Today’s post comes from David LeGros, a park naturalist with the Ontario Parks Discovery Program.
“I’ve never seen one of those” is one of my favorite phrases.
There is something terrifying that happens the more you look at nature. The more you find, the more you realize that you don’t know much. It can be an intimidating feeling, but also exciting.
Your mind is about to blow.
Imagine paddling across a beautiful lake, taking in the scenery, listening to the birds, and watching the clouds go by. Sounds great, right?
Imagine if you could paddle on that lake your entire life and never see it complete. This is nature for the curious person: you will never see everything, but the journey is incredible!
Ontario is home to incredible landscapes and biodiversity. You’ll never run out of things to learn or places to explore.
Discover the Discovery program
Everyone has a different set of experiences and knowledge about nature.
Lucky for us, the Ontario Parks Discovery Program has a team of dedicated and curious park naturalists across the province who love to solve your wildlife sighting mysteries.
I spend most of my time in Algonquin. It’s an amazing place to spot wildlife, whether from a canoe or camp chair.
People come to the Visitor Center with all kinds of sightings: grainy pictures, videos, vague descriptions, funny imitations of bird calls, and occasionally bugs in jars (my personal favorite).
Visitors want to know what they saw or how you live.
I usually teach programs about the park in a way that I think people will like; However, through random questions I learn what people really want to know. This is how I find Algonquin’s “most sought after species.”
A camper’s question usually goes like this: “Ring, ring, ring. Good afternoon, David speaking… oh I see, it sounds mysterious. “I’ll be up right away.”
Then I meet the visitors and we try to find out what they saw. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes difficult and sometimes inconclusive.
This is a spotted salamander egg mass with algae growing on it. Did you know that some algae live in salamander egg masses to consume waste from the developing eggs and provide them with oxygen? Ask a naturalist!
This is fun to me: figuring out what someone saw and making sense of it. That is the normal scenario in the winter months. In summer it is different.
Collaboration or competition?
In the summer, I work with a group of extremely talented, passionate, and knowledgeable naturalists. They are also really competitive.
Enthusiasts like this want to hear from you!
When the front desk calls the entire office saying “a naturalist to the front desk, please,” I always look down the hallway.
As soon as the page ends, two or three naturalists rush to answer the question. I’m told they might even push each other out of the way. So proud.
We get all kinds of questions and some of them can make us laugh. But we love the motivation: you want to know more about the park and what lives here!
You never know who you’ll meet or how the interaction will change their perspective of the landscape, or even the trajectory of their lives! We even have “regulars” who often come by several times during their trip to ask us more questions.
You may not come to our Visitor Centers to ask your questions. (You should, because we have interesting exhibits and knowledgeable people!)
But if you don’t, we can still help you!
If you took a photo of the curiosity, share it with us! Contact us on social media, using the hashtag #AskanOPnaturalistaAnd our Ontario Parks naturalists will help you identify your sighting!
“Uhhh… I saw this insect with a Rorschach test on its back…”
Naturalists love a challenge, but there are a few things that can help make identification easier:
- Try to take the best photo possible and/or send multiple angles.
- let us know the park/region and habitat where you found it
- tell us the date or season. Many species have specific ranges and times of year in which they are active.
- a description of the behavior may be helpful
- If you’re photographing something small, from an insect to a footprint, try adding something that gives us an idea of scale (a coin or your hand can work great for this).
These are all clues.
We always appreciate learning more about our parks, but if you find something while you’re at home or elsewhere, please reach out anyway!
Ontario’s protected places are really important, but so is the rest of the province. It could be an important observation of an at-risk species or an early detection of an invasive species.
You are always welcome at #AskanOPnaturalist!
Enter community science
The world may sometimes seem like a small place, but it’s really huge once you start taking a look at it.
Our park staff can’t always reach every corner of our parks, but you could and your observation could be the key to uncovering some mystery.
You may be a little more advanced in your nature observation skills. Also consider posting your observations on iNaturalist! It’s a great way to identify and catalog the diversity of life on Earth, and each of our Ontario parks has a special project within this platform to collect this information.