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 – Building Bird Nesting Boxes Part 2

On Saturday, February 29, 2020, WRN Teens went back to the home of Mike and Anita Smith to finish the construction of nest boxes that they had started making the last time they were there.
Afterwards they got in some tracking practice with Anita in Bechtel Park.
David Gascoigne has a full report of the event with photos on his blog at: WRN Teens – Nest Box Project

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

WRN Teens – Montgomery Nature Reserve

WRN Teens – Montgomery Nature Reserve – Saturday, November 30, 2019
For this project, WRN Teens met at Montgomery Nature Reserve on the Nith River, 9 km west of New Dundee.  We gathered in this out-of-the-way spot to explore the property and to learn new skills so we can help take care of it in the future.
We started with each Teen pairing up with an adult and getting to know each other a bit better.  Turns out we have lots in common!
We were lucky to have two awesome instructors, Anita Smith and Fraser Gibson.  Anita told us some background on this property that K-W Field Naturalists (now WRN) purchased in 1973 in order to protect it.  We learned about the work involved in maintaining it, attempts to control invasive species, the impact of annual flooding, and the on-going inventory of species observed there.
Our main job was to become familiar with the iNaturalist application.  We had downloaded it to phones ahead of time and took lots of pictures of everything we saw.  We saw how the app helps with identification and then allows users like us to become citizen scientists and upload our sightings.  Things were quiet while we were there with mostly plants and fungi being observed — and one large beetle!  We saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker but didn’t manage to get photos of either.
While walking the trail, Fraser shared with us some of his many experiences and his vast knowledge about Montgomery.  Not sure if he “wrote the book” about Montgomery but apparently, he did write sections of the pamphlet!  We learned lots about specific spots by following the pamphlet text as we walked.  The Teens have excellent observation skills and managed to impress Fraser with things that caught their eye.
Turkey Tail Fungus
Red-backed Salamander eggs (we think)
Blue Cohosh berries

Another skill we learned was how to estimate the age of large trees. Anita showed us a huge Bur Oak tree and got us busy measuring the circumference. After some heavy-duty math and consulting a chart of age according to diameter and tree species, we discovered that our huge tree is off the scale and could be as much as about 200 years old! Too bad it can’t talk!

We were all anxious to find out if Anita’s trailcam that she had installed the week before had had any visitors.  We found it knocked over so thought maybe it wouldn’t have much to show us.  After we made our way back to the road, Anita hooked up her laptop so we could see the video and…  we saw that a White-tailed Deer and a Raccoon starred in the movie of the days before the camera fell over!  So, it’s not always quiet at Montgomery!
Thanks to:
Paul Bigelow for posting our reports on the WRN website;
Anita Smith and Fraser Gibson for sharing their expertise;
Zack Stevens and Linda Dutka, Teens adult volunteers for supervising and sharing in the experience;
the fearless Teens parents for sticking to it until they found the spot;
and, to the six amazing Teens who spent a cold afternoon exploring a cool new location!
We all look forward to future projects at Montgomery.
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator

WRN Teens – Buckthorn Removal at Laurel Creek Nature Centre

WRN Teens – October 26 2019, Buckthorn Removal at LCNC

WRN Teens are having a very busy fall! October 26 was our last day for weekly salamander monitoring at SpruceHaven Farm in the morning. And, we also did our monthly work project on the same day in the afternoon. Some of us have experience removing invasive Common Buckthorn (also known as European Buckthorn) so we were ready to tackle the woodlot at Laurel Creek Nature Centre.

We met in the picnic area by the nature centre and, since some of us were meeting for the first time, did a few get-to-know-you activities — on the observation tower stairs!

Sarah, our GRCA naturalist for the day, explained the project, buckthorn identification, tools, safety equipment and gave us all our instructions. We learned how to use the “extragator” for pulling out small trees. We all grabbed some equipment and headed out to the designated area of the woodlot.

There was lots of buckthorn to keep us busy! Smaller plants could be pulled out by hand but mostly, pairs of Teens worked together with an extragator and lots of muscle and determination to machine-pull those trees out, roots and all!

Others got a work-out trucking wheelbarrow-loads of brush away. We piled it in a spot where it’s being useful blocking a path that is being closed. It seems this was a popular project because Sarah had to tell us a couple of times when it was time to stop! Teens 1, buckthorn 0!

Thanks to…
– the 8 awesome, hard-working Teens who were able to come out (and guest Matt!),
– Zack and Linda, WRN Teens volunteers
– Sarah from GRCA,
– and Teens parents for transportion.

Looking forward to our end-of-November project!
Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator

WRN Teens – Stream Restoration

WRN Teens - Stream Restoration at rare - September 28, 2019

WRN Teens is up and really running for a second year!  On top of our usual monthly work projects, we’ve taken on a weekly (!) project for September and October.  So we’ve been busy!  The weekly project is monitoring the salamander population at SpruceHaven Farm.  We’re really excited about it and we’ll be reporting on it soon.
This past Saturday, we had our first monthly work project for 2019-20.  We were thrilled to be invited back to rare Charitable Research Reserve, this time to do stream restoration.  Bauman Creek is a cold water stream that was diverted long ago and the work to rehabilitate it has been going on since 2016.  Our bit was part of the last phase. 

