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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
The edge of the woods
Cow hair (Yes, that’s dried dung hanging off it. Cows are hard to toilet train.)
Balsam poplar Populus balsamifera Canada thistle Cirsium arvense
White spruce Picea gluaca
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 top of the world, sort of. A cache of spruce cones and the current owner.
Both of us are curious about the other.
A good spot to survey your world on a dry day. Not so much when it rains.
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
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.
Growing alongside rotting poplar.
This mushroom easily breaks apart. Perhaps a passing mouse or a squirrel or simply age caused a chunk to fall out.
This giant mushroom turns brown as it ages.
Here’s to big and bold.
Best guess? Giant leucopax Leucopaxillus giganteus (aka Clitocybe gigantea)
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 stink bug’s piercing mouthparts latched on to one of the caterpillar’s hind “legs”.
The caterpillar was strong enough to drag the stink bug across the log face but not strong enough to dislodge the mouthparts.
I spotted the stink bug first and only then realized it was feeding on the caterpillar.
The stink bug will feed well on this caterpillar.
The stink bug’s grip, though slender, was tenacious. Even when the caterpillar swung free in the air, it didn’t dislodge the bug’s grip on either its dinner or the log.
When I first spotted this duo, the caterpillar was clinging to the leaf at the bottom of the log. They travelled quite a distance during this deadly tug-of-war.
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.
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.
Who’s walking in my woods?
Cutting off dead twigs
Still at it
Oh, you’re still here?
Several short stubby twigs required extra work
Finally the last bits are gone
Red squirrel Tamiasciuris hudsonicus White spruce Picea glauca