Thursday, December 28, 2006

Muskrat Town

During my walk on the the ice-covered marsh several weeks ago I came across at least two dozen muskrat houses or lodges all located fairly close together. This is only what I witnessed on my short walk so there are likely many more. In past years the lodges were few possibly because the water level was much lower. In fact there was very little if any open water and mostly bog. The water must be at least a 30 cm. [1 foot] higher now allowing for all this open water and now ice.

The muskrat [Ondatra zibethicus] is a very large rodent and according to there can be as many as a dozen inhabitants in one of these lodges. If this is so then there could be over several hundred individual muskrats in this marsh area.

Several years ago I blogged that I trapped, or rather cornered, a fisher - a very large member of the weasel family - up a tree. The tree looked over open water and I did see a muskrat swiming in it. It would seem that the fisher was then stalking the muskrat.

Although an omnivor - eats both plants and animals - the muskrat is mainly a herbivor and thrives best on cattails of which there are many as you can see in the picture.

With respect to the food chain it is obvious from the many internet websites that the muskrat is prey for a large number of predators as is the snowshoe hare.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Swamp Rose.

A couple of weeks ago we had a relative cold snap where the temperatures plummeted to minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) for the entire night. Next morning there was also a light dusting of snow on the ground so I thought that this would be an ideal time to walk the woods to seek out some animal tracks, but alas none were found. The temperatures dropped enough mind you to freeze the ice on marsh at the back of the property; solid enough to allow me to walk on. There was nary a crack in the ice other than right next to shore where there was some running water.

While walking on the marsh ice I found a rose as pictured here. According to “Shrubs of Ontario” by Soper and Heimburger ISBN 0-88854-283-6, published by the Royal Ontario Museum, 1982, this is the Swamp Rose [Rosa palustris Marsh] and its range includes all of Southern Ontario. According to various websites it is also common in all of eastern United States, southern Quebec and the Maritimes.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Stores for the Red Squirrel

This is the second year now that I have witnessed these small piles of Sw (white spruce) cones throughout the forest under the Sw tree of course. It is a rather unusual sight. I know that when we lived in town we had black squirrels that contributed immensely to the random planting of crocus and tulip bulbs, chestnuts, and acorns, as they cached their winter supplies. There was no other explanation for how the tulips and crocuses grew among our bushes. I have yet to figure out how these rodents ever found their hidden treasures. The numbers of successfully sprouted tulips would belie that they were not that successful.

The only settled tree dwellers found here are red squirrels [Tamiasciurus hudsonicus] who regularly chatter and chirp as they announce to all other forest dwellers your imminent arrival. There was once a black squirrel seen on the property but I am guessing that the food supply for it was not sufficiently abundant. It seems that the black squirrel, - which is actually a black phase of the eastern gray squirrel [Sciurus carolinensis], according to Burt and Grossenheider* - is only interested in “The big sugar” provided by bird feeds in the suburbs and not this paltry fare of the native forest.

So these small piles of cones must be the work of red squirrels as they set up their winter food caches. This squirrel must also have regular eating places. One will often find piles of cone shucks under a tree or on a prominent rock.

The range of the Red Squirrel tends to be to the north and west of here whereas the Grey or Gray Squirrel ranges south down all the way to Florida.

Burt and Grossenheider, “A Field Guide to The Mammals, 1964, The Peterson Field Guide Series, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Greeting Cards are Available with FSC Certified Stock

We recently received junk mail from a charity that included ‘free’ greeting cards. The cards had the FSC Mark on them which looks like the mark pictured here. This is great news and also very important news. We – you and I – can now choose to buy card stock that originates from properly managed woodlots and through an approved chain of custody. It also encourages us certified woodlot owners to continue this practice and helps sell the concept to the other more sceptic or uninformed woodlot owners.

We, greeting card consumers can now opt to make one more purchasing decision that will protect the environment for our future generations – our grandchildren.

You are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Here is an opportunity to be part of the solution.

When you look under the symbol on the cards you will see a certification code. For example the card that we happened to receive had the certificate code: sw-coc-1356. I am guessing that SW stands for Smartwood. COC stands for chain of custody. If one looks up this code on you will find out that the card was printed by Primrose Printing Inc. O/A as Allegra Print & Imaging, located at 278 Albert Street Ottawa, Ontario K1P_5G8, Canada.

We should patronise these companies.

