Category: Endangered Species



Robins having a meal in the Pyracantha ( Firethorne)


I have been distracted as I have been gardening this fall. Many of the familiar birds are heading to warmer places and stopping for nourishment along the way and the regular fall and winter residents are gathering in old familiar places.


As I ready the gardens for winter I am leaving the perennial seed heads standing, giving the birds the food they are searching for and me the pleasure of their company.

I am reminded that I can help our plants along by giving them a bit more of what they need to survive; water, nourished soil and the optimum placement .

Watering when it is dry, adding high nutrient compost when they are actively growing and pruning all but spring flowering shrubs during the winter when they are defoliated and dormant are good gardening practices.

Mulch, which can be spread at any time, is particularly timely for fall. The garden expects organic material, just like the forest expects fallen leaves. Leaves and debris settle as mulch during the fall rains and winter snowfalls, helping to retain moisture and inhibit weeds.

Our gardens can then do “What Comes Naturally”


Now, I just need to get back to fall gardening chores and stop being so distracted by the birds.

Apples Anyone ?

Apples Anyone ?


We all enjoy apples for attributes like great flavour, crunch and versatility. Have you ever wondered where apples come from?

Dr. David Maxwell had members and guests full attention as he described his passion to help ensure heritage varieties continue to grow and produce.


He guided us along explaining the botany and history, as well as the factors determining the ascendance and eclipse of particular cultivars using visual examples of treasured varieties, many that he grows.

Apples originated in Kazakhstan where they grow as small as grapes and as large as pumpkins. They need to be humanly grafted on suitable root stock to reproduce. There are more than 12000 named cultivars that have been selected for climate, purpose, season, keeping, disease resistance, resistance to shipping, taste and modern marketing. For example a recent cultivar, the Honey Crisps, were created by market demand for large size, sweetness, colourful appearance and, of course, crispness. We all have our personal preferences for eating and cooking and some were surprised to learn that Bramleys are the premier cooking apple of the world.

Click on any picturefor a slide show

After his informative presentation on the attributes of apples, Dr. Maxwell treated members to a variety of tastes of apples, apple crisp, apple sauce, apple jelly and apple cider. Members enthusiastically took up the challenge to discover which apple tastes they preferred, choosing from over 15 varieties.

Apple anyone?

Stop, Look, Listen …

Stop, Look, Listen …

Stop, Look, Listen … touch, smell, feel

4 April a visit IMG_3126The world outside our doors are filled with things that buzz, squawk, flutter, scurry, build, burrow, chase and soar. The viewing is fun, free, available 24/7, and there’s always something new!

Many gardeners have been listening to the wild voices, watching their wild neighbours while they work, eat and play – birds gathering nesting material, feeding on berries, seed heads or insects, or enjoying a splash in a birdbath; butterflies and bees sipping nectar from flowers.

Touch a picture for a slide show.

What a thrill! We also have opportunities to feel nature first hand – to smell a flower, to capture silky milkweed seeds on the wind or a “whirlybird” maple seed twirling to the ground below and gather a few pine cones, oak nuts or leaves around us.


Some of our members have taken time to relax a little and get closer to nature in their gardens. They just stopped, occasionally, during the summer and early fall, sat quietly and watched what was going on around them; the butterflies, moths, bees, birds and other creatures. Some even created habitat to provide shelter, safe cover and winter hibernation sites.


Getting in tune with the living and breathing creatures that are in our gardens is a lot like meditation, a brilliant way to start, incorporate into lunch break or end the day.

Pictures shared : Sheila KMcR, Sheila C S, Sylvia, Jocelyn, Pam D and Brenda … thanks all

Little Treasures

Little Treasures

There is much more to those little buzzing creatures than meets the eye and more of them than many realize. Sue Westby, bee specialist and also a member of Chester Garden Club had members and guests complete attention as she discussed how to recognize native species of bees, their role in the environment, and how to keep them content in our own gardens.


There are more than two hundred different species in Nova Scotia which are dependant on plants for their entire livelihood. They are hairy, have two pairs of wings, and elbowed antennae. The main bees discussed were: leafcutter bees, bumblebees, digger bees, mason bees and sweat bees.

Leafcutter bees are solitary bees. They range in size from fly size to honeybee size and nest in holes in wood.

Bumblebees are a large size social bee. Like most native bees, they carry pollen on their legs. Leafcutter bees and mason bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens.

Digger bees are a solitary, small to medium sized species that reside in the soil. They are rather specific when choosing plants and can be identified by their unique velvety area between their eyes.

Mason Bees are medium sized bees that don’t sting and are sometimes mistaken for flies. 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples.

Sweat bees are a small bee, some species are social but most are solitary and live in the soil or soft wood.

