Thursday, October 30, 2014


This sunset was nearly a month ago, but it seems so appropriate as fall disappears and the bare month of November nears.  We don't often get sunsets here, as there's a hill to the west of our house, but I was out driving around taking pictures of barns, and noticed this sunset behind me, up on the crest of a farm field.  Hope you like it.

This is the view I noticed first, a gentle slope on this field leaving an almost flat horizon in the distance.

It quickly went from a bluish sky to orange above the horizon.

And in a remarkably short time the sun dropped behind the trees.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cuckoo Valley Overlook

To finish yesterday's post, we walked through the woods, then followed the trail uphill beside the stream, and then we turned toward the lookout.  It wasn't far, and the valley opened up in front of us; the colours were spectacular!  (Remember, this was two weeks ago).

This is looking toward Cuckoo Valley itself.  Cuckoo Valley is a small cleft in the east side of the much larger Beaver Valley, where the Beaver River flows over Eugenia Falls, tumbles down the rocky ravine, and is joined by the Boyne River to continue north toward Georgian Bay.  Eugenia Falls is just out of sight on the left, beyond the open limestone cliffs you can see in the distance.

Sorry, I don't have a fall picture of Eugenia Falls.  It's an interesting place - there was a gold rush there over 150 years ago; turned out to be Fool's Gold!

This series of pictures starts on the left, looking north down the valley, and moves to the right through nearly 180° of fall colour!  You should be able to spot something on the right of each picture that shows up on the left of the next picture.  We just stood and gazed at the view for several minutes before turning back and heading home.  Probably my best fall colour views this year.

The smaller grey trees in some of the pictures are mostly Hawthorn, which lose their leaves very early.  Probably 90% of what you're seeing are Sugar Maples.  Even though it was a grey day and the atmosphere was moisture laden from recent rain, the colour turned out quite well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Slowpoke Walk

Just a couple of weeks ago I led a 'slowpoke walk' for the local Bruce Trail Club, which took us through a beautiful golden forest out past a waterfall, out to the Cuckoo Valley Overlook, a viewpoint over the upper Beaver Valley.

This part of the trail has a few great big old trees, mostly Sugar Maples, surrounded by hundreds of younger saplings.  All of it was a beautiful gold colour on this day.

We followed the Bruce Trail blazes along the side of the slope south of Johnston's Sideroad.  See the white blaze on the Beech tree?

After a while we came to the waterfall - a very difficult one to photograph.  It drops about 30 feet, but the trail just passes above it, leaving you with only a limited view through the trees.   One of my pet projects is to create a side trail that would lead you safely to a viewpoint below the falls.

 But the tumbling stream above the falls is beautiful never-the-less.

We followed it upstream for a distance, past a lot of striking yellow Beech saplings.

 And discovered that the stream had more water than I've ever seen before.  We had had a lot of rain in the previous days, and the stream was running full, tumbling over the rocks.

At this point there usually isn't any stream at all; it is simply a trickle emerging from beneath those rocks.  I love little streams like this, and could stop for hours and take pictures of small portions of it (as I once did on Roaring Fork in the Great Smokies), but as I was leading an organized hike, I didn't this time.  Maybe next year.

At the highest point of the trail I peeked around a fallen tree which was blocking the view to find the stream tumbling down from ever higher up the slope - I've never seen water at all at this point.

Tomorrow, the Cuckoo Valley Overlook, perhaps the most spectacular fall colours I saw this year.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

And the Seasons Change...

The seasons here have changed again, from fall to late fall in my mind.  There are several changes that come together and strike me as marks of a major change in our world.  And we're entering a dull grey-brown season that many people don't really enjoy, though I do.

First, the leaves have almost all fallen.
This is a typical fencerow now; two weeks ago all brilliant orange.

These are about the last trees to turn colour, a cluster of oaks across the road in the morning sun.

Second, all the summer birds are gone, and we're left with just those who will stay all winter, like these Crows.  I saw my last Turkey Vulture about a week ago, the last to leave.  The Chickadees, Nuthatches, Goldfinch, Blue Jays and Woodpeckers will stay with us.  It's a subtle change to notice, since unlike spring, when they arrive and sing their hearts out, in fall they just quietly disappear.

This Monkshood has been the last flower to bloom in the garden, weathering the frost easily.  It's a nice flash of colour in October, but is also very poisonous!

The veggie garden is all put to bed and mulched with leaves.  (The front of these two beds is already planted with several varieties of garlic, which gets planted in October - see the green plant labels?).

But I was astonished that we got a fresh small bowl of raspberries off our plants the last few days!

And a large number of other fall chores are done (that's actually what's been occupying my time).  Snow tires on, deck chairs and tables away (the shed is stuffed full), hoses drained and put away, and of course the mower deck removed and the snowblower attached to the garden tractor, ready for the first of that white stuff!  Along with the warmer jackets, tuque and gloves I'm wearing now.

Finally, a subtle change I notice when I sit with my coffee in the morning and read other blogs is the position of the morning sun.  It's moved so far south now that I have to move to a different chair so that it's not glaring in my eyes.
So that's our world in late October.
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fern Sori

If you've followed my blog for long, you know I'm fascinated by ferns.  They're a group of plants that reproduce by spores, not seeds, and therefore have a very different life cycle.  And the spores are clumped in 'sori', usually on the back of the fern fronds, in patterns that vary by species.  These are easiest to see at this time of year.

