Tundra swans in the Tintina Trench, Yukon
My first memory of getting my boots muddy is one of mimicking industrious beavers in the creek behind my grandparent’s home. I would pile sticks and mud across the breadth of the tiny waterway there, building pools of clear water deep enough to splash around in. Like many Canadians, my childhood is full of fond memories of wild places, and I’m very lucky to have been able to spend so much of my young life learning about the animals that we share those landscapes with.
Since my brief stint as an ecosystem engineer, I’ve learned a great deal more about the mechanics of the natural world. My journey as an environmental scientist has taken me from designing wildlife corridors to dissecting bumble bee colonies, ultimately leading to my internship at WCS Canada. Here I learned about the inner workings of the organizations that I had admired for so long. I was involved in everything from processing the data that gets collected in the field to communicating about science and conservation, both online and in person.
I began my time with WCS learning about mammals that fly around eating up to half of their body weight in insects on buggy summer nights -- bats! I got to be part of a continent-wide monitoring program that uses acoustic detectors to monitor bat biodiversity. Each team sets out microphones that can record supersonic bat calls at different survey locations, and since each species has a unique vocal profile, these recordings can be used to measure the number of bat species in each area. Bat biology, meets people power, meets innovative technology, all for the public good!
Then I got to help map out where Canadian wolverines (a.k.a ghosts of the northern forests, (a.k.a. powerful predators, a.k.a moose scavengers, a.k.a adorable fluffballs) spend their time. Where and how wolverines use the natural the landscape is relatively well understood in mountain ecoregions, but not so well understood in the vast forests of Northern Ontario. I hunted the literature to see what was known about Ontario wolverines as part of building the foundation for WCS Canada’s fieldwork, which has now resulted in the capture and tagging of a number of these sly creatures around Red Lake, Ontario.
My most recent task for WCS Canada has been to patiently sift through images of a massive seasonal migration. Every spring millions of birds fly to through the Tintina Trench in northwestern Yukon. To understand how waterfowl use lakes during their migration (which can still be largely frozen when they first arrive back in the spring), Yukon staff members Hilary Cooke and Lila Tauzer set up remote cameras to keep track of who’s stopping by where. In practice, for me this meant counting birds in thousands of images, and taking note of the odd moose!
The work that I did at WCS Canada was often slow and methodical, but I knew it was the best way to ensure progress in conserving wildlife and wild places. Having solid information is the first step in building a case for when, how and where to aid wildlife protection and I am proud of the role I played in furthering the important research being developed by WCS Canada’s world-class scientists.
I’ve come a long way from backyard dam building, but I hope that I have done my part to construct a vision for how we can keep Canada wild!