Most bees are not picky when choosing which flowers they visit and move from bloom to bloom as the season goes on. Some bees however, are specialists and live exclusively on one plant species.

Reproduction habits vary among species. For example: Bumblebees colonies last all growing season but in the fall, new Queens emerge, mate and find a place to hybernate underground over winter. They are the only ones to survive the winter. When it is warm enough they emerge from their den, find a nest site and begin to gather pollen. They lay a few eggs which develope into workers. Those workers then help feed the young from eggs the Queen continues to lay. These young develop quickly and become more workers for the colony which continues to grow this way until there are just about 100 workers supplying the colony. Towards the end of summer/early fall, males and new Queen develop, emerge and mate with the new, mated Queens overwintering to start the cycle over again.

Leafcutters make brood chambers inside a long tube shaped cavity, fill them with pollen and lay one egg per chamber. Throughout the rest of the year, the young develop in the chambers, until they overwinter as fully formed adults, ready to emerge by chewing their way out the next growing season.

Different bee species emerge at different times during the season. There are early, mid and late bee species from each species that emerge and live 4 to 6 weeks, pollinating flowers in bloom at that time.

Pollination in both natural ecosystems and human managed is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.

Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while interesting specialized relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.

In order to support bees in your garden you need to ensure there are blooms to support them throughout the seasons. There needs to be enough plants and a diversity of flowers within the garden as not all bees can use the same flowers. Also, providing water and nesting sites or commercially or home made homes is helpful.

When planning your garden Sue provided suggestions that encourages us to think like a pollinator:

Go Native-Pollinators are “best” adapted to local, native plants.

Bee friendly-Create pollinator friendly gardens.

Bee aware-observe pollinators and notice which flowers attract.

Bee Bountiful- Plant big patches of each species for better foraging efficiency.

Bee Diverse-Plant a diversity of flowering species. Use single form varieties ( roses, hollyhocks,dahlias)

Bee Showy-Flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season.

Bee homey-Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood boring beetle holes and leave stumps and old rodent burrows and fallen plant material for nesting bees.

Bee a little messy-most of our native bees (70%) nest underground so avoid using weed cloth or heavy mulch.

Bee Sunny-Provide areas with sunny bare soil that’s dry and well drained, preferably with south facing slopes.

Bee Gentle- Most bees will avoid stinging and use that behaviour only in self defence. Males don’t sting.

Bee Patient-It takes time for native plants to grow and for pollinators to find your garden.

And Bee Chemical Free-Pesticides and herbicides kill pollinators.

Let’s keep our native Nova Scotia Bees happy.

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish, Past, Present and Futureb97595864z-120160731150932000gliea12k-11

On Monday, September 19th, Andrew Breen gave a presentation on the history of the Atlantic Whitefish in the Petite Riviere and work currently being conducted by the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, Inland Fisheries and DFO Science, (Species at Risk) and the potential demise of the species.

Andrew Breen is a graduate of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Program at Malaspina – College, Nanaimo, B.C. A Chester resident for 14 years, Andy is currently employed by Coastal Action as a Fisheries Technician and Project Coordinator for the Atlantic Whitefish Recovery Project.

I did research for this blog & much of the information is from articles by Zack Metcalfe . I would like to give credit to Zack Metcalfe, freelance environmental journalist, author and writer of Shades of Green. He operates out of Halifax.

The Atlantic whitefish species, a member of the salmon family is so rare they can be found in only four lakes in all the world, three of which adjoin one another in Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg County.These three lakes, all near Hebbville, are the Hebb, Milipsigate and Minamkeak.

Andrew spoke to members and guests of Chester Garden Club telling us that the Atlantic whitefish is a beautiful species at first glance, silver on its sides and underbelly, with a back of either dark blue or green, and in these three lakes they grow to 20-25 centimetres. This was the very first species of fish to become formally “endangered” in Canada back in April 1984 and since then their circumstances haven’t improved much.

There was a time when they occupied two separate watersheds in Nova Scotia — the Petite Rivière, of which the above three lakes are a part, and Tusket River, on the province’s southern tip near Yarmouth. But damming and the introduction of invasive species destroyed the Tusket River population, its last confirmed member hooked in 1982. This left only Petite Rivière, an ecological stronghold of sorts, holding out against the growing threat of extinction.

Andrew told us the smallmouth bass, native to the Great Lakes of southern Ontario, have been in Petite Rivière since at least the late 1990s, likely introduced by anglers hoping to bring their favourite game fish closer to home. Since then these bass have multiplied and imposed their considerable appetites on this fragile ecosystem. Andrew’s cut them open in the past and found as many as 20 young-of-the-year gaspereau in a single bass’ stomach, and in one unfortunate case, the half digested body of an Atlantic Whitefish. These bass aren’t just out-competing whitefish for food and habitat; they’ve added whitefish to the menu.

