Treat Yourself - the Wild Way (Part Two)

Earlier this summer I started a list of ways to treat yourself in terms of free nature outings that are both mental and physical health boosters.  How amazing is it that these "feel good" options are free and as easy as walking out your door to seek out these nature pick-me-ups?

The first five "Treat Yourself - the Wild Way" ideas are here and they include local spots in Ottawa where you can indulge yourself in all the benefits that nature has to offer.  And below are the other five suggestions that you can pursue, right now as the warm weather continues and even into the fall when being outdoors is invigorating and colourful.  Tell me what other ways you treat yourself to nature doses during your day!

Engage your full body
Try an activity where you can indulge in the sensation of movement. Get on your bike to feel the apparent wind as you ride or dive into a pool, lake or river to enjoy gliding through the cool inkiness of the water.  These summer sensations are not to be missed!

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

Seek out the gift of green
A vision of verdant earthy green tones can actually boost your spirits.  Think of it as a real life "Breathing Space" two-page spread from O's pages.  Any type of leafy view can relax you and lift your mood and even help you reboot after a stressful event.  Can you feel the calm?

Go on an early morning walk
Indulge in the cool and calm part of the day and watch the world as it wakes up around you.  It may take some extra effort to rouse yourself from your bed but getting outdoors can be just the caffeine-free energizer you have been seeking.  Stretching your legs even if it's just around the block gets you outside and connected to the wider IRL world (especially if you are work-at-home entrepreneur).

Walk barefoot and/or lay down in the grass
Another one of those summer pleasures that many people enjoy is getting out of their shoes and relaxing in a park.  These fleeting warm summer days offer the opportunity to be outside and barefoot or even taking an afternoon nap under a leafy screen or watching the clouds go by.  Connect directly with the ground's natural electric field and soak up the energy (also know as "earthing"). We can't do this once the colder weather sets in.

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

Take advantage of the long days of summer
This is the perfect month to get out in the evening during the golden hour of the day.  Bring your camera with you and experiment with the soft rays that make everything seem to glow.  By the end of September, the sun will be setting before 7:00 pm so enjoy these extended North American daylight hours and soak up some extra serotonin while you can!

Link for Part One of Treat Yourself - the Wild Way.

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Hidden Corners and Quiet Nature Spots

Nature can be very surprising.  It's more resilient than some might imagine.  That is one of the brilliant things about nature in the city - it's unexpected when you come upon it flourishing in urban spots, it provides a bit of hope in days of climate change worries and finding wildlife itself undaunted by sharing habitat with humans, lets us experience the uniqueness of feathered and furry neighbours.

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

It's for these reasons that I kept finding myself being drawn into exploring any local wild surroundings that I would discover.  There was always another surprise just down the street or in the neighbourhood park.  Wood frogs mating a five minute bike ride away?  Cedar waxwings gorging on berries in a local green space?  A tiny toadlet nursery hidden in a corner of a cemetery?  Bobolinks singing their mating song along the parkway - ten minutes away from downtown (see first photo above)?!

And if you end up learning some identification, these new skills provide the added surprise as you find certain species in new and different places, helping you realize that urban areas can be abundant with life - big and small.  I'd also be surprised by what I found in terms of natural areas: a large heritage pine perched precariously on a ravine in a hidden spot near a very popular bay; a sweeping vista of a forgotten creek invisible to those who drive along a popular parkway; a small urban woodlot carpeted in blooming Dame's Rocket and other marvelous sights as I kept visiting new areas in all four seasons.

There is also a variety of moods depending on the weather and time of year in even the exact same location and some stunning vistas for the intrepid urban explorer that you might just stumble upon.  These are the rewards that make it such a thrill to get out.
vista (ˈvɪs.tə): a view, especially a beautiful view from a high position (link)

Photo Credit: by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Sure I might see lots of invasives like Manitoba Maple or Buckthorn or Garlic Mustard but that's the beauty of it - the times I do see White Trilliums or Sensitive Fern or Soloman's Seal or Blue Vervain in these small urban parks and green corners, it gives me an extra boost and even some times some hope for the future in these times of big headlines and dire predictions.

Even without knowing the names of specific species, it is exciting to come upon wildlife.  You don't need identification skills to enjoy local nature spots and the wildlife you discover.

(Count the frogs!  What an early spring party for these herptiles!)

