Toronto Field Naturalists  –  Enjoy and preserve nature with us!
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Our Mission: Toronto Field Naturalists connects people with nature in the Toronto area.
We help people understand, enjoy, and protect Toronto's green spaces and the species that inhabit them.
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Tropical Reforestation Project
Posted February 2018
The largest ever tropical reforestation project is planting 73 million trees over six years. This project in the Brazilian Amazon is using a new technique for planting trees that results in more, stronger plants and hopes to cover 70,000 acres in new forests. Protecting tropical forests is essential in the fight to combat climate change. Stopping deforestation is important, but being able to transform degraded areas would help significantly in the absorption of greenhouse gases. This project is an experiment to find out how to do large-scale tropical reforestation in a cost-effective manner. To date reforestation uses the labour- and resource-intensive method of planting saplings. For this new project they will be over-planting seeds from more than 200 native species. Seeds that germinate will compete with each other, ensuring that the strongest grow to maturity. In the end this planting technique should result in more trees per hectare and more diversity among the trees. More information here.
Good Choices, Bad Choices
Posted January 2018
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's (ECO) 2017 Environmental Protection Report, Good Choices, Bad Choices: Environmental Rights and Environmental Protection in Ontario, is now available. The report examines eight issues of concern to environmentalists this year, including pollution and Indigenous communities, Ontario's protected areas shortfall, failing to protect the Algonquin wolf and reforming the Environmental Bill of Rights. Electronic copies of the report can be downloaded from the ECO website.
Without a Trace? Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Ontario's Endangered Species Act 2007
Posted January 2018
A new report co-written by Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice - shows Ontario's Endangered Species Act is failing to protect at-risk species after 10 years of implementation. The report identifies more than 2,000 "exempted" activities in at-risk species' habitats, with no government oversight or public scrutiny. Ontario's 2007 Endangered Species Act isn't protecting at-risk species because the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is failing to effectively implement it. Read the full report here .
Protecting Water for Future Generations
Posted December 2017
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is undertaking a consultation on a study area for potential Greenbelt expansion to protect important water resources in the outer ring of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The study area is based on the locations with high concentrations of water resources that are under pressure from urban development.
They are accepting input and feedback about the study area and the parameters for potential Greenbelt expansion until March 7, 2018. Input received will help inform decisions on how to move from a study area to a proposed Greenbelt boundary. Visit to find information on the plan and how you can make your voice heard.
Citizen Scientist Success
Posted December 2017
Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project that has over 14,000 registered users and 20,000 bumble bee observations throughout North America. Researchers used the database to discover that the two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus) has an expanded range in Quebec, plus sightings in the maritime provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which previously were not included in its territorial map. All sightings were verified by bee experts based on the photos submitted by the observers. The two-spotted bumble bee is a native bee that currently is not in decline.
You can view a map of the expanded range here.
Help Bumble Bee Watch by submitting a sighting either through their web page or iPhone app.
Bats Blind to Buildings
Posted October 2017
Tests of bat's use of echolocation has discovered that smooth vertical surfaces are "invisible" to them. Rough surfaces let some echoes return to the bat while smooth surfaces reflect the sound away, which fools the bat into thinking there is open space in front of it. In urban areas with bat populations, dead bats can be found at the base of buildings much like we find dead migrating birds here in Toronto. The researchers placed bats (one at a time) in a dark tunnel with felt-covered walls, except for one plate of smooth metal on the side near the end of the tunnel, then counted the number of strikes against both types of surfaces. They found the bats avoided the rough felt-covered surfaces but interpreted the smooth plate as a clear flight path. Horizontal smooth surfaces are not a problem for bats as they are interpreted as still water sources. Further information here.
NCC Lands Turned into Parks
Posted October 2017
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has added two of their properties to Ontario's Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves. One will be a new park called the Brockville Long Swamp Fen Provincial Park and the other is an expansion of Charleston Lake Provincial Park, including more than 8 kms of shoreline, wetlands, bare rock ridges and mature mixed upland and lowland deciduous forests. According to the NCC, "Brockville Long Swamp Fen is an important wetland complex in the South Nation and Kemptville Creek (Rideau River) watersheds. A provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, this biologically diverse area provides habitat for several species at risk, including a variety of reptiles and amphibians." Charleston Lake Provincial Park is open to the public. The Brockville Long Swamp Fen Provincial Park will be a kept as a nature reserve.
Earthworms and Sugar Maples
Posted October 2017
A new study from Michigan Technological University points to earthworms as possible cause for the decline and die back of sugar maples. Earthworms are not native to Canada or north-eastern United States. They cause damage by eating the layer of leaf litter that trees, seedlings and wildflowers rely on. Sugar Maples are particularly hard hit by this as 90% of their roots are in the top few inches of soil. With the protective leaf litter layer removed, the underlying soil dries out reducing the amount of water the trees have access to.
Tagging Monarchs at the CNE
Posted September 2017
TFN members Anne Purvis and Margaret McRae spent 2 afternoons at Scadding Cabin at the CNE in late August tagging monarch butterflies and talking about raising butterflies. They showed pupas, small and large caterpillars. The event was a success with close to 300 observers in the 2 days including many children. One butterfly emerged overnight another emerged in the afternoon which thrilled the people watching. Usually Margaret tags butterflies that she raises at home so catching them is easy as they are caged. At the CNE she had to catch them outside in order to tag them which is much trickier. Fortunately Carol Sellers was able to lend Margaret a net. Finding butterflies on the first day was easy but the second day was cooler and cloudy and they didn't catch any until the late afternoon when the sun came out. Many thanks to Margaret and Anne for educating people on the plight of butterflies and what individuals can do to help.
Creating a better bird collar?
