As we begin the 2024 year and inch towards another busy field season, our biologists are reflecting on the impact of last year’s Lands Program projects. From road surveys to biodiversity events, we are dedicated to enhancing the knowledge of these unique ecosystems of the Georgian Bay Biosphere while working towards reducing threats to the species that call this place home.
A summary of our Lands Program activities in 2023 is below. All of these activities continue this year, and some new initiatives like community nest protector workshops! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and visit our Events page, to stay up to date.
Road Ecology Surveys
Four roads were surveyed for reptiles from spring to fall. Our staff and volunteers biked a total of 1927.6 km on these surveys! Reptile observations were recorded that help to identify mortality “hot spots” where future mitigation strategies could be used. Species at risk like Hognose Snakes, Fox Snakes, Eastern Musk Turtle, and Massasauga Rattlesnakes were all recorded.
We recorded 1155 observations including 729 amphibians, 353 snakes, 67 turtles, and 6 others. Unfortunately, 96% of these observations were recorded as dead on road.
Road mortality poses a significant threat to reptiles and amphibians, especially those already at risk. Their slow movement, small size, and dependence on roadways make them highly vulnerable to vehicle collisions. Therefore, it is crucial for motorists to remain vigilant and watch out for these species while driving. By being mindful of wildlife crossing the road and helping them safely cross, we can play a vital role in preserving their populations and ensuring the survival of these species for generations to come.
Best Management Practices Training
We provided Best Management Practices (BMPs) training to five municipalities and over 100 of their staff. The training teaches municipal staff BMPs for invasive species, wildlife interactions, and species at risk – like how to safely move a turtle or snake across the road, and what to do if they come across an injured turtle or a turtle nest.
Thank you to Township of The Archipelago, Seguin Township, Township of Carling, District of Muskoka, and Township of Georgian Bay, for completing this training! We look forward to seeing the ways in which this training becomes incorporated into their everyday work.
2023 was our 4th year running our Turtle Incubation Program! This program focuses on collecting eggs from specific areas such as: roads that have required mitigation due to construction, areas with community partnerships, areas identified to have high predation, and other locations in need of emergency excavation.
As part of the incubation process, together with partners we incorporated ceremonies for the care and release of turtle hatchlings into the wild. A smudge takes place yearly inside our turtle lab to cleanse it and to welcome the turtles into their next stage of life as hatchlings, while also honouring the eggs that will not make it to this stage. When the first group of turtles were ready for release, another ceremony was held to recognize the safe return of the turtles to their wetlands.
Read more about the incubation process and last year’s program including how many eggs we collected.
We hosted our first-ever Turtle Open House! More than 250 people attended to see hatchlings, meet our educational snapping turtle Miki, and participate in fun activities! We also hosted 17 Turtle Hatchery Tours where guests were able to see the day-old hatchlings as they adjusted to water before release into the wetlands they were collected from. Our staff spoke to the project components, the process of incubating and releasing turtles, and answered many thoughtful questions from 149 participants of all ages.
“I loved seeing the turtles and learning from the staff member who was so friendly and answered all our questions about turtles and the program.” – Tour Participant
In 2023 our iNaturalist project had 28,450 observations! Thank you to everyone who participated and contributed to important local science.
Last year’s five top observed species:
5. Common Watersnake with 230 observations
4. Painted Turtle with 239 observations
3. American Toad with 243 observations
2. Massasauga Rattlesnake with 268 observations
1. Common Garter Snake with 322 observations
The more eyes and ears recording information about the natural environment, the better our understanding will be. Citizen science would not be possible without volunteers like you! If you haven’t already, join the GBB iNaturalist project to begin submitting your observations and the chance to win some fun prizes from challenges we will be hosting in 2024:
1. Join the Georgian Bay Biosphere iNaturalist Project
2. From Georgian Bay Biosphere’s iNaturalist Project, click on “Your Membership” beside the gear icon and click “Yes, for any of my observations” under “Trust this project with hidden coordinates” (this must be done from your desktop)
3. Get outside and observe!
Biodiversity Bioblitz Events
We hosted nine Bioblitzes this summer where 180 people joined us and observed 620 species!
A BioBlitz is a community science event. People come together to discover local plants and animals and record their findings. An our Bioblitzes, participants of all ages brandished frog nets, bug nets, buckets, and binoculars. They helped us record species like Blanding’s Turtles, Four-Toed Salamanders, and a Yellow Banded Bumblebee! Read more about what we spotted and the different Bioblitzes.
Research to Protect Reptiles at Risk
In fall 2022 work began on a three-year project to evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative fence design for the protection of reptile species at risk from road mortality.
Last spring Sabrina, a graduate student from Laurentian University, collaborated with us to evaluate the design’s effectiveness. This comprehensive study includes assessing the fencing’s impact on mortality through road surveys, its success in directing reptiles towards safe crossings/culverts, behavioral studies to understand reptile interactions with the fence, and determining reptile usage of crossings/culverts and other wildlife presence. The evaluation is also considering maintenance needs, structural durability, and performance over time, accounting for the effects of freeze-thaw cycles and public works activities, along with studying reptile populations in the adjacent wetland complex. We hope that this design could be a win-win for public works and species needs.
We are looking forward to welcome Sabrina back soon for her second field season of research!