If there are no natural spots close to where you live that you can walk or bike to, see if you can find a larger area that's close enough that you can visit easily at different times of the year and that might offer a variety of terrain to explore.  If it's a short car or bus ride, it'll make it easy to get out for a visit once a month or more.  It's definitely worth it, as the more you go out, the more wildlife and wild wonders you may encounter. Find some activity that you enjoy doing that you can do outdoors or that gives you the opportunity to be outside regularly.

For the urban wild explorer, I will be writing some posts about how to find these wild areas, what resources are out there in various cities, what you might want to bring with you, how to enjoy wildlife sightings, safety considerations and other great tips & resources whether online or IRL.  Start with this post: "Introduction to Urban Wild Exploring" and then check out the ongoing series starting here: "Urban Wild Exploring: Finding New Places".

What's been your greatest urban wild discovery?  

When were you most surprised by a wildlife sighting close to your home?  

What's your favourite way to explore the green (and blue) spaces in your city (by bike, walking with friends, on the water?)

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

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Ottawa - the sunset capital of Canada? Yes!

Did you know that Ottawa is a really great place to enjoy sunsets?? I was surprised to read about this in the CBC 2014 article written by Andrew Foote: "Experts say a mix of natural gifts gives Ottawa more spectacular sunsets more often than other parts of Canada." 

These conditions include: lack of skylines (that block view), good view of horizon (flat area), limited fog and just the right amount of haze.  There was also a quote from a local photographer:  "It's the end of the day and it's the time when everything gets very quiet," she said.  "I think sunsets just make us think and feel more."

The great thing about sunsets is that you can enjoy them year round.

In the winter when the sun sets much earlier, many people get to enjoy a peek as they drive home (but perhaps they don't get to really take them in and truly savour them).  Some of these sunsets with the white horizon and monochromatic backdrop can be quite stunning.  In the summer, sunsets have the perk of warm twilight hours where people are out and can linger.  And if the evening clouds provide a great reflective surface, a myriad of colours can add to the show.

If you are out in the summer in a natural setting at this time of day, wildlife spotting can be fun also. Many birds and animals can be found on the move later in the day - whether they are diurnal fauna seeking shelter or nocturnal creatures that are just getting up and coming out of their dens and burrows.  Some avoid the mid day temperatures and can be found foraging at this cooler time just before sunset.  And some wildlife comes out specifically at twilight!

crepuscular (krĭ-pŭs′ kyə-lər):  appearing or active in the twilight, as certain bats and insects (link) Other wildlife includes rabbits, skunks, mice and chimney swifts (Wikipedia)

Groundhog/Woodchuck (Marmota monax), a member of the squirrel family, very adaptable to urban areas.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), a wading bird that benefits from wetlands and ponds created by healthy beaver populations.

Ring-billed Gull - note yellow legs (Larus delawarensis), sociable and opportunistic urban "seagull".

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), semi-aquatic rodent (smaller than a beaver) thriving in Pickerel weed and Yellow Pond Lily habitat.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) duck family.  Monogamous pairs, can have up to 13 ducklings and two broods a season.
Fathers are not seen but are close-by.

If you are living (or visiting) the National Capital area, here are some suggestions for your next evening outing:

Nepean Point (behind National Art Gallery downtown) - this location has great vistas and some wildlife may be spotted in the park or down below on the river (bring your binoculars!)

Carlington Hill (near Carling Avenue and Clyde Avenue) - another great spot for north-westerly views that take in the Gatineau hills and may offer some wildlife sightings including owls and roosting birds due to small woodlot south of the hill.

Mooney's Bay (near Hog's Back falls) - the beach and park provides panoramic views across the bay and from the southern part of the park the sun sets just behind the apartment buildings on Prince of Wales Driveway.  Frogs, dragonflies and waterfowl can be found here.

Rockcliffe Parkway (east of the downtown) - this parkway paralleling the Ottawa River has many access points for cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the northern horizon along the waterfront. You can enjoy elevated views from the Pavilion and Lookout or stop at one of the many parking lots if you drive to this location.  (Parking Lot 6 near the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre is a good option and includes a public outhouse in the summer.)

Parc Guillot/Parc des Rapides-Deschênes (Gatineau Side - west of downtown Hull/Gatineau) - don't discount the Quebec side!  Even though the sun will set behind the hills and not over the water, sometimes the sun's reflections in clouds and water are great from this angle.  Also the bike paths here provide access to the very shallow limestone and mudflat shores.

