Bird Banding

On Tuesday, November 27, our outdoor school class travelled to the arboretum’s nature centre for a class that was destined to be exciting – bird banding. We met with Chris Earley, a master bird bander who told us a bit about the ups and downs of bird banding and how it is normally conducted. Chris and Rachel rigged up a couple of ground traps and the waiting game began. We went back inside the nature centre and discussed bird banding for a few minutes. When we came back out, we had already caught a few chickadees!

Transporting the birds from the cages into cloth bags so we can take them inside.

In the H is for Hawk video we listened to Helen talk about how she used to take her hawk out to an open field and let it fly around. I looked at the chickadees, which kept biting Chris while he held them and flew away out of our hands as soon as we opened them, and I was completely stunned. That woman trained a hawk by herself and used it as sort of an outlet for the struggles she was going through. These fierce little chickadees made me realize what an incredible feat it is to train a wild bird which is absolutely massive and has the power to harm you. It also makes me realize how much work the volunteers at Wild Ontario must also put into training their falcons.

Chris showed us how to band the birds, and taught us some tips that he uses to identify certain aspects of each bird. When you band a bird, it must be over a year old. This is because there are few birds born in the arboretum who stay there for their entire life. This means that if every single young bird caught was banded, there would be many that would never be seen again which would waste a lot of bands. There are also four bands put on a bird which are read in a certain order to identify the bird, such as blue over orange, silver over yellow. The arboretum has nine different colours which means that there are over three thousand combinations available for a bird’s bands. The arboretum has banded about five hundred birds at a rate of about one hundred per year, so they are not likely to run out of combinations anytime soon.

Chris measuring the wing length of a chickadee. On the papers below him are where the information on the birds are collected, and farther up on the table you can see some of the bands that are used to band the birds.

For each bird, he would record the type, the numbers and colours on the band (if it wasn’t banded and was over a year old, he would band it and record the colours) where and when it was caught, the weight and the age. All the information collected is entered into a database where bird banders all across north America can view and track these birds. This reminds me of the first reading we did, where nature as a selling point was discussed. At the arboretum, nature is used to educate others in hopes to preserve and help the environment. For example, Rachel’s nature walks are of no charge, and the only point of them is to enjoy nature and educate people, instead of selling or profiting off of it.

Observing the ground traps.

In total we were able to capture and record around ten birds, nearly all of which were chickadees with the exception of one mourning dove. Before we left Chris showed us his magnificent bird impressions which were so realistic and absolutely amazing to hear! This was one of my favourite classes and sadly it was one of our last. I will never forget the unforgettable experiences I have had during Outdoor School this semester.


Ruth Myers

Aloe From The Other Side

It is safe to say that last year I did not picture myself volunteering at the Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming alongside Martha Scroggins the Farm Coordinator. Assisting with the farms daily routines has been an enriching experience and I would not have it any other way. After harvesting butternut squash during the first venture to the farm, I was fairly enthusiastic to begin what would be a strenuous but gratifying ten hours.

On arrival to my first shift, I greeted Martha in one of the greenhouses. Both Nicole and I were sent off to work, watering various plants and collecting bundles of tomatoes underneath the vines. Because the Center for Urban Organic Farming uses limited technology (only one tractor which is not utilized for harvesting or maintenance of the plants), Nicole and I scooped up water from rain barrels in order to water the garden. The majority of tomatoes that we discovered were already rotting but some remained slightly soft and had an even red colour, indicating that they were still ripe.

As you can see from the image, one of the tomatoes in the bottom right corner looks like a golden egg!

One of my favourite tasks during my time on the farm was harvesting potatoes. I know for a fact, that one volunteer who I was working with had a very different perspective. When I had reached the garden to begin, the vines of the plant had already disintegrated and the mulch and bedding had been removed from the site. Martha explained to me that potatoes can be harvested in the early spring and summer however this sacrifices the parent plant.

To ensure that the potatoes were ready for harvesting, one or two potatoes from a plant had to be dug up. If the skin on the potatoes was not easily rubbed off, then they could be collected.

It was essential within the activity to begin by placing the fork into the soil on the periphery of the mound. This was done in order to minimize skinning, cutting or bruising of the tubers.  On reflection, a six instead of four-pronged pitch fork would have been more efficient as then the entire root system could be lifted in one fell swoop. I found it entertaining once I spotted the potatoes, to plunge my hands into the soil and dig for them. This was partially due to the fact that I had a tendency to stab the vegetables. Please note that this was not on purpose, as I was aware that by doing so, I was reducing the storage quality and damaging their appearance! After a few attempts, I was able to grasp the depth of the mound and the location of the plant and therefore caused fewer casualties. The damage tubers were consequently set aside from the market basket as they would rot quickly.

