guts.
I will certainly buy this DVD set.

Natural Areas in Waterloo Region

When I was in my third year into my Undergraduate program (Environmental Science) at the University of Waterloo I did an interesting project for that year’s thesis. Naturalist guru Larry Lamb in the Ecology Lab and I wrote a guide to the natural areas under the supervision of Prof. Greg Michalenko. We called it Quiet Spaces. It was probably the most fun and the hardest work I did during my four years at the U of W. We came up with a list of natural areas and picked the 20 best from the wealth of sites available within the ecologically rich Waterloo Region. My personal favourites are the Sudden Tract (#18), F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area (#20) and Natchez Hills (#6) but anyone living in the area would not be wasting their time by visiting them all. Each one has unique attributes.
Larry and I hoped that a corporate group would publish the guide that we had worked so hard at. But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Larry still works at the U of W and still hands out photocopies of our guide but it never went beyond that.
Now, over 20 years after, I’ve found the time to format the guide in html and publish it on my sympatico account web space here. It deserves a better and more permanent home. I have pictures too but they would probably fill my sympatico quota too fast to attempt. If anyone out there has a good home for it, I would gladly fix up the code and even add in the pictures if desired.