Thursday, 16 September 2021

Our Magpie Neighbours



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 

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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. 

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 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

“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 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


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]

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


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 

“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

“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]

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 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

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).

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Water Rangers: Testing the Quality of Canada's Water

Many Canadians spend their summers at the lake, while others relish riverside walks or paddle boarding. We tend to assume that our waters are clean and healthy – but are they? According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2017 Watershed Reports, we lack data on the water quality of 100 out of 167 of our watersheds. Of the ones that have been tested, 42 out of 67 are rated Poor or Fair. 

Getting Started 
In 2014, Kat Kavanagh was staying at her family’s lakefront cottage and went out with her father when he did his regular test for water quality. Her father had accumulated 10 years’ worth of data, but the lab results were hard to understand and there was no easy way to compare and share the information. Kat was determined to develop a public data-sharing platform, so she and a team of other web designers and developers took her idea and a team to the Aquahacking challenge in 2015. They won: Water Rangers was underway. 

Once the platform was in place, the organization took a look at the water testing kits that were currently on the market. They were dismayed to discover the kits were very expensive and difficult to use. Water Rangers went on to design and distribute their own kit to people in Canada and beyond so they could collect and share community data on the Water Rangers’ free, open platform. 

Water Testing Kit 
Water Rangers test kits can be purchased online and are also being distributed for use in a variety of grant-funded projects. Some groups are testing for changes over time while others, such as a group monitoring mining activity in New Brunswick, have a particular concern and want data so they can hold authorities responsible. 

The kits provide valuable information about water temperature, conductivity, pH, alkalinity, hardness, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity. Different species have different temperature and dissolved oxygen requirements, and many species such as fish, frogs and insects can’t survive without oxygen. Similarly, many species can only survive if the pH is within a certain range. The kits also measure the water’s ability to conduct an electrical current. “Higher conductivity means there are more dissolved ions in the water, which is usually associated with more pollution.” 

Graduate students at Carleton University compared the results from the Water Rangers’ kit with those obtained using a professional probe and determined the kits were very accurate and provided reliable data. 

The kits have some limitations. Tests for toxicity are not included in the kits as they are really expensive. However, participants are encouraged to take photographs, which provide a graphic record of dead fish or algae bloom. Drinking water quality must be tested in a lab, but some of the tests in the kit, such as high conductivity or low dissolved oxygen, do alert you to a potential problem. 

Participants can add their data to an open-source platform so anyone who is interested can check the water quality in their area or compare results with other areas and over time. One of the organization’s goals is to increase its capacity to share its results with researchers and decision-makers. 

Testing water quality on a regular basis benefits participants personally as they spend more time outdoors and visit new locations. They also share what they’ve learned about water and the importance of protecting the environment with their friends and families. 

Large Projects in Ontario & Saskatchewan 
Water Rangers is currently involved in two large water-testing projects. In partnership with Canadian Freshwater Alliance and the Government of Ontario’s Great Lakes Local Action Fund, volunteers in the Lake Erie watershed are using the Water Rangers kits to test their local water bodies on a monthly basis from April to October 2021. Volunteers will also help with shoreline clean-ups, plant trees and wildflowers, and learn about local wildlife. 

Dr. Kerri Finlay started a water monitoring project at the University of Regina with volunteers at 2 lakes in 2017 and 6 in 2018. Once she learned about Water Rangers, she reached out and began a partnership that would expand the program. 43 volunteers are testing water across Saskatchewan this summer, from the Qu’Appelle Valley to Emma Lake. Many of the volunteers have cottages or visit the lakes frequently, so they’re being encouraged to test frequently. The results are uploaded to the Water Rangers’ database and will also be shared on the Gordon Foundation’s DataStream. Long-term goals include expanding the testing to more remote sites that are visited less often, improving communication back to volunteers, and adding to the kit so users can test for nutrients in the water. Over time, they hope to verify the reliability of community-based water monitoring programs and enhance collaboration between citizen and professional stakeholders to inform policies and decisions that affect our lakes, rivers, and streams. 

Additional Activities 
Other organizations share the Water Rangers’ belief in the value of monitoring water quality. The Gordon Foundation’s DataStream is an online platform for sharing information about freshwater health. They are currently uploading water testing results from the Mackenzie Basin, the Atlantic provinces, Lake Winnipeg, and, starting in fall 2021, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region. 

