WRN Teens – Summer/Fall 2022 Report

(This article appeared in the Winter 2022 Heron newsletter)

 This summer and fall, members of the WRN Teens continued to meet every Saturday morning at SpruceHaven Farm in St. Agatha. The land is made up of many different native environments including woodland, bog, pond, and grassland. It is exciting to observe all the changes in the environment from week to week, month to month, and season to season.

WRN Teens at SpruceHaven after monitoring salamanders and tree frogs

WRN Teens adult volunteers (Linda Dutka, Michelle MacMillan, Graeme Smith, Thelma Beaubien, and Marg Paré) accompanied us on these activities at SpruceHaven. We checked on salamander boards and frog tubes and in the spring and summer we monitored nest boxes. This year we found Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) under the salamander boards and Grey Treefrogs (Dryophytes versicolor) in the frog tubes. (Thanks to Levi Moore for setting up frog monitoring for us and being our consultant.) Nest box residents included Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). At the end of the summer when things quietened down a bit we helped by doing some maintenance on both the nest boxes and salamander boards. 

River study at rare Charitable Research Reserve

During the summer, Graeme, Michelle, and Thelma helped out by leading some additional Saturday morning activities at SpruceHaven. In July, Graeme led a tree measurement activity and Michelle led a benthic pond study. Thelma introduced us to some of the many butterflies that call Ontario home.

 On some Saturday afternoons we also had work projects and learning projects led by community partners and nature experts. In the summer, these activities included a Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) removal at White Cedar Forest in Waterloo led by Linda Sloka, a former Teens parent, and an Ecology Hike led by Dr. Cory Wallace at Huron Natural Area in Kitchener.
Gardening at Forest Heights Pollinator Patch
Mushroom Hike at Homer Watson Park
 So far this fall, we attended a birding hike with David Gascoigne at Riverside Park in Cambridge, worked at a pollinator garden with Giselle Carter at Forest Heights in Kitchener, participated in a Mushroom Hike with Janet Ozaruk at Homer Watson Park in Kitchener, and did a Benthic Invertebrates Study in the Grand River at “rare” Charitable Research Reserve with Michelle MacMillan. We’re also happy to welcome a new adult volunteer, Philip Pyatt.
 
We’ve got a bunch more activities coming up in the fall, which I’m sure everyone is excited about!
 
By Brynn Roderick
 
Photos: Marg Paré

WRN Teens – Birding Walk

feeding chickadees

WRN Teens Birding Walk

April 30, 2022 was another 2-job Saturday for WRN Teens. In the morning, we did our usual monitoring of salamander boards and nest boxes at SpruceHaven farm. 

In the afternoon, we had a birding walk led by David Gascoigne in Riverside Park in Preston, Cambridge. We had beautiful weather and, with two new members, we had fun getting to know each other. There were few of the spring migratory bird species we had hoped to see but we practised our identification skills on Northern Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Tree Swallows, Buffleheads and lots more. David encouraged the Teens to start their “life lists” now, so it was an important first day for Teens who carefully recorded sightings.

Other firsts for some Teens included discovering Riverside Park and feeding chickadees in their hands.

As well as birds, we also saw a White-tailed Deer, Painted Turtles and Snapping Turtles, and for most of us, had our closest encounter ever with Raccoons! 

The Teens were very enthusiastic about everything and we had requests for a return visit. Thanks to David for sharing his knowledge and inspiring us all, both Teens and adults. 

feeding chickadees
watching racoon
racoon eating on railing

WRN Teens – Salamanders and Periwinkle

checking for salamanders
Saturday, April 23 2022
Morning – monitoring salamanders and nest boxes at SpruceHaven
Afternoon – invasive plant control at Montgomery Sanctuary
 
