Summer is what’s going on outside! Haven’t you noticed that nature is everywhere? If you haven’t, all it takes is to alert your senses and direct your attention to what’s around us. In the spring, the pleasant scent of lilacs is attractive not just to us but to a number of insects, who’ll pollinate those blooms. Did you notice them at some point?
We have to use all the indicators nature offers us if we want an easier time discovering the living beings that are found in it. So here are my tips as an observer for exploring wildlife this summer in Québec.
- The monarch. The environment is a key factor when looking for a species. To observe this butterfly, we have to find its habitat! Odds are you`ll come across it in a beautiful field adorned with flowers, in direct sunlight, where milkweed plants are growing. That plant is host to the monarch caterpillar. It can be observed if you look carefully under the leaves. The caterpillar is unmissable with its black, white and yellow bands. Nearby, the presence of nectar-producing flowers supports adult monarch life in the form of butterflies. When the wind is high, notice their mastery of flight, which is described as slow but powerful. Note your observations on the Mission Monarch website, a community-science program that documents the monarch’s breeding success.
- The green frog. The best trick for detecting and recognizing this big frog is its song. The sound of it puts you in mind of a note played on the string of a banjo. The green frog is normally found in the shallow waters on the edges of a body of water where there are concentrations of aquatic plants. You want to try to spot large eyes emerging from the water through the aquatic vegetation. The frog keeps from exposing its body entirely with the aim of protecting its skin from drying out. To observe it properly, you have to approach the water’s edge very quietly, ideally in a crouching position so as not to cast a shadow on the water. Fade into the background, stay very still, watch…and listen!
- The turkey vulture. The simplest way is to raise your head and look at the sky! On a sunny day, a mass of heat develops on the surface of broad stretches of fields and brings about the formation of rising air currents. Those currents are often used by turkey vultures to ascend through the air and to travel over long distances. The same principle applies to heat islands in town. The turkey vulture is easily recognized by the V-shaped contour of its wings when it glides.
- The beaver. It’s not as easy as it might seem to see this mammal in action. The first thing is to find a promising site. When you’re out hiking, keep an eye open for the work that the beaver does. The presence of a dam or a lodge in the middle of a pond is a good indication. Closely observe the edges of a body of water to see if there are any young trees. These are probably young trembling aspen, which the beaver feeds on. Have you noticed any trunks that have been gnawed on? The idea is to come back to the same spot at nightfall, maybe one or two hours before dark. Look at the body of water, pay close attention and enjoy seeing the beaver swim around in its natural environment.
- The two-lined salamander. You have to dig to find this burrowing animal. Look under rocks and tree trunks lying on the ground. Lift them up to see what’s underneath. A number of arthropods like centipedes and millipedes hide there. You’ll see thousands of ants and sometimes fascinating Coleoptera like ground beetles. With a little luck, you’ll hit the “jackpot”: a two-lined salamander! This little amphibian with a long tail is found especially in moist environments. Turn over rocks and moss-covered tree trunks that are near water to maximize your chances of success.
Observing nature is within everyone’s reach. However, this opportunity comes with great responsibility: taking care of living things. In your actions, be sensitive and respectful of nature. Avoid trampling on everything, put back objects that have been displaced, and above all, keep your distance.
Great scientists will tell you, the most beautiful observations happen when the animals don’t know they’re being observed! The quality of a good naturalist is to know how to observe without disrupting.