Thursday, 16 September 2021

Our Magpie Neighbours

 

Magpie

With a loud voice, a long tail, and distinctive black and white markings, black-billed magpies are easy to spot. They are large birds (1.5-2 ft) living year-round in northwestern Canada and the United States. You won't find them along the west coast, but you will find them in the interior of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. 

Western Canada’s black-billed magpies are one of 17 different species of magpies around the world. They are almost identical to Eurasian magpies. However, magpies found in South and East Asia have vivid blue and green feathers. 
“In ancient Rome, the magpie was associated with magic and fortune telling, while in Scandinavia some witches rode magpies or turned into them. In Germany, the bird was considered a bird of the underworld and in Scotland it was said that magpies had a drop of the devil’s blood on their tongues. 

"Outside of Europe, the magpie has a much more positive image. In Native American legends, the magpie was considered a friend of hunter-gatherer tribes. In Korea, the magpie is thought to bring good news and in China it is a symbol of happiness, foretelling and good fortune.” [Horniman Museum & Gardens
Magpies are omnivorous, eating everything from insects, grains, and berries to small rodents, other birds’ eggs, and even young chicks (although eggs and chicks make up only a very small portion of their diet). They’ve adapted well to urban living, helping themselves to leftover food scraps. In rural areas, they pick the ticks from the backs of large mammals such as moose and deer. The ticks they don’t eat immediately are tucked away for future meals. “Most of the ticks, however, are cached alive and unharmed, and may live to reproduce later.” 

Magpies belong to the corvid family along with crows, ravens, and jays and are some of the most intelligent birds in the world. Magpies “can use tools, play games, work in teams, and even mimic human speech.” 
“One of the most notable Black-billed Magpie behaviors is the so-called ‘funeral’—when one magpie discovers a dead magpie, it begins calling loudly to attract other magpies. The gathering of raucously calling magpies (up to 40 birds have been observed) may last for 10 to 15 minutes before the birds disperse and fly off silently.” [All About Birds
Unlike other crows, magpies have a very long tail. In fact, it’s the same length as their body. Scientists aren’t sure why they have such a long tail, “but it may provide magpies with the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the birds to evade larger predators and make up for rather average flying abilities.” 


Magpies spend up to 40 days constructing large, solid domed nests roughly 30 inches high and 20 inches wide. They are so well constructed they can last for many years. “The male gathers sticks for the exterior. The female tends to the interior, forming a mud cup and lining it with grass.” 
Photographer Ron Dudley has been photographing one nest for over 7 years and shares some of his photographs. [Feathered Photography
Magpies are vocal, social birds. You’ll often find them sitting in groups calling loudly. A group of magpies is known as a parliament, possibly because they often gather in large groups to converse among themselves. They will also band together to chase away a raptor. In the spring, you may hear large groups of birds cawing loudly as younger birds try to chase away and take over the territory of more established pairs. 
“Magpies are very curious, just like their relatives, the jays and crows. They may sometimes pick up shiny things, but they don’t show any preference for shiny over dull. A magpie’s more likely to grab your sandwich than your silver.” [Audubon
Magpies often perch on poles or the tops of trees to provide a visual display of their territory. The males establish dominance over other males by stretching their neck and flashing their white eyelids. Magpies mate for life. The females initiate the mating display by begging for food from the male. They lay one brood of 1-9 eggs each year. The fledglings learn to fly when they are about a month old but may stay with their parents for a year before flying away to find a mate. Magpies are non-migratory and normally stay within a 10 km radius of where they were born.
 
juvenile magpie

See Also 


Check out EcoFriendly Sask's Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada's 4 western provinces

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

EcoSask News, September 14, 2021

wood frog

Upcoming Events 
The Saskatoon Nature Society is hosting an online presentation on amphibians at 7:30 pm, Sept. 16. 

Library of Things, Saskatoon, will be open for pick-ups by reservation from the back door in the alley from 1-4 pm, Sept. 18. 

Nature Regina is hosting a presentation on the Treaty Land Sharing Network at 7:30 pm, Sept. 20, at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. 

The Saskatoon Nature Society is inviting the public to attend a Sandhill Crane viewing from 6-8 pm, Sept. 20. 

