Early February miscellany

World Wetlands Day

Yesterday (February 2nd) was World Wetlands Day; a lot more important than Groundhog day. So here are a few pictures of the wetlands around our home.  We live in Kawartha Lakes which, as the name hints, has many lakes. It is largely flat so the lakes and rivers have large borders of wetlands.

Wetlands are important for many reasons, but I’ll let them speak for themselves via this sign at Windy Ridge Conservation Area, about 20 km downstream from where the Pigeon River flows past our home.

Wetland sign
Wetland sign

Here’s two pictures of the Pigeon River at Windy Ridge, just before Fleetwood Creek joins it.

Pigeon River at Mount Horeb
Pigeon River at Mount Horeb
Pigeon River at Windy Ridge
Pigeon River at Windy Ridge

The next Windy Ridge picture is of one of the many duck nesting boxes along the river.

Windy Ridge Duck nesting box
Windy Ridge Duck nesting box

This is inside a conservation area. The smart ducks live here. Just downstream, there are more hides for hunters than there are nesting boxes in this part, so I don’t think ducks would be safe.

The next picture is of a stand of elms just by the river. I hope they are healthy. We have two healthy-looking elms on the edge of our garden but they’re not yet showing the classic elm shape, even though they’re 10m (30′) high. However, I’ve had to cut down most of them and burn them, because of dutch elm disease. I had to cut two this year.

Elms at Windy Ridge

About a kilometer upstream from us is where the Pigeon starts, in another wetland. I was surprised to find it still flowing, as further downstream it is frozen over (not solid). I suspect that the wetland is spring-fed with slightly warmer underground water as I don’t think the bog is big enough to contain enough water to feed that amount of flow all winter.

Pigeon River source
Pigeon River source

Back to our home

The frontage of our home, along the road, is edged by a small strip of bog, which has shrunk considerably since the council put culverts in. Still, I was lucky it was frozen as I had to walk across to retrieve garbage that had blown into the bushes.  I have also retrieved balloons from here and all over our 13 acres from time to time. It’s not just the people who wander over the land that leave them, but also airborne garbage that is cluttering up the countryside.

Garbage in tree
Garbage in tree

The very mild weather has left us with very little snow. Usually there is an extensive underground network of vole tunnels, but this year they are very exposed. No doubt our local hawks and owls are happy.

Vole tracks
Vole tracks

I expect the birds prefer warmer weather. The ground birds are particularly happy as there are more seeds to eat when the weeds are not covered with snow. But this downy woodpecker felt the need to fluff up and shelter on the south side of the tree from a bitter north wind.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

Finally, as a warning, make sure you set alarms when multi-tasking with bread baking, so that this doesn’t happen. The bread turned out fine, maybe a slice less, but the cleanup was a nuisance.

Bread Bowl oops
Bread Bowl oops

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

Welney Wetlands

The other Norfolk wetlands, besides Titchwell Marsh, that we saw on our trip to England (Lancashire wetlands to come later) was Welney.  Welney was more for tourists in that you could go to their large hide and look out, but you couldn’t walk around.  They had a naturalist who would do a “show” every hour or so, explaining what was going on to a crowd of around 100, so although I learned some interesting things, it wasn’t at all as “feet on” as Titchwell.  There are many other places to see birds so I would rather have seen some of them.

Anyway, the main feature for Welney is the swans.  Norfolk is where swans from many parts north, including Scotland and Scandinavia, where swans come to winter over.  They go out to the fields to graze for most of the day and then head back to Welney as it gets dark, to be safe from predators.  We got there an hour or so before dark, to see them arriving.  Here are the pictures.

Swans arriving - Welney
Swans arriving – Welney

Swans look very elegant both when swimming and flying, but they are a little awkward when landing.

More swans - Welney
More swans – Welney

In the next picture, you can see how many birds are arriving; not all swans but also many kinds of ducks.