Posted September 2017
Domestic cats are responsible for about 196 million birds death every year. Campaigns aimed at cat owners in an attempt to convince them to keep their cats indoors have only been moderately successful, so there is a market for products that let cats roam around but prevent kills (e.g., ultrasonic devices). Simply putting a bell on a cat's collar causes birds to return with 41% fewer birds than cats with a plain collar. But to really make a difference in a cat's kill rate, outfitting your cat with a Birdsbesafe collar reduces the return rate to 87% fewer birds according to a study in Global Ecology and Conservation. The Birdsbesafe collar also reduces small mammal kills but is not as effective at that. The collar's colours are specifically designed to be highly visible to bird vision and the product's aesthetic is designed to be acceptable by cat owners. The latter is important as products like CatBib which, though effective, are bulky and unappealing to owners. Still, the best way to protect birds from pet cats is to keep them indoors.
More information on the Global Ecology and Conservation study can be found here.
Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario
Posted September 2017
The Ontario government has released their new Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario. The document recognizes the importance of wetlands for flood control, climate change mitigation, and providing clean water. It also recognizes the significant threats to these sensitive ecosystems and the need for protection if we want them to survive. The strategy includes the prohibition of development on provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) and provincially significant Great Lakes coastal wetlands. For development to occur in non-provincially significant areas, it has to be demonstrated that there will be no negative impacts, which means they are still under threat of development.
The province has committed to three main actions:
Action 1: Improving Ontario's Wetland Inventory and Mapping
Action 2: Creating No Net Loss Policy for Ontario's Wetlands
Action 3: Improving for the Evaluation of Significant Wetlands
The Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario document contains much more information for those interested.
More Blanding's turtles released in Rouge Park
Posted September 2017
Blanding's turtles have inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, but came close to extirpation when only around six turtles remained in 2013. Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority are working to rebuild the population and have been releasing baby turtles into Rouge park since 2014. Eggs are collected from a stable population of turtles and raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo. Once the baby turtles are two years old they are released. Since Blanding's turtles have a life span of up to 80 years, and don't start reproducing until they are in their teens, two years old is still very young, but old enough that their shell has hardened sufficiently to provide protection.
This year 49 baby Blanding's turtles were released. Previously 36 turtles were released in 2016, 21 in 2015, and 10 in 2014 - the first year of the program. The turtles are released into an artificial wetland that is isolated from the busy roads that take a toll on all turtle species. Each turtles is also tagged with a radio-tracker so researchers can study the success of the program.
Battling Sea Lamprey
Posted August 2017
Sea lampreys were introduced to the Great Lakes in the early 20th century through shipping canals. The devastation they caused to sport and commercial fisheries led the government to create programs to control the species. Such controls include using chemicals to kill lamprey larvae, and using traps and barriers to prevent adults from moving upstream to spawn, thus disrupting their cycle. These controls have reduced the population of sea lampreys by 90%, but they also affect native fish, and the chemicals potentially harm the watershed.
Grant Brown, a biologist at Concordia University, has discovered a natural compound to control the population of sea lampreys. When a lamprey is injured it releases a compound into the water that warns other lampreys of danger. The researchers tested to see if using this compound in a real-world situation would prevent the lampreys from going upstream to spawn. The controlled tests were successful in deterring a significant number of lampreys, so the team is looking at next steps in the research. One such step is creating a synthetic compound that can be produced in large amounts. Currently they are collecting the substance from the lampreys themselves.
More information on the study can be found here.
Caterpillars and Plastic Bags - Good News!
Posted July 2017
A developmental biologist and amateur beekeeper has come up with a new way to get rid of used plastic bags: Make waxworms eat them. Full article here.
Posted June 2017
Scientists from Carleton University have found that there are more plastic microfibers in the Ottawa River and tributaries than plastic microbeads. Microfibers are used in apparel such as yoga pants, fleece jackets and other athletic wear, and are washed out of the garments when laundered. They then find their way into natural waterways and eventually the ocean. As with microbeads, zooplankton and larval fish ingest these plastics and can either die outright, or suffer predation and concentrate the plastics further up the food chain. In the water samples the researchers collected, as much as 95% of the plastic content was microfibers and 5% was microbeads.
Learn more here.
One less worry for snapping turtles
Posted May 2017
On Friday March 31, 2017, the Ontario government announced its decision to terminate the legal hunting of snapping turtles. This is long overdue but still a welcome development. Snapping turtles are a species of special concern in the province, so allowing them to be hunted made no sense ecologically. Even taking just a few adult turtles from a population can have a huge effect, as female turtles can take 17 to 20 years before they lay their first clutch of eggs. And they are already under pressure from habitat loss and road kill. This is a great decision for the government to make.
Learn more about the snapping turtle here. The decision is posted here.
Early, warm springs can be bad for migrating birds
Posted May 2017
Research continues to show that long-distance migrating birds are hurt by our earlier springs caused by climate change. These birds can't alter their schedule of when they take off from wintering grounds, but local insects do emerge earlier, so the birds could miss the food supply peak. Reduced food supply can hamper the birds' ability to breed successfully. Learn more about how climate change is affecting birds at Nature Canada.
Bumble Bees - Smarter Than You'd Think
Posted March 2017
Researchers studying insect behaviour have shown that bumble bees can learn actions that aren't part of "the job of being a bee." Plus they can learn these actions by observation and not by the incremental training usually used to teach animals complex skills.
The task was to move a wooden ball to the centre of a platform. The bees first watched the researchers do the task and earn a reward, then they got a chance and emulated the action. Then these trained bees performed the task while watched by test bees who had never seen the task before. The test bees were able to achieve the goal of moving the ball and getting the treat almost every time, which suggests they were using social cues from watching the trained bees.
More information (and a short video of the bees moving the ball) can be found here.
More Species Protected under the Species at Risk Act
Posted March 2017
The federal government has recently added 18 species (all primarily western) to the Species at Risk Act list. This is the first step necessary to enable the protection benefits that come with the Act. Once listed, the government is tasked with creating long and short-term objectives in a recovery strategy and action plan. However, there is still a five-year backlog of species scientifically declared to be at risk that are not legally listed under the Act, so much more needs to be done.
