Parks Canada video makes the case for a moose cull

 

Parks Canada released a video yesterday explaining how the extreme overpopulation of moose in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park threatens the area’s boreal forest—a region of spruce, fir, tamarack, and yellow birch that covers much of northern Canada, but only a shrinking portion of the Cape Breton highlands in Nova Scotia.

[video link]

One of many explainers on the Parks and Natural Resources Canada websites (see also here, here, and here) describes how the situation got out of hand:

[I]n the 1970s, spruce budworm consumed large areas of mature boreal forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, removing 90% of the forest cover in some areas. This, in turn, created a flush of new growth of young trees and shrubs—perfect food for moose.

With lots of food and few predators, the moose population in northern Cape Breton grew rapidly. Since that time the state of the boreal forest has declined. Large areas that were once forest are unable to regenerate as moose have browsed any seedlings that grew over 30 cm high. These over-browsed and stunted trees have started to die and have now been replaced by a thick and persistent mat of grass and ferns.

Already, Moose have converted 11 percent of the highlands from boreal forest to grasslands. Loss of forest cover threatens such federal species at risk as the Bicknell’s thrush, and provincial species at risk such as American marten and Canada lynx.

There are now four times as many moose in the highlands as a healthy, balanced forest can sustain. Parks staff are experimenting with several approaches to the problem, including exclosures (areas that are fenced to keep moose out), controlled fires, and a controversial cull of moose in the North Mountain area, begun by Mi’kmaq hunters last fall, then postponed after a confrontation by non-native protesters (who alternately oppose, and demand a piece of, the cull), then finally completed in December.

H/T: HMcD

 

How news coverage of rare events distorts childrearing

 

school-prison-600x224

Yesterday, I saddled up a favourite hobby horse, the unintended and harmful impact of overprotecting children, a policy increasingly enforced by child protection workers and police. An interesting response from longtime Contrarian reader Tim Segulin points out the perverse dynamic by which the extreme rarity of stranger attacks on children all but insures the news media will turn them into sordid grief porn.

Sadly, children do get abducted, sometimes raped, sometimes even murdered. Thankfully these are very, very, rare events—so rare that when they do happen they make sensational headline news.

stranger-danger2Despite the intense tragedy, this kind of story must be manna from heaven for news media. Stories these days include crying, pleading parents, shocked local community members, and understated, resolute police. (Remember when people who had lost their composure were never presented on TV?)

Such intense human interest stories have always put bums on seats before advertisers and sold newspapers. They are both absorbing television and implied cautionary tales, the very essence of news. The consequence seems to be that people remember the vague outlines of them for a long time and come to believe this kind of thing is happening all the time. I’ll bet you still recall the name Holly Jones.

[Here I would normally link to one of the stories commemorating the 10th anniversary of Jones’s death, but those I could find were so nauseatingly prurient, I have reluctantly linked instead to the Wikipedia entry about her killer. No disrespect intended.] Back to Segulin:

keep-them-safe-logo1Crimes against children are by definition the ultimate motherhood issue, and that makes them political. Either the police are seen as community heroes for arresting “the bastard”—although at this point an alleged perpetrator’s guilt has not yet been proven in court—and reuniting the child with their grateful family, or their actions are seen to have failed to prevent a tragedy, and hard questions will inevitably arise.

mom and baby flippedCarefully managed, such tragedies offer excellent political opportunities to opposition parties:

  • Why has this government repeatedly ignored police warnings about inadequate funding?
  • Why are sentences for serious crimes so lax?
  • Why does the parole system for which this government is responsible allow such people back on the street?
  • Why didn’t the government see this coming?

Nobody will explicitly say so, but with the right management, careers in policing, law, news media, and politics can be made from such tragedies.

Although these events are really rare, they are hyped in such intrusive detail that they instil irrational fear in parents, simply because they dearly love their kids. It’s like fear of flying—no matter how often you quote the statistics showing it is much more dangerous to drive on public streets than to fly, people will believe what they want to.

After the jump, Segulin recounts the level of freedom he was shown as a child in a much larger city than Halifax, and the absurd steps he had to go through to volunteer on his son’s school trips. Read more »

How to make children truly unsafe—updated

bill-wood-and-jane-kansas

The best thing about this CBC story, which plumbs the perils of being kind to strange children, is the photo of Jane Kansas and Bill Wood.

