How to QUADRUPLE up on the benefits of Nature

getting out in nature Ottawa fun activity wild here

I spent a whole morning last week adding "new" locations to my personal online urban nature map (it's amazing that you can make your own maps and add notes, mark locations - the technology these days!): greenspaces I want to visit, locations that could be great for photography walks and natural areas that can be enjoyed at different speeds.  That to me is a morning well spent as someone coming from an urban planning background (read: someone who loves cities) and who has more recently coupled that passion with her love of outdoors.  Cities to me are great places to explore nature and they offer up such a myriad of varied terrain and cool locations and surprising finds.  Ottawa is a city of 1.25 million with an area of 2,779 km² and I'm constantly surprised with all the locations STILL to check out!

Nature Connection for Adults Nearby Nature Wild Here

How big is your city?  

Are there places that you still want to explore?

Who can you invite to join you?

forest bathing ottawa Forest Walk Ottawa

One of the joys of looking at maps for me is playing between the aerial (satellite) view and the map view seeing if I can find trails that offer opportunities to explore greenspaces.  The Map view is great because it highlights many of these natural spaces in green and then the Aerial view helps me confirm if it's an open or forested space.  Switching between the two at a low scale (1:200) is my next step, as it reveals if there are trails and where the access from the street to the trails are located.  Then I'll use Street View to find the entry to these parks and wild spaces!  (Read more about finding new spots in the Wild. Here. Explore posts.)

It's a joy for me to visit new places and I'm extremely lucky to have a partner who likes to join in!  If not a partner, perhaps a friend or family member of yours would like to join or you could go with an outdoor or naturalist club to a location you've been hoping to check out!  And last week after exploring my map, I had a new location to suggest and we went out that afternoon.  We got to explore a few trails, take in a lovely winter landscape, spot some fun birds and even say hi to a local dog walking group.  And the sun came out just at the end of our walk - perfect ending!  After that day I got to thinking about how doing this type of nature exploring activity with a friend can truly benefit people in a multitude of ways!

Ottawa Nature Outing Best Nature Spot Wild Here
-- The sun and blue skies revealed themselves right at the end of our walk --

Benefits of Being Out In Nature

You may have heard about all the benefits that you can get from being out in nature.  And it doesn't have to be pristine nature (that you can only find by driving out of the city by car) that gives you these benefits!  It can be a tree-lined street, a small wooded area, a path along a river or even a green vista!  (Consider these 10 free Nature "treats" the next time you want to get your dose of "Vitamin N" in the city.)  These nature benefits include: stress reduction, feeling positive, lowering anxiety, increase in healing and added energy to name a few!  And you can benefit from nature in as little as one minute!  Yes, one minute - I kid you not!

Forest Walk with a Friend - Great for Loneliness - Nature Connection
-- Two friendly conifers trees --

Benefits of Doing an Activity with a Friend

Did you know that connecting with friends actually helps you stay healthy also?  By providing you with caring connections and helping stave off loneliness (NY Times Article), friends can be an important part of our "health" routine.  Yes!  The newest prescription from your doctor may be "call a friend"!  So the opportunity of going out to explore a new greenspace or park in the city with a friend will give you this second "friendship" health boost.  Friends help you feel heard, can increase your enjoyment of an activity and help you feel connected to your community.  And friendships may even save the world! (Huff Post - Shasta Nelson)

Great to be Active in Nature Ottawa Urban Wild
-- Active Woodpecker Seeking Something to Snack On --

Benefits of Being Active

Getting out and walking in nature is an easy way to add a bit of movement to your day.  None of us need to be told that movement is something we should include in our daily activities!  (American Heart Association) And a walk in a local greenspace is an easy way to get our daily exercise.  You don't need special equipment (although you may need a change of shoes!) and it's an activity that many people can do.  Find a park that provides benches or picnic tables if you know that you will want a rest at some point.  Or if you like more active workouts like running or cycling - mix up your gym routine and do these outdoors with a friend!

