Category Archives: Nature’s Spaces

Wildlife Fencing: Road Ecology in Milton

Written by: Richard Baxter, Terrestrial Planning Ecologist

Roads endanger wildlife and human life. Wildlife collisions, especially involving larger animals, damage our vehicles, and can also injure and sometimes kill us. Since wildlife corridors are cut off by impending urban sprawl and criss-crossing networks of cement and pavement, wildlife have no other choice but to make use of our highways. Driving to work in the morning now means we share the road with turtles, raccoons, and deer.  Not only are wildlife collisions occasionally fatal, but they are also costly. Every year, nearly 40 million dollars in property damages from 14,000 wildlife collisions happens in Ontario alone. How do we balance a burgeoning human population, and subsequent development, with environmental impacts?  How do we reduce costs to the environment, damage to property, and avoidable mortality?  The answer to these questions is ‘Road Ecology’–an evolving field that studies the interactions of wildlife and the environment with our roads.

Previously in Ontario, little thought was given to environmental or wildlife impacts when designing and building roads. However, as both human populations and the knowledge of our impacts increase, so do our opportunities for better road design. This has led to research into low-cost, but highly effective solutions to mitigate impacts to and from wildlife. A variety of strategies have been developed that can be employed, depending on a given situation. Each situation will have a unique set of circumstances that must be considered: What wildlife species are most abundant in a location? Are there wetlands surrounding the road? Is there an abundant local deer population frequently crossing the road?

Roads can be attractive to certain wildlife species. Snapping turtles often use gravel road shoulders to nest, and snakes are attracted to warm surfaces for regulation of body temperature. On the other hand, roads cause avoidance effects in some wildlife; some forest birds will not cross large openings, and a forest fragmented by roads deeply impacts their living space. Many of us have seen dead turtles and snakes on roads, and it is well documented that forest birds are less abundant where woodlots have been fragmented and reduced in size, often partly due to the effects of roads.

Bullfrog on the road

Bullfrog on the road

The building and use of roads leads to fragmentation of natural areas, interruption of wildlife migratory routes, and direct mortality to wildlife though collisions with vehicles. Depending on the species of wildlife involved and their life history characteristics, road mortality can have major impacts on local populations: especially vulnerable populations are the herptiles like turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders. Since development significantly impacts migrations of local wildlife, wildlife resort to crossing our roadways, and can occasionally become an unwitting cause of human mortality; for example when collisions occur with larger animals like deer, or when drivers lose control reacting to an animal on the road.

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Within Halton Region and the GTA, the pace of development has been high in recent years, with several residential and industrial developments springing up and some major road extensions and reroutes being planned and constructed. This has spurred cooperation between agencies (local Municipal and Regional planning authorities, Conservation Authorities and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) to incorporate road design elements that are more wildlife friendly in priority areas. Indeed, several of these local agencies are actively engaged in road ecology studies and development of strategies to reduce impacts. Local planning policy updates have been implemented in Halton Region, that include the development of a Natural Heritage System (under Regional Official Plan Amendment  38) with an emphasis on maintaining connectivity and linkages in the landscape, and the Town of Oakville is developing a Road Ecology Strategy. Conservation Halton is also actively collecting data on various culverts and bridges in the watershed and how they relate to wildlife crossing.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

Depending on a given sites specifications, we can recommend several low-cost but effective methods to mitigate wildlife collisions, and reduce environmental impacts. These can include signage to alert motorists to vulnerable species on certain stretches of road; wildlife fencing (both to exclude wildlife from dangerous areas and to guide wildlife to a safer crossing site); and specially designed culverts and bridges; these mitigations are often applied in combination. In certain cases a road can be seasonally closed to allow for wildlife migrations. A local example of this is King Road in Burlington, which has been annually closed to traffic in the spring since 2012 to allow the Endangered Jefferson’s Salamander to complete its migration to breeding ponds. Though the design and implementation of these mitigations is a relatively new thing in Ontario, they have been employed in other areas for several years, for example Banff, Alberta and several European countries.