The worst is the evil practice it exposes: conditioning children to be fearful of everyone and everything; conditioning grownups not to engage children under any but the most rare and strictly supervised circumstances, such as Thanksgiving dinner with the cousins.

We are acclimating our children to a sterile, cosseted, predictable, and straited world—in short, a world that does not exist. In the process, we deprive them of the opportunity to interact with Kansas, Wood, and their ilk.

Don’t go out of my sight. Don’t explore the world. Don’t take chances. Don’t make mistakes you might learn from. And heaven forfend, don’t board a school bus while white flakes drift magically from the sky.

We ill-prepare children for life, and—contrary to the risk brokers—by doing so we make them less safe, not more so.

[Update] I overlooked this CBC story, linked to in the CBC piece about Kansas and Wood, about a stay-at-home mother in Winnipeg who received two intrusive visits from a Child Protection Worker after an anonymous complaint that her children, Age 10 and 5, were playing in the back yard.

She said she was asked about her children’s level of safety, and questions such as what she does when she lets her kids outside, whether they knew what to do if a stranger approached, whether she and her husband drink or do drugs, and whether they’ve had past CFS involvement.

The worker inspected her children’s bedrooms and the inside of her fridge, and asked about family supports and finances.

For the crime of letting their children play in a fenced backyard. Words fail me.

A spokes person for the agency told the CBC:

Children under the age of 12 may be left without direct supervision, but there needs to be some provisions around the safety of the child,” said Stoker. That includes factors like the age of the child, their location, whether there’s a safety plan or supervision plan, the amount of time left unattended and a safe environment.

All this, of course, under the not at all veiled threat of having the children apprehended (read: stolen by the state) if the terrified parent did not cooperate with this incredibly intrusive, warrantless search.

When I think about how those DCS-approved “factors” might have applied to my now middle-aged children, the list goes something like this:

  • Age of child: 5 and up.
  • Location: Kempt Head, a largely uninhabited area of several square kilometres.
  • Safety plan: One long blast on the fog horn, start making your way home; several short blasts, come home immediately.
  • Supervision plan: The 10-year-old supervised the 5-year-old, often arbitrarily.
  • Amount of time left unattended: after school ’til supper; after supper ’til dark; all day on weekends.

Hazards popular with our kids included: a farm pond full of frogs and salamanders, a barrachois pond, the Bras d’Or Lake, row boats, fishing hooks, thin ice, sleds, ice clampers, horses, cows, electric fences, geese, barbed wire, a very occasional bear or moose, gypsum sinkholes, deep woods. All in all, a pretty sweet childhood, thank you very much.

A few centuries ago, when I was 11, my parents began letting me sail our little daysailer alone on the bay near our house. One day when I was a mile or more from our dock, a sudden gust of wind capsized the boat. Fortunately, two strangers came along in a motor boat and towed me home. (That’s strangers. Rhymes with dangers.)

How the press gallery misread the country’s reaction to elbowgate

Ruth Ellen Brosseau

If denizens of Canada’s Parliamentary Press Gallery used the Victoria Day weekend to visit with family and friends back home, they will have noticed a vast gulf between their impression of elbowgate and the views of citizens at large.

Gallery reporters pounced on Prime Minister Trudeau’s gaff with alacrity rarely displayed during the dark decade of Harper. CBC reporter Catherine Cullen pronounced it “clearly the worst day this prime minister has had in office.” Many early reports ignored the role of the NDP in provoking the confrontation, and failed to indicate Trudeau’s elbowing of MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau was inadvertent—though the video makes this incontrovertible.

One-sided initial accounts were followed by editorials condemning Trudeau and declaring his honeymoon over. At Maclean’s, Paul Wells called his behaviour “loutish,” a “hissy fit,” and worse than anything Harper ever did in the House. (To his credit, Wells was one of the first to note the NDP were “buttering the bread of their grievance a yard thick.”) Aaron Wherry wrote that Trudeau’s misstep reflected such “character traits” as “impatience, impulsiveness, bravado, pugnacity.” He suggested it might become symbolic “of something deeply wrong with the Trudeau government.” Writing in The Guardian, the normally moderate Stephen Maher called Trudeau’s behaviour “thuggish.” And on it went.