Haiden’s comments about salamander monitoring with Graeme and Linda on Saturday morning at SpruceHaven:
     On the salamander hunt we all had different jobs. We went around to different boards and lifted them up. Some of them we found salamanders under. We saw Red-backed Salamanders. They were curled up under the boards. Under other boards there were just sticks and leaf litter.  
     The most exciting part was when we lifted up a board and saw the blue-spotted part of a salamander. We all got excited because we thought that it was a Blue-spotted Salamander but when we flipped it over, we realized it was just another Red-backed Salamander that was upside down!
checking for salamanders
checking a nest box
Marg’s comments about nest box monitoring:
     At SpruceHaven, I was with the other group that Michelle led to monitor the nest boxes in Teens’ Row. We were excited to see an Eastern Bluebird nearby. We hope that some will use our boxes! There was also lots of Tree Swallow activity along Teens’ Row. Five of the nine boxes had evidence of the beginnings of nest building — a great sign to see our first time out. It was too early to see eggs but next time we expect the nests to have progressed enough for us to be able to recognize which species built them.
Millie’s comments about our Saturday afternoon work project with Fraser and Levi:
     This outing was at F.H. Montgomery Wildlife Sanctuary, to try and reduce the spread of Periwinkle, because it is invasive. After discussing what we were going to do, we headed into the forest. We started by pulling up some of the old tarps. We then placed the tarps over areas where Periwinkle was growing in order to stop it spreading. Then we placed logs over the tarps to keep them in place, as the area is sometimes flooded by the Nith River. Overall it was great to get out and try to stop the spread of this invasive species.
 
a tarp weighted with logs
carrying a tarp
placing a log on a tarp
talking about mussels
Sightings not already mentioned:
– In the morning, the nest box group had a short stop at Teens’ Hollow on the way back and were happy to see that the recently created double pond (where Teens planted 100+ trees in 2020!) has lots of water and is being enjoyed by Canada Geese, Mallards, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
 
– At Montgomery Sanctuary, Fraser explained that because of the flooding they often find Mollusk shells in the woods! He showed us the shells that had been gathered up recently which had amazing names: Fatmucket, Giant Floater, Spike, and Elk Toe! 
 

– Another fun sighting that day…  On the way to the nest boxes at SpruceHaven, our group saw a large egg on the laneway by the cell tower. We were surprised to see it whole and on the ground out in the open. I send a photo to one of our WRN mentors, David Gascoigne, who wrote back: “It is a Wild Turkey egg, probably from a fertilized female without a nest who simply dropped the egg there when it was time for it to emerge. I have seen this phenomenon before.” We were all duly impressed, then, that afternoon, at Montgomery, we saw the very same thing! David’s comments later about two Wild Turkey eggs in one day: “Two the same day is a little unusual, but I don’t think the phenomenon itself is all that uncommon. Over the years I would guess that I have seen it at least a dozen times.”

wild turkey egg

WRN Teens – January and February 2022 Events

Chickadee feeding on hand

Wildlife Rescue Zoom Presentation
on January 26 2022 by Michelle MacMillan, Teens adult volunteer and education assistant at “rare” Charitable Research Reserve

If you missed this super presentation, you’ll want to chat sometime with Michelle about her wildlife rescue stories! (Ask her about the porcupine!) We learned about a wide range of animals, then more detail about protecting and rescuing turtles, and how to help wildlife day-to-day. We learned that sometimes it’s better to do nothing and we should leave baby birds, rabbits and fawns alone. At least one Teen was especially inspired by Michelle’s experiences volunteering in Panama to protect sea turtles. Can’t wait to see where Teens will be leaving their marks in the future! Thanks for sharing your adventures, Michelle!

Reported by Marg, Teens coordinator

Owl Prowl 1 at Laurel Creek Nature Centre
on January 29 2022, led by Levi Moore, outdoor educator with the public school board

The Owl Prowl was so much fun! We started off the experience by listening to Levi talk about his love for nature and owls. Before we left into the forest Levi taught us all about proper etiquette and how to try to have a successful owl prowl. We then started walking into the forest and headed to our first location. It was a little scary walking in the dark, but was lots of fun. Once we arrived at our first location, Levi made some whistling owl calls, then played some through his phone. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful at hearing or seeing any owls at the first location. We then headed to our second location. Levi started the process of trying to call the owls all over again. After a minute or so, we heard an owl, it was an Eastern Screech Owl! We got to hear the screech owl call multiple times and Levi would call back in response. In the end we couldn’t see the screech owl but we still got to hear it! We then headed back to where we started and wrapped up the Owl Prowl. In the end all of us were pretty cold, but it was worth it! The whole experience was lots of fun, and has inspired me to try and look for owls in my own neighbourhood forest!
Reported by Iris
Chickadee feeding on hand
Downey woodpecker

Birding Hike at Riverside Park in Preston, Cambridge
on February 12 2022, led by David Gascoigne, WRN past president, lifetime birder, and mentor of naturalists of all ages

Several Teens discovered the great birding at Riverside Park for the first time on this outing but it’s a spot David checks often. We spent most of our time on the long boardwalk through the marsh and learned identification details and interesting facts about each bird we saw. We even learned why it’s worthwhile to learn Latin names for species!

