Connecting with nature from home

Posted on April 25, 2020

Connecting with nature is one of the most valuable recreational activities available to many people right now. Whether you are able to go for walks outdoors*, are enjoying the natural world from your backyard or balcony, or are relying on virtual connections, there are many ways we can stay in touch with the great outdoors during this period.

Every two weeks, we will be sharing some new ideas by email, and adding to the cumulative list below.

*Please remember that social distancing and responsible behaviour apply even in nature. Don’t go out if you are sick or returning from travel, and always stay at least 2 metres away from others.


Nature Activities

Nature on your Smartphone

There is a wide array of smartphone apps that can help you observe and interact with the world around you. Take this opportunity to get to know the insects, plants, birds, and other creatures that you can see from your apartment window or in your own backyard. In most cases, the observations you submit to these apps will also help researchers around the world, so you can contribute to cutting-edge science even from quarantine! Consult this article from our latest LandScript newsletter to discover some of the options.

Nature Journaling

Journaling has a long tradition among naturalists, beginning by necessity in the days before photography and online checklists, but continuing today. Taking the time to write down or sketch your observations and reflections will connect you to the natural world in a completely new way, and is also a great way to calm your mind in times of stress.

Don’t be intimidated by the artistic skill or time commitment demonstrated by some naturalists! Journaling can be as simple as a single sentence a day, or an amateur drawing whenever the mood strikes you. For some inspiration, consult this guide from Ontario Parks, this bird sketching video workshop or pdf guide from Birds Canada, or this nature journaling course preview from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Reptile & Amphibian ID Quizzes

Now is the perfect time to brush up on your species ID skills, and there are plenty of online resources to help you. Visit the Ontario Nature website to learn all about Ontario’s reptile and amphibian species. When you feel ready, test your knowledge with the quizzes below.

Turtle ID:  Level 1   Level 2
Frod & Toad ID:  Level 1   Level 2
Salamander ID:  Level 1   Level 2
Snake & Skink ID:  Level 1   Level 2

This is another great website with hands-on and web-based bird activities for all ages. Check out their discover section for quizzes, puzzles, and kids’ activity sheets, or visit the restore page for practical ideas to improve bird habitat at home and in your neighbourhood.

Toronto Bird Celebration

The Toronto Bird Celebration has gone virtual this year, and there is plenty of good content to immerse yourself in. Check out their events listing for a series of free bird-related webinars that you can join from anywhere. They also have excellent resources and activities for residents of the GTA looking to increase their familiarity with local birds.

Canadian Lakes Loon Survey

This is a great citizen science opportunity for anyone who has loons breeding near them (if you have observed loons with chicks in the past). Birds Canada asks participants to observe and report on the loons and their offspring three times over the summer (June, July, and August), and send in the data to help track nesting success across the country. Please note that this year, the program is only open to individuals who can observe breeding loons without travelling away from their residence or daily exercise route. Read more about the program and sign up here.

Home Bird Blitz

This program was originally designed for schools in the month of May, but Birds Canada is now opening it up for anyone to participate in all summer long. It’s a great introduction to conducting a bird tally and submitting your observations for science. Learn how to participate here.

Let’s Rock Ontario

Are you itching to get out on the rocks of Georgian Bay, but not able to make it there yet? The geology department at the University of Toronto has put together a fantastic online resource that allows us to explore Ontario’s rocks from our own homes. Visit the MAP section to click around the province and learn about geological features, or take one of their virtual TRIPS for a guided tour.

Get to know your local trees

Would you like to learn more about the trees around you? This handy online guide from Forests Ontario can help you identify species through simple process of elimination questions. Pay attention as you’re clicking through, and you can learn to ask yourself these same questions next time you’re out in the field with a guidebook.

Bonus: Try this Adopt a Tree activity with kids (or yourself!) to get to know a favourite tree a little better.

Put your bird knowledge to the test

Do you need some practice with your visual or auditory bird identification? (Who doesn’t!) eBird offers the opportunity to create custom quizzes by geographic area, time of year, and sight or sound. The pictures and recordings are all drawn from user submissions to their library, so there is an inexhaustible amount of material to test yourself on, and by participating, you are helping to rate and catalogue these citizen science submissions. It’s a win-win!

Plant a native garden

You’ve probably heard how important native plants are for maintaining a healthy environment. They provide food and habitat to pollinators, attract a variety of birds, and are a foundation in the food chain that supports nearly all our native species. Having native plants in your yard, garden, or window box is a fantastic way to have a positive impact on the world around you. And you don’t need to worry about replacing all your plants at once. Start small with one or two, and see where it takes you!

Does this sound like a fun quarantine project? Consult this Georgian Bay-specific cheat sheet from the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve for some ideas on what to plant, or delve deep into your own research with this Canadian database. There are a number of nurseries in Ontario that specialize in native plants – Return of the Native in Elmvale is the closest to eastern Georgian Bay. You may also be able to find some of these species at your favourite general nursery.

