Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

I wonders where the birdies is

“The bird is on the wing”

Don’t be absurd, the wing is on the bird.

– (Old poem remembered from childhood, learned from my father)

Well, I’m back after spending March working day, night and weekend, so taking a few days off to recover.

I’ll start with today and work back a bit, as I did post a few of these pictures on Facebook and Twitter.

We have had the coldest winter since I moved to Ontario almost 35 years ago.  Even Alberta warmed up faster than here.  However, finally, it is up to 12ºC (54ºF for you old-fashioned folks south of the border) so there is finally some ground showing, even though it is still frozen, so SNOWDROPS! (Snoopy dance performed!)

Snowdrops
Snowdrops

DO NOT look at those seedlings sprouting. They are illusory. There are no weeds going to grow in my garden this year.

From yesterday, here is a picture of a pair of cardinals.  Since they are on the bird feeder, it’s not a lot of effort for that male to pick up a seed and hand beak it to to his mate, but it is a touching gesture.

Cardinal love birds
Cardinal love birds

The migrants have begun to arrive.  The Red-winged Blackbird was the first I saw, though there are Canada Geese honking overhead and wetlands birds are usually earlier so I’ll have to head over the the conservation area which is about 5 miles downstream from here, where the river flattens out enough for water birds.

He has been doing his mating dance, so I might catch that soon; it’s too hard to do while on global conference calls which have been running most of the daylight for the last few weeks.

The male turkey was doing the same today, but I scared them off as I hadn’t seen them until the same moment I came around the corner of the house and they saw me, but Laurie was watching them.

Red-winged blackbird
Red-winged blackbird

Here is another migrant, just arrived.

American Robin
American Robin

I don’t see the local meadow voles very often as they live in tunnels just below the surface of the ground.  However, in winter, the tunnels are under snow right at the snow/ground boundary so as the snow melts they have to dash between patches until the ground thaws and they can dig.  When I looked them up on the Internet, I came across this quotation: “The Meadow Vole is believed to have the highest reproductive rate of any mammal in the world”.

Meadow Vole
Meadow Vole

One reason they like to stay underground is this hawk, who would love to have a vole for dinner but meanwhile is trying to get a junco out of the ninebark, but the bush is too thick for the hawk even though it is very impressive how deep it can penetrate while still flying. The junco got away as the hawk eventually gave up.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

I’m guessing it is a sharp-shinned hawk. I checked pictures and the main difference from the Cooper’s seems to be that the shoulder is much lower on the Cooper’s, but I could be wrong. Any bird experts care to comment?

Here are a couple of shots of it in flight (!) in the middle of that ninebark.

Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark -2
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark -2

Finally, a lesson in camouflage. The squirrel shows how to do it.

Gray squirrel
Gray squirrel

The cardinals do not seem to have got the point.

Cardinals in thorn bush
Cardinals in thorn bush

A walk down to the river

I went for a walk down to the river on the weekend, as it warmed up.
This is not quite the same spot as my header picture, but not far off.  Notice the difference?

Pigeon River
Pigeon River

Here’s where I cross the river.  My “bridge” was too slippery but the deer tracks across suggested I could cross on the ice. (The round ones are the deer, the warm spell took the edge off.) You can just see the roof of our house just below the 20m black cherry in the background.

Crossing the Pigeon River
Crossing the Pigeon River

or, if you couldn’t, here is a closer shot.

Crossing the Pigeon River - closer
Crossing the Pigeon River – closer

When crossing the river, I used a stout cedar pole in each hand to bang on the ice to make sure it was strong enough to hold my weight, because as you can see the river still flows underneath as it does all winter even in -30ºC weather.

Pigeon River under the ice
Pigeon River under the ice

Coming back up, here is the garden. For some reason, my brother-in-law stapled a flag to my shovel. As if I need a reminder what country I am in with all the snow and the -20ºC it has returned to.

Winter garden
Winter garden

You can see why I’m too lazy to shovel the driveway.  Oops, rain on the lens.

Winter drive
Winter drive

For walking on rivers and the like, serious boots are a good idea.  I have the same soles on my running shoes and sandals, so I don’t wear the boots very often any more, but these protect against twisted ankles if you slip.  Lots of dubbin have made them supple and waterproof.  They have hiked the west coast trail and lots of Rocky Mountain trails, amongst others, and I enjoyed the ride as they carried me about.

Boots on the ground
Boots on the ground

Since we only have shallow snow yet, the rain was enough to collapse the tracks of these voles.  Usually, by spring thaw, the entire garden has a network of these tunnels but this weekend there were just a starter few.

Mouse tunnel
Vole tunnel

 

Lotus flower opens before holidays

I’ve been waiting impatiently for this one as the lotus starts off as a tiny pinhead of a bud even when the stem is well above water, and takes weeks before opening. This is the only bud this year so I was afraid I wouldn’t see it as I’m going on holiday in a few more days.

I had thought it was going to have shades of pink but so far all yellow.

It has closed up now as the light is fading.  I should have checked the scent while it was open; it’s in the middle of the pond so it involves wet feet.

Lotus flower

I now have two lotuses because I thought last years’ had been too badly damaged by the snapping turtle to flower this year; correctly it appears as there are no flowers in sight, though it has recovered enough to produce many leaves, so perhaps next year I’ll build a temporary fence until the turtles have gone home.

I decided to try a multi-year time lapse look down our driveway.  It has become a tunnel instead of a gap between the trees in the twenty years between the frames.  The oak tree just to the left of the drive has gone from a 4 inch trunk to a foot across and finally started producing acorns.  I had come to think that all my oaks were males, but they just weren’t fully mature.  (Some would say that for humans, that’s the same thing.)

