Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Walk in the Woods

Not quite a week ago, when our mild spell had just started and we had a beautiful sunny day I headed into the woods on snowshoes.  I was checking out a new nature reserve that the Bruce Trail Conservancy is purchasing, where there will be a small project to re-route a few hundred yards of trail this spring.

It is a beautiful deciduous woodlot, mostly Sugar Maple.  There was still about a foot of snow on the ground, but it was getting soggy from the mild temperatures.

As I wandered through the woods, I found more and more big old Sugar Maples.  It was actually a rather hard slog in places as even with snowshoes I was sinking into the slushy spring snow with every step.

There were 'tree wells' around all the trees, the bigger the tree, the bigger the 'well'.  You can see on the left the snow is still about a foot deep beyond the bare space around the tree trunk.  This is a common pattern in the woods in spring; the melt starts around the trees which seem to either be attracting or radiating the heat.

I walked all the way through the woods to the fields on the west, and found 3 of the survey stakes marking the boundary.  Near the field where the sun could penetrate the woods there was less snow left.
Back toward the east side of the woods the snow is still deeper, and the woods appears a bit younger, with none of those really big old Sugar Maples.

At one point I came across some muddy tracks in the snow, and followed them to this den, with trails leading in three directions.  Some animal had obviously been here regularly and recently, since the mild spell started.

I followed these tracks for some distance through the woods, and suspect they are porcupine tracks.  They tend to become active in the spring and waddle across the snow in search of tender bark to eat.

Lots of melting water too, along tiny channels that will be totally dry by summer or earlier.  But if you're planning a trail re-route, checking out the spots that are wet in the spring is an important step to avoid wet hiking later on.

It was my first good look at this future nature reserve, and I was really impressed.  Not a large property, but a nice patch of deciduous forest.  It will be a good place to look for spring wildflowers come May.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Matching Photos - 9 Days

Spring seems to have actually sprung, even though I'm sure winter will make some short visits back to us yet.  When our warm spell started 10 days ago I didn't believe it would take away most of our snow.  But it has.  Temperatures have continued usually well above freezing, especially in the afternoon sun.  And the rain and warmth forecast for the next two days will take much of the rest!

Feb. 19 - snow still covered the yard, but we had had two bright sunny days when I took my first picture.  The easiest place to get comparable pictures is of course, the back yard.

Feb. 24 - after another 5 days I realized that this warm spell really was serious, and I thought I'd start taking some comparable pictures.  Not much of the snow actually 'melts'; it evaporates right into the air!

Feb. 25 - by this point most of the snow out back had gone, except for the shaded far side along the old fencerow, and that strange shape in the middle of the meadow.

Feb. 25 - later that day mother nature decided that things were moving too fast, and the snow started again.

Feb. 26 - the next morning we woke to white again, but only an inch or two.

Feb. 27 - yesterday stayed cold, but today the sun came out and almost all the open meadow is bare.  From snow a foot or more deep to nothing in 9 days.

That strange shape in the meadow is the outline of our geothermal trench, installed 6 years ago.  We have this magic heating and cooling system that sucks warmth out of the ground to heat the house, so we never have to buy fuel.  But the heat extraction obviously leaves that stretch of ground a little colder than the rest.  The pipes that provide heat transfer are buried about 4 feet down, in a trench 8 feet wide, right on top of the bedrock.

And this patch of bare soil behind our sidewalk is the opposite - the warmth of the soil above our septic tank.  I can tell where it is every spring as the snow melts.

On the other hand, this was our yard on Feb. 17, before this entire warm spell began.  Notice how deep the snow beside our path to the back door is.  The big pile is from the snowblower clearing the driveway.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Missing Barn

Driving around the countryside ten days ago, when it was still winter here, I was surprised to find a barn I had photographed a year or two ago was totally missing.  I completely missed its demolition.

I didn't set out to photograph barns.  I was just looking for some long views over fields to show more of what winter's like here.  

