Wild Goose Chase

I had to travel to the city the other day. Spending time in close proximity to more than a million people is not a pleasant way to pass the hours.

Fortunately I finished my to-do list early. With time to spare I headed to the river that finds its way through this metropolis. I was in search of Canada geese who nest on the islands and sandbars in the river. Would goslings be out?

As I walked across the grass to the riverbank I glanced down. What I saw brought me to an abrupt stop. I’d almost stepped on a very large garter snake, at least as long as my arm. Its camouflaged body lay in lazy loops on the grass, its head raised, alert and focussed.

A snake in the gass

Why it didn’t immediately slither away to safety I don’t know. With lidless eyes that never close, how do you know whether a snake is sleeping or not?

I began taking photos, crouching down for a better angle. Still no acknowledgement from the snake that I was there. After a few moments I moved around for a better angle.

Just then a thin red tongue flicked in and out, tasting the air. The head lowered and coiled back alongside its body. Ah, we’re awake now!

Awake now

More moments passed. Neither of us moved. Then, with a slow, deliberate, sinuous rhythm the snake slid toward a nearby spruce tree and disappeared among the cones and needles and dry grass.

I remained where I was but caught no further sight of the snake. As for the geese? That will wait for another day. 🙂


Wandering garter snake   Thamnophis elegans

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.

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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

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

Mother Nature’s MBSR

MBSR — Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. A program designed to help you cope with pain, illness and the stresses of everyday life. Mindfulness focusses on living in the moment.

I slip between two strands of barbwire and into the pasture. Snow patches still linger from the weekend’s storm. I’m gloved-up, wearing balaclava, winter coat and boots.

It’s mid-afternoon and although the sun is shining it’s only a few degrees above freezing.

My ramble brings me to a sunny south-facing slope that slides down to a little creek. I pull out a plastic bag I carry for such occasions (thank you, Walmart) and plunk my butt down on the damp grassy earth.

It takes several moments before the angst and anxiety begin to fade. Shallow water, rippling over pebbles, is balm for the soul. The sun, on hands and face, slows the heart.

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Water Music

Up the slope and out of sight behind me, the distant sound of cows in conversation.

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Sitting with the willows on a sunny slope

My eyes leave the water and rest on the ground nearby. A dandelion has popped out from beneath melting snow. A wood ant scurries past, followed by a harvestman. Then between my boots I see a flash of red. To my surprise and delight, a half-ripe strawberry. In October.

Sitting, mindful in this moment, I am at peace.


October 11, 2016

Sapsucker Sap Wells

 

Okay, say that title 5 times without tripping over your tongue.

Sapsuckers do, indeed, suck sap. It’s their main food source, though they also dine on insects, especially ones attracted to sap.

Sap wells are the holes that yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill into live trees. Once you’ve seen sap wells, you can’t mistake the lines of organized holes for anything else.

In the spring sapsuckers drill deep round holes (into the tree’s xylem for the botanically inclined) to catch the sap rising from the roots up to the branches.

Later, after the tree has leafed out, they drill shallow, rectangular holes (into the phloem) to catch the sap being sent down the tree to be stored in the roots.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are frequent visitors to our yard. For years they have dined on the sap from lilac, saskatoon and mountain ash.

This year, for the first time, I caught a sapsucker family feeding on a large aspen.

Search YouTube if you’d like to see these suckers in action. 🙂


Yellow-bellied sapsucker   Sphyrapicus varius
Aspen   Populus tremuloides