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society and the Saskatoon Public Library are offering an online presentation on Electricity in Saskatchewan: Current Status, Future Prospects from 7-8:30 pm, Sept. 21. 

The Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy is hosting a video conference on nuclear development, communicating risk, and public engagement at noon, Sept. 23. 

There will be a global climate strike at noon, Sept. 24, in Saskatoon. 
 
Full event details can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Local News 
William Hale has opened a used electric vehicle dealership in Saskatoon. William says he’s driven an electric vehicle (EV), winter and summer, for 3 years and loves it. “The electrification of transportation is one of the principal pathways to a low carbon economy and I want to help with this transition in Saskatchewan,” he explains. The dealership offers a lower-priced entry into the EV market and an opportunity to ask questions and test drive the vehicles. They also sell and install EV chargers for home use. 

Green Shift Automotive in Regina sells a range of electric vehicles from bikes, scooters, and skateboards to hybrid and electric cars. 

Alberta Lake Management Society is offering a fall webinar series with applicability across Canada. 

Transportation 
Exposure to traffic noise is associated with a range of health problems, including dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. [The Guardian

The six problems aviation must fix to hit net zero: 1. fuel; 2. non-CO2 impacts, such as nitrogen oxides and contrail clouds; 3. frequent flyers; 4. policy development; 5. the new middle class; and 6. supersonic planes. [The Guardian]

Mormon cricket

Wildlife 
Wildlife rescuers are the first to provide medical care for injured or sick animals and could provide an early-warning system for illnesses that also affect humans. [The Revelator

“Mountain and boreal caribou are on a long-term slide to extinction; not because of what wolves and other predators are doing but because of what humans have already done.” [Raincoast Conservation Foundation

“Rebugging is looking at the ways, small and large, to nurture complex communities of these tiny, vital players in almost all the natural and not-so-natural places on earth. It means conserving them where they are managing to hang on, and restoring them where they are needed as part of a rewilding movement. And it means putting bugs back into our everyday lives, our homes and where we play and work.” [The Revelator, an excerpt from Rebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More by Vicki Hird) 

When they’re not looking for a mate, some female hummingbirds are adopting the same brightly coloured ornamentation as males as it “helps them avoid aggressive male behaviors during feeding, such as pecking and body slamming.” [Science Daily

Energy 
“Air conditioning is the most obvious immediate response to the dangerous warming of the planet. It’s also making it worse. … People are going to keep buying air conditioners … so we need to offer them better, safer, cleaner devices … We’re doing a disservice to our citizenry when we let them buy something that is so expensive to operate, and so polluting that cooling is actually adding to the warming of the planet.” [The Guardian

Coal-fired plants made up 40% of global energy output in 2010. Here’s a breakdown of consumption on a country- by-country basis as well as a look at steps that could be taken to end coal use. [Climate Solutions

Despite what oil and gas companies would have you believe, blue hydrogen isn’t clean or economically viable. [DeSmog


Did you know?
Wood Frog hibernate under logs or leaf litter and can tolerate below-zero temperatures by increasing the amount of glucose in their blood, which lowers the freezing point and stops ice crystals from forming. [Nature Companion

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Community Highlight: Saskatoon Energy Management Task Force


1. How and when did you form your group? 
In the early 1980s, Energy Management Task Forces were formed across Canada with the support of the federal government. To our knowledge, the Energy Management Task Force in Saskatoon is the only one remaining. 

2. What are your principal activities and why do you believe they're important? 
We hold monthly breakfast meetings, from September to June, with speakers presenting on a variety of topics related to energy conservation and management. The breakfast meetings provide formal knowledge exchange as well as networking. 

We host the annual Rob Dumont Energy Management Awards to recognize and honour outstanding achievements of individuals and organizations in field of energy management. The awards are named in honour of the well-known and respected engineer. 

We manage the emtfsask.ca website, a resource for information on energy management and technologies. 

3. What have been your successes to date? 
Consistent attendance at breakfast meetings of 20-40 highly engaged energy professionals. 

Excellent discussions at breakfast meetings. 

Establishment and five years of Rob Dumont Energy Management Awards recognizing excellence in energy management. 

4. What would you like to achieve in 2021? 
We would like to expand attendance at the online meetings to people across Saskatchewan. 

We would like increased attendance by post-secondary students. 

