By Wanda Brown-Maxfield –
2020 has of course been an unprecedented year with social distancing negatively impacting our ability to come together to share common interests. LWI has not been spared this blight however it is clear where there is a will there is a way4››; and LWI being in no short supply of will has found a way to forge ahead. The Indoor Committee, in particular, is to be commended on its ability to adapt, and more specifically its selection of September and October’s presenters, Jonathon Choquette and Jeremy Bensette.
Both presentations were informative and I think accurately reflect each presenter’s insight and passion for their respective natural ecological interests. Jonathon’s presentation highlights his work as lead biologist in the Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery program in South-Western Ontario while Jeremy’s presentation describes his remarkable big year in 2017. Some common themes were revealed aside from the obvious; the most apparent of which was that no man is an island when it comes to vital herpetological research or setting out to achieve a monumental goal like a big year. Jonathon outlines crucial partnerships with Wildlife Preservation Canada, ReNewzoo and various government bodies while Jeremy attributes his success in part to the support he received from friends and fellow birders, Josh Vandermeulen, his birding mentor, Alan Wormington and Vortex Optics Canada. Jonathon goes on to discuss the current plight of reptiles in general and more specifically that of the Massasauga Rattlesnake in Essex County as a result of habitat loss, road mortality and intentional killings by humans. He wraps up with a description of the first five chapters of his dissertation proposal entitled Improving Captive Breeding and Conservation Translocation Techniques for the Recovery of a temperate zone Rattlesnake. A highlight for me was Jonathon’s description of his design and implementation of a hibernacula for the Massasauga Rattlesnake and the significant difference this inventive tool achieves with respect to the overwintering survival rate of the rattlesnake.
Jeremy humbly describes the many challenges and triumphs he encounters along his 102,000 km trek back and forth across Ontario in his attempt to achieve a big year. He takes us along with him as he recounts his journey, a journey which begins in the early morning hours of January 1st, and wraps up in the twilight hours of December 31st and during which he will ultimately set a new record with 346 sightings. Jeremy outlines his pre-Big year preparations including his ‘big’ announcement to family and friends of his intent to achieve a ‘big year’. Highlights for Jeremy included colourful rarities such as the Painted Bunting (#229) and the White-faced Ibis (#231), the rarest bird, the Violet-Green Swallow (#301) and the much sought after, Tricolored Heron eventually sighted in Toronto. The Mountain Bluebird tied the existing record at #343; the Northern Gannet was the record-breaking bird at #344. If you are interested in knowing more about Jeremy’s big year, you can find his presentation on the LWI facebook page. If you would like to know more about Jonathon’s research with the Massasauga Rattlesnake, you can find his presentation on You Tube.