The skies were sunny and blue over Blue Mountain, and as I drove westward home I got a great series of views of the escarpment from further and further away.
This is the kind of perfect winter's day that you wish the entire season would be like! Great weather to get out and enjoy winter - later on I went cross-country skiing for a couple of hours.
The escarpment curves to the west north of the ski hills I posted pictures of yesterday, and for a short distance the slopes are actually too steep for skiing; then there's another final private club, Georgian Peaks, before you start leaving the mountain behind.
I stopped on the shore of Georgian Bay for a moment to find it frozen as far out as I could see. You can see the escarpment further west in the distance in this photo - that's actually after it has dipped down 40 km. to form the Beaver Valley, and returned to the shoreline just east of Meaford.
I headed west past the last ski hill and it quickly lessened in size behind me.
Shortly I was ten miles away, looking across a farmer's field at the hill in the distance.
And then ten miles further still. But on a day like this, Blue Mountain is a landmark you can see for a long distance around here. And the skies were beautiful too, so....
I went driving east of here to Blue Mountain last week, just seeking pictures on a bright sunny brilliant blue-sky winter's day. I drove past Blue Mountain Resort, the biggest public downhill ski area around here, perhaps the biggest in Ontario. It was certainly crowded, but obviously a lot of people were having fun outdoors in the winter sun.
I was really getting these pictures to show this part of the Niagara Escarpment, a section that is quite unique along the entire length of the escarpment in southern Ontario. The ski slopes are created by the underlying geological formation, the Ordovician Shale, which erodes into the long rolling but fairly gentle slopes.
You can see by the lift line-up how popular the ski hill was on a day like this. This is just a tiny part of the skiing available; they have 42 runs and 14 ski lifts. And I had to crop these two pictures to avoid acres of parking lots in the foreground.
If you look closely you'll see that this is a high speed six-person lift, so in spite of the line-up it goes fairly quickly. I've given up downhill skiing now, finding cross-country skiing more fun and better exercise, with less risk of falling. But when our boys were teenagers we got them into it for awhile. I'm a firm believer that teenage boys need some fairly life-threatening activity to grow up normal!
Further along, one of the other runs was the mogul run. You have to be very good to bounce down these moguls - perhaps you watched it on the Olympics. The Canadian Dufour-Lapointe sisters from Montreal won both Gold and Silver in this event.
There certainly weren't the crowds on this hill or this lift compared to the other one above! I did go back and take lessons in my 40's, trying to keep up with the boys, but they left me behind quickly! But there were a lot of people having fun outdoors at Blue on this sunny day.
Today I saw my first ever Snowy Owl! I've done a fair bit of birding over the years, and my mother was an avid birder. I've heard about Snowy Owls moving south where we can see them for decades, but never spotted one. But today I finally saw one - for me, that's one of my most memorable bird sightings ever.
I'd read in several places about the 'irruption' of snowy owls moving south this year, and saw pictures on several other blogs, and I kept my eyes open, with no luck. But I ran into a local birder I know a week or two ago, and she told me where to go looking.
A friend and I had planned to go out snowshoeing, but it was a bitter cold day with a wind, so we decided to go owl hunting and have a coffee instead. We drove to the suggested spots, and there we spotted one!
It was just sitting on the high roof of a house, huddled down out of the
wind on a very cold day with a wind chill, and I had to shoot into the
sun. Except for swivelling its head, it didn't move.
With one swivel it did seem to be looking down at us though. I've cropped these photos in further and further, and in spite of them being rather ordinary photos, I'm thrilled! I think I should take up more wildlife photography.
We had a really nice visit with two of the three horses for a few moments. They seemed a little shy, but then they probably hadn't had much human contact for awhile. Once they came over they were sniffing around to see if either of us had treats hidden in my camera, on our snowshoes, or in our jackets.
I have some friends who keep horses; I think I'll have to make some excuses to visit them, maybe even ask if I can go riding - or take some more pictures.
Finally we said good-bye to the horses, here overlooking that nice valley of the Bighead River, and headed back down the slope, into the woods.
This little bit of woods wasn't much. It was originally a patch of sugar maple, but it had been logged much too heavily a few years ago, and now the canopy is so open that cedar are moving in as a new understory. Over time these will squeeze out any maple saplings, the last maples will probably be cut for firewood or logs, and the resulting cedar bush will be much less valuable than the original maple forest. I've never seen an example where over-harvesting was changing the composition of the trees so clearly.
We snowshoed across the river at a spot where the water is deep and still, knowing it would be solidly frozen, though we couldn't get up the steep banks and had to go a little further to move on. We think those were fox tracks beside our snowshoe tracks.
And around the corner we found this interesting track bounding down the riverbank onto the ice. After a close look, we decided it was probably an otter. There was a hole in the ice into the water beneath nearby.
We finished up with a short walk through a small patch of bush on my friend's land, where I was struck by this enormous old beech tree. Unfortunately we are losing many of our old beech to the beech scale disease, but all the twisted branches in the crown of this old tree were amazing.
I went for another interesting snowshoe last week with a friend who lives northwest of here, in the next valley over, the valley of the Bighead River. He took me across the river and over the fields to visit 3 horses who spend the winter on the pasture.
I've always been interested in horses, but it's always been at arm's length so to speak. My father spoke enthusiastically about his job harnessing the horses as a youth; I think it was his favourite memory. But I've just never had the chance to be around them much, so I really enjoyed this.
We snowshoed across the solidly frozen river, through a bit of woods, and up this hill. I still couldn't see the horses, so I didn't realize where I was being led, nor what we would see; I was just going on a mystery walk in a new area.