Perhaps Parliament Hill regulars discounted the NDP’s juvenile jockeying to keep Conservative Whip Gord Brown from taking his seat because such stuff and nonsense is so commonplace in the House, but the public is not so jaded. In a widely shared blog post, NDP supporter Rob McCaghren of Nanaimo wrote:

Watching Tom Mulcair and his caucus create a wall of bodies with which to block Conservative whip Gordon Brown from getting to his seat for the vote on bill C-14 was like watching a clique of jocks blocking the new kid from getting to his locker. Or the shy kid from getting out of the washroom. It was weird, passive aggressive, and horribly childish….

While I can’t say PM Trudeau was in the right to cross the floor like he did, I absolutely understand why he did. Seeing this display of prepubescent posturing, he walked over, took Gordon Brown by the elbow, escorted him through a crowd of grown adults acting like children, and sent him on to his seat with a pat on the shoulder so the vote could go ahead. The way I saw it, it was a gesture of assistance–the NDP acting like brats, grinning and smirking while blocking the path between a whip and his seat, and the Prime Minister of Canada–an elected leader of the country who has the task of leading–comes over and puts an end to their silliness by getting Brown to his seat.

Press gallery reporters have been chafing under the PM’s extended honeymoon. They don’t like Justin nearly as much as the public does, and some were overly eager to take him down a peg.

In any case, Trudeau responded with a string of increasingly abject apologies for his odd behaviour, which is what the public wants in such a circumstance, while tone deaf opposition MPs milked the episode with quavering voices and offensive attempts to conflate the events with the deadly serious issue of violence against women.

Given the sexist slime that rains down on young women caught up in such events, I’m reluctant to criticize Brosseau. She has been an exemplary MP whose work and determination put the lie to the classist, ageist derision that greeted her accidental election in  2011. That makes it doubly disappointing to see her embrace the role of victim.

The best summary of the public reaction I’ve seen came in a public Facebook post by Cape Bretoner Molly Johnson:

1.  In Grade 9, my class and I travelled to Ottawa to see Parliament. We sat in on Question Period and I remember very clearly that we fourteen and fifteen year olds who could barely sit still were decidedly more mature than those on the floor. Parliament is not a civilized place. It could be, it should be, but for the most part it’s a bunch of bickering children. I’m fairly certain this is common knowledge, just it would seem, not to the Parliamentarians themselves.

2.  At Whole Foods one time, I was collecting a stack of baskets from under a register, and as I stood up and turned with them (perhaps a bit too exuberantly) I smacked an unsuspecting customer right in the chest. Being the sort of person whose default is to say I’m sorry regardless of who is at fault, I obviously apologized immediately, asked if she was okay, the whole rigamarole. As far as I could tell, she was pretty unscathed, but immediately saw she might benefit from my mistake. She demanded a manager and cried bloody murder about me till they gave her free parking or groceries or something. The first time I apologized, I absolutely meant it—I definitely didn’t intend to hit her. Funnily enough, the longer it went on, the less sorry I felt.

3.  Sitting on the subway one day, a person close to me got up abruptly, their bag swung wildly, hit my face, and sent my glasses flying onto the floor. They exited the car none the wiser, I eventually found my glasses, and despite feeling a bit disgruntled, carried on with my day. Two pearls of wisdom from my youth: Accidents happen + Don’t cry over spilt milk.

4.  There are actual people with actual problems in the world.

5.  For the first time in a long time, I see qualities in our Prime Minister which I know in myself, for better or for worse. I much prefer this to anything else currently on offer (except for Elizabeth May, she da bomb). I definitely prefer it to the soulless backroom dictatorship of one Stephen Harper. How wonderfully normal that our Prime Minister has recognizable emotions. How refreshing that he would take ownership of his actions, even when others share the blame. If I was Trudeau and this was my worst day in office so far, I’d pop some champagne.

I doubt Trudeau is popping champagne, but Wednesday’s fracas damaged him less and the NDP more than media coverage suggests.

The men and women who report on Parliament need to get out more.

Live streaming the Blue Nose wheelchair speedsters

I’m going to test my technical skills to live stream the start—and with luck, the finish—of the Blue Nose Marathon’s invitation-only, 5K “showcase” for elite wheelchair athletes, beginning Saturday at 2:45 p.m.

You can watch on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Download the free Periscope app, log with your Twitter account, and follow me at @kempthead.