Try something New - Get Out In Nature Ottawa
-- Katherine practicing a new skill - macro shots --

Benefits of Doing Something New

Finally, beyond the physical and mental and social benefits, another benefit in getting outdoors and exploring a new space with a friend is doing something NEW.  Novelty is something that can benefit all of us and if you are the type of person that enjoys exploring a new place this is an easy way to add Novelty in your life.  Not only does novelty give your brain a workout but it also can make you happier and stimulate creativity  It can also make your evening or weekend feel longer.

Who doesn't want more of that?

What do you think?  Do you enjoy exploring new greenspaces in your city?

Are you excited about the benefits of getting out with a friend to explore a new greenspace?

Nature Benefits for Creatives - Patterns Urban Wild

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Palm Springs Wildlife in Elevated and Desert Locations

I love nature and that includes both flora and fauna - I don't think I could ever choose and narrow down my interests to just birds or trees or anything specific.  And it's always great to be able to go out to any green space.  I wanted to share some of the things we saw outside of the urban area of Palm Springs because I'm guessing you like nature also!

We drove through Joshua Tree Park and it offered incredible landscapes and vistas.  You must check out Viliam's photos here: Yow_Vil Instagram: Jan 21 - Feb 25 and at Flickr (_Vee_).  In terms of wildlife we found some sweet prairie dogs, a few lizards and some other creatures.  We also went up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto and I wish we had more time to hike around the park there but we did get to take some great photos at sunset.  Another stop was to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve - I'll be posting those photos next week!

Trail sign to Lost Palms Oasis
-- Beautiful desert vistas in Joshua Tree National Park --

Orange and Green Lichen in Desert
-- Colourful lichen that caught my eye --

ground squirrel on a rock
-- Friendly Ground Squirrels -- 

lizard on rock
-- Very small Lizard Basking on a Rock -- 

View of Cacti in Joshua Tree Park
 -- Cholla Cactus Garden --

Close Up of Fly on Cactus
-- Insects on Cactus -- 

Silhouette of Raven in Tree
-- Raven close to the Southern Entrance of the Park --

Coachella Valley
-- Lovely view of Coachella Valley during decent back into Palm Springs --

View from top of San Jacinto Palm Springs
-- The top of San Jacinto --

Bird on San Jacinto
-- Found a Junco taking in the view on top of San Jacinto --

-- Close-up of Dark-eyed Junco --

sunny view of trail down into San Jacinto State park
-- Back side of Aerial Tramway Building looking down into San Jacinto Park --


Joshua Tree National Park (WildlifeLichens, Cholla Cactus Garden)
Mount San Jacinto State Park (Things to Do, Birds of the Park)

Let us know if you have visited Palms Springs and what you liked the best?

If you haven't gone but want to - what do you want to see?

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Ottawa: where to find urban water fowl in the winter

In the "Finding Ottawa's Winter Birds in the City" post, I mentioned that you could find a variety of winter water fowl in open water areas.

So where are some good open water spots in Ottawa to go see these dabbling and diving ducks that spend the winters here?
dabbling (ˈda-b(ə-)liŋ): adjective of a duck or other waterbird that moves its bill around in shallow water while feeding (link)
(Dabbing ducks are the ones with their bottom sticking straight up out of the water as they try to reach the tasty green nibblies just below the surface.)  ;  )

You wouldn't think that urban areas provide great bird spotting opportunities, but don't forget that cities harbour 20% of the world's birds!  And with Ottawa being located at the confluence of two rivers and having so much greenspace, there are many prime bird viewing spots around town.  Dabbling ducks will be found in shallower waters seeking their favourite vegetarian staples while diving ducks feed on small fish and crustaceans.

Remic Rapids (Ottawa-Outaouais River)

While Lac Deschaines (west of the Britannia Conservation Area where the Ottawa-Outaouais widens) is known as an IBA (Important Bird Area) you will also find some areas further east that can provide some great bird watching.   The great thing here is that they may be closer to the shore and easier to spot compared to the wider lake area.  I went for a short walk at Remic Rapics (along the SJAM winter trail) last winter and found some diving ducks.  With the deeper open water (compared to spots along the Rideau) it's a great place to look for these types of ducks.  Bring your telephoto or scope if you have one!

