In today’s post, Alistair MacKenzie, Discovery Supervisor at Pinery Provincial Park, shares one of his exciting new conservation technologies in his parks: eco-passages.
I have a lot to thank my parents for, including for introducing me to nature when I was a child.
When my family immigrated to Canada, we began exploring Ontario and looking for opportunities to witness natural phenomena and wildlife. Soon this behavior led us to Algonquin Provincial Park, and we began making frequent pilgrimages there in all seasons.
During a visit, I came across a wonderful post about the Mammals of Algonquin Provincial Park. I have to thank the Friends of Algonquin for supporting its publication.
That guide became one of my favorite booklets that I used to flip through, read, and absorb everything I could about the mammals known to inhabit the park.
In fact, I still have my original copy.
Those early experiences began a passion for wildlife, particularly mammals.
That passion led me to pursue two degrees in ecology and a diverse career path that includes work reintroducing southern flying squirrels in Point Pelee National Park, trapping small mammals on the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, and population management. of white-tailed deer, and Black Bear research throughout the province.
Research in parks
My early love of mammals led me to a career in Ontario parks, including monitoring the biodiversity of Pinery Provincial Park.
Monitoring the biodiversity of an expanding park is a daunting task. Recently, we have employed new technologies and strategies to help.
Citizen scientists are helping in immeasurable ways, such as submitting PhotoMon images of park ecosystems with heterodyne bat detectors, participating in bat monitoring, and using biodiversity monitoring apps like iNaturalist.
These actions taken by park visitors are extremely useful for monitoring the state of the park’s biodiversity, helping to recover at-risk species, and informing park management activities – not to mention it’s fun to search for real-life Pokémon in the Pinery! !
Employing modern technology is another way we are moving forward to ensure Pinery is protected forever.
Recently, we have been equipping bat boxes with automated, solar-powered PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag readers. We have installed a vehicle information sign that shows your speed, but also tracks vehicle activity in the park – recording speeds, time of day, number of vehicles, etc., allowing us to better manage our human and other resources .
How did the bug cross the street? Via ecopassage!
One of the most interesting new technologies is currently being implemented at the southern end of the park and records animal behavior using solar energy.
A sophisticated wildlife camera has been monitoring the success of our eco-passage for several years and recording the diversity and behavior of the animals.
An ecopassage is a simple culvert embedded in a road that allows animals to safely pass from one side of the road to the other while being protected from vehicles.
I have been excited to follow the species as they visit the area.
To date, numerous species of mammals and birds frequent the pass and we have also recorded several reptiles. Recording reptiles is more difficult due to their smaller relative size and slower movements.
Meet some of the Pinery residents:
The mustelid weasels shown here are almost certainly long-tailed weasels (mustela braking).
I know this from data from previous studies of mammals, but to confirm the species, photographs are required that clearly show their feet with measurements of mass and length.
Weasels are voracious predators and several of the images that capture this species show them with rodent prey in their mouths.
The top right image shows the weasel with its winter white fur and a mouse in its jaws. “Pelage” is the term used by mammalologists to collectively describe all the fur on a mammal’s body.
Weasels change their fur from summer to winter to better camouflage themselves against the snow, however the white winter fur can be a disadvantage in winters like the one we just went through with minimal snow accumulation in much of the province.
Like their smaller cousins, the mink (neovision vision) is skilled at predation.
As captive mink have escaped for decades from farms in Ontario, the genetic lines of domesticated and wild mink have merged.
Active throughout the year, these mammals are frequently seen in riverine areas hunting small to medium-sized prey.
Sometimes raccoons (lotor procyon) are considered pests, but we really should show them the utmost respect. They are omnivores par excellence and take advantage of a wide variety of food sources throughout the year.
I think they will inherit the earth when we are done with it.
In front of Virginia
As Ontario’s only marsupial, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is a notable member of our biodiversity. The species, which evolved in the Southern Hemisphere, expanded its range northward and is now found across much of Ontario.
They are ill-equipped to deal with our northern winters, often exhibiting telltale signs of frostbite called “crusty ears,” as their bare ears are sometimes damaged by the cold.
Its prehensile tail is trapped above and is undoubtedly one of the most useful parts of its body.
Perhaps the Canadian mammal par excellence, the beaver (Canadian beaver) were one of the first species to begin using the ecopassage shortly after its installation.
The notch on the side of the tail of one of the beavers shown above can be used to identify the individual animal, similar to the techniques used to identify tail fins in whales.
Gray squirrel and eastern chipmunk
Various members of the squirrel family, including the black-phase gray squirrels (Carolina squirrel) — they make use of the ecopassage and run during their days in search of acorns and other seeds.
Eastern chipmunks (fluted tamias) hibernate during colder periods, so their appearance and disappearance in the ecopassage can often be harbingers of seasonal changes.
Sometimes I wish our White-tailed Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) would work a little harder eating vegetation that grows and blocks the camera’s view!
Population trends of carnivores such as coyotes can be inferred from the abundance of this prey species.
A variety of birds use the ecopassage, including:
- american robin
- Rufous-sided (eastern) towhee (Erythrophthalmic pipil)
- Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
- Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
- Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
- Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
- Northern Cardinal
and several other species.
Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) were captured below, showing off some of their interesting feathers and the distinctive spurs found on their ankles. These spurs are effective against predators and allow birds to inflict fatal wounds on snakes, among other prey.
Finally, the shot at bottom left shows a diligent female wood duck (Aix sponsa) guiding his group of ducklings through the ecological passage, passing safely under the road.
a barking dog, the scientific name of the Coyote, translates from Latin as “barking dog.” Anyone who has camped in the Pinery has probably heard evidence of this as they howl and howl at night to keep family units together.
Surprisingly, these creatures frequently travel through the ecological passage without hesitation, although their shoulders are likely to brush the roof line.
Like their larger rodent cousins, beavers, muskrats do not hesitate to use the ecological passage.
Their voracious appetite for cattails and other emergent vegetation makes them important forces of change in the Old Ausable Channel. Evidence that they used mast foods, such as the acorn seen in the mouth of one above, underlines the importance and connections between trees and mammals.
I have worked at Pinery Provincial Park for almost 20 years and have spent far too much time inspecting the park.
In all that time, I only have two cases that prove beyond a doubt that otters frequent the park. Once, in the dead of winter, staff reported strange footprints in a freshly laid blanket of snow early one morning. It turned out to be a slide of two Otters that traveled a long distance through the park, running and sliding on their bellies and running again… it looked like fun!
Another time, I was standing on the dock at Ooze and Gooze in the middle of summer and an otter swam by like he was lord of the land.
When I looked through a batch of images from the ecopassage camera and found the amazing images above (especially the final image), it was like seeing a ghost!
Then I realized that maybe I was being biased; Despite hours and hours of searching, perhaps they escaped me while I wasn’t looking.
And then there is the mouse.
Let’s just say she’s pretty good at filling her camera cards with lots of selfies! Their activities have been captured at an excessively disproportionate rate.
Beware the beast
Lastly, there is the Beast of Pinery!
Keep your eyes peeled and report your sightings of this suspected Coyote and anything else you find.