Welcome to the latest instalment of the Nearby Nature Project! Over 25 years ago I learned that fostering my relationship with Mother Nature is essential to my well-being. So I absorb a daily dose of Vitamin N(ature) gardening in our yard, walking/cycling in a nearby park or hiking to the top of a mountain.
I’m not alone in discovering that being outside is good for mind and body. Mainstream media articles regularly extoll the benefits of spending time in nature. And hashtags like #playoutside, #optoutside, and #greentimenotscreentime have communities of followers. These Nearby Nature Project posts are where I reflect on my connectedness to Nature and share interesting resources and news stories.
In May 2021, Nature Canada named Calgary one of four certified bird-friendly cities in Canada. This recognition brings with it the opportunity to select an official city bird. Later his month, Calgary City Council is expected to approve a public voting process to select one of five official city bird candidates.
The contenders were selected after consulting with local Indigenous groups and nature organizations. In the running: black-billed magpie, black-capped chickadee, northern flicker, blue jay, and red-breasted nuthatch. Calgary residents will vote online between April 1 and May 1. I’m still deciding between two candidate. Which bird would you vote for?
Birdwatching is Good for You
Speaking of birds, a research paper published in the March 2022 issue of Ecopsychology reports that photographing and listening to birds is one of the best ways to maximize mental health benefits from engaging with nature. The report “Actively Noticing Nature (Not Just Time in Nature) Helps Promote Nature Connectedness” from researchers Miles Richardson, Iain Hamlin, Carly W. Butler, Rory Thomas, and Alex Hunt appears online here, and goes behind a paywall March 28, 2022.
The key is that it’s not just about spending time outdoors. Maximum mental wellness benefits come from actively noticing and appreciating nature. In addition to birding, noticing butterflies and bees generates similar benefits. Of note, multiple studies have demonstrated the connection between an individual’s sense of being a part of nature and metal wellbeing. BUT no study has yet explained WHY this is the case.
With spring bird migrations underway in the Bow Valley Region, now is a great time to head outdoors with binoculars or camera, to look (and listen) for our feathered friends.
Cultivating a Nature Connection
Last month I said I’d be finishing the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness MOOC. Success!
There are several things I really liked about this free, 8-unit course:
- Logical progression of materials
- Assignments, opportunities for reflection and quizzes, to confirm you’ve grasped the concepts
- Guided nature meditation! I will continue to go back to this resource, especially during winter months, when ill or when feeling particularly stressed
- Extensive links for each unit, in case you want to dig deeper into a particular idea
And there were two things I’d like to see improved:
- An option to turn off unit badges! I guess I’m too old to appreciate this attempt to gamify course progress.
- A sentence at the beginning of each unit indicating whether it’s most applicable to individuals or to educators/policy makers/researchers/people creating nature-based programs. The intro video explains that not all units are equally relevant to all participants, but I forgot about that bit of advice until I watched the video again. And I struggled a bit with Units 7 and 8 because they seem more relevant to researchers and policy makers.
This course got me thinking about my own relationship with nature, whether my actions are always consistent with my perception of my relationship with nature, and considering what other actions I might take. And it confirmed that regular photo walks do support my physical and mental well-being.
One final piece of advice – rather than use the ePortfolio tool embedded in the course, use your preferred note-taking software and save your notes in a format/location you can easily access in the future. Going back to review individual notes in the ePortfolio tool is cumbersome. And the download tool generates a file with a bunch of formatting commands that make the downloaded copy unusable.
The instructor is Professor Miles Richardson. Since 2015, I’ve been following his work on the benefits of spending time with nature. He shares his research findings through his @findingnature account on Twitter. If you’re ready to take the course, register here.
Nearby Nature Project this Month
By lucky coincidence, we discovered a new-to-us birdwatching area in Canmore this month, made a visit to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary, did a couple of easy hikes through Bow Valley Provincial Park and had some feathered visitors in our yard.
Here’s a gallery of many of the different kinds of birds we saw:
Especially exciting to us? The Belted Kingfisher and the small flock of Bohemian Waxwings.
We are regularly seeing a strangely coloured magpie in our neighbourhood. It’s brown and cream (not the usual black and white). So far, I’ve got one photo through the triple pane glass with window screen. Fingers crossed we get some better photos soon!
Are there any birds you’re particularly keen to spot? If you’re a birdwatcher, do you drive specifically to birdwatch? Or is more of an opportunistic thing, if you’re already there?
In addition to more birdwatching, this next month is when I start to think about gardening – both vegetables and flowers. This year, I want to think about what things we can do in the yard to provide even more support to bees, butterflies and birds. I’ll also be reading Old Man’s Garden: The History and Lore of Southern Alberta Wildflowers by Annora Brown. And I’ll review the book in next month’s post.
If you’re looking for a reason to get out and about to photograph nearby plants and animals, the 2022 City Nature Challenge is coming up in late April/early May. There’s a great addition this year: if your town/city isn’t taking part, you can sign up under the 2022 CNC Global Project!