- Photo by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributing Creative to Wild. Here. -

Strathcona Park (Rideau River)

Closer to downtown, the Rideau River in Sandy Hill offers great opportunities to see birds in all seasons.  Gulls gather on the rocky spots near Adawe bridge in the summer and you'll notice that in the winter there are a fair-share of Mallards

Make sure to do the full loop between Adawe and the Multi-Use Bridge just south of the Queensway as you may see some more unique ducks further south through the clearings that are spaced along the paths on both sides.

Billings Bridge (Rideau River)

I've heard this is a very biodiverse area of the Rideau River offering a mix of small habitats with some marshy and natural shorelines.  A plump of ducks can usually be found on the ice around the Bank Street bridge.  Yes, plump - you heard it here first!  :  )  If you want to get out for a walk around this area, there is a small park and parking lot just west of the bridge off of Riverside Drive - although it may be closed in the winter.

Local Creeks (Hunt Club, Nepean, others)

There are some smaller creeks that offer open water that are good spots for dabbling ducks.  Whether due to overflow or because they have been rerouted underground, warmed up and then daylight again, some parts of urban creeks do not freeze in the winter.

Urban streams that are rerouted underground (to make it easier for development) provide the opportunity for the stream water to be warmed up by the ground's constant temperature (which is above zero even in the winter).  These creeks and streams may travel for km's underground and when the water returns to the surface it is warmer than the air temperature and can be quite a draw for wildlife in the winter.

(A big thanks to John Sankey's Hunt Club creek feature that not only illustrates this so well but also provides highlights on the entire stretch of the Hunt Club creek that is fascinating for this urban nature explorer!)

- Photo by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributing Creative to Wild. Here. -

Mud Lake (west end of the city)

Back to the west end for one final location - Mud Lake in the Britannia Conservation area, a favourite of local naturalists and birders.  Full disclosure - I have not done much exploring here in the winter but I have heard and read that other's find it a great spot.  Those that have written about this area include Gillian (Meadowhawk) from The Pathless Woods who mentioned this area as a good spot to look for both somewhat "rare" and common waterfowl.  She's spotted Goldeneyes and American Black Ducks and has a tip for those visiting this spot - remarking that it's worth checking out the area north of Cassels Street towards the river as the water behind the ridge is usually not covered with ice.

So that is my list of the top five places that I like to check out (and/or would suggest) 
to search out some water fowl in the winter in Ottawa!

What are some of yours?

And if you are not from the city 
- do you have any general tips for scouting out great bird watching sites?

As always - happy wilding!
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Two Gardens in Palm Springs California

When we decided to go to Palm Springs this winter, I did a bit of research to see what gardens or greenspaces within the urban region we could visit.   The Palm Springs region extends out southeast and includes other cities such as Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert.  I was very curious about the desert landscape and it was interesting to drive around the large suburban grid pattern of streets with landscaped sidewalks nestled beside the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.

I found two gardens that showcased cacti and other drought-resistant plants which I bookmarked "to see" and we managed to fit both into our vacation schedule.   If there had been more time (as I mentioned in my first Palm Springs post) I would have added some hotel resort gardens as some looked rather magical.  (I will be adding these for sure the next time we visit!)

So the two that we visited were:

Moorten Botanical Garden (1701 S Palm Canyon Drive)

This is a small private (business-owned) garden that is near downtown Palm Springs.  The descriptions that we read online for this garden mentioned that it is small and could be done in 30 minutes or so and that was accurate.  

But don't be deterred by the size however, as they have such a diverse number of cacti that are displayed along meandering paths and it was an impressive garden.  The plants are well labelled and they have some great specimens - many taller than the visitors themselves.  It's like a mini cacti forest!  

There are benches and lovely lighting for those that want to pause and stay longer and you will also find the world's first Cactarium - a greenhouse that holds many unique and rare types of cacti from around the world.  Those who like wildlife will find this to be a bird haven (including hummingbirds) and there are tortoises (although they were hibernating when I visited!).  Visitor's can also enjoy a free tour (included with the admission price) - see their website for more details!

