Volunteer Spotlight: Kaitlin Richardson

You may know Kaitlin Richardson as Thames Talbot Land Trust’s current President, but she is, and has been, a part of many environmental organizations in London, ON and surrounding areas in several capacities. Holding Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Environmental Science, as well as diplomas in Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation and Environmental Assessment, Kaitlin strives to protect, steward, and restore nature for Ontario’s biodiversity and Species at Risk. Her passion has led to many years of experience within the environmental non-profit sector. In the past, she was the Stewardship Coordinator at TTLT, Project Manager at ReForest London, and an Urban Forestry technician at the City of London. She is currently a Conservation Biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and as well as being TTLT’s President, serves as chair of TTLT’s Property Management Committee (PMC), a committee that she has volunteered with for many years. Her passion for the environment also spills over into her spare time. “I’m often tending to my native plant garden, volunteering for environmental organizations, and taking long hikes to admire the local plants, birds, and turtles.”

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Conservation Spotlight: Enagagement

Along with protecting and restoring nature, here at TTLT we also nurture nature and nurture relationships with nature. Read about the launch of our revamped Volunteer Program, the success of a hybrid Biodiversity Boss program, and our journey into the world of webinars.

 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Matthew Palarchio

Matthew Palarchio is one of Thames Talbot Land Trust’s newer and (probably) the youngest of our consistent supporters. His interest in the natural world started from a very early age. “When I was a boy, my mother took me on hikes in local natural areas of London, ON. I am also lucky to have a cottage on Lake Superior, where I spent the summers. In eighth grade, I had a little infatuation with trees, as I discovered that the forest was remarkably diverse. Into high school, I self-studied trees, so by the time I volunteered with TTLT in Grade 11, I could identify most trees in London’s natural areas, even when leafless.”

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Conservation Spotlight: Blain Farm Restoration

Welcome to Blain Farm, a 67-acre farm property with 1.3km of frontage along the Thames River on the edge of the Skunk’s Misery natural area. Thames Talbot Land Trust purchased the property in 2009 from Wilbert and Eleanor Blain, who’s family had farmed the land for over 70 years. TTLT recognized the importance both of agriculture in the area, and of the natural features of property, including a forested buffer along the river. This riverine forest serves as a natural corridor connecting the Thames River to the core of Skunk’s Misery, one of southwestern Ontario’s important natural areas.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Mick Dawdy

Mick Dawdy has had many different interests and hobbies over the years. In the 60s, reading science fiction was centre stage, followed by photography and sailing in the 70s and 80s, then micro computers in the 80s (necessitated by his role as a Professor at Fanshawe College). In the 90s, roller blading and martial arts captured his attention and in the current century, hiking, motorcycling, and off-roading in his Jeep occupy his time. At the age of 10, he began selling New Liberty magazines door-to-door, which inadvertently led him to a deep interest in chemistry. Depending on the amount of sales made, one could earn coupons that could be used to purchase a prize from the Prize Book. Mick ended up being quite the salesman and chose the ChemCraft Chemistry Set as his prize. He continued to fund this newfound interest through his teen years by delivering papers, doing drugstore deliveries, and babysitting. He would go on to pursue and complete a BA in math and economics, a MSc in computer science, and some work towards a PhD in Systems Engineering at Western University (more on that here).

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Conservation Spotlight: MeadowWoods

MeadowWoods is one of the newest additions to TTLT’s roster of nature reserves, with the official paperwork being signed this past September. Tucked in the southwest corner of Elgin County, MeadowWoods spans along 100 km of the Lake Erie shoreline as part of a larger coastal wildlife corridor. Its mixture of deciduous forest, wet meadow, and wetland provides ideal habitat for a variety of flora and fauna species, including the 200 species of migrant and resident birds, as well as many rare species.

 

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Behind the Scenes: Attaching a Radio Transmitter to a Snapping Turtle

Ever wondered what it’s like to attach a radio transmitter to a Snapping Turtle? Allow us to show you through this series of captioned photos. All photos were generously provided by Cathy Hamel.

First, we need to find a turtle. Lucky for us, this lovely female Snapping Turtle just finished laying eggs, making her easy to spot. All we had to do was sit and wait until she left her nest.

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Volunteer Spotlight - André Lachance

Nature and science have always been a part of André’s life in one form or another. André grew up in a suburb of Montreal. As a child, he found science to be extremely interesting, even though it wasn’t a strong feature of his elementary education. “My favourite subject was science, but the science class only lasted about 5 minutes late Friday.” At home, he would go to his basement “laboratory” where he would mix random chemicals and hope for something cool to happen. He jokes, “I did manage to release chlorine gas and sulfur oxide.”

