Tag Archives: wildlife

How to Create Your Wildlife Community

A Guest Blog from Aspasίa S. Bissas

Experiencing community is one of the more rewarding aspects of life, especially when you find it in unexpected places. In my last guest post on Druid Life I wrote about my wildlife community; in this post I thought I’d share some tips on how you can forge a relationship with your local wildlife and create your own, perhaps unexpected, community.

Learn About Wildlife: If you want to get along with wildlife, you need to know how. What do you do if you come across a nest of baby bunnies? Is it okay to feed birds bread? How should you react if you come face to face with a coyote? A great source of information are wildlife rescue organizations. Find the one(s) in your general area and check out their websites or follow them on social media. Here in Toronto we have a fantastic group, the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Wildlife conservation groups are another good option, but be careful—some of them are little more than advocates for hunters.

Provide Habitat: Once you learn what kind of wildlife live in your area and what sorts of needs they have, you can help them by providing habitat. If you have a yard, you’ve got habitat, and it can be as simple as not removing dead plants and leaves from your garden in autumn, or as elaborate as planting specifically for wildlife and adding a pond. You can even make your garden an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Provide Food: First, find out which animals can be fed and are likely to need the help (as well as which ones should never be fed). Once you’re informed and are committed to providing food—whether a pot of flowers for bees, or feeding stations for different species—it’s important to always be consistent with the frequency and amount of food offered. It can be disastrous for wildlife if the food supply they’ve come to depend on suddenly stops. Providing water year-round is also a big help.

Protect Them: One of the best ways to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cats indoors (or, if you must let them out, use an enclosed space like a catio). Not only is it better for wildlife, but your cats will also live longer, happier, healthier lives. Outdoor cats decimate wildlife, in some cases wiping out entire species of birds. It’s not their fault—all cats have a strong instinct to hunt, which is why it’s important to give indoor cats toys and playtime. Being outside puts cats at risk from disease, cars, other animals, and unkind humans. They can also get lost, and contrary to a common myth, pet cats don’t do well when they have to fend for themselves. To quote The Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Other ways you can protect wildlife include never using glue traps (they’re inhumane and tend to catch everything, not just rodents), checking your lawn for small creatures before cutting the grass, and making sure water features are shallow enough for small birds and animals to get out easily if they’ve fallen in (you can put large stones in deeper water to give them something to climb onto).

Be Respectful: Show wildlife respect by keeping your distance, not allowing pets or children to chase or harass them, and not making a lot of noise or big movements. Prey animals like rabbits appreciate not being stared at. Sometimes when I’m out walking I’ll cross paths with wildlife. If they’re in the middle of crossing the road I’ll back off to let them finish so they’re not stuck waiting in the street, potentially putting themselves at risk. Sometimes they retreat until I’ve passed. I do always say hello, though; it’s only polite.

Help Wildlife: If you’re on social media, spread the word—share posts by wildlife rescue organizations, tell your followers what they can do, and talk about conservation issues. If you’ve got time or money, consider volunteering or donating. Some wildlife groups ask people to help with research, usually by recording what animals they spot in their local area—consider taking part. Keep an eye out for orphaned or injured animals, and if you find any get them to your local rescue (don’t try to take care of them yourself—animals need specialized care that the untrained simply can’t provide).

Get to Know Them: Chances are if you have habitat, food, and water, you’ll be seeing a lot of wildlife, and often the same animals will keep returning. If you pay attention, you should be able to start telling who’s who. If you can wear the same type or colour of clothing whenever you fill the feeder or work in your garden it’ll help them get to know you too. Once they feel they can trust you they’ll still be wary, but you may be rewarded with memorable encounters.

As long as we live in proximity to wildlife, we’re already part of a community. But if we want to be good members of that community we need to make an effort. Given the negative impact humans have made, and continue to make, on the world around us, taking the time to help your community can make all the difference.

