Early February miscellany

World Wetlands Day

Yesterday (February 2nd) was World Wetlands Day; a lot more important than Groundhog day. So here are a few pictures of the wetlands around our home.  We live in Kawartha Lakes which, as the name hints, has many lakes. It is largely flat so the lakes and rivers have large borders of wetlands.

Wetlands are important for many reasons, but I’ll let them speak for themselves via this sign at Windy Ridge Conservation Area, about 20 km downstream from where the Pigeon River flows past our home.

Wetland sign
Wetland sign

Here’s two pictures of the Pigeon River at Windy Ridge, just before Fleetwood Creek joins it.

Pigeon River at Mount Horeb
Pigeon River at Mount Horeb
Pigeon River at Windy Ridge
Pigeon River at Windy Ridge

The next Windy Ridge picture is of one of the many duck nesting boxes along the river.

Windy Ridge Duck nesting box
Windy Ridge Duck nesting box

This is inside a conservation area. The smart ducks live here. Just downstream, there are more hides for hunters than there are nesting boxes in this part, so I don’t think ducks would be safe.

The next picture is of a stand of elms just by the river. I hope they are healthy. We have two healthy-looking elms on the edge of our garden but they’re not yet showing the classic elm shape, even though they’re 10m (30′) high. However, I’ve had to cut down most of them and burn them, because of dutch elm disease. I had to cut two this year.

Elms at Windy Ridge

About a kilometer upstream from us is where the Pigeon starts, in another wetland. I was surprised to find it still flowing, as further downstream it is frozen over (not solid). I suspect that the wetland is spring-fed with slightly warmer underground water as I don’t think the bog is big enough to contain enough water to feed that amount of flow all winter.

Pigeon River source
Pigeon River source

Back to our home

The frontage of our home, along the road, is edged by a small strip of bog, which has shrunk considerably since the council put culverts in. Still, I was lucky it was frozen as I had to walk across to retrieve garbage that had blown into the bushes.  I have also retrieved balloons from here and all over our 13 acres from time to time. It’s not just the people who wander over the land that leave them, but also airborne garbage that is cluttering up the countryside.

Garbage in tree
Garbage in tree

The very mild weather has left us with very little snow. Usually there is an extensive underground network of vole tunnels, but this year they are very exposed. No doubt our local hawks and owls are happy.

Vole tracks
Vole tracks

I expect the birds prefer warmer weather. The ground birds are particularly happy as there are more seeds to eat when the weeds are not covered with snow. But this downy woodpecker felt the need to fluff up and shelter on the south side of the tree from a bitter north wind.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

Finally, as a warning, make sure you set alarms when multi-tasking with bread baking, so that this doesn’t happen. The bread turned out fine, maybe a slice less, but the cleanup was a nuisance.

Bread Bowl oops
Bread Bowl oops

Backyard birds and ice crystals

I got a little behind again, so here are a couple of weeks worth of back yard and local pictures.

Backyard birds

OK, the first one isn’t a bird, but it doesn’t seem to care. Many of our gray squirrels are black, but this one even seems to have a tinge of red in it.

Black squirrrel
Black squirrel

These are the genuine article, blue jays.

Blue Jays
Blue Jay in flight

There was a strong south wind when I took the next one, enough to ruffle its crest feathers.

Blue jay
Blue jay

It has lots of friends.

Blue jays
Blue jays

These shots are of birds in the thorn bush in our back garden. It is related to the English hawthorn, but has much longer thorns. The flowers are similarly scented and the haws are quite similar too. The end twigs are red for their first year, but the cardinal’s feathers are still not camouflaged.

Male Cardinal
Male Cardinal

Below is another pair of red birds, the rosy finches.

Rosy finches
Rosy finches

The next bird in flight is a dark-eyed junco.

Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

The chickadee below has literally gone ballistic, with wings folded for a second.