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You can see a recent, and local example of specially designed culverts and wildlife exclusion fencing in our watershed off of Tremaine Road and Main Street on the west side of Milton. The wildlife fencing guides herptiles and smaller mammals like raccoons away from potential high traffic zones and into crossing culverts, and larger culverts with guiding walls and dry banks are present to provide passageways for bigger wildlife species like deer and coyotes. In fact, we observed raccoon droppings in a crossing culvert during a recent site inspection. This exciting observation shows us that animals are already using the wildlife culverts—even while the culverts and fencing are still under construction. Future study and monitoring of these mitigation efforts will be important in determining their effectiveness. Our hope is that resourceful and easy to enact solutions like special culverts and fencing will protect our natural heritage, and balance the needs of wildlife and us.

 

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The Return of Wildlife: Wetland Restoration at Conservation Halton

Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator, with contributions from Chelsea McIsaac, Watershed Restoration Technician

Wildlife is coming back. Volunteers and staff of Conservation Halton were busy this past fall restoring protected wetlands. We need to protect our wetlands because healthy wetlands are resilient in the face of climate change and development. Staff at Conservation Halton  are dedicated to preserving and protecting our natural heritage through shoreline planting, wetland planting, and building fish habitat on our protected wetlands like Kelso Quarry Lake.

This past autumn the Watershed Restoration team and volunteers worked together on four separate occasions to restore wetlands in order to encourage biodiversity to thrive.

Their efforts are already paying off! An Eastern Newt, in eft stage, was recently spotted by staff on the shoreline of Kelso Quarry Lake. Newts aren’t necessarily an indicator species, but they are a healthy sign of high quality water. Newts breathe through their skin which means that newts will not thrive in a less-than-ideal wetland environment.

At Kelso Quarry Lake, Conservation Halton staff and volunteers have been busy building fish habitat structures. A natural lake, in this area, would have features such as fallen trees, stumps, branches, and leaves within the lake and on the shoreline. Since Kelso Quarry Lake isn’t a naturally formed lake, we have to introduce those missing features, in the form of habitats, into the lake. The habitat structures, built by volunteers and staff, will provide places where spawning fish can lay their eggs, and juvenile fish can hatch. Thirty volunteers came out to create the structures by building log cribs out of cedar logs, brush, and Christmas trees. Instead of letting  Christmas trees go to waste, we put them back into use in nature. The log cribs are stood up vertically. This placement is necessary to provide different heights for different fish uses. We will install the structures at a later date near areas where fish spawn.

Did you know a ‘shoal’ is a collection of rocks and sand where fish lay their eggs?

Volunteers also planted 1300 trees and shrubs on the Kelso Quarry Lake shoreline. Trees provide cover and also keep the temperature of the water cool. The trees help more wildlife than just the fish taking cover in the water. Other wildlife will hide from predators under the tree branches, and drink from the water. The trees also naturally support the food chain. Invertebrates eat on the fallen leaves and twigs and then the fish feast on the invertebrates. Shoreline vegetation is so important and supports the overall health of the ecosystem.

Shoreline planting, and fish habitats are not the only measures to restore the wetlands. The wetlands need aquatic plants to feed and shelter juvenile fish, and other critters like the Eastern Newt. Before the volunteers and staff planted the wetland with over 3000 aquatic plants, the wetland was dominated by an invasive and aggressive species: the Common Reed (also known as phragmities). It was a monoculture, and monocultures are bad news for biodiversity. Now the wetland has ten different native species. We used a special matting made of coconut fiber to hold the plants in place during the winter. Not only does the matting provide the plants with stability, the coconut fiber is biodegradable and will decompose over time. It was amongst these plantings that staff discovered the Eastern Newt mere months after the wetland was planted.

There are profound and real benefits to wetland restoration, especially in the face of climate change. By taking care of our wetlands, they will take care of us. Wetlands absorb the water from severe storms and are a major component of the groundwater system: the fresh water we drink and use every day.  Clean, high quality water affects Eastern Newts, and us.

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers and staff who work so hard to restore our wetlands.

