By Aranya Iyer and Mariel Terebiznik, FREED Co-directors
In August 2022, FREED (Field Research in Ecology and Evolution Diversified) had its first ever event: a week-long crash-course of fieldwork skills! We welcomed 14 Indigenous, Black, and Racialized students and 11 leaders to the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station from various Ontario universities. This program was made possible in part by generous support from Birds Canada! Dedicating a week to immerse in the beauty of Algonquin Provincial Park to study its wildlife is a naturalist’s dream. It perfectly encapsulates the essence of field work and why so many ecologists choose to remain in this career – it is the animals, the land and above all, its mysteries. It was an honor to successfully provide this experience to 14 Indigenous, Black, and Racialized undergraduate biology students with a passion for learning more about the natural world around them!
Field excursion participants had the chance to learn and practice canoeing. Photo: Brian Chan
Before we introduced the students to any workshops, Christine Luckasavitch from Waaseyaa Consulting gave a stunning presentation against the backdrop of Sasajewun Lake where she guided the students through the past 14,000 years of history of this provincial park. She emphasized the need to acknowledge that we are in an active relationship with the animals and the land. On the first day, the students also got out on the water to learn how to canoe! They practiced canoeing during turtle surveys at Wolf Howl Pond with Mariel Terebiznik. Students continued their forays into the aquatic realm with Rachel Giles at Bat Lake, where they tested aquatic ecology invertebrate sampling. The terrestrial invertebrate complement was with Rowan French, who taught techniques like sweep netting and beetle-funnel traps. Early on, the students also went on a guided hike at Two Rivers trail to learn more about native trees with Vanessa Nhan, and woke up early to go on a guided birding hike at Chit Lake trail with Aranya Iyer.
Workshop leader Vanessa Nhan teaching students about tree identification. Photo: Samantha Stephens
Students acquired practical skills with Kevin Kemmish and James Pinto, Algonquin Wildlife Research Station staff, who led a session on wayfinding and car maintenance in the field. Throughout the week, it was amazing to see the students immediately employ tricks imparted by Dr. Viviana Astudillo-Clavijo during her field note-taking and science illustration workshop. The session on science communication with Samantha Stephens not only reinforced the same principles, but also opened the door for students to submit their art to organizations that would compensate them for their work.
Workshop leader Aranya Iyer pointing out warblers on a guided hike. Photo: Samantha Stephens
It was an invaluable experience for the students to observe the importance of long-term monitoring projects happening around the station. Patrick Moldowan led the students through an amphibian survey at Bat Lake and Rebekah Persad, our “s’mammal” workshop instructor, set up trap lines to successfully catch a northern flying squirrel! Students continued their exploration of mammals during our Wolf Howl with Ontario Park Naturalists. Furthermore, Ontario Parks facilitated our camping trip at Whitefish Campground led by Demiesha Dennis, director of Brown Girl Outdoor World. During the debrief session, students even mentioned how this experience gave them confidence to camp in different environments – including other countries!
Participants in the 2022 FREED field work workshops Photo: Rebekah Persad
Based on immediate feedback, students reflected on how FREED helped them gain fieldwork skills, left them feeling connected to nature, and encouraged them to pursue further courses and work in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology field. Students highlighted above all the connections they were able to make with other students and mentors who had the same passion as them. We were touched by the comment made by a student who expressed how easy it was to be authentic and engaged in the environment that FREED helped create. We are eager to do the same for next year’s adventure!
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