The interesting fact is that the FSC site is an international organisation. Participants include countries with rainforests like Bolivia.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Vernal Pools topped up and quacking ducks

Last evening when I arrived home I was welcomed by a most untimely choral greeting. I was hearing peeps in the woods, a sound typically reserved for late spring. This I am quite sure must have been the spring peeper frogs whose seasonal rhythms must have been upset by the unusually warm and very wet weather. We have had about two weeks of steady rain and the woods are very wet. All the vernal pools that were dry a couple of weeks ago are now brimming. Vernal pools typically dry up at least once a year which creates a special environment, i.e. no fish or similar predators, where certain species like salamanders can survive.

The wetlands at the back of the property where teaming with duck. I couldn’t see them from the edge of the high water in the woods by I could hear the cacophony. It is an odd behaviour. The ducks would go into these quacking fits. They would all quack at different times. I presume it has something to do with courting and procreation. Does anybody know what that is about? I could see the ducks flying overhead but I could not identify them through the trees. This is the first year that I have seen this presence of duck on our property.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Loostrife Report No. Three

This is year three that I am reporting on Purple Loosestrife [Lythrum salicaria L.] According to "Weeds of Canada and the Northern United States", 1999, by France Royer and Richard Dickinson, ISBN 0-88864-311-X, Purple Loosestrife has been introduced in the late 1800s, and yet it was only in the last couple of decades that the plant has become an invasive and unmanageable plant. As a kid I can still remember seeing the plant grow along the roadside and often picked it and brought it home to Ma to put in a vase.

Two years ago I posted a lament on the loosestrife curse. Last year I reported the finding of the loosestrife beetle or Galerucella beetle and this year in Heartwoodlot the loosestrife has become basically invisible. Whatever plants remain are no more than some 30 cm. (1 foot) tall and all are riddled with holes in the leaves. Each plant is literally infested with several Galerucella beetles such as the couple pictured here. There are also egg clusters visible. I believe that this is the Galerucella calmariensis or black margined beetle, but I am no expert. Obviously the beetle population is doing well but its food supply is dwindling and hence the overcrowding.

The only problem now is that we no longer get that beautiful view of the purple field, but we can live with that. I do like the cattails and bulrushes just as much and they are now re-emerging nicely.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bloomin’ Hawthorne Tree

The Hawthorne bushes are blooming. The Hawthorne variety here exhibits a flower that is very similar to apple and is very short lived. The blossoming apple tree that I photographed just over a week ago is still partially in bloom whereas the hawthorns started blooming about two days ago and are already dropping their petals. With the steady rain that we have had it as been difficult to get a good picture before the flower started to disappear. A picture of the tree shows nothing after what was left after the heavy rains so here is a picture of a blossom instead.

I have been trying to identify which Hawthorne species we have but apparently there are hundreds of varieties. It will take a much more concerted effort to identify it exactly. I have a few leaves from the tree but they look very similar to several varieties on the field guide and too different yet for positive identification. I will need to examine the characteristics of rest of the tree further for a definitive identification.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


One tends to fear those things unkown more than anything. The purple loosestrife episode is behind me. In the past I covered considerable posts on purple loosestrife which is now happily under control due to an introduced beetle. This spring when the beetle emerges I will post a photo of it now that I have the means to take close up photos.

My new invasive species project will be on garlic mustard. I have for the last day or so spent considerable time finding out how to properly dispose of the garlic mustard plants.

The Andirondack Park Invasive Plant Program is one of the best sites I have found so far. See: It also provides a best management practices that you can down load as a word document. It also covers a number of other invasive plants that do not seem to be too much of a problem here, like Japanese Knotweed.

I have cut and pasted a portion of the text from document BMPs3-06 Appendix A, of the above website entitled Best Management Practices.



Garlic mustard is a naturalized European biennial herb that typically invades partially shaded forested and roadside areas. It is capable of dominating the ground layer and excluding other herbaceous species. Its seeds germinate in early spring and develops a basal rosette of leaves during the first year. Garlic mustard produces white, cross-shaped flowers between late April and June of the following spring. Plants die after producing seeds, which typically mature and disperse in August. Normally its seeds are dormant for 20 months and germinate the second spring after being formed. Seeds remain viable for up to 7 years.


1. Pulling.

Hand pulling is an effective method for removing small populations of garlic mustard, since plants pull up easily in most forested habitats. It is best to pull plants when seed pods are not yet mature, but they can be pulled during most of the year.

Soil should be tamped down firmly after removing the plant. Soil disturbance can bring existing garlic mustard seed bank to the surface, thus creating a favorable environment for additional germination within the control site.

