Barrie’s Lake – a wetland worth saving

This past weekend (September 24-25th, 2016) I was part of a BioBlitz at Barrie’s Lake. A BioBlitz is a gathering of scientific professional and hobbyists to inventory the flora and fauna of a natural area.

Barrie’s Lake is an 88-acre wetland in North Dumfries bordering on the city of Cambridge. Bernice Beal who is better know as “the turtle lady’ owns 83 of the 88 acres of wetland. Bernice bought the wetland some 15 years ago and that is pretty much when the battle to protect this wetland and its inhabitants began. A battle that among other things caused Bernice to purchase and additional 10 acres of land to prevent a gravel company from blasting for gravel too close to the lake.

As an Authorized Wildlife Custodian I became aware of Barrie’s Lake last year after questioning the large number of injured turtles coming to me from the Roseville Road area. Bernice, her daughter Sue and a group of like-minded locals have been doing their best to prevent turtle road casualties for years. Some of the not so lucky ones end up as ‘guests’ at Hobbitstee. Despite everyone’s best efforts, hundreds of turtles get killed each year on Roseville Road.

I finally made it out to Barrie’s Lake in person not long ago. I was traveling around returning turtles back to their habitats after they had recovered from injuries sustained as a result of above mentioned collisions with cars and I was very taken by what I saw.

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me getting ready to release a Snapping Turtle at Barrie’s Lake

Barrie’s Lake was officially surveyed and designated a provincially significant wetland in 2004, but has not been resurveyed since. After speaking with several scientists I also learned that the wetland surveying is not intended as a full species survey like I had previously assumed making me think that a BioBlitz would be a great idea.

Over the years however scientists have visited Barrie’s Lake and particularly the migratory birds have been well documented. A recent survey of Shorebirds found a variety of 9 shorebirds and that list included Least Bitterns. Least Bitterns are listed as Threatened on the Species at Risk Ontario List, giving them and their habitat extra protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Over the years many other birds that are listed on the Species at Risk list have been spotted at Barrie’s Lake. Among them are the Bank Swallow (threatened), Bald Eagle (at risk), Barn Swallow (threatened), Chimney Swift (threatened) and after this weekends BioBlitz we can add the Rusty Blackbird (threatened) to the list.

The wetland also has been found a hunting ground for Bald Eagles, Osprey, Merlins and a variety of other birds of prey.

During the BioBlitz I had the pleasure of watching a large flock of wood ducks land, while the Sandhill Cranes took flight. It was amazing to watch the Belted Kingfishers dive for fish and the multitude of turtles bask. There was still a variety of butterflies busy visiting some wildflowers while many dragon flies practices their air-acrobatics.

 

 

One of the other great features of Barrie’s Lake is the presence of an Oak Savanna. Oak Savanna’s are not common in this part of Ontario. An Oak Savanna differs from an Oak Woodland by the openness of the trees. A lack of density allows for the trees to spread out in width and this creates a very unique landscape.

The presences of Wild Cranberries and Tamaracks are good indicators that Barrie’s Lake is a Fen. Fens are rare in Southern Ontario. They are very sensitive to slight alterations in pH and dependent on a certain nutrient consistency.

During the BioBlitz it was noted by experts that there is very little to no buffer zone  between the adjoining farmland and Barrie’s lake. The subsequent leaching of nutrients into the wetland will cause a change in the nature of the wetland, which in turn will effect the water, vegetation, and inhabitants of Barrie’s Lake. To permanently protect Barrie’s Lake this should be rectified.

Realistically Barrie’s Lake and its inhabitants are constantly threatened by human encroachment from all directions and with each small victory another threat materializes. No amount of laws, designations or mitigation seems to be able to protect this sensitive wetland and its inhabitants from further harm. Our laws intended to protect amazing natural gems such as Barrie’s Lake appear to be full of loopholes allowing for circumvention of protection for the sheer purpose of profit.