These are the bright yellow sori of the Polypody Fern, a small fern about 10" tall usually, most often found growing in mats on the top of limestone boulders.  In this species, the spore dots (or fruitdots) appear only on the upper 2-3 inches of the frond, so that's all you're seeing here.

This is the pattern of the Male Fern.  In this and all of the remaining pictures, all you're looking at is the back of a single leaflet that I picked off the fern, and put down upside down to photograph.

Each 'sorus' or clump of spore cases ('sporangia'), contains microscopic spores, which provide for the fern's reproduction.  On the Male Fern they tend to be dark by this time of year, and very obvious.

This leaflet is from a Marginal Wood Fern, and the name comes from the fact that all the sori are found right along the margins of the sub-leaflets.  This species loves the limestone talus slopes below our Niagara Escarpment.

And this is a Woodfern leaflet.  Note the position of the sori on the sub-leaflets is similar to Male Fern, but the sori are lighter in colour and not as obvious.  And the sub-leaflets themselves are cut into deep teeth along the edge.

This is one of the most beautiful ferns, the Maidenhair Fern.  It's leaf doesn't look like a typical fern at all, the leaflets like this one being held in a circular pattern.

The sori are different too, forming lines along one side of each sub-leaflet that than dots.

And these are the sori of the Lady Fern.  They are larger and typically curved as here, making the back of the leaflets look quite dark.

Finally, this is the fertile frond of a Sensitive Fern.  This species grows an entirely separate frond with the sori or spore cases on it, in these tiny round balls, which by this time of year would be brown and dry.  They'll stand up above the snow right through the winter.

It occurs to me now that I've collected these photos that they'd be much more effective if they were paired with pictures of the entire fern fronds; maybe I'll do that someday.  In the meantime, I remain fascinated with ferns.  All these pictures except the last were taken in our yard, where I have a small fern garden along the old stone fencerow.

P.S.  To answer a question from Alain on the last post, also on ferns, here are pictures of the Green Spleenwort and the Maidenhair Spleenwort.  I haven't found a noticeable difference in size, but the first clearly has a green stem, while the second has a dark, brownish or purplish stem.

Green Spleenwort 

Maidenhair Spleenwort

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Fern Walk

It was actually over a month ago that I led this fern walk in Owen Sound, for the annual meeting of the Bruce Trail Conservancy.  Unfortunately it was a very rainy weekend, and a number of hikes were cancelled.  But on Saturday the rain let up about noon, and the afternoon walks went ahead.  I had an interested group of 6 to go with me.

We only walked a very short distance, up a short slope to the cliffs of the escarpment, but remarkably we saw 18 species on only about 2 hectares (5 acres) of land!  In this case we were on private property.  And you can see how drenched everything looks after the morning rains.

We saw everything from this common woodfern, the typical fern shape if there ever is one, to quite rare species, like the Hart's Tongue Fern below.  We saw other rare species like Common Cliffbrake and Walking Fern, as well as more common ones such as Ostrich, Male, Royal and Christmas Fern, all in a very small (and very wet) area.

However, though it didn't rain, we remained under very dark skies, and there wasn't enough light to get good pictures without a tripod.  I got a frustrating number of blurry pictures!

On the way home I stopped by myself to check out one of the Conservation Authority trails, through the rugged talus slope where they had to use stretches of boardwalk to make it passable.

And here I found one of the rarest ferns in the area, the Green Spleenwort.  It's that little bunch of green leaves on the lower right of the boulder.

This is the best picture I got, still blurry, but good enough to show the green stem that marks this species compared to the much more common Maidenhair Spleenwort, with it's dark almost-black stem.

Even though it was wet and rained on and off, I really enjoyed another outing to find ferns.  For those of you who live in southern Ontario, there's an excellent book entitled 'A Guide to the Ferns of Grey and Bruce Counties, Ontario', that provides excellent information and pictures.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reading the Landscape in its Fences

Walking through the Bruce Trail property that I've described the last two days, I come across remnants of old fences that help tell me the history of this property.  I've seen fences in many forested areas in the valley, indications of the farms that previously occupied the valley; very few are left on any of the steep slopes.

These two bits of page-wire fence are now totally surrounded by forest, mature forest on one side, and pine plantations on the other.  You can see the page-wire grid is still intact here.

Here's another example just a few feet away.  Because these are at the east edge of a pine plantation, beside mature forest on a steep slope, I interpret that the view behind the fence was once field, and the fence was put in place to keep cattle from going over the brow of the steep slope.

Right here at home, there used to be a page-wire fence down the middle of our old stone fencerow, running diagonally across this picture.  At the same time, you can see how the hostas turn yellow in the fall, quite a striking band of colour along the fencerow for a couple of weeks.

Looking the opposite direction, there is one old leaning fencepost, and you can find the wire buried along the top of the rocks.  It could catch your feet if you climb over the stones, but its no higher than that.

But down at the end of our fencerow, there are a few vertical (well, almost) fenceposts with the page-wire still in place.  In our case, I assume this fence was in place to keep cattle in a long gone pasture.

The fallen fenceposts begin to decay, like this one which I thought provided an interesting pattern, lying horizontally, even though the wire is still attached in the background.

Fences aren't the only thing that helps you read the history of the landscape.  This row of mature trees, with older forest behind them, and pine plantation to the right of this photo, also mark the edge where the forest met a former field.  I always find such indications of landscape history here in the valley fascinating.

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