5. If you could have 3 wishes for improving your community, what would they be? 
1. Energy efficiency is a priority at all levels of government 

2. There are high levels of energy efficiency in all new buildings. 

3. Good ideas for how to retrofit all existing buildings to reduce energy consumption by about 90%. 


6. Are there volunteer opportunities with your organization? If so, please describe them and indicate how people can contact you.
 
Attendees are always welcome at our breakfast meetings

The executive committee would welcome additional members. In particular, a person to monitor our social media accounts would be helpful. 

The Rob Dumont Energy Management Awards Committee would welcome additional members. In particular, people with marketing abilities and/or ability to obtain sponsors would be welcome. 

Additional Community Highlights 

Photo: pre-Covid breakfast meeting, provided by EMTF

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

EcoSask News, September 7, 2021

squirrel

Upcoming Events 
Saskatoon Nature Society is hosting a fall bird count on Sept. 11. Register by Sept. 10 if you’re interested in participating. 

Nature Regina is hosting a native plant sale from 9 am-1 pm, Sept. 11. 

The City of Prince Albert is hosting a household hazardous waste day from 9 am-4 pm, Sept. 11. 

City of Saskatoon residents can dispose of household hazardous waste from 9 am to 3:30 pm, Sept. 12. 

There will be an online federal election forum on climate, energy, and environment with Saskatoon candidates at 7 pm, Sept. 13. 

Nature Saskatchewan is hosting an online presentation on the migration and winter habitats of burrowing owls and monarch butterflies at 7 pm, Sept. 14. Register to participate. 

Looking Ahead 
Climate Reality Leadership Corps is offering online training from Oct. 18-24. 

Full event details are available on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar
 
gopher (Richardsons ground squirrel)

How We Build 
The City of Saskatoon is now offering a home energy loan program (HELP) to help residents make their homes more energy efficient. “HELP loans are repaid through property taxes over five-, 10-, or 20-year terms, and remain attached to the property. If someone moves before the loan is repaid, the new homeowner will take on loan repayment.” [CBC Saskatoon

Energy-efficient buildings in combination with improved indoor air quality could prevent 2,900 to 5,100 premature deaths annually. [Anthropocene

PFAS are used to make products water-, stain-, or heat-resistant and can be found in thousands of everyday consumer products, such as stain guards, carpeting, floor wax, and non-stick cookware. They are linked to various serious health problems and significantly contaminate indoor air. [The Guardian

An ice box demonstration highlights the effectiveness of passive house design for providing more comfortable homes with lower costs. [Inhabitat]
 
mouse

Wild Lives 
“So many people think about species in terms of how close to endangerment or extinction they are, but actually, what we want to do is recover species.” The goal should be measuring what we want to achieve as well as what we want to avoid. [Yale Environment 360

Wanted – conservation champions for rodents, evolutionary marvels that have adapted to almost every region on earth, serving as food for larger animals while their eating habits disperse seeds, pollinate plants, and recycle soil nutrients. [The Revelator

Making a Difference 
Don Kowalski of Griffin, SK, has donated 800 acres to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Trust Program. The land will be managed as a wildlife sanctuary and vehicles aren’t allowed. [Discover Weyburn

Climate cafés come in all shapes and sizes, providing an opportunity to support people as they acknowledge climate change exists and manage their feelings about it. [The Guardian

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

EcoSask News, August 31, 2021

deer

Upcoming Events 
EMTF-SK is offering an online presentation on hydrogen fuel technologies from 7:30-9:15 am, Sept. 1. 

Library of Things, Saskatoon, will be open for pick-ups by reservation from the back door in the alley from 1-4 pm, Sept. 4. 

Looking Ahead 
SaskOutdoors is offering a virtual Project Wild training from Sept. 13-Oct. 4. 

Nature Saskatchewan is hosting its fall meet in Moose Jaw on Sept. 18. 

The Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Areas Inc. has planned a number of activities during National Forest Week from Sept. 18-26. 

