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

Nice ice on the Pigeon River

I went down for a walk in the woods today.

Path to woods with snow
Path to woods with snow

The Pigeon River is starting to freeze over, so I got some pictures of the ice formations and some animal tracks.

Pigeon River starts to freeze
Pigeon River starts to freeze

A closer look at the rock in the foreground:

Ice on Rocks
Ice on Rocks

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.

Pigeon River more frozen
Pigeon River more frozen

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.

Me with stick
Me with stick

As the sheet of ice works its way out, it makes interesting shapes.

Edge of the ice
Edge of the ice

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.

Ice lace
Ice lace

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.

Horsetail on rock
Horsetail on rock

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.

Deer tracks
Deer tracks
Squirrel tracks
Squirrel tracks

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.

Garbage
Garbage

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

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