Built Habitat: Bird Structures around the City

So I kind of like the idea of calling this post - "what the #$%## is that?"  You know what it's like, right?

You are out in an urban nature environment or perhaps even in a completely urban environment and you stumble across these human-made structures that seem out of place.  Does wildlife even use these structures, you ask yourself?  What are they for?

Most structures built for wildlife in urban areas are for raising young.  Some structures are built for dangerous road crossings (to protect species from mortality) and a few are built for hibernating and/or surviving winter.  This is the first in a possible series (I'll see what I can find and share with you) of human-made structures to create needed habitat for wildlife whether it's for safety, survival or nesting.

Built Structures for Birds

Wood Duck Box

I'm not sure all Wood Duck boxes are so well signed (with a lovely bright yellow silhouette of the bird) so just in case this one has had you wondering, I've added it here!  Ottawa has a series of Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) boxes built and installed by the Ottawa Duck Club (which recently had its 50th anniversary!). Due to loss of habitat, ideal nest locations (large dead trees) for cavity-nesting waterfowl can be scarce. Other cavity-nesting birds such as the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) also benefit, along with various opportunistic and adaptable animals.  *Some (such as European Starlings and once a Northern Flicker brood) also use the boxes to raise their young and others have been observed using the boxes in winter such as Screech Owls and Flying Squirrels.

*Observations through the Ottawa Duck Club program - in others cities I'm sure this will vary!

Barn Swallow Nesting Habitat

In Ontario, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is protected as a "threatened" species in the Ontario Species at Risk Act.  COSSARO added the Barn Swallow in 2012, due to a decrease in Barn Swallow populations of 65 percent (between 1966 and 2009). The Barn Swallow is well-adapted to urban areas and human-made structures for its habitat.  These birds will return to the same nesting site and even re-use the same nest, which are typically located in open barns, under bridges and other structural ledges. (Information from the MNR website.)  In Ottawa, when the construction work on McIlwraith Bridge and overpass (connecting Main Street to Smythe Road) started two years ago, nesting habitat structures were built close to the bridge to provide an alternative nesting location. You can see these structures on the south side of the bridge as you drive along Riverside Drive.

We found some of the "cup-shaped mud nests" of Barn Swallows in Oakville close to the lake just this summer:

Photo Credit: Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Photo credit: Jessica Hite from website Indiana U - Swifts in the City
Chimney Swift Tower 

Chimney Swift towers can be found in a handful of Canadian and American cities.  These towers have been installed to replace the loss of habitat for Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) in urban centres.  This has happened due to new housing construction that does not include chimneys and older housing where many chimneys are capped thus restricting access for these birds.  The Chimney Swift is also protected as a "threatened" species in the Ontario Species at Risk Act and it's been thought that their decline was partly due to this loss of habitat but now it's believed that it is more to do with the decline of their prey (flying insects).

In Canada, the cities I know that have built these structures include Lindsay, Rouge Park - Toronto, Fort Erie (Ontario); Starbuck, St. Adolphe, Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg (Manitoba).  Are there any out west or out east - does anyone know?  I've blogged more about Chimney Swifts on my other website: Dandelions and Concrete.

Eastern Bluebird Nesting Box 

The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) population was declared "rare" both federally and provincially in the late seventies but there has been a rebound in the population of this species since then and it was taken off the endangered lists in Canada in 1996.  But you will still see nesting boxes for these birds along farmer's fences and along nature trails in open areas and meadows.  These boxes are usually provided by either local bird clubs or farmers in rural areas to help the Eastern Bluebird find suitable nesting locations close to their preferred habitat.  The Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society recommends that new nesting boxes be mounted on a free standing pole and include predator protection.  They also suggest that the boxes be twinned so that there is not any forced competition for one box.  Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), which are abundant, have also been observed using the nesting boxes and if boxes are twinned both species can nest in close proximity.

Photo credit: Innis Point Bird Observatory volunteer
Purple Martin Housing 

Purple Martins (Progne subis) are another bird that are very comfortable living in close proximity to humans.  This species is almost entirely reliant on human-made structures and the ones that I have visited in Ottawa are maintained by the Innis Point Bird Observatory volunteers.  These birds live in colonies so the nesting structure they prefer is a "Purple Martin Condo".  The ones in Ottawa are more structured and the entire condo can be lowered for maintenance.  The nestlings in Ottawa are also tagged by IPBO volunteers and they offer public banding events in late June - early July, which provides a great opportunity for anyone who is interested to see the birds and even hold them!  I definitely recommend this event - details are listed on the IPBO Facebook page.