Care should be taken to minimize soil disturbance but to remove all root tissues. Re-sprouting may occur from mature plants root systems if not entirely removed. Cutting is preferred to pulling when garlic mustard infestations are interspersed amongst native grasses/forbs or other sensitive or rare flora.

If plants have capsules present, they should be bagged and disposed of to prevent seed dispersal. Bag all plant parts & remove from site (compost at DOT Residency, dispose of in approved landfill or incinerate with appropriate permits).

Clean all clothing, boots, & equipment to prevent spread of seed.

2. Cutting

Cutting is effective for medium-to large-sized populations depending on available time and labor resources. Dormant seeds in the soil seed bank are unaffected by this technique due to minimal disturbance of the soil.

Cut stems when in flower (late spring/early summer) at ground level either manually (with clippers or a scythe) or with a motorized string trimmer. This technique will result in almost total mortality of existing plants and will minimize re-sprouting.

Cuttings should be conducted annually for 5 to 7 years or until the seed bank is depleted.

Cut stems should be removed from the site when possible since they may produce viable seed even when cut. Bag all plant parts & remove from site (compost at DOT Residency, dispose in approved landfill or incinerate with appropriate permits).

Clean all clothing, boots, & equipment to prevent spread of seed.

3. Herbicide

Roundup will not affect subsequent seedling emergence of garlic mustard or other plants.

Use glyphosate formulations only. Should be applied after seedlings have emerged, but prior to flowering of second-year plants. Application should be by spray bottle or wick applicator for individual spot treatments.

This herbicide is not selective (kills both monocots & dicots), thus should be applied carefully to prevent killing of non-target species. All tank mixes should be mixed with clean (ideally distilled) water because glyphosate binds tightly to sediments, which reduces toxicity to plants.
Do not apply in windy conditions because spray will drift and kill other plants. Do not apply if rain is forecast w/in 12 hours because herbicide will be washed away before it can act. Choose Rodeo® formulation for applications in standing water or along a shoreline.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Chokecherry is in Bloom

I have been noticing a small shrub along the roadside in my commutes to and from work that has an interesting flower pattern. From a distance the flower arrangement looks like a tree or shrub of little white tubes. In my morning stroll in the rain today, - it has been raining for two weeks straight now – I found the same shrub and took some branches home for identification. The branches are alternate. The leaves looked a lot like Buckthorn but the flowers distinctively were not. A little research and help from my friend Carroll we zeroed in on the Chokecherry [Prunus Virginiana L. var virginiana] which it definitely is. The flowers make a nice arrangement in a vase.

Have not found any more garlic mustard in the woodlot thankfully.

Attack of the Garlic Mustard in the Woodlot

With much concern I discovered Garlic Mustard [Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande] on our property last night for the first time. It took hold in a patch along the eastern edge of our driveway presumably carried in by the dirt on the tires or on the car. For the time being the contamination seems to be confined to a roughly circular area no more than three metres (10 feet) across. This morning I have pulled all the flowering plants from the patch and will now watch it diligently. I also noticed stalks of the plant that probably grew there last year. There are many rosettes that have taken hold in small garbage can lid sized clearings.

The book Ontario Weeds (reprinted February, 2001), By J.F. Alex, published by Ontario Ministry of Ariculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to order see ) devotes a full page on the plant. It states that Garlic Mustard only reproduces by seed so I will watch the flower development and keep plucking them.

For more info there are many websites on this invasive weed such as:
The flower of the Garlic Mustard is easily recognised by its small white cross shape as in the photograph here. The flowers in this photo range from 8mm to 10 mm. (approx. 5/16 to3/8 in.) across.

In the urban parts of the City of Ottawa especially downtown this invasive weed has completely taken over the gardens especially in the greenspace areas along the edge of the river. I am curious to know what the City or the National Capital Commission – custodian for much of Ottawa’s greenspace – are going to do about it. It has spread there to epidemic proportions and in time I fear that it will spread out to here to a degree where it will no longer be manageable. In other words it will start creeping in from the neighbouring lots which are uninhabited and which I have no control over.

Garlic Mustard will completely take over ground cover areas in forests and choke out natural indigenous species. Thus it has a very negative effect on forest biodiversity. Also a recent article claims that the plant kills fungi in the ground that are essential for the growth of trees such the Sugar Maple. For a story on this see:

This plot was weedable but I was still not able to remove all the rosettes. They are quite small and planted among rocks which is hard to get at. Some of the larger plants broke off at the root since the roots were firmly embedded among the rocks. I will watch them to see if they will sprout.