After a recent win to prevent the building of a cell tower Bernice and her family are now faced with the threat of a proposed development of the Cambridge side of Barrie’s Lake, which will negatively impact this very sensitive wetland.

However, we need to continue to strive for and celebrate each small victory. This weekend was a success. We cataloged many species of Flora and Fauna for future use while we enjoyed the beauty and peace at Barrie’s lake.

The reasson why you should not feed injured/orphaned wildlife

Anyone who knows me has heard me say ‘Please don’t feed them’ over and over. This message can not be repeated often enough, but it was brought to my attention recently that I rarely take the time to explain why this is so important. My reason behind the lack of explanation is that it is a complex issue, but I have tried…(see below)

When you find what you perceive to be  wildlife in distress there is a process to follow to determine if the animal truly needs your help. I have discussed that process many times and we will move on to why you should not feed them.

Often the animals are cold meaning they lack the energy to maintain their own body temperature and they are in shock. Usually dehydration of varying degrees is also an issue.

To give food to any animal compromised in such a way is a death sentence. It takes energy to digest food, energy a lot of compromised wildlife already don’t have enough of. Every last bit of energy is being used to maintain critical bodily functions and simply put to force energy away from these critical functions for something as non-critical as digesting food will cause organ failure and death.

The process we go through here at Hobbitstee when we receive wildlife (who are always compromised) is a very delicate one. The process starts with warming them up.  Doing this takes away the energy requirement for the animal to maintain their own body temperature. We do this by using incubators, but also warmed IV fluids. This process takes a minimum of several hours and can take several days. We do not feed them until they are completely warm and re-hydrated. This is not something you can simulate at home. It requires knowledge, specialized equipment and products.

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This is a fawn someone tried to raise for two weeks. This fawn was fed way to little of an already not appropriate food source. This fawn was euthanized due to irreversible organ damage as a direct result of improper care. 

The question than becomes what do we feed them? We feed our mammal orphans specially formulated milk-replacers custom made for us and custom formulated to meet the nutritional requirements (to the best of our ability) of the mammal orphan in question.

I say to the best of our ability because not much research is being done into the nutritional requirement of many of the species of wildlife we care for. This means we are constantly tweaking the formulations to get the best possible results.

These milk-replacers are not commercially available, so it boils down to that puppy nor kitten milk-replacer is appropriate for wildlife mammals. Neither is cows milk, almond milk, human baby formula or anything else that you can purchase at the store.

When it comes to baby birds their nutritional requirements are even more complicated and it is very species specific. Some birds are insectivores and need a large variety of insects to thrive (meal worms nutritionally are no more than filler).  Some birds strictly eat seeds, so their offspring needs an appropriate variety of hand feeding formula every half hour. Some birds are fructivores, so berries and such are what they need…Never mind the strict pscivores who can only eat fish.

A common mistake made is using bread. Bread is not a good food source for any specie of wildlife plain and simple. Don’t use it.

You see that all this can become very confusing and the wrong food to the wrong animal at the wrong time can also cause serious gastric upset or death. If the wrong food is given at the wrong time diarrhea is a common result.  The animals in our care are already compromised in some way (that is why we have them in the first place) and their bodies can’t handle diarrhea on top of their other issues, so death is a common result of feeding the wrong food source at the wrong time.

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This is an Eastern Grey Squirrel Baby someone attempted to raise, it did not survive more than half hour after it came into my care. The cause of death dehydration/undernourishment as a result of diarrhea caused by the feeding of an  inappropriate food source.

Another question becomes; Do you know how much to feed them? We use complicated scientific calculations to calculate how much of what food source our wildlife need to eat to grow/develop normally or to recover from an injury.

Any website that gives you DIY information on injured/orphaned wildlife is by default wrong. It is illegal for people to have wildlife in their possession, so these websites are encouraging people to break the law. Aside from that there is no one-size-fits-all type of information I can give besides get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as you can.

