Interpreting daytime skies

Sky watching isn’t as simple as looking at fluffy clouds

Interpreting daytime skiesWatching the night sky has always fascinated people but daytime skies can be just as interesting. In July, I travelled to Nunavut as a ship naturalist on an expedition to northern Canada. I had the rare opportunity to explore parts of Baffin Island and Ungava Bay that few get to see. While I saw wonderful…

How trees produce spectacular autumn colours

The intensity of the colours is related to weather conditions before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is declining

How trees produce spectacular autumn coloursWe’re fortunate to live in a place and a climate where our four seasons are distinct. Enough natural foliage persists for us to see and admire broad palettes of colour in September, October and even early November. Although foreshadowing the onset of winter, hues of orange, red, yellow and brown intermingle with shades of green.…

Iqaluit and beyond, through snow and ice

Everyone was on high alert, and while the crew sailed and fretted, we watched the parading wildlife

Iqaluit and beyond, through snow and iceI left you last time off the coast of Baffin Island, where we shared the shore with polar bears and followed the tracks of early explorers. Let’s see what happened next on my 20-day journey northward. Nunavut was separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999, as a result of the enactment of the Nunavut Act…

Sailing ever northward in search of wildlife, culture and history

Venturing to rarely-visited sites along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast on the way north

Sailing ever northward in search of wildlife, culture and historyI get to travel to some great places as an expedition guide. A few months ago (pre-COVID-19), I travelled to parts of Canada I had never seen before and filled in gaps on my lifelong adventures in Canada’s remotest reaches. I thought I’d share some insights about Canada’s northern regions as we celebrate Canada’s 150-plus…

Survival of the fittest, from a very young age

Some orphaned babies are unlikely to survive if very young but others can fend for themselves at an early age

Survival of the fittest, from a very young ageI was working on a breeding bird survey recently and encountered a scene that was both moving and shocking. Huddled in the short grass on the shoulder of the road was a baby raccoon, only days old, snuggled up beside its mother. At first I thought the scene was a Disney moment – one of…

Crickets, grasshoppers, songs and heatwaves

Grasshoppers existed long before dinosaurs. And crickets are eaten, reviled and revered around the world

Crickets, grasshoppers, songs and heatwavesFolklore widely claims that you can tell the temperature simply by listening to how fast crickets ‘sing.’ Is that really true? Read on and I’ll share the truth by the end of this column. But first, let’s learn something about these little guys and their buddies. Crickets are related to grasshoppers and resemble them a…

Jewelweed is a jewel of a weed

Herbalists have long espoused the benefits of jewelweed, primarily as a remedy for the treatment of poison ivy and poison oak rashes

Jewelweed is a jewel of a weedIn many areas of the country grows a little plant that has remarkable medicinal qualities: jewelweed. In my last column, I wrote about my encounter with poison ivy and the discomfort my carelessness caused me. Now I want to share more of the story. Natural medicines are well-known and much studied, here and abroad. Jewelweed…

Being careless around poison ivy can cost you

There’s a high likelihood of a rash arising as a result of contact with the plant. Have I mentioned I’m in agony?

Being careless around poison ivy can cost youI write this week’s column from a position of grave discomfort, for my careless attitude toward poison ivy has left me blistered and in some agony … sigh! I always thought I was immune to this dangerous plant, for I have tromped through it all my life and never even had a glimmer of an…

Pollinators in peril and need our help

Pollinators are responsible for about one out of every three bites of food people eat. Without them, we would starve

Pollinators in peril and need our helpWe hear with alarming frequency that honey bees are in decline around the globe due to mysterious diseases, climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. But what of the other pollinators – solitary bees, bumblebees, pollen wasps, bee flies, ants, midges, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles? How are they faring? Pollinators don’t have to be tiny…

Don’t squish that spider!

We may be genetically programmed to fear spiders, but they're here for a reason. Leave them alone to eat other insects

Don’t squish that spider!“The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. …” So many people are afraid of spiders, but I’ll bet almost none of them can tell you why. According to a new study out of Columbia University, it may be genetic. Our ancestors had to fear spiders – in Africa, where our roots all take us,…

Serenaded by cicadas

Their song is produced by a complex vibrating membrane on their sides and a hollow resonant body cavity

Serenaded by cicadasEvery year in late June to mid-July, I await the return of the cicada. (Actually, they never left, but more on that in a moment.) For me, this is the song of summer. As I write, one is serenading me outside my office window. Long after the April rains have passed, May flowers have bloomed…

We can – and must – stop our plastic legacy

Countless animals ingest plastics and die. Do we care? Do we care that these plastics are now in the human food chain?

We can – and must – stop our plastic legacyWe often see news items about the environmental impact of single-use plastic straws. And we want to do something, which is good. Costa Rica plans to ban single-use plastics. At a recent G7 summit, the nations condemned single use straws and said they will discuss the matter at a future meeting. But no action has…

Buckets of rain put wildlife in peril

With climate change, unrelenting rains can be challenging for wildlife and plants

Buckets of rain put wildlife in perilaa Rain is a good thing. It has so many beneficial properties – a source of drinking water for everything, a source of nutrition for plants and micro-organisms, a refreshing relief from the heat, a mechanism to replenish aquifers and lakes, a means to clean overlooked homes and cars, fun for kids of all ages,…