Gus Reed, the disability rights activist who makes his home in Nova Scotia half the year, can’t be in Halifax tomorrow to witness this first-ever event. Since he single-handedly prodded ScotiaBank and the Blue Nose committee into their long overdue gesture toward equal treatment, I wanted to find a way for him to watch. Periscope seems to be it.

The race, which features Canadian Josh Cassidy, holder of the all-time record for the fastest time at the Boston Marathon, promises to be exciting. Please join me on Periscope.

A Little Free Library in Diligent River

Thursday evening, I drove to an event 12 kilometres west of Parrsboro along the Bay of Fundy shore, one of the great drives of Nova Scotia. In the village of Diligent River, this structure stopped me cold:

Little Public Library copy

Leave a book, take a book is the idea.

As I’ve since learned, Little Public Libraries are a thing, pioneered seven years ago by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who built the first one in the shape of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a teacher who liked to read.

Bol made a few more for friends, and the idea spread like a Fort Mac fire in the age of climate change. Bt the start of this year, there were 36,000 registered Little Free Libraries in Canada and the US, including about a dozen in Nova Scotia. Many more are unregistered, like the one I stumbled upon in Diligent River.

Little Free Libraries Map NS

Turns out the Little Free Libraries didn’t just facilitate reading, they also shored up the sense of community in rural hamlets and urban neighbourhoods.

“I didn’t expect to meet people,” Nicole MacDonald of Higgins St. in Truro told Chronicle-Herald freelancer Jennifer Taplin in 2013, after her husband built an LFL.

“They frequently knock on her door to ask her about the little library in her front yard,” Taplin reported. “A man brought to her attention a book he found in there called How to Build a Flying Saucer. A four-year-old boy left a thank-you note, and she was invited to [a neighbour’s] house for tea.”

As of yet, there are no registered Little Free Libraries in Cape Breton, but we’ll fix that this summer.

 

Separate, unequal status for wheelchair speedsters at the Blue Nose

boston-marathon-jc1

If the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon Society ran Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson might be allowed to participate in a “base-stealing showcase” on the sidelines of the World Series or the All-Star Game.

That’s the kind of circumscribed role the Blue Nose Society has grudgingly afforded wheelchair athletes at this year’s event: a 5K, invitation-only, “showcase” for elite wheelchair racers.

Mind you, it still promises to be an exciting race. I’m looking forward to seeing the fastest wheelchair marathoner in the world, Canadian Josh Cassidy. He won the 2012 Boston Marathon wheelchair division in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 25 seconds—the fastest wheelchair marathon ever recorded.

The photo at the top of this post shows Cassidy crossing the finish line in Boston. It’s not counted as a world record, Wikipedia explains, only because the Boston Marathon course is deemed ineligible for world records.

Nova Scotia para athlete Ben Brown will also take part in Saturday’s wheelchair event. The speed of these exceptionally accomplished sportsmen is going to open some sleepy Nova Scotia eyes.

But, seriously, is this baby step the best our sports establishment can do? The Boston Marathon has had a wheelchair division of its main event since 1975, London since 1983, New York City since 2000. Tokyo, Germany, and Chicago all have wheelchair divisions for their full 26-mile, 385-yard main events.

Nearly half a century after the breakthrough in Boston, Halifax will hold a 5K “showcase.” All the other events this weekend—men, women, old people, children, 2K, 4K, 5K, 10K, half and full marathons—are called “races.” Wheelchair users, including one of the finest athletes in the world, are consigned to a “showcase.” And you have to scour the Blue Nose website to find any mention of it. How fitting for North America’s most inaccessible city.

Enough patronizing! Scotiabank and the Blue Nose society must move to full wheelchair participation in time for next year’s races.

Note: This year’s Blue Nose wheelchair event will start on Sackville Street, near Queen, at 2:55 p.m., Saturday.

TatyanaMcFadden

University of Illinois student and paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden.

If you’re going to be contrarian, pick harder targets

cosmic-string

Lately I’ve felt twinges of regret for naming my blog “Contrarian,” since the word so frequently connotes sophomoric opposition for the sake of opposing. Thus I was relieved to discover science journalist John Horgan’s delightful piece on the Scientific American website titled: Dear “Skeptics,” Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More:

I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong….

“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions.

stephen-hawking-net-worth1Horgan goes on to debunk string theory and multiverse theory (theoretical frameworks for physics backed by Stephen Hawking), simulation (a notion advocated by Neil de Grasse Tyson that our universe is a simulation created by super-intelligent aliens), and singularity (the proposition promoted by Google Engineering Director Ray Kurzweil that that “we’re on the verge of digitizing our psyches and uploading them into computers, where we can live forever”).