Full event details are provided on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Agriculture 
“Diversifying landscapes . . . could conserve nature and help to boost food production . . . landscapes with increased diversity typically produced around 17 to 18 bushels more per acre, of corn and wheat” [Anthropocene

A study of Alberta’s Bow River Basin shows that many farmers who adopt modern irrigation systems expand their operations, leading to increased agricultural water demand and potential water shortages. [Science Direct

Housing 
“What if the most American symbol of unsustainable consumption isn’t the automobile, but the air conditioner?” [Vox

As a result of the pandemic, Americans want larger homes, farther apart, with greater distance to schools and stores – despite the fact that urban sprawl fails to address climate change. [Planetizen

Low-rise, high-density cities have a lower carbon impact than high-rise, high-density cities as high-rises use more materials and need to be built further apart. [npj Urban Sustainability]
 
deer

Cohabiting with Wildlife 
Letter from an urban deer: “Don’t fret if you see us on your lawns. Rewilding is not just about letting a few species run free far away from human civilization. It’s about allowing our world to cross over into your world.” [High Country News

A UK study has found that LED streetlights cause worse light pollution resulting in fewer insect pollinators than traditional sodium bulbs. But that doesn’t have to be the case. “LEDs are dimmable, can be linked to motion sensors and can have cheap filters fitted to screen out blue light.” [The Guardian


Did you know?
The width of the banded woolly bear caterpillar's red band is said to predict the severity of the coming winter, but this isn't the case. The red band lengthens as the caterpillar matures, while wetter weather lengthens the black bands. [Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s 4 western provinces] 

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Community Highlight: For Peat's Sake – Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs


1. How and when did you form your group? 
For Peat’s Sake - Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs is a grassroots organization that formed in October 2020 just after Lambert Peat Moss Inc. held an engagement meeting to inform the public of their intention to mine peat in four areas in Northern Saskatchewan. It started with a small group of concerned locals in the La Ronge area and grew very quickly. For Peat’s Sake now includes local people who would be directly impacted by the peat mining (i.e. traditional land users such as trappers, hunters, and gatherers) and people across the province who want to protect the muskegs for their intrinsic values (i.e. as carbon sinks, as water filters, as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou, and for their unique ecosystem that grew over thousands and thousands of years). 

2. What are your principal activities and why do you believe they're important? 
Education is a very big part of our group’s activities - we learn from each other and with each other. Peatlands – or muskegs as we call them here – are more and more in the discussion as the largest natural terrestrial carbon store and our best ally against climate change, and yet most people know very little about muskegs. So we organize speaker series that look at muskegs from an Indigenous understanding as well as from a western science perspective. We de-bunk myths about peat and the need for peat products and advocate for banning peat mining in Saskatchewan/Canada. It’s important that people know why they shouldn’t use peat and what alternatives there are for use in gardening. The less people buy peat products, the better the chances that peat mining becomes an industry of the past just like in the UK, which announced a ban of peat products by 2024. We also petition against the Lambert Peat proposal and encourage people to write letters to the Ministry of Environment. And then of course we spend time in the muskegs – picking berries and medicines or simply learning about the place. Engaging with the land is one of the most important activities because you will only protect what you love and when you spend time in the muskegs you can’t help falling in love with the land. 


3. What have been your successes to date?
 
We’ve done a good job raising awareness, gathering momentum, engaging with provincial and national media, and collecting over 20,000 signatures against the Lambert proposal. The successes that can’t be under-estimated though are the ones that happen informally - a conversation with a neighbour, the manager of a garden centre, a post on a local community social media site. Our local garden centre brought in peat-free soil products (there aren’t many on the market by the way) after learning where peat comes from and what harm peat mining does to the environment. Lots of people thought that, once stripped of the vegetation, mined areas would provide a great wildfire break to the communities close by the mining proposal. After learning that muskegs need to be intact (which also means wet) to function as a fire break while drained and dried muskegs increase the risk of wildfires, a neighbour who was a supporter of the peat mine helped to gather signatures against the mine. After listening to a presentation about community grassroots activism in which For Peat’s Sake was mentioned, a First Nations chief whose community had just established a food garden vowed not to use peat products again and learn about alternatives. These are the successes that make a difference and stand for the changes that are needed on a large scale. 

