By Jonathan Riley, Hike Nova Scotia Board President
This piece originally appeared in In With the Tide, a publication of the The Bay of Fundy Discovery Centre Association
I recently had a lot of nature-fun earning the Hike Nova Scotia Biodiversity Challenge badge – Hike Nova Scotia has a series of these badges which reward people for hiking certain distances or for hiking certain trails – see hikenovascotia.ca for information on the wide variety of hiking badges you can earn.
Hike Nova Scotia’s Biodiversity badge was put together through a partnership with Nature Nova Scotia; and basically, the challenge is to observe the natural world around you as you hike. To earn the badge, you have to do 10 hikes and submit 10 observations from each hike via iNaturalist (see below for more info).
More by good luck than good management, I started working on this challenge just before a week of cross-province travel – so I ended up with a great snapshot of the timing of spring blooms across Nova Scotia.
My first hike, and most southerly and westerly, was at Balancing Rock on May 13. My eighth hike was my most northerly and easterly, at Benjie Lake on top of the Cape Breton Highlands on June 5. This high up in the highlands, the forest changes from Acadian hardwoods to a conifer-heavy Boreal forest.
Bunchberry probably provided the most striking variation. The odd plant was just starting to open up here in Digby with fully white petals in the third week of May; and blooming was just a little behind a week later in Wentworth (north of Truro), with blooms open but not fully white. In Mabou a few days later it was the same and the same in the Acadian forests near Cheticamp – but up at Benjie Lake, the Bunchberry only had its leaves out with very immature and green flower petals. When I got home a day later, the forest of Acacia Valley was carpeted with white Bunchberry blossoms.
I was able to see a similar trend with two other common wildflowers, Blue-bead Lily and Canada Mayflower.
Two other interesting observations at Benjie lake: the Larch needles were only just emerging while here they have been out since April. And the Mayflowers up there were just hitting full bloom.
Another flower that was fun to observe geographically was Dutchman’s Breeches. Plants on the North Mountain around Digby were blooming about the start of May. When I got to Wentworth on May 27, those plants were in seed and I’d guess the Digby plants would have been the same. In Mabou, the plants were in full bloom. In Cheticamp I observed an interesting mix of maturity based on elevation. One of our hikes led us from sea level up 350m to the top of Squirrel Mountain. The trail follows a drainage – perfect habitat for Dutchman’s Breeches – and at the bottom of the trail, the flowers were going to seed while near the top, they were just coming into bloom!
What’s more, in the course of these hikes, I logged three species that were “lifers” for me – the first time I had ever observed Nodding Trilliums, Toothwort and Waterfan Lichen.
To earn the badge, you have to use a particular phone app called iNaturalist – with this app, you can take a picture of a plant for example, then go home and submit the photo as an “observation” – the app is capable of making decent guesses about what you saw; but also, a community of nature-lovers will review your observation and confirm your identification attempt.
Perhaps the best thing about iNaturalist is that the observations contribute to our understanding of the natural world. The app gathers info about when and where the photo was taken from your phone – and all this data can be accessed by researchers helping them get a handle on where a species exists and how it is doing. Powerful citizen-science at work!
You can get more info on iNaturalist at inaturalist.ca/pages/getting-started-inaturalist-canada .
I already use iNaturalist often – it teaches me a lot; and I get to contribute to humanity’s knowledge of the natural world. But honestly, I normally wouldn’t log as many common wildflowers as I did for these hikes. But wow, the collation of these common observations turned out to be super interesting and I think this illustrates the power of gathering a bunch of common everyday observations and then analyzing them for patterns….