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Distressed seabird rallies after dinner and a warm bed in Newfoundland home

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When Antje Springman and Dennis Minty spotted something huddled under the honeysuckle shrub outside their home along a river bank in Conception Bay North, they thought it was one of their chickens in distress.

Springman went out to investigate and discovered a very different type of bird — a Great Cormorant, a black seabird about the size of a goose, commonly called a shag in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“It has a very long neck and about a three-foot wingspan and a very long five-inch bill with a pretty sharp hook on the end, so I called out to Dennis to go and get me some welder’s gloves,” said Springman.

Antje Springman and Dennis Minty share a love of animals. They care for a dog, cat, chickens and sheep on their property and often help animals in need. (Submitted by Dennis Minty)

Cormorants are usually spotted on sea stacks or rocks on the coastline, which is about one kilometre from the couple’s home in South River.

‘We gave him a good feed that night and put him in an animal carrier.’ – Antje Springman

While they have seen the birds flying by or resting on the tidal estuary outside their house, they’ve never encountered one on the property. 

“It was in a place that is not normal, the behaviour of that bird wasn’t normal and I knew it was in trouble.”

The bird hissed and snapped, but didn’t move when Springman approached, so she picked him up and brought him inside.

The image of the river is reflected in the eye of a Great Cormorant in this photo taken by Dennis Minty, a wildlife biologist who now works primarily as a nature photographer and author. (Dennis Minty Photograhy)

Minty — a wildlife biologist experienced in treating and rehabilitating animals during his 23 years with Salmonier Nature Park — said the bird was quite thin, but had no apparent injuries.

“We figured a bit of food and some quiet and warmth for the night was the ticket,” he said.

‘We gave it a good feed’

Cormorants are fish-eating birds, so the couple thawed out a tilapia fillet in the microwave and cut it into bite-sized pieces.

“I had to pry the jaws open and poke it down, but once it’s in the gullet they will swallow it, so we gave him a good feed that night and put him in an animal carrier and put him in a warm place in our front porch and covered him with a blanket and left him for the night,” said Minty.

Springman releasing the Cormorant at the river’s edge. (Dennis Minty Photograhy)

The meal and rest seemed to do the trick, as the seabird was far more lively come morning.

“We actually didn’t think he was going to make it through the night, but in the morning when Den had a look the bird just started snapping and sticking his beak out through the grate, trying to get him as he was getting closer, so we knew that he was feeling quite a bit better,” said Springman.

The family dog and cat stayed well away from the pungent visitor, and by morning Springman said the whole house smelled like fish.

In a Facebook post, Minty said, the bird ‘may be just old and on its last legs and, if so, we gave it a full belly and extended its time a bit. On the other hand we may have helped it over a hump and it might do well. Such is wildlife rehab.’ (Dennis Minty Photography)

Since the bird appeared to be in good shape after its night in the porch, they took it outside and gave it another once over and the last of the tilapia before releasing it at the edge of the river. 

“And off it went, it seemed fine,” said Minty.

It isn’t the first time the couple has helped out a creature in need. 

They captured an ill red fox from the roadside in the community and brought it to Salmonier Nature Park for rehabilitation, and helped dozens of storm petrels that were blown inshore during bad weather.

Dennis Minty with a Dovekie that turned up on his lawn after an easterly gale in January of 2013. It was uninjured but couldn’t take flight from the ground, so he kept it warm and dry overnight and released it the next day. (Antje Springman)

“They’re about the size of a robin, so they were a lot easier to handle than this guy,” said Springman.

“Sometimes we have people call us because they know we have experience,” she said.

“We do dog rescue as well,” added Minty.

Don’t try this at home 

While Minty has the expertise to help wild animals in distress, he said it isn’t something people without the proper experience should attempt on their own.

“They can be quite dangerous to people, so even if they are ill they’ll lash out, they’ll try to defend themselves, they don’t know that people are trying to provide aid,” he said.

“The general rule of thumb, unless you know what you’re doing, is leave them alone.”

Antje Springman releasing a Leach’s Storm Petrel. Minty says seabirds become disoriented after being blown inland, and since they are accustomed to launching from the water or a cliff face, they have difficulty on land, especially in the woods. (Dennis Minty)

Minty said one common rescue that people can do is for small birds that fly into window glass. If they aren’t seriously injured, he said they often just need a couple of hours in a warm, dark space to recover.

“So that’s a good intervention, anyone can do that.”

If you do encounter a wild animal in distress, contact the wildlife division of the provincial department of fisheries and land resources.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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