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website, or her Facebook page. https://AspasiaSBissas.com,  https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas

Resources:
Toronto Wildlife Centre: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com
Make your garden a Certified Wildlife Habitat: https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx
Catio information: https://catiospaces.com/

My Wildlife Community

A guest blog from Aspasía S. Bissas

 

I’ve been pondering the idea of community lately. It’s nearly impossible for anyone not to be part of at least one community of humans. Most would also agree that pets are family and an integral part of one’s closest community (those who don’t agree hopefully don’t have pets). But it didn’t occur to me until recently that the local wildlife was my community too.

I live in Toronto: Canada’s first bee city, home of Canada’s first National Urban Park, host to an impressive tree canopy (with plans to expand it even more), and habitat of hundreds of species of wildlife.

Although I’ve yet to see many of the animals who share this city with me, including owls, deer, or the river otter my partner once saw slinking down our street, looking somewhat confused, I have had many memorable encounters with our wildlife. I’ve seen foxes trotting along the streets; been dive-bombed in my yard by a red-tailed hawk, before watching a flock of grackles chase it away; and was treated to the adorable sight of a nest of baby chipmunks.

At our last place we had a family of rabbits living in our yard. We would give them the courtesy of moving slowly and not looking directly at them (as prey animals permanently on edge, we didn’t want to stress them further by acting like predators). They never really relaxed around us, but they also never helped themselves to my garden, not even the tender rose canes in winter.

Also at our last place, we kept a bird feeder. The hedges surrounding the yard would erupt into excited chirping whenever we went out to refill the food. There was something very fairytale about being greeted by a chorus of birdsong. We don’t have a feeder where we are now but we do leave seeds outside on the deck railings. Here we’re on the third or fourth generation of cardinals that have learned to chirp at us while we’re inside to get us to come out and feed them. If we can’t get to them right away one of the males will fly back and forth in front of the windows until we get the hint.

Groundhogs frequent our yard via a tunnel under the shed. Usually we see just the one, but sometimes there are two at a time. They’re mostly content to eat weeds in the yard, although last year they weren’t shy about coming onto the deck and helping themselves to the peppers and tomatoes I was trying to grow. This year I didn’t grow much, so they’ve only ventured onto the deck a few times to sun themselves.

Our deck seems to attract everyone at some point. Back in April we had an opossum visiting at the same time as a skunk. I don’t know if they were companions or whether it was purely coincidental that they were both here at the same time, but that was the first and last time we had either one on the deck (we occasionally spot—or smell—skunks and opossums in the yard).

Our most interesting and regular visitors are Toronto’s ubiquitous raccoons (the unofficial mascots of the city). This year we had a mother and her four babies move in. We know we shouldn’t but the mom looked so scrawny when she first arrived that we couldn’t not feed her. We spent the summer watching her fill out and her babies grow up. We don’t feed them anymore, although it turns out they love bird seed and will show up at all times of the day to get it (the birds and squirrels have learned to move fast if they want to eat). Sometimes a “trash panda” will come up to the window for a peek inside, probably wondering why the “raccoons” (our cats) staring back at them get to live in the house.

(As I was writing this I was interrupted by knocking at the back door. When I went to look I saw several cardinals and sparrows on the deck while a woodpecker “knocked” one last time before hopping away. I dutifully refreshed the seed supply.)

Do these experiences count as community? We share space and resources with the wildlife, even when we don’t encounter them often, or at all. They affect the environment we all share, sometimes, as when opossums decimate the tick population, to everyone’s benefit. Occasionally, like members of any community, they can be loud or rude (anyone who’s had their garbage strewn across the sidewalk by raccoons can attest to this). They also make me happy just knowing they’re around. Nearly every encounter feels magical. They might not understand me when I say hello, but I hope they get the sense that this human is an ally; this human is part of my world. Just as they are part of mine.

 

Sources/Further Information:

Toronto is the first bee city in Canada! http://toronto.beecitycanada.org/

Canada’s First National Urban Park https://trca.ca/parks/rouge-park/

Every Tree Counts: Toronto’s Tree Planting Strategy http://www.projectyu.ca/everytreecountstorontostreeplantingstrategy/

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website https://aspasiasbissas.com, or her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas.