In British Columbia, the Environment Ministry has established Algae Watch, relying on volunteers to contribute information to help the government obtain a better understanding of when and where algae blooms are happening around the province. Water Rangers hope to be able to test for algae blooms in future. Algae blooms have significant side effects on human and animal health and they are starting to appear in places such as Lake Superior where they never happened in the past. 

Lake Futures, a research team based at the University of Waterloo, is focusing on the causes, impacts, and mitigation of water quality issues in the lower Great Lakes. Areas of interest include reducing the phosphorus entering Lake Erie and managing algal growth. Elaine Ho, a Lake Futures researcher, is hoping to use the Water Rangers test kits with Indigenous communities in Ontario and northern Quebec. 

Water First is a charitable organization addressing water issues faced by Indigenous communities. They have been using the Water Rangers test kits in their Indigenous school program. 

Emelia Duguay, Sustainable Development Coordinator, Water Rangers, and Erin Ennis, Summer Student Coordinator – Citizen Science Project, University of Regina in partnership with Water Rangers, graciously provided a wealth of information about the work their organizations are doing – thank you!

Photo credits: Water Rangers

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, 17 August 2021

EcoSask News, August 17, 2021

Great Blue Heron

Upcoming Events 
Help Meewasin protect wildlife in Saskatoon’s Northeast Swale by fence tabbing from 6-9 pm, Aug. 18. You can also protect birds during fall migration by applying stickers to the rink in downtown Saskatoon from 9-11 am, Aug. 21. 

Library of Things, Saskatoon, will be open for pick-ups by reservation from the back door in the alley from 1-4 pm, Aug. 21. 

Stan Shadick is offering 3 online workshops to assist with identifying warblers during fall migration from 7-8:30 pm, Aug. 22 & 29, and Sept. 6. There will be an optional field trip from 9-10:30 am, Aug. 29, in Saskatoon. Registration fees will support Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation. 

West Coast Environmental Law is offering a webinar on environmental justice in action at 1 pm, Aug. 26. 

Full event details are listed on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Local News 
The Citizens Environmental Alliance says the proposed Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project comes at colossal expense and high environmental consequences. [Citizens Environmental Alliance]

Indigenous land users, scientists, and youth are rallying to protect northern Saskatchewan’s peatlands from harvest. [CBC News]

City of Regina will be scanning blue carts to check for items that can’t be recycled. Their goal is to reduce the number of wrong items placed in the carts, which can lower the value of recyclable goods, harm recycling facility workers, and damage equipment. [CJME]
crow eating small fish

Energy Options 
Carbon capture and storage technology “has been under discussion and development for decades and governments are increasingly relying on it to meet their climate goals. But . . . by early 2021 there were only 26 CCS plants operating around the world, capturing 0.1 percent of global yearly CO2 emissions at most. And most of the CO2 captured to date has been used to dig up more oil through Enhanced Oil Recovery.”  [Desmog]

A new report from the Pembina Institute “shows that the climate benefits of blue hydrogen vary depending on the technology used to create it.” [Pembina Institute]

What Can We Do? 
“The key to fighting [climate] despair is to think beyond the individual and seek community support and solutions — especially those that put pressure on governments and companies to make the large-scale changes that are necessary to truly curtail emissions.” [Vox]

Fall bird migration is just around the corner and with it an increased risk of birds fatally colliding with buildings. Here are 5 tips for educating building tenants about bird-safe best practices. [FLAP Canada]

The Cheakamus community forest near Whistler, BC, “is charting new territory when it comes to sustainable timber harvest that outlaws clearcuts, respects Indigenous governance and combats the climate emergency.” [The Narwhal]

The Comox Valley Regional District in British Columbia is considering phasing out gas stations. “Existing gas stations wouldn't be forced to close, but would be considered ‘legally non-compliant’ — and wouldn't be able to add new pumps. New service stations would be allowed to open, but not to provide petroleum-based fuels.” [CBC News]

New Approaches 
“If we want robust and meaningful science to reach the courts, we need to start thinking about how science and the law operate together.” [Union of Concerned Scientists]

Presenting 4 novels that explore climate change and the Anthropocene. [Cool Green Science]

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, 12 August 2021

Community Highlights: Nature Saskatchewan

1. How and when did you start Nature Saskatchewan?
Nature Saskatchewan began as the Saskatchewan Natural History Society in 1949. In the beginning it was simply a society of amateur naturalists sharing their observations and experiences in nature. The Blue Jay was the beginning of the society and is still distributed to members on a quarterly basis. Nature Saskatchewan first sought to promote the conservation of our natural resources by appealing to its members to practise conservation and by lobbying governments and their agencies on behalf of our natural resources of every nature and kind. 

