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!

Learning [Balti]MORE about Sustainability @ AASHE 2016

Attending AASHE 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland was an experience I will forever be grateful for. The passion and excitement that these people shared over the weekend was motivating, inspiring and unforgettable. Main topics ranged from waste management, to student engagement, to community outreach and back to strategies for a greener campus. Participants came from a wide range of places with different climates, rules and regulations, student population sizes and more. Therefore, there was a wide range of innovative ideas being shared from many different perspectives.

The student summit was a great experience. Meeting with like-minded students of my age gave me hope that change could be made by myself and my peers. The student summit was also a great way to see what potential careers are out there, and gave me lots to think about regarding my future and what my plans are regarding future education such as a Masters degree, future employment and future projects. It truly opened doors as I met many people from all over North America, obtained their contact information, and made an impact on their lives. These people are my potential employers, co-workers, and like-minded individuals who I will work with for the rest of my life, sharing ideas and making the world a more sustainable place.

Overall, AASHE 2016 helped me learn, believe and create a better future. It got me excited about the future projects I can incorporate into my schooling at Niagara College, but even more so, how to implement sustainable practices into my own life and future careers I will be involved with. It got me thinking about my future, my present and my past, and how much my everyday actions impact so many people. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned and spread the energy of the conference to everyone I encounter on a daily basis.


Christine Combe

Environmental Field and Lab Technician Student

Adventures in the Niagara Glen

On Tuesday August 9, 2016, Margaret Pickles led a group students on a hike through Niagara Glen. Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised to see a full grown Turkey Vulture cooling down on the branches of a dead tree, pictured above. The Vulture didn’t seem bothered by the amount of people trafficking the paths and rested for at least 10 minutes before eventually flying away. We began by following the Terrace Path North to the River Path and returned to the top via the Cobblestone path. Throughout the hike we discussed the geological history of the area, learning about the different layers of rock and how they were formed. We began with a brief overview to put the Glen into perspective, where Margaret noted that where we stood used to be where what we think of as Niagara Falls stood thousands of years ago. As we made our way through the trails of boulders that stand taller than us and massive trees, Margaret pointed out various fossils dating back millenniums, including salt water fossils from when the Glen was a part of a tropical sea. She also pointed out striation patterns, due to the glaciers and boulders rubbing against the plates of rock. We learned about how pot holes are formed and how to tell if they were created in situ or while the rock was in a different arrangement. Throughout the hike we identified different flora and fauna, noting which species were dominant in the forest and how the dominant species changed as we entered different areas. For example, along the upper portion of the trail Maple species were dominant, however along the waters’ edge Hemlocks were more abundant. At the waters’ edge we rested and stared at the beauty that history has allowed us to enjoy. The Niagara Glen is a wonderful way to learn geological history as well as enjoy the beauty that mother nature brings to us every day.

Christine, Stacey, and Katie are all Environmental Field and Lab Technician Students at Niagara College completing their co-op requirements with the Office of Sustainability.