Sunday, August 7, 2016

Chimney Swift population decline is not due to lost habitat.

Just came across this Chimney Swift study "Swift Watch - Summery Report" published in 2012.  It has some great findings about the preference of Chimney Swift habitat and the availability in Ontario urban cities.
"These descriptions revealed that Chimney Swifts preferentially used chimneys with a greater length exposed above the roofline of the building and a greater inside area than those available to be used. The average chimney used by swifts extended 2.86 m above the roofline and had an internal area of 1.0079 m2. 

We also found that 73% of active chimneys were found on non-residential buildings. Interestingly, the majority of building types surveyed by volunteers were residential houses (63%), followed by commercial buildings. However, the building types with the highest number of sites occupied by swifts were commercial (mostly found in downtown urban habitat), churches and schools.  

... We found that among 139 open and suitable habitat chimneys available, only 24.4% were actually occupied by swifts. These results suggest that in urban areas there is more nesting habitat available than being used by Chimney Swifts and it is likely that declines in Ontario’s swift population are primarily driven by a process other than habitat loss, such as prey abundance and availability."
They also did a study on natural nesting sites in both logged and unlogged areas in Ontario.  It would be great to know more about the study area (is it in Southern Ontario or Northern Ontario?) and whether there are preferred spots and distances away from cities where Chimney Swifts choose these sites. I've never read about chimney swifts nesting in anything other than chimneys!

Here's a bit on that study:
"Deciduous trees hosted 24 used sites, whereas 17 used sites were in coniferous trees. The most commonly encountered tree species to host nesting or roosting Chimney Swift were: white pine, sycamore, yellow birch, and cypress. In three reports, the entrance used by the Chimney Swifts was an entrance previously created by Pileated Woodpeckers."
You can read the full report here:

And this newspaper article reports on Chimney Swifts nesting in hay barns out on the East Coast:

"NOVA SCOTIA NATURALLY: The world of spectacular swifts
written by Donna Crossland  published on July 19, 2015 in the Chronicle Herald.

Other Posts on Chimney Swifts:

All about Chimney Swift Towers and the Birds (2011)
Chimney Swift Tower in Toronto (2011)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

urban forest in Detroit

You gotta love this!

(Hauled from my archives.)

What about creating an urban forest overnight?

"This week, 150 mature trees — 20 feet high, trucked to Detroit from as far away as Buffalo, N.Y. — are being planted at Van Dyke and Goethe on vacant lots. They add heft and height to John Hantz's big idea: That reclaiming land for agriculture or trees will help restore pride and beauty to an area that's been demoralized by abandonment."

Here are two views of before (2011) and after (2015).  It'll be great to continue to monitor this urban forest!

Detroit vacant lot (before):

Detroit urban forest (after):

News Articles:

Plus: read these other posts about the urban ecology opportunities for Detroit streams called daylighting (for Michigan urban waterways)!

P.S. Check out my latest "urban wild" nature blog: Wild. Here. (2016 update)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

North American Urban Ecology Centres

Here's a starter list of urban ecology centres: some are run by the city, some are non-profits, some are research centres.  Some implement public education programs, some run environmental remediation programs and other are studying (with the help of students or citizen volunteers) urban ecological issues.  Share with me others that you know of!


Montreal Urban Ecology Centre

"Projects include the Green, Active and Healthy Neighbourhoods where the organization’s expertise grew to include greening, urban agriculture, planning, active transportation and participatory democracy.  Today, the MUEC has expanded its scope of activity to other municipalities in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. It remains, however, true to its approach and scope of action: citizens and their neighbourhoods." (from the MUEC website)

Humber College’s Urban Ecology Centre

"The Humber Arboretum is a joint venture of the City of Toronto, Humber College and Toronto and Region Conservation. The park includes trails and boardwalks through gardens, forests, meadows and wetlands. The Centre for Urban Ecology provides a first-rate venue for education and research on urban ecology and an up-to-date example of environmental sustainability. The Centre for Urban Ecology teachs by example how we all can help work towards a healthy sustainable environment in our own urban spaces." (from the Centre's website)

John Janzen Nature Centre (City of Edmonton)

