A Roller Coaster of Emotions

Hooded Merganser with merganser babies (left) and wood duck babies (far right)

By: Katie Bristow – Student Sustainability Technician

While travelling around the wetlands this spring, we came across an unusual sight. A Hooded Merganser was swimming around the lagoons with her ducklings. Upon closer inspection, the ducklings consisted of five Hooded Mergansers, and three (of what we thought at the time) Mallard Ducks!

After a few weeks observing them moving around the lagoon as one family unit, we noticed that the “Mallards” had left, and brought with them, 2 other Hooded Mergansers. They settled into their own family unit in the North Lagoon, spending the majority of the time under a large willow, or on some logs close to shore sitting among the Painted Turtles. Within the past week, it was discovered that the ducklings we thought were Mallards, were actually Wood Ducks! As both Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks are cavity-nesting birds, it does make sense that there may have been a slight mix-up in the nest, with eggs from one duck being cared for by the other.

Baby Wood Ducks and Hooded Merganser

Once born, the Wood Ducks may have split off originally at such a young age because of how they feed. A Wood duck is a dabbling duck, which means they put their head under the water, while their butt goes straight up in the air. Mergansers are diving ducks, which means they dive under the water to catch pray.

After a summer of watching these ducklings explore their surroundings, they have now all gone their separate ways onto new adventures!


Juvenile Hooded Merganser

Learning Together!

By: Amber Schmucker, Noah Jones & Kaitlin Colbey

The Office of Sustainability would like to welcome our newest co-op students Noah Jones and Kaitlin Colbey for the spring 2017 term! Noah and Kaitlin are both students in the new Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) program at Niagara College. This program is available for students with developmental disabilities and other learning challenges, and has a large focus on providing these students with an inclusive college experience. We are so thrilled that the CICE program coordinator has allowed us to have Noah and Kaitlin participate in our department; we are learning far more from these students than what we can teach them. Over the past couple of weeks Noah and Kaitlin took an afternoon to write down some of their thoughts on their co-op experience so far, and have given us the go ahead to share their blog posts on the World Wide Web. Please take a moment to read Noah and Kaitlin’s posts, and if you see them out with our other students please stop and say hello! They are always happy to make new friends.

Noah Jones:

“For 2 weeks, I’ve been having many experiences in Sustainability where I got my co-op. I’ve been learning a lot of new things and understanding how to protect the environment and wildlife. So far we’ve been finding different types of plants and different species of animals, birds and insects. My favourite part of Sustainability was identifying different species of animals, including the red-back salamanders, and going into the lagoon for benthos (looking for bugs in the water).

I have been enjoying my co-op at the Office of Sustainability. I have been making lots of new friends and taking care of the environment. I hope to continue this co-op and to plan for my trip.”

Kaitlin Colbey:

“My first day of co-op I did the indoor tree inventory at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus on the lower ground floor and the ground floor. Then I went outside to meet up with Katie, Jon, Noah and Christine to learn how to do water sampling, it was neat to learn. I am hoping this co-op goes well and I hope to become friends with everyone here, they are all really nice. I am also hoping I learn new skills doing this co-op. I am looking forward to seeing what other trees are around the school, trees are my favourite and I like looking at them and learning about them. Last, I went outside with Katie to check all the trail cameras and that was pretty interesting.”

Student Blog: Jon’s First Week

By: Jon Banninga – Student Sustainability Technician

This week, starting Monday, I began working as the sustainability technician at the NOTL Campus with the office of sustainability, alongside Amber, Christine and Katie. Besides Monday, which was dedicated to generic training modules and seminars, this week has already begun with some major projects and a variety of tasks. The main task for this week has been the inventory of all the tree and plant tags that will be used to tag trees around the campus, as well as by the horticulture department to label the campus gardens. Counting, sorting and organizing all of the tags and plaques is the main goal, which will help with future field work, hopefully starting next week. The main task for the summer will be the tagging, identifying, measuring and logging of the trees that grow here at the NOTL campus.