That is how you help injured and orphaned wildlife best. Make the time and take the time to get the animal the appropriate care as soon as you can. We need to make sure the animal in question is truly in need of care. We establish that by asking you questions. Please have patience with us, answer our questions and please do as we ask even if you don’t like it. We always have the wildlife’s best interest in mind and sometimes that means we have to hurt people’s feelings.

Only Authorized Wildlife Custodians are allowed to care for sick/injured/orphaned wildlife. Don’t get angry if we ask you to drive to us. We get hundreds of calls a day and we all operate on a non-for profit basis without any type of government funding. We simply don’t have the time or funds to drive and pick up each and every animal.

Help us by driving the animal out asap and maybe leave us with a donation towards the animal(s) you are asking us to care for if you can…and PLEASE DON’T FEED THEM

 

 

 

 

The great Blanding’s Turtle migration…

I have to get this of my chest. I can’t stop forming images in my head of Blanding’s Turtles walking down the road carrying all their worldly belongings in a suitcase as they make the epic journey down to the newly created wetland.

But wait a minute…it is not going to happen this way because we lack the skills to properly ‘notify’ the Blanding’s Turtles and other wildlife of the impending threat to their existence.

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Blanding’s Turtle we helped recover after getting hit by a car in a protected area

All silliness aside, I am referring to the recent proposal made to the provincial government by a major developer.

link to the proposal

This developer would like to build a subdivision on a protected wetland area near Ottawa. This area is protected because it has Butternut trees (listed SARO endangered), Least Bitterns frequent it (listed SARO threatened)  and Blanding’s Turtle’s live there(listed SARO Threatened).

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Least Bittern we had in our care after it sustained a head injury from the slipstream of a truck

In the proposal it states that the developer will create a wetland at an alternate location to ‘make up’ for the one that will be destroyed. That is great, but turtles are not exactly the serious migratory type…So despite the romanticized fairy tale I used earlier, in reality this means putting a subdivision on top of the Blanding’s Turtles…and destroying their habitat which will mean the majority (if not all) of the Blanding’s Turtles currently present in that wetland will die and it will also greatly effect the other herptiles who live in that wetland.

Granted female turtle’s will travel to lay eggs in a location that meets their criteria, but I can’t see how they can be motivated to move at mass to a newly created wetland within a time frame designated by a developer.

Turtle’s do everything slow…Look at them, they are modern day dinosaurs. Evolution can’t even make them hurry.

The proposal also request permission to remove 120 Butternut trees, but the remaining trees that are there will be fenced in so that they are protected…and they will collect seeds and replant seedlings…but 120 mature butternut trees will be destroyed…

The developer makes many suggestions in the proposal in an attempt to appear to minimize interference with the current SARO listed species present in this wetland,  but a lot of those measures seem unrealistic and far fetched to me.

I can’t help but think…if a new wetland can be created in an alternate location…would it not be much simpler to build the subdivision in this alternate location and leave the existing wetland and the species it harbors alone?

 

 

 

 

Wildlife and our garbage

With the summer heat setting in we are all looking for a cool treat or drink. Iced coffee’s/caps, flurries, blizzard treats and such are favored by many, and all these have one thing in common…That little plastic lid with the big hole in it.

Those lids are turning out to be a huge challenge for our scavenging wildlife. Their heads will go in the cups, but when they pull out their heads they find these plastic lids stuck around their neck.

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Me holding a skunk with a lid stuck around his neck   

I am not exaggerating. It is a common occurrence and it can cause some serious issues. I have on many occasions been busy live trapping animals in such a predicament. The variety of wildlife that find themselves adorned with an ice cap necklace is surprising. It ranges from raccoons, skunks to opossums and even a squirrel who had one wrapped around his belly. Those lids are right up there with balloons, 6 pack plastic rings, fishing line and fishing lures for causing harm to wildlife.