For a list of the added species, click here.
Province Rejects Proposals for Development in the Greenbelt
Posted March 2017
After reviewing over 700 requests to remove lands from the Greenbelt, Ontario announced that most of them will be rejected. Only 13 proposals will be acted on and those are minor adjustments to correct for boundary mapping errors from when the Greenbelt was originally created. The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) asserts that the province's decision is largely due to the outpouring of public support to protect and expand the Greenbelt. Over 35,000 letters were delivered to Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro asking to protect and grow the Greenbelt in order to preserve vulnerable water supplies and natural areas. Read more here.
The Importance of Calling 311
Posted February 2017
A local resident called 311 to report a foul smelling spill in the Don River near the Gerrard Street overpass. This led to city workers containing the fuel spill to stop it entering the harbour and to tracking down the source of the pollution. Akelius Real Estate Management owns the industrial, contaminated, brownfield property where the leak is suspected of originating. They are working with the City on both short-term and long-term plans to stop the leak and prevent it from happening again. The brown, sludgy spill has only been identified as a "petroleum-like material."
Owners of brownfield properties are responsible for monitoring levels of contaminate at their sites, but citizens contacting 311 can make a difference in curbing pollution. Article here.
Large-Scale Tree Counting
Posted February 2017
Treepedia is a website that lets you examine and compare tree canopy coverage for 15 cities around the world. It was created by the MIT Senseable [sic] City Lab together with the World Economic Forum. Using Google Street View, the researchers were able to count individual trees to calculate each city's canopy by using a Green View Index.
Toronto's coverage is fairly decent at 19.5% putting us in 9th place. Vancouver, the only other Canadian city to be mapped so far, got second place with 25.9%. Singapore is first with 29.3% coverage, and Paris is the worst with only 8.8%. The goal of the project is to promote increasing the number of city trees. It should be noted that the Green View Index only counts trees; it doesn't reflect the health of the canopy.
You can learn more and explore interactive maps at Treepedia.
University of Toronto Professors Thinking Ahead
Posted February 2017
Reacting to President Trump's negative attitude towards science and climate change, a group of professors at U of T organized an archiving event before Trump's inauguration to capture data from the US Environmental Protection Agency website. Scientific data removal has happened in the past under Bush in the US and Harper in Canada.
Archiving is a massive effort, as databases cannot be simply copied. Someone has to go through the information, decide what is important and download it, so the group was only able to get a small amount of the data. Archiving events also happened in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles where secured data were stored on European servers. Trump's administration removed climate change material when he took office.
On Feb 11th, another group of 200 diehard coders at UC Berkeley's campus held an event to tag and save more information. Read about it here.
Free Topographic Maps of the U.S.
Posted February 2017
National Geographic has created an easy-to-use, interactive website that enables you to quickly find and print topographic maps of the continental US. The maps are the same ones that the U.S. Geological Survey provides but the National Geographic site is much easier to navigate. Unfortunately, Canada isn't included. The Government of Canada has a website dedicated to topographic maps, but the interface is clumsy and non-intuitive.
Changes to Rouge Urban National Park Act
Posted January 2017
In June, the federal government tabled amendments to the Rouge National Urban Park Act that would ensure strong protection for its ecosystems, including enshrining ecological integrity as a guiding principle for the park's management, Ontario Nature reports in the winter 2016 issue of ON Nature. The Ontario government will now release a parcel of 1700 hectares of land to be added to the park, bringing it to 79 square kilometres.
Ontario Nature also notes that the federal government still needs to cancel plans for an airport at Pickering and transfer the lands assembled for this project to the park. Read more about this here.
Big-billed birds spend more time snuggling against the cold, study shows
Posted January 2017
Bigger isn't always better - at least not in the bird kingdom. New research from Deakin University's School of Life and Environmental Sciences has found that the larger a bird's bill, the longer it spends trying to keep it warm.
The study examined the "backrest" behaviour of birds, where they turn their heads to the back and tuck their beaks underneath their feathers when they are resting, according to ecologist Matthew Symonds, leader of the research team. "The birds with bigger bills used this behaviour more, and over noticeably longer periods. In fact, they continued to use the behaviour more even as the weather warmed."
Dr Symonds said the findings had a significant implication for how bigger-billed birds spent their time. "While these birds have developed larger beaks to help them forage for food, it actually has a negative side effect in that they need to spend more time keeping this equipment protected from the cold," he said. "This then lessens their time available for things like food gathering and keeping an eye out for predators. It's an unexpected cost of having a larger bill."
Dr Symonds said bills were a significant area of heat loss for birds and his previous research had shown that birds in colder climates had evolved to have smaller beaks to mitigate this effect. See the full report here.
Road salt, leaf litter can change sex ratios in frog populations
Posted January 2017
Chemicals found in road salts commonly used to de-ice paved surfaces can alter the sex ratios in nearby frog populations. This phenomenon could reduce the size and viability of species populations, according to a new study by scientists at Yale and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The researchers found that the proportion of females within tadpole populations was reduced by 10 percent when exposed to road salt, suggesting that it has a masculinizing effect. More than 22 million metric tons of road salt is applied to roads in the United States each year.
They also found that exposure to fallen oak leaves also significantly altered the sex ratios in the frog populations, as well as the size of individual females in some cases. Maple leaf litter, on the other hand, had no effect. Maple and oak are dominant trees throughout temperate North America.
"The health and abundance of females is obviously critical for the sustainability of any population because they're the ones that make the babies," said Max Lambert, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the paper. See the full report here.
East Don Trail Review
Posted November 2016
The City of Toronto and TRCA have completed a study to determine a trail route that would provide a connection in the multi-use trail network between the existing East Don Trail, the Gatineau Trail and the Don Trail System. This trail system is proposed within the valleylands of the East Don River from Lawrence Avenue East to the north and where the West Don River, Don Mills Road and Don Valley Parkway meet to the south. The route includes nine bridges over the East Don River, one over Taylor Massey Creek and two over drainage tributaries, as well as five railway crossings.