Hours, Tours and Cost listed on the Moorten Botanical website
(Free Street Parking)

Sunnylands (37977 Bob Hope Dr)

I wasn't sure what to expect from Sunnylands but when I saw the photos online I knew it should be a photographer's dream.  The gardens are so incredible, with plants lined up to create a modern landscaping aesthetic that is so calming and simplistic.  The repeating patterns provide this incredibly serene backdrop and our visit there did not disappoint.  I only wish we could have stayed longer to enjoy a drink on the patio and appreciate the setting for another hour or so.  So my recommendation is to give yourself time to enjoy and visit at a leisurely pace.

Sunnylands has no entry fee and provides lots of free programming including music on the lawn, yoga & tai chi, children's activities and some free garden and bird walks.  There are also paid tours that you can reserve for both the estate and home (which is in another section of the property) and they offer other guided themed tours as well.

Hours, Directions, etc. on the Sunnylands website
(Free parking lot)

Have you been to Palm Springs?  What was your favourite Nature spot that you visited?

Did you have any unique encounters with wildlife?

See More of our Palm Springs Trip here

Seeking Winter Desert Warmth in Palm Springs
The (Urban) Birds of Palm Springs 2018
- The Flora & Fauna outside (and above) the Palm Springs area!
- Short Drive from Palm Springs: A Favourite Wildlife Preserve

p.s. Sorry about the smudge (foggy lens) in Sunnylands.  I thought it was a sun flare and by the time I realized I should clean my lens we were just finishing our visit.  (Always more to learn with photography!)
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Add some nature to your weekends!

Urban River and Colourful Sky Wild Here

Last month I read The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad curious about the life choices of so many of us, who work too hard and never really have time off.  Part of the reason I advocate for "nearby nature" is that it makes it easier for busy people to enjoy some of the benefits of nature even if they don't have time to get out of the city.  I was happy to see that the idea of time off and rest and recharging was being researched and written about and having been a fan of Katrina Onstad's novel "Everybody has Everything" I knew it would be a great read!

I found that so many parts of this book resonated with me and it was especially wonderful to find that she had a full chapter dedicated to the benefits of getting out to enjoy beauty and nature on the weekends.  For some, prioritizing nature during the week is just too difficult (although I do hope that this blog can help with that!) and here is a book that underlines the importance of seeking nature out on the weekend!

This book provides so much thought and reflection, it's a great read, especially for those who really find it difficult to prioritize leisure.  Katrina points out that in North America we make this a lower priority than other continents (where they may ask "What's your hobby?" rather than "What do you do for work?") and that a weekend of planned activities (especially shuttling family members to and fro) doesn't make a leisurely weekend either.  She reminds her readers that there is a large benefit to unplanned time.

I also like that she advocates for tech free time.  She comments in her book how she felt after shutting off her phone for a day:  "I felt lighter.  My mind was allowed to wander, and it did.  I took in the city, and ran through my thoughts.  In that kind of mental space, epiphanies can occur... I did feel unusually awake... time is a neutral space..."  Nature and tech free time should go hand in hand.  Using a phone camera to capture images is one thing but being distracted by calls, texts or messages truly interrupts what could be a calming, restful space that can help you connect to yourself (rather that all the distractions of the world and stress that you probably would rather leave behind!)

An interesting study (new to me!) highlighted in one chapter, demonstrated that those who use social media and their devices for communicating frequently may have an "Empathy Gap" (the study was on children).  This is due to the fact that conversations through texting do not allow for visual clues.  The lack of physical or face to face connection lessens empathy - humans become reduced to characters on a keyboard.  This makes me wonder if there are parallels to the studies that have shown that being in nature can actually make us kinder and more considerate*.  Could this actually be in part due to the fact that those who were studied put down their devices when they went out in nature?

