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

 

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

Weedeaters and Feeder Wars

Juncos eating weed seeds and the uneasy truce between juncos and mourning doves at the feeder.

One advantage of having a lot of weeds in your garden is that it saves a lot on bird food, assuming you want to attract birds.  Here are a couple of juncos in our garden, feasting on the seeds (if you remember a similar scene from last week, it was sparrows then).

Juncos feeding on weed seeds
Juncos feeding on weed seeds

There is a definite pecking order at the feeder, but it is not what mathematicians call transitive (e.g. if x is bigger than y and y bigger than z you know that x is bigger than z).  Just because a mourning dove chases a blue jay away and a blue jay chases a junco, it does not mean that mourning doves get the better of juncos.

Although this incoming mourning dove scared away the junco when it surprised it, the junco came right back and scared the dove.  In the end, they settled down to feed together:

Incoming dove
Incoming dove 1
Incoming dove 2
Incoming dove 2
Incoming junco
Incoming junco

Notice the white feathers on either side of the junco’s tail.  They are hidden when the junco is on the ground but flare brightly on take-off and landing.  Since the juncos usually travel in flocks of a dozen or so, these are presumably warning signals that alert the others that the first one has seen some reason to take off in a hurry.

Junco evil eye
Junco evil eye

In the picture above, the junco is sizing up the dove.  A few seconds later it joined the dove in feeding – truce declared.

 

 

 

Medium Ice Storm yesterday

We had an ice storm yesterday. Even though it was somewhat destructive, it did have its beauty; here are some pictures of ice-coated plants and a few birds having a difficult time perching.

We had an ice storm yesterday.  We were luckier than many of our neighbours as our power was only out for three hours. Others had to wait about 24 hours, including Pontypool stores.  We drove up highway 35 for a little way, to go from Pontypool to Nestleton to find an open store.  We saw lots of trees on power lines, snapped power poles and lots of trucks with cherry-pickers repairing the lines.  Even though it was somewhat destructive, it did have its beauty; here are some pictures of ice-coated plants and a few birds having a difficult time perching.  Several skidded right off our deck, trying to land close to seeds we put out.

Cardinal on iced thorn bush
Cardinal on iced thorn bush
Mourning dove on iced vine
Mourning dove on iced vine

A couple of trees:

 

Iced corkscrew hazel
Iced corkscrew hazel
Ice covered birch
Ice covered birch

 

Here are a couple of shots of a Northern Flicker.  They are a variety of woodpecker that does not usually feed on trees.  It is looking for some grubs in the (frozen) lawn in these shots.

Thrasher on iced lawn
Thrasher on iced lawn
Thrasher on iced lawn
Thrasher on iced lawn

Here is a short video clip of the thrasher, which demonstrates how it got its name.

Flicker

(Click link to view Flash video)