And then there’s the chain pickerel, introduced sometime around 2010, Andrew guesses. While analyzing their stomach contents he’s discovered such oddities as muskrats, ducks, snakes, newts, frogs and in one famous instance, two baby snapping turtles, still alive when cut free from their fleshy prison. Andrew said a pickerel will eat anything that moves and is more than capable of taking an adult whitefish.

Together these invasive fish have grown like a cancer in Petite Rivière, infecting first Hebb Lake, then moving upstream to Milipsigate, somehow surmounting the dams separating these three water-bodies. Andrew said pickerel have recently reached Minamkeak Lake as well, the final link in the chain. But their spread hasn’t gone unchallenged.

In partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the provincial government, Andrew and his team have periodically gone electrofishing, sweeping known bass and pickerel habitat so these invaders can be paralyzed and removed en masse. In this way their populations have been controlled, but it’s doubtful they will ever be entirely done away with.

Andrew told us about an  enormous cage installed halfway up the fish way on the Petite Riviere that traps all ascending fish has allowed Andrew and his team to act as a sort of gatekeepers. The fish are netted, weighed and measured , and  all native species are returned. The  invasive species are are weeded out.whitefish2

Atlantic whitefish are fascinating in that some remain landlocked, living and breeding in the confines of freshwater lakes, while the rest spend their time in the coastal ocean, only travelling upstream to spawn.

Petite Rivière once hosted both, but when Hebb Dam and other obstructions were erected through this watershed the ocean dwellers were cut off from their spawning grounds and left to die downstream without giving rise to the next generation. Year after year, any whitefish foolish enough to fall below these dams was removed from the gene pool, until all courage was finally bred out of them.

Many of these obstructions have since been removed from Petite Rivière, but the urge to head seaward has not been rekindled in the Atlantic whitefish. Only 20 have ever been caught in the fishway, all in its first year of operation, but they were likely the result of captive-bred releases downstream. None have been seen since.

We haven’t seen an adult whitefish in two years,” he told us.

No one knows how many there are. The only evidence we have of their continued existence are the infant whitefish found each year in Hebb Lake at the base of Milipsigate Dam, carried over by the current and separated from their spawning parents.

Milipsigate Dam doesn’t have a fishway of its own, but it does have a rotary screwtrap, a bizarre contraption consisting of an empty metal cone held on its side, its open end facing the dam, kept in place by rafts and rope. In this way it funnels the majority of fish falling over the dam into a small holding tank at its base, where again Andrew and his colleagues take stock.

According to Andrew, people often haul boats into this watershed and fish despite regulations against doing so.

Apart from being the last remaining home of the whitefish these lakes are the water supply for Bridgewater, but people don’t often know that.  The people he’s encountered on these waters mean no harm, knowing no better than those who brought bass and pickerel here in the first place.

We learned that Petite Rivière can only support the Atlantic Whitefish as long as their work continues, removing invasive species and chauffeuring whitefish to safer waters.

All they can do is buy the species time.Andrew told us “Unless we do something fast, the (Atlantic whitefish) will become extinct..

The Mersey Biodiversity Facility in Milton, Queens County, was originally built to benefit local salmon but in 2000 it expanded its hatcheries to accommodate the Atlantic whitefish as well.

That year five adults were taken from Petite Rivière and used to spawn a captive breeding population, the first of its kind, so the life cycle of this animal could be better understood.

It was generally agreed the Atlantic whitefish wouldn’t be safe until they had established themselves outside of Petite Rivière, free from the menace of invasive species, and these captive-bred whitefish were just the pioneers for the job.

So from 2005-2008 nearly 12,000 of them were released in Anderson Lake, the fourth and final lake on Earth containing this uniquely Nova Scotian species. This was a trial run of sorts, to see how captive-bred whitefish fared in the wild.

Another 12,000 were released downstream in Petite Rivière between 2007-2009 in hopes of reviving the seafaring population, but it appears not to have worked. The Anderson Lake population persevered, however, with healthy growth observed among introduced whitefish from 2006-2010. There was yet no evidence they were reproducing on their own but these initial results were promising.

But before a final verdict could be obtained from Anderson Lake the whitefish captive breeding program was cancelled in 2012, a result of the Mersey Biodiversity Facility’s forthcoming closure. The few fish remaining in its tanks were dumped into the lake and this promising experiment in relocating the endangered whitefish was abandoned. There has been no monitoring of Anderson Lake since. Anderson Lake will have its pulse taken this fall, for the first time since 2012.

The Atlantic Whitefish is a species under siege in more ways than one.

Will they fall victim to a lack of funding and public awareness, or are the passions of the people and organizations mentioned enough to rescue them? Only time will tell.