Further Out of the City (accessible by bike or bus):

Britannia Beach - this wide stretch of the Ottawa River (also know as Lac Deschênes) provides great sunset views and possible wildlife encounters.  You can also visit the purple martin colony that is located at the Britannia Yacht Club.

Petrie Island - known as a "hidden gem within the city", the larger narrow island that is accessible to the public is a great experience because on one side you will find marshes and on the other the Ottawa River which allows a rich mixture of flora and fauna to flourish here. Remember no dogs are allowed in the Grandmaitre Nature Reserve.

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

And please share in the comments if you are in another city: 
where do you go for the best sunsets in town?

Happy Sunset Seeking!
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Urban Wild Exploring: Finding New Places - Part One

How goes your urban nature exploring?  Is it something you are interested in or are you enjoying getting outdoors in other ways?  If you do want to explore, have you found some new great spots to visit in your city? What is the best way you've found to discover new spots?  Tell me what you think of the follow ideas that I've found helpful:

How to Identify Wild Spaces Worth Exploring

  • The first thing I did when I started getting curious about wild spaces was to use online map websites (like Google Maps or Bing Maps) and topography/satellite image websites (like Google Earth or MapQuest Satellite) to search for green spaces in my city.  Online map websites show you the more official green areas and they also show urban streams that are sometimes not so visible when you are driving around.  Topography/satellite image websites can show you whether the area is forested or shrubby and green corridors that may not be as obvious on maps.  
  • You can enrich the information you find online through these two sites by also searching on your official City website.  Municipalities can provide information on local parks (locations, hours if applicable) and amenities (like washrooms, water fountains, sports fields, etc). 
  • Hydro and river/stream corridors also can offer some wild spaces - and you can some times confirm if there are local paths within these corridors with topography/satellite image websites.

  • Some urban parks have wild edges that offer great discoveries of local flora and fauna.  It's a great opportunity for learning about native and naturalized plants and the fauna that is attracted to these type of habitat including insects and urban birds.  If the natural area is large enough you may even find some informal dirt trails and/or paths that allow you to explore further.  Just remember to prioritize your safety!
  • Nature reserves and other natural areas (cemeteries and arboretums) can offer tamer opportunities to explore with the added bonus of learning opportunities.  Here in Ottawa, both the Dominion Arboretum and Beechwood National Cemetery provide tree species labels to make identification easy, while some nature reserves have outdoor displays and education signage about native flora and fauna.
  • Some public gardens also provide identification labels for plants.  The Canadian Wildlife Federation has a wildlife demonstration garden located in Kanata that shows various types of habitat (woodland, meadow, wetland, etc) and the types of plants you can find.  I also found a meditation garden at a church that is a small urban sanctuary for wildlife which had labels identifying most of the shrubs, trees and flowers (many of which were native).
  • As you are travelling around the city, look for interesting topography - see where streams are located and notice changes in elevation.  I've found some great escarpment areas and also stumbled upon this wonderful ravine as I got out to explore different areas of Ottawa.

Photo Credit for all Images in this Post: Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

There are some organized opportunities to get out and explore in both urban and wilder spaces.  I'll be writing about that and sharing a list of other resources such as websites and apps to help with your urban exploring later in the summer.

One thing you may want to think about if you are serious about exploring is what to bring on your adventures.  So depending on what time of year it is and/or how long you will be out, here are some items to consider:
- bug spray (especially in early summer when bugs are at their peak)
- suntan lotion
- sturdy shoes
- water proof wear if needed (I hate when my feet get wet)
- water bottle
- camera/binoculars/pocket lens
- identification books or apps
- sketch book/field notebook
- pencil (this is the writing instrument of choice for field naturalists)
Don't worry about timing or season.  Exploring can be done any time during the year (as long as you consider your comfort and safety).  Remember wild spaces in urban settings are still wild!  There is lots to see, to learn and to check out, whether you are a photographer, a birder, a plant lover, hoping to spot some wildlife, looking for a peaceful place to spend an afternoon or wanting to find a new place to go for a jog or bike ride.

Happy Exploring!

Other Posts on Urban Wild Exploring:

Intro to Urban Wild Exploring (Wild. Here. May 2016)

Urban Wild Exploring: Finding New Places - Part Two (Wild. Here. August 2016)

Urban Wild Exploring: Finding New Places - Part Three (Wild. Here. October 2016)

Urban Wild Exploring: Searching and Sightings of Fauna (coming soon)

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