Funding for this project has been provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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Goldenrod is wrongfully blamed for seasonal allergies

Goldenrod in milton

Written by: Brenda Van Ryswyck, Natural Heritage Ecologist

Goldenrod can make a wonderful garden and wildlife plant! Sadly it has been branded negatively for many years now. One main negative concern is people believe goldenrods cause pollen allergies but this is a false assumption. Goldenrod pollen is sticky so it cannot cause allergies however it is often seen as the cause of allergies simply because it is the big showy flower we see when we are having the allergy symptoms. In reality it is the flower you DON’T see that you need to worry about.

The myth that goldenrod is responsible for seasonal allergies comes from the fact it blooms at the same time as ragweed. Ragweed is the cause of seasonal allergies in many people because it is wind pollinated. The pollen of ragweed is very light and becomes airborne easily, while the pollen of goldenrod is very sticky and cannot become airborne.

Goldenrod has its impressive, showy, bright flowers because it needs to attract pollinators (like bees and butterflies) to carry its pollen between flowers for pollination. Ragweed on the other hand does not need to attract pollinators so it has inconspicuous green flowers which most people do not even notice (and don’t really look like flowers at all); ragweed only needs a light wind for its pollen to become airborne and be blown to the next ragweed flower for pollination. Goldenrod on the other hand you can grab and shake and you will not see any pollen become airborne (and if you did happen to shake any loose it would fall straight to the ground).

Another thing some people find negative about goldenrod is its ability to spread rapidly and colonize new areas quickly. In the plant world this is a wonderful thing, giving the goldenrod a slight advantage in the ‘grow or die’ natural world. This is a benefit for wildlife though as these quickly colonizing plants will quickly stabilize the soil and its flowers provide essential nectar food for pollinators. In fact goldenrods (along with asters and other fall flowers) are essential for the Monarch butterfly as it makes its long migration. Patches of goldenrod and aster patches along their migration route provide lifesaving food to continue the journey. If you would like to provide nectar for pollinators in your garden, but do not want a plant that will aggressively spread, then try some of the more “well behaved” goldenrod species such as Blue-stemmed Goldenrod Solidago caesia, Zig-zag Goldenrod Solidago flexicaulis or Silverrod Solidago bicolor.

So don’t mow down that goldenrod patch! If you have ragweed allergies you may actually be making the situation worse as removing plants like goldenrod may open up the soil for fast growing ragweed to grow. Instead learn how to recognize ragweed and remove only it, leave the wonderful nectar of the goldenrod there for the Monarch and other pollinators. Enjoy the beauty of its golden blooms with the knowledge it is not contributing to your allergies, it is only contributing to biodiversity!

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Giant Hogweed at its peak … but don’t worry, it will die soon

Written by: Norm Miller, Communications Advisor

Giant Hogweed is an invasive species which has become very well-known for its height and potential health effects on humans. This is generally the time Giant Hogweed is at its peak for growth reaching heights of up to 4 metres, (14 feet), before going to seed and dying for the season, until reappearing the following spring.

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has two major negative impacts:

  1. Due to its invasive nature, it poses a threat to biodiversity.
  2. It is a public health hazard. It produces a noxious sap that sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet light. This is known as photosensitivity, which can result in severe and painful burning and blistering. It is important to avoid any skin contact with this plant. If you are exposed to the sap then protect the area from the sun for at least 48 hours.

With Giant Hogweed at its peak for growth right now, Conservation Halton receives a significant number of calls and e-mails. People want to know what should they do about the plant, or what will Conservation Halton do about it.

If you see Giant Hogweed (or a plant you think may be Giant Hogweed), Conservation Halton would like you to report the sighting. You can report your sightings on the EDDS Maps Ontario website (Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System) which is a web-based mapping system for documenting invasive species distribution. Conservation Halton is happy to identify photos of plants you may think is Giant Hogweed, please e-mail your photos to Brenda Van Ryswyk, brendav@hrca.on.ca.

Conservation Halton does track invasive species like Giant Hogweed as well as doing other long term environmental monitoring in our watershed. This provides current information on species diversity and abundance, which is used to assess changes in species diversity and abundance (biodiversity) over time.