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The Meadowlily Nature Preserve

Some land trusts are formed as people rally to protect a cherished natural area that is imperilled by development or some other threat.  However, for the first two years of its existence, the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT) was a landless land trust.  It was an incorporated charity with a board of directors, by-laws, policies and several committees but – alas – no property to its name.  It was a vision in search of its first tangible expression.

TTLT’s Mary Kerr with Carol and Rick Richardson at the dedication ceremony for the Meadowlily Nature Preserve  (Photo credit: Dave Wake)

The Trust needed someone to take a leap of faith, someone to take a chance on an enthusiastic but young, and largely unproven, organization.  Fortunately for TTLT, that someone – actually two “someones” – came along in the persons of Carol and Rick Richardson.  For many years, Carol and Rick had enjoyed the charms of their 14.5-acre property on Meadowlily Road South in London.  It featured several acres of mature hardwood forest, a meandering stream and an open meadow along the banks of the Thames River.  Adding to its allure was the fact that it is situated directly across the road from the City of London’s Meadowlily Woods Environmentally Significant Area.

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Stories From 20 Years; Founding Member Profile – A.K. Betz

Grand visions are all well and good – even necessary – when launching a new organization, but there are some inescapable practical matters that soon also demand one’s attention.  One of them, of course, is where the money is going to come from.  Start-up costs abound, even for an all-volunteer organization, as the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT) was in its early years.  These include everything from the extraordinary – paying legal fees for incorporation – to the mundane – renting a post office box.

To fund this early phase of the Trust, a limited-time class of membership – termed Founding Member – was established.  A Founding Member was any individual or organization contributing $1000 or more to the Trust during its first five years of existence.  Fortunately for TTLT, nineteen individuals and three organizations answered the call, providing a firm financial footing from which to launch this bold undertaking. 

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What Is It Wednesday: Milksnake

Name: Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

This week is our grand finale of our blog series “What is it Wednesday”, which will be featuring the Milksnake. The Milksnake can be found in Southern Ontario and Quebec with a northern range to Sault Ste Marie. This long, slender snake can reach a length of about 90 cm, while its body is no wider than its head. Being tan with reddish-brown blotches gives it a similar appearance to the Northern Watersnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed snake and Eastern Massasauga. Its key identifying features are the bold black outline around the blotches on its back and the V or Y shaped mark on its head. Having a similar appearance to the eastern Massasauga rattle snake comes in handy, as the Milksnake is able to use mimicry as a defense mechanism. When threatened the Milksnake will shake its tail, which creates a buzzing sound similar to a rattle snake’s while vibrating against dry vegetation. This defense mechanism isn’t always effective as raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes will still prey on them. The life span of a Milksnake in the wild is about 7-10 years. This isn’t very long considering that it takes them about 4 years to reach sexual maturity. Living in captivity they are known to live up to 20 years.

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What Is It Wednesday: Barn Swallow

Name: Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallows are very distinguishable by the blue of their head, wings, and tail against the rusty cinnamon of their chest and belly. Their forked tail adorned with white spots is a dead giveaway while in flight, as is the fluidity of their wingbeats and their quick, acrobatic grace that allows them to make tight turns and dives in the blink of an eye. When perched, they tend to have what I like to call the hunched, grumpy stance. Their heads flatten into their body causing their neck to disappear, while their broad shoulders spread out. Very distinct and very cute.

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What is it Wednesday: Eastern Hog-nose Snake

Name: Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

The Eastern Hog-nosed snake is one of the most fascinating snakes in Ontario. The colours of the snake range from a grey and brown striped pattern to a blotchy yellow-orange and black, like that of the Fox snake, to a solid blue-grey, like the Blue Racer snake. The Eastern Hog-nosed snake also mimics the shape of the Massasauga Rattlesnake with a fat body and can reach lengths of about 1 meter long.

The Eastern Hog-nosed snake continues its mimicry of many other snakes in its multiple defense mechanisms. It’s first tactic is to lie motionless and depend on its camouflage to disguise itself. Failing this, it will puff out its neck, like a Cobra or Puff Adder, raise its head up and stand in a striking pose. Similar to a rattle snake, it will start to rattle its tail while holding its striking pose. Then it will strike, while keeping its mouth closed. This is all a bluff as its venom cannot affect anything larger than a small mammal. Its last tactic is to play dead. The snake will flip onto its back, exposing its belly and lie there with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. To top it all off, it will release a foul-smelling odour or even regurgitate its food. This is to deter predators that avoid rancid or decaying meals. It’s as if this snake is trying to take the identity of every other snake in the world.

