Spring is a great time for the nearby nature project. I’ve already noticed trees starting to bud. But due to way-above-average snowfall in Calgary this winter, it’ll be many weeks before spring flowers emerge.
Meanwhile, we’ll be welcoming birds returning from winter migration. Whether walking through a neighbourhood park or along a nearby pathway, keep one earbud out so you can listen for birdsong as spring nest-building commences.
I find the longer daylight hours spark a little more energy. And my thoughts turn to gardening. What new plants shall I add to my own nearby naturescape, to better support birds and pollinators? It’s also the perfect time to review notes jotted in my gardening journal last year. Comments about wet/dry areas in my vegetable garden, pests and successes will (hopefully) lead to a more productive veggie patch this year.
One of the most joyful moments of spring for me is spotting my first prairie crocus bloom of the year. Or really any wildflower, for that matter. And noting the arrival of the male American Robins is another spring milestone. It’s always neat to observe how they band together in food foraging – but only until the females arrive! As for wishful thinking, spotting a mountain bluebird in Canmore is right up there. What are you most excited for as spring arrives to rejuvenate nearby nature?
More Research Needed to Better Understand “Wood Wide Web”
Suzanne Simard’s 2021 bestselling Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest sits on top of the TBR pile on my nightstand. One question I’ll have in mind when I sit down to read is whether backyard trees are connected by a mycorrhizal network. Our Canmore backyard has more than 50 trees. These include second growth confierous, their seedlings, planted spruce and larch and an Arbor Day fir tree from school.
Apparently I’m not the only one wondering about the ubiquity and mechanics of the wood wide web. While this CBC article frames a recent citation review as calling into question the content of Simard’s research, to me it reads more as a call for additional research – to better understand the mechanics and constraints on resource-sharing between trees, as well as for studying other forests, such as the Amazon rainforest.
Reading the CBC news story prompted even more questions. For example, the Town of Canmore has undertaken an extensive FireSmart program designed to reduce the risk of wildfire in the townsite. But I now wonder how the thinning program will affect the long-term health of the urban forest. And I wonder what fungi network studies will eventually teach us about optimizing the likelihood a newly planted tree will thrive.
Cultivating Nature Connectedness Through Creative Endeavours
Last month, I wrote about the distinction between contact with Nature and a sense of connection with Nature. The former tends to emphasize how spending time in Nature brings health and wellness benefits to people. In fact, this was the original reason I started my Nearby Nature Project. But more recent research highlights how more thoughtful engagement with Nature can foster a sense of being part of Nature. This is an important distinction as humanity strives to halt/reverse biodiversity loss.
Earlier this month, the Finding Nature blog featured a UK program that commissioned artists and other creatives on the topic of Nature connectedness. The initial results include 2 sculptures and 21 songs about Nature. I plan to sample the playlist over the coming weeks.
2023 Great Backyard Bird Count Results
The results are in! More than half a million people took part in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count. And collectively, we spotted more than 2/3 of the known bird species. Despite colder than usual conditions across much of Canada, 253 species were reported across the country. More 2023 facts and figures are here, on the Bird Count website.
Another world wide bird spotting day is coming later this spring. The Cornell Lab Global Big Day takes place May 13th, details here.
Cultivating My Nature Connection
This is the first board game review I’ve done for the Nearby Nature Project. Wingspan is all about birds: their names, what they eat, where they like to nest, how many eggs they typically nurture each year, unique features, etc. The base game includes 180 bird cards, each with a beautiful bird drawing. The overall idea is that each player has the potential to establish up to 15 birds in their bird sanctuary. Relative success depends on optimizing your food supply, egg laying and creating a supply of bird cards you can play.
There are four rounds of play. In the first round, each player gets 8 turns, The number of player turns drops by one each round, so that by round 4, each player gets only 5 turns. Players earn points for each bird they establish in their sanctuary (varies from 0-9 points/bird), eggs laid in nests at the end of the game, food cached by their birds, points garnered through specific bird “powers” and for achieving round goals (set by random draw at the start of the game).
The game expansion packs introduce additional game mechanics. As of March 2023, there are three expansion packs: European, Oceania and Asia. We started playing just the base game. Once we understood the basic game mechanics, we added the expansion packs, one-by-one. Now we play weekly, with all expansion packs.
Our 23 year-old – with an excellent grasp of points engine-building game mechanics – almost always wins! But Mr GeoK and I are steadily improving and each of us has one at least one game.
