Cock of the Walk

I spotted a female grouse ambling through the woods the other day. Not far away I heard a male drumming his come-hither-darling call to any females in the neighbourhood.

I decided to follow her. Creeping over dried leaves, twigs and branches is noisy business but the crunching and crackling didn’t seem to bother her. I wondered if she was the one who has been frequenting our yard.

Just then the drummer caught sight of her and he trotted after her in pursuit, his tail fanned out like a peacock, his gorgeous ruff fluffed to its fullest. This handsome lad had love on his mind.

She flew into a tree. He stopped and turned to give her the benefit of what he had to offer.

Showing off

Meanwhile I stumbled around for a better angle, sure that one or the other would leave. Nope. His feet were definitely planted on the road to love and she was quite happy several feet up the tree.

A come-hither look

After several minutes of his look-into-my-eyes-my-darling routine, she had enough. She leapt off the branch and flew further into the woods.

Undeterred he followed.

Walking grouse

The three of us were heading into more deadfall — the two with feathers were more adept than I at maneuvering the jumble of logs and limbs. I heard a flap of wings ahead and a blur through the trees. She was gone. Again.

This time when a branch snapped beneath my feet, the male turned to look. What expression did I read there? Fickle female? Better luck next time? How could she refuse my offer?

No luck this time

I discretely retreated.


Ruffed grouse   Bonasa umbellus

A Sign of Time

This is a clock. It is marking the slow demise of an old poplar.

Many of the trees in our woods sport visible signs of inner decay and rot — firm, bracket-shaped fungi growing on their trunks.

Some tree fungi live only one season. This one is a perennial, adding new “rings” each year. It will continue to do this even after the tree has died.

The “shelves” or brackets are the fruiting part of the plant, producing air-borne spores some of which may infect other trees. The main part of the fungus is invisible. The “roots” (mycelia) grow throughout the inside of the tree. Fungi can’t produce their own food but rely instead on the energy stored in plants that do, like trees.

Bracket fungus
Bracket or shelf fungus on poplar

These fungi are vital to a healthy forest. They break down dying and dead trees, recycling the nutrients and minerals back into the soil to be used, perhaps, by new trees. This dissolution may take decades or a century or more.

A sign of time.

Up, Up and Away

Our resident great gray owl paid us a visit today. We first spotted him sitting on the fence in the drizzle. He scanned the snow-covered garden then turned to study the tall tangle of wild grass on the other side of the fence listening for mice or voles.

Great gray owl

As we sat down to supper he swooped close past the kitchen window and deep into the woods. Of course I was too late with the camera.

Several minutes later he flew back again. With great slow sweeps of his wings he came straight toward the window where we sat eating supper — then, to our amazement, he hovered in front of the window for several seconds staring directly in at us. Finally, with several strong wingbeats, he was up and over the roof and lost to sight.

Unforgettable.

Take off


Great gray owl   Strix nebulosa

Rime and Reason

Rime — tiny ice crystals that form when supercooled water vapour freezes on contact with solid objects

Storms that pummelled the West Coast a few days ago sent moisture-laden clouds scudding over the rocks and into Alberta. When the water vapour landed here it grew into fog. Then freezing temperatures worked their magic, turning windward surfaces white with rime.

A misty grey fairyland …


Balsam poplar   Populus balsamifera
Canada thistle   Cirsium arvense
White spruce   Picea gluaca

Owed to Winter

Rosy cheeks
Runny nose
Chilly fingers
Frost-nipped toes.

Yup. Winter has launched a shot across autumn’s bow. The faint drizzle yesterday turned into several centimetres of the white stuff by morning.

But the temps will rise later this week and the panic to install snow tires, replace the weather stripping and buy new gloves will wane. After all, winter is months way.

Right?


Wild rose hip   Rosa acicularis

 

Stumped

Over the years numerous red squirrels have staked their claim to this large stump and the midden that surrounds it. Middens and squirrels are common in our woods but this arrangement is different from most.

I spotted the cone pile first, right on top. An odd choice as cones are usually stored underground.

Alongside the cones was another surprise — a nest of dried grass and moss. And sitting in the nest, the current owner, with a great view of the neighbourhood.

On rainy days, the owner is absent so perhaps he (or she) is tucked down in the midden, safe and dry.


Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus
White spruce   Picea glauca

And the Winner is …

If they gave out gold medals for mushrooms, the award — at least in our woods — would go to this fab fungus. I found it growing alongside a rotting poplar.

Most mushrooms are diminutive and except for odd growth forms or striking colours don’t really shout Here I Am! Not this one. Bright white and the size of a dinner plate, there’s little chance you’d miss it.

Here’s to big and bold.


Best guess? Giant leucopax   Leucopaxillus giganteus  (aka Clitocybe gigantea)

Demise

 

Stop, sit, look is a mantra that serves me well.

I was huddled near the end of a rotting log when I spotted a brightly patterned bug just a few inches away. This was quickly followed by a good-grief-what-the-heck? moment when I realized it was “attached” to a large caterpillar. What followed next was fascinating.

The piercing mouthparts of this immature stink bug had seized hold of one of the caterpillar’s hind “legs” (known as prolegs to bugsters) and it was feeding on the still-living larva.

The caterpillar was strong. It pulled that stink bug several inches across the log face. Despite its best efforts, however, it couldn’t break free.

The stink bug’s grip was stronger. In fact, several times the caterpillar swung loose, dangling in air. The stink bug never lost its hold on the log or the larva.

Although the larva was still alive when I left, the end was inevitable — it was lunch on legs for this young spined soldier bug.

The spined soldier bug goes through 5 stages (instars, for the biologically inclined) between egg and adult. Each stage looks quite different than the others. Turns out I found the third instar.

If you’d like to see its life cycle in photos, check out this link at the University of Florida.


Spined soldier bug  Podisus maculiventris
Unidentified butterfly larva

Squirrely

I was walking on moss between the trees. Especially quiet I guess. Suddenly the air exploded — I’d surprised a red squirrel who let off a torrent of verbal abuse.

I stood still and spoke softly. It took a few moments of one-sided conversation but curiousity got the better of the young squirrel. He (or  she?) came closer. And closer.

Finally, figuring I posed no threat, he went back to what he was doing before I’d interrupted. But the “what” puzzled me.

After several minutes I realized he was chewing off all the twigs and sharp branch ends along the fallen spruce, making a path the length of the tree. You need a clear get-away if danger is chasing you.

Clever fellow, that squirrel.


Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus
White spruce   Picea glauca