An Environmental Study Report has been prepared and is available for review between Nov 10 - Dec 9, 2016. The study can be reviewed online or at selected libraries.
Ontario Environmental Protection Report
Posted November 2016
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe, has released her 2015/2016 Environmental Protection Report: Small Steps Forward. In it she takes the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to task over its inability to provide effective species protection, which is its responsibility. She recognizes that the MNRF is challenged by limited resources and the demands of many stakeholders, but doesn't believe the ministry is taking its biodiversity duties seriously enough.
The main topics covered in the report are: using fire to manage Ontario's northern forests; invasive species management; and wildlife declines that are threatening biodiversity. One specific case highlighted is Ontario's declining moose populations. There are about 92,300 moose in the province and approximately 98,000 licensed moose hunters, not including Aboriginal peoples who have a right to hunt moose without a license. Making matters worse, too few calves are reaching breeding age. Hunting is not the only issue as not everyone with a license kills a moose calf in a given year. Habitat degradation, disease and parasites, predation and climate change are also threats. Moose numbers are down 20% in the last decade. The MNRF needs to act urgently on habitat protection and biodiversity monitoring to save moose and other at-risk species.
Raccoons in the City
Posted October 2016
Are you waging a war against raccoons getting into your garage, trash, or even house? Turns out you are teaching them to be smarter! At least that is what a study by Suzanne MacDonald, an animal behaviour researcher and professor at York University, has found. Raccoon population has surged over the past 80 years and although more are found in the suburbs, their numbers are growing in cities as well.
MacDonald's study indicates that city raccoons are smarter than their rural counterparts because they are forced to navigate human-made obstacles, and solve puzzles to eat. Her study included putting GPS collars on urban and rural raccoons to track them, and testing them with hard-to-open garbage cans baited with cat food. The urban raccoons were able to open the cans (for the most part) while the rural ones were baffled. The GPS data showed that most raccoons avoid crossing major roads, which appears to be a learned behaviour. We need to get the skunks to learn that as well! Read more about this here.
Toronto Has Decent Tree Diversity
Posted October 2016
Researchers from the University of California studied 20 cities to understand what drives variations in urban biodiversity. Toronto was ranked highest of the Canadian cities, even beating out London, "The Forest City!"
The researchers found that warm cities are dominated by imported species while cold cities have more native species, leading them to hypothesize that climate tolerance and trait choice hypothesis relates to how urban forests form. Climate tolerance allows cities like Los Angeles to grow tropical trees that colder cities like Toronto can't. Trait choice includes matching the needs of the trees to the area planted. For instance, water-hungry trees (like willows) would not be chosen for Phoenix because it is a dry city and the trees would need too much special care to keep them alive. Trait choices also come into play as urban residents prefer trees that have large flowers, and are pollution-resistant, among other desired traits. Species that best match both climate tolerant and trait choice tend to be overplanted, resulting in less diversity.
Blacklegged Tick Season
Posted September 2016
Blacklegged tick adults are active in the fall so remember to protect yourself when hiking through wooded or bushy areas with leaves on the ground, or tall grasses. Toronto Public Health has an active tick surveillance map that provides information on the locations where ticks have been found. They also have a page on Lyme disease prevention that is a great resource if you want to know more. The risk of getting Lyme disease in Toronto is believed to be low.
Sensory Bee Cabinets
Posted August 2016
Sarah Peebles has created viewing installations for native bees and wasps which are open to the public in and around Toronto and Niagara Falls. Audio Bee Booths and Cabinets foster the art and science of observing solitary native bees and their role in pollination ecology. Aesthetically compelling, immersive and informative, these outdoor works intersect habitat interpretation, bio-art, sound installation and sculpture. They allow the public to safely view and listen to solitary-dwelling, (mostly) native bees - pollinators which are quite different than European honey bees - and solitary wasps, nature's insect controllers. In Toronto, you can find an Audio Bee Booth in High Park, from July to September. Learn more here.
Become a Citizen Scientist!
Posted July 2016
Ontario Nature has launched their Directory of Ontario Citizen Science (DOCS), which is an online, searchable tool that connects seasoned or budding citizen scientists with volunteer opportunities across the province. DOCS is specifically aimed at citizen science projects with biological, environmental or conservation goals. Check it out and see what projects you can help with:
Citizen science is the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.
Dogs Off-Leash
Posted July 2016
Dogs off-leash can cause many issues in parks when they are allowed to run around in areas that are designated on-leash. They can threaten wildlife and disturb nesting sites. They damage and destroy native plant populations, including rare and endangered species. Plus they spread the seeds of invasive species. If you see a dog off-leash where it shouldn't be, you can report it to the city by using the 311 service. By reporting problems you let the city know where incidents are occurring so they can increase enforcement.
Phone (311 within Toronto), email (, or use their website ( to report incidents.
Youth Summit Registration is Open
Posted July 2016
Registration for the Ontario Nature Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Environmental Leadership is open now until September 12, or until capacity is reached. Alongside the Youth Council, ON is welcoming 100 environmental leaders from high schools across the province for a weekend of meaningful discussion and outdoor fun. This year's summit is scheduled for September 23-25 at YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia. You can find more information and registration details here.
Grow Our Greenbelt!
Posted July 2016
Over 30 environmentally-conscious organizations have launched the Grow Our Greenbelt website to call for better protection of the Greater Golden Horseshoe's fresh water resources. Unless we're vigilant, demands on the region's water resources will undermine our safe and reliable sources of freshwater. To find out more about what you can do, check out their website: Consultations end September 30 so act now.