At the rare offices at Lamb’s Inn in Blair, we met Sarah and Tom who do lots of amazing field work at rare. Tom showed us on the map where Bauman Creek flows and some of the problems that the restoration aims to fix. We carpooled a short way to where the creek crosses Blair Road.

Then we started the hard work of moving rocks in big wheelbarrows through thick prairie plants!  The goal was the strategic placement of large and small rocks to improve the water flow, cause more meanders and pools, all creating better habitat for fish. 

We worked hard, getting quite wet and muddy.

We muscled the wheelbarrows along a “path” Tom had just created with a scythe, and managed to get most of the loads of rocks delivered without incident.

We saw cool creatures (including a Pearly Wood-nymph caterpillar), inspected the part of Bauman Creek that had a more major restoration done by engineers, learned about what kind of creek trout prefer… and generally learned lots and had a memorable experience.

Many thanks to Sarah Marshall, Tom Woodcock, and Alissa Fraser (for the planning) from rare, Josh Shea from the Teens planning committee, very hands-on Teens volunteer Linda Dutka, WRN communicators Paul Bigelow and Cathi Stewart, Teens parent drivers, and the awesome Teens who came out and spent their Saturday afternoon getting wet and muddy. You’re the best!

Marg Paré, WRN Teens coordinator

WRN Teens – Buckthorn

After 10 months and 12 activities the Waterloo Region Nature Teens finished their first year with a flourish.
Seven intrepid teens made a return trip to the University of Waterloo Environmental Science Lab on Saturday June 8. We were met by Payton, a third year student specializing in plant ecology. With great enthusiasm she shared her knowledge and outdoor experience with us.
We started our 3 hour activity in the Environmental Science Lab. There we were introduced to the threat of ticks, unlikely but possible hitch hikers on the University grounds. Thank goodness we had worn long sleeved shirts and jeans, despite the heat.

Using a dichotomous tree key, we determined the physical characteristics of Buckthorn in order to better identify it in the field. This unwanted shrub from Europe has successfully invaded most temperate North American forests, displacing traditional species such as Blue Cohosh and Maple.

After the Lab session, we hiked to a deciduous forest invaded by both mature and immature Buckthorn plants. Payton set up a grid, within which we were free to remove small Buckthorn plants. Their deep fibrous roots provided a real challenge when hand pulling one by one. The numerous thorns on the Buckthorn’s branches made it even more difficult to grasp and pull, even when wearing heavy gloves.

We soon discovered that even a Buckthorn with a diameter of less than 2 cm was nearly impossible to pull out by hand, even with 2 or 3 Teens pulling.  A jack-like instrument called a “Puller Bear” was used to lever and extract larger plants. It was a real team effort.

Having worked up an appetite, we returned to the lab for a pizza lunch. During our meal we discussed the pros and cons of all the activities we attempted during the past year. We finished off our last session of the year by proposing and planning longer activities and salamander monitoring for the 2019-2020 season.

Big thanks to Bev Raimbault from UW Ecology Lab for inviting us and to Payton Landsborough for all the hands-on work. 
Looking forward to seeing new and returning Teens next September. Have a safe and adventurous summer.
Linda Dutka

WRN Teens – Salamander Monitoring

WRN Teens
May 25 and June 1, 2019
Salamander Monitoring

WRN Teens are very excited to be trained up and ready to do some cool citizen science in the fall! We’re going to take on the salamander monitoring project that has been going on for a few years at SpruceHaven Farm.

Green Heron
Trout Lily

We’ve had many weather challenges this spring but most frustrating was to have our training session last week cut short by lightning! We went back this week though and learned the monitoring protocol. We really appreciate the instruction from Jenna Quinn and David Gascoigne and the support from WRN Teens volunteers Linda Dutka, Anita Smith and Zack Stevens.

Thanks too to Mike Smith who custom built us a storage box for our equipment!

Here’s what monitoring salamanders is all about… We have to find the numerous locations where boards have been placed for salamanders to hide under, correctly place a soil thermometer and soil moisture meter, flip the board, count and identify any salamanders, replace the board very gently, read the meters, record all the data, and at certain locations, also record weather information.

We got pretty good at it and, under the 27 boards we checked on our first try, we saw 6 Eastern Red-backed Salamanders.

Eastern Red-backed Salamander
Eastern Red-backed Salamander

We hope to be monitoring weekly in September and October. Many thanks to our experts, our volunteers, and especially to Dave Westfall, Sandy Hill and Jamie Hill of SpruceHaven for sharing their property so generously!

David Westfall

We also got a chance to see the barn swallows in the barn and view their eggs with a mirror.

If you are a teen who would like to be part of WRN Teens, please look us up! If you know a teen who might like to join, please pass on the info! We’re really happy to have several new members already signed up for the fall and we’d love to welcome lots more!

