No Mow May!

Nikki Toxopeus, Yellow Point Ecological Society 

First published in Take 5 – May 2021

No Mow May is fun and a lazy way to start the summer and is a fantastic way to help the birds and the bees.  It is also something we all have the skills to do and it will really help all the wildlife that depends on the creatures and plants in our gardens, meadows, and roadside ditches. If we delay mowing until after the end of May, we may be surprised how quickly Nature responds. So, is there a patch you can protect?

Spring is the season of breeding and feeding young. Birds need their nests undisturbed, and they need bugs and caterpillars to feed their young for a few weeks.  Bird feeders do not cut it for the baby birds.  There used to be a lot more food for the birds but insects are in decline.  Remember when there were many more bugs? All over our windshields? 

Fun facts

Chickadees need to feed their chicks about 500 caterpillars a day for at least two weeks. This can be more than 10,000 caterpillars. 

Land based insects are disappearing at a rate of 1% per year, due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat.

Globally, pollinator services are worth more than $200 billion a year. 

35% of our food depends on pollinators.

 

The Yellow Point Ecological Society supports the vision of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy of Canada to build a network of interconnected wild yards, hedgerows, fields, rights of way and roadsides that can be left undisturbed during the spring breeding season (and the fall too!). 

If we can make our backyards more pollinator friendly and chat to our neighbours to get them on board with our “new look”, we can have a big impact. Citizen science done by the British organization Plantlife shows that the simple act of No Mow May can increase the number of bees in your yard tenfold. Doug Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope gives wonderful advice on the native species we should plant to turn our back yards into refuges for wildlife.  There is a growing body of knowledge and native plant supplies on Vancouver Island.  The Nanaimo Area Land Trust has started a Pollinators Paradise project, to promote the use of native pollinator-friendly plants and other ways to support pollinators.  They are launching their project web page this month – so watch this space

The Ministry of Transportation is also part of the solution. They are responsible for keeping the vegetation within 1.8 m of the road below 25 cm high, for traffic safety. In May, the Contractors are usually busy cleaning up the gravel and controlling the dust along the roadsides and do not start mowing until June. They delay mowing so they only mow once a season (and save the taxpayers’ money).  Often, they cannot mow for most of the summer due to fire hazards, so the vegetation is brushed or mowed in August or September. If rights of way were planted with low, resilient shrubs and herbaceous native plants which do not need mowing, this might also keep invasive species from dominating.  The Contractor I spoke to said he had worked in areas with healthy ecosystems, where the native vegetation grew in the rights of way and kept the invasive species away.  Invasive plant species do not suit native wildlife but that is a topic for another day.

For now, it would be great to grow the support for No Mow May. It is an easy way to help protect wildlife and their habitats during the sensitive breeding season.  If we must mow, we should mow as high as possible. It will be better for the lawn, and the ground dwelling bees. Perhaps we can create refuges in spaces away from the lawn.  In this way we can mitigate the biodiversity crisis and save our money, time, and energy.

Canadian Wildlife Federation Grow It, Don’t Mow it: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/pollinators/grow-it/

Why ‘No Mow May’ could be a boon for Toronto’s bumble bee populations   https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/no-mow-may-toronto-1.5568446

No Mow May – How to get ten times more bees on your lock down lawn https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/about-us/news/no-mow-may-how-to-get-ten-times-more-bees-on-your-lockdown-lawn

Nanaimo Area Land Trust: https://www.nalt.bc.ca/

YES BioBlitz – It’s Over!

Our BioBlitz is over, at least for this year! To see all 533 different species that were identified, see below, or click here.

We would like to celebrate our book prize winners and all the participants who made the event so much fun and such a great success. Nikki would especially like to thank Carrie Robinson who organized the event and made it more fun by adding the book prizes. They are such great BC wildlife books and everyone did such great work.  They were awarded to the following:

  • Liam Steele, Plants of Coastal British Columbia
  • Greg Roberts, Amphibians of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia
  • Coco van Zyl, Birds of South Western British Columbia
  • North Oyster School, The Mammals of British Columbia
  • Sense of Place, The Mammals of British Columbia

Liam Steele, age 11, is clearly an I-Naturalist super-user and worth following on I-Naturalist under Pacificwhitesideddolphin.We were so fortunate to have him join our event. Not only did he have the top number of observations; he also ID’d over a hundred species for other participants and had some amazing shots, like the Plainfin Midshipman (the fish that sings) and the American Mink (by Transfer Beach). He started his career as an i-Naturalist in June 2019 at the age of 9, when he used it as a guide for listing species on his summer vacation in Vernon and Osoyoos. He was 10 ¾ before he knew he could join i-Naturalist and he has now made over ten thousand observations. We are sure he will achieve his goal of becoming a wildlife biologist, and hope he finds the Pojar and MacKinnon Plant book useful in this quest. 