We fed Black-capped Chickadees in our hands and saw 13 other species of birds. A fun highlight was finding out we also have a Teen birding mentor! Lucas, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Teen birder, spotted and identified several species including Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow, so easy to miss when mixed in with other brownish birds. Thanks, Lucas!  

And of course, thanks to David for suggesting this outing and offering to go again!

Reported by Marg, Teens coordinator

 
hand feeding chickadees
bridge at Speed River

Owl Prowl 2 at SpruceHaven farm on February 26 2022, led by Levi Moore, outdoor educator with the public school board

Huge thanks to Levi for trying very hard to help Teens talk to owls! Since COVID restrictions meant we had to turn a few people away for our first try, Levi offered to do a second prowl… which was cancelled by cold and high wind! Finally, a second group — 14 people! — got to prowl in very deep snow at SpruceHaven farm.

It was a gorgeous starry night and Levi called Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls beautifully near SpruceHaven’s wildlife corridor and at the edge of the woods. We didn’t hear any responses or see anything fly in. Levi explained that we were at the very end of the period when owls are likely to answer so, though a bit disappointing, it wasn’t surprising. It was still a special experience to walk in the snow at night and we learned lots about owl prowling.  Levi encouraged us to look and listen for owls as they are in most forests, even in the city.  

Reported by Marg, Teens coordinator

Owls can see in the dark, but humans need flashlights.

WRN Teens – Hike at Huron Natural Area

WRN Teens Hike at Huron Natural Area, November 27 2021
 
After our first experience doing monitoring every week from April to October (with a short August break) at SpruceHaven farm, WRN Teens has left the nest boxes and salamanders for a while. We’ve slowed our pace and are back to once or twice a month activities.
 
Our November activity was a leisurely hike in Huron Natural Area, guided by adult volunteers, Thelma Beaubien and Linda Dutka.  Here is a report written by Mercer, one of the Teens.
 
Juvenile Eastern Red-spotted Newt from Teens 2021 salamander monitoring
“I will be writing about the highlights from the Guided Hike, this list will be in no particular order. The first highlight was the beaver evidence and dam. The second was when we tried to feed the chickadees. We didn’t have enough time to wait for them to feed off our hands but it was fun nonetheless. The third was the Great Horned Owls we called to and listened to, incredibly the owls called back. The fourth was when we talked about the kettle lakes found in the park, which were formed from ice chunks that fell from ancient retreating glaciers that scraped across North America. The fifth was when we talked about the mixed forests and coniferous forest found in the park. Those were the highlights.”
 
Thanks to all the Teens who came out, to Mercer for reporting, to Linda and Thelma for leading, and to Teens families for providing transportation.
 
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator
 

WRN Teens: Gardening for Pollinators

Gardening for Pollinators, Forest Heights Pollinator Patch
 
On Sat Oct 2 2021, WRN Teens had an afternoon work project that took us away from our usual SpruceHaven territory for the first time in a year and a half!  We were invited to do some weeding (can you tell we love all kinds of outside work?) in the Forest Heights Pollinator Patch in Meadowlane Park behind Meadowlane Public School in Kitchener.  It was a busy day as we were covering morning salamander monitoring as well, so we called in some help from Teens parents.  Several kindly joined us and it was fun to have a family event and do our distancing in family groups.
Forest Heights Pollinator Patch is the creation of Giselle Carter whom some of our Teens know as the coordinator of WRN Kids, and Amanda Farquhar.  The garden is maintained by neighbours and the students at Meadowlane School.  They are proud to be part of rare‘s “1000 Gardens Project.”  Check them out on FaceBook!  
 
