Bear Bells and Beagles by Leslie Noonan
In the 1980’s there was a television program called “That’s Incredible”, featuring unusual objects and daring stunts. Viewers would be amazed by everything from paranormal phenomena to snake charming. Snake charming you say! This seemed a perfect career choice for a certain impressionable little girl. It was while visiting friends on the farm that this same child, with clearly impaired survival skills, found the perfect opportunity to try out her newfound career. A most unwilling snake, sporting the requisite brown splotched body with a small rattle, was stumbled across and duly snatched by his poor body in the general approximation of where a neck would be. Unfortunately, the little girl had forgotten to both inform her new partner of his role in this adventure, or to soothe his beastly little soul with flute music. The result was both dramatic and inevitable. Shrieks echoed across the fields and brought the adults running, including one mom with a terror of snakes. This led to a speedy drive to Collingwood hospital, which still carried the anti-venom at this time. Let’s be clear, the injection was much more painful than the bite, especially with the nurse providing the unwanted wisdom of, “that’s what you get for playing with snakes!”
Fast forward a few decades, to another encounter with a massasauga rattler on a beautiful spring day during a hike around McCrae Lake up to the Eagles Nest. This is a spectacular hike through the Canadian Shield and an area brimming with animals including bear, beaver and deer. The aforementioned young girl was now sporting the occasional grey hair and maybe a wrinkle or two, and with a much more developed sense of self-preservation. One section of the trail passes along the side of a beaver dam and across several flat rocks, warm in the sun. It was with one foot poised to step across these rocks that a distinctive buzz sounded from directly under the same raised foot. Well that sounds familiar. Slowly stepping back revealed the grey and brown snake that I had met with before. Massasauga rattle snakes are a small and timid snake, at least when they are not being grabbed, or stepped on. Lesson learned, and with a great deal of respect this hiker continued on with only a brief vision of wicker baskets and flute music.
Massasauga Rattles snakes are shy and gentle giants. They are endangered and there are big fines for killing one. Their rattle sounds like a buzz not a rattle. If you hear it slowly back away. Most people get bit raking leaves. The narrow neck is the best way to identify it. Fox snakes are very close in appearance but has no neck. They only bite for defence. The venom is for digesting their food so they use it last resort.
Ontario’s Turtle Need a ‘Brake’
The 8 species of turtles found in Ontario are the Midland Painted Turtle, Snapping Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle, Spotted Turtle, Norther Map Turtle, Wood Turtle, Stinkpot (Musk) Turtle, and the Spiny Softshell Turtle. Midland Painted Turtles and Snapping Turtles are the most commonly sighted turtle species with widespread populations in Ontario which you may see basking along the shorelines of Georgian Bay, at Wye Marsh or at Tiny Marsh. Sadly, all 8 of these species are listed as At Risk, Threatened, or Endangered. Habitat loss and road mortality are the leading reasons why.
Please be watchful for our shelled friends on the roadways, especially in spring during their nesting season. Their dark shells and slow nature often have them mistaken for debris on the road, leading to road morality. Turtles will travel great distances for prime nesting habitat in sandy areas – often on the side of roads in marshy areas. If you see a turtle on the road, please brake and give it space. If it safe to do you may encourage it across the road from behind, or carefully pick it up with two hands from the middle. Carry it low to the ground so as not to drop it and be mindful of scratching claws. If the turtle is a Snapping Turtle identifiable by their large size, sharp beak-like mouth, and spikey tail, DO NOT attempt to lift it – they are swift with their powerful bite. Just encourage the turtle to move along from a safe distance.
Protected wetland habitat like Wye Marsh is crucial for our turtle populations. They allow turtles to safely nest and mature to breeding age for the nest generation to replenish a healthy population. It is always a happy day standing in the sunshine on the boardwalk at Wye Marsh, scanning the lily pads and cattails for basking turtles. We hope you will join us on the boardwalk to spot the different species who live in Wye Marsh, including Painted Turtles, Blanding’s Turtles, and Snapping Turtles.