Closed toed shoes were a must, as you ran the risk of accidentally spearing your foot in the process.  I did not photograph the activity as it was only two of us working on the patch and I was too consumed with finding the treasures.

I met this little guy shortly after digging the tubers

My final days at the Organic Farm were occupied by weeding, the most popular deed. Although it was a labour-intensive task, the job seemed effortless with the collaboration of numerous people. The heavily dense areas were stripped using our hands and the use of a tonged pitch fork (for the tap roots that extended deep below the surface).  Unlike digging for potatoes, this job required the use of leather gloves as thistles could provide you with some discomfort.


In this moment, I was weeding some of the larger plants with members of outdoors school

Two years, I had the opportunity to visit an Organic Farm near Ottawa called Mariposa Farms. It was fascinating to reflect on the experience and juxtapose the techniques used at both sites. For starters both farms have a focus on sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, the owner of Mariposa, Ian Walker, follows Martha’s methods in utilizing crop rotation with no pesticides.

One of the main difference is that unlike Martha, Ian Walker utilizes animals such as pigs to churn up the soil. I pondered as to why this might be the case. Nonetheless, as one walks around the Urban Organic Farming center, it is evident that there are woodchips to form paths and since one must remain on it at all times, the soil never packs down. As a result, there is a permanent bed that allows for aeration in the soil and consequently animals are not required. Overall, the experience at both sites allowed me to strengthen my knowledge surrounding organic farming methods.

Some of the permeant beds visible after weeding

I’m certainly looking forward to volunteering and purchasing items at the Organic Farm in the future (specifically the aloe vera plants or the magic onions). Martha was a delight to assist and therefore my experience at the farm was extremely positive. Even with our lack of knowledge surrounding Organic Farming, she remained patient and it was clear that she really did appreciate our help.


I’m ready to come back in the following years!

Martha look what weed done!

This fall semester at the University of Guelph has by far been one of the greatest as I was given the opportunity to work at Guelph’s organic farm located right on campus. The farm itself is run by Martha, an amazing farmer and kind hearted lady, who takes pride in the nature of the farm as it is all run organically and primarily by her. The farm is supported by volunteers from the university and from around the city of Guelph. Martha enjoys hosting markets every so often to sell her crops to the people of the city and to collect donations to keep her farm running. In addition, Martha makes round trips down to the women’s shelter in Guelph to donate multitudes of fresh vegetables and other crops to the many women living there.

At first glance the task of completing 10 hours at the farm seemed daunting as I have never worked in a garden or such before. Yet, even after the first hour of work with the rest of my classmates by my side it appeared to be much more fun and exciting than I had planned. At the time I had no clue how the work ahead of me would allow me to build an appreciation for the dedication and hard labour that goes into harvesting these crops for people to enjoy.

The first time I went to Martha’s farm I showed up alone and ready to work on a beautiful sunny day. The first tasked that was asked of me was to pick all of the red peppers from the garden and the greenhouse. Martha took me out to the fields and explained to me the decision process that takes place in deciding whether a pepper should or shouldn’t be picked. Martha takes pride in selling only the best quality vegetables as it keeps satisfied customers coming back for more. She showed me how some peppers will have a translucent colour and look shriveled which is indicative of a pepper hit by frost. Due to the recent cold weather many of her vegetables were hit with frost and could no longer be sold.

The peppers that were hit by frost appeared shriveled

The peppers in the garden were almost all hit by frost wiping out entire plants although many of the peppers in the greenhouses were still good to harvest. I harvested many crates full of peppers that were smooth in texture and full of colour. After a few long hours of harvesting peppers my next task was to pick the tomatillos from inside the greenhouse. Martha showed me how to pick the tomatillos saying she wanted “very full” ones not the ones that were tiny and rotten. Alongside my classmate Emily we picked the tomatillos for a few hours while often watering the rest of the plants. After a long day of work on the farm I went home only to return the next week searching for more work.

The tomatillos that were harvested and sold at the market

The next time I attended the farm I helped Martha run one of her last markets as I was responsible for organizing the baby tomatoes and cutting the leaks to be sold. The market provided me with an amazing opportunity to meet some of the locals in Guelph and bond over our love for food. Many people came out to the market and took home numerous fresh peppers I have previously picked along with the leaks I had just cut. It was pleasing to know how my contribution had led to the smiles on these people’s faces.

