It’s been a while since I posted anything here. This metaphorical drought is partly due to a physical drought. Until two weeks ago, we have only one rain shower since early May. My garden was a complete failure. After initial attempts at watering from the creek, I couldn’t keep up. Because our “soil” is mostly sand, the water just disappeared within hours under the sun and 30ºC heat so it would have taken all my time to keep it watered.
I’ve figured out a plan for irrigating next year, but it was too late once I realized it was needed, so got almost no vegetables this year. Luckily, I was too lazy to plant all my new perennials so they were safe in the greenhouse and I’ve started planting them so they can flower next year. Most will be safe enough once established, though I lost quite a few established perennials and even small bushes this year.
A few days after we finally got some rain, by way of torrential downpours, the forest floor sprouted many fungus fruiting bodies.
I’m not that great at identifying fungi, so you’ll just have to enjoy the pictures without knowing exactly what they are.
This is just a quick gallery of the pictures I have taken since early February, mostly birds with some ice, lichen and a snowdrop.
I have posted over half of these pictures on Twitter but, since I do a print version of this blog for a few people who don’t use the Internet, I thought I’d better get caught up. I haven’t been doing as many pictures over the winter as things don’t change much in the garden, although this year has been weird, with not much snow and very wild temperature swings from -20ºC to +15 in a single week. Not having the snow makes it worse as the snow insulation takes the edge of the swings. We’re having May weather in March.
On one of the -20ºs swings it got cold enough for fur hats, but only for one day. It’s from Russia, thanks to my sister-in-law, Lily; warm at -40º.
It’s Charlie’s birthday party in mid-February, so we went to Toronto. He seems to know almost everyone in Toronto, there was at least one floor of the bar full of his friends.
Next are some of the birds that stay around for the winter,
One day, we had a huge flock of American Goldfinches, around 200. All our trees and bushes were full of them.
Mourning doves are regulars, but we hadn’t seen quite this many in the one tree at once, they’re usually only a few. These are not peace doves, they’re quite aggressive with other birds. Even the blue jays keep a careful eye on them when they’re within beak range.
We had an ice storm and lost power for a few hours. It came back just as the house was getting cold and I was downstairs getting ready to light the wood stove which we keep for emergencies and to start the generator for a few lights and recharge batteries. We should look into getting it set up to run the furnace fan.
Next are the same trees, slightly out of focus so you can see the rainbows. I can’t capture how they were with the naked eye, because it took a little bit of motion to make them sparkle. I should have shot some video.
The next wasn’t the one that took our power out because ours was back on by the time we ventured out.
The sharp-shinned hawk sat here spreading its wings and shaking them. It was still hunting through the ice rain falling.
The next one is from my home brewing. The sanitizing fluid made large bubbles in the carboy I use for fermenting .
These pixie cup lichen are very pretty. Almost a garden by themselves. On my high-resolution original, you can zoom in to see tiny cups within these larger ones. Fractal.
The next is a tree branch that had fallen but not touched the ground, so these fungi look like they’re cascading off the end. The green is from algae that live within the fungus. I don’t know if the fungus gets energy from the photosynthesis or not. Since lichen are fungus with algal partners, these are part way there but not with the same species.
Finally, a much-magnified (4mm=0.15″) flower from summer savory, which I had growing this winter in my plant case. But didn’t get enough leaves to use as herbs.
Here is a junco eating weed seeds from my garden. The more it can get rid of, the better.
These mourning doves are looking quite peaceful. They are much less so with other birds, chasing most of them away (except, of course, hawks). They don’t seem that tough, but even blue jays retreat if a dove wants them to.
There is a pond about 200m from our house, which is almost overgrown now with cattails (bulrushes). It’s not on our land so I can’t do much to keep it clear. Eventually it will get filled in and we’ll have no more snapping turtles as my garden ponds are too small for them.
It is home in the summer to about 3 pairs of red-winged blackbirds. Here is what’s left of one of their nests. They are built on cattail clumps well out into the water.
I also spotted a muskrat lodge while I was looking for the nests.
Which gives the segué into:
Here is a red squirrel in the garden.