4. What would you like to achieve in 2021? 
Our short-term goal is to stop the Lambert Peat Mining proposal from becoming reality. Once the company has submitted the environmental impact assessment report, the government will review the report and will post it for a 30-day public review period. In this period, we will be actively seeking support from individuals to send their concerns to the Minister of Environment. Long-term goals include the banning of peat mining in Saskatchewan (and Canada) and working with First Nations to establish Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas that will include muskegs that are critical habitat for human, animal, and plant species. For 2021, we will work towards these long-term goals by continuing our speaker events and forming partnerships with other organizations. 


5. If you could have 3 wishes for improving your community, what would they be?
 
I’m really proud of For Peat’s Sake. We’re all busy and yet we take the time to advocate and speak up for the lands that are dear to us. We’re coming from all sorts of walks of life and have formed a strong community. I wish that we keep supporting each other and holding each other up. I hope that one day we can have a big in-person gathering where we can meet all those that support us from far away. 

6. Are there volunteer opportunities with your organization? If so, please describe them and indicate how people can contact you. 
We’re a grassroots organization, so all activities depend on volunteers and volunteers shape our organization. You can find us on Facebook under For Peat’s Sake - Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs where we post events or ask for volunteer support (such as organizing speaker events), donations, and fundraising help. If you have an idea for a project or event and are willing to organize it, you’re most welcome to pitch it to us. You can also email us at northernmuskegs@gmail.com. We always welcome people who want to be actively involved.

Photo credits: Miriam Körner 

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

EcoSask News, August 24, 2021

Franklin's Gull

Upcoming Events 
City of Moose Jaw residents can dispose of household hazardous waste from 9 am-3 pm, Aug. 28. 

SOS Trees is holding its annual general meeting at 7 pm, Aug. 30, outdoors in Saskatoon. 

Looking Ahead 
Register to help the Nature Conservancy of Canada remove old fencing, a barrier and hazard for wildlife, from their Asquith property from 9:30 am-3:30 pm, Sept. 11. 

SaskOutdoors is offering a canoe certification course in Regina on Sept. 18-19. 

Full event details are available on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar
 
Northern giant horsetail (?)

Horsetail is one of the oldest plants on earth, reproducing by spore rather than seed. It can be found in or near wetland areas such as marshes, rivers, and streams throughout North America. [Nature Companion

Wetlands 
This could be the worst drought year ever in Saskatchewan, and wetland drainage has exacerbated the situation. “We have tax incentives for farmers to get as much land into production as possible, we need to put incentives in there to make it worthwhile financially for farmers to retain those wetlands,” says John Pomeroy, U of S hydrologist. [CKOM

One of our readers thought she had observed a decline in the number of Franklin’s Gulls. We did a little research and she’s quite correct. Franklin’s Gulls have declined by 95% in the United States between 1968 and 2015. A major factor has been the loss of wetlands where the gulls nest. [All About Birds

Climate Action 
Whether they are Canadian or US politicians, playing nice with the fossil fuel industry is climate denial. “It’s not that politicians in powerful countries have done nothing in the past two decades. The problem, rather, is that where they’ve done anything at all, it has tended to be the wrong thing, emphasizing subtle market tweaks and shiny new technologies instead of the core work of decarbonization: getting off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.” [The New Republic

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management Standard “leaves it up to the logging companies to self-identify that their activities are sustainable. The result is akin to having the fox guard the henhouse”. [Ecojustice

How to Think About the Climate Crisis by Graham Parkes looks at how the way we think can either choke off climate solutions or lead us out of philosophical dead ends. There is a focus on Chinese ways of thinking such as feng shui and animism because “We can’t resolve the climate crisis without Chinese cooperation – and that requires a more open attitude to, and better acquaintance with, their ideas about politics.” [book review, The Earthbound Report

Appreciating Nature 
Meet 10 racialized female and non-binary trailblazers who are transforming our sense of who belongs in the natural world. They say nature is for everyone and are trying to make it more accessible. [The Narwhal] 

With their fancy colours, elaborate sex lives, and strong parenting instincts, there’s a lot we don’t know or appreciate about mosquitoes. [Smithsonian Magazine

Outdoor Education 
We published a list of nature and environmental educational programs for young people last year. There may be some changes, but it should still provide a solid starting point. 

Earlier this year, we did some digging on the internet and came up with some nature apps we think look great for families with kids


Cattails play an important role in purifying and removing pollutants from bodies of water. They also form an important habitat for birds, insects, amphibians, and fish. [Nature Companion

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).