Greg Roberts, unlike Liam, started with the Pojar and MacKinnon Plant book and he has been using it for years. Through our YES BioBlitz he has just been introduced to i-Naturalist. He was one of our most enthusiastic participants. He was there at the meeting asking the tough questions and was the first one onto the field on Day 1 of the BioBlitz.  Greg has accumulated a lifetime of great wildlife pictures from his career as a trained geographer who spent most of his working life behind a desk in park and land planning but most of his free time canoeing, camping, and exploring. He has now started to upload his images into i-Naturalist and is really enjoying the help the app gives with IDs.

Coco van Zyl knows every inch of the land she has been stewarding for the past six years.  She has repeatedly removed invasive and non-native species, encouraging and protecting native plants until they are robust enough to thrive. We are so lucky to have her record some of these species and to ID species for others. She needs little help from I-Naturalist to ID plants, and could probably help improve their App in this area.

Desiree Ferdinandi signed up North Oyster School for the BioBlitz and worked with her colleagues, Camille Paradis and Heather Trawick, and students in Grades 2, 3 and 6/7 to participate. They organized classes so that students took pictures and the grade 6/7 class uploaded them to her i-Naturalist account. She spent the week trying to ID them. Desiree is quick to point out that Camille Paradis and Heather Trawick put a lot of time and effort into getting North Oyster involved in the BioBlitz and did the lion’s share of the organizing. The end results were very respectable, and it was great fun for all. We would love to invite Desiree, Camille and Heather to our BioBlitz meeting next year to share how schools and groups can collate their observations. 

Patti Gisborne signed up the Sense of Place Youth Project Outdoor Explorers. Amanda McDonough, their outdoor exploration manager, said they “were thrilled to photograph and record the diversity of life on the Gisborne property. The children learn about the plants and creatures here seasonally, and they found great joy in sharing that data in the BioBlitz. Children took turns discovering and photographing their favourite plants throughout the forest, field, orchard, and pond. They loved being able to identify unknown species through the i-Naturalist app. We will definitely be utilizing this app in the future for our programming!“

YES plans to host the BioBlitz as a regular annual event, and we are keen to hear suggestions on how we can make it even better next year. Please email us or post comments on our website and please continue to browse the YES BioBlitz project on I-Naturalist to see and ID the wonderful species in our area.

– Nikki Toxopeus

For Love of The Forest

How Can We Protect the Forest on Private Land? On Vancouver Island, forests are threatened with being clearcut on private land, as well as on Crown Land and Private Managed Forest Land. We created this short video in 2019 to highlight the ways in which we can protect the forest.

https://youtu.be/zetYS4ItsB4

YESBioBlitz

Our YESBioBlitz involving the whole community is over! Details HERE.

National Geographic says “a BioBlitz is an opportunity to take a snapshot of the biodiversity in a specific place. In a BioBlitz event, students, scientists, naturalists, and community members join together to find and identify as many plants, animals, and other organisms as possible in a short period of time.”

Here is the video presentation by Mandy Hobkirk, from the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve, and Carrie-Lyn Robinson, in preparation for our YES BioBlitz.

So if you live or are visiting anywhere on the map below, including Ladysmith, Yellow Point, Cassidy, South Wellington and Cedar, or you’d like to visit one of our beautiful parks that weekend, we invite you to join our BioBlitz.

Step 1: Download the iNaturalist app on your phone. See www.inaturalist.ca

Step 2: Start practising. Find any plant, flower or wandering frog. You can take a photo using the app, or record a sound. You can also take a photo using your phone’s regular camera, and select it for identification in iNaturalist by clicking ‘Add’. Don’t forget the world of lichens and fungi – click here for some amazing examples from Greg Roberts in the Holland Creek Watershed, Ladysmith.

Step 3: What did you see? The app will suggest its likely name, based on four million observations by Canadian naturalists.

Step 4: Click SHARE, and fellow naturalists will ensure that it has the correct identification.