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Fish line wrapped tightly around the leg of a goose
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another goose leg with fish line wrapped around it in this case so tight for so long the leg was lost.
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Someone missing a fishing lure? Hooked not ones but twice in this goose foot/leg.

As people we often do things such as release balloons to celebrate something. The balloons will return to the earth eventually and many cause harm to wildlife when they are ingested.

slightly of topic, but another issue I have is with the releasing of doves to celebrate weddings and such. I often get calls about sad looking white doves that are not doing well. That is what happens with those doves. They are domestic birds, raised in a domestic environment and they have no idea how to survive in the wild and they don’t belong in the wild. They are not a native species.

Those things are bad enough, but worse yet are the occurrences when someone does something seemingly innocuous like dumping some left over diesel/gasoline fuel down a catch basin. The dumped fuel proceeds to travel into a nearby creek and eventually ends up in one of our Great Lakes.

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Swan who was covered in diesel fuel.

At Hobbitstee we have an oil rescue team on standby at all times and we have seen first hand the devastation these types of easily prevented spills causes in waterfowl and semi-aquatic mammals. It is heartbreaking to watch majestic swans succumb to respiratory issues as a result from inhaling fuel fumes or struggle to clean oiled geese or ducks.

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geese covered in oil

I respectfully ask that as we enjoy the great outdoors this summer that we take care with our garbage. Garbage belongs in garbage cans. Garbage cans that need to be wildlife proof. Let’s dispose of dangerous goods the right way and not by polluting our creeks and lakes. And those balloons released at weddings or to send messages to loved ones in heaven can cause wildlife to suffer or die upon returning to the earth, so let’s come up with some better less polluting ways of conveying our joy or sadness.

I suggest and encourage the planting of native species of trees and/or plants to commemorate events and to remember loved ones who have passed.

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Foxes come and go

Mid April I received a call from a concerned man who had a fox den underneath his deck. He was concerned because he had seen the vixen move 4 kits and he had not seen her since, but he could still hear kits underneath the deck.

I asked him to make sure not to be the disturbing factor that would scare of the vixen, but to very carefully keep an eye out for her. I also told him that as long as the kits stay in the den they are okay, but if they start coming out of the den as young as they where at that time there is a problem.

We kept in touch over the phone over the next two days until he called me and told me they where starting to come out of the den. I drove down immediately to go and have a look.

I am passionate about not making orphans where there aren’t any and sometimes mother animals are simply not seen when they go and spent time with their babies.

In this case the kits proved to be true orphans because they where weak, lethargic and dehydrated when I arrived. I retrieved 5 fox kits and brought them back home to Hobbitstee.

fox kits snuggled under a heat light
Fox Kit on weigh day

They where still pretty tiny and underweight. For the first while they received intensive care and stayed under neath their heat light. Handling with foxes is always at an absolute minimum because they are easily habituated to humans and that will get them killed as adults.

One did not recover from it’s dehydrated state and passed away, but the other 4 grew fast as they ate me out of house and home.

About a month after arriving we moved them to our outside enclosure. After this move the care was reduced to hands off only. That means that feeding was done while they slept (when possible) and all though I would catch the occasional glimpse of them playing and running around, they did not see much of me.

We needed to give them the opportunity to learn how to hunt their own meals and so we started introducing live mice into their enclosure. Mice are a staple in any wild fox diet.

Last Saturday it was finally time for these guys to return to an undisclosed location close to their point of origin.

The release went well and the location was perfect.

Amy releasing the first 2 kits
they took of like a bat out of hell to start their new life
Aaron releasing 2 more reluctant kits
They did not want to leave their crate
reluctantly the first one comes out
and decides to make a run for it
this one is not sure about all this
but stopped and posed for me
And walked past me to go and live it’s life as it should…in the wild
Showing of a little by jumping a puddle

Often people ask me why I do what I do…This is why. I love the moments where I can release these animals back into their habitat knowing they have all the skills they need to survive. To me it feels like a job well done. It balances out the often brutal nature of wildlife rehabilation and it softens the sadness, frustration and heart aches that come with the job.

