Friday, July 29, 2011

July at the Lodge

We're privileged to be able to go, often a few times a year, up north to the Bancroft area where my in-laws have  a rustic lodge on some acres of land with two connected, smaller, but quiet lakes.  The last ten years of going there have been filled with lots of fun work projects to improve the place, many hours of swimming, canoeing, and competitive championships such as bocci or horse shoes.  There is ample opportunity for quiet times of solitude to read, snooze, or chat.  And all the while, the place is shared almost every year by one addition (or more) to the quivers of each of the families, making Opa and Oma happy to have purchased the place.

This year, as happens roughly semi-annually, my family was able to use the lodge for a week.  It's great to spend time with family for an extended period of time in a great setting.  My brother and sister-in-law from out west couldn't come, nor could my sister and her husband, and though it would have been better with them there, we had a great time.

I did steal some moments for some pictures... :)

I call it "glory hour".... it's the time when a number of great things often happen all at around the same time!
- deer flies have almost completely ceased to circle your head.
- the wind calms to just a breeze, or often nothing leaving the water as a mirror.
- birds are still singing here and there as they start finding their place for the night.
- the kids are in bed! (for a couple more years at least)
- it's one hour till the mosquitoes descend with a vengeance.
- the fish are really starting to bite
- the temperature reaches perfection.
- the sun is finishing its daily trace of the sky, ready to paint the clouds.

Often, I have to admit, we guys grabbed our rods and fished till the moment passes  (and it is that!) and one of the mosquitoes somewhere gives the signal, "Bite!" as it officially turns to dusk.  However, one night was thankfully taken to pad a canoe so my dear wife with a painful back could recline and share the glory hour with me and watch the sunset on the further of the two lakes.

To Lilly Lake to watch the sunset.

Kids in bed, a canoe for two... peace, quiet, stillness, and beauty.

Sunset over Lilly Lake.

A number of nights, some of us waited for the lights in the lodge to be turned out (who turned that light on again!!!) and let our amazingly designed eyes get accustomed to the darkness to see our small corner of the universe, and see a small number of the billion billion (billion?) stars which humble us before the One who knows each one by name.  Away from the lights of Southwestern Ontario, the night sky becomes inspiring.

Southern night sky over the lake.
This is the first time I've really used one of the features on our camera - it has a multi-frame noise reduction mode.  It takes six frames, then with some software wizardry, aligns and subtracts noise, as best it can.  The alignment of the images is obvious.  For these pictures, each of the six shots is a 30 second exposure, and the night sky is moving enough that over 3 minutes, the stars in the image are definitely not in the same place from beginning to end.

The second shot below is at a higher ISO (3200 compared to 1600 for the first), showing the more distant,  cloudy areas of the sky which are the Milky Way, just slightly visible in the image above.  Noise definitely does more than creep into the bottom third of the picture.  We weren't sure what the orange hue above the horizon was (more pronounced in the shot above).  It was mid-night, and Bancroft is almost due north, while this picture is pretty much the south sky.  Is it possible that that's the "halo" of the Toronto (GTA)?     (Click on the pictures to view larger.)

Night sky showing portions of the Milky Way more pronounced.

The Big Dipper was just setting behind the trees behind the lodge.

The Big Dipper in the northern sky.

When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You have set in place,
what is mankind that You are mindful of them,
human beings that You care for them?
Psalm 8:3,4

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
Psalm 147:4

I was able to get some wildlife photos during the week as well... I'll post some of them soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Peter Rabbit

The Eastern Cottontail is likely something everyone has seen in their backyard.  They are the most common of the three main species of rabbit and hare found in Southern Ontario.  The other two are the European Hare and the White-tailed Jackrabbit.  Both are much bigger than the Cottontail and most often found in the wild, and quite shy of humans.  

Eastern Cottontail

But the Cottontail has made suburban settings home quite easily, and those living in this setting are less frightened of people.  Being a nocturnal animal, this rabbit comes by almost every evening at dusk, and is not terribly worried with someone approaching to a point.  They rely on their quick speed and agility to get away, running quickly and then zig-zagging to try and throw off the pursuer which could be from the ground or the sky.  Main predators in the wild are foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey.

Something interesting rabbits will do... To prepare for harder times or to store food in a protected area, rabbits will force themselves to eat large quantities really quickly.  With it going through their system very quickly, they will find a protected place under some brush or brambles, and make a  pile of very green droppings which are hardly digested.  They can then return later to eat these.  

Big eyes!

Rabbits are well known for how quickly they can reproduce.  They can breed year round, but in Southern Ontario, usually only do so during the warmer months.  Baby rabbits are called kittens, and get to nurse only at dawn and dusk. Rabbits will breed a couple days after having babies.  According to eNature, together with their offspring, if a single pair of rabbits didn't have any of their young die, in five years they would multiply to about 350,000!  Thankfully, in the wild most rabbits don't live beyond a year or so.