Tuesday, we made a tour of the grounds to preview what the boundaries of the tree inventory are and where the inventory should start. I’m really looking forward to starting outside next week, as the tag inventory I’m working on this week is mostly all done indoors. While we were out on the wetlands trail, we saw two swans checking out the north lagoon, which was the first time of the year any of us had seen some there. We also lifted some salamander boards below the escarpment and found a few red-backed salamanders, which is always cool to see. The huge amounts of rain we’ve been getting in the region made for a wet and muddy hike, but the rain held off in the morning so we could enjoy a bit of sunshine. The rest of the day I worked on the inventory of all the tree tags from the green house. Wednesday morning, we met up with the school of environmental and horticulture studies as well as some reps from Ontario Paper Thorold Foundation to demonstrate some lab equipment that was purchased with a donation from them. We took some photos and lead them on a tour of the wetlands trail to show them the lagoons and outdoor classroom. Thursday morning, we met up at Virgil dam with the NPCA and the environmental rep from GM to determine a site for a wildflower garden planting event later this summer. They assessed two different sites and it was determined that the site directly by Virgil dam would be the best because it was directly by the previous water sample sites, and easily accessible for the event. We (students) will be a part of the site preparation a few days before the event, preparing the ground and soil for planting.

Overall, this first week has been a great start. Even though the main task for the week has been tag inventory, the other small tasks and events thrown in to the picture like tours, meeting with other staff, and the site assessment at Virgil dam, have provided variety and made the week productive. I’m super excited to get going with the actual field work and tree inventory and for week two!

Sustainability’s Secrets – Two

Shop quality and locally.

I’m not going to lie to you, I was definitely trying to find a way to rhyme quality and locally there #FAIL. Anywho… I eluded to this point the Sustainability’s Secrets – One post; when giving a gift, shopping for quality items that are sourced locally is very a sustainable option. Often hand crafted locally made pieces make the sweetest gifts anyway, so here are a couple ideas that I will be using this holiday season.

*DISCLAIMER* many of the following items can be purchased at Niagara College, this post is not intended as a blatant advertisement for Niagara College’s retail store, HOWEVER, here at the Office of Sustainability we genuinely and truly love these establishments and we love supporting them. Heck, my grandparents have made a special trip to the Niagara College Greenhouse for years to pick up their Christmas plants that they often give as gifts, so it’s not just me. They are THAT good.

Here are my top 3 favourite local gifts to give this holiday season:

WINE! Here in Niagara there is definitely no shortage of wine. Gifting wine during the holidays gives you an excuse to visit some of the great local wineries and maybe do a taste test or two before you settle on which one you’ll be buying a case of to give as gifts. One of my favourite wines to give during the holidays is a nice sparkling wine and say that it’s special for a New Years toast. Giving that specific bottle a purpose makes it that much more special and personalized. If you are looking to add a little something extra there’s also all the accessories… Wine glasses, corkscrews, sparkling stoppers, etc. You can really put something together that’s very personal and impressive and usually it’s a one stop shop.

BEER! For anyone that isn’t a wine drinker there are also some amazing breweries that are popping up in the region. This gives you the opportunity to put together a really special gift for the beer drinker on your list. Not mention, once again if you are visiting the local breweries you have the chance to taste test before you buy!