Turning around we had a great view quite a distance to the west, over the Bighead Valley. That's my friends house just showing as a bit of white in the woods near the centre of the picture. He remembered the days when these fields were in a grain crop many years ago, but they've been just pasture for decades now.
Then we crested the hill, and there were the horses, pretty unexpected to see when you're out snowshoeing! I think the wind blowing up this hill keeps the snow cover shallow, allowing them to paw down to the grass. And they have shelter down among the cedars by the river when it's colder or windy.
Soon, with a little patience and quiet voices, they came to visit. They knew my friend, but otherwise I don't think they've had human visitors close by for many weeks. I don't know a thing about horses, but they did look healthy to me. Tomorrow a few more pictures of the horses and the rest of our hike.
A cold winter with deep snow like we're having provides a perfect time to explore wetlands, where you can snowshoe into places you could never reach at other seasons. The botany isn't as interesting of course, but it's still interesting to get into the heart of a wetland and see what it's like.
This wetland, an open water marsh with a lot of dead cedars, is on a Bruce Trail property. The standing dead cedars were killed years ago by the dam that created the wetland, raising the water level here. I knew that others had been in the day before, but I couldn't accompany them because of a meeting, so the day being perfect, I followed their snowshoe tracks in to explore it.
Their purpose in snowshoeing in was to check on the wood duck nesting boxes. There are three of these in the wetland, put there by Ducks Unlimited, and they need to be checked and cleaned out each year. This is the easiest time of year to do it. They did find remnants of duck nests in the boxes this year.
The boxes are on high steel poles, but the upper part of the pole can be lifted out to get access to the nesting box. It was hard to imagine a more beautiful winter day; the sky was a really deep blue and almost cloudless.
Wood ducks nest in cavities in trees if available, but there have been widespread efforts to provide nesting boxes to support them. They actually have claws that allow them to perch in trees, unlike most ducks, and they prefer wooded swamps or marshes with some standing trees - like this one. The young jump out of the nest the day after hatching, and are able to swim and find food for themselves right away - what an introduction to life!
This wetland is created by a dam a few hundred yards downstream, and down in the deeper part of the wetland there are a lot of fallen trees, and some patches of open flowing water. This was off limits for snowshoeing as far as I was concerned!
But thanks to the snowshoes I had a very interesting visit to the wetland, exploring an area I will never otherwise see. I liked the pattern of this photo, with the dead trees and last year's bulrushes sticking up through the snow.
Just for interest, here's a corner of the wetland, with one of the wood duck boxes visible through the trees on the right, taken back in November. This was as close as I could get with the open water. Quite a big seasonal difference!
Hope you've enjoyed my seasonal detour back to last spring and more southern latitudes, but it's time to return to winter. In spite of yesterday's rain, we're getting some beautiful sunny winter days that are just ideal for being outdoors.
And I thought I should record some of our bigger snowbanks, just for the
record. It really has been astonishing how much snow we've
accumulated. I think this is the tallest snowbank I"ve encountered, reaching just below the telephone wires, and well over twice the height of a car.
There hasn't been much new snow (until last night), so there's been time for the plows, the giant snowblowers and the large front-end loaders to get out and push back the worst of the drifts. Once a small drift gets started, it just continues to grow as the blown snow drops in the lee of the drift.
The big front-end loaders have been working at this one (and the top one above and the two below), lifting the worst of the snow off the road and piling it back as far as they can reach. This is slow work, and you need a break in the weather to do it.
There's one road nearby that is closed because of winter drifting so often that they have permanent signs which they just have to turn on. This pile is well over 15 feet, nearly reaching the lower wires and continuing down the road for half a mile.
And just around the corner is another very long drift, also a good 15 feet high. There's one particular region where all the biggest drifts and snowbanks seem to accumulate, high on the upland north of us, where there is more open farmland, before you drive down the escarpment.
This is at an intersection where the stop sign was virtually buried. Here they've used the giant snowblower to cut back the drift, leaving a vertical wall of snow 8 feet high. We locally refer to this stretch as the 'tunnel'. hope you enjoyed my tour of local snowbanks, under sunny blue skies.
One last post from our holiday last spring before I bring you back to the land of deep snow and winter (it's snowing heavily out the window at the moment). While camped near Paducah, at the west end of Kentucky, we spent one day touring the Land Between the Lakes, with it's captive bison and elk herds.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a large tract of public land between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, where the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were dammed many years ago, in the 40's and 60's respectively. It's now a multi-use recreation area with campgrounds, trails and numerous other outdoor facilities.
We didn't have time to explore it all, let alone learn the history, but we did enjoy a drive through a large enclosed area where we spotted both a few of the captive elk herd and two bison.
Some of you have asked about the Tulip trees I mentioned, or indicated you'd like to see one. Great Smoky Mountains is full of them, the two above along the Cades Cove drive by one of the old homesteads. You can see the bark in the picture above, and the leaves below - the leaves are quite a unique shape and can't really be confused with anything else.
And this is the Tulip tree flower. You can see why it's called a 'Tulip' tree; the flowers really do look like tulips, and are about the right size. You rarely see them though, because in a forest the leaves and flowers are way up in the canopy. This picture was taken in Kensington Gardens in London, England. We do have tulip trees that make it into southern Ontario, but they're not common here.
And for those who asked, sorry, no pictures of the Quilt Festival (no photographs allowed in most cases to protect design copyrights, though many of the quilts were spectacular) and only a few hundred dollars worth of fabric brought back home.