Step 5: Click ‘More’, then ‘Projects’, then ‘Search’, enter YESBioBlitz, then click ‘Join’.

Some great resources:

Getting Started with the iNaturalist App

Video Tutorial – How to Use iNaturalist App

Guide to BioBlitz for After-School Programs

2020 President’s Report

What a year! During the summer we were able to hold our socially distanced Board meetings in one of our Board members’ garden, but otherwise, like everyone, we have migrated to Zoom, where the phrase of the year is surely “You’re on Mute!”

Our passion to protect and restore Nature has not been on mute, however. Our mailing list now has 287 members, our Facebook Group has 297 members, and our website had 30,000 views in 2020. 20,000 were for the page on Common Yard Birds on Eastern Vancouver Island created by Ian Reilly, and 10,000 were for our other pages, led by the Yellow Point Trail, with over 2,000 views. 

Early in the year we launched our YES Nature Photo Contest, the winner of which we will announce following after the AGM. 

We also continued to offer community meetings, moving to Zoom in March. 

In January, we had an evening to prepare for the new and improved Modernized Official Community Plan for the CVRD, on which we are awaiting news of the next steps from the CVRD. We want to engage productively, and find ways to ensure that the protection of nature is included.

In February we explored the potential for Environmental Development Permit Areas as one possible way to protect the forest, with guest speakers Peter Grove, a Salt Spring Islands Trust Trustee who has made it his #1 commitment to get a DPA crafted to protect the forest, and Marilyn Palmer, from North Cowichan, an architect and community leader who seeks greater collaboration to protect our landscapes, forests and watersheds. 

In May, Jain Alcock-White spoke about Cultivating a Relationship with Nature, sharing her knowledge of the benefits of nature immersion, plant communication, and how some medicinal nature plants can reduce stress and anxiety.

In July, Nikki Wright gave a presentation on the importance of Eelgrass in the ocean, the various ways in which it is being damaged and destroyed, and the efforts that she and her team at the SeaChange Marine Conservation Society have been making to restore it. 

In November, we held a Zoom community meeting when Elke Wind shared her experience on Why Landscape Context Matters in Wetland Conservation, with a special focus on toads, and their migration patterns between their wetland breeding areas and their winter hibernaculums. 

In November we also hosted a Candidates Forum for the Area H Election, providing the wider community with an opportunity to hear from our two candidates, Ben Maartman and Murray McNab, and to ask them questions. The election two weeks later was won by Ben Maartman, by the narrow margin of eight votes.

In December, we held a Zoom community meeting where the lawyer Ruben Tilman presented his thoughts on How Can We Protect the Forest on Private Land? Ruben worked with the Environmental Law Centre at UVic and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation to write a recent report on Legal Measures to Protect the Gulf Islands Coastal Douglas-fir Zone.

Throughout the year we have been working on two big projects. The first is researching and writing a big Handbook ,titled The Nature of Yellow Point – A Guide for Landowners. This is a major undertaking, with 45 two-to-four page chapters. For each chapter, one of us has taken the lead, researching and writing it, followed by review, layout and design. We hope that it will be published and available sometime during 2021.

Our second big project is our proposal for a Yellow Point Trail, a safe separated multi-purpose trail all the way around Yellow Point Road, from the Chuckwagon to Cedar. During the summer Pamela Walker, one of our YES Directors, dreamed up an imaginative way to get people talking, gathering old bikes, painting them yellow, and hanging them around the route of the proposed trail. This revealed a huge level of local support, including from local businesses. Combined with a lot of outreach to local politicians and officials, YES has been approved to head up the Joint Management Committee with the RDN, the CVRD and Ministry of Transportation. Our goal now is to find $28,000-$40,000 to pay for the Feasibility Study for the proposed trail. We are seeking volunteers who will be willing to walk 2 kilometres of the trail, making notes on the condition of the land on either side of the road, within the public right of way. 

Thanks to all the publicity and the community support, the Ministry of Transportation decided to prioritize adding a paved bike lane to Cedar Road between Code Road and Haslam Road, which is now complete, and just awaits painting. We have asked if they can extend it up into Cedar, but that will depend on their next year’s budget. 

During the summer we also organized a Community Broom Pull to clear the broom along part of Yellow Point Road, and two Ivy-Pulls to clear an invasive patch of ivy in the heart of Hemer Park, supported by BC Parks staff.