Landowners are responsible for the removal of Giant Hogweed on their property. This time of year is far from the preferred time of year to attempt control. In fact it is the time when the risks are the highest, due to the large size of Giant Hogweed plants, and it is the least effective because it may already be producing seed. The plant that has flowered will soon go to seed and die. The plants that go to seed this year will not re-grow next year but there will be younger plants, as well as the seeds, to worry about.

The best thing to do at this time of year is likely to cut and bag the seeds to prevent their spread and mark on your calendar to return to that spot in April and May to treat any plants coming up at that time an prevent them from reaching the flowering stage.

The most effective time to try and control Giant Hogweed is when the plants are just starting to grow in the spring (April-May), and removal can prevent it from producing seeds. If you see Giant Hogweed now, you’re best to make note of the location, bag and remove the seeds if possible, and watch for the first signs of growth in the spring and take removal actions then.

Conservation Halton has a page on its website with more information about Giant Hogweed, including how to spot it, some common lookalikes, and how to remove it at www.conservationhalton.ca/giant-hogweed.

About Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed usually grows from 2.5 to 4 metres (8 to 14 feet) high with leaves up to 1 metre (3 feet) in breadth. It has a thick, 5 to 10 centimetres (2 to 4 inches) hollow stem. Its stem and the undersides of its leaves are covered in coarse hairs. You can click here to see Conservation Halton’s factsheet on Giant Hogweed.

Giant Hogweed has several lookalikes, including a smaller, harmless plant which has a similar (but greatly smaller) white flower called Queen Anne’s Lace. If you are unsure whether you have Giant Hogweed, feel free to seek confirmation from an expert. At Conservation Halton, you can contact Brenda Van Ryswyk, by phone 905-336-1158, ext. 2282 or email brendav@hrca.on.ca.

For general inquiries, questions on invasive species or to report a sighting anywhere in the province, you can use the Invasive Species Hotline: 1-800-563-7711 or the EDDMaps, https://www.eddmaps.org/ontario/. For more information on Giant Hogweed, some tips on its control, and other invasive species, please visit Conservation Halton’s website, http://www.conservationhalton.ca/invasive-species-and-biodiversity.

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Ways of the Woods: Where Dirt Don’t Hurt

Dirt Don't Hurt at Ways of the Woods!

Dirt Don’t Hurt at Ways of the Woods!

 

Written by: Erin Worgan

 

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? Scabby knees, sticky fingers, staying out until the streetlights came on and never wanting to head inside? A lot of kids these days are spending less and less time outdoors and more of their time in front of the computer screen or a video game. There is a need for kids to unplug, get outside and out of that squeaky clean bubble. It’s important to rediscover what it means to get back to nature, like wading into the cold water, squishing your toes into the mud or walking barefoot across the grass, tossing a Frisbee into the air, holding a slimy salamander, or feeling the dew drops inside a cave on a crisp morning. When multiple senses are stimulated the brain registers experiences to a greater degree and is better able to process and remember what is learned.

The “Hygiene Hypothesis”, as reported in Time Magazine, is the understanding that children who spend most of their time in sterile environments never build up the necessary immunities to common allergens. Therefore kids who are exposed to allergens and bacteria are more likely to grow up allergy and asthma free. So letting kids be kids, and playing in the dirt could save them from a lifetime of respiratory illness and allergies. Well, at Ways of the Woods one of the camper mottos is that “Dirt Doesn’t Hurt”, and campers will have no problem getting messy. From grass stains to puddles to tie-dye; the potential for grubbiness is endless! We like to remind parents that cleaning up is often pretty quick and painless, and the amount of dirt they’re sporting is often a direct reflection of how much fun has been had.

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Helping these kids to be active and rediscover an appreciation for the outdoors and the nature around them, while having fun and meeting new friends is what camp is all about! Ways of the Woods Camps offer the unique experience of being able to visit some of Halton’s most beautiful and ecological parks. WOW Campers will be spend their days outside in the fresh air. They are physically active, and make lifelong memories with new friends.  There is a wide range of activities available at each park including archery, boating, caving, biking and a brand new Low-Ropes Course. Kelso Park is where the majority of the camper’s time is spent, as it offers the majority of these activities.

