Friday, May 29, 2009

No deer today, but I saw an indigo bunting at Todmorden Mills. I didn't get any good pictures of it, but I had better luck capturing another lovely blue thing, this blue flag blooming by the pond right now:

Continuing with the colour theme, we have a green leaf and a red ant:

A bit of natural sculpture I saw this morning:

(Last year's oak leaves and reed stalks, topped by another ant. Just try to take a picture of anything around here without an ant getting in on the action, sheesh.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I finally had enough sense to stay out of the rain this morning, so instead of fresh deer pictures I offer an assortment of things I've found around Beechwood over the last few months.

A nest (abandoned on the ground):

Potsherds! (Isn't that an odd word? It's right, though. Go look it up.) I found these three bits about a month ago and haven't seen any others:

I found several of these flowers growing in early April, before much else was up. I don't know what they are or what they look like now:

(Donwatcher has identified these as coltsfoot. Thank you!)

Note: The next photos show some dead things, so if you're at all opposed to that idea, just skip the rest of this post. There's nothing gory, but I know people have varying levels of squeamishness.


First, part of a bird skeleton I found on the site. Because of its large size and a few feathers seen nearby, I'm guessing it was a hawk:

(I should have included something to indicate scale, sorry. It was big.)

This feather is about four inches long. I know that because it's still in a baggie in my freezer, along with these ones I found last week:

Finally, I went recently to check on some poplars we planted a few years ago near Beechwood. Most of them are dead sticks now, but I did find one thriving. I didn't spend long examining the trees, though, because I found a dead ... thing ... in the grass. I'll spare you most of the pictures I took; suffice it to say it was a large puddle of anonymous fur with an upside-down head at one end, and I had to study it for a while before deciding it was a former raccoon. These little ribs poking out strike me as quite poignant and beautiful ... maybe that's just me ...

Coming across this kind of thing can be sobering, but it's just part of the life cycle. Most birds and animals die unnoticed by us, without anyone taking pictures or caring that they'd ever lived.

Unless you're a cardinal, I guess.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First thing I saw this morning:

I think it's like those 3-D pictures, where you can't see it, can't see it ... then suddenly you can see it and you wonder why you couldn't before. Or maybe it's just a good year for deer. Let me know if you get bored with the deer reports.

Some spring greenery at the pond:

Garlic mustard report: I almost stayed home this morning because of the rain, but I hated to waste a nice cool spring day, and in the end I got in several hours of work with only a few brief showers that didn't slow me down. The ants, on the other hand, were quite subdued by the weather -- very helpful. The GM removal is going well. In fact, I think I'm ... dare I say it? ... nearly done. Of course I'm aware of the First Law of Garlic Mustard: "There's always more." Still, it's looking a whole lot better all of a sudden, and I think in another day or two I'll be ready to focus on something else. I've also been uprooting some dame's rocket, tansy and a little dog-strangling vine now and then. There's no danger of running out of work.

A stand of garlic mustard:

I must say, it's an attractive plant.

Meanwhile, over at the river ...

... a little more wildlife:

P.S. If anyone can tell me how to force Blogger to accept my paragraph breaks I will pay you a million dollars. I've read the FAQs, the help forum (where others have the same problem), tried everything I can think of ... and still my spacing is completely at the mercy of the Blogger gods. I finally added some "p"s (in pointy brackets) and things look okay to me now. If you're seeing weird gaps or paragraphs all stuck together, let me know.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I saw deer again this morning -- yay! -- but it wasn't a close encounter this time. I was working at the north end of the site, not far from the path, when I saw several deer emerge from the phragmites patch and make their way up the hill toward the highway (careful there, deer) and along the hillside in the direction of the pond. There were three or four of them, I couldn't be sure, or possibly even more that I missed seeing. I took a few pictures, but nothing special. I was spoiled last time! I'm glad I got to see them again, no matter how far away and fleeting. You can (sorta almost) see two deer in this shot:

Monday, May 25, 2009

One good thing about removing invasive plants is that you spend a lot of time down at ground level, where you're apt to see really interesting stuff. Look at the moth I found this morning!

There's a tree down a bit north of Pottery Road, reaching about 2/3 of the way across the river. I'm not sure we can blame our friendly neighbourhood beaver for this one:

This former goldenrod housed the larva of an insect; it was probably removed and eaten by a bird. Now it makes a nice house for the fairies:

There are some pretty spring wildflowers at Beechwood. Here's a little wild geranium:

And these are Canada anemones:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Just some random photos today. Here's a close look at the leaf of a purple-flowering raspberry, Rubus odoratus. Isn't it gorgeous?