We also obtained, repotted and sold two hundred Douglas fir tree and cedar seedlings, which are now in the ground, hopefully protected from the deer. The volunteers in our Yellow Point Trash Challenge have also continued to pick up and recycle trash along our local roads. 

As 2021 begins we are starting a new project with Carrie Robinson titled Yellow Point Ecology Mapping: Discovering the Unrecorded Wetlands. Carrie is a GIS Masters Student at VIU, and her practicum project, for which YES is the sponsor, will involve spatial data analysis and ground-truthing to establish the GPS coordinates of local wetlands, meetings with landowners who give permission for Carrie to visit their land, the visual identification of flora and fauna, and the potential roll-out of a community Bioblitz in the spring to identify species at the mapped wetlands sites. This will result in an interactive Web Map to which landowners and others can contribute, which can also hopefully contribute to the development of the new CVRD OCP.

Our year ended with the bulk purchase of 48 copies of Briony Penn’s book A Year on the Wildside: A West Coast Naturalist’s Almanac, which we resold into the community both as a fundraiser for YES, and so that we could share Briony’s humorous and deeply informed writing.

Treasurer’s Report

Our Treasurer’s Report is attached

Alien Invasions in Yellow Point-Cedar

Scotch Broom taking over!

by Nikki Toxopeus

The other day, my two woodland guides and I were coming back from a beautiful walk to Long Lake and one of my young guides leapt from the path and ripped out a solitary green stalk of Scotch Broom.  

Continue reading “Alien Invasions in Yellow Point-Cedar”

A Year on the Wild Side, by Briony Penn

Briony Penn’s A Year on the Wild side is a total delight. She wrote the essays over a period of 25 years, and every story is enriched by one of her gorgeous colour illustrations.

We now have 24 more copies, which we are selling for $25 (no tax) as a fundraiser for the Yellow Point Ecological Society. Pick-up from my home at 13561 Barney Road, in Yellow Point, just north of Ladysmith. Payment by cash, check or e-transfer. Call me to reserve a copy, Guy Dauncey, 250-924-1445 or email me: guydauncey at earthfuture dot com

She carries you through the year with two essays/stories for every week, from a washed-up Giant Octopus in January to the Rattle of Ravens in December. In between, in prose that is musical, magical and ecologically to-notch, she seduces you into the secrets of Nature’s glorious interconnected detail. As a writer, she makes me envious of her skills. 

“How would you feel as you slide through the jaws of a snake? This question has cropped up in my life at various times.”

Each essay makes for great reading aloud to children or grandchildren – but not at bed-time, since your children will be sure to respond with many questions, leading to much discussion.

 “I have always been very fond of toilet plungers. They remind me of hot summer evenings under a full moon at low tide on the steaming mud sands of the Salish Sea.”

And be warned! This book will seduce you and your family into getting out into the forest, into the tidal pools, and out on the water.

“Of late, my dreams have taken me into eelgrass meadows – those sanctuaries of emerald-green grass that grow below the sea in quiet bays and estuaries.”

You can learn more about Briony, her books and art at www.brionypenn.com

The Art of Seeing Aphids

by Pamela Walker

Ants harvesting aphids. Alexanderwild.com

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. Genesis,1:20 KJV

One bug that can really get under the skin of even the most zealous gardening environmentalist is the dreaded aphid. Before you can say Chrysantheumum cinerariifolium, these nature lovers are getting out their vacuum cleaners, their concoctions of garlic, soap, water and hot peppers, their jumbo-sized boxes of ladybugs, their high-pressure washers—anything, indeed—with which to annihilate the pesky blighters. 

            While it is true that the tiny creatures can suck the life out of a rose or a greenhouse-load of peppers in a matter of days, what is also true is they are incredibly interesting. A moment or two’s reflection should be taken before extirpating countless generations with a garden hose or blow torch. 

            Did you know, for example, that if one were to dissect a female of the species (another sure-fired way to ensure the last suck she’ll take is an inhalation of air), you may be able to see another female, like a Russian doll, inside her beautiful green body? Yes, aphids give birth, not to eggs, but to live offspring, just like whales, elephants and humans. If that alone isn’t enough to stop the aphicide, there is more—much more—to this lowly creature that may make you press pause on your pathological derision.

Parthenogenesis in biblical proportions

            Aphids are in such a hurry to make babies that sometimes, when it’s summertime and there’s plenty of sucking to do, they don’t even bother with the whole business of finding a mate, courting, procreating, obligatory après-cigarette, etc. They simply give birth without the use of a male or his sperm. Without Y-chromosomes, the offspring are always female, but who doesn’t love little girls, especially when they, too, can do this parthenogenesis trick to reproduce in numbers that are practically biblical in proportion?