Turning the angle of the camera only slightly I got this view, and somehow it looked familiar.  Compare it carefully to the one below, taken from about 10 feet to the left, but capturing the same big spruce tree.
We've been having a number of farm purchases nearby that are followed by bulldozing of everything in sight, both the buildings and the old fencerows, trying to create one huge field for cash cropping with big equipment.  Nice to keep the land in active agriculture, but it disturbs me.

There's actually the space left by another missing barn in this picture, in between those two silos.  But this one was taken out by a tornado several years ago.  Ten days later almost all this snow is gone.

Just a couple of other barns I saw on that drive.  One still very well maintined and actively used, one long gone.

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The Barn Collective

Saturday, February 25, 2017

We Found the Elusive Snowy Owls!

After our failures of yesterday and a week ago, we sought more specific directions on finding the Snowy Owls that birders have been reporting, and headed out this morning.  It was about half-an-hour to the west, and we had a specific road we were headed for.

And following those directions from a birder who saw a lot of owls earlier this week, we hit the jackpot.  Mind you they were just white dots in the distance, but I cropped a few so we could tell they were actually Snowy Owls, not just lumps of snow.

This was our first view of the owls.  I've always thought of them as solitary, so we were very surprised to see so many together, but as I said, just white dots in the distance.  Thank goodness for binoculars!

We drove slowly down the road to see if we could get closer - but no luck.  Can you see the white dot a long distance down the fence, just below the tall tree in the distance?

Here's a close-up of the back right hand corner of that photograph!  By zooming in on the computer screen, I could make out 19 Snowy Owls in this picture - a remarkable congregation of owls to us!  Perhaps they're gathering to head for the Arctic!

Here's a very blurry, too-much-cropped look at that lone owl standing up on the left, the tiny white dot in the distance of the second photo above.

We drove slowly down the nearby roads, and saw several more, all of them at a distance, and all of them sitting along the fences.  Perhaps they were finding mice in the long grass beside those fences.

Cropped in as much as I could, you can actually see its eye among the white feathers.

Another one, along a drainage ditch.  There were none on fenceposts, none in the middle of fields, none in trees.  They were all on the ground, along fences (or this ditch) where there was some long grass.

Another cropping effort, revealing the eyes and beak.  We saw 25 Snowy Owls, all in the space of half a mile!  What a birding adventure!!  Next year we're going to get connected to the local birding group and get out there earlier.  I want to find one sitting on a fencepost right at the edge of the road for a portrait!

For local readers, there are all just north and east of the corner of Sideroad 25 and Conc. 8 of the former Elderslie Township, just north of Chesley.  The question of why there were so many Snowy Owls clustered very close together remains a mystery to us - unless there was an infestation of mice that attracted them.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Chasing Snowy Owls - Unsuccessfully!

Quite a few Snowy Owls have been seen in Grey and Bruce Counties this winter, a visiting species from the Arctic that comes this far south for the winter.  I saw one for the first time in my life just 2 or 3 years ago.  So we've been out on two long drives seeking to see one, in locations where we heard they'd been seen - and have been totally unsuccessful!

At first glance we were hopeful, but this is a large hawk, I'm guessing a Rough-legged Hawk.

Another big hawk, but too far away to identify easily.

And a third, where I had to shoot the picture directly into the sun.  But no Snowy Owls.

We really thought we were lucky when we spotted the white bit on top of this grain elevator.

But with the binoculars you could see it was an 'owl of the satellite dish sort'.  Didn't even notice all the crows at first until we took this close look, or maybe those are blackbirds.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Goldfinch have paid a few return visits, after disappearing for two or three weeks.  And the yellow colours of summer breeding season are definitely starting to show up!

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Interesting Sunrises

We've actually had 3 interesting sunrises that we were up early enough to see recently, though all of them ended rather abruptly.  As they get earlier, I'll see fewer of them!

This first one looked a small sun pillar, a column of light going straight up, but directly behind a tree.  I had to go and find another window to look through.

This one was actually quite brilliant at first...

but as the sun got close to rising, the colour faded...

until the sun poked above the horizon behind the shed, and then the sky just turned grey.

This last one was the best colour, well before sunrise, but it completely disappeared and the sky turned grey as quickly as we've ever seen.  One moment in looked like this, and the next it was grey.  We never did see the sun until much later.

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