Less Toxic Dry Cleaning
Posted July 2016
The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) had a victory at City Hall with the passing of motions that would could lead, among other things, to a point-of-sale display program requiring all dry cleaners to clearly disclose to customers the types of solvents used to clean garments and any known hazards these solvents pose to public health. TEA has been researching and campaigning to expose the environmental toxins in products that are used in so-called "green" dry cleaning. Read more about the motions and what they can do here.
Do Birds Go Grey?
Posted April 2016
There is no need to ask "Does she... or doesn't she?" when it comes to a bird's colouration. Birds don't go grey. And now science has been able to explain it in minute detail that wasn't available before. It has been widely known that the colour we see when looking at feathers is produced by manipulating the reflection of light and not by pigmentation, as with human hair, but the mechanism at work has eluded science until now.
Using a powerful high-energy x-ray instrument called a synchrotron, scientists were able to build up detailed images of the spongy nanostructure within a Eurasian Jay's feather barb, down to a scale of a billionth of metre. Inside the spongy nanostructure there is a network of sub-microscopic holes that accounts for the overall hue of the plumage. A feather barb can go from white to blue purely by changing the size of the sub-microscopic holes. This explains why the brightly coloured feathers of many birds do not fade in sunlight or go grey with age. Unlike human hair these feathers don't rely on the continuous production of the dark pigment melanin, which decreases with age.
If you do see a bird with white feathers it could be either an albino (very rare) or leucistic bird. Leucism affects only birds that have a melanin pigment in their feathers, like grackles.
The study can be found here.
Killing Wolves Isn't the Answer
Posted April 2016
On December 17, 2015, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proposed weakening hunting restrictions and allowing anyone with a small game license to kill up to two wolves and an unlimited number of coyotes per year. They would do this by removing the game seal currently needed to kill these animals. Fortunately the Government of Ontario rejected the proposal.
Moose populations are in decline in northern Ontario but science does not support killing top predators as a successful management practice. Even the government's own study indicates that other factors (including hunting pressures) are affecting the moose population more than wolves. In fact, removing keystone species can have dramatic negative effects on the entire ecosystem, as was discovered when wolves were killed off in Yellowstone National Park in the US and subsequently reintroduced. We are happy that the government has turned down this ill thought out proposal.
Trash Collection in the Ocean
Posted April 2016
You may have heard of the infamous Great (North) Pacific Garbage Patch that is estimated to be between 700,000 to 15,000,000 square kilometres in size. But you might not know that it is just one of five garbage accumulations where currents converge in the oceans. The second largest is the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, but trash also accumulates in the Indian Ocean Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre and South Pacific Gyre. In 2016 a Netherlands foundation called The Ocean Cleanup will be testing a barrier design that uses currents to gradually trap waves of waste, while it allows fish and other types of creatures to pass through. The goal is to employ this technology on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2020.
Plastic pollutions cause the death of millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals each year. Turtles in particular are sensitive to plastic debris as they mistake it for jellyfish and if they eat it they can become sick or even starve. Plastics can also entangle marine life, preventing them from moving freely or being able to eat. Let's hope that the test is a success.
Toronto Looking to Send Trash to Ingersoll
Posted March 2016
Toronto is trying to get rid of its garbage and Ingersoll isn't interested. The Green Lane Landfill, used now by Toronto, will run out of room in 2029 unless something drastic changes the rate of recycling. The city is looking at a limestone quarry that is only 800 metres east of the Ingersoll border. Ingersoll's mayor has said that they are not a willing host for Toronto's garbage and aren't willing to risk the quality of their drinking water. Toronto city staff are looking into ways of extending the life of the Green Lane Landfill by increasing waste diversion (including recycling). Toronto's goal is to divert 70% of its waste from landfill. Currently homeowners are around 68% but apartments (including condos) are only at 29%. Better recycling facilities for apartments would help cut down on landfill needs.
Bee City?
Posted March 2016
Toronto is home to more than 300 species of bees and would like to become Canada's first official Bee City. City Council will vote on March 30th on approving the concept and submitting an application to Bee City Canada. But put away your hive-building tools. Honeybees are not a native species and creating new honeybee hives actually hurts native bee pollinators by increasing competition. To become a Bee City Toronto must commit to having a web page about their program, letting the public know of their commitment, holding at least one annual awareness event, and reapplying for certification each year with a report on what they accomplished on behalf of pollinators the previous year. More information here.
Zero Waste Toronto
Posted March 2016
The Toronto Environmental Alliance has released a document called Zero Waste Toronto that outlines a vision where the environment, our communities and good green jobs are part of Toronto's waste management solution. They state that if everyone in Toronto had access and used existing waste collection services like the Blue Bin and Green Bin, we would cut what we send to landfill by 300,000 tonnes per year. The report can be found here.
U of T Investing in Environmental Science
Posted March 2016
University of Toronto Scarborough has opened a new research and teaching facility for the study of environmental sciences and chemistry. The University says that research and teaching in the building "will focus on environmental issues such as climate change, groundwater pollution in urban settings, restoration of degraded environmental systems, and rising sea levels." The building itself uses 40% less energy compared to a similar sized lab and has an earth tube that uses a geothermal system to provide supplemental air conditioning. It's nice to see our universities being good citizens.
Stop the Humber Bay Park East Pavilion
Posted February 2016
Councillor Mark Grimes and the City of Toronto have announced that a 12,000 Sq Ft pavilion for large gatherings is being built in Humber Bay Park East. Friends of Humber Bay Park have started a petition to show that this pavilion is not welcome in the park, which should be protected and preserved as it has been for years- a quiet nature park. Sign the petition here.
High Park Zoo To Be Enhanced
Posted February 2016
Friends of High Park have announced that High Park Zoo will be getting some improvements in the future. This is a huge turn-around from being closed down, which was almost their fate in 2012. The master plan, which still needs to be reviewed by the community, seeks to make the zoo better for both human visitors and the animals that are housed there. For example, animals will get expanded space and interactive feeders, while humans will enjoy improved lighting and accessible pathways. The impetus for the changes was the city announcing the construction of the new Deer Pen Road, slated to start in 2017. A date has not been set for the start of the zoo's improvements.