Mr GeoK was initially frustrated with the “random” element of the game. The randomness mainly comes from the hand of birds you’re initially dealt. After a couple of rounds following the rule book, we’ve tweaked our game start to include more birds per player in the initial deal (7 or 8, depending on the evening). On average, each player only keeps 3 or 4 cards anyhow, because you have to “pay for the right to play” those initial bird cards by giving up one of your 5 started food tokens for each bird you keep. We’ve found this levels the playing field quite nicely.
Like many others, we’ve also removed the raven and crow cards from the deck. They have overwhelmingly powerful powers compared to all the other birds. So again, we were looking to make game play more about strategy/tactics than luck of the draw. Reading game reviews and blog posts about Wingspan, it seems that almost everyone modifies the printed rules in some way.
We’ve been playing at least once/week since Christmas. With three of us playing, it’s usually 75-90 minutes of game play. The closest score ever was 4 points between 1st and 3rd! Our older son and his partner also play frequently, so we’re looking forward to some 5-player games when they come to visit later this spring. There’s a special “duet” mode for 2 players, included with one of the expansion packs. And there’s a single-player version called “Automa.” Finally, there’s an online version of the game. A discount code for the Steam platform version is included in each box.
We really like the art on the bird cards. Mr GeoK installed the Wingsong app, which plays the bird’s song when you view a bird card with your phone’s camera. Most of all, it’s an enjoyable family activity that doesn’t involve screens, provides lots of opportunity for good natured ribbing, cooperative coaching and fun!
Nearby Nature Project
Unfortunately, the coyote I mentioned in this post returned…several times! It hung around scavenging for sunflower seeds two afternoons in a row. I tried to chase it off (from the safety of the deck), but it pretty much ignored me. So we decided to take our birdfeeder down that second afternoon. It’s a healthy-looking wild animal, and we didn’t want it getting accustomed to easy access to human-introduced food.
Even with the bird feeder down, the coyote has visited our backyard several more times. At this point, there are no more sunflower seeds to be scavenged, so we haven’t seen it for a few days now.
The suet block feeder doesn’t have the same issue with spillage, so we’re happy that the chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers continue to visit. And – fortunately – we had to take the seed feeder down just a few weeks before Canmore’s birdfeeder bylaw would have required it be stowed away until November.
Getting Ready for 2023 Gardening Season
It’s spring! Time to start thinking about 2023 gardening season…what to plant, when to plant…both vegetables and flowers. I just attended a webinar about Alberta’s native bees. So I’ll consult the Native Plant Resources on the Alberta Native Bee Council website when selecting any new flowers. It’s a bit of a balancing act, trying to optimize for native bees, butterflies, birds and “growing your own” food – all within the confines of a suburban lot.
I intended to prep my garden beds last fall. And I did manage to plant garlic before the ground froze. But snow and deep freeze temperatures came on so quickly on October that I still have to pull last year’s sunflower stalks, some kale and a few other last season producers. With several cm of snow cover still on the ground and overnight lows well below freezing, that’s not likely possible until May.
Meanwhile, I’ve restarted my 9-pod AeroGarden. Here are before (basil still growing robustly, but not much else) and after pics. I added one tomato pod and one pepper pod to the mix for the first time ever. I also concentrated my risk of failure by planting only one basil seed pod. Rounding this crop out are: 2 chives pods, 2 cilantro pods, one sage pod and one thyme pod.
Here’s hoping they all germinate first time around. Last time I had to restart a couple of the pods due to failure to germinate. FYI, I don’t buy the AeroGarden pre-seeded pods. I purchase the pod peat plugs and baskets separately, and use seeds I’ve purchased within the past year.
I’ve also started tomatoes, peppers and broccoli seeds in Jiffy Pots on my kitchen counter. Two weeks on, only 3 of 11 seeds have sprouted. I’ll give the tomatoes and peppers another week or so. But I think I need to restart the one broccoli that’s failed to sprout. The others are already 2-3 cm tall!
We should be seeing (and hearing) some of the early migratory birds starting any day now. Have you spotted any yet?
I expect to include a book review next issue. I’ll choose between Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water and the Suzanne Simard book mentioned earlier in this post.
FINAL NOTE: This month’s introductory section was drafted by ChatGPT. It produced a solid two paragraphs, which I significantly personalized, re-worked and made more relevant to the Bow Valley. In the process, I’ve made notes about how to craft my prompts to elicit a stronger first draft from ChatGPT. Have you started exploring the possibilities of ChatGPT yet?