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Stories From 20 Years; Mary Kerr

For many years, one of the hotspots of environmental activism and heritage protection in London was not in an elaborate board room but a modest home on Elworthy Avenue in the city’s Old South community.

A force of nature and a force for nature, Mary Elizabeth Kerr’s advocacy work began in the 1980s when she felt she needed to move from simply enjoying nature to actively working to protect it.  Once Mary set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.

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What Is It Wednesday: Prothonotary Warbler

Name: Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)

Prothonotary Warblers are a unique Carolinian Zone species. From head to belly, this bird is a bright golden-yellow with wings and a backside of olive-green and a dark blue-grey at its tail end. Compared to most other Warblers, they have unusually long bills and short legs. Their longer bills are essential for nest building - in North America, they are the only species of Warbler that creates its own nesting cavity by excavating dead or dying trees. They will also nest in pre-existing cavities made by Chickadees and Woodpeckers, natural cavities, and nest boxes. They sing a very clear and fast “Tsweet-tsweet-tsweet-tsweet”, which you will primarily hear in deciduous forests of the Carolinian Zone. Their foraging habits take place in the forest understory and on the ground, where they slowly hop around, looking for a tasty meal.

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What Is It Wednesday: Tulip Tree

Name: Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Also known as: Yellow Poplar (in terms of lumber)

Tulip Trees are fast-growing and are one of the taller trees that grow in southern Ontario. Most trees reach a height no greater than 20-30 m, but Tulip Trees, along with a few select others, reach heights of 35 m, sometimes greater. This majestic species can live up to 300 years, if given the time and room to grow. They are not related to Tulips (Tulips belong to the Lily family, whereas Tulip Trees belong to the Magnolia family), but somehow have leaves and flowers shaped like tulips. Odd, yes, but convenient for identification. The leaves of this tree grow to be 7 to 12 cm in length and are light green with 4 lobes that draw out the resemblance of a flat tulip. It’s 6-petaled flowers are yellow-green with an orange base. The flowers bloom in the summertime between May and June for at least a month but depending on the age and size of the tree, there may not be any flowers to be had. This is because it can take 15 years for a Tulip Tree to mature. Even once flowers are produced, they may still be out of sight as they tend to start blooming at the crown of the tree first before covering its whole length. Amazingly enough though, once a Tulip Tree starts producing flowers, they continue to do so every year for the rest of their (hopefully) long-lived life.

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What Is It Wednesday: Midland Painted Turtle

Name: Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)

Who doesn’t love baby turtles?! Here at TTLT, we are obsessed! When turtle nesting season arrives, we call up the turtle experts and scan the countryside, hoping to safely secure as many nests as possible for the incubation lab. We then impatiently wait for fall, when all the hatchlings start to poke their little, baby heads out of their cozy eggshells. Of the eight species that occur in Canada, Midland Painted
Turtles are one of the more common types of turtle nests that we find in the field.

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What Is It Wednesday: Sandhill Crane

Name: Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)

Sandhill Cranes are tall birds with long legs, long necks, short tails, and stubby bodies. Their plumage is gray, except for the very top of their heads which are capped bright red. Measuring in at 3-4 ft tall and a wingspan of at least 5 ft, these birds could be mistaken for Blue Herons at a distance. Although, Sandhill Cranes don’t scrunch their necks like Blue Herons do and their bodies are considerably bulkier. These birds also make a loud, distinct call that sounds like a rattling, bugle-like “kar-r-r-r-o-o-o”, which can be heard from up to 4 km away (listen to their call here). They also make moaning, hissing, and snoring noises, as well as goose-like honks. The diet of the Sandhill Crane differs depending on where they end up because they are opportunistic eaters (i.e. they eat whatever is available to them). For the most part, they eat insects, roots, invertebrates, and, when available, cultivated grains.

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What Is It Wednesday: Buttonbush

Name: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Also known as: Common Buttonbush, Eastern Buttonbush, Button Willow, and Honeyballs

Spiky ping pong balls, pincushions, honeyballs, and snowballs – all words used to describe the very distinct flower head of the Buttonbush shrub. Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub that commonly grows 6-12 feet in height but can sometimes be found much taller. Its leaves are dark green, which are oppositely arranged along its stems, and have pointed tips and tapered bases that extend 2-6 inches in length. Most notable of all are their round, tubular flower heads. Each flower head is about an inch in diameter and is made up of a bunch of tiny, white, 4-petaled flowers. The flowers are rich in nectar and attract many pollinators with their honey-smelling fragrance. Blooming occurs between June and September and each flower head will bloom for approximately a week before dying off and turning into a brown seed cluster full of upside-down, pyramid-shaped seeds. Ducks, geese, and shorebirds love to snack on Buttonbush seeds, while songbirds use the shrubbery for nesting sites.

