Ruff Work

Who’s feet be these?

Two ruffed grouse wandered along our driveway — a little pigeon-toed —  leaving the message of their passing in the snow.

Ruffed grouse tracks, coming and going

These “wild chickens” have spent several weeks around our wooded yard, pecking for insects, eating buds and rose hips.

Someone one described the ruffed grouse as a lunchbox on legs. An apt description. It’s high on the menu of many meat-eaters including owls, coyotes and foxes.

Ruffed grouse have a weird habit of freezing when danger threatens — which perhaps gave rise to another nickname, fool hens. Freezing is all well and good when you blend into the background. When you’re standing in the middle of the road and a car is bearing down on you, well, not so much.

The Ruffed Grouse Society has an excellent website — info, photos and, of course, an audio clip of drumming. (The male grouse is quite musically inclined when in the mood to mate. Sounds sort of like an old steam engine picking up speed as it leaves the station.)

Ruffed grouse   Bonasa umbellus
October 16, 2016

On Track


I wandered a muddy dirt road after the recent snowfall melted looking for tracks. This day I got lucky — I also spotted the track-makers.

I surprised two white-tailed does and their fawns grazing in a nearby field. A flick of their tails and the does disappeared into the bush before I got my camera out.

The fawns were a bit slower (wake up kids, it’s a dangerous world out there) — no time to focus, only to click the shutter before they, too, vanished among the trees.


White-tailed deer   Odocoileus virginianus

Whose Bones?

As I followed a narrow trail not far from the red squirrel penthouse  a flash of white caught my eye.  A small skull, about 7 cm long (2.7 in), lay in the deep moss, a few vertebrae loose behind it. The two halves of the lower jaw, just centimetres away, were almost buried in the soft green.

The remains had lain there for some time, all flesh gone, bleached by air and wind and dappled sun.

Who died? I found no other remains but the skull was enough.

Its sharp teeth — including “Dracula” incisors — said carnivore. But who? The shape and size narrowed it down to a member of the weasel family. Even that is a big group — weasels, mink, otters, fishers, wolverines, skunks, badgers, martens and black-footed ferrets.

I know the predators who live in our woods so that eliminated some of the weasel clan. My book of skull drawings and a quick check online gave me the answer: a marten (aka pine marten aka American pine marten).

About the size of a house cat, martens are highly adapted to life in the forest. They’re fast, sleek and skilled at climbing. We once watched a life-and-death chase between a marten and a red squirrel in our yard. They were a blur of fur going up, down and around the spruce trees, leaping from branch to branch and tree to tree.

After several minutes the chase moved from our yard further into the woods. I’m not sure how it ended but it was one of those I-don’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing  moments.

Google “images pine marten” to see what they look like.

Marten   Martes americana
Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus

Stealth Mode

The wings of this large bright butterfly made it hard to hide — until it turned sideways to my camera and seemed to disappear.

Many butterflies are so similar I despair of identifying them. But not the swallowtails: Them are easy (-ier).

The here-not-here butterfly is a Canadian tiger swallowtail.

“Tiger” refers to the striking black and yellow stripes. The “tails” are extensions of the hind wings. They narrow down the name-that-butterfly search right away.

One theory has it that the tails form a target for birds. Judging by the pinch marks on the sides of the wings — and the untouched “tails” — I’d guess the bird who attacked hadn’t read that memo.

Note the wear on the wings.

Canadian tiger swallowtail   Papilio canadensis

Who You Be?

Looking for green lily buds my eyes landed on a stem tipped with this amazing (to me) spider.

Most spiders I meet are rather plain and dark but this one shouted: Look at me! Orange. Yellow. Lime. Black spots!

BugGuide had a name: I’d found a female sixspotted orbweaver.

Unfortunately the name was about it. As for many creepy crawlers, information about their lives is lacking. Not as interesting — or as easy — to study as trees or toads or bears, I guess.

While still revelling in my “rare” find, Ma Nature hit me again. The next day I brushed against a stem in the garden and found another sixspot dangling from my finger.

A reminder that seeing is more than looking.

Sixspotted orbweaver   Araniella displicata
Green lily   Zygadenus elegans


Butterflies are as hard for me to photograph as bumblebees.

My camera has only one lens so getting tight is a must. The problem? When you are small and weigh less than a whisper, looming shadows spell trouble. You leave. Sigh.

So I changed tactics, heading out at either end of the day in search of late risers or early-to-bedders.

Persistence paid off.

IMG_5505 Northern Pearl Crescent

Northern Pearl Crescent Butterfly   Phyciodes morpheus

Pinto Beetle

The wild roses have been prolific this year and most of them have at least one or two small longhorn beetles eating the pollen.

One day a new kid showed up. I nicknamed it “the pinto beetle” for its striking colours, intending at some point to ID it.

I found a lead on Pete Hillman’s nature photography blog.

His photo looked very similar, except his beetle was yellow, mine was creamy white. But he got me going in the right direction.

Today I went hunting again. Bingo! I have a name:  Judolia montivagans, the flower beetle. Quite a mouthful for such a little guy. 🙂

Flower beetle   Judolia monitvagans

Grey Day

The other morning I looked out the kitchen window and spotted a great grey owl sitting in the garden. A not uncommon sight but always a rush.

At first glance, he looks huge. However, thick feathered layers hide a deceptively small body weighing only about a kilo — not much more than a couple of pounds of butter.

I watch him as he hunts from his perch. No sound escapes him. Specialized feathers on the broad circular facial disc catch and focus each incoming sound. A raven overhead. A frog in the grass. Water running in the sink.

Despite their skill, they go hungry on occasion. One summer the rain never stopped. Everything was wet and soggy and miserable. A young, bedraggled grey appeared on our rail fence. To our utter amazement he flew down into the garden to eat worms.


While most owls are nocturnal, the great grey prefers hunting at dawn and dusk, its tiny eyes adapted to daylight. On overcast days you might see them any time.

The great grey has a higher tolerance for humans than many wild animals, sometimes to its detriment. Some people use them for target practice, leaving a broken body in the ditch. Just because they can.

Great grey owl   Strix nebulosa