Saturday 9 December 2023

Waterfowl to Look out for in Southern Ontario This Winter

With the snow coming with the cold weather many nature-lovers are preparing to bundle up and find things to do outdoors.

My personal favourite thing to do over the winter is look for migratory birds passing through. If you're in the Greater Toronto Area, here are a few types of birds to keep an eye open for:


Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

The hooded merganser is distinct by the dramatic crest of white or copper on its head that can expand or collapse. Like many other birds, this species shows clear sexual dimorphism (where males and females look different), with the females not having the high-contrasting black and white markings that males have. 

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

A symbol of lifelong love, swans mate for life and easily steal the spotlight amoung other migratory waterfowl. Their long necks, high stature, and striking white colour make them easy to spot. They are often seen in small groups, sometimes with younger swans with darker feathers. Trumpeter swans particularly have all black bills. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

These cute little birds are not to be confused with ducks. They have lobed toes that they use to scoot across the water's surface, often bobbing their heads forward as they swim. They are solitary and can also be seen diving, but will not dive as deep as loons will

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Buffleheads are shy towards other species of birds and towards humans. Their shy nature can make them difficult to get close enough to photograph, but they can be easily spotted often in pairs or with their flocks as they migrate. They also show sexual dimorphsm, with females being darker than males.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
During the wintertime this familiar waterfowl can be seen in droves, with hundreds and hundreds flying into bodies of water as they migrate. Known for their aggressive nature, many people have stories of being chased or attacked by the notorious bird, earning it the nickname "cobra chicken".

American coot (Fulica americana)
Rarer in Canada than the United States, the American coot may be spotted with a silhouette like a mallard's in the water, or with a much more distinct shape when it stands. American coots have red eyes and a white bill that extends to their forehead with red on the top.


Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)

It's not so clear in the photos I was able to get, but the long-tailed duck's name is descriptive of it's most obvious feature on males: long feathers on its tail arching upwards. By contrast, females are brown and white and do not have the long tail.


Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 

This common duck lives around the Greater Toronto Area year-round, but can be seen migrating in flocks over the wintertime. Females are neutral brown, while males have green iridescent heads and grey-brown bodies. Shown in the picture on the left is an albino Mallard spotted with a regularly-coloured male companion.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Popular with tourists year-round in Algonquin Park, loons can be seen migrating through the Toronto area over the winter months. They will most often be seen solitary, more deeply submerged than mallards, and often diving. 

Friday 8 December 2023

Thoughts and Opinions: Canada's Ban on Single-Use Plastics Overturned

In November of this year, Canada's ban on single-use plastics was overturned by the Federal court. The original ban was described as "unreasonable and unconstitutional", and the decision voiced that all plastics cannot be listed as toxic.

Although this move will result in losses for the environment, I am not quick to deem this an overall failure. As a front-line retail worker with a regular retail company that sells reusable bags, I have personally seen a difference in peoples' shopping habits, namely as it pertains to bringing reusable shopping bags. It also did give some businesses the catalyst to start offering reusable or paper shopping bags, which they may very well continue even though the ban has been overturned.

And from the perspective of an everyday person, what the the ban did not seem to accomplish in its time was marked effort on the part of consumers as a whole to bring their own reusable straws, cups, and other utensils. The 10 cents off that a customer might get at a cafe is not enough financial incentive to carry around a reusable cup all day.

(It also didn't stop some independent shops from simply continuing to offer single-use plastic bags, or some big-box stores from offering cheaply-made "reusable" bags that broke by the time you got home.)

Rather, the primary motivation must be more intrinsic, which requires more of a mental and cultural shift.

As a child, one of the most rewarding things I did in school during the early 2000s was organize a SIGG reusable water bottle sale with the school's Green Club, supervised by our lovable librarian who I have so much to thank for.

I cringe a little now when I think back to my choice of words, but I remember spouting in our executive meeting how "we have to make going green hip!" 

But "hip" it was.

The reusable bottles had a variety of creative designs printed on them, some more plain others more bold, but all objects of excitement and hope. And as reusable bottles have become the norm more and more for students and adults in the workplace, it has proved to be more than a trend.