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What Is It Wednesday: Blue Flag Iris

Name: Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

Also known as: Blue Wild Iris, American Fleur-de-lis, Northern Blue Flag, Water Flag

Striking in colour and familiar in shape, Blue Flag Iris is easily recognizable once you know what you’re looking at. The flower consists of three large, curving sepals that are blueish-purple at the ends and yellow with white near the centre. From the centre of the sepals rises three small petals that are stiff and upright and are usually paler than the sepals. These flowers grow in groups of 3-5 on top of stalks that grow 50 cm tall. The stalks rise from a clump of long, sword-shaped leaves which create a dense covering of foliage, and its tough, hardy roots help the plant to expand its range across its habitat. Blue Flag Iris blooms from May-August and produces seeds within an oblong capsule once its flowers have fallen. Its native range extends from Manitoba to Nova Scotia and is considered the most expansive range for a native iris.

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What Is It Wednesday: Butterflyweed

Name: Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Also known as: Butterfly Milkweed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root

Topped by bright and flat clusters of flowers, Butterflyweed it not easily missed. This perennial grows 1-3 ft tall and spreads out like a bush. Its pointed leaves are green, smooth-edged, and grow to about 2 inches in length in an alternate pattern. Its bright flowers can be orangish, yellowish, or reddish in appearance and contain 5 petals crowned by 5 hoods. Flower clusters can measure up to 5 inches across and provide an excellent feeding zone for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other insects. The roots of this plant are tough and woody and can grow fairly deep in the ground. Its slender, hairy, grayish-green seedpods are 3-6 inches in length and contain hundreds of brown seeds. Each seed sports a white, silky tuft of hair, which will help it to be carried away by the wind once the seedpod ripens and opens. Native from Ontario to Newfoundland, this plant can be seen in full bloom from May to September and begins to seed at the end of the summer/the beginning of fall. It’s best to grow Butterflyweed from seed rather than transplanting. They require 3-month stratification, so plant the seeds in the fall and watch them grow in the following spring.

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What Is It Wednesday: Gray Treefrog

Name: Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)

The Gray Treefrog is a small frog that grows 3-6 cm in length. Although it is called the Gray Treefrog, this species comes in several colours ranging from a light green to a grey or brown. Regardless of colour, its skin has a pebbly or “warty” texture with large dark blotches along its back. Under its eye, you can find a white patch and along its inner thighs and groin is a yellow or orange colour. As you would expect from a treefrog, this species has large suction-cup-like toe disks to help it climb around. They can be found in the southern extents of Canadian provinces ranging from Manitoba to New Brunswick (Figure 1).

 

 

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What Is It Wednesday: Spotted Salamander

Name: Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Also known as: Yellow-spotted Salamander

The Spotted Salamander can be found in Canada from Ontario to the East Coast. It is a carnivorous amphibian that can grow larger than 20 cm in length and is dark blue or black with yellow spots randomly distributed across its body. In the wild, this species can generally live upwards of 20-30 years. Males take 2-6 years to mature and females take 3-7 years to mature. They are also known for their sensitivity to acid rain, which can negatively affect larval development and the ability of their eggs to hatch.

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What Is It Wednesday: Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy butterflies are a smaller butterfly with a wingspan of 6.3 to 8.6 cm that sport dark orange wings outlined and veined in black. Along their black-edged wings are rows of white dots. Their colouring is very similar to that of the Monarch butterfly, but Viceroy’s have one key difference: along the bottom of their hind wings are dark horizontal veins. This similarity in looks is called mimicry.

Previously, Viceroys were thought to be a Batesian mimic, meaning, that as a harmless species, they would take on the guise of a toxic species to protect themselves from predators. Later, it was determined that Viceroys are also a toxic species and are actually Müllerian mimics, meaning that each species provides each other additional protection from their similarities in looks and toxicity.

