Tuesday, February 22, 2011

*NEW* Species at Risk booklet!

The Muskoka Heritage Foundation is set to release the first in a series of five booklets. The subject of the first booklet is Species at Risk in Parry Sound-Muskoka. It gives information about specific actions we can take to help those species at risk in our area.

The booklets are unique in that they contain Muskoka-specific, action-oriented information. The project will enhance and preserve the environment through the encouragement of adopted stewardship topics. Topics include Forest management options, Shoreline and native plants, Wildlife habitat, Trail building, and Species at Risk. They will contain action-oriented tips and best practices for cottagers in Muskoka and elsewhere.

The Blanding's Turtle is a Threatened species in Parry Sound-Muskoka.
(Photo: Scott Gillingwater)

Pick up your copy of the Species at Risk booklet in March and join the Muskoka Heritage Foundation in promoting the responsible use, enjoyment and conservation of the Muskoka environment we all cherish.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wood Duck Adventure

Who lives here?

Introducing the Wood Duck!
(Aix sponsa)

{A male wood duck on the left and a female on the right}
photo credit: Randolph Femmer

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Pileated Woodpecker and the importance of cavities. Wood ducks are one of the species that uses cavities made by pileated woodpeckers. However, wood ducks can also be induced to nest in artificial boxes.

Armed with this knowledge, an invitation from a landowner here in Muskoka, a cordless drill, a sharpie, and some wood shavings, a group of us headed out to see for ourselves if any nesting had taken place last spring on this property.

The incredible volunteers who accompanied me are none other than 3 of the Master Stewards from the Muskoka Stewardship Program. We were invited to this spectacular 100 acre property located in Muskoka to see if there had been any wood duck activity during the past year and prepare the boxes for this coming spring.

You see, wood ducks like to nest in cavities in wetlands because it makes it very difficult for predators to access their nests. These boxes are located in a 30 acre wetland. It's actually quite an amazing beaver pond. Normally inaccessible, the wood duck boxes had to be put up in winter and we needed the ice to be solid to change the material in the boxes for the coming spring.

Above: Paula unscrews the front of the box...you can see our shadows as we eagerly anticipate the contents of the first box!!
Female wood ducks often return to nest in the place where they were born. There is an increased chance they will use the boxes if they are not dirty from the previous year and also if the material inside is dry.
Our mission for the afternoon: clean out boxes, make observations on each one (amount of eggs inside, other animals that may have used it), and refill the boxes with new material. We also re-labelled the numbers on the 8 boxes from last year and assigned numbers to the 5 new boxes that were put up.
Inside each box the material is compacted down. There are often layers of broken shells and downy feathers. Notice the inside of the front piece that is sitting on the ground. The horizontal lines are carved in so the hatchlings can grab on to climb out before they fledge.
This box has quite a few shells and some feathers. In some of the boxes we could tell it was a wood duck because of the iridescent colour of the feathers.
A close up of the egg shell and some downy feathers.
Here is the crew, with our tools, in front of Box #5. Notice the oblong shape of the entry hole for the wood ducks. This shape is suited for them and is also big enough, but not too big. If you decide to put up boxes of your own, this is an important component. Also important is the forward slanted way they are affixed to the tree.
A beautiful day to get ready for spring and help the wood ducks have suitable nesting spots for when they return this spring. Perhaps we'll return next year to see how they did!

photo: Mike Sweet

Interested in building your own wood duck box?
Follow the same directions as the landowner whose property we visited!

Want to know more about wood ducks?
There are lots of websites:
Hinterland's Who's Who
House Construction Tips
Ducks Unlimited
The Wood Duck Society

Friday, February 11, 2011

Of Forests and Men

Yann Arthus-Bertrand was appointed by the United Nations to produce the official film for the International Year of Forests. This film was shown during a plenary session of the Ninth Session of United Nations Forum on Forests (24 January - 4 February 2011) in New York. With the voice of Edward Norton.

International Year of Forests will be the theme for this years' Muskoka Heritage Foundation Award at the Muskoka Arts and Crafts Spring Members' Show. The show runs at the Bracebridge Sportsplex from March 25-27, 2011.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Muskoka Stewardship Conference: Get Involved!

Just Announced:
Muskoka Stewardship Conference
2011: Get Involved!

Click on the image of the poster for a bigger version
This promises to be an amazing day full of positive stewardship stories from landowners and scientists a like.
The goal is to learn from each other so we can each be more involved in the stewardship of our land and projects in our community.
Come out and share, learn and network with others!
Stay tuned for updates or visit www.muskokaheritage.org

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter Visitor

Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus

This woodpecker was pecking away in our yard when we got home the other day! We can see he has been working on a couple of the coniferous trees in our yard by the fresh wood chips on the snow.
It really is neat to see a pileated woodpecker. They are large birds (up to 47cm tall!) and are quite striking with their red tufts atop their heads and white and black markings around their eyes and neck.

I've posted before about the importance of cavity trees in our woodlots. Pileated woodpeckers require snags (standing dead trees) for habitat, like the white spruce below. All the needles and much of the bark have fallen off. There are two in a row that are similar and the woodpecker seems to like them both!
There are also often wood-boring insects who are feasting on the dead tree, which in turn make a tasty feast for the pileated woodpecker. By eating large numbers of these insects, pileated woodpeckers also help to control insect populations that can damage valuable trees- commercially important or otherwise.
Pileated woodpeckers excavate cavities in snags that can be used for nesting and roosting. They are usually long oval or rectangle shaped holes in the tree. I went out the next day to see the work of this particular bird:

Pileated woodpeckers often abandon the cavities they create. These abandoned cavities make high quality nesting and refuge habitat for other species like wood ducks and squirrels.

Keep your ears open for the tapping of a pileated woodpecker this winter. If you can find where it is, you have a good chance of catching it at work- and helping to keep the forest healthy.