Druidry at twilight

One of the most important points for me in the wheel of the year, has happened this week. It’s the time when the evenings are light and warm enough that I can go wandering at twilight. There’s a point in the autumn when I have to give it up again, but that can be harder to spot, not least because I’m often a bit in denial about it!

Sauntering about at twilight, I get to see a lot of wildlife – rabbits, and foxes in the fields. Small birds still active in the trees. Owls emerging to hunt. Bats taking to the air. In many ways it the best time to see wildlife because so much of it is active in the twilight. However with the light fading of course, it can be harder to make sense of what I do see. Yes, there was definitely something moving at the top of the field. No, I have no idea what it was!

For me, this is the Druidry of showing up. There are no rituals involved. I’m mostly quiet. The walking is contemplative, but not meditative – there’s no structure to what I do with my head and no intention. Some evenings I am more present than others. If I need to think something through, I do that. As there’s no intention, I’m simply open to whatever happens. Mostly I do not have mystical experiences. Usually I see something beautiful.

I’m fortunate in that there are a number of paths in the area that are flat, have trees along them and are safe enough for me to be walking them in poor light levels. Clearly this is not an option everyone will have. If you want to be all ‘back to nature’ then a path with no lighting, to which you do not take an artificial light, will serve best. But, there’s reasons we have street lights and they are to do with not falling in holes or being an easy target for muggers.

You don’t have to be out in the wilds to have wildlife encounters after dark. Mostly you need to be out and looking. Cars will insulate you too much, but anything that allows you to trundle about at low speed and engage your senses, will work. Sitting in a stationary car with the door open would be worth a go if moving about independently isn’t viable.

Wild things usually have territories and habits, so once you know where to look, the odds are you’ll keep seeing things. Or hearing them – listening to foxes and owls at night is a joy.


Nature in vibrant abundance

I’ve been walking most of the afternoon. I saw buzzards, heard an owl, saw countless butterflies of many different species and numerous grasshoppers. There were several different species of wild mint, and the tiniest frog I’ve ever seen. I also found a couple of good fossils and one of those caterpillars that dangle from trees. Aside from the duration, this was in many ways a normal sort of walk. Even in urban landscapes, when I go out, I tend to see things. On occasion I’ve interrupted other people’s rituals to point out the visitors – falcons, rodents… I figure when nature shows up to a Druid gathering, Druids ought to care about that.

I have no idea what I’m like to walk with – possibly a little challenging because a big part of my brain is always alert to what’s around me. As a consequence, I’ll break conversations to point at things. The plus side is getting to see all manner of things that might otherwise have been missed, but I find it unspeakably difficult to give anyone my undivided attention for long. As the facebook meme goes, I’m on a highway to… oh look! A Squirrel! Put me in a large city with a lot of noise and movement, and after a couple of days my mind starts to crumble. I’m quite aware that, had I not been a fairly bright child in a not excessively stimulating environment, I’d have probably got some kind of attention deficit diagnosis along the way, and drugged into not doing this stuff.

The thing is that I like being able to spot rodents in the grass by hearing them, I like noticing beetles and grasshoppers. I see a lot of birds, I spot unusual wildflowers precisely because I’m not tuning most of it out. What in many situations would be treated as a problematic medical condition, to me is a wonder and a joy, and part of the way in which I engage with the natural world. I’m also aware that for much of human history, this would be life or death stuff – this kind of awareness is essential for being either a hunter or a gatherer. Which makes treating it as wrong feel a bit uncomfortable to me. It is the habitats we have created that are wrong, not the people in them.

This is just one of the many ways in which being closer to nature, more aware, more involved, more intuitive, more perceptive, is pathologised and treated as unhealthy by wider culture. The things we are, as Pagans are so often at odds with the things we are told we should want. Why watch a television when you can gaze at the amazing structure of a flower, or watch the birds? The details of life fascinate me. The small beauties and wonders take my breath away. I keep looking out of the window as I type this, watching the way light is falling on the horse chestnut leaves. So far no squirrel, but it’s probably just a matter of time…


Why Aurochs?