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Sunday Funnies: Soggy Peatland

 “I was in Alberta for the summer doing research for my Masters project and one of the things we had to do was set up a meteorology station in the middle of a super wet and spongy peatland. We had a lot of very heavy equipment that needed to be taken to the station, like car batteries and a battery box that was basically the weight of a chest freezer. Anyway, by the end of the day, after walking in and out so many times and dragging the heavy equipment, we had all either slowly sunk into the peatland or were surprised all of a sudden by getting sucked into the peat up to our waists! It would take us several minutes to eventually fish ourselves out. Our boots would get suctioned into the peat too, so we were able to get our legs out, which were filthy and soaked, but then we would have to stick our entire arms up to our shoulders back into the peat hole, which was freezing by the way, to retrieve our boots. This sort of thing was quite common on any given day, just walking around the peatland site, collecting data and then BAM! Suddenly you take the wrong step and end up hip-deep into a freezing cold hole and needed the other students to help pull you out. It was exhausting but always funny when it happened.” - Rebecca Cameron

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What Is It Wednesday: [Female] Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Name: [Female] Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Typically, male bird species get the spotlight due to their colourful plumage, but we’re going to take some time now to highlight this particular female bird species. The female Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a medium-sized songbird with no bright colours to be had. Typically, females are a dark brown with a pale chest and belly, brown and white streaks on its back and chest, and a striking facial pattern that ends in a stout, triangular beak. Although they are not considered as pretty as their male counterparts, they can sing just as sweetly. Their song is described as “an American Robin in an unusually good mood” (The Cornell Lab, All About Birds).

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What Is It Wednesday: Squirrel Nest

What it is: Squirrel Leaf Nest

Also known as: a Drey

If you’ve been in Ontario, you’ve seen a squirrel. Red, black, grey – we’ve got them in abundance! But have you ever given much thought to what they live in?

For squirrels, you will come across two types of nests: tree cavity dens and leaf nests/dreys. The tree cavity den is exactly how it sounds – it’s a hole in the tree, either previously made by a woodpecker or naturally made through tree aging processes. Leaf nests are also exactly how they sound, but there is a little more to them. For instance, the nests themselves are made of more than just leaves! Starting with the nest floor, squirrels expertly weave twigs together to create a platform. On this platform, leaves and moss are packed in for structural reinforcement. More twigs are used to weave the spherical outer shell, which is then stuffed with more leaves, moss, etc. to create the bulky structure. To make it a little more comfortable, a touch of grass, leaves, and shredded bark are added to the inner sanctum. Squirrels build their nests at least 20 ft off the ground, typically forked between the trunk and a large branch, and their nests are much larger than most bird nests, making it easy to identify should you come across one.

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Sunday Funnies: Crash, Boom, Flames

“One day, I was soil sampling in a field that surrounded an airport where a model plane club liked to meet. They were flying over the field I was in, doing tricks and diving down low to the ground. As I continued my sampling, I moved on, away from the area they were recklessly flying over, and not 10 minutes later I hear ‘Nnnyyyooooooommmmmm….booooofffff!’ I turn around and see the model plane had dove too low to the ground and has crashed (*facepalm*). Keep in mind, this was mid-summer, it was super hot out, and they were flying over a dry clay field that had wheat stubble left over from harvesting. Again, it was very dry and since the model planes were fancy planes, they had gas engines. The field then caught on fire and people were frantically running over to put the blaze out. I zoomed back to my truck to get my fire extinguisher, but by the time I had got back to the area, people had already stomped it out or had used blankets. The owner of the farm came out all livid and asked what I had seen and proceeded to keep an eye on the area after the people had left. I was still sampling for the rest of the day in his field, due to intensive sampling requirements, so I told him I’d keep an eye on the area in case it reignited from the heat of the day. Luckily, no other fires occurred.” - Michael Coady

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What Is It Wednesday: Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Name: Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Also known as: Liverwort and Liverleaf

The Sharp-lobed Hepatica is a native woodland plant that blooms very early in the spring. Throughout April to May, the Sharp-lobed Hepatica flowers emerge from the forest floor on hairy, leafless shoots that add clustered splashes of white, pink, purple, or bluish colours to the landscape. Quite deceivingly, the flowers of this plant have no petals. The colourful petal-like objects are actually sepals that frame the flower and sit on top of three green, pointed-tipped bracts. Its leaves are usually a mottled green and have three deep lobes that also have pointed tips, which resemble the shape of a liver.

(Photo Credit: David Wake)

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What Is It Wednesday: Northern Map Turtle

Name: Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) 

The Northern Map Turtle is one of eight native turtle species found in Ontario. Its name is derived from the map-like contour lines that run along the top of its shell, also known as the carapace, and the bright, yellow lined pattern on its skin. Its lower shell, or plastron, is usually a light yellow to cream and behind its eyes, this turtle sports a bright, yellow spot.

(Photo Credit: Scott Gillingwater)

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