 Run by the City of Edmonton:
"A gateway to the heart of Edmonton’s River Valley, the John Janzen Nature Centre takes visitors for a walk on the wild side with programs, events and interactive exhibits designed to promote awareness and engagement with nature in an urban setting." (from the website)

Institute of Urban Ecology (Douglas College, Vancouver)

"IUE has been involved in a myriad of community-based activities and projects. These projects include: an environmental outreach and education program that reaches about 2000 participants in schools and community organizations in Metro Vancouver each year; working with the Britannia Food Garden Project; and giving input to a number of local and regional initiatives related to ecology and development, such as the Metro Vancouver Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. The IUE also undertakes a variety of research projects related to urban sustainability issues. Recent and current projects include: Urban Bug Gardens, which examined beneficial insects in a community garden and the Delta Migratory Bird Study, which looked at the impact of various land uses on migratory bird foraging behaviours." (from their website)


Urban Green Spaces (Portland) 

"Motto: In Livable Cities is Preservation of the Wild

Mission: To ensure that parks, regional trail systems, greenways and greenspaces are integrated with the built environment in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region, and to promote urban greenspace efforts nationally and internationally." (from website)

Urban Ecology Center (Milwaukee)

"The Urban Ecology Center provides year-round educational programs for kids, families and adults of all ages. The cornerstone program is the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project serving kids in 55 urban Milwaukee schools each year. This program enables students to get to walk in the woods, stand in a river in hip waders or run along the beach at Lake Michigan when they might have no other opportunities to do so." (from website)

Urban Ecology Institute (Cambridge)

"The Urban Ecology Institute (UEI) was started in 1998 teaming up community and educational partners to improve the health of urban ecosystems through environmental education, action, and advocacy programs. Their programs reached more than 30,000 people each year throughout Massachusetts and beyond. UEI's core programs harnessed the potential of young people and the power of citizen groups to create physical and social transformations in the midst of neglected communities." (from their website)

Boston Metro Ecological Research (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

"Exploring past, current and future socio-ecological dynamics in a founding city - We are a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of ecologists and social scientists at several universities and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station and partnered with the City of Boston." (from their website)

Wild Metro (New York City)

"WildMetro, a non-profit organization aims to protect wildlife in natural areas within and around New York City. The organization advocates a sensible balance of development and nature protection in urban regions and promotes intelligent management of resources. It also works to involve communities in the protection of nature by offering various programs such as an after-school nature program and an ecological field techniques course." (from their website)

EcoCity Builders (California)

"Ecocity Builders reshapes cities for the long-term health of human and natural systems. We develop and implement policy, design and educational tools and strategies to build thriving urban centers based on “access by proximity” and to reverse patterns of sprawl and excessive consumption." (from their website)

Centre for Urban Resilience (Los Angeles)

"CURes works with faculty, staff, students and community members to develop research and other interventions that lead to more resilient and just communities. Our goal is to pair the study of urban ecology with local issues that can benefit from the talents and resources at LMU. We support a variety of projects ranging from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher professional development; urban biosocial research; graduate education; restorative justice; and regional climate change initiatives." (from CUR website)

P.S. I also wrote about Debs Park in Los Angeles which is another great example of an urban ecology centre!

*Image above of Milwaukee Riverside Park Centre (from website)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Urban Foxes

Finally after fifty or more years, Lebreton Flats is being redeveloped.  I've always wondered about the area and all that green space so close to the urban core.  When I was thinking how great it would be for the city to have an Urban Ecology Centre centrally located (when I started my new career in 2011) I thought something off of Bayview would be perfect.  It would be close to the river, along a major corridor (that fauna may naturally follow) and there was all that open green area.  Just a beautiful spot and vista.

I started thinking about this area again today when my friend posted about seeing an urban fox in Chinatown.

"We just saw a fox trotting at a fast clip around Primrose and Empress in Ottawa's Chinatown tonight. It looked she/he was heading towards Somerset before he/she ducked between some buildings. Who knew we'd find a fox in Centretown?"

It would be an amazing sight to see in the evening.  On the Urban Wild Walks we were told that there was a fox denning in the Macoun Marsh area (which my spouse saw this week cross St. Laurent late in the evening) and our Animal Tracks tour leader also found a fox den (although empty at the time) up in Rockcliffe Park (the official park where the pavilion is, not the neighborhood "Rockcliffe Park").  But are urban foxes common in Canada?  I knew they were in parts of the U.K. as I have read and watched documentaries on London's urban foxes.

