The end of winter?

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.

Fur hat
Russian fur hat

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.

Me Laurie Charlie
Me, Laurie and Charlie at his birthday party at the Artful Dodger

Next are some of the birds that stay around for the winter,

Purple Finch
Purple Finch
Chickadee
Chickadee

One day, we had a huge flock of American Goldfinches, around 200. All our trees and bushes were full of them.

Goldfinches on ground
American Goldfinches
Goldfinches
Goldfinches in Locust tree
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy Woodpecker

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.

Mourning doves
Mourning doves

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.

Ice-covered dogwood
Ice-covered dogwood
Ice on trees
Ice on trees

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.

Ice storm rainbows
Ice storm rainbows
Ice storm damage
Ice storm tree damage – sugar maple

The next wasn’t the one that took our power out because ours was back on by the time we ventured out.

Ice storm power line damage
Ice storm power line damage

 

Ice-covered branches
Ice-covered branches

The sharp-shinned hawk sat here spreading its wings and shaking them. It was still hunting through the ice rain falling.

Sharp-shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned hawk
Pigeon River at home
Pigeon River at home during a thaw

The next one is from my home brewing. The sanitizing fluid made large bubbles in the carboy I use for fermenting .

Sanitizing fluid bubbles
Sanitizing fluid bubbles

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.

Pixie cup lichen
Pixie cup lichen
Downy close up
Male Downy Woodpecker, close up
Female Downy Woodpecker
Female Downy Woodpecker
Female cardinal and Junco
Female cardinal and Junco
Female cardinal
Female cardinal in dogwood

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.

Fungus cascade
Fungus in a cascade
Snowdrops
Our first snowdrops

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.

Summer Savory herb
Summer Savory herb

 

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

Recent garden and forest pictures

Birds

Here is a junco eating weed seeds from my garden. The more it can get rid of, the better.

Junco eating weed seeds
Junco eating weed seeds

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.

Mourning doves
Mourning doves
Mourning dove
Mourning dove

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.

Blackbird nest
Blackbird nest

I also spotted a muskrat lodge while I was looking for the nests.

Muskrat lodge
Muskrat lodge

Which gives the segué into:

Mammals

Here is a red squirrel in the garden.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel

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.

Squirrels nest in red pine
Squirrels’ nest in red pine
Squirrel dining table
Squirrel dining table

Cedar Forest

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.

Path to woods with snow
Path to woods with snow

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.

Pigeon River frozen
Pigeon River frozen

Looking upstream from the bridge are some interesting ice formations on the rocks.

Pigeon River starts to freeze over
Pigeon River starts to freeze over

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:

River upstream from bridge
River upstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge

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.

Self-penetrating cedar
Self-penetrating cedar

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.

Cedar struck by lighting
Cedar struck by lighting

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.

Cedar regrows
Cedar regrows

Miscellaneous

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.

Mayfly nymph
Mayfly nymph

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.

Yucca
Yucca

A bird in the bush

A couple of photos of birds in bushes in our garden

The small birds love the golden ninebark as it is so dense that even the sharp-shinned hawk can’t catch them in it. Your task is to count all the juncos, starting from the blurred one in the foreground which is not in the bush.

Juncos in Ninebark
Juncos in Ninebark

Next is a black-capped chickadee.  The dogwood provides some welcome winter colour and is even prettier in this shot with the ice covering from the storm.

Chickadee in dogwood
Chickadee in dogwood

Birds in flight

I decided to practice shooting birds in flight (camera, not gun).  Here are some of those practice shots.  We can see later if I learned anything other than “must be more patient”.  All these were shot at 1/1,000th of a second.

I am always fascinated by the degree of control by these birds.  Obviously there is a lot of independent control of parts of flight surfaces and landing gear in order to perform all these aerobatics.  It’s very far from just flapping up and down.

This blue jay is not being chased by robo-heron, just a trick of perspective.

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

The next two are the same chickadee, taken about 1/40th second apart, as it lands on the peanut feeder.

Chickadee 1
Chickadee 1
Chickadee 2
Chickadee 2

The lesson from those two, which are blurred from being magnified, is to be more patient.  Zoom in on a smaller spot and wait, rather than wider angle in the hopes of catching more in a shorter wait time.

Next are a pair of chickadees showing off their bush skills.  They don’t seem at all troubled at the challenge of zooming around in a dogwood bush in spite of the very limited clearance between branches.

Chickadees in dogwood
Chickadees in dogwood
Chickadees in dogwood 2
Chickadees in dogwood 2

Next are three shots of the same nuthatch, landing on a twig, from which the peanut feeder is suspended.

Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch 2
Nuthatch 2
Nuthatch 3
Nuthatch 3

The birds don’t fight, but it is generally understood that when a bigger bird arrives, the smaller one leaves.

Nuthatch displaces chickadee
Nuthatch displaces chickadee
Woodpecker displaces nuthatch
Woodpecker displaces nuthatch

Finally, something I didn’t see startled a mixed flock of ground-feeding birds.  I’m not sure if the one junco that stayed put is going to win out by getting more food, or lose if the hawk catches it.

Juncos and sparrows
Juncos and sparrows