A typical day for the Ways of the Woods campers involves a non-stop action adventure, and lots of opportunities to get good and grubby. Campers are taken caving at Mount Nemo during the week! Caving is definitely one of the favourite activities of a traditional camp week, and Mount Nemo is one of the most prevalent caving regions in Southern Ontario. There is a large volume of crevice caves and a few caves large enough to be lowered into and explore. After a nice lengthy hike along the trails the group is guided towards these mysterious caverns. These caves are every kids dream come true with the chance to safely climb and explore whatever their curious heart desires! Once again this is an activity that will get your child good and grimy (though it is almost guaranteed they won’t even notice) so appropriate clothing is essential. Crawling and climbing to examine the earth’s secrets makes for a fun morning.

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Some might see these activities as  dangerous for their child, but all of these programs and activities are entirely supervised and safe. The theory of “Risky Play” and its relation to “emotion regulation” is the notion that one of the major functions of play involves moderate risk. Risky play teaches young children how to regulate fear and anger in a healthy way: a key part of their emotional development. When a child is deprived of age-adequate risky play and experiences, the deprivation negatively affects their development in terms of appropriate emotional responses to their environment and social interaction. The activities at Ways of the Woods are all entirely safe and supervised, but still offer a sense of adventure and minor risks.

The staff and kids at Ways of the Woods are united in their love for camp and the great outdoors and Ways of the Woods is where it all comes together in a wild and wonderful experience. The WOW counselors are positive and energetic with a million and one fun ideas for their camp groups to see or do at the Conservation Parks. They’ve always got a new game or song to get the campers enthused between adventures. Even the campers who may be shy at first quickly open up through the ice breaker games and activities, story telling, laughing, singing, sharing and constant outdoor fun! When I asked a couple of junior campers to describe WOW camp in one word I got some pretty enthusiastic feedback. I heard words like terrific, awesome, crazy, and fun, with one little guy screaming “its rad!”

The fact of the matter is that getting messy and being free to learn, have fun and make mistakes is what being a kid is all about. At Ways of the Woods they celebrate being a kid by going on an adventure every day and allowing your child to grow by trying something new. At the end of the day a messy kid is quite often a happy kid, so I’d invite you to go ahead and get dirty!

You can sign up for a Ways of the Woods camp session online at https://secure.conservationhalton.net/wowreg/ or visit the Kelso/Glen Eden Visitor Centre to register in person. If you have any questions please call (905) 878-5011 extension 256. The Ways of the Woods are waiting for you!

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Chimney Swifts – An Avian Species at Risk Found in Halton: Volunteer for Halton SwiftWatch!

Written by: Emily Dobson, Halton Regional SwiftWatch Coordinator

Living in Halton, an incredible phenomenon happens at night in the spring; you just have to know where to look. If you happen to be out as the sun is setting, perhaps strolling in the older section of town, dozens of soaring birds high in the sky may catch your attention. If you’re patient you may notice them circling in the air, gathering close together in an intricate and social dance. Suddenly, as a group they descend, disappearing one by one down the chimney flue of an old church, school or residence.

These birds are chimney swifts, a species at risk that has declined by 95% since 1968 (COSEWIC 2007).

Chimney Swifts

Figure 1. Chimney swifts (above) soaring overhead, and (below) descending into a chimney to roost for the night. Photo credit: Halton SwiftWatch Volunteer

Chimney Swifts

Bird Studies Canada is conducting a long-term monitoring program, called SwiftWatch, with the goal of raising awareness, monitoring known roosts, and finding new roost sites. The 2015 National Roost Monitoring Program is a continent-wide effort to study this species. If you would like to volunteer, you will be assigned to a known roost site in Halton that’s easy for you to get to, and will spend one to four evenings monitoring it for bird activity. This year, monitoring will be taking place May 20, 24, 28 and June 1. If you are interested in volunteering with the Halton SwiftWatch Program, or if you think you’ve seen a chimney swift or found a roost site, and would like to know more, please contact Emily Dobson.