Osprey Nest Platform 

While not located in the urban core of Ottawa, I have seen Osprey nest tripod platforms located close to smaller northern cities (like Lindsay, Ontario).  Those nesting platforms were located over water where as the Ottawa nesting platforms just on the edge of Kanata are located on land but still in proximity to the Ottawa/Outaouais River. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) will be found near water as they fish in nearby waters rather than hunt prey on land.

So what type of human-made structures have you seen that have totally baffled you?  

Are there any structures that you think should be created that haven't been?  

What do you think about these efforts to support wildlife in the city?

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The Pathway down to the Riverbank (Grasses, Sedges & Rushes)

Growing up, I lived beside a river and I have many happy memories of seeking out crayfish, building rock dams and wandering along riverbank paths.  I find myself still, decades later, seeking out pathways down to the water and appreciating natural stream and river shorelines.  When I was younger, I was aware of the variety of flora but truly it was just a backdrop of green that changed colours every once in awhile as certain flowers bloomed or as the seasons change.

According to the MNR there are over 3,400 plant species listed on the Natural Heritage Information Centre website for the province of Ontario.  This includes trees, shrubs, herbaceous and fern species, both native and naturalized.  That's a lot of green!

Since my first efforts five years ago at flora and fauna identification as an amateur field naturalist, I've been charmed by the unique world of flora and their amazing characteristics, traits and ecological links to the fauna that depends on them.  There are just so many interesting facts and tips!  I had no idea that some plants close their blooms nightly and "go to bed" or that others can be linked so closely to the sun's rays that you could predict time with them!  Or that due to the different depths of the corolla of flower blooms there are only specific insects that can drink the nectar depending on the length of their tongues.  But I digress...

Photo Credit: Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Down along the river's edge, I started learning about various wetland plants and floating and submergant flora.  In school they shared with us a small mnemonic poem that was helpful in identifying the three types of grass-like (graminoid) flora.  I had no idea that these three types even existed!  I had always lumped them together.  All of these species can be found in various environments from dry fields to wet marshes - so identifying the habitat won't help narrow things down.  With the poem, it makes it rather easy to hone in on specific characteristics of the grass-like plants so that they can be separated into the correct Family.

“Sedges have edges; rushes are round; 
grasses are hollow with nodes from the ground”.* 

Images above of grass species (left) and sedge species (right) found in the same Nature Reserve. 
Sedges (Cyperaceae Family) with their triangular stems, have leaves arranged in three also.  I find their seed heads to be interesting, sometimes upright, other times hanging down.  Many Carex sp. (known as a true sedge) can be found in Ontario. 
Rushes (Juncaceae Family) with their round, smooth stems, will have leaves attached only at the bottom of the stem.  The most familiar rush, the Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) in Ontario is not a true rush.  It is not the same Family or Order of the three graminoids. 
Grasses (Poaceae Family) with their round, bumpy stems, have two leaves that can sheath the stem.  Their stems are hollow except for the nodes (bumps) that section the stem.  Their spiked florets are a very inconspicuous flower - grasses are much more known for their seeds.  

So the next time you walk down to the waterfront you will have an opportunity to look around to see if you can spot more than one type of "grass".  Take a note of the flower or seed head and identify the leaf pattern.  Try twirling the stem between your fingers to feel for the edges (of a sedge) and/or run your hand down the stem to see if you can notice any nodes.  Watch out as some grasses have a sharp leaf blade (perhaps you've noticed this before when you've been out by the water?).  Enjoy your time exploring the differences between flora species and enjoy this new way to see certain plants.

And tell me what's your favourite part of nature - is it a specific species or is it a grouping of animate or inanimate aspects?  Maybe it's not a thing but an activity or vista?  What get's you jazzed about getting outdoors?

*There are a few versions of this poem - here's a link to more about this poem here.

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Treat Yourself - the Wild Way!

You've probably heard about all the amazing benefits you get from nature in terms of health, reduced stress, happiness and so much more.  Nature has so much to offer and can be an easy mood booster.  So when I read Yes and Yes' inspiring post: "23 Ways to Treat Yo' Self*" it made me think about easy ways to treat yourself by going outside.