I have a bit of a thing about aurochs, and have for some years.
The great hairy cows of our ancient landscape died out in the 1600s, or more precisely, were hounded to extinction by humans. They are just one of the many lost things that haunt me. Our bears and wolves have gone, we don’t really have beavers. The cranes are being helped to make a come-back because there are European populations to draw on. The small leafed limes that once dominated our woodlands are scarce. Keeping the dead present, is important. Remembering the lost, and being aware that there has been a lot of genocide against species down the centuries. We wipe out so much diversity, destroy so much beauty, and I cannot honour nature without facing up to the awful history of how humans have treated the natural world. And how we still treat the rest of nature.

There are so many things we could lose, or have come close to losing. Our otters are back from the brink, but still vulnerable. Our Scottish wildcats are endangered. We nearly lost the red kits and the ravens. Cuckoos are in decline, our bird and insect populations as a whole are suffering. Bees and hedgehogs, badgers and bats. Reports into UK wildlife this year have been gloomy to say the least. Extinction is forever, and no one should consider that acceptable. (To borrow from the Green Party, we should not go round seeing other species as expendable.)

Aurochs wandered through our ancient landscapes. I’ve seen what smaller, modern cows do to woodland, churning up the soil, eating the saplings and low growth, knocking over the odd smaller tree. What would one creature, two meters high to the shoulder, do in a forest? What would a herd of them do? It would be destructive. And yet, forests are at their most lively and diverse not in the deep treed areas, but on the margins. Most of woodland life happens at the edges, with groves and glades a critical part of that. I postulate, quite simply, that herds of aurochs created groves.

There are many wild flowers that only now thrive in woodland when there are regular cycles of cutting and pollarding to let the light in. Did they evolve in response to human wood management techniques, or something older? How much of the landscape did we lose when we lost our wild cattle?
I picture the power and majesty of the auroch. Little domestic cows are scary enough when they run at you. An auroch would be terrifying, awe-inspiring.

I miss them.

They haunt me, and they carry a message about wildlife, about all that is so precarious just now, all that could be lost. No species is expendable. No species is worth killing off to further some financial end. No road, no building project, no faster train… none of it justifies the loss of a creature, a plant species, a type of insect. Every time we destroy something forever, we wreak unknown havoc on the eco system as a whole. There are trees that will die out because they needed the dodos to germinate their seeds. Without the bees, as a species we will be stuffed. If we can’t be responsible from a sense of duty, we really ought to be able to do it from a place of wanting to survive.


Swan Mysteries

The Bewicks are here. Every year, they fly in from Russia, coming just before the cold, racing the worst of the weather. The winds that carry them from the distant north east also tend to bring us the snow. They come by night, navigating by the stars, and the young swans travel with their parents to learn the route. It is not a matter of instinct, but of knowing.

As I write, a hundred or so swans are a matter of yards from me, out grazing in fields near the canal. I hear them calling to each other at dawn and dusk. The whiteness of them against the fading light is ghostly and haunting.

One of the older guys in the village told me that when he was a child, the swans came in their thousands, and flew around the church spire sometimes. He spoke with wonder in his voice, and sorrow for a magic now almost departed. The swans come in hundreds now, not thousands. Years of hunting, years of pollution and the legacy of lead fishing weights has taken a toll. Large and slow flying, they can’t easily change course to dodge things like pylons and wind turbines. Making those more visible from a distance is helping, but there’s so much to do, and the swans do not have all the time in the world.

As a child I used to go to the wildfowl trust to see the swans each winter. I have a lot of good memories of doing that, and it’s lovely being able to take my son to see them as well. He’s captivated by their magic, fascinated by the beak patterning that allows you to identify individuals, and far more intrigued by the facts and figures than I ever was. I wonder if one day I will get to be a grandmother. I wonder if there will be swans still coming then, and whether I will get to share them with a future generation. With climate change taking a toll on so many habitats, there’s no knowing.