Well, I'm off on vacation!  Heading to the cottage in Bancroft with some of my family for a week.  We'll miss the ones who can't come.  Always a great place to be... hopefully good weather will lead to lots of swimming, canoeing, snorkeling, camp fires, and great times with the kids and adults.  Maybe even a few pictures. :)  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

American Robin Nest

Another nest in the backyard.  This one, a Robin's nest, got very close to coming to its end as it was in our wagelia bush which I was trimming drastically this past Saturday.  Just as close was the female robin that flew out just as the hedge trimmer passed by the nest which ended up being only about 6" in from where I cropped the bush to.  It had stayed there, bravely, till the last minute.

Four "robin's blue" eggs.
Somehow what I didn't notice till editing the pictures this evening, was that one of the eggs already had a small peck hole in it (bottom right egg).  I have still to see a baby bird hatch from beginning to end.  Well, Sunday was a full day and I never ended up going back up to look.  This evening, there were already two little ones hatched, and... one was just crackin' out of its already split egg.  

Last push.


Hard hat?

Already looking for food.


Robins are a big part of the summer scene here, always hunting across our grassy lawns, tilting their heads and then straining against the worm's desperate grips on the last inch of dirt.  Robins breed their two or three broods of young each summer up in Canada and northern US before heading south again.  We see them often, and usually are falling asleep to the males singing away in the warm, summer evenings, and then having them waking us up at 4am just outside the window left open to let in the cool evening air.  Living in Southern Ontario, you're quite likely to have seen a nest as they will top your outside porch light, arbour, or many other places within easy view.

You can see the eye slits staring to develop to allow this chick to see in about 4 days.

But here are a few facts you may not have know about this common bird:
- Robins aren't listening for the worms while they're out on your lawn.  They're tilting their heads only to carefully see straight on with one eye for the wriggle in the ground as the worm comes up to the surface.  Robin's eyes don't pivot like ours.  They will "pounce" to get into the ground a bit around the worm that might only be slightly protruding to get a good grip.  They may also "stamp" the grass to try and make worms in near vicinity give themselves away and move when they feel the vibration.
- Worms only make up about a fifth of Robins' diet.  They eat lots of other insects and berries as well.
- You can tell if a male Robin is breeding if it has extra-black feathers on its head, darker than the rest of its feathers.

We'll see if the other egg will wait to hatch tomorrow morning and see if I catch it.  Not likely!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Long Point Provincial Park 2

Here is the second part of the Long Point post...

I spent one afternoon walking the campground and a bit of the beach in search of birds who were going to stay close enough to be photographed.  I wasn't terribly successful on that trek.  I did get to see a bird I had never seen before - an Alder Flycatcher landed for a brief moment a little ways away, though still quite far away for a 300mm lens (I cropped the picture significantly.)  It's not the greatest shot, but thought I'd put it in anyways.  I should mention that it's possible that it could be a Willow Flycatcher - according to one of the websites I use to figure out what I've seen, you can only really tell the difference by their songs - which I didn't hear and wouldn't have had a clue which one I was hearing.  Because at Long Point it's full of Poplars and Alder trees, I'm going to assume it was an Alder Flycatcher.

Alder Flycatcher a way out there.
I also saw Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler on this jaunt, but not close enough to get any great shots.  The ironic thing is, the rest of the pictures I got (except for some Oriole shots at the end of this post), were all right by the comfort station.  One of the Park Rangers noted, as I was standing their taking pictures, that every year they have multiple nests around both the main comfort stations at the park.  Interesting considering all the people and pet traffic around.

The most fun, but hardest to get a good shot of, was a tiny Yellow Warbler nest with four little ones.   No matter which side I tried to take the picture from, angling to get a view where the delivery of the meal would be in view, the bird would choose the other side of the little spruce the nest was at the centre of.  I did manage to get a few shots, but nothing straight on.

Yellow Warbler with plenty of bugs trying to stay just out of sight.

Somehow they know food is coming and jostle for position.

Two of the four young ones. They're about 50cm small at this point.

I did get this shot of a baby getting fed by a Yellow Warbler.  Only thing is, I'm not completely convinced this is a Yellow Warbler fledgling.  It seems bigger than the adult, and later on, I'm wondering if I saw a Baltimore Oriole trying to feed the same chick.  Anyone care to enlighten me who knows?

Yellow Warbler feeding .... ???

At the same location near the comfort station was this male Baltimore Oriole.  Although it was a day later, as I just noted, I believe it was feeding the same chick that I saw in the picture above.  I know that Cuckoos and Brown-headed Cowbirds are known to lay eggs in other bird's nests, leaving the nest owner to raise their young.  I don't think Baltimore Orioles do this though - I couldn't find anything on the internet which made me think so.

Baltimore Oriole with caterpillars.
One of our friends noticed a Baltimore Oriole nest high above in the trees near their site.  I have never seen one before.  Baltimore Orioles weave a hanging nest, the bottom a nice round ball, hollow in side with an opening on one side on top.  It's usually near the end of long branches for added protection.  Baltimore Orioles song sounds somewhat like a cardinal's, both in tone, and sometimes, somewhat in it's melody.