Ballistic chickadee
Ballistic chickadee

The turkeys below only fly when alarmed or when they want to get up into a tree that has berries. It takes them a fair bit of energy to get to tree-top level. In this visit, they stayed on the ground. They were mostly hidden behind a bush from my perspective so just a couple of pictures of this handsome male.

Turkey 1
Turkey 1

Check out the stylish beard.

Turkey 2
Turkey, showing beard

Next is a downy woodpecker, taken when the north wind was strong and cold (-14ºC) so it sheltered on the south side of the tree and fluffed up its feathers.

Downy woodpecker
Downy woodpecker

Ice Crystals

Here are a few shots of ice crystals on top of the snow. They are about 1 cm (½”) across.

Ice crystals-1
Ice crystals-1

The next one is deliberately just out of focus to show the colours refracted off the surface (which is white snow – underexposed) so you can see the colours as I saw them through watery eyes (from cold wind). It was even better when they sparkled as I moved.

Ice crystals-2
Ice crystals-2

The next one is on a piece of coloured paper, to get a bit more contrast than the white snow background. The shadow shows the shape well, too.

Ice crystals-3
Ice crystals-3
Ice crystals-4
Ice crystals-4

The next one is a few crystals on top of the seed head of Queen Anne’s lace, which are just as pretty as any diamonds the Queen may have had in her tiara.

Queen Anne's Lace and Tiara
Queen Anne’s Lace and Tiara

Finally, ice in non-crystalline format, as our roof caught a little sun.

Icicles
Icicles

Pigeon River Headwaters in the fall

OK, It’s December but still looks like late fall.  Today it was raining lightly; too wet for gardening as handling soil gets dirty and cold, but too warm to stay indoors when there won’t be many more days left before freeze-up, so I went downstream a few miles from my home to the Pigeon River Headwaters conservation area.  I don’t go all that often because it is very similar to just out the door from the house, except there are more wetlands there as the slope is less.

I grew up by the Lancashire Moors so I call this stuff “bog”. I spent so much time around water that my mum called my friend that I often went with “Willy Webfeet” because we always got wet feet and she wasn’t going to call me that while I was listening.

Bog
Bog

Some of the wet parts are caused by water oozing slowly into the river, but also from river flooding caused by beaver dams, which interrupt my canoeing activities.

Beaver dam
Beaver dam
Beaver pond
Beaver pond
Pigeon River
Pigeon River

The surrounding forest has decked itself out in seasonal colours.

Woody Nightshade Berries
Woody Nightshade Berries
Spruce with nightshade
Spruce with nightshade

Though the dogwood doesn’t need any

Dogwood
Dogwood

The lichen is ready to feed any reindeer that happen along – no need for cookies and milk here.

Lichen 1
Lichen 1
Lichen 2
Lichen 2

Lichen are a community of fungi and algae. These fungi are up to the same trick to some extent.

Bracket fungi
Bracket fungi

A change of subject. This area is all on the Oak Ridges Moraine. You may wonder why all that water doesn’t disappear through the sand and gravel that makes up much of the landscape. Some of the answer is the underlying rock but also there is a lot of clay, which are the finer ground particles, impervious to water.
The sand and gravel were left in random piles that got weathered, leaving these rolling hills. In fact the local school is even called Rolling Hills School. That’s part of the reason I prefer the landscape to the prairies where I lived for quite a while, as I grew up in the English Pennines and spent lots of time in the Lake District.

Rolling Hills
Rolling Hills

An a propos of nothing, I liked this spiral vine growing up a birch sapling.

Spiral vine
Spiral vine

Still no Spring

Went for a walk down to the Pigeon River today.  I see lots of people on Twitter saying the flowers, birds and spring peepers are arriving, but we still have no bare ground in the garden, although I did hear a phoebe calling.  There are probably a few water birds arriving in the wetlands 5 km downstream as they are usually the first but I have to work this weekend again, so no time to go there and look.