I watch the swans grazing in the fields, and I hope that there will be more of them next year, and the year after, and that in a hundred years when I am long gone, the swans will still be here.


The great toad massacre

It’s exactly what happened last year. In the autumn, frogs and/ or toads move about. I suspect they do it at night, and I’m not sure which sort of amphibian it is. All I see are the splattered corpses on the road. There’s a horrible irony to finding them on the last few miles down to the famous wildfowl and wetland centre. The odds are some have been killed by people who came out to see the wildlife.
The trouble with cars, is that doing fifty miles an hour down a darkened lane, you aren’t going to see a frog crossing the road, much less have time to avoid it. That’s assuming you’d care to bother in the first place. Our amphibian populations are in decline. If the number of corpses I’ve seen in the last week are anything to go by, road deaths must be a contributing factor.
Of course there’s a thirty mile and hour limit on this road, but a lot of people don’t respect it. Especially not on the pub run at night. There are always horses, joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and children in the lanes round here, even after dark and there are always stupid, mindless idiots who drive at full tilt. And there are also always corpses. Birds, small mammals, larger mammals, pet cats, I found a grass snake once, it’s head crushed by a passing vehicle. One of the things about being a cyclist is that you get to see the carnage. We stop for anything and everything. I’ve rescued frogs from the road, worms, caterpillars, beetles. I have accidentally killed a couple of snails, I admit, but the death toll created by cycling is fairly low. Up on the main road, someone did get a horse a couple of years ago, the poor animal so badly wounded that it had to be put down, while the distraught child rider had to be taken away in an ambulance.
All for the sake of getting there a bit sooner, or for the dubious pleasure of speed.
We kill a lot of people this way too, pedestrians, cyclists, children.
There is a widely held idea that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Cars don’t kill people and wildlife. People driving cars kill people, and wildlife. I’d like universal recognition that cars are bloody dangerous things that can and do kill people every day. And that kill birds, mammals, amphibians and insects in horrendous numbers. Speed makes it worse. Speed gives you less time to notice, less time to avoid, it gives the creature itself less time to get out of the way, human creatures included. The higher your speed, the more damage you are likely to do when you hit. And when you hit something of flesh and blood, that damage is immediate, painful, and quite possibly lethal. Cars are killing machines. They need treating like dangerous killing machines, not like toys.
I don’t drive. I simply could not face the responsibility of directing something so phenomenally dangerous. But killing things with cars is normal, and people just shrug it off. The toads, on the other hand, have no shrugging options at all. They aren’t going anywhere.


Badger spirit

Here in the UK the government are planning the mass killing of a resident mammal. The badger. Now, if someone was talking about killing a third of all African elephants, a third of the wild lions, lemurs or anything else that iconic, the whole world would be up in arms. We don’t have much in the way of big, majestic wildlife here in the UK. This is because we already killed off the wolves, bears and giant, hairy cows.

There can be a tendency in nature conservation to support the cute, the memorable and the iconic. Getting people to save tigers is always going to be easier than trying to interest them in some ugly bug.

Badgers are lovely. They are very communal, living in big, extended families. Nocturnal, they roam around at night, mostly rooting up earthworms. They eat most things though, they are slow moving, wide arsed opportunists and they adore peanuts. Seeing their cute, stripy faces appear out of the darkness is a joy. Watching them play and feed together is delightful. I’ll say it again: Badgers are lovely.

However, badgers suffer from tuberculosis, and are probably implicated in giving TB to cows. I‘m not convinced it’s just the badgers, I think a closer look at the frequency with which we move livestock about in the UK needs considering. But, badgers have long borne the brunt of the blame. For all of my life, farmers have been trying to get badgers killed. My grandmother used to go out to try and prevent the then popular solution of filling in most of the holes into the set, and gassing the trapped badgers.