And even though the water bottle movement is far from solving the world's environmental crisis, it is heartwarming to see what we accomplished even as children.

Partly because of this experience, I do believe the merging of art, environmentalism, and even play is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Without legislation and without financial incentive, a few hundred individuals -children, teachers, parents- set a standard for ourselves to live by. 

And although this was not explicitly play, I do believe it also illustrates the power of making environmentalism fun. Whether it was children turning the fundraising campaign into a game, or teachers smirking over the "make love not landfill" staff-only edition, it is my hope and deep down my belief that most people who were involved look back on this as something that was both fun and meaningful to be a part of. Having positive volunteer experiences like this can also leave a deep imprint on a child and translate to a positive effects on wellbeing.

So now looking at where we are, facing the overturn of Canada's ban on single-use plastics, it may not necessarily be as much of the loss for the environment as it might feel.

We may be left without the legislation pushing the unwilling closer to the line of sustainability, but we still have the open minds of those who are willing if they are only given the chance, the event, the catalyst to start.

Photo added 2023-12-09

Thursday 7 December 2023

Exploring Environmental Impacts of Mined Diamonds - Part 2: Awareness and Alternatives

Why is this a two-part series you may ask? Well, firstly I needed some time to recover from the emotional damage of reading about mining practices, which is something I honestly didn't know a whole lot about before. Second, it seemed practical to have a way to skip to the actionable portion.

So given what was discussed in part 1, here are some options to consider if you are in the market for diamond jewelry. (If you are confused about any of the technical terms in this post and want more information, see Part 1, here).

The star of the show: go lab-grown!

I'll jump to my first question about these. Is growing diamonds in a lab worse for the environment than mining natural ones? The short answer: no.

I did find a webpage from the Gem Society stating "On average, producing one polished carat of lab-grown diamond releases 511 kg of greenhouse gases, more than three times that of one polished carat of mined diamond." That said, as mentioned in Part 1 the amount of greenhouse gasses required to mine a diamond is greatly dependent on its location, and lab-grown gemstones do not require the destruction needed to mine natural ones. Also, less carbon sequestration (sucking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) is also an impact of deforestation, which is part of diamond mining.

Another option that is worth mentioning is moissanite, a manmade diamond-lookalike that sits at a whopping 9.25 on the Mohs hardness scale (on that scale diamond is equal to or greater than 10). Moissanite also will not dissolve like salt crystals in water. It can be vulnerable to chlorine found in swimming pools, but so can diamonds. 

Synthetic diamond, moissanite, and other lab-grown gemstones like sapphire are also less expensive.

Lab-created quartz also exists and is cheaper too. That said, its Mohs hardness is only 7 so it is very likely to scratch over time if used daily.

Can salt-and-pepper moissanite or diamonds really be lab-grown?

Yep. According to a video made by Fire & Brilliance in 2021, at that time small lab-grown diamond and moissanite was already being grown with inclusions (the little impurities that make the salt and pepper look). Like other vendors, Fire & Brilliance also features these on their website

Another alternative to consider: pearl

Pearls are not only less pricey, but they don't require mining at all! They also will require much less processing than even grown gemstones, and in terms of overall sustainability they will leave less of a footprint.

The style is quite different, but there is beauty in uniqueness and in celebration of the sea.

However, if you are going to go for a natural mined diamond and would like to buy one that is more ethically sourced than others, here are three questions to consider.

Questions to Consider About Mined Diamonds:

1. Is it KP certified? - While this is a nature blog, if you are here because you care about the environmental impacts of diamonds there is a good chance you also care about the wellbeing of people. The intro section of Part 1 has more information, but as of now most diamonds from well-known retailers are Kimberly Process certified, or not blood diamonds. However, if you don't know, it doesn't hurt to ask first!

2. Where was it mined? - If it was mined in a more northern area such as Canada or Russia, the effects related to air pollution will be worse.

3. How was it mined? - Was it open-pit, underground, or alluvially mined? If alluvial, Alluvial mining uses more rudimentary tools and is more energy-efficient in its overall production, but independent operations do go unregulated which pose more uncertainty for land effects per carat mined.