Let’s hope that it will be a long time before more of this scourge really arrives.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nature’s own Floral Displays or perhaps an Introduced Pioneer Apple Tree

This is a picture of one of a dozen or so apple trees that seem to be haphazardly planted around this woodlot. Most of them bear a small tart apple. Yet one apple tree near the middle of the woodlot bore a yellow-green apple with a rusty hue and rough texture, which I believe is identified as the russet. It produced apples in abundance one year but very few before or since. I tasted one that was probably not ripe yet as it was still sour. I figured that the pioneers probably thought it was great for pies or preserves or something. The russet I am told is a true pioneer apple and I mean pioneer in the sense that the early settlers introduced it. The adjective “pioneer” should not be confused with pioneer trees such as poplars and birches which tend to be the first to take root in clearings and prepare the soil for subsequent higher quality trees like oaks and maples.

I was not even aware of this little apple tree in the photo, until I had cleared out the Manitoba Maples [Acer negundo L.] a.k.a. box-elder (particularly in the US), or Ashleaf maple, that choked out the surrounding area. The tree was completely taken over and dominated by Manitoba Maples. These Maples are locally ranked in the “Soft Maple” category since the wood is indeed not very sound, but they grow profusely. This year the apple tree has come out in full bloom as the photo depicts. It is a lovely celebration of its release.

Another beautiful flowering tree is the Hawthorne, which are abundant in this woodlot along the edges of clearings. Their time to flower has yet to come. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Fat Starnose Mole, Page 2 of 2.

According to my trusty Peterson Field Guide “A Field Guide to the Mammals – Field Marks of all Species found north of the Mexican boundary” by William Henry Burt and Richard Philip Grossenheider, The Riverside Press – Houghton Mifflin Co., Cambridge, MASS. 1964, the Starnose mole is recognized as follows: Head and body, 4 ½ - 5 in.: tail 3-3 ½ in.; wt, 1 1/5 – 2 4/5 oz.

So this mole is within but at the upper end of the range for what this mole should be. 2 4/5 oz is exactly what I weighed this one at. You can see the length of the mole from the pictures with the scale shown.

This field guide was my first field guide, a birthday present in 1965 on my 13th birthday. It still seems as accurate today as it was then.

A Fat Star Nosed Mole, Page 1 of 2.

This evening after a walk in the woodlot, as I arrived at the house, I found a dead starnose mole [Condylura cristata] at the base of the stairs to the back deck. The mole seemed awful big, but then not being familiar with the species, it may well be normal. I placed the ruler in the photo to get some idea how large it is. It weighed about 85 grams (~2.8 oz.) using a letter weigh scale. It has a smoky black fur of a very fine texture.

Page 2 has a picture of the mole from the other side. This may seem a little gory and not the most pleasant for some but then it is really quite unusual and might be interest others.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sudden blossoming of the Serviceberry

Sudden blossoming of the Serviceberry

This morning the Serviceberry [Amerlancier spp.] shrubs suddenly appeared in bloom. I was expecting them soon and during our drive last Sunday we were actively looking for them, so their blossoms did arrive it was quite sudden. In these parts it is common to see the white spots of the blossoms along the forest edges of various woodlots in the area. Just as is pictured you can easily make out the white blossoms from a good distance against the grey background of the still unfoliated woodlot.

I made the identification of this shrub after looking up the plant in "Weeds of the Woods - Small trees and Shrubes of the Eastern Forest", by Glen Bouin, Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, New Brunswick, ISBN 0-86492-127-6.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

An Amphibious Chorus

Spring brings so many wonders of new life. The winter – as mild as it was – was long enough for one to appreciate just how magnificent spring is when it does arrive. As I have posted previously, each spring the chorus of northern spring peepers [Pseudacris crucifer] serenades us in the evenings. I could also hear another sound that for the longest time I mistook for a cricket. The peeper makes a fairly shrill peep. This other sound was a much softer and quite pleasant vibrating whistle.

Last summer at one of the meetings or conferences that we attended I picked up a CD entitled: “Natural Sounds of Ontario, Birds, Frogs and Mammals” by Monty Brigham. It is distributed by RMP Biological Ltd. C/o Monty Brigham, P.O. Box 1061, Manotick, ON K4M 1A9, Canada. Sale of the CD supports the activities of the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum in Kemptville ON. See for more details.

The CD is a compilation of 97 natural sounds. Through this CD I was able to determine that the sound that I thought was a cricket was actually an American Toad [Bufo Americanus]. According to Peterson Field Guide, Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central America, by Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins, ISBN 0-395-90452-8, this toad is probably the most common in this area and we are located in the midst of its range. For some more local information on the toad see This toad has a voracious appetite for insects and other invertebrates which is great as we have lots.