Nest Quest Go

Are you looking for something you can do online to help conservation science? Are you interested in historical bird observations?

Nest Quest Go is a citizen science project affiliated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in which participants help transcribe written nesting observations from the past into digital files. Anyone can participate, and there is no commitment – help as much or as little as you like. Check it out here.

Mission Monarch

Do you have any milkweed near you? If so, join Mission Monarch! This citizen science project asks people to visit a nearby milkweed patch multiple times over the course of the summer, and document the presence or absence of Monarch caterpillars, eggs, chrysalises, and butterflies. The data is used to help Canadian scientists gain a better understanding of where Monarchs live and breed so that effective conservation plans can be made for this endangered species.

Learn more about the program and join here.

Calculate your Carbon Footprint

The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve has launched a new Carbon Calculator for Georgian Bay residents (both year-round and seasonal).

This calculator is designed to help you discover which aspects of your life on Georgian Bay generate the most CO2 emissions, and think about where you might like to make changes to improve your impact on the environment. Data from this calculator is also used to inform the Georgian Bay Biosphere’s Climate Action Strategy and other local initiatives, by providing more information about energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in our community.

Use the calculator here.

Bumble Bee Watch

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve bumble bees throughout North America. You can participate by submitting pictures of the bumble bees you see, and you’ll be able to use their ID keys and volunteer experts to expand your knowledge of the species you encounter. The data you submit is used to enhance bumble bee conservation efforts, such as planning habitat for pollinator parks.

You can contribute to Bumble Bee Watch through their iPhone app, or on their website.

Anthropocene Interactive

You may have heard of last year’s Anthropocene film and travelling exhibits – but did you know that there is also interactive online content to supplement the film?

The Anthropocene project aims to highlight the dramatic ways that humans have interacted with and modified Earth’s landscapes in this age of extreme human impact. Their interactive online content includes short virtual reality films, an augmented reality tree sculpture, and immersive photo essays.



Resources for Kids

Conservation Quest

This year, instead of visiting summer camps, we’re bringing Conservation Quest to you at home! We’ve designed a series of new activities that kids can complete throughout the summer, on their own or with an adult’s help.

Conservation Quest is for kids ages 8-12 who want to learn more about Georgian Bay’s plants and animals, and how we can all play a role in maintaining a healthy environment for generations to come.

Every Monday from June 29 to August 31, a new activity will be emailed to participants and posted online. Kids will have the opportunity to share their discoveries by email and have their results featured in a weekly blog.

Read more about the program and sign up here.

Weekly Bird Activites for Kids

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (one of the world’s leading bird research institutions) is publishing a series of educational activities for kids in grades K-12 that will help parents and teachers get through the coming weeks. Sign up here to receive new resources by email every Friday, including their excellent BirdSleuth Explorer’s Guidebook.

Salamander Activity Book

The Algonquin Wildlife Research Station has shared this Salamander Activity Book for anyone with a budding naturalist at home. Did you have any idea there were so many different kinds of salamanders in the world?

Earth Rangers

Are your kids looking for eco-friendly activities that make a real impact? The Earth Rangers app provides kids with a range of “missions” and badges to earn including planting a pollinator garden, making recycling wildlife safe, nature crafts, and more.

Read more about the program here.


Things to Read

Big Water

Teenagers Christina and Daniel are the only two survivors of the wreck of the S.S. Asia, a ship that went down in a Georgian Bay storm in 1882. This young-adult novel by Andrea Curtis is a fictionalized retelling of their true survival story, and a fascinating read for Georgian Bayers of all ages. Order the book or e-book from the publishers here, or consider ordering from your favourite local bookstore.

Moon of the Crusted Snow

This Georgian Bay novel couldn’t be more relevant to our current times. In Moon of the Crusted Snow, author Waubgeshig Rice of Wasauksing First Nation imagines a sudden, society-wide power failure just as winter sets in. Immerse yourself in a fictional community as they navigate the social, political, and personal implications of this crisis – and see if it changes the way you think about our situation today. More information here.

The 9/11 Tribute in Light is helping us learn about bird migration

This article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a couple years old, but it is a fascinating look at the phenonenom of bird migration, the impact of built landscapes on survival, and the innovative research being done to help modern humans and birds coexist.

Being the Change: Live well and spark a climate revolution

The current pandemic has many of us thinking about how society will change in the aftermath, and how we can rebuild a world that is better equipped to protect all of us that live in it.

In Being the Change, NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus gives us one roadmap for how we can better align our lives to lessen the blow of the next society-shattering threat that is bearing down on us: climate change. This is a practical and action-oriented read that builds on Kalmus’ own experiences with drastically reducing his personal carbon footprint, in addition to pushing for societal change. It may be a valuable resource for anyone who has been spending time considering how to live differently in the days ahead.

Read chapters of the book online and get more information here.

Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist, environmental biology professor, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Braiding Sweetgrass is a powerful exploration of the lessons she has learned over her career, weaving together scientific expertise, Indigenous knowledge, and personal experience.

This book is remarkable not only for its beautiful writing about nature but also for the positive vision it presents about humanity’s potential to live well in the world. In an age when most of us think only about our negative effects on the environment, Wall Kimmerer shows us that there are other ways of thinking and living that can restore our relationship with the natural world and with each other.

Read more about Braiding Sweetgrass here.

Harriet Tubman’s Relationship with Nature

Did you know that Harriet Tubman was a skilled naturalist, whose knowledge of the environment was essential to her ability to survive and save lives through the Underground Railroad? Read about Tubman’s early experiences with the natural world and the way she used her extensive knowledge throughout her heroic life in this article from the Audubon Society.

Shaped by the West Wind: Nature and History in Georgian Bay

Shaped by the West Wind, by environmental historian Claire Campbell, traces how humans have interacted with the Georgian Bay environment over the last few centuries: how the natural world has shaped communities, and how our perceptions and priorities have played out in the land around us. You are guaranteed to learn something new and think more deeply about this place we love.

Read more here.

Illumination in the Flatwoods

In 1991, Joe Hutto rescued some Wild Turkey eggs, and began an adventure that would consume the next two years of his life. From the moment they hatched, the young turkeys recognized Hutto as their parent, giving him both tremendous responsibility and incredible access to their inner lives as they grew up and explored the meadows, forests, and wetlands of northern Florida. Through spending almost every day with the turkeys, Hutto came to discover just how incredible the instincts, intelligence, and curiosity of these birds are, and he developed deep relationships that would shape his understanding of himself and the natural world. Illumination in the Flatwoods is a diary of his time with the turkeys, and a fascinating read.


Things to Watch & Listen to

Striking Balance

TVO produced this excellent series several years ago which gives hour-long profiles of eight of Canada’s Biosphere Reserves. Our own Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve is the subject of episode 5, and the entire series is worth watching. Watch all the episodes for free online here.

The Nature of Things

Months worth of quality nature viewing is at your fingertips with The Nature of Things, available on CBC Gem and YouTube. Older episodes are also available free for a limited time through CBC’s Curio Collection. We especially recommend watching the 2007 special Geologic Journey: The Great Lakes, featuring GBLT board member and geologist Dr. Nick Eyles, and the late renowned Georgian Bay painter Ed Bartram, as they explore the unique features of Georgian Bay’s rockscapes.

The Messenger

The Messenger is a Canadian documentary that showcases the marvels of bird migration and the current plight faced by songbirds worldwide. It is a powerful and eye-opening call to action.

The Messenger is available to watch for free on Vimeo until May 19th, as well as through Kanopy, a streaming service available to cardholders at many public libraries (including Georgian Bay Township, Toronto, and many more). It is also available for purchase through iTunes.

Birds of North America

Birds of North America is a YouTube series by American birder Jason Ward, which introduces viewers to different birds, people, events, and organizations in the bird world. The series explores why birds matter to so many people, and focuses on increasing access to birding and nature for people of all backgrounds. After watching, you will be inspired to pick up your binoculars!


Explore the fascinating worlds of specialized scientific disciplines with Ologies, a fun podcast that spends an hour each week asking experts the questions that amateurs want answers to. Learn about planariology (worms on the cutting edge of science!), penguinology (what it sounds like), plumology (feathers), and so much more. Find it wherever you get your podcasts, or online here.

Birding While Black

The Audubon Society hosted two eye-opening and inspiring panel discussions last week on the topic Birding While Black. Panelists included well-known and up-and-coming Black scientists, birders, and science communicators who shared their experiences, their love of nature, and their passion for making sure that the natural world is accessible to everyone.
Recordings of both are available on the Audubon Society’s facebook page: view Panel 1 here or Panel 2 here.

Field Recordings

Field Recordings is a podcast that records the sounds of places all over the world. You might be sitting in your home workspace, but you’ll be listening to the dawn chorus of birds and monkeys in Ethiopia, seals splashing around in Scotland, or daily goings-on in an alleyway in Beirut.

Find Field Recordings wherever you get your podcasts, or online here.

LandMark Speaker Series

Did you miss any of our online LandMark Speaker Series events? Catch up on the recordings here. Topics include Georgian Bay’s disappearing lighthouses, turtle research and conservation, climate change, and more to come.

In Defense of Plants

In Defense of Plants is a podcast dedicated to celebrating the fascinating flora of our world – too often overlooked as we focus on the attention-grabbing animals around us. Episodes feature scientists and other passionate individuals and cover topics including how flies have influenced orchid evolution, efforts to save rare plants from extinction, the tiny, ancient trees that grow on Ontario’s cliff faces, and much more. Find In Defence of Plants wherever you get your podcasts, or online here.