Wye Marsh has over 25km of trails to explore, from winding through the cedar groves, into hardwood forest, to the floating boardwalk which immerses visitors in the cattails. It is a magical place for all ages to be inspired and fall in love with nature. Trails are accessible for all ages and abilities, with some loops being stroller friendly. Trails are open daily from 9:00am-4:30pm. There are live animal demonstrations on weekend at 1:00pm. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for children aged 4-18, $9 for seniors aged 65+, and children under 4 are free. To plan a visit to Wye Marsh, please visit: https://www.wyemarsh.com/
Protecting our Precious Pollinators
The more I read about the incredibly important role pollinators play in the future existence of all of us, the more concerned I become about their alarming decline all over the world.
It is hard to fathom that our health, well being, and our future existence here on Earth is dependent on tiny insignificant-looking, sometimes annoying insects, flitting from flower to flower.
Pollinators are all connected with all other species in the fragile web of life.
The value and importance of each strand may not be obvious until it is destroyed.
The extinction of one species can ripple right through the web of life and negatively impact the health and well-being of all of us.
We need pollinators as 450,000 species depend entirely on pollinators – one third mouthful of all the food we eat, including meat.
Alfalfa eaten by cows is pollinated by leaf cutter bees.
Many of the over 850 native bee species here in Canada face extinction.
On Earth Day, 2019 the UN provided us with an alarming report – our bumblebee population had declined an astounding 89 per cent!
It turns out one of the best food sources for pollinators are native plants. Native plants are extremely adaptive as they have evolved over thousands of years to become drought and pest resistant, and readily grow in poor soil conditions.
Unfortunately, many domesticated flowers grown in our gardens have been bred for beauty and many no longer produce nectar!
Here in Ontario, we have over 270,000 km of roads with roadsides dominated by a riot of naturalized flora which turn out to be incredible food sources for our pollinators.
Research has demonstrated that pollinating insects such bees, moths, beetles, wasps, ants, and butterflies all visit roadside flowers frequently.
It is estimated that pollinators provide upwards of 217 billion dollars to the world economy.
Pollinator’s rights here in Ontario alone are responsible for $897 million dollars worth of agricultural crops per year.
It is expected that all municipalities are familiar with the Growing Forward 2 Guide (LandManagersGuide.Ontario.Corridor.FINAL.PDF) jointly produced by the federal and provincial governments, which describes in great detail everything required to implement “best practices” to maintain flowering roadside plants readily available to our pollinators.
Bees need evergreen trees! A concerted effort should be made to plant as many evergreens as possible in groups of 3 (without shade single evergreen trees will often dry out and die in sunny winter months).
Worker honey bees will go in search of resin from evergreen trees. They tear the resin from trees and mix it with the wax from the beehive. This antibiotic mixture makes the hive waterproof and the mixture will be used to entomb any invading insects.
A few years ago Councilor Mike McCann spearheaded an initiative to make Barrie an official Bee City.
Since that time, the City has implemented a number of measures to increase food sources and safe habitats for pollinators such as reducing the number of mowing cycles per summer, increasing the number of naturalized spaces, replacing planting areas with native species, supporting the planting of native trees, restoring and enhancing the shoreline restoration, and creating an in-house native flower-enhanced seed mix.
On June 18, Barrie is hosting a Pollinator Week from June 20-26. The City will promote learning opportunities about the importance of pollinators.
When planting your garden consider adding as many native and pollinating plants as possible such a blue vervain, cup plants, ironweed, cone flowers, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, asters, borage, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, dahlias, daisies, lavender, marigolds snapdragons, and sunflowers.
Homeowners are encouraged to leave flowering dandelions on their lawns until they go into seed as they are great nectar sources for bees.If we all do a little bit, we can accomplish a lot to help reduce the decline of our precious pollinators.
Submitted by Gwen Petreman
Children’s Author Illustrator Educator Presenter
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