You can see we still have almost a foot of wet, heavy snow left. If I don’t find my snow shoes in spring cleaning, I’m getting another pair.

Down to the river
Down to the river

My “bridge” (a couple of logs) was too slippery to cross safely.
Last time I came down, the river was frozen over fairly well and although flowing underneath, I could cross OK on the snow. This time it was looking a bit punky and when I probed hard with my big stick, it went through in places.

Doesn't look safe
Doesn’t look safe

So I found a place I could see the water and forded it. Cold wet feet because my wellies (rubber boots to non-English) are too slippery and my hiking boots were a few mm too low to keep the water out.

Once across the river, I looked around.  It looked a bit like a woodworking shop.

Piliated pile
Piliated pile

Since it snowed last night, this was fresh.  Who else but the piliated woodpecker.  Sure enough, there were a couple of fresh holes in this dead birch, a bit too high to get a decent picture.  I turned around and realised it had also made one of its Square Holes™ in the perfectly healthy eastern red cedar tree just a couple of metres away. You’d think that for the Pi Day of the century, it could have done a round hole for once.

Piliated hole
Piliated hole

Also there were plenty of deer tracks around.

Deer tracks
Deer tracks

Canoe ride on Pigeon River

I decided to take a short canoe trip, about 10 miles downstream from our house, as the river is not navigable here.

Canoe ride prep
Canoe ride prep

The red bag is a handy waterproof bag that you can blow up so it floats, so that’s where my more expensive camera equipment went.  The pocket camera and my wallet go in ordinary plastic bags.  I had to get gas (petrol); the attendant was amused when I had to unwrap my wallet and then wrap it up again.  In the end, precautions were in vain as I didn’t tip, as I shouldn’t since it is a gentle ride, which is a corollary to Murphy’s Law.

My intent was to go upstream so as to have an easier ride back, but I ran into an obstacle within 50m so I went the other way, so it was a bit more tiring and exercised muscles I hadn’t used for a while, but not so much a hot bath wouldn’t fix it – no repercussions the next day.

The river was narrow at the start

Pigeon River 1
Pigeon River 1

but it soon widened out

Wider stretch
Wider stretch

This was due to a beaver dam:

Beaver Dam
Beaver Dam

I had to get my feet wet here, dragging the canoe over.  The pattern repeated, although the second one had a gap I could squeeze through in both directions.

The banks changed a lot, from thick bush to Joe-Pye weed meadows

Joe Pye Weed
Joe Pye Weed

Amongst the Joe Pye weed were lots of other wildflowers.

Wild Cucumber
Wild Cucumber

Wild Cucumber are very bitter; I tried one once.  It’s amazing that people thought to domesticate it, though now it is too bland for me.  I wonder if I could cross a wild one with a domesticated one?

Cardinal flower
Cardinal flower
Fringed Loosestrife
Fringed Loosestrife
Wild Clematis
Wild Clematis and more Loosestrife

The wild clematis are more spectacular in fruit, when they are known as Old Man’s Beard.  I’ll go back and look later.  We have some growing up birch trees in our drive way, but there are many more here.

I was surprised not to be pestered by mosquitoes, but I think these black-winged damselflies had a lot to do with it.  There are a few where the river goes through our land, but they are usually hard to photograph as they take off at the slightest movement, but there were lots here and one even landed on my hand.  If you look carefully, you can see the combs on their legs with which they trap their prey.

Black-Winged Damselfly
Black-Winged Damselfly

There was one spot where there were about 20 on a little raft of leaves but the picture didn’t come out – I used my pocket camera and don’t know how to get it off auto-focus.

Here they are making more damselflies:

Black-Winged Damselfly mating
Black-Winged Damselfly mating

They are very bright in the sun, with their shiny bodies.  The next one wasn’t so shiny.

Purple damselfly
Purple damselfly

All-in-all, it was a fun trip.  Next time, I hope I have more time.