Canadian Climate Change Deniers May be taken to Court
Posted February 2016
Ecojustice filed a complaint in December with the federal Competition Bureau in response to misleading information on climate change being disseminated by the group "Friends of Science." Ecojustice is also trying to get criminal charges laid against the group. "Friends of Science" muddies the water of climate change discussion by trying to discredit established scientific consensus on global warming. Sowing confusion undermines efforts to reduce carbon pollution and transition toward clean energy sources.
Admission to Canada's National Parks Will be Free in 2017
Posted February 2016
As part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Parks Canada will be waiving entry fees to all National Parks in 2017. They are hoping that free access will entice those who have "lost familiarity" with the parks to reconnect, along with removing a barrier to those who have never visited. Parks Canada also announced that, beginning in 2018, admission for children under 18 will be free, and any adult who has become a Canadian citizen in the previous 12 months can get one year's free admission. I think that is a nice welcome message to new Canadians.
2016 Environmental Performance Index
Posted February 2016
The 123-page report, titled Global Metrics For The Environment, ranks countries performance on high-priority environmental issues. Of the 180 countries examined Finland ranks the highest and Canada comes in at number 25 (the US is 26th). The nine major areas covered are Air Quality, Water and Sanitation, Water Resources, Agriculture, Forests, Fisheries, Biodiversity and Habitat, Climate and Energy, and Health Impacts. Some of their findings are:
  • More deaths globally occur due to poor air quality than water.
  • More than half the world's population live in nations with unsafe air quality.
  • The number of people lacking access to clean water has been nearly cut in half.
  • Tree cover lost in 2014 equals an area roughly twice the size of Peru.
  • 34% of global fish stocks are over-exploited or collapsed.
  • 23% of countries have no wastewater treatment.
The easy to understand report can be found here.
Toronto Declares Right To Healthy Environment
Posted February 2016
David Suzuki Foundation's Blue Dot Movement asks that all Canadian municipalities declare their citizens' right to a healthy environment. Toronto did so at the end of 2015. Part of the declaration states that the city:
  • recognizes the importance of protecting the environmental well-being of Toronto and the health, safety and well-being of Torontonians;
  • lists the rights that should be given to all people so they can live in a healthy environment, as articulated by the David Suzuki Foundation's Blue Dot Movement;
  • highlights how the City will support the Blue Dot Movement's goal of respecting, protecting, fulfilling and promoting these rights, by continuing to implement and enhance Council-adopted plans, actions and strategies;
  • affirms that the City shall continue to work with residents and other experts to set specific objectives, targets and timelines and actions the City can take to achieve environmental objectives;
The declaration can be found here.
Golden Horseshoe Advisory Panel Report Released
Posted December 2015
On Monday December 7, David Crombie (former Mayor of Toronto) released a 177-page report to the provincial government that makes 87 land-use recommendations. The report "Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015-2041" is a coordinated review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The recommendations are organized six strategic directions that they see as critical to the success of the region:
  • Building complete communities
  • Supporting agriculture
  • Protecting natural and cultural heritage
  • Providing infrastructure
  • Mainstreaming climate change
  • Implementing the plans
You can download the report here.
Global CO2 Emissions Projected to Stall in 2015
Posted December 2015
A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts that CO2 emissions have stalled and could even decline 0.6% this year. Typical years have an increase of 2-3%. Declines in emissions have occurred before but usually during an economic downturn. This year the decline is happening during strong global economic growth. Energy consumption in China makes a huge difference in the numbers because of their use of coal. However, more than half of new energy needs in China during 2014 were from renewable sources. More here.
ECO Annual Report Released
Posted November 2015
On Nov 3rd, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released the 2014-2015 Annual Report. Highlights are:
  • The need to overhaul the Environmental Registry, which hasn't changed since 1997.
  • More protection (and funding) for the Great Lakes to reduce nutrient pollution.
  • A call for regulations on reflected light from buildings to lessen bird collisions.
  • Better enforcement of the Environmental Compliance Approval applications.
  • Charging the true cost of water to all water users.
  • Reinstatement of funding to acquire and preserve natural areas that need protecting.
  • Stronger measures are needed to protect species at risk.
You can download the report from the ECO website here.
El Niņo's Effect
Posted November 2015
You have likely already read that this year's strong El Nino is posed to raise global temperatures so that 2015 will become the warmest year on record since recording started in 1880. But El Nino is not just affecting air temperature. Sea surface temperatures have also risen causing mass coral reef bleaching around the world. When the water temperature gets too high for a long period of time (months) corals expel symbiotic algae, which weakens them and can lead to their death. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared on October 8th that Earth's oceans were experiencing a third mass bleaching event. The first occurred in 1998 and the second in 2010. NOAA states that 38% of world coral reefs could be affected by the end of 2015. Reefs support approximately 25% of all marine species. The high water temperatures are from El Nino are exacerbated by the warming effect of climate change. A nice write-up on this with charts and videos can be found at here.
Bees Just Can't Get a Break
Posted November 2015
Diesel fumes can be added to the list of things (climate change, neonicotinoids, habitat loss) that are affecting the health of bees. Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Reading have recently found that exposure to nitrous oxide gases chemically alters the compounds in many floral odours, making it harder for bees to find food. Diesel engines produce nitrous oxide, which is a health hazard to both humans and animals. Now we know that it also affects bee's ability to use their sense of smell to find flowers. More here.
Delaware Children in Nature Coalition Releases a Environmental Literacy Plan
Posted November 2015
Delaware has released a document of guidelines to help educators increase students' knowledge about the environment. The document includes ways to get kids outside to learn about natural resources, ecological systems, and other environmental topics. The plan isn't mandatory but is still a good step in recognizing the need to get children involved in nature. Deleware is fairly far from Toronto but everyone can learn from their work. The 11-page document can be found here.