A display of the vegetables and crops for sale during the market

One of my last days at the farm was spent pulling weeds with many other classmates. A lot of my classmates came to the farm that day eager to help and of course Martha put us to work. We spent hours digging out an entire field of weeds which at first appeared impossible but as we began working together the task became much easier than we had thought. We used a pitchfork to ensure we would be able to reach even the deepest roots but we had to be extremely careful around the greenhouses as the pitchfork could deflate the entire thing if punctured. Martha supplied us all with gloves as the weeds were very prickly and we managed to fill many wheelbarrows full of weeds within hours. We were taught many interesting facts while picking these weeds such as how spiders are a critical part of the garden killing and consuming many smaller bugs and insects that prove harmful to the gardens. After hours of pulling weeds the field was completely cleared leaving us feeling accomplished and proud of what we had done for Martha.

Many students can be seen pulling weeds from the weed infested garden

Overall, working at Martha’s farm allowed me to appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into harvesting these organic crops. I enjoyed the entire experience as it was an eye opener for me in seeing how hard Martha works and how knowledgeable she is in the field. From harvesting peppers to pulling weeds I gained a new experience that I will never forget. I would like to go back and volunteer with Martha next year as she clearly has a lot of work on her hands and could definitely use the extra help. I look forward to contributing next year and am thankful for the opportunity.

Written by: Clara Leska


ALL THE NAMES FOR EVERYTHING was a walk on Mount Nemo with diverse outdoor education leaders bringing various scientific and cultural perspectives on naming flora and fauna along the trail.

The popular nature educator Richard Aaron spoke of scientific botanical and common English naming, while Melanie Gray of wolf clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory discussed spiritual and medicinal connections to plants in addition to some of their names in Mohawk, and Jon Jonson, a community-based Indigenous scholar discussed place names and the history and ongoing presence of Indigenous peoples in the Toronto region.

Together we considered the origins and meanings of botanical names, numerous common names, and names in different languages of many of the places, plants and animals encountered along our walk.

We discussed names that give evocative descriptions, that tell of our many relationships to plants and other creatures, to languages and names that were absent and lost to Indigenous peoples, and to racist names – that speak to our often difficult relationships with each other.


Class in a Greenhouse

Who wouldn’t want to have class in a tropical paradise? On October 18 our Outdoor School class had the opportunity to have a class discussion in the Bovey Greenhouse on campus. When we arrived we were given the chance to explore the greenhouse and admire all the different types of plants growing within.


After admiring the greenhouse and taking some pictures we gathered together to discuss our reading from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Although we were worried that we might get watered by the sprinkler system at anytime (thankfully we weren’t); it was a really neat experience to be able to discuss the various types of relationships that humans can have with nature while surrounded by plants. In our discussion one of the aspects of the reading that we focused on was how humans can have a positive relationship with nature. For example, when people respectfully harvest sweetgrass it actually causes the sweetgrass to grow better than when it is left on its own!


We wrapped up our time in the greenhouse by mentioning the various outdoor related clubs that we had joined on campus. I think we all really enjoyed getting to have class in a greenhouse; I know I did.

Mushroom Foray Day

Adding on to Diane’s post, here are some extra photos from the perspective of someone who has never participated in a mushroom foray! On October 15, our Outdoor School class spent the morning foraging for mushrooms in the UofG Arboretum. For most of us, it was the first time we went into a forest to search and collect fungi of various species. Although some of us had midterms, foraging for mushrooms and other fungi was a good way to relax and stay calm before the examinations. When we arrived at the Arboretum, we got our baskets and headed into the forest to see if we could find different specimens to bring back to show everyone.

Many of the fungi we found were mushrooms, but there were others such as, slime moulds, polypores, and jelly fungi. There was even a stinkhorn that gave off a horrendous smell that many of us would never forget as well as some poisonous species.

It was amazing to see the many different species of fungi that were collected during the foray. It really showed me how diverse the Arboretum ecosystem is and I honestly didn’t expect to find so many mushrooms all in one area. The puffball mushrooms were especially surprising as I’ve never seen a mushroom that huge and it also kind of resembles a human skull, which is something I will definitely remember. Overall, the foray was an excellent learning experience that raised my awareness and appreciation of species in the fungi kingdom!

Outdoor School: Honey Bees and Catching Insects

On September 20, 2016, our Outdoor School class visited the University of Guelph’s very own apiary and honey bee research centre. We put on our beekeeping hats and veils, and were shown the hives that contained thousands of busy honey bees. We were able to pet the bees, taste their fresh honey and eventually take home a bottle of honey that was extracted right from the apiary.

After visiting the bees, we walked through the Arboretum to the learning centre where we learned how to catch insects and identify them.

We saw and learned about many other insects such as jumping spiders, milkweed bugs, wasps, bees, moths and beetles. Overall, it was a very productive day that involved a lot of walking and getting up close and personal with different species from the largest group of animals!