HOT CHOCOLATE! For the non-alcohol drinkers this gives you the perfect opportunity to put together a yummy hot chocolate gift mug. I love giving these little make your own hot chocolate gifts to the kidlets I have on my list, but that doesn’t mean that the adults don’t go crazy for them also! If you’re stumped for mom and dad or the grandparents, giving them a school branded mug with some gourmet hot chocolate in it and other goodies just might be the ticket. They love getting their own personalized mugs and the hot chocolate ends up being a bonus. Here is a list of what I include in my hot chocolate gift mug:

  • Homemade hot chocolate mix – I always change up what recipe I use for the mix depending on what I’m going for, a Mexican hot chocolate or maybe peppermint, it’s whatever your preference is
  • A chocolate dipped spoon – these are very easy to make and you can decide how much money you want to spend to make them. You can opt to use a compostable spoon and dip it in melting chocolate and let harder, or you can do the same thing with an engraved metal spoon that you find at a local craft market for something a little more special.
  • Homemade marshmallows – I like including one big homemade marshmallow! Once again, the recipe I use always changes, BUT there are some great local spots that make yummy homemade marshmallows that would be just as great! You can get them at the farmer’s market usually.
  • Candy canes – this is just for whatever, I usually crush them up and put them on my hot chocolate, but your gift receiver can do what they may.
  • Gift cards – Sometimes I include a gift card to a local cafe or coffee shop as well, or I use this as a way to give gift cards in general because I am not a huge fan of just handing someone a gift card.

All of the items listed above can be purchased locally and really you can determine how much money you’re willing to put into it and make it your own. I know sometimes it seems like just giving wine or beer is a cope out, but for someone who genuinely enjoys wine and beer I think they’re great gifts and there is so much you can do with them! Not to mention, you are supporting local businesses this holiday season, which in turn gives back to the community as a whole. Win-win!

Sustainability’s Secrets – One

Give the gift of time.

Time is the most valuable and cheapest ($$$ wise) gift you can give, and coincidentally can be a very sustainable option. How you may ask? Well, lucky for you we’re not just in the business of secret telling, we’ve also found example giving to be very lucrative…

*ATTENTION* DAD, stop reading right now or the jig is up on your Christmas present.

That was a joke, there’s NO WAY my Dad can use a computer well enough to find this post (don’t worry, I’m rolling my eyes at me too). With that out of the way, this is actually what myself and my siblings are gifting to our daddio this holiday season – the gift of time with us.

A little background: my dad LOVES sports, especially football and hockey. All my immediate family members are a bunch of Toronto Maple Leafs fans (hey now, remember what I said about this being a safe place), and it would be great to go to a game, but that’s just not realistic for us as the games are mucho $$$. So we thought, why not do something; 1. cheaper and 2. local. Now full disclosure here, I am the only environmentalist in my family, I’ve done as much converting as I can do but when I get to GHG impacts their eyes glaze over, BUT they do often get on board with local food and drink, so I decided to work that angle with my bros when broaching the topic of Dad’s Christmas present. So, now you’re like “okay just tell me what you’re getting him, Jeez Louise!”. FINE.

We decided that we would give our Dad the gift of time by way of spending a whole day with him doing fun local things with a reasonable price tag. We’ll start out the day by touring local breweries (first stop, Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery, duh!), stop back at my place for a delicious lunch made by yours truly, and then to throw in a “good ol’ hockey game” into the mix we’ll finish off our evening at a Niagara Ice Dog’s game.

By staying and shopping local we are reducing the negative impacts of human and food transportation, and by not buying him a tangible gift item we’re not giving him something that is likely to not get used and end up in a landfill somewhere in the foreseeable future.  The total cost of this gift for each one of my siblings will be around $30.00 – $40.00 (tickets = $15 each, food and drink = ~ $20 each), and I know my Dad is going to LOVE it. Not to mention it’s just going to be a fun day out with everyone. A gift like this is also very transferable to anyone on your list; a significant other, a good friend, a sibling that you really like, even your grandparents. Yes, the Niagara Ice Dog’s might not be our beloved Leafs, but it’s good hockey and what really matters is that we’re spending time together.

This gift definitely checks all the boxes: reasonably price √, thoughtful √, AWESOME (if I do say so myself) √, sustainable √. We would love to hear more about how you’re giving the very environmentally friendly gift of time this holiday season, connect with us on social media to share your gifting secrets.

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