Our job was to remove less desirable plant species to make space for a hundred or so new arrivals to be planted by classes the following week.  There were lots of weeds to go around and as always, the Teens put their brains and muscles right to work.  In two hours, we had filled several garden waste bags, freed up lots of space, and learned about what plants pollinators prefer and which tend to take over.  
 
Thanks to Giselle and Amanda for the invitation and patient explanations and to the hard-working Teens, Teens parents and Teens adult volunteers.  Special thanks to Teen Nicole who came out and worked hard both morning AND afternoon!  
 
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator
 

WRN Teens: Trimming Branches at SpruceHaven

Saturday December 12, 2020

WRN Teens’ last project for 2020 was well attended (while respecting COVID gathering limits) in spite of the weather being awful! Rain in December is never nice but have a look at Nicole’s photos of just how wet it was that day!

The job was to trim back any branches sticking into the many pathways at SpruceHaven farm-nature-reserve. This needed to be done to allow human visitors to get around and to make maintenance easier (specifically so Sandy doesn’t get branches in her face while mowing!). Sandy Hill, one of the lucky people who live at SpruceHaven, demonstrated a few trimming techniques and led one of the groups. Teens and adult volunteers chose the direction of the forest or the new pond or the meadow and trimmed as they walked. This job came with a bonus that the branches we cut — dogwood, lots of kinds of conifers, sumac — are lovely to look at and we were invited to take some home to create decorations.

Small mammal tunnels were observed by one group and another practised their tree identification. Everybody managed to enjoy some nature while doing the job — and getting very wet!

Thanks to the brave Teens and adult volunteers who came out. Special thanks to Sandy Hill for participating and to the Westfall-Hills for welcoming us to SpruceHaven. Thanks to Nicole for her photos during the project — she was the only one who thought to take any in the rain. Thanks also to Ella and Aidan for photos they sent afterwards of their branch decorations at home. And thanks to Eva for doing a quick oral report to help me remember the details to include here.

Looking forward to lots of good things for WRN Teens in 2021 — especially good weather on project days!
 
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator
 

WRN Teens: Planting Trees at SpruceHaven

Saturday November 21, 2020

We are Waterloo Region Nature Teens and today we came out to SpruceHaven farm, a nature reserve outside of St. Agatha. We came here to plant trees at a — well, it’s going to become a wetland but for now it’s just a hole! But now that we’re finished, it’s a hole with over 100 more trees around it so we accomplished something!

The people who own the farm, the Westfall Hill family, are working with Ducks Unlimited to make a new wetland. This huge double hole was dug a few weeks ago with heavy equipment. They were happy to see that since this damp low spot was cleared and deepened, it has already started to collect water.

The Westfall Hills have been planting seeds and collecting small seedlings from other parts of their farm to put here. The trees we planted will help stabilize the banks of the two holes and the pathway between them, and will create more variety of habitats here.

We planted lots of cedars, several kinds of deciduous trees (with plastic guards around them to protect them from deer over the winter), some shrubs and some native wildflowers. Even though the ground is hard clay in spots, the actual planting is simple — you just dig a hole and put the little tree in!

We worked so hard that we got all the trees planted in the new wetland and still had time left. So Sandy Hill walked with us to another low damp spot that hasn’t been dug but where they want to add some new trees and plants. We planted there and then walked back to the barn, stopping for a (distanced) group photo in the meadow.

We did this planting so there can be more trees to return the environment to its natural state.  It’ll be good for all the animals that can now have a place to live like ducks that can nest here. All creatures need habitat — water, food, shelter and air in the right arrangement — to survive.  We’ve made a start at creating new habitat and we’re looking forward to observing what creatures move in!
 
— Report by all the Teens with a few direct quotes from Megan, Nicole, Quinn P. and Eva
 
P.S.  In a wonderful email from Sandy afterwards, we learned that the swale where we planted all those trees is now called Teen Hollow!  Huge thanks to Sandy Hill and Dave Westfall for welcoming us and providing us with great volunteer work opportunities.
 