Much later, in the 1980s, the Society took a further step. It began to support research studies into the status of endangered or threatened species such as the swift fox, prairie rattlesnake, burrowing owl, piping plover, etc. Over the years, Nature Saskatchewan has grown to employ several full and part-time employees and is well respected as a voice for nature in Saskatchewan. 

2. What are Nature Saskatchewan's principal activities and why do you believe they’re important? 
Through several programs, Nature Saskatchewan works towards its mission of “We engage and inspire people to appreciate, learn about and conserve Saskatchewan's natural environment.” With over 600 members and 8 full-time staff as well as several seasonal staff, Nature Saskatchewan offers programs and services that provide knowledge and experiences for those who have a love for nature. 

One of the largest programs is Stewards of Saskatchewan (SOS). SOS is a suite of five voluntary stewardship programs that engage rural landowners and land managers in conserving habitat in southern Saskatchewan to benefit species at risk, ecosystem health, and people. The goals of the programs are to conserve habitat, raise awareness and provide support to agricultural producers, enhance prairie habitat for species at risk, and search for and monitor target species at risk populations. While the focus is on the targeted species, the programs ultimately benefit many other prairie species and their habitats. 

Nature Saskatchewan also manages the Last Mountain Bird Observatory (LMBO). LMBO is the only migration monitoring station in the province and, in 1992, joined the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN). 

Each program has a specific focus, whether it be education, research, or engagement with nature. No matter the pathway, the vision of Humanity in Harmony with Nature is always at the forefront. Each program is important to helping us move towards this vision. 

3. What were your successes (big or small) in 2020? 
Of course, 2020 was a challenging year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to consider how to deliver the same message while still adhering to public health orders. Most of our programming was moved online or adapted in some way. People needed nature in 2020 more than ever and the engagement we had with the public proved that. We held events such as Nature Trivia nights and Migratory Bird celebrations online and people joined us from all over Saskatchewan and even from neighbouring provinces. We were able to support people exploring nature in a safe way and that was certainly a success during a trying year. 

4. What would you like to achieve in 2021? 
 2021 will be focused on balance. Of course the return to in-person events and interactions is exciting; however, the connections we have made online with people further away have been valuable. Each program has some exciting work being done and we look forward to continuing to work towards conservation goals in Saskatchewan. 

5. If you could have 1 wish for improving your community (in relation to this program), what would it be? 
One main wish is for everyone to feel connected to nature in some way and to understand their impact on the natural environment. This doesn’t need to be extreme but simply appreciating a bird that lands near you or looking closer at nature while out for a walk is important. The saying, “You won’t save what you don’t love,” holds very true. We hope that people start seeing the true wonder of nature and start learning about it. Then perhaps they will do what they can to help conserve it. 

6. Are there volunteer opportunities with your program? If so, please describe them and indicate how people can contact you. 
We do offer volunteer opportunities and depending on experience and interest we can find a fit for most people. We are always looking for event volunteers and for people wanting to help with office tasks such as creating social media content. We are currently looking for volunteers with video editing experience. If you are interested in volunteering with Nature Saskatchewan, please fill out the volunteer application form

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, 10 August 2021

EcoSask News, August 10, 2021

big trees

Upcoming Events 
Kids ages 8-9 (9 am-12:15 pm) and 10-12 (1:30-4:45 pm) can join a forest adventure in Little Red River Park, Prince Albert, on Aug. 12. Neighbourhood bus pickups are available. 

SaskOutdoors is hosting a family paddle from 1-3 pm, Aug. 20, on Wascana Lake, Regina. Canoe rentals are available. 

All events are listed on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

More Fun for Kids 
Registration is now open for Nature Regina’s Get Outside Kids Club for 6-13 year olds. Sign-up is for the first 4 sessions on either Tuesdays or Thursdays. 

Project Noah has launched a free nature program for school classes with lessons on chipmunks, owls, spiders, animal tracks, camouflage, and orchids. You’ll find additional nature and environmental programs for children and youth listed on the EcoFriendly Sask website. 