We now set our sites on raising the money to expand the fox enclosure so that we can do an even better job next year. We welcome all donations…(see our website at: http://www.hobbitstee.com to contribute)

All of us at Hobbitstee wish our 4 fox kits a happy life!

Fawns

Because the majority of the fawns we cared for last year where not actually orphaned or injured, but fawn-napped by people. I am on a mission to better educate people so that they understand the natural behavior of these animals and as a result reduce the number of fawns who get mistakenly end up in care.

First and foremost like with many other species of wildlife babies, just because you see a fawn by itself does not make it an orphan. Mother deer leave their babies hidden when they go off and eat. They return 2-3 times daily to feed the fawns.

I will give you that deer are not always smart about where they hide their babies, but as it stands the vast majority of fawns that come into rehab have no business being here but where kidnapped by humans.

Kidnapping is of course not always the case: I applaud the gentleman who jumped into the Nith River last year to save a fawn that had a foot stuck and was at risk of being swept away.

Man Braves Nith River to rescue a fawn

Well done sir! And he did the right thing and turned the animal over to an Authorized Wildlife Custodian and this fawn was safe cared for by professionals.

I also applaud the Brampton Humane Society who brought out a fawn that was found next to its dead mother last year. Job well done!

Both these fawns needed to be here and where successfully released.

Last year I had a call from a long ways away from here from someone who had found a fawn that she felt was in very bad shape because it was just laying there. I had my suspicions and because it was so far away I could not go out there and have a look. I made a call to an awesome vet I know in the area who readily agreed to drive out and go and see that fawn (free of charge). He called me back later and said the fawn was fine and not in trouble at all. He is ensuring the fawn was returned to where it was found and reunited with its mother.

In my experience the problem is that people generally do not understand the animals behavior and use human standards to make judgement calls. Human standards or even pet standards don’t work for wildlife.

a short video of fawn behavior

The fawn that was just laying there was actually doing what fawns do when they are scared. They will lay flat to the ground and not move and they hope you don’t see them…This is natural behavior and just because you think this fawn looks calm it is not.  I can assure you it is scared to death and you might just be inducing a 100% lethal condition called Capture Myopathy in this fawn. Capture Myopathy is on a 2 day delay, so the full effects can’t be seen until much later.

Mother deer will gladly have their babies back and will spent 48-72 hours or so looking for them if they go missing, so unless the fawn is sick or injured I will tell people to go and take it back to where they found it when they call me about a fawn.

Last year there was been an alarming trend with people who have kept the fawn in their possession for a week or more. This is not a good thing as it prevents us from being able to reunite fawn and mother, but it also often results in cases of unintentional cruelty to animals.

Taking care of a fawn is not easy and it requires a lot of knowledge. It is imperative that the fawn does not become habituated to humans or dogs. It might look cute to see a fawn play with a dog, but imagine what a strange dog might do to the fawn/deer. Human habituation in it self is also detrimental. Fawns who are raised by humans without con-specific interaction will grow up with an identity crisis. These animals do not realize they are actually deer and will not know to approach other deer or how to live in a normal herd of deer. An example of a human habituated deer story

This might look really cute, but is in fact really sad behavior. The animal in that story has no chance at surviving as a result of his human habituation.

Fawns also need to be fed properly. Store bought goats milk will do in a pinch, but is not a long term solution.

So if you do see a fawn and it does not look emaciated or dehydrated (a dehydrated fawn often has curled up ears) or it doesn’t appear injured please just cherish the moment and move on to let the mother deer return and take care of her baby. If you are in doubt, do not hesitate to contact us or another rehab facility before you take the fawn home.

list of wildlife rehab facilities in ON

If you can’t reach a rehabber,  a vet, MNR office or your local humane society/SPCA can also assist.