So now when I go to sleep to the amphibious lullaby I will know who is performing.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Screaming In the Woods, or Another Meso-Predator Bights the Dust.

At four thirty this morning I was wakened by a violent noise a distance away in the woods, that sounded like a small mammal - possibly racoon - in a vicious fight. This reminded me of a topic that was presented at the Ontario Woodlot Association AGM that was held in Peterborough, Ontario on Saturday March 18th last month. The talk was entitled Forest Songbirds in Southern Ontario presented by Erica Nol of Trent University. The presentation was introduced with the following text:
Forest songbirds are an integral part of our forest ecosystems. The range and abundance of songbirds is determined to a large extent by the availability of suitable breeding habitat. Come and learn about some of the common forest songbirds found in southern Ontario woodlots, their habitat requirements and some of the pressures impacting their habitat and populations.
In her talk I recall that she described the impact of meso-predators on forest songbirds. Meso-predators typically include the racoon, skunk, fox, bobcat and opossum. Opossums are not known here but are becoming common in Southern Ontario. These mammals will attack bird nests and prey on the eggs and young. The thrush family is a typical woodland bird that builds its nest low to the ground and thus is suseptible to this predator.

The speaker stated that the absence of major predators such as the wolf and mountain lion has allowed the release – or expansion – of meso-predators since they keep the meso predators in check. I am not sure where the coyote or fisher would fit into the predator ranks, but I am quite sure that what I heard was a coyote or fisher attacking or preying on a racoon. I have heard that racoon sound before when we lived in the suburbs when racoons were fighting either with themselves or another animal. In the suburbs we had many racoons and skunks in our garbage yet around here we have much fewer visits by these meso-predators. I am inclined to believe that the coyote and fisher are doing their part in playing the role of the major predator and keeping the meso-predator numbers down. Domestic cats, though unnatural probably qualify as meso-predators as well.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A brief Report on the OWA AGM 2006 Our Forests our Legacy

Carroll and I attended the 2006 Annual General Meeting of the OWA (Ontario Woodlot Association). This year’s theme title was “Our Forests – Our Legacy” a conference for woodlot owners and managers of Ontario's private forests. It was held on March 18, 2006 in Peterborough, ON.

Some personal observations, I found the talk on “The Value of Natural Capital in Settled Areas of Canada“ particularly interesting. Much of the estimates of the Values were not very rigorously calculated however there were some very good examples given. One is New York City’s dilemma where it has to decide to invest eight billion dollars in a water treatment plant, or invest in protecting green space in the Catskill mountains where the water supply currently originates. The second option examined the cost of encouraging area farms to use natural friendly practices such as natural buffers along watercourses etc. The entire presentation is available on the Internet. If and when I find it I will post the URL here.
There were also many other titbits provided in the other presentations which I will blog post on later.

The Meeting Program as published follows:

Ontario Woodlot Association
13th Annual General Meeting and Woodlot Conference
Our Forests – Our Legacy

You are invited to attend the Ontario Woodlot Association’s annual general meeting and woodlot conference, Our Forests – Our Legacy, to be held on Saturday, March 18, 2006, in Peterborough, Ontario.

Conference Details

This year’s annual general meeting and conference will feature topics that are relevant to woodlot owners and managers from all walks of life. We’ve invited presenters who will capture your imagination and provide you with a range of information about managing your woodlot.

Here are some of the features of this year’s event.

The Value of Natural Capital in Settled Areas of Canada (Jim Anderson, Ducks Unlimited)

Natural areas provide numerous benefits that have economic value, not only for people living near these areas, but also for other communities further away. Natural areas contribute to clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, recreation, biodiversity, erosion control, aesthetics, cultural pursuits, etc. This presentation will provide some insight into a case study where economic estimates of the values of natural areas -- natural capital -- have been developed.

Woodland Amphibians and Vernal Pools (Janine McLeod, Biologist)

Vernal pools are fascinating ecosystems with unique habitat. Fairy shrimp, wood frogs and mole salamanders are some of the species that would not survive without these small, temporary wetlands. Learn what you can do as a landowner to help conserve these important natural niches in your woodlot.

Agroforestry Opportunities for Landowners (Dr. Andrew Gordon, University of Guelph and Neil Thomas, Landowner)

Dr. Andrew Gordon will discuss some of the agroforestry options available to landowners in Ontario. Agroforestry is a way to enhance already productive agricultural operations by providing farmers with a second commodity to grow and harvest -- trees. The second part of this presentation will feature eastern Ontario landowner Neil Thomas who will tell about his personal experience with agroforestry.