Marg Paré for WRN Teens
 
 

WRN Teens report – Sprucing up SpruceHaven

WRN Teens is back in action! On Sat Sept 26 2020, we met in person for the first time since Feb! We wore masks and kept as much distance as possible while doing our first work project of the 2020-21 year. We have a bunch of brand new Teens and a bunch returning and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can continue to get to know each other outside in person this year!

Dave and David

For this first project, we worked in one of our favourite places, in partnership with some of our favourite people! Dave Westfall and Sandy Hill kindly welcomed us to their farm-nature-reserve, SpruceHaven in St. Agatha. This time, David Gascoigne, WRN president and coordinator of many projects at SpruceHaven, was our leader. Under his instruction, we worked to improve the meadow habitat by removing unwelcome species (thistles and sumac) which tend to overrun the wildflowers.

With the very dry weather, the ground was really hard so we got a workout digging down to the roots. We filled lots of buckets and created brush piles so we felt good about helping this important habitat — even though it is clearly an on-going job!

During a break, we learned more from Dave and David about the meadow, the wildlife corridor, and many other habitat restorations at the farm.

Stay tuned to hear about our salamander monitoring work, also at SpruceHaven, and hopefully, lots more environmental work projects around the community.

Marg Paré

WRN Teens Update

When March Break suddenly became 3 weeks long, we at WRN Teens thought we’d organize a couple of hikes since our members were unexpectedly free and going outside was encouraged. Things changed quickly and WRN had to stop activities, so those hikes were cancelled…. and so was the salamander monitoring that Linda Dutka runs, and our new nesting box monitoring that David Gascoigne initiated, and our visit to the UW Ecology Lab, and invasives removal and trail clean-up for Earth Day, and another invasives removal initiated by Teens member Megan, and our season wrap-up at SpruceHaven! Thanks anyway to all our partners, planners and members — it was going to be a big season!

Like everybody, we got over the initial shock of the changes and switched to meeting virtually on Zoom!  Since the lockdown, we’ve had Zoom meetings first just to chat, then with guest speakers: 

  • – Jenna Quinn (WRN president and Program Scientist at rare) on environmental education and career options
  • – Josh Shea (WRN past president and Natural Areas Coordinator for Kitchener) on the Bee City program and pollinators
  • – Graeme Smith (master’s student in Environmental and Life Sciences at Trent University) on salamander habitat and movement
  • – Michelle MacMillan (outdoor educator at Royal Botanical Gardens) for 2 talks, owl adaptations and owl research and banding

Thanks to these awesome speakers for connecting with and encouraging our Teens!

Our latest Zoom meeting was a photo challenge.  Teens had 30 hours to send in photos showing where they were seeing spring.  Thanks to Rowan, Nicole, Linden and Ella for sharing their photos here.  Check them out and guess which one required a selfie stick!
 
While all that was happening, WRN Teens was invited by Dale Ingrey to suggest possible names for one of the CTV Peregrine Falcon chicks.  We can’t wait to find out which of our name ideas will be chosen!
 
So, WRN Teens hasn’t been together since February but we’ve been busy!  Stay tuned to find out what we’ll be up to in the fall.
 

WRN Teens – Native seed cleaning and planting

WRN Teens – Native seed cleaning and planting at Laurel Creek Nature Centre – February 1 2020
 
What better way to start a cold February day than by feeding a ravenous flock of Black-capped Chickadees? Up to 17 chickadees landed on each hand in the cool half hour before our afternoon session. This fun feeding activity provided incentive for the Waterloo Region Nature Teens to arrive early at the Laurel Creek Nature Centre for a joint community action session for teens, open to the public.

Three groups and 25 volunteers worked together for the first time. Thirteen members of Waterloo Region Nature Teens (including new members Eric, Owen and Jonah) and their Volunteer Coordinator Marg Paré gathered together for our first work project of 2020. The Grand River Conservation Authority provided experienced leadership (Sarah Fleischhauer: Development and Community Outreach Coordinator) and experience (Lindsay Campbell: Restoration Specialist), as well as equipment and a work space. The Waterloo Public Library coordinated and advertised the activity under the direction of Becky Roi (Programmer and Library Assistant).