Baltimore Oriole nest.
The nest was quite high up in the tree. Having been treated to getting close at the Yellow Warbler nest, I tried to get closer by standing up on a picnic table - likely looking foolish to the rest of the group.  Oh well.  At least I stopped at only one table, and didn't stack another.  Amazing though how such a little bird has been given the ability to create such a masterpiece with pretty much a completely round nest.  I wonder how they get it started.

Male Baltimore Oriole feeding young - you can
just see the beak of one on the bottom of the nest.

Female Baltimore Oriole

I made one trek into the long grass lands towards the inner bays where there are acres of marshy areas, to see what there was to see.  Pretty dumb of me though.  Long Point is known for its ticks.  Lyme disease is known to be spread by female Deer Ticks which are found there.  Although it's apparently not quite the certainty that some make it out to be that you'll get it easily, get sick, and die; it's quite easily treated if you catch it early....  I went out and thought, as long as I keep moving, surely they won't have much time to climb up my shoes and legs, etc.  Well, as you can see from the two pictures below (no birds, only flowers), I obviously did stop, and though not for that long, it was long enough.  At one point I looked down and found, without exaggerating, at least 10 ticks climbing up my legs.  They all came off rather easily, and I was confident they were all Wood Ticks (or dog ticks) as earlier that day we had found one similar on one of my sons, and the Rangers assured us it was not a Deer Tick but the former.  Deer Ticks are half the size, and easy to distinguish with a reddish body and black near and including it's head.  However, you should still be careful, and even though I was walking on a mown path, obviously they still were getting on quite easily.  Lesson learned.

At the price of 10 Ticks... some shots of flowers which I cannot name.  My dear mother is the wild flower expert in our family. Maybe she will be able to identify these.  The first one looks like almost an orchid they way the flowers are arranged on the stem, and the long leaves in the background of the picture.

Wild Sweet Pea.
(Thanks to Karen for the info on the flowers!)
I'm guessing this is some sort of wild iris?

Wild Iris

Even though we were by the beach, I saw absolutely no shore birds other than the very common Ring-billed Gull.  The beach there has shrunk considerably with what must be higher water levels and possibly some erosion from some storms?  Didn't leave enough room for some good beach volleyball.  

A great weekend - till next year?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Long Point Provincial Park

Two weeks ago my family joined about 15 others from our church for a weekend of camping at Long Point Provincial Park.  Great weather, great fellowship, and great surroundings made for a great time!  

The park is known for being a bird migration stop point as it protrudes into Lake Erie, providing a quicker route to a resting point for many birds making a long flight across the long expanse of water.  It may not be quite as famous as Point Pelee, but also gets many visitors.

We were there past the migration period, but I still saw some birds less commonly sighted around home.  Others were more common sights... an American Robin (usually just referred to as a Robin).

American Robin Fledgling - able to fly already.
American Robin Fledgling - calling for lunch.

American Robin - coming with lunch.

 Another common Southern Ontario bird - the Killdeer.  This bird is known for its very obvious tactic of trying to draw away the threat from the nest.  It fakes a broken wing, dragging on on the ground, fluttering around like it can't take off, and running away, hoping it will be followed away from the eggs.  The nest is on the ground which seems a mistake.  However, if you have ever tried, you'll know it is very hard to find the eggs.  They are well camoflaged, usually in a cluster of four in a little depression in the ground, made by arranging simply what is there already.  Unlike most other birds, the young are born able to see, run around and find food themselves when born.

Killdeer nest and eggs.
Killdeer and nest.
Protecting the nest.
Protecting the nest.

Spotted quite a large painted turtle while out for a little hike with the kids.
CORRECTION... a reader (check out his blog) corrected me on this turtle - apparently its a Northern Map Turtle, a threatened species here in Ontario.  Except for the ticks in the grass, I guess I should have lingered there a little longer.  Thanks for the info Kyle!

Northern Map Turtle - Peaking out.

The kids came over one evening from the playground with tales of a huge turtle laying eggs.  The park was quickly becoming spotted with flagged off areas for turtle nests - seems it was time for turtle nesting.  The kids' find was a medium size snapping turtle which had chosen near to the bottom of the playground slide for her location - it became the latest marked of area.  Turtles will find a soft soiled or sandy spot to dig a hole with their hind legs, lifting up the sand, then pushing it back and away.

Snapping Turtle finishing her nest hole.
Turtles go into a trance when laying their eggs, and seem quite oblivious of the goings on around them.  I didn't keep count, but this turtle had to have laid more than  20 eggs.  It was hard to tell, but at the beginning, it looked like she caught the egg with one of her legs which was down the hole, then she placed it on the growing pile.  After being covered, the eggs incubate from the heat of the ground, the amount time depending on the temperature.  One interesting fact: the females can retain the sperm from the male for a few years to use at will later if it is not a good time for raising young (ie. drought, etc.).

One of the round, white eggs being laid.
Snapping turtles are unable to fully retract themselves into their shells like most other turtles, so they were given the ability to reach quickly and quite far with their long necks with quite a forceful snap of their jaws.  They also use this to surprise and reach prey which unsuspectingly, swim by after snappy's settled into the mud or weeds in a pond or lake.

I'll post pictures of some of the other birds I saw soon...