The area that was burned recently has filled in completely ... with dog-strangling vine, tansy and a bit of garlic mustard. Those are all invasives that we want to get rid of.

Dame's rocket, which doesn't belong here either:

City workers come in to spray evil chemicals on our Japanese knotweed. This plant (and many of its friends) has regrown, but with bitter and twisted leaves.

A nice fluffy cattail.

Friday, May 22, 2009

One last look at the deer:

Some video from my deer encounter:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Random pond shot from this morning. Yesterday I saw a muskrat in there; let's imagine it's lurking somewhere in this picture, out of sight. I'm also seeing a pair of mallard ducks quite often -- maybe they're nesting nearby? You could just sit by the pond all day and watch things happen if it weren't for the ants. Have I ever mentioned the ANTS??? They're European fire ants (from Hell), and in any square metre at Beechwood there must be roughly a trillion of them. They're small, they're red, and they are very, very angry. Here's one going about its business on a tree stump:

When the weather warms up in the spring these ants start waking up, or defrosting, or whatever it is they do. If you can get there very early in the day, while it's still cool, you have a chance to get some work done, but before long the ants will notice you and start crawling up your pant legs, down your collar, and into your sleeves. The bites sting, which I could live with, and swell and itch for days, which gets tiresome quickly. (This seems to get worse as the summer progresses: either the ants get more potent or I get more sensitized. I have a bite on my wrist right now that's actually not bad at all.)

The first thing I do when I arrive at the site is tuck my pant legs into my socks and put on gloves with long suede cuffs that cover my long sleeves. As I'm pulling garlic mustard I stop frequently to check my shoes: if there are only one or two ants I just stamp my feet and get on with it, but often I discover I'm swarming with the red devils and I have to shake/stamp/flick them all off. If they stayed at ground level it would be bad enough, but they climb up plants so they can look you in the eye and utter death threats. That means you're always brushing against them, and they get in your hair and down your neck and pretty soon you're waking up screaming and twitching at night ... ok, it's not quite that bad yet, but the ants are a problem. There's no danger that this lovely wetland is going to become a picnic area any time soon.

I'm rethinking what I said about the second deer I saw being the mate of the first one. I made some assumptions:

a) two bucks wouldn't be hanging out together

b) females could have some form of antlers

Neither of those things seems to be necessarily true, according to some websites I've perused lately. Some sources say does don't have antlers, others say there's a possibility. Experts reading here, feel free to weigh in! The first deer I saw was undeniably male (not that I was particularly checking him out, but you know how guys are about scratching themselves ... some things become obvious ...) The second deer was smaller and more timid, but it did have definite antlers. Here's something else interesting I learned:

"Males and occasionally females have antlers, which are made from bone and are shed annually, usually mid-winter (new ones are grown in the spring). It may be surprising then that antlers are rarely found in the woods. Since they are rich in calcium and other nutrients, antlers are usually eaten by animals such as porcupines, rabbits and rodents soon after they are shed."

Huh! A nice crunchy snack.

If you want to know more about deer antlers:

Garlic mustard update: things are looking pretty good by the pond, and I've moved into "the interior" at the north end of the site, where I have to say there's an awful lot of the stuff. Some days I feel quite confident about removing it all, and other days I realize that I haven't got a chance. Oh well, everyone needs a hobby.

Finally, more fungus pictures. Again, the experts are welcome to supply the name of this thing. If you look carefully you'll see a few small dark beetles and one of our ant friends, but they blend in quite well:

Monday, May 18, 2009

An eventful morning for me at the wetland today! I'll begin at the beginning:

It's the Victoria Day holiday but it's bloody cold out there, especially at 6 a.m.

As my mother would say, wouldn't that frost ya?

I was doing some work beside the path when a couple of women having a run stopped to ask what I was picking, so I got to explain about garlic mustard, etc. That takes care of my public outreach for the week.

Later I moved over to the pond and was busy working there when I heard a *snap.* I turned to see a deer standing between me and the equipment box. At last, a deer sighting! I stood stock-still. His mate appeared, and the two of them came closer. They noticed me right away and the buck stood there for quite a while trying to figure me out -- staring, sniffing, stepping closer and closer until he