Lindsay has 10 years experience in the field so she showed ambition and farsightedness last fall by going out and collecting seeds and pods of 10 native, local, wildflower species (Wild Bergamot, Foxglove, Black-eyed Susan, Bluestem Grass, Lanced-leaved Coreopsis, Gray-head Coneflower, Indian Grass, Dense Blazing Star, Blue Vervain and my personal favourite, Butterfly Weed). She then led us through the seeding process.

Native (indigenous species) were selected since they require less water (due in part to their deeper roots), appeal and nutritional value to wildlife.

Step one was to clean and separate the seeds from their pods or compound heads. This was a lengthy and finicky process involving great patience, manual dexterity and much sneezing. The group divided into teams, removed stems, fluff, casings or daisy-like centres, and ended up with 10 bowls of dust-like seeds (like Foxglove) and larger traditionally sized seeds (such as Gray-head Coneflower). The seeds were then placed into envelopes and labelled with both their English and scientific Latin name.

Step two was a down and dirty affair. It involved filling two wheel barrows with peat moss, filling gallon pots within 10 cm of the top, and hand compressing the dry moss.

Step three incorporated a lighter touch. Five to eight seeds of one species were sprinkled on top of the moss, then covered with a dusting of soil (only to a depth two to three times their seed length). A plastic label with both the English and Latin name on it was placed in each pot. Great care was taken to keep the pots dry since we did not want the seeds to absorb water and germinate until April or May.

Unbelievably, a total of 185 seeded pots were created, along with a number of envelopes full of native seeds. At some future date in the spring another volunteer event will be held to plant this precious cargo throughout natural areas in the region.

Our final activities of the day were to clean up the basement of the Laurel Creek Nature Centre (25 people can make one heck of a mess with seeds and clouds of peat moss) and to visit a native plant meadow previously created outside the nature centre, lead by Sarah and Lindsay.

After well earned congratulations, the Teens and other volunteers parted, expressing hope to continue the planting phase of the project in the spring.

Linda Dutka for Waterloo Region Nature Teens

WRN Teens – Christmas Bird Count for Kids

WRN Teens – Christmas Bird Count for Kids at rare Charitable Research Reserve – January 25 2020
 
The Christmas Bird Count for Kids is an annual event for families at rare Charitable Research Reserve.  There were volunteer jobs for 3 Teens and Jack, Linden and Ella happily represented us!  Thanks to them all for being great ambassadors and for showing younger folks good role models of involved, caring Teen environmentalists!  Well done!  Also thanks to Trish for being our Teen adult volunteer for the event.  And thanks to all you flexible people who kindly re-arranged your plans when CBC4K was postponed from a terrible January 11 to a just rainy January 25! 
 
Have a look at the chart of bird species recorded by the groups of families (including lots of WRN Kids families) and volunteer expert birders, along with our Teen helpers.  (There were Bald Eagles!!)
 
Thanks to rare for hosting this awesome event!  Already looking forward to next year!
 
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator
 

Photos and results chart courtesy of rare.

WRN Teens – Building Bird Nesting Boxes

On December 14, WRN Teens got a chance to try their hand at woodworking! Mike and Anita Smith welcomed us (again!) into their home — actually into their garage! — for this project, building bird nesting boxes. Mike does lots of woodworking and has donated his talent previously to WRN. This time, he was woodworker and teacher in the garage-classroom, helping 6 Teens figure out how to follow a written plan, measure lengths and right angles precisely, and make exact markings on wood
Teens worked in pairs to mark the pieces of three nesting boxes, one designed for wrens, one for flickers, and one for bluebirds.
 

After using all our math skills (including re-thinking a process!), we were happy to leave the cold garage’s upper level to head down to Mike’s workshop — and the woodstove! — where Mike did all the cutting and drilled the holes. Every part of this job was much trickier than we had imagined! Even getting the long boards down the stairs was a geometrical challenge!

We just had time to see how the pieces would go together but had to leave the assembly for another project day. Eventually, we plan to install the nesting boxes and hope to see them inhabitated!

Huge thanks to Mike Smith for being an awesome and patient woodworking teacher and sharing his cool space!  Thanks to both Mike and Anita for letting us hold another project at your house.  We love your location!  And a great job on a steep learning curve by the Teens!
 
Marg Paré
WRN coordinator