Forest Songbirds in Southern Ontario (Erica Nol, Trent University)

Forest songbirds are an integral part of our forest ecosystems. The range and abundance of songbirds is determined to a large extent by the availability of suitable breeding habitat. Come and learn about some of the common forest songbirds found in southern Ontario woodlots, their habitat requirements and some of the pressures impacting their habitat and populations.

Careful Logging Practices (Martin Streit, Upper Canada Forestry Services)

One of the important steps in managing your woodlot (and in maximizing your future financial returns) is to use logging methods that will minimize the damage to residual trees and the site. This presentation will introduce landowners to a variety of careful logging practices that will help protect their woodlots.

When: Saturday, March 18, 2006

Where: Ervinrude Centre, 911 Monaghan Road, Peterborough, ON

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Registration: We are requesting that you pre-register for the conference. To register or to get more information, please call Rhonda at the Ontario Woodlot Association at 1-888-791-1103 ext. #221 or e-mail us at before March 1, 2006.

Registration fee: OWA members $20.00 and non-members $25.00 (includes lunch).

Supporters of this year’s conference include: Ferguson Forest Centre, Model Forest Network, K.H. Kesso & Sons Ltd., Nelson Paint Company of Canada, and the Peterborough County Stewardship Council.

As always, guests are welcome… so bring a friend!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Yellow Birch

There are several mature yellow birches [Betula alleghaniensis Britt.] in the Heartwood woodlot. This tree is located to the north of a clearing in Area C of the Woodlot Management Plan. I have always been fond of the weird and different birch tree. Birches are normally white while this birch is a beautiful coppery bronze.

During my high school years in the late '60's, I lived some 4 kilometres (2½ miles) out in the country west of the Island of Montreal in Quebec. During the winter and right after school and just before supper, I used to regularly step into my snowshoes and traipse out to the woods past the fields behind our house. The snow was typically 60 centimetres (2 feet) deep those days. Being mid winter I would head out when the sun was still up but by the time I was heading home it would be dark.

Armed with a small hand axe, pocket-knife and a few matches, once I reached my sheltered favourite spot in the woods, I would lay down a small mat of criss-crossed branches on top of the snow and build a small campfire upon it. Using the same spot all winter, over time the small fireplace would develop into a large hole in the snow about 2 metres (6 feet) wide. The snow inside this circle would be melted down to the earth layer.

I would place a log on the snow at the edge of the hole to sit on where I would frequently sit and gaze silently into the flame and listen to the crackling of the fire, the snapping of the frozen branches and distant sounds. This was one of my ways of dealing with turbulent teenage and high school years. In later years I remember my mother saying that I always came home relaxed from these walks. I have learnt since that indeed the characteristics of the flicker of a fire are known to be natural rhythms and relaxing and therapeutic to the brain and is recognised as a meditation and relaxation exercise.

The yellow birch bark as with all the other birches provided an excellent fire starter. The ribbons of bark would light even when wet. I would always only remove the loose flags of bark but never injured the core bark of the tree. This made fire starting easy and after a while I was able to start fires at any outside temperature and even in rain. In time you learned tricks such as to use the small dead branches at the base of coniferous trees as kindling. These were usually dry even after a heavy rain.

What I recall of that forest was that the yellow birches tended to be isolated trees among other species. This forest was a sugar bush dominated by the sugar maple [Acer Saccharum] and ash with poplar along the clearing edges. The forest must have been tapped for maple sugar at one time, since there were remains of a sugar cabin in the forest. The remains included a damaged 3 metre (10 feet) long maple sap steaming pan or kettle. This rubble must have already been at least 10 years old and thus dated back to the '50s.

After about an hour I would slowly let the fire die out and head home in the dark, striding back on my snowshoes in the blue glistening snow, which often sparkled in the moon light against the backdrop of the black silhouetted trees. That was all part of the experience.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Second Visit from a not-so-Shy Great Gray

This afternoon, as we drove up our driveway this big staring Owl welcomed us home. It was probably the same Great Gray Owl [Strix Nebulosa] that visited us last weekend. The owl was perched in the tallest Manitoba maple in our back yard. This tree died just this summer but it was for exactly this purpose that I did not take it down. It make a great perch for birds. Anyway, I thought that we would spook the bird as we busily exited the vehicle and entered the house, but instead, I was able to enter the house, return with a camera, take several pictures from up close - about 10 metres (30 ft.) away. We then unloaded the trunk and entered the house. All the while the owl remained unphased and instead attentively inspected all of our activities. Only about 15 minutes later after turning on the dryer – which caused air to blow out of the dryer vent – did the owl disappear. This is the best of the pictures I took.
All winter, we we been broadcasting cracked corn on the snow at the front of our house for the wild turkeys and I suspect that this is likely also attracted field mice, which in turn is attracting this owl.