If we were talking about a really careful, well organised system of putting to sleep those badgers who are suffering from TB, I could see the point. We aren’t. We’re talking shooting badgers wherever there is a lot of TB, on the assumption that this will help. If the science said that yes, a badger cull would be bound to reduce TB in cows, and overall reduce animal suffering, then that might be tolerable. The science says it probably won’t help, and there’s evidence it could make things worse. So that’s a lose for the badgers, the cows and the farmers. This is madness.

The solution is to vaccinate badgers. If we eradicate TB in the badger population, they can’t spread it, the cows are fine. There are vaccines available, there are test studies. It will take time and cost money, but the key thing is, it stands a fighting chance of working. It will work for the badgers, who get to carry on their badger business, neither being shot at, nor getting a horrible disease. If the badgers really are causing the problem, it will work for the cows, and if it doesn’t, it might get us closer to nailing the sources of the problem. Solving the problem is what the farmers need here. Actions that do not solve the problem, do not help the farming community. Gassing the badgers did not solve the TB problem when I was a child. Shooting them now will not solve it either.

Please help. Go to www.teambadger.org/ to see where you can get involved. Make noise. This shameful act should not go ignored and uncommented on. If we were talking about lions, there would be international outrage. I move that badgers are just as alive, just as lovely and just as important as any other, more iconic creature out there. Let’s not send a message to the world that government sponsored wildlife massacres are ok.


Spoon billed sandpipers

Yesterday I alluded to spoon billed sandpipers as creatures in need of our support.  I first heard about them through the wildfowl and wetland trust. I’ve seen video footage. They are tiny birds, the sort you could easily fail to spot, but rather sweet. There are only 100 breeding pairs left in the wild, and the WWT are breeding them in captivity. More information here:

 

http://www.wwt.org.uk/what-we-do/saving-wildlife/science-and-action/globally-threatened-species/spoon-billed-sandpiper/?gclid=COKA9rHfga4CFcQTfAodjlau4A

 

Being migrants, the spoon billed sandpipers move through a lot of different environments. Birds don’t notice human borders, but when they move between boundaries they are vulnerable to the variances in laws. So many migrant birds are in decline. Habitat loss and being hunted feature prominently in the explanations.

As is often the way of it, the spoon billed sandpipers are ‘posterboys’ for a great many other creatures who all live in the places they pass through. Save the iconic creature and a whole host of less photogenic ones also benefit. And we benefit too. The loss of species and the loss of habitat is also the degradation of our habitat. It is the loss of beauty and inspiration from the world, the loss of genetic diversity. It is the loss of living things that do not deserve to die.

Most of the time, there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do in daily life to support distant and endangered creatures. Throwing money at things does help, if you have money to throw. It brings me back to a question I keep asking – what do we prioritise? Every time we put commerce before sustainability, every time we sacrifice another life form to our hunger for economic growth… As Jo pointed out on her blog this week, every time we spend our money, we make our voices heard. Just a little bit. There’s no shopping choice that will help the spoon billed sandpipers survive. There’s no specific company to boycott, no easy thing to point at as a way of making a good contribution.

But still we can consider the question about how we contribute. How our own priorities and day to day actions shape this world, in which trade is a constant political priority, and extinction barely gets a mention. Judge us as a species and it looks like we value shopping more than we do life, and that’s a pretty scary thought, for me at least.

While projects to save individual species who are on the brink, are undoubtedly good, it’s fire fighting. The causes of endangerment and extinction are not being entirely tackled by this. Causes like pollution, poaching, habitat destruction and war, which have their own causes in human poverty and desperation, and in the desire for wealth. We have so much wealth in the world, so much technology. As a species we could probably address any issue, if we had consensus over it, but mostly we don’t. There’s always something else more ‘important’ to talk about, some short term, money orientated agenda that takes precedence.

Time is finite, and this is our habitat too. If we push ourselves onto the endangered list through mistreatment of the planet, there will be no one to come and rescue us.