Local News 
Prairie cities aren’t constrained by mountains or coastlines, which encourages lower-density neighbourhoods with large single-family homes and bungalow-style condos. But land isn’t the only issue. Lower-density neighbourhoods, as proposed by a number of Regina City Councillors, require more costly infrastructure (roads, sewer and water, etc.) and maintain a culture of car dependency. [Prairie Dog

“The interdependence of people, plants, and pollinators” – urban gardening initiatives in Saskatoon [Sask Dispatch]
big trees

Age Matters 
“Our tidy-minded forestry and our habit of treating trees as interchangeable are devastating to wildlife. ‘Replacing’ an old tree is no more meaningful than replacing an old master. The same applies to all ecosystems. When a trawler ploughs through biological structures on the seabed, they can take hundreds of years to fully recover. When a river is dredged and straightened, it becomes, by comparison to what it once was, an empty shell.” [The Guardian

It’s not enough to plant a million trees. You also need to take care of them and plant them in the right places. [Bloomberg City Lab

Our Common Future 
A landmark court victory for a BC First Nation sets an important precedent in defining “full and informed consent” and in recognizing First Nations as independent governments when negotiating with industry and other parties. But these actions may not be sufficient to ensure long-term sustainability: “We should be asking what is really needed and by whom, which development projects are beneficial in the long-term and whether projects that are totally dependent on the market demand should be approved. These are big challenges, and to properly address them it is necessary to question how we live, what we want or need, and how we envision our common future. The way in which we conceive development is a matter of mindset; how we frame and make sense of it can be changed if we challenge what the current society deems to be essential.” [The Conversation

“Urban walkable real estate is dramatically under supplied in relationship to demand. . . Sixty percent of Americans polled by the National Association of Realtors say they want to live within walking distance of places to work, shop and recreate. Only 10 percent want to be located in homes that only have access to other houses.” [Governing

4 universally applicable tips for building a water-smart city [Bloomberg City Lab

From toilet to tap – water-poor cities in the US explore water reuse strategies [Ensia

Individuals and communities in Alberta are being encouraged to take water monitoring into their own hands by looking for insects in rivers. [The Narwahl]

We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet by Mya-Rose Craig is a book for young adults with one page per activist describing what they do and what motivates them. [The Earthbound Report

Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation by Paul Hawken “is a what- and how-to-do-it-book and website. It is about action and connection so that anyone on any level of agency can see exactly what they can do about climate challenges and solutions.” [The Tyee

Did you know? Bur Oak can resist forest fires thanks to its very thick bark. It can also tolerate drought as it has very deep roots 

Check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s four 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, 5 August 2021

Visiting Grey Owl's Cabin


Grey Owl was born Archibald Stansfeld Belaney in Britain. He disguised himself as a Native American and became well known as a writer and lecturer on conservation. Despite his exposure as a fraud after his death, he is still a famous character in Saskatchewan. The cabin in Prince Albert National Park where he lived till his death in 1938 is maintained as a historical landmark and his grave is nearby. There are no roads to the cabin, but it can be reached by a 20 km trail or a 16 km boat trip. 

From the town of Waskesiu it is a 30 km drive to the end of the road. The last part of the road is unpaved and can be muddy if there has been rain. 

On Foot 
The trail follows the east shore of Kingsmere Lake. There are several wet, swampy sections. Usually you can get around them, but you may get your feet wet. There are also some small hills along the trail. From the end of Kingsmere Lake, it’s another 3 km to the cabin, which is on Ajawaan Lake. The trail is open to hiking and mountain biking. If you are an experienced trail runner, it's also possible to visit the cabin as a day trip (40 km round trip.) There are several campgrounds along the way. Typically, you might hike or paddle to the Northend Campground one day and then return the next day. If you arrive at the trailhead late, you can stay at the nearby Southend campground.

great blue heron

By Boat 
Travelling by water requires a 1 km portage to get to Kingsmere Lake. There is a rail line with carts to help with the portage. Motorized boats of less than 40 hp are allowed on Kingsmere Lake but must still be taken over the portage. It is safest to stay close to shore rather than cut across the lake as it’s a big lake and the waves can build quickly. Although you can portage from Kingsmere Lake to Ajawaan Lake, it's probably just as easy to walk the last few kilometers. 

If you are canoeing or kayaking you can extend your trip by following the shore all the way around Kingsmere Lake or by combining it with the Bagwa Loop

Note: Overnight visitors must register at the Information Centre in Waskesiu before their trip. 