I've come up with ten nature outings that can be a great way to reinvigorate yourself.  I'll share five with you today.  Including some ideas of where to go if you are here in Ottawa.  June is the perfect time to get outdoors, as the days continue to get longer and the season keeps warming up.  See if you can find 15-40 minutes in your day to indulge!

Breathe in deeply while out in a refreshing location.  
Certain scents can boost your mood so why not indulge in the heady aroma of a conifer forest?  Take a note of pine, spruce or fir stands as you are driving around or see if friends on Reddit can point you to the closest evergreen woodlot.  Even a short walk will be a treat!

Ottawa locations:
  • Bike or walk along Aviation Parkway (near Ogilvie) - heady scent in August
  • Pinhey Forest (Hunt Club & Woodroffe) - various entries into forest

Soak up some happy rays!
This could be an easy one: enjoy 15-20 minutes in the sun to get your natural dose of vitamin D.  Walk to a park with your morning coffee or get out on your lunch break.  Ottawa has many parks and bike paths.  Or a leisurely-paced walk after dinner can let you soak up those last warm evening rays.

Take a detour to a waterfall. 
The air surrounding a waterfall is highly charged with negative ions (similar to what you will experience after a rainfall where the air feels fresh). These negative ions found around water bodies can boost your health by increasing your intake of oxygen, decreasing allergy symptoms and helping to de-stress and uplift your mood. (Photo above is from Ottawa East neighbourhood - imagine having a waterfall in your backyard!)

Ottawa locations:
  • Rideau Falls
  • Hog's Back Park

How about an early morning free concert?
Reward yourself after a long work week and get out to be entertained by the early morning "Dawn Chorus".  This phenomenon known to birders is especially pronounced in the spring when migrating birds have returned to their breeding locations. Find the best songs near bodies of water, scrubby areas and small woodlots but do this soon before this event is taken over by the summer drone of cicadas (early to mid-July).

Take in a great evening show!
 A real special treat would be to get outside just before sunset and enjoy the colours as the sun slips down past the horizon.  (You knew this one was coming right?) Sunsets can be especially impressive if there are some clouds in the sky which will reflect the light.  Find a great spot that offers an unobstructed view and a perfect backdrop also and take this fantastic show in!

Ottawa locations:

Photo Credit: Photos 4 - 6 taken by Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Stay tuned for a second list of five more ideas later this summer!

* P.S. I also am a big fan of Parks and Recreation!

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Ottawa City Docks - urban opportunities to connect to our rivers

NOTE TO READERS: In the next week or two I'll be updating some old blog posts to separate specific Ottawa information into a separate post to make it easier for readers to find.  My apologies for these extra posts coming to you - there are about 15 to work on and I'll let you know once it's done.

As a follow-up to our "Sitting on the dock on a Lazy Summer's Day" post, here are the urban docks that I know of in Ottawa - in the city core or close to the core:
  • Lowertown - Bordeleau Park
  • Old Ottawa East - Rideau River Trail/Brantwood Park
  • Glebe/Carleton U. - Brewar Park
  • Patterson Creek (Canal)
  • Clegg Street (Canal)
  • Canadian Museum of History (water taxi)
  • Behind Parliament/Bytowne Museum (water taxi)
  • Jacques Cartier Park (private (?) docks + quay + boat trailer unloading)
  • Are there ones in Gatineau - is there one at Lac Leamy?
Also at the North end of Blair Road there is a boat trailer unloading ramp which is the closest to the downtown core that I know of.

Last month in Ottawa, the Federal Government announced that new public docks would be put out along the canal to provide better water access for local Ottawa residents as part of a infrastructure boost to "re-energize and protect the historic waterway".  (May 10, 2016, Paula McCooey, Ottawa Citizen).  

Does anyone know if this is part of a larger effort along the canal system in Ontario and/or which Canadian city boasts the most public docks - especially in the urban core?

P.S. Want to do something else - looking for an adventure on the water? 

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Sitting on The Dock on A Lazy Summer's Day

What better spot to be than by the water on a relaxing warm summer's day?