"London is unique among western European capitals in that it has a fox population of any great size, concedes Trevor Williams, director of The Fox Project, which maintains a wildlife information bureau." (The Star, David Hewitt, 2012

"Stephen Harris, an expert on urban foxes at Bristol, says no reliable figure has ever been calculated, although he once estimated the number at 5,000 to 6,000 for London's boroughs." (L.A. Times, Christopher Werth, 2014)

London has no urban raccoon or skunk population (unlike here in Canada) but it does have increasing numbers of badgers, weasels, hedgehogs and other small nocturnal visitors.  Each creature has different territory size and the overlap of these territories may vary along with when each is on the prowl.

But back to Ottawa - pictured above and below are the areas that connect Lebreton Flats area to Chinatown (above the ridge) along Empress and Lorne.  There is a very scrubby areas along the ridge in both places which could offer urban mammals including foxes some cover and some easy accessible corridors to explore more urban territories above the ridge.

The pink area in the map below is the Saint Vincent hospital property and Somerset is south of this site.  The orange arrow pointing in the direction the fox was going.

Lebreton Flats (before current redevelopment started) had some great wild green and rocky areas that could offer den locations.  The fox at Macoun Marsh is found in the rocky area beside the marsh.  The den in Rockcliffe Park was dug in soil along the slopes down to the river.

Red foxes are a rare sighting but part of the reason for this is that we keep different hours.  Foxes are nocturnal like our skunk and raccoon neighbours but this still doesn't explain why they are rarely spotted here as I've definitely seen the other two creatures from time to time, so why not foxes?

They have been seen in the Fletcher Wildlife Gardens and the volunteers there estimate that there is just one family that uses the territory.  FWG's webpage indicates that despite being nocturnal, foxes will hunt during the day in the winter but this area with its fields, shrubs and woods is very different than an urban landscape. I'm guessing that urban scavenging is still best done at night when the city is more quiet.  Foxes are solitary and, even in areas where they are known to dwell, are rarely spotted.

The Toronto Wildife Centre states that foxes are more common than realized and can be found near ravine systems, large grassy fields and large parks where small mammals are plentiful (Toronto Wildlife Centre) and the MNR backgrounder states that foxes do den near human areas and are commonly found in many large urban centres in Ontario.

Charlottetown, however is one Canadian city where fox populations are similar to the London U.K. situation where "human-fox interactions are commonplace".  An urban research team studying these foxes "found 89 dens in Charlottetown". (Saltscapes)  Many residents of this city have spotted foxes - they have become a common sight unlike cities here in Ontario.

So my conclusion would be that they are more common than we realize but not as common as raccoons and skunks, which is probably a good thing!

Other great tidbits:
  • Foxes are omnivorous eating small rodents, frogs, insects, birds, snakes, acorns, grasses, corn, fruit and berries. (MNR)
  • They use abandoned groundhog burrows as dens. (Lethbridge College - the link for the LC Virtual Wildlife Project - digital Hubbard Collection is not working anymore)
  • Foxes can travel up to 10 km a day.  (Lethbridge College, Virtual Wildlife Project - Hubbard Collection)  It's 4 km from Lebreton Flats to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.
  • They are extremely nimble - much more likes cats than dogs in this trait and can even climb trees. (FWG)
  • And let us not forget this brilliant fox who found a comfy resting spot for a morning! (#busfox)

Some other great urban mammal/wildlife posts:

Urban Crows (and supportive urbanites) (May 2011)

Helping Urban Skunks (March 2012)

Urban Coyotes (Feb 2012)

Urban Bats (June 2013 and August 2012)

Urban Fishers (Feb 2013)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Capital Urbanism Lab - New Season of Lectures!

Mark Your Calendars:

As a follow up to the Urban Ecology lecture by the Capital Urbanism Lab, the NCC will discuss specific biophilic city topics in 2016:

The Urban Forest - Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 06:30 pm (rescheduled)

Planning Communities Near Parks - Thursday, April 07, 2016 - 06:30 pm (cancelled)

Creating a River Culture in the Capital - Wednesday, May 04, 2016 - 06:30 pm (cancelled)