Swans ducks and arriving flocks - Welney
Swans ducks and arriving flocks – Welney

The brown swan in the next picture is this year’s cygnet – full size already and able to migrate. The mallards are the familiar green-headed ducks, while the brown-headed are pochards.

Swans pochards mallards - Welney
Swans pochards mallards – Welney

There were several other kinds around but many of my pictures turned out a little blurred as the light faded quickly.

In the next picture I did manage to find one trail away from the observation hide, which you can see in the middle left. This also gives you some idea of the density of birds that overnight here, although the sky was still thick with more birds arriving.

Welney sunset
Welney sunset

Two other swan trivia from my past.

When I was in my mid teens, my girlfriend lived in a place called Doffcocker, which had a large pond called Doffcocker Lodge.  It was famous (among naturalists) for having trumpeter swans, so that’s where I saw those for the first time.

All swans in England belong to the Queen.  You can’t kill them without her permission.  However, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are allowed to kill them and roast them for their May Balls.  So I could have had an opportunity to eat swan while I was at Cambridge, but I never got around to it (or indeed the May Ball at all, as they were a bit too fancy for me and they occurred a few weeks after end of term at which point I was hard at work trying to make some money.

Birding at Titchwell marsh, Norfolk

Birds in the wetlands at Titchwell marsh, Norfolk, UK, from our recent holiday there.

On our recent (end November, beginning December) holiday in the UK, we included a side-trip to Norfolk.  We stayed in a nice place on a golf course, even though neither of us golf. We did take a look at the Norfolk Broads, though you can’t really see much of them from the road; you need to rent a boat and I imagine they get crowded in tourist season.

So mostly I toured the other, more interesting to me, waters; the wetlands.  I was going to put all the interesting pictures of the two-week holiday on this blog today but I got bogged down a bit with trying to identify one of the birds.  I failed and ran out of time, so instead, here are pictures of my favourite wetland birding places, or at least out of the few we had time to visit out of the many available.

One problem was that there wasn’t much daylight.  It was too dark to see well by 3:30 p.m.

The big advantage of the RSPB reserve at Titchwell, where today’s pictures were taken, is that it is right on the coast, so it has salt marshes but also has a dyke to hold back the sea and separate out a set of fresh water marshes as well, so in one stop you can see both environments.  Which means that one stop lasts at least as long as daylight holds.

Here are a couple of pictures from the seaward side of the dyke.

Black-headed gull
Black-headed gull

The same gull, with a friend.

Black-headed gull and egret at Titchwell Marsh
Black-headed gull and egret at Titchwell marsh

There are several kinds of rails (Rallidae) at Titchwell.  Rails are shy birds – I watched this coot for quite a while and this is as far out from the reeds as it would come.

Coot
Coot

Moorhens are in the same family, but not quite as shy and they have a little more colour on beak and legs.

Moorhen
Moorhen

There are other kinds of rails at Titchwell, such as the Water Rail, but I didn’t manage to see any and the one I did see, up north in Lancashire, didn’t stay around long enough for a picture.

Curlews are not so easy to see.  The one silhouetted against the water is easy enough, but there is another in the picture.

Curlews and lapwing
Curlews and lapwing

Somehow, the one on the right transmuted into an egret. How did that happen? I suppose curlews are good actors.

Egret Curlew and lapwing
Egret Curlew and lapwing

You can tell it’s still a curlew because it acts just the same.

Egret Curlew and lapwing
Egret Curlew and lapwing

But the lapwing has had enough of this nonsense and doesn’t share my sense of humour. It’s outa here.

Egret Curlew and lapwing
Egret, Curlew and lapwing

But there are plenty more arriving.

Flocks
More flocks arriving

I don’t know what the ones in the foreground of the picture below are, with the yellow spots on their tails – not too well focused as the light was too low to stop down enough to get everything in focus.  If you know, please leave a comment – no sign-in required.

Golden Plover
Golden Plover

I’m fairly sure these hides are at Titchwell – there is also a very large one with modern architecture, but this one was also in the same sequence so almost certainly another pair off to the side.