Warning: There are black bears in the area. Consult Parks staff if you're not sure how to handle this. 

Depending on the time of year, mosquitoes and flies can also be a problem. It's a good idea to have insect repellent. 

See Also 

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

EcoSask News, August 3, 2021

sun on trees and ferns

Upcoming Events 
Join CPAWS-SK in inventorying species in the boreal forest pre- and post-fire on Aug. 8 and 10 from 5:30-8 pm. 

SK-PCAP is hosting an online webinar about research into where bats hibernate in Saskatchewan at noon, Aug. 10. 

Passive House Canada is hosting an online conversation with Harold Orr, passive house pioneer, at 10 am (SK), Aug. 11. 

Golden Eagles, a sub-group of the Saskatoon Nature Society, will be holding a variety of events on Thursdays in August. 
Aug. 12 - Fall shorebirds 
Aug. 19 - Pike Lake area 
Aug. 26 - Petrofka Orchard & Crooked Trees 

All events are listed on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Back to the Future 
"Like the stone lined canals in Kyoto, the terraced rice fields of Java allowing for millennia of continuous rice growing, the sandstone aqueducts of Italy still able to transport water after two millennia, the ancient Greek amphitheater still in use for plays and concerts, the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen that haven’t been resurfaced in five hundred years, we need to go back to thinking about our infrastructure not in terms of five year plans and technical efficiency, but in long term sustainability. If a bridge cannot be built that will last a thousand years, why build it? Why not build one that will last, even if it will be a less efficient or more expensive in the short run?" [Wrath of Gnon

Regina is a dusty ghost town; the legislature has moved north of La Ronge where water still flows in the Cumberland River system. The main characters are close to developing a genetic cross of wheat and perennial native grass. As Canada confronts drought and wildfires, Dry, Barbara Sapergia’s futuristic novel published in 2005 rings true today. [book review, Niche

Urban Planning 
Re-thinking the 15-minute city – not as an entity created with stopwatches timing how long it takes us to get from one location to another but as places with streets where people gather and enjoy themselves. [Governing


Prairie Life 
The Government of Manitoba is asking its residents for feedback on a proposed water management policy. How could we adapt it for use in Saskatchewan? [Government of Manitoba

Fossil-fuel exporting countries could see a loss of jobs as a result of a switch to renewable energy but could more than make up for it by emphasizing renewables manufacturing. [Anthropocene

Is it time to put the brakes on beekeeping? “Campaigns encouraging people to save bees have resulted in an unsustainable proliferation in urban beekeeping. This approach only saves one species of bee, the honeybee, with no regard for how honeybees interact with other, native species.” [The Guardian

Firefly flashes – the ins and outs of how they create light and why. [Scientific American

Did you know? Goldenrod doesn't cause hay fever as the pollen is slightly sticky and can't blow on the wind. 

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, 27 July 2021

EcoSask News, July 27, 2021


This Week’s Highlights 
With gratitude for the lifelong contributions of Stuart Houston, 1927-2021 [Bridges, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Science magazine has published a special edition on plastics. Articles include The plastic eaters, Achieving a circular bioeconomy for plastics, and Toward polymer upcycling – adding value and tackling circularity. [Science

Upcoming Events 
Learn to orienteer with Nature Regina from 10-11:30 am or 10:30 am-noon, Aug. 2. 

South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP) will be holding its annual general meeting on Aug. 9 in Frontier. 

All events are listed on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Greenland has suspended all new oil and gas exploration. Government officials said they believe the "price of oil extraction is too high," citing both economic considerations and the fight against climate change. [CBS News

Storing excess renewable energy in batteries and releasing it when needed is more effective with collective, neighbourhood battery storage. [Anthropocene

Conservation Needs & Successes 
Loss of habitat deprives woodland caribou of safety from predators, food, and safe nursing grounds and leads to increased competition and disease. [CPAWS-SK

A conservation agreement with Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited of Canada will protect over 3000 acres in the Moose Mountain Natural Area. The landowners have agreed not to subdivide, develop the property, drain the wetlands, or harvest the trees. [Discover Weyburn]

Elm Spanworm moth

That’s Amazing 
7 incredible moths - from one species that drinks the tears of birds to another that lives in the fur of sloths. [Smithsonian Magazine

Did you know? In very hot climates adult killdeer shade their eggs at midday and may soak their belly feathers to help cool the eggs. 

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).