Questions: teens@waterlooregionnature.ca
Registration: waterlooregionnature.ca/teens

Marg Paré
WRN Teens coordinator

WRN Kids & Teens – SpruceHaven

SpruceHaven Barn

On Saturday May 4, 2019, WRN Kids and WRN Teens were invited to SpruceHaven Farm to watch the bird-banding and see the Barn Swallow project with David Gascoigne. The Kids families then went with botanist Jenn McPhee to learn about wildflowers.

Dutchman's Breeches
Red Trillium

… and the Kids found salamanders!

Eastern Red-backed Salamander

WRN Teens went with Sandy Hill, one of the owners of the farm, to plant trees and then they picked up garbage beside the highway.

For a full report on the bird-banding with lots of photos, see David Gascoigne’s blog at: Bird Banding and Annual Visit of Waterloo Region Nature Kids and Teens to SpruceHaven

WRN Teens – Ecology Lab at UofW

WRN Teens at UW

Tuesday March 12, 2019

WRN Teens’s outing to the Ecology Lab at UW was a success. The members and guests of WRN Teens received a tour of the UW Environment buildings and learned some environmentally-focused possibilities for our futures along the way.





We looked at tooth and beak adaptations and used the information we learned to practise identifying the lab’s collections of skulls and stuffed birds, then relocated to Tim Hortons to discuss some options for future WRN activities.

Thanks to the UW Ecology Lab and to the students and workers who hosted us!

We went to the Ecology Lab to learn about the day’s activities.


We took water samples from two places in the nearby Laurel Creek (before and after the reservoir) and snow samples from two different locations on-campus (an empty field and a salted stairway) before analysing them to find the differences in quality.

Some criteria involved: turbidity (murkiness), conductivity (to measure ions like salt in the water) and pH. Surprising fact: the snow from the salted surface had the most salt. We discussed what our findings meant in practice, including the effects of the reservoir on the water quality of the creek.



P.S.  THANKS to Megan Sloka, one of our awesome Teens and a grade 10 student, who was our reporter this time.  Thanks also to Bev Raimbault, coordinator of the Ecology Lab who organized our visit; to Marco, coop student who led our tour of the faculty; to Michelle Yu and Sarah Cui, lab assistants who led our experiment and data review; to Linda Dutka, WRN Teens volunteer; and to the Teens parents who provided transportation.  And finally, a shout-out to “Dean Jean” Andrey, dean of the faculty whom we met in the hall!  UW Environment Faculty looks like a fun place to be!
Marg Paré, WRN Teens coordinator

WRN Teens – Chickadee Banding

Chickadee Banding at Wrigley Corners Outdoor Ed Centre with Levi Moore
Feb 23 2019
WRN Teens were down south of Cambridge again, this time to visit Wrigley Corners Outdoor Ed Centre. We met Levi Moore, the outdoor educator who teaches there, working mostly with high school students. He is a certified bird bander and does on-going studies of Black-capped Chickadees.
To demonstrate how it works, Levi has a mist net (for catching the birds to be banded) set up inside.  He used a stuffed Northern Cardinal to demonstrate how birds get caught and how he removes them from the net.

It was a bit windy but seemed like a fine day to band Black-capped Chickadees. However, we saw only a couple briefly and there were none at the feeders and, more importantly, none at all got caught in the mist nets. So, no bird banding for us!

Instead, we wrapped up our visit by examining and trying to identify Levi’s impressive skull collection.


Just checking out the amazing nature stuff in Levi’s classroom kept us occupied for a while! Then Levi did a really inspiring presentation. First he explained how he ended up in outdoor and environmental education then he showed us a super informative slide show about bird banding. We got to handle all the tools necessary for the job.


We hope to get back to Wrigley Corners sometime and maybe the chickadees will be more cooperative!

Thanks as usual to the Teens who were able to make it out, to their fearless parents for driving, to Linda who helped out and took photos, to Paul and Cathi who put our reports on-line, and of course, to Levi for spending part of his weekend sharing his knowledge and love of nature with us!

WRN Teens – Owl Prowl

Screech Owl surprised when cleaning out Wood Duck box.

We arrived at Huron natural area just as it became dark. We then spent about half an hour learning about the different kinds of owls that can be found in Ontario and more specifically the KW area. We learned about their shapes and sizes and some of their behavioural habits as well as listened to some of their calls. We then began our hike in the forest. We would walk for a couple of minutes, then stop and play either the call of the Eastern Screech Owl, or the Great Horned Owl. We would listen for a response and then continue walking. About halfway through the evening during one of our stops something small and grey flew over our heads. We turned on a light and scanned the trees around us until we spotted an eastern screech owl perched on a branch close to the group. We admired it for a few minutes until it grew bored of us and flew away.

Linden Imeson Jorna


Photo ops were scarce in the dark — in spite of it being a beautiful moonlit evening, so here’s a daylight photo of another screech owl.


Thanks to Josh Shea, WRN president, WRN Teens planning committee member, and City of Kitchener Natural Areas Coordinator who led WRN Teens — and their specially invited parents! — for this activity in Huron Natural Area.

Screech Owl