For those of you who are currently in the possession of a fawn or other wildlife note that you are breaking the law and that you are not doing the animal any favors. Please do the right thing and turn the animal over to any of the above mentioned places. What you are doing is not in the animals best interest…

What to do when you find a baby raccoon

raccoon kitRaccoons in Ontario will start having their kits (babies) around the middle of March each year. They have adapted well to urban areas, so they will often invade our spaces (homes, barns, sheds) to create a den site.

At Hobbitstee we get literally several 1000 calls annually about orphaned baby raccoons. The reality is that many of these raccoon kits aren’t orphaned at all. People forget that mother raccoons also have to eat and to do this they must go out and leave their kits. As the kits get older the mother will leave them for extended periods of time and sometimes the kits wake up and they will cry for their mother.

If you suspect you have orphaned raccoon kits on your property you should observe from a distance to see if she comes and feed them. You need to observe for at least one whole night before you can assume they are orphaned.

When you do feel there are actually truly orphaned you can go and look at them. It is easy to recognize a hungry raccoon kit. Another sign there is no mother caring for them is the excessive presence of external parasites such flees and ticks.

If you are certain the kits are orphaned (ideally you located the deceased mother) than you can put the raccoon kits in a secure box lined with some towels. Put the box in a warm, dry and dark spot while you call your local wildlife rehabilitator.

To locate your local one please visit the following link: http://www.ontariowildlifecustodians.ca/AWCmap.php

Make sure to always wear gloves when handling raccoon kits. They can potentially carry diseases harmful to humans. Keep them away from your pets as they can also be at risk.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) gives you a 24 hour window to locate a wildlife custodian to take the kits. If you are unable to do so, many Animal Controls, SPCA, Humane Societies will assist as well (but they don’t have to, so you can’t make them). Don’t assume the above-mentioned agencies will automatically euthanize the kits. We have a great working relationship with many of these agencies and they bring us wildlife on a regular basis.

Your veterinarian might be able to assist you over the phone and point you towards your local wildlife rehabilitator, but due to a high prevalence of canine distemper in raccoons (lethal to non-vaccinated dogs/puppies) a vet will likely not allow you to bring the kits to a clinic and that is understandable.

Also understand that as wildlife rehabilitators we can only manage to raise a finite number of raccoon kits. Full is full. We cannot compromise our standard of care for the sake of numbers. It becomes a quality versus quantity issue. That is why it is so important to make absolutely sure the kits you found are truly orphaned.

As wildlife rehabilitators we are under distance restriction as outlined by the MNRF rules and regulations pertaining to the care of Rabies Vector Species (raccoons fall under this category), so please make sure you contact your local wildlife rehabilitator.

Eventually all injured and orphaned wildlife does end up with a wildlife rehabilitator, so if you are able you might want to consider making a donation towards the care of the animal you send them. All wildlife rehabilitators are non-for-profit and many have charitable status, so you might be able to get a tax receipt in return.

Never, ever under any circumstances feed the kits. Food is not at the top of their list of immediate requirements. Do not feed them cows milk, goats milk, or whatever else you think they might eat. Feeding wildlife orphans the wrong food at the wrong time can be lethal and once they have ingested it we cannot take it out.

Each situation calls for a different approach and there is no one-size fits all solution. That is why the Internet DIY websites are such a bad thing.

You may also not keep the raccoon kits to raise yourself. This would be a violation of the FWCA. In Ontario Conservation Officers are charged with the enforcement of this act, but our OPP can also enforce the FWCA.

IMG_0061Aside from the breaking of the law, it really is not in the best interest of the animals to be raised by you in your home. Wildlife Rehabilitation is a skilled profession.

In doing so you would be putting your own health and potentially your family or pets health at risk. There are several diseases and parasites raccoons can carry that can be lethal to humans.

If you have questions feel free to send us an email: chantal@hobbitstee.com