Getting More Energy From Solar Panels
Posted November 2015
Solar panels provide a great source of renewable energy but some critics complain about the amount of space they use. Fortunately new research has identified a way of increasing the output of solar panels by more than 30% and it is relatively easy to implement. Solar power arrays are spaced apart to prevent one row from casting shade on another, but this space is wasted when it is not in shade. The solution? Add a reflector to the empty space to bounce light back onto the panels. Of course nothing is that simple so they also need to use light-reflecting mathematical modelling to avoid getting the temperature to hot - which causes the panels to become less efficient.
New Giant Galapagos Tortoise Species Discovered
Posted November 2015
There are two species of giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands, not just the one as previously known (Chelonoidis porteri). Biologists have found a small, isolated group of tortoises that are a distinct species. This new species, called the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi), only numbers in the hundreds so needs protection and help increasing their numbers. Being officially identified as a separate species helps with getting the help they need. You can read more here.
More News on Microbeads
Posted November 2015
In the spring we reported that Ontario was making a move to ban microbeads in personal care products (Bill 75, Microbead Elimination and Monitoring Act, 2015). Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic that are too small to be filtered out by water treatment facilities and end up in our water systems. Algae and bacteria grow on the surface of the beads and pick up toxic chemicals. The toxic microbeads are eaten by small fish, which are eaten by bigger fish, and the toxins move up the food chain. The plastic can also remain in the digestive system of animals where the accumulation eventually starves them to death.
Now a new study in Scientific Reports has found microplastics in Artic waters at both the surface level (top 16 cm) and below the surface (6 meters). These plastics are from both microbeads and the breakdown of larger plastic pieces and pose a threat to the highly productive marine food webs found in the Artic. This research is the first to measure Artic microplastics and will be useful in the future as a baseline to compare future studies against. There are still many remaining questions to be answered, like how the microplastic particles get up to the Arctic, that require further research. The study is found here.
Rocky Mountain Bees Adapting to Reduced Flower Availability
Posted October 2015
A recent study of bees in the Rocky Mountains has shown that their tongues have become shorter over the last 40 years. Shorter tongues allow bees to get nectar from a wider variety of flowers. This adaptation has occurred because the deep-nectar flowers are in short supply due to warmer, drier weather caused by climate change. The change could be measured because area bees were archived 40 years ago that allowed for the comparison with today's bees. Although this is positive news in that it shows that the bees are adapting relatively quickly to environmental changes, it also is problematic in that it puts even more stress on the deep-nectar plants which don't get pollinized. has a good article with more information on this if you want to read more.
The Southern Ocean Has Doubled its Intake of Greenhouse Gases
Posted October 2015
The Southern Ocean has always been important carbon sink, soaking up billions of tons of carbon dioxide annually. In the 1980s and 1990s the ocean's ability to uptake carbon was decreasing and predictions at the time were that it would continue to decline. A recent study in Science that used millions of field observations to get a more comprehensive view on the situation has found that the Southern Ocean has increased the amount it is absorbing by almost double that of the last decade. This is good news since greenhouse gases are the most significant driver of climate change. However, the study also noted that the ocean's ability to absorb carbon shouldn't be taken for granted as it can change again.
Disposables Are Increasing the Amount of Garbage We Create
Posted October 2015
Statistics Canada's latest data shows that the amount of trash we are producing is growing despite the improvements to recycling and composting programs. The culprit appears to be the disposable products that are appearing on store shelves in ever increasing numbers.
Disposable coffee pods have had the most criticism aimed at them (and for good reason) but many other single-use products are filling up our landfills or ending up in the environment. Disposable cleaning wipes have been found in large numbers along the Don River during Great Canadian Shoreline clean-ups. Single-serve food is often wrapped in non-recyclable plastic that is meant to be thrown out.
Unfortunately disposable products are even worse when you take into account the amount of energy and pollution that manufacturing them produced compared to making something that can be reused.
The best thing to do for the environment is to not purchase single-use or disposable products.
LED City Street Lighting
Posted October 2015
Cities are starting to switch their street lighting over to using LEDs now that barriers have been overcome by technological improvements. Trials have shown an energy savings of 50-70% with LED street lighting and the city of Los Angeles, who started installing 140,000 LED street lights in 2013, has already reported energy savings of 63%.
LEDs provide more directed light than traditional streetlights so could reduce light pollution if used properly. But if installed so that their light goes up (directly or by reflection) then they increase light pollution as they emit more blue and green light than high-pressure sodium lights. They don't emit ultraviolet light which makes them less attractive to nocturnal insects. LEDs are more environmentally friendly during disposal since they don't contain mercury or lead, and don't release poisonous gases when damaged.
The city of Mississauga has replaced over 40,000 of their streetlights with LEDs. The town of Grimsby upgraded more than 2,600 lights to LEDs. The city of Toronto doesn't own its streetlights. It sold them to Toronto Hydro is 2006 and rents them back to light the streets. The current agreement between Toronto Hydro and the City of Toronto will be re-negotiated in 2016, which gives the city an opportunity to look into upgrading our streetlights to LEDs.
Environmental Groups Win Right To Appeal Endangered Species Decision
Posted September 2015
From Ontario Nature: The Ontario Court of Appeal has granted Ontario Nature and Wildlands League leave to appeal a lower court ruling that puts already endangered species at further risk of extinction.
"Biological diversity is a great treasure of our planet with ecological, social, economic, cultural and intrinsic value, yet we are losing plants and animals forever at an alarming rate due to human activities," says Caroline Schultz, Ontario Nature's Executive Director. "That's why the Endangered Species Act was put in place - as an essential safeguard to protect Ontario's natural heritage for our kids."
This marks the first time environmental groups have won the right to appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal on a case about the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or about endangered species. The appeal, to be argued by lawyers from Ecojustice, challenges the Ontario Divisional Court's decision to uphold a provincial regulation that exempts major industries from the ESA and allows those industries to kill species at risk and destroy their habitat.
