Biodiversity in the Schoolyard

(Above: At the pond at Amaolo. Photo: Jen Baker)

In any neighbourhood of the city, you can still find a little piece of nature. From the manicured park to your neighbour’s pollinator garden, the lichen growing along the street trees to the wild woodlot filled with fungi. The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club is bringing students out into the schoolyard and beyond to discover their local biodiversity. They are opening their eyes to the world, noticing the great variety of plants, the different insects crawling by, discovering the world of lichen, and listening to every note of a bird’s song for the first time. By learning about biodiversity, kids are learning about individual species, interconnected ecosystems, and the world around them.

Discovering binoculars at Amaolo. (Photo: J. Baker)

Armed with field guides, binoculars, hand lenses, and iPads, students spread out around the schoolyard or nearby woodlot. They were surprised by the variety beyond the lawn, and loved that technology could be combined with outdoor play. Many were impressed to hear that we have more than one kind of “maple” tree. Some kids were happy to sit and flip through the field guides, marvelling at the things they could see. We introduced them to the free iNaturalist app, where curious nature-lovers and seasoned naturalists alike can submit their photos and observations and connect with the greater community. iPad savvy kids took to iNaturalist immediately and began snapping photos of plants and bugs, clicking “What did you see” to use the app’s photo recognition to identify the species, or at least to help narrow it down. They experimented with taking photos of a variety of features: the flower, the leaves, the arrangements of the branches, learning how all these characteristics help to distinguish one species from another. They became citizen scientists for the day, and were excited to learn that naturalists from around the area were verifying or refining their observations, often just minutes after they were submitted.

Students also learned about major threats to biodiversity, with a big focus on invasive species. At Captain Cornelius Park forest, Westmount High School students worked hard at removing European Buckthorn with extractigators. They were athletic and competitive, and we were impressed by the size of the trees they took on! Other students helped pull Garlic Mustard or pick up garbage, combing the forest for every wind-blown scrap. As we moved through the forest, we were planting native species to replace the Buckthorn and Garlic Mustard. This was a chance to increase the healthy biodiversity by adding a variety of local trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, attracting native pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. We collected air quality data, noticing how green spaces had lower air particulate pollution. Students got a sense of how biodiversity plays a role in our neighbourhoods beyond landscaping and pretty flowers; it helps to create resilient ecosystems and mitigate climate change.

Drawing at Amaolo. (Photo: C. Zanchetta)

Many classes voyaged to the Amaolo Nature Sanctuary for a field trip, where we explored a site that has been under restoration and management for several years. For the first time this year, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker, who stuck around long enough for all the kids to get a good look and hear its laugh. Students noticed a big difference in biodiversity in this sanctuary compared to their urban schoolyards, spotting many species they had never seen before, especially enjoying the trail down to the pond to look for frogs and turtles.

Thanks to our funders supporting these various biodiversity activities! We appreciate the support from the Hamilton Community Foundation through the Edith H. Turner Foundation Fund and the Kenneth Boothe Young & Marie Catherine Young Fund, and the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. These contributions are helping to get kids out into nature and bring nature back to the city.

You, too, can discover our unique local biodiversity with a BioBlitz this autumn! Join us along with taxonomic experts, citizen scientists, and the general public at the Royal Botanical Gardens on September 21, 2019 for a day of guided hikes, as well as a native plant sale. We will get a snapshot of Hamilton’s biodiversity on the first day of fall. Come on out for a hike or two and bring some wildflowers home to join your pollinator garden. Already an expert? Use your skills to help fellow naturalists inventory our local biodiversity with a special blitz on Friday, September 20, 2019.

Register at rbg.ca/bioblitz and see what you can find.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of The Wood Duck.

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