Bonus: is it made of recycled materials? - Metal requires mining, too! So if you are looking to minimize the amount of moved earth for your jewelry, looking for ones made of recycled materials can also be something to consider

If you are about to get married and thinking of an engagement ring, or are just in the market for non-industrial diamonds, I hope you found this series helpful. At the end of the day, the purpose is not to guilt anyone into throwing away any jewelry they have already bought, or to reduce a much larger issue of mining just to diamonds on jewelry. But rather, just like electric cars or reusable bags hopefully increased awareness can help us all make more environmentally-conscious decisions in everyday life that we can feel good about.

Last Edited 2024-01-08

Exploring Environmental Impacts of Mined Diamonds - Part 1: The Issues

(Edit: In a rush to get to the bottom-line? Click here to jump to the more positive next part in this series!)

On an Ontario radio station an announcer once spoke about millennials hating diamonds. But as a younger millennial, now that many of my peers are at an age where they are buying engagement rings, I can't say I've noticed particularly strong hatred for the mineral itself. What could definitely be said though is that there is increased interest in the ethics of the way diamond products are produced.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is one method that diamond retailers like Tiffany & Co. have used to dramatically cut the trade of conflict diamonds (aka blood diamonds) used to fund wars. The process includes satisfying minimum requirements, promoting national legislation, increased transparency in practices, internal trade, and a certification process for shipments. The results? The Kimberly Process official website boasts that "participants actively prevent 99.8% of the worldwide trade [of conflict diamonds.]" 

In spite of gaps still left in the pursuit of ethical diamond mining, this is an accomplishment worth celebrating. This is especially significant for an industry that has been a source of income even in impoverished areas. But while the Kimberly Process mitigates some social consequences, it doesn't take into account environmental impacts of mined diamonds. 

This short series will hopefully serve as a collection of info for anyone looking at making an informed decision about purchasing diamonds or their alternatives. The goal also isn't to make anyone feel guilty for any jewelry they might own, but help increase awareness of the impacts of one of many mined commodities from an environmental perspective.

Environmental Impacts of Diamond Mining

Land and Habitat Disruption

Beginning with the most visible impact, all systematic mining practices involve habitat disruption. Forested areas are cleared so miners can have better access to areas rich in the desired resource, and lakes are drained to reach diamonds below. It is estimated that for every carat of diamond mined, over 250 tons of earth must be moved (Constable, 2022; Oluleye).

The excavation and blasting through kimberlite (the rock that surrounds diamonds) required for underground mining also comes with obvious land disturbance.

Even artisanal alluvial mining which results in comparatively less carbon emissions, left unregulated, leaves the door open for unrestricted land and water disruption (Levin Sources, Chupezi et al). That said, because it happens on a smaller scale the direct impacts are also smaller. 

While mine rehabilitation and mine closure practices do exist, this does not leave land disturbance a moot point. In an Imperial College London report on the environmental impacts of diamond mining, the writers quote Professor Saleem Ali, distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment. Professor Saleem Ali says, “The most significant impact of mined diamonds in environmental terms is likely to be land disturbance and the overall magnitude of this is dependent on the ecosystem in which the mining is occurring."

About Alluvial Mining

The word "Alluvial" comes from Latin alluvius, which means "washed against" (USGS, 2016). Alluvial mining is a method of retrieving minerals that relies on the natural eroding forces of wind and water to transport them from kimberlite rock (igneous rock surrounding the diamond). After erosion, a diamond may be naturally deposited into the sediments at the bottom of a river where a diver can search for them.

Because most alluvial diamond deposits are hard to pinpoint, this type of mining often happens on an artisan basis, informally and unregulated, instead of industrially. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s rough diamonds are sourced via industrial alluvial mining, while a slightly larger 14% are through artisanal or small-scale alluvial diamond mining (, n.d.-a).

Alluvial mining is labour-intensive and uses much more rudimentary materials than other forms. While digging for information on the subject, I came across the artfully-drawn story of artisanal diamond-digger's job in Sierra Leone shared on vimeo here:

Credit: The Divers of Sewa (2020) by Laurent Cartier on Vimeo


One expression from an artisan diver that particularly stands out is, "There are diamonds. You can work, you can fail, you can work you can fail. But the day you find, you'll prosper.... Sometimes, you can be unlucky for one or two months, but one day when you find a diamond you'll forget all that time you failed."