A Feather on Crusty Snow

Yesterday was a beautiful day with a bright sun and clear blue sky. The air was cool, hovering around the freezing mark, and the mild west wind made the humid air nippy. The snow is not very deep at about 15 cm (half a foot). There is a thick crust of ice on top of old snow and a light wisp of new snow on top of the ice. The wispy layer is blown off the ice in the windy clearings. When walking one noisily breaks through the crust, so any ideas of startling and sighting some wildlife were out. Indeed I did not flush out any wildlife as they were well forewarned by this noisy operation.

This snow and ice strata allowed for easy observing of animal tracks and the dramas told. Snowshoe hare tracks were plentiful as were those of fisher, coyote and fox. There were also some ruffed grouse tracks. The ice layer must make it hard for the herbivores to forage. The snowshoe hares have completely eaten and stripped all the bark from one branch that broke off of a poplar tree along one of the trails. Poplar is not a tasty food so the supply must be getting scarce. Is that possibly why the hares are moving around so much and all the tracks?

Halfway out I came across a handsome feather that fell on the snow. It is pictured above. From the down at the base of the feather it is likely a breast feather and the colour pattern makes me think that it could be form a ruffed grouse; but there is considerably more brown than is typical of a ruffed grouse and it is quite large so it could also be from a hawk or owl.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Definitively a Great Gray

Late this afternoon I sat down for a break to read up on some research on my inherited wall clock. My mother gave me a wall clock that has been in her family for 80 some years. After some Internet research I found literature that helped me identify the maker and origin of the clock. It led me further to some online bookstores that sold books on this specific clock maker, now identified as Gustav Becker a well know clock maker from Freiburg in what was then Germany and now part of Poland. Gustav Becker died in 1885 but the company remained in existence up to WW2.

Yesterday we received a parcel notice from the post office. Since our mailbox is too small, it had to be picked up in the village. I had ordered the two books about Gustav Becker so I was expecting this parcel to be those two books. So this morning I drove the 6 country kilometres (4 or so miles) through white open fields into the Kars village though a snowstorm to retrieve my anticipated prize. All the while, Carroll has been tentatively watching the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics this morning which interested me too but not as much as this.

So during my break I read up on the clock and found out that it was in fact built or sold in 1926. It was still blowing and snowing outside, and so hard that the snow created horizontal lines in the air against the gray wooded background.

Then out of the corner of my eye I could make out a large bird alighting in a red pine tree very close to the house. At first I automatically assumed that it was a turkey as it was a big black bird. Then after further examination it had a round head with a noticeably flat face that rotated like a turret. It was not a turkey but an owl. The bird was perched in the far side of the tree so it was difficult to identify. After several minutes at that perch it flew to another tree near the front of the house. I was now able to get a few photos of it with our portrait camera which were not the best but better than nothing – I ought to get a better camera some day. The background was gray and the subject was gray, and also it was starting to get dark, all of which colluded to create what amounts to a black and white photograph. As you will see from the above picture it was perched with its back to us, but at times when it swiveled its head to the side I was able to make out the white swipe mark below its eye discs. The owl later moved to a lower perch and faced directly towards us. We were now able to clearly see the mustache shaped white marks below the eye discs. This is a characteristic mark and it confirmed without a doubt that we were looking at a Great Gray Owl [Strix Nebulosa].

Back in February 13th last year, I had reported a sighting of a grey owl but the evidence was not definitive. That post also provides considerably more detail about the owl and the fact that it was not a natural bird in this area and that such sightings are usually accidental. The gray in fact has become a regular in these parts for the last couple of years, during winters.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Closing the Loop on Woodlot Certification

  • Closing the Loop on Woodlot Certification

We normally get a bag of flyers in our mailbox Friday night or Saturday mornings. There is the normal bunch of flyers from Home Hardware, Leons Furniture, Home Depot, Sears etc. I always take a minute or two to go through each of the flyers to see if there is anything of remote interest on sale. I admit it that I am a flyer junky. Neighbours at our former home in suburbia did the right thing and reduced pollution by refusing flyers – or more aptly put, junk mail – in their mailboxs. I could never do that.