In our back field, on the other side of the cedar woods, there are piles of rocks from when the field was cleared. The field is rapidly filling in with red pine and there is a clump surrounding one of the rock piles. The squirrels have a nest in one of the pines and use one of the rocks for an al fresco dining-room table.
The back forest is about 80% Eastern Red Cedar which, as I’ve said before, is not botanically a cedar but a juniper. Here is the path down to the forest. You can just see my new bridge at the bottom.
From standing on the bridge, looking downstream, it was frozen over last week. It almost looks like it’s still flowing in the middle but the ripples were frozen too.
Looking upstream from the bridge are some interesting ice formations on the rocks.
But two days ago, we got a torrential rainstorm and +5ºC temperatures, which got rid of the ice. From the same vantage point, in both directions again:
The cedars are fast growing and resilient trees. Like “real” cedar, their wood is rot-resistant. Because the forest is so dense, some trees don’t make it in their race for the light, so we are able to get wood for posts and the like without having to cut live trees. We’re not supposed to anyway because of the conservation rules, but we certainly wouldn’t cut them unless we needed to (e.g. to keep power lines clear) so I don’t bother asking permission.
Here’s one example of their resilience. One trunk grew straight through another. I’m not sure if it is two trunks of the same tree or if two seedlings sprouted very close together. Many of the trees have multiple trunks like this.
The next picture shows one that was struck by lightning a few years ago. The blast blew a 5 cm (2″) wedge out of the tree from top to bottom, pieces of which landed 3 m (10′) from the tree. The tree recovered nicely, as have several others in the vicinity. It’s not hard to see that lighting strikes several times in almost the same place around here.
The soil here is very shallow and cedar roots are shallow in any case (no tap root) so they are very prone to blowing down. But as long a some of the root is still in contact with the soil, they just adjust to their new direction and keep growing upwards.
There aren’t many insects around at this time of year, but since the river keeps flowing, you can always scoop up a few rocks. Here is a mayfly nymph, only about 7mm (3/8″) that will be emerging as a fly in the spring, if the trout don’t get it first. The tufts on its abdomen are gills, in constant motion. You can just see the curve of its jaws at the front.
I bought a yucca plant about 20 years ago. It reproduced first through branches off its underground rhizome, which is over 1m down (4′) and about 5 cm (2″) thick. But then a few started showing up elsewhere, presumably from seeds carried by birds. It grows fine from seed in straight gravel. It is pretty hardy for a warm desert plant. Oddly enough, it usually survives the winter looking in great shape, only to show significant damage with the last couple of frosts, presumably because it has removed the antifreeze from its sap in order to grow. Still, it recovers and provides some gorgeous, enormous flower spikes.
The Pigeon River is starting to freeze over, so I got some pictures of the ice formations and some animal tracks.
A closer look at the rock in the foreground:
In a less turbulent stretch, it is already frozen bank-to-bank. It has never frozen solid at least while I have lived here, it runs underneath all year.
Safety tip: It is dangerous to walk on because even when most of it will bear my weight, so I always walk softly and carry a big stick, both for stability and to test the ice by banging the stick on it. So far I haven’t had any accidents, in 20+ years.
As the sheet of ice works its way out, it makes interesting shapes.
The next picture is of clear ice with lots of specks of white ice crystals. I don’t know how this happens. They are a about 5 cm (2″) across.
This rock has a green beard. I’ll have to search more to find out what kind of plant this is; I think it’s a form of horsetail (Equisetum) from looking closer at the stem, but it didn’t show up on my first attempt at IDing it.
There were plenty of animal tracks about, but no sign of the local bobcat or bear today. Some dog tracks but only one animal so probably not coyote, though there are many more coyotes than dogs around because people don’t let their dogs stray. Too much risk they’ll bother farm animals and get shot. Tracks too small for a wolf. Not many of those around.
Final word: please don’t leave garbage. I don’t place a lot of emphasis on private property, feel free to wander around except just by the house, but why can’t people take their garbage home. Even when the ground is covered with snow, there’s still stuff stuck in trees.