This quote from a tenacious worker leaves no question that diamonds themselves are both a source of income, and something that should continue to be kept in perspective as a luxury item. 

Air Pollution

Air pollution from diamond mining includes particulate matter that is transported by wind, nitrous oxide emissions, sulphur oxide emissions, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from fuel consumption (Oluleye). 

Professor Saleem Ali went on to say, "there can be additional water use and biodiversity impacts dependent on where the mining is occurring. The carbon emissions of mining are highly dependent on location. Cold climates such as Siberia or Northern Canada have larger carbon emission impacts. Artisanal alluvial diamond mining has less carbon emission impacts.”

Damage to Aquatic Ecosystems

Whether from sedimentation or disrupting particles at the bottom of water bodies, mercury pollution, or changing water ways, the mining of diamonds disrupts aquatic ecosystems. 

Since diamond extraction relies mainly on water rather than toxic chemicals, fortunately toxic pollutants are less of an issue. Meanwhile, water recycling and reduced water consumption is a larger focus (, n.d.-b).

Myth or Fact: Are natural salt-and-pepper diamonds more environmentally friendly?

From what I could gather, this is a myth.

From a social perspective artisan alluvially mined impure diamonds could be sold for more if there is increased demand for them in jewelry, so more money could go to artisan workers.

But from an environmental perspective, mined impure diamonds are no less damaging than purely clear ones. They are less in demand for jewelry but they would still be used for industrial purposes and require the same environmental costs to mine. (That said if you particularly like the salt-and-pepper look but are concerned about environmental impacts, see the box on impure lab-grown gemstones in part 2 of this series).

That's a lot to process. I'm looking to buy a diamond product, what do I do with this information?

It is up to each person to decide for themselves what is an acceptable buy. The changes in the status quo mentioned in Part 1 regarding blood diamonds is indeed a step in the right direction, and diamonds are far from the only mined product that we use. The goal of this post is not to guilt people on a single smaller part of a major problem.

However, if you are looking to buy a piece of jewelry ultimately for a good feeling but also with environmental consciousness, the good news is there are options!

Stay tuned for Part 2 on awareness and alternatives.



Chupezi, T. J., Ingram, V., & Schure, J. (n.d.). Impacts of artisanal gold and diamond mining on livelihoods and ... - CIFOR. CIFOR.

Constable, H. (2022, February 24). How diamonds are going green. BBC News. (n.d.-a). Alluvial diamond mining fact sheet. (n.d.-b). Diamond Mining and the environment fact sheet.

The Divers of Sewa. (2020). vimeo. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from

Le Temps. (2018, May 10). Diamond trade still fuels human suffering. Human Rights Watch.

Levin Sources. (2020, November). How to bring about Forest-smart mining: Strategic Entry Points for ...

Oluleye, G. (n.d.). Imperial Consultants.

USGS. (2016, June 20). EarthWord–alluvial fan: U.S. geological survey. USGS.,which%20meant%20%E2%80%9Cwashed%20against.%E2%80%9D

Edited 2023-12-08

Tuesday 7 March 2023

March 1: Planting Day -- Germinating Albizia julibrissi, Pink Silk Tree Seeds (Part 3)

Because of some technical difficulties the little effect of having the date and time in red in the top right  of the photos hasn't been working, but I didn't want an affectation to delay this post any further than it has.

Update later or not, here is the photo journal of planting day for Albizia julibrissi, and I am delighted to say that eight of the 10 sprouted!



From here I won't be keeping track of them by scarification methods so much and instead just concentrating on caring for them. But up til this point, both the Clipped (the baggie with 5 seeds) and Clipped+Scarified (baggie with 3 seeds) bunches have fared the best.

Although not all of them had rooted at least 2cm yet I decided to plant all of them together at once, roughly1cm below the soil's surface.