"The Court of Appeal only hears appeals of public importance," said Lara Tessaro, Ecojustice lawyer. "The Court has signalled that our clients' legal challenge to this regulation, which deprives endangered species of the law's protection, is important to Ontarians."
New Signage at Grenadier Pond
Posted August 2015
New signs at High Park's Grenadier Pond have been installed to help protect ducks, swans, turtles and other wildlife.
Although the pond's wildlife has protected status, in reality inappropriate behaviour by human visitors have harassed, maimed and killed wildlife. Most of the trouble comes from off-leash dogs and abandoned fishing line, hooks and sinkers. To attempt to encourage good behaviour the City has installed signs that clearly show the limited area where fishing is permitted. The rest of the pond and marsh is posted as a "Wildlife Protection Area" and an "Environmentally Sensitive Area", with graphic symbols to indicate the park rules.
The signs are not a panacea but every bit helps when trying to give the wildlife of the pond the respect and protection they deserve.
Good News for Bats?
Posted August 2015
White-nose syndrome has been attacking bat colonies in North America since 2006. This fungus has affected 6 million hibernating bats in eastern Canada and the US causing them to wake more frequently during hibernation and use up their critical fat reserves. Four bat species have been hit especially hard by the disease, with some regional populations declining by more than 90 percent.
Scientists have been working to save our valuable bat species and it looks like we are a step closer to a solution. Scientists at the University of Santa Cruz discovered that some of the bacteria naturally found on some bats are antagonistic to the fungus. These researchers found six "friendly" bacteria that dramatically inhibited the growth of the fungus in the lab. And two of those proved especially resilient at quashing fungal growth.
Scientists are currently testing to see if treating bats with the resilient bacteria can protect them from white-nose syndrome. If it works then researchers will be able to enter caves where bats are hibernating and spray the bats with the bacteria to give them a chance to survive the winter.
Zoo Woods
Posted June 2015
SCB Toronto has been awarded a grant and are moving ahead with plans for a native plant garden at the Zoo Woods on U of T's St. George campus. In the upcoming weeks, SCB will be cleaning up the site (goodbye invasives!), deciding on what will be planted, and then putting in the trees and shrubs this spring season! You can learn about the history of Zoo Woods here.
Raise Your Voice For Nature
Posted June 2015
Help Ontario Nature call for stronger laws, a stronger landscape and a stronger natural legacy for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The Ontario Government is currently reviewing the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Greenbelt Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan and Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. These plans play a key role in protecting over 720,000 hectares of land extending around the province's most populated and industrialized region from Niagara to the Rice Lake Plains and up to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. Take action to protect the region's water, nature and communities by sending a letter to the Honourable Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. More information and email access to the minister can be found here.
Neonicotinoids In Your Garden
Posted May 2015
In a 2014 Friends of the Earth study of flowers for sale at garden centres in Canada, more than 50 percent of the tested plants contained traces of at least one neonicotinoid. Most shocking was that many of these contaminated plants were labelled "bee-friendly". Check out Ontario Nature's page outlining what you can do to avoid this pesticide when purchasing plants for your garden.
Bad News For Endangered Species
Posted May 2015
The courts have ruled against Ontario Nature in their bid to change the Ontario government's introduced regulation that gives many industries a free pass to kill endangered or threatened species and destroy their habitat as long as this harm is "minimized." A sad day for the protection of nature. More information here.
Trees for Schools 2015
Posted March 2015
The Trees for Schools program encourages elementary students in southern Ontario to plant trees in celebration of Earth Day and as a way of making a positive contribution to the environment. Planting trees helps students connect with nature. This program was launched in 2009 and last year planted 20,000 trees. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) partners with Copernicus Educational Products to support this program. NCC has provided expert advice on the type of seedlings to provide and Copernicus provides the seedlings. Elementary schools that want to participate should contact Copernicus.
Safe Hiker Classes
Posted October 2014
Hike Ontario's Safe Hiker course teaches essential hiking and hike planning skills; from how to dress and hydrate, best practices for the outdoors, map reading and hiking in wildlife areas. In addition to training with a certified instructor, students go home with a comprehensive manual that will become a go-to source following the course.
The class is ideal for anyone starting out as a hiker, parents wanting to start planning family outings and folks who have taken guided outings but want to plan their own hikes too. More information here.
Dog-strangling Vine Control
Posted September 2014
Ontario Nature is pleased to announce the release of their new dog-strangling vine (DSV) control video, created with the generous assistance of Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG). Matt Jenkins, a summer intern at Ontario Nature, conceived of and produced this video after learning about DSV at TBG and then noticing its dominance in many ravines and parks. You can find the video here.
The Birds of Thickson's Woods
Posted April 2014
This Annotated Checklist, by Phill Holder and Margaret Bain, documents the 313 species of birds that have been seen so far in the reserve with full colour photographs of each species, including their status and the specific dates of rarities seen.
This new publication marks the 30 year anniversary of when the woods were purchased for protection and is dedicated to the authors' son Matt who passed away suddenly in 2011. Proceeds will go towards the Matt Holder Environmental Education Fund. This fund will provide grants to under 18 year olds either from schools, groups or individuals.
TFN Endorse NoJetsTO
Posted March 2014
The Toronto Field Naturalists, a charitable organization of people who love and want to protect our natural environment, endorse the mission of NoJetsTO because of our concern with the impact of the expansion on wildlife that lives and breeds along the waterfront. Read the full statement here.
Milkweed No Longer Noxious
Posted March 2014
There is some good news for the monarch butterfly. Common milkweed has been removed from Ontario's Schedule of Noxious Weeds. Milkweed provides an important habitat and a larval food source for the monarch butterfly, which is experiencing an alarming decline in numbers.
Protecting Wildlife
Posted March 2014
Canadian Wildlife Federation is offering a cool pdf from their magazine on 26 Things You Can Do To Protect Wildlife. Check it out.