Turning to medicine, Horgan dismisses the crazy belief that American medicine is the best in the world before challenging the efficacy of mammograms and PSA screening tests, and denouncing the psychiatric profession for transforming itself into Big Pharma’s marketing department.

Finally he attacks some recent scientific bumpf positing that humans are genetically programmed to pursue warfare. War, he argues, is the hardest target of all.

You might also think that religious fanaticism—and especially Muslim fanaticism–is the greatest threat to peace. That’s the claim of religion-bashers like Dawkins, Krauss, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and the late, great warmonger Christopher Hitchens.

The United States, I submit, is the greatest threat to peace. Since 9/11, U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have killed 370,000 people. That includes more than 210,000 civilians, many of them children. These are conservative estimates….

In the last century, prominent scientists spoke out against U.S. militarism and called for the end of war. Scientists like Einstein, Linus Pauling, and the great skeptic Carl Sagan. Where are their successors? Noam Chomsky is still bashing U.S. imperialism, but he’s almost 90. He needs help!

Maybe the reason I’ve always loved bashing homeopathy is that it’s just so darned easy. The much harder task is to look skeptically at beliefs we hold dear. There’s plenty of that in Horgan’s piece. Read the whole thing, and thanks to Alicia Penney for pointing it out.

Note to readers: I have a lengthening backlog of topics for blog posts, including: Newly appointed Nalcor saviour Stan Marshall’s almost certainly bogus claim that he’ll consider scrapping the Muskrat Falls project; a long and revealing interview with the Chronicle-Herald’s much-demonized CEO Mark Lever; a couple of practical suggestions for dialing back wasteful and authoritarian security precautions at airports and the Nova Scotia Legislature; a curious note about highway sign fonts; the media gang-up on anyone who dares suggest the Fort Mac fires should spark action to fight climate change; Nova Scotia’s disappearing gas stations; the refusal of the Minister of Environment and the Chief Medical Officer of Health to enforce restaurant washroom standards; how failure to follow tendering rules led to the McNeil Government’s first financial fiasco; and a skeptical—yes, skeptical—look at the confidence racket by which we establish judicial salaries in Canada. Phew!

I aspire to greater diligence, but the truth is I’m better at dreaming up blog post topics than I am at getting them written. Also, the pay isn’t great here at Contrarian World HQ, and the older I get, the less urgency I detect for the world to receive my opinions. I will try to do better, but you probably have time to duck out for a puff.

Will Newfoundland kill Nova Scotia’s 50-year energy plan?

cp-nl-muskrat-falls-PD-600A

The Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador is the mainstay, keystone, and linchpin of Nova Scotia’s energy plan for the next half century. It promises enormous benefits for us—and for Newfoundland—in a setting where no practical alternative exists. Without it, the mainmast snaps, the arch collapses, and the wheels come off.

That’s why last week’s reckless blustering by Stan Marshall, newly appointed CEO of Nalcor, Newfoundland’s troubled government-owned energy corporation, about possible cancelation of the half-built project, ought to alarm Premier Stephen McNeil.

[Disclosure: In 2011 and 2012, I carried out writing projects for Emera Inc., involving the Maritime Link, the undersea cable that will deliver Muskrat Falls power to Nova Scotia and beyond.]

Muskrat Falls is an 824 megawatt generating station on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador. New transmission lines, including two undersea links, will connect it to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and thence to New Brunswick and New England. An additional line will connect Muskrat Falls to Labrador’s Churchill Falls generating station, and from there to Quebec and the rest of North America.

This new power loop will, for the first time, give Newfoundland and Nova Scotia a robust connection to the North American power grid. With that will come access to market-priced electricity when local sources are unavailable or overly expensive (as they have been for much of our recent history).

This represents a huge change in our energy regime. Newfoundland currently enjoys no electrical connection to the rest of the world. Nova Scotia has only a slender connection to New Brunswick along a power corridor so congested with electricity bound for Moncton and PEI as to be all but unavailable for delivering electricity to Nova Scotia.

In return for building the 124 km Maritime Link under the Cabot Strait, Emera will get enough power to close most of Nova Scotia’s remaining coal-fired plants, an eventuality Ottawa forced us to plan for even under the climate-change-skeptical Harper government.