We will also be having several Swift Night Out events, which provide a chance for families, community members, biologist, and naturalists to enjoy the spectacular evening display of swifts. If you’re interested in joining us, please bring a lawn chair, camera, and binoculars and RSVP with Emily for more information. These will be taking place on the following days:

  • Acton: Monday, May 18, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Milton: Saturday, May 23, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Thursday, June 4, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Monday, August 10, 2015 from 8-9:15PM

There are several possible reasons for the decline of this species:

  • Habitat loss: Chimney swifts have historically roosted and nested in old growth trees, which have been significantly reduced. In urban areas, roosting more commonly occurs in chimneys, however these are increasingly being capped, lined or removed, to dissuade other creatures like raccoons from wreaking havoc and making noise, or being entirely removed due to disuse resulting in loss of habitat.
  • Food availability: Chimney swifts are aerial insectivores, meaning they catch their prey while flying. Reduced insect availability can greatly impact their survival.
  • Climate change: Mortality along their migration route and during the breeding season can occur due to climate change that affects the timing of insect emergence, reducing the availability of food sources.

Over the past three years, Bird Studies Canada has been monitoring population numbers during the spring migration in Halton to understand changes and trends which will help to inform a species recovery strategy. With the help of Conservation Halton staff and a very dedicated team of volunteers, we have found some interesting results.

Figure 2 shows the total number of swifts recorded in each town, based on the maximum number at each roost during the spring migration. New roosts were located in Acton and Georgetown, while in Oakville and Burlington, some chimneys have been capped, removed, or were not monitored, possibly contributing to lower counts.

Figure 2. Peak number of swifts during the spring migration. 

Figure 3 shows the proportion of habitat types used by chimney swifts in Halton. Schools are the most commonly used, and also house the two largest known roost sites in the region.

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014).

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014). 

Figure 4 further explores changes in roosting over the last three years at the largest known sites in the region. In Burlington and Oakville, numbers of swifts were at their highest in 2013, with lower numbers observed in 2014, possibly due to mortality or relocation to more desirable habitat, while in Milton, the number of birds has remained fairly constant.

Figure 4. Change in swift numbers at specific roost sites

Of particular concern is the state of the Oakville roost, a derelict high school that provides habitat for the largest number of swifts in the Halton Region. The building has fallen into disrepair, with mold, rot and rodent issues. The related structural issues mean the building could become a safety hazard in the coming years. Additionally, the central location make the lot a prime development opportunity. Artificial chimneys have had little success in Ontario for a variety of reasons. However, with planning and community and government support, it would be wonderful to erect an artificial chimney prior to the removal of the existing structures, which may enable the birds to transition to the new habitat.

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A New Addition at the Raptor Centre

baby barn owl

Our Baby Barn Owl!

Written by: Sandra Davey, Mountsberg Raptor Centre Lead

The Mountsberg Raptor Centre staff are pleased to announce a new addition to the Raptor Centre team. Meet our baby Barn Owl, Shadow!

Shadow the Baby Barn Owl

This bird, who arrived at the Raptor Centre on March 3rd, was bred in captivity and is imprinted on humans. Shadow hatched on January 27th 2015 and has been growing at a very steady rate! This picture shows Shadow on its first day at the Raptor Centre.

Shadow the Baby Barn Owl

Like all babies, ours likes to spend a lot of time eating and sleeping. Sometimes we catch it sleeping in some very awkward positions!

It’s amazing to watch Shadow change and grow day by day. What started off as a very fuzzy baby is now turning into a bird with lots of feathers.

Our baby now enjoys spending time stretching its legs and wings, and getting to know its new human coworkers.  While it will still be awhile before this bird is ready to meet the public, we will continue to share photos as it grows and develops. We won’t be able to make a reliable guess as to gender until the bird is done growing. Please join us in welcoming Shadow to the Mountsberg Raptor Centre!

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