Hides at Titchwell Marsh
Hides at Titchwell marsh

Maybe the departing lapwing above was en route to join its friends below.

Lapwings
Lapwings
Little Grebe
Little Grebe
Shelduck
Shelduck
Shovelling Shelduck
Shovelling Shelduck
Wigeons at Titchwell Marsh
Wigeon pair at Titchwell marsh

The next isn’t altogether a bird picture but there were huge mounds of turnips like these all over Norfolk as well as huge flocks of starlings like the ones shown.

Turnips and starlings
Turnips and starlings

It’s hard to remember in the peace of the bird sanctuaries that only 75 years ago, Norfolk was just across a short stretch of water from Nazi armies and had to be prepared to repel invaders, so there are structures like these all along the channel and North Sea, as well as traps in the sea to wreck landing craft.

Coastal defenses at Titchwell Marsh
Coastal defenses at Titchwell Marsh

Saltmarshe

The destination of our trip across to the east coast of Yorkshire was Saltmarshe, on the banks of the River Ouse, flowing out into the Humber estuary.

Saltmarshe sign
Saltmarshe sign

Every village in England welcomes careful drivers. Not only because that’s always a good idea but because most of the places we went had rather narrow roads.

Railway bridge
Railway bridge near Saltmarshe

You can see why it is a salt marsh; it is as flat as Saskatchewan and the river is tidal at this point. Here is the river, which was on the other side of a dyke from the cottage we stayed in.

River Ouse
River Ouse

We stayed in Orchard Cottage, one of two on this farm. We highly recommend it. Very comfortable and welcoming hosts.  They were barely recovered from the recent very bad weather which had resulted in extensive floods.  We saw some of the areas not cleaned up and it must have been a heroic attempt to get ready for us.

Orchard Cottage
Orchard Cottage

Yes, that’s a stable on the left side.  The horses were quiet “neigh”bours.  There were many birds in the garden.  The English blackbirds are beautiful singers, unlike our raucous red-winged blackbirds.  Here is another bird among the petals dropped from the apple trees.

Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail

In order to construct a railway, raised above the floodplain, fill was required.  That left a hole, now a wetland bird sanctuary, called Saltmarshe Delph.  (For my non-English readers, “delph” is English for “quarry”)

In the aftermath of the flood, the delph was not as accessible as it presumably is in normal times.  The surrounding trees were still submerged a foot in water, so it was hard to get to a suitable point for photography without getting rather wet and as I just had time for a short visit, I didn’t do that.  I wish I’d had my brother-in-law’s folding kayak.  My canoe is hard to fit into a suitcase.  Still, I did get a few pictures:

Swan with Cygnets
Swan with Cygnets

In case you were wondering why baby swans are called cygnets, it is because we English are perverse and took the name of the adult animal from Old English, but the baby from the Greek, which is also the root of the “latin” name, Cygnus olor.

Just because swans always look too dignified, here is one looking less so, using its long neck to feed under water.

Swan feeding
Swan feeding

Swans in England belong to the Queen.  At the May Ball, in Cambridge University, they have the privilege of roasting some of them.  Unfortunately I missed my chances as I needed money so as the May Ball was a couple of weeks after end of the year, I was already hard a work back up north, sweating in a factory-style bakery. As I’m still a College member, in theory I could still go but it’s a long way to go to eat a bird.

Back to birds; here’s some more:

Cormorant: Saltmarshe Delph
Cormorant: Saltmarshe Delph
Crested Grebe
Crested Grebe
Heron and Mallards
Heron and Mallards

I heard lots more birds than I saw but would have needed much more time to track them down.  And my binoculars magnify more than my telephoto lens so I saw more than I could photograph.

That’s all I have time for tonight.  Next entry will have another, larger, wetland reserve and a few pictures of shore birds from Spurn Head.

I have lots of pictures from home now, but they’ll have to wait until I finish the trip photos.