Driveway
Driveway

The constant reference is the power pole on the right.  It didn’t grow.   The Blue Spruce was just planted when the first one was taken, in memory of Laurie’s father Doug. You can just make it out though it the colours weren’t showing much because the picture was taken in spring when the new green growth was coming and hadn’t yet taken on the blue tinge.  On the other hand, a couple of elms at the front of the woods have succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and been removed.

In case you’re wondering, we are going to England, Scotland and Ireland for our holidays.  Scotland is a brief one-day visit as somehow or other I have missed seeing a friend who lives there for quite a few years as he was away on trips when we had a chance to get there.  We’ll be staying with my dad in Morecambe for the first couple of weeks and touring the neighbourhood, which includes the Lake District, the Lancashire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales; some spectacular countryside with excellent pub food (not just your Canadian idea of English pub food, but some really excellent meals and local ales).

Here is a view from not far from my Dad’s place, looking across the bay from a very old, small christian churchyard.

Morecambe Bay
Morecambe Bay

But notice holes in the stone to the left of yours truly (the back one).  They are graves cut right into the rock to preserve the bodies.  These are from the Vikings who invaded northwest England.  Who knows, maybe they are my own ancestors; my (formerly) red beard attests to the link. In the top view, the holes are the traditional European tapered coffin shape.  I’ll try to post pictures as we go, but Internet connections may be hard to come by, so there may be a gap followed by lots of pictures in a few weeks.

 

Drought creates bonsai Tomato

Bonsai tomatoes and butterflies

Some people go to great lengths to grow bonsai trees.  A combination of my sand/gravel soil on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and a lack of water all summer led to this bonsai tomato plant.  The fruit on this variety are supposed to be regular 7cm (3″) tomatoes, not cherries.

Bonsai Tomato
Bonsai Tomato

Since we get our drinking water from a well, I don’t water the garden from it; I use a jet pump in the nearby creek.  That means not much watering as it takes time using a hose by hand; sprinklers restrict the volume too much on my small pump, so I only water in case of near-death.  Last year, my tomatoes were 1.5m high (5′).  Luckily, I started a few really early indoors – January – so they fruited early and I have had enough for the table, though none for hot sauce and in any case my habañero peppers didn’t grow at all.

My veggie garden definitely needs more manure.  My flower garden has a bit more compost and manure in it so it holds a bit more moisture.  Here are a couple of butterflies, which add bonus colour to the flowers.

Aphrodite Fritillary
Aphrodite Fritillary on Zinnia

For those who don’t know, but do care, note the club on the end of the antennae – this is the mark of a true butterfly, as well as the tendency to fold the wings flat and vertically.  Moths fold their wings flat and have a variety of antennae, often feathery.

The Frittilaries and other related types also appear to have only four legs – the front legs are smaller and used as sense organs, to “taste” whatever they land on.  Monarchs are also in this family.

I think this one is an Aphrodite frittillary, but not 100% sure as many fritillaries are quite similar and there is quite a bit of variation between species.  And as it’s still over $1,000 to sequence a genome, we’re not yet at the stage of a kitchen species-identifier.

The next one is a bit easier to identify.

Black Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail

Finally for today, I couldn’t resist a picture of one of my white phlox plants.  I wish I could share the scent with you too.  I do notice that every time I upgrade my camera, they immediately come out with a new feature, so since I bought a new one this year to get HD video, perhaps the a new model to do that will be out soon.

White Phlox
White Phlox

This usually has lots of butterflies and hummingbirds around it and is particularly attractive as the light fades, when it stands out among the brighter coloured flowers which aren’t so easy to see.

Half-folded like an April bud, On winter-haunted trees

The title is from Walter De La Mare’s poem “Sleeping Beauty”.  Somehow a bud shows more promise than a seed because you can see so much more.  Here are some April buds from my garden.

First is on a hazel and shows, at the very tip, the rather inconspicuous male flower.  The pollen is wind-blown as the flowers are out before there are enough insects to pollinate.

Male Hazel Flower
Male Hazel Flower

The female flower has to be bigger, to have a chance of capturing the pollen.  It is the familiar catkin:

Hazel Catkin
Hazel Catkin

This hazel is one of the twisted witch hazels.  I’ve never had nuts on it.  I learned about the male flowers from Mrs. E. “Ma” Hazelwood, my biology teacher at Canon Slade school.  This is appropriate because of her name and I’d just like to mention what a great teacher she was with a love of nature which infected all her pupils.  I would not have spotted them myself because they are so small, although they are brighter red when first out but are just these few threads.  Now I am passing it on to you.

Next is a wild plum.  You can see the tiny flower buds.  These will be the first trees in flower in this neighbourhood.

Wild Plum Bud
Wild Plum Bud

You can also see the flowers on the crab apples, but these will be a little longer to open:

Crab Apple Bud
Crab Apple Bud

The hyacinths are coming too.  I have some beautiful red ones.  Unfortunately, it looks like the frost got the one in the back; the top set of florets are bad.

Hyacinth bud
Hyacinth bud

One of the brighter signs of spring is the marsh marigold.  We have a lot on the river banks so I borrowed one for the pond; the size of the buds says we have only about a week to wait:

Marsh Marigolds
Marsh Marigolds

All this promise of spring to come is all very well but we need a few actual flowers.  All my early daffodils are face-down in the dirt because we had a hard frost which made the stems stiff and a strong wind which snapped them.  At least we have the Chionodoxa, or “Glory of the Snow”, as the crocuses are over with except for a few stragglers.  Lots more daffodils about to open, though.

Chionodoxa
Chionodoxa