The breeze along the cool water, the shade of nearby trees and a great view of blue and green!  A summer dock is a perfect spot to watch the world go by, spend an hour reading a book, listen to a podcast or just look for some local wildlife.  And you may be surprised to find out what public docks are out there and where they are located.  There may be one closer to you than you think!

dock (däk): a structure extending along shore or out from the shore into a body of water, to which boats may be moored (link)

Getting out and dipping my toes into the water on the first warm day is quickly becoming one of my early summer traditions despite not having my own watercraft whether it be a stand up paddle board, canoe or kayak!  It just feels so much like summer when I get to do it!

This is such a great public amenity for those living in cities.  And with these docks being within walking distance from apartments and townhomes, it provides the opportunity for city dwellers to invest in and take advantage of water recreation.  Have you tried paddleboarding yet?  Or perhaps you've wondered if an inflatable kayak could be just the ticket.  Or maybe you are just like me and find that dipping your toes in and daydreaming beside the cool water is a favorite summer recreational activity?  Especially with a popscicle, ice cream sandwich or a cold local soda?

Docks connect you to the water and are an easy relaxing way to get a new vantage point that's not available in the winter.  They can be an advantage to photographers and a great place to have a picnic.  They are not just for the watercraft set!  Bring a set of binoculars or your telephoto lens and check out what you can see.  Practice your sit spot (being still for at least twenty minutes) and observe the wildlife in a natural setting.

You can even see here in my city that the public docks are made out of various materials which could lead to a preference for best dock to sit on or just bring a cushion and make it your new outdoor reading spot.  Dip your hand or foot in whenever you get too hot.  Some can offer more shade than others depending on which side of the shore they are located on and how much tree cover is surrounding the spot.  Then there is the view which can be urban or more natural which can also lead to what kind of visitors you have - whether they be people out for a stroll or a bike ride or a mother duck taking her young out for a paddle.

If you want to discover the public docks in your own city, 
take a ride on a water-side bike path, 
call your municipal staff 
or ask a local paddling club!
Also ask when they are put out as I went to check on the status in late May here in the city and none of them were out yet!

Which ones do you know about here in Ottawa or in your own city?

Here is a link to a list of the Ottawa Dock locations I know about.

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How did you connect to nature today?

So many of us are busy, feel so rushed, find we are just doing the 9 - 5 grind, that we get frustrated that we don't have time to connect with nature.  We know it's good for us but that knowledge is not enough to help us prioritize this nature dose of "Vitamin N" in our weekly lives.  It can be quite a drag to feel like you are always in the concrete jungle, but there are many ways you can get your daily dose of nature.  You may even be surprised with how many ways you already DO connect with nature every single day.

Perhaps you noticed a bee buzz by or maybe you gazed at the clouds overhead or it could just be that you took off your shoes and felt the grass for a moment in the park at lunch today.  Here's some other wonderful ways you might have connected with nature:

- scanning the tree line as you drive to work

- taking in the scent of the spring blossoms

- hearing the distinct call of a raptor overhead

- stopping one minute to take in a green view out the window

- savouring the last morcel of your cherry pie dessert

- noticing the cool breeze on your face

- appreciating the design of a living edge countertop

- enjoying the feeling of sunlight on your legs

- pausing a moment to pick up a leaf from the ground

- chopping up vegetables for a family meal

- relaxing to the sound of a stream on your meditation cd

- holding out your hand to catch a few raindrops

It may only be a couple of seconds or it could be a few long minutes but the more you stop and enjoy those small nature breaks, the more these moments can actually become those pleasurable stolen moments that happen each and every day.  It's really about how present we are in the moment - whether we let it refresh us or whether nature stays as a backdrop to our busy days and unending to do lists.  Nature is all around us and it's actually difficult to avoid.

Start by breathing in slowly and deeply as you fully take in the moment.

Stop what you are doing (unless it's driving a car!) and be present.

Check in with all your five senses - connecting with each, one at a time.  

Slowly this finer awareness of the accessibility of urban nature can grow.  Maybe you'll start noticing the changes of the seasons more, or a gratitude for the abundance of vibrant colours in your daily life will expand.  The hope is that through this deeper presence your moments of nature interaction will grow and you'll feel less nature-deprived over time and see more opportunities to add nature in simple and small and possibly even more enriched ways every day.

So tell me how did you connect to nature today?

P.S. You may also like:

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