Sailing ever northward in search of wildlife, culture and history

Venturing to rarely-visited sites along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast on the way north

Sailing ever northward in search of wildlife, culture and historyI get to travel to some great places as an expedition guide. A few months ago (pre-COVID-19), I travelled to parts of Canada I had never seen before and filled in gaps on my lifelong adventures in Canada’s remotest reaches. I thought I’d share some insights about Canada’s northern regions as we celebrate Canada’s 150-plus…

Survival of the fittest, from a very young age

Some orphaned babies are unlikely to survive if very young but others can fend for themselves at an early age

Survival of the fittest, from a very young ageI was working on a breeding bird survey recently and encountered a scene that was both moving and shocking. Huddled in the short grass on the shoulder of the road was a baby raccoon, only days old, snuggled up beside its mother. At first I thought the scene was a Disney moment – one of…

Crickets, grasshoppers, songs and heatwaves

Grasshoppers existed long before dinosaurs. And crickets are eaten, reviled and revered around the world

Crickets, grasshoppers, songs and heatwavesFolklore widely claims that you can tell the temperature simply by listening to how fast crickets ‘sing.’ Is that really true? Read on and I’ll share the truth by the end of this column. But first, let’s learn something about these little guys and their buddies. Crickets are related to grasshoppers and resemble them a…

Common sunscreen ingredients dangerous for freshwater ecosystems

Research by U of A biologists shows detrimental effects on tiny water fleas that are fundamental to freshwater food chains

Common sunscreen ingredients dangerous for freshwater ecosystemsThe active ingredients found in sunscreen have detrimental effects on freshwater ecosystems, according to new research by University of Alberta biologists. The results show that long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) filters – including avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene – is lethal for some organisms living in freshwater environments. One of the largest sources of UV-filter contamination…

No evidence predator control will save caribou: study

U of A scientists suggest renewed emphasis on securing habitat rather than culling wolves or fencing in pregnant caribou

No evidence predator control will save caribou: studyAddressing potential threats from predators has not slowed the dramatic decline of mountain caribou in British Columbia and Alberta, according to a new study by scientists from threeWestern Canadian universities. Biologists reassessed data from research published in 2019. The original research has been cited as showing that killing wolves and fencing pregnant caribou are solutions to…

Don’t squish that spider!

We may be genetically programmed to fear spiders, but they're here for a reason. Leave them alone to eat other insects

Don’t squish that spider!“The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. …” So many people are afraid of spiders, but I’ll bet almost none of them can tell you why. According to a new study out of Columbia University, it may be genetic. Our ancestors had to fear spiders – in Africa, where our roots all take us,…

Serenaded by cicadas

Their song is produced by a complex vibrating membrane on their sides and a hollow resonant body cavity

Serenaded by cicadasEvery year in late June to mid-July, I await the return of the cicada. (Actually, they never left, but more on that in a moment.) For me, this is the song of summer. As I write, one is serenading me outside my office window. Long after the April rains have passed, May flowers have bloomed…

We can – and must – stop our plastic legacy

Countless animals ingest plastics and die. Do we care? Do we care that these plastics are now in the human food chain?

We can – and must – stop our plastic legacyWe often see news items about the environmental impact of single-use plastic straws. And we want to do something, which is good. Costa Rica plans to ban single-use plastics. At a recent G7 summit, the nations condemned single use straws and said they will discuss the matter at a future meeting. But no action has…

Don’t feed the bears! How parks get visitors to protect nature

Interpretive programs can improve visitors' attitudes about nature-friendly behaviour, but longer-term effects less certain: U of A researchers

Don’t feed the bears! How parks get visitors to protect natureBy Glen Hvenegaard and Elizabeth Halpenny University of Alberta After weeks of pandemic lockdown and closures, families keen on camping holidays and getting outdoors are relieved that many of our parks are reopening. Canada’s national parks partially opened on June 1 for day use; camping will be closed until at least June 21 while authorities assess safety.…

Buckets of rain put wildlife in peril

With climate change, unrelenting rains can be challenging for wildlife and plants

Buckets of rain put wildlife in perilaa Rain is a good thing. It has so many beneficial properties – a source of drinking water for everything, a source of nutrition for plants and micro-organisms, a refreshing relief from the heat, a mechanism to replenish aquifers and lakes, a means to clean overlooked homes and cars, fun for kids of all ages,…

Exploring Alaska’s remote, enchanting shores

Joining the few privileged to travel to remote and obscure offshore islands like Baby, Unga, Haystacks, Aghyuk and the Aleutians

Exploring Alaska’s remote, enchanting shoresMy anticipation heightened as I waited for my flight. I was about to join the few privileged to explore Alaska beyond the usual ports of call, travelling to remote and obscure offshore islands. Nome Nome is where it all began for me. I was surprised at the appearance of this small coastal community, for it…

Prying into the private lives of birds in love

Wild things don’t actually fall in love, since reproduction is a serious business that involves advertising for the sole purpose of mating

Prying into the private lives of birds in loveAh spring, a time for flowers and April showers, birds and bees, a chorus of frogs, greening of the earth and love at first sight. Well, wild things don’t actually fall in love, since reproduction is a serious business that involves advertising for the sole purpose of mating. We’re all very familiar with spring birdsong…

Vernal ponds are at the heart of the forest life cycle

Frogs, toads, salamanders, insects and other invertebrates teem in vernal pools, depending on where you live in the country

Vernal ponds are at the heart of the forest life cycleHave you ever walked in a forest in early spring and seen all the beautiful little ponds that dot the landscape? Have you gone there again in July and wondered where they went? I can explain what’s happening here and why they’re so critical to many animals. Vernal pools – also known as ephemeral, autumnal,…

California condor back from the brink

Only 22 birds were left in the wild in 1982. They were all captured as part of a breeding program. Now more than 500 live in the wild

California condor back from the brinkI’ll tell you the beginning and the end of the story first because they have nothing to do with California condors and everything to do with them. My first sighting of condors was on a cloudless day in January 1995. We were travelling from Apartaderos to Timotes in Venezuela along the spine of the Andes.…

In search of Borneo’s elusive ‘man of the forest’

Deep in a jungled land, where monkeys and apes share the trees with myriad snakes, birds and giant insects – and the orangutan

In search of Borneo’s elusive ‘man of the forest’As the flight neared the Borneo shore, the forest merged from the fog. The steam wafted skyward, slowly and mysteriously revealing the grandeur of the last remaining patches of Malaysian rainforest. Thoughts of strange wild men and headhunters still lingered as I contemplated my imminent arrival in Kota Kinabalu (K.K. to the locals), the capital…