There is one tiny one that honestly I am a little concerned about as well as the very largest because the tip of the root got stuck in the paper towel and snapped off. That said, nutrients from the soil might be exactly what they need, so I planted those as well instead of leaving them in the paper towel. (I'm tempted to spoil the outcome, but will share it in the next post instead).


For soil I didn't have high quality bonsai soil on hand so I used MiracleGro's Cactus, Palm & Succulent Fast-Draining Formula. It has a mixture of nutrient-rich soil to feed the sprouts and sand to keep it well-drained and prevent molding. So although it wasn't what is most highly recommended, a quick Google suggested that this often works well for bonsai tree growing and the traits sounded like what is needed. Also, Albizia julibrissi grows as an invasive species in USA, so it gave me a little extra optimism for how my little sprouts may fare living in a temperature-controlled indoor environment.

The pots I used are trainers with lots of drainage at the bottom. For now there are two per pot a couple inches apart, and then later I'll separate them into their own separate ones.

The internet cautioned to ensure the soil is kept moist so the sprouts don't dry out, and a local threat here is our cat who likes biting plants. While Albizia julibrissi is not poisonous so he would be fine, the sprouts probably wouldn't be so I also blocked them off with a giant clear lid from another gardening tray.

This project is keeping me very pumped, and I'm excited to share some growth progress with you in Part 4.

Friday 24 February 2023

Germinating Albizia julibrissi, Pink Silk Tree Seeds (Part 2)

It is day three of germinating Albizia julibrissi seeds, and we have sprouts!

Of the ten seeds, seven of them have begun to sprout, including the one I had accidentally injured. 

Here is today's photo journal:

As shown in a couple of the photos, I had taken baggies C and S+C  (clipped and scarified + clipped) and held them in my hands to take a closer look at them. While I had washed my hands just a few minutes before, I also may or may not have been rushing a bit for work and munching on avocado toast opening the sprouts up to breadcrumb contamination, so those two bags were rinsed and the paper towel changed.

While there isn't a very large sample size, the five originally scarified seeds seem to be doing better or growing faster compared to the five that were not as a collective. The exception would be the big one paced in the center of the baggie, which was notably softer than the others part-way through the pre-germination soaking process.

It was recommended to transfer the seeds after they have developed roots 2cm long so that may be the next benchmark for part 3.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Germinating Albizia julibrissi, Pink Silk Tree Seeds (Part 1)

Over the past day I have been intermittently occupied with trying to germinate some Albizia julibrissi, pink silk trees. I've never tended to bonsai trees before but have always found them adorable and today's post is about my first steps in a second attempt at growing some from seed.

My first attempt was after receiving a kit from my good friend, Lauren, but unfortunately none of the seeds sprouted. This time I'll be using some of the equipment from that kit, but doing more supplementary research to educate myself on how to successfully raise some tiny trees.

Between the instructions on the packaging and what I read on the internet, there was a wide variety of methods for germination that can mainly be sorted into mechanical help and water-based methods, but either way there was a strong focus on getting the water to absorb into the seed despite the hard outer casing.

Over the past 26 hours or so, I have made my own process a messy mishmash of sources that using near boiling water, boiling water, nondescript "warm but not boiling water", and water at 32deg C, as well as making small cuts, scraping the outer shell, and slipping its end with a nail clipper. They include the ones to follow:,soil%20thoroughly%20before%20planting%20seeds.,long%20into%20communal%20growing%20pot.

Here is a photo story of the (very messy, nonlinear, patchwork) journey up til now:

Submerged all 10 seeds in a glass of warm, but not boiling water. (Maybe about 40 degrees C)


The next morning

A few hours later... evil plastic bag time, around 4pm

Super psyched one of the scarified ones is starting to sprout!

My process is very patchwork with too many changing variables to have an actual control group, but it is a learning experience.

Next time I will be more conservative in my clipping of the outer casing, and make it more directed at the edge where the opening will be more helpful as opposed to just scarring it across anywhere that feels convenient to hold. I will also go straight to more mechanical means of getting through the hard outer casing.

For now the seeds are sitting in the warmest part of my home, and hopefully this saga will continue with some interesting progress to tell of.