I came across something interesting in today’s Home Depot flyer. As part of its marketing strategy Home Depot is marketing ECO Options that cater to clients who are “Looking for ways to make better environmental choices when they renovate their home”. On page eight, Home Depot is selling a Maple Veneer Core Panel 4’ x 8’ x ¾”with the FSC trademark or Forestry Stewardship Council A.C.
The ad then includes a descriptive green bar with the following text:

FSC  Certification helps sustain our forests  The Forest Stewardship council is an international non-profit organization that supports environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.  When you see the FSC symbol, you know that sustainable forest practices have been followed

So how does this close the loop?

You will see from a posting on this blog on Thursday September 1, 2005 that I had Scott Davis, Certification Coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Model Forest (EOMF), Forest Certification Program visit and inspect my woodlot. As a result we had our woodlot certified and we now adhere to the certification criteria and entered the woodlot certification program. We also joined the Eastern Ontario Certified Forest Owners (EOCFO) organisation formed by individuals in Eastern Ontario who had been seeking, and in 2003 obtained, FSC group forest certification for their woodlots.
What does this mean?

FSC certification program requires that:

  • Wood is not harvested faster than it grows;
  • Water, wildlife and forest ecosystems are protected;
  • Standards are developed through a stakeholder process, not controlled by industry;
  • Standards measure on-the-ground results, not just policies, programs and plans; and
  • Standards, performance and recommendations are made public.

See for full details.

So now we have come full circle. Our good management practices will now be recognised not only because it is the right thing to do in its own right but also in a more tangible means where the measures are recognised and valued in the marketplace. Also this will now let the non-woodlot owner and client for wood products participate in and promote the program.

I would say it is a good thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Young Butternut Tree in Winter

This picture is of a small butternut tree growing about 300 metres (~1000 ft) from the house. On the ground to the right is a bare patch that I believe is created by the butternut root’s characteristic of transmitting the juglone toxin to neighbouring tree roots thus limiting their growth. Only shallow rooted plants such as grass will grow in this area that do not contact the roots. To the left it is also clear. The branches on the ground are left over from a Manitoba maple that was felled and limbed just before the snow fell.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A visit of a Leaf-Footed Bug

Throughout the winter we are in the company of several persevering insects. These include ladybugs in the highest abundance as well as some cluster-flies and the odd single curious bug such as the one pictured here.

According to Insects by Borror and White it is the leaf-footed bug, Family Coreidae. There is little else provided in the field guide. It may be predaceous or a plant feeder.

According to it is a Western Conifer Seed bug [Leptoglossus occidentalis].
According to it damages douglas fir, ponderosa pine and incense cedar. None of these trees exist on this woodlot that I know of so I wonder what host trees it feeds on around here?

INSECTS, Borror, Donald J. and White, Richard E., Peterson Field Guides, 1970, ISBN 0-395-91171-2 (pbk.).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Only Two Turkeys So Far this Winter

From past postings on this blog, you will note that we have had as many as a dozen or so turkeys on a single visit at our bird feeding station for the last three winters. This year has been disappointing as we have only had these two turkeys pictured here.
I captured this picture this morning just as they started to take flight. The wing breadth and span is quite impressive and they fly very well. This time they flew off over the tree tops out of sight.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Found several Snowshoe Hare Beds

Just before dark this evening, I took a little stroll around the two spruce plantation plots near the house. I found numerous snowshoe hare tracks and several beds. The snowshoe hare must rest right on top of the snow. It is a well used patch with a concentration of rabbit droppings.

I also found ruffed grouse tracks and flushed out two perched high up in the trees.

An Inspection of a Fisher Pelt

A colleague brought a pelt – fully tanned hide with fur intact – of a fisher [martes pennanti] to work, which we proceeded to inspect and hover over during lunch break. He is a certified trapper in the Province of Quebec so he is permitted to trap fur-bearing animals. The pelt was that of a male fisher. It is not as nice and dark as that of a female I am told. What intrigued me about this pelt were the porcupine quil puncture marks that were clearly visible from the inside of the pelt. The head, shoulder and upper body area of the pelt were scared by several dozen quil punctures. Probably not a good skin for making waterproof clothing. I have heard that the fisher is able to resist injury caused by the quils and this pelt obviously proves the point. The fisher was caught because it had become a local nusance and was devouring neighbourhood cats where my colleague lives in Quebec. It was still quite healthy and thus not affected by the quils.