I grew up on the outskirts of Brantford, ON., in a home directly across from the Grand River. With my parents being self-described “nature nuts”, I spent a lot of time with my family exploring the trails around the river, bird-watching, and taking the opportunities afforded by the full moon to go for night hikes without flashlights to listen for owls. Lacking certain household distractions such as cable TV, I found creative ways to enjoy myself in the outdoors, and neither weather nor the seasons could stop me from playing outside. As avid back-country campers, my parents also took me and my siblings on exciting and challenging canoe trips each summer in various provincial parks across Ontario. It was through these experiences that I developed a deep appreciation and curiosity about nature. I’m so grateful that my parents opted for less “conventional” vacations, and that many summer nights of my childhood were spent sitting around campfires and sleeping in tents.
After an adolescence of hiking, camping, volunteering at the local nature centre, and working at a summer outdoor leadership camp, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in wildlife biology. In 2008 I began an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Biology at the University of Guelph, where I took various courses, both theoretical and applied, on various aspects of biology, ecology, and wildlife management. I also joined organizations such as the Wildlife Club which enabled me to participate in weekend trips to Long Point and Algonquin, and spearhead educational conservation displays for the annual University of Guelph open house. During the summers I pursued various educational, volunteer, and job opportunities that kept me outdoors and learning about nature. For two summers I worked as a Park Naturalist in Algonquin Provincial Park, where I ran public programs, including guided hikes, on various topics from beavers to biodiversity. My spare time was spent hiking trails, catching dragonflies, and searching for the best lookouts. Before the beginning of my summer Algonquin contracts, I used my few weeks off between school and work to volunteer for a York University Wood Thrush migration project, where I learned to mist net birds; as well, I participated in an entomology field course in Arizona, where I learned to collect, identify, photograph, and study the wonderful wide world of insects. I also spent a summer working at the Royal Botanical Gardens conducting education programs, and another as a Field Technician studying the rare tall grass prairie ecosystem in southern Ontario. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I seized various opportunities to learn more about wildlife and research, such as telemetry tracking in bats, owl banding, and “herping” (a term often used to describe the act of searching for reptiles and amphibians in the wild).
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I took on an undergraduate thesis on the navigational mechanisms of monarch butterflies. This project enabled me to study a species at risk, while applying my knowledge and experience in field work to an exciting and novel research question. After collecting migratory monarchs in Ontario, I tested their orientation in Ontario before driving them, with a van full of research equipment and my dad as my assistant, part way across the country to Calgary, AB where I re-tested their orientation. This challenging project solidified my passion for research and my desire to learn more about species at risk and other declining species. Through my undergraduate experiences at the University of Guelph, I learned the necessity for research in the development of applied conservation strategies.
After my undergraduate degree, I completed a M.Sc. in Ecology at the University of Guelph in the Norris Lab, studying the causes of decline of the gray jay along the southern edge of its range in Algonquin Park. This project involved many months in the field, daily work through adverse weather conditions, and relatively isolated conditions at the Wildlife Research Station, where my assistant and I were the only winter researchers and where we lived in a cabin with no running water, cell service, phone, or internet. I applied my many experiences in the back-country to adjust to this living situation, and I loved it! I learned how to get along with folks in relatively isolated conditions, and how to plan ahead when you don’t have the internet or cell phone at your fingertips. I also learned various techniques for working with birds, such as ground trapping, banding, nest-finding, and blood and feather sampling.
Since my M.Sc., I have been fortunate to find work within conservation-related fields. First I worked at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, where I conducted field surveys for insect collecting and processed insect samples from around the world for DNA barcoding. I then returned to the Norris Lab, where I took on a position as a Research Manager, managing several applied conservation projects surrounding the monarch butterfly. I have been acting in this position as a supervisor for staff and volunteers, field work planner, and liaison with government and industry partners, among many other roles.
Although I really enjoy this position, I am also very excited to continue my education and experience working with species at risk through the Canada’s New Noah program. I feel extremely grateful and privileged to have been selected for this program through Wildlife Preservation Canada. I hope to hone my skills as a biologist, as well as expand my knowledge about working in different communities to implement on-the-ground conservation initiatives. This will be an experience unlike any other I have embarked upon, and I can’t wait to get started!