Winter Walking Path over Wooden Bridge Gatineau Ottawa

She also talks about volunteering regularly (and I say do it in nature!), having fun with your family and spouse (dates, not discussions) and dropping the idea that brunches are a good option for leisurely Sundays.  (I've been thinking about that lately and have an idea for an alternative - stay tuned!)  But what really stood out for me was this study done by a sociologist in Calgary (Robert Stebbins) in regards to SERIOUS vs CASUAL recreation and how one is more beneficial than the other.  I'd summarize the two this way:
Casual recreation is sort of the default response to "I'm bored":  "I'm bored so I'll turn on the TV or start surfing on the internet".  And then it grows into binge watching shows or hours being eaten up online without us even realizing it.  It's so easy to get sucked in.  Even passively watching sports can end up being a sort of casual activity - especially if it's done at home rather than as a spectator event where you are at least surrounded by other fans and enjoying community and actively supporting your local team. 
Serious recreation in contrast is a hobby or skill development where we are actively learning, interacting and/or engaged with our senses, "even if the pursuit is amateur" Onstad notes.  I found this such a great reminder of why being out in nature is so beneficial even when all you are doing is walking - you are engaging all senses, you have dropped distractions (if your device is turned off) and your observation skills can increase.  If you engage in nature in other ways - through a sport such as trail running, kayaking, snowshoeing or a creative activity such as photography, sketching, outdoor dance or an educational approach seeking identification skills or bush survival skills or others (really the activities are endless) the enrichment is even deeper.

Katrina summarizes so succinctly by stating:
"A weekend of purely passive entertainment is a wasted weekend.  Too much passivity breeds absence in lives already starved for presence...  solitary pursuits can get lonely, yet our lives are more designed for a solitary experience of the world than ever before.  Technology is pushing us deeper into our own aesthetic caves." - Katrina Onstad

Let me know if you've read the book also!  I'd love to hear what others think and what great nuggets you took from it.  For now, I'll leave you with Katrina Onstad's Manifesto for a Good Weekend:  Connect. Care. Play. Go Green. Seek Beauty. Do less. Don't make plans, make space. Wander. Wonder. Be. Repeat Next Weekend.

Tree Shadows on Snow Winter Day Wild Here

So what do you think?  Are you concerned with how much casual recreation you take part in versus serious recreation?  Do you know of many friends who have amateur pursuits or hobbies?  Do you have one of your own?

Is it hard to find time for a hobby?  Does your work burn you out that all you want to do on the weekend is some type of passive recreational pursuit?  

(Title Photo Above by Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.)

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The (Urban) Birds of Palm Springs 2018

Mourning Dove at Palm Springs Resort Wild Here Urban Nature
-- Mourning Dove at Palm Springs Resort --

Canadian Geese and Coots in Palm Springs Resort Palm Birding in the South
 -- Canadian Geese and Coots at Resort --

Birding in the Western Flyway Palm Springs Winter 2018
 -- Egret at Resort (Note: Grass is kept green with a recycled watering system.) --

Flamingos and Coots in Resort Pond Winter 2018
 -- Flamingos and Coots at Resort --

Flamingo Detail Up close Birding in Palm Springs
-- Tagged Flamingos at Resort -- 

Urban Birding at Palm Springs Coachella Valley Winter 2018
-- Duck (Pintail?) at Resort -- 

Possible Pintail Duck in Coachella Valley Winter 2018
-- Another Image of Duck at Resort --

Coots at Palm Springs Resort Wild Here Urban Nature
-- Close-up of Coots - love these guys - saw them in Vancouver too! -- 

Identification of Migrating Birds in Coachella Valley
 -- Flycatcher at Sunnylands --

Bird Identification for Palm Springs Urban Bird Tour
 -- Unidentified Bird at Sunnylands --

Detail of Hummingbird at Moorten Botanical Garden
 -- Hummingbird at Moorten - saw quite a few during the week we were here! --

Another Bird in Urban Palm Springs Winter 2018
-- Bird at City Hall --

These are many of the birds we saw while in the Palm Springs urban region.  We saw more hummingbirds (that were too quick to photograph) and some other birds while we were out but weren't able to capture.  It's the movement and sounds of birds that help you detect their presence - love hearing the sound of Morning Doves!  We weren't intentionally seeking out birds and it was quite pleasant just to notice them as we visited different tourist spots.

Read more about our vacation here:

Seeking Winter Desert Warmth in Palm Springs
Two Gardens of Palm Springs: Cacti & Drought Resistant Plants
- The Flora & Fauna outside (and above) the Palm Springs area!
- Short Drive from Palm Springs: A Favourite Wildlife Preserve

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