            This is not the only bar trick that aphids have up their proverbial sleeves. Have you ever seen an aphid with wings? Probably not, because you’re too busy squishing the bejesus out of them. But if you do look, you may notice that some are winged and some are not. This is because they can decide—or rather their proteins decide—whether they need wings or not. If it’s getting too crowded in one greenhouse and they think it prudent to set up shop elsewhere, aphids can produce offspring with wings. Although they may not win any awards for aerial acrobatics, they can harness an afternoon breeze to land on another patch of succulent vegetables, and before you know it, they’ve got a franchise up and running.

            When I was a small child—before the time of Sputnik, Luna, and Apollo missions—little green men, I was told, lived on our cheese-made moon. In my imagination, the little green men – who were much smaller than the gullible Gulliver’s Lilliputians – kept aphids as pets and took them for walks using little tiny leashes. I would watch them for hours and imagine how small their food bowls and collars must be. 

Would you like some honeydew?

            Being quite scatological (a word I learned while taking my BA), Jonathan Swift would have been fascinated to know that aphids drink a kind of Milk of Paradise and they poo a kind of honeydew. Ants, having quite the sweet tooth, unabashedly lick up all the poo the aphids produce and encourage them to make more by herding them to more succulent spots. Ants have also been known to protect their herds of aphids by caring for them in their ant-homes during the winter and bringing them out to graze again in the spring, like any good farmer. 

            How I wish I could tell Swift that aphids have tailpipes—tubular structures on their hind ends that entomologists call siphunculi—out of which they can spew a sticky substance, either to gum up the mouth of a pursuing predator or to protect their bodies from being made into a host home by  a parasitoid for its own offspring. 

            Right about now you are probably thinking that this is the stuff of science-fiction, but I assure you it is all true. I asked my sister to verify it, and though she’s a geneticist and not an entomologist, she knew most of what I said and was unsurprised at the rest. “Not enough work has been done on the aphid,” she said. “I should have gotten some of my students to research them.”

What did the aphid do in the bar-room brawl?

            Research them they should! How else are we supposed to learn how aphids defend themselves against those that consider them lunch? So far scientists have learned that they are quite good at bar-room brawls. Being expert kickboxers, they can pummel their pursuers with their long legs or do the stop-drop-and-roll trick and make a fast get-away. They’ve been seen stabbing their enemies in the egg cartons, killing the next generation of insects in vitro. Some aphids develop spines so that their enemies find them difficult to chew on. Some are born soldiers and never grow past the nymph stage. Like female eunuchs, these particular aphids have a sole purpose in life: to protect the oikos, which they do to their death. 

            With a list of enemies that include ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, hoverflies and damsel bugs, not to mention the aforementioned (so-called) gardening environmentalists, I do believe we should study these unbelievable bugs before we bash or blast them into oblivion. Aphids may not be welcomed as pests in our garden, but they do, like all creatures great and small, deserve our admiration.

The End

How to detect an infestation

If you see a sticky substance—the honeydew—on the leaves of your plant, look closely forgreen, pink, or even black dots. Chances are these are aphids. The leaves of the plant may have become misshapen, crinkly, or yellow from the sap being sucked out of them. Another possibility is that the honeydew may have attracted dust from molds. Still another possibility is that the plant has developed a canker sore as a result of all the aphid destruction.

What to Do

After you’ve appreciated your aphids, you can usually wash them off with the spray attachment on a garden hose. Failing that, squish them or sprinkle flour on top of them. The flour will give them indigestion, and they’ll move along. Other methods include wiping them off with a mixture of dish soap and water, or using a spray of insecticidal soap. As a last resort, diatomaceous earth (DE) can be sprinkled on the plant, but don’t do this if the plant is flowering as it will be harmful to beneficial pollinators as well.

            Plant something nearby that aphids don’t like. Aphids hate catnip, garlic and chives. Nasturtiums and mustards can be planted alongside to save broccoli, roses, lettuces, or peas. Check your trap plants often, and get rid of any aphids promptly before they attack the plants you want to save.

            You can attract ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings, or other beneficial bugs to your gardens by planting marigolds, alyssum, dill, mint, fennel, Echinacea, calendula and buckwheat.