Getting off coal means Nova Scotia power consumers will no longer be sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to sketchy mine operators in countries with dubious labor laws and human rights records.

Replacing coal with hydro will increase the amount of fuel-free wind power we can add to our system. Wind turbines require backup power for times when the wind isn’t blowing. Coal plants can’t provide that backup because they turn on and off too slowly, but hydro makes an ideal backup supply.

Newfoundland’s new connection to the North American grid will enable it to close the decrepit, 45-year-old, oil-fired plant at Holyrood, which is long past its best-before date. It opens the way to continued development of Newfoundland and Labrador’s vast, untapped wind and hydro power potential.

Ultimately, power from Muskrat Falls will help us bridge to the day, decades from now, when tidal power becomes an economical source of electricity. When that happens, Nova Scotia, as custodian of the largest tidal power supply in the world, will become a green energy behemoth.

Unfortunately, the new Liberal governments in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have both focused on the short-term political goal of finding fault with their predecessors. In Nova Scotia, this meant pre-election pandering to public hatred of Nova Scotia Power with invidious criticism of everything from Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Link to energy conservation programs and rate increases caused by greening the grid.

In Newfoundland, lower oil prices have slammed the economy twice: decimating offshore oil revenues and curbing remittances from oil-industry workers who travel back and forth to Alberta. That led to a fiscal meltdown, and a provincial budget filled with tax increases and service cuts. Premier Dwight Ball thought it clever to blame the mess on cost overruns at Muskrat Falls.

To reign in those cost overruns, Ball brought in Marshall, who, as CEO of a rival energy company, Fortis Inc., had publicly opposed Muskrat Falls. Within minutes of his appointment, and before studying any of the the complex, multi-party contracts governing the Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Link, Marshall was musing about killing the half-built project.

Next: How serious is Marshall?

Behold, the mighty hummingbird returns

Male ruby-throated Hummingbirds began appearing on mainland Nova Scotia last week, according to the first arrival map at Hummingbird.net. It’s only a matter of days before we get word of a Caper hummer.

2016 Hummer Map April 27

Males, which are easily distinguished by their iridescent red throats, arrive ahead of the females. Nova Scotia’s first hummer of the year appeared on April 19, and half a dozen more have been reported since. Each early report is recorded with a dot, colour-coded in half-month increments, so its easy to track the northward progress.

The hummers that entertain us at feeders for the next five months likely spent the winter in Mexico, in Central America, or on Caribbean islands. For most, the migration included an astounding, non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, which ornithologists believe they complete in 18-20 hours. (The widespread yarn about hitchhiking on larger birds is, apparently, a myth.)

The little birds that make this twice-a-year, 5,000 kilometre trek, weigh a shade over three grams. If you could fit them into an envelope, you could mail eight of them with a first-class stamp.

Hummingbird.net has been tracking the northern hummer migration for 20 years, so the site has a somewhat dated look and feel. It contains links to all the previous maps, so you can look for trends—although it may be hard to tell which changes are real, and which are merely the result of better reporting.

One interesting development is the appearance of Ruby-throated hummingbirds in Newfoundland and Labrador, previously thought to be outside their range. The first Newfoundland hummer appeared on the 2004 map, eight years into the project. Another showed up in 2006, and then 2011. Last year there were reports throughout the island of Newfoundland, and one in southern Labrador.

Lanny Chambers, the St. Louis man who maintains the site, believes window feeders serve a useful purpose:

Ruby-throats are intensely inquisitive and thus easily attracted to feeders, where males in particular typically display aggressive territoriality toward rival hummers, other birds, and even insects such as bees, butterflies, and sphinx moths.

They quickly become accustomed to human presence, and will swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing, possibly as potential food sources. Feeders hung at windows attract as many visitors as ones farther from structures, and the bird that claims a feeder as its territory may spend much of the day perched nearby, guarding the food source against intruders.

Many hummingbird watchers find “Hummer Warz” endlessly entertaining, although the chases are obviously serious business to the hungry birds. For a short period immediately after fledging, a female will tolerate the presence of her own young at the feeder, but they are soon treated the same as other adult birds – as rivals in pursuit of the food necessary to prepare for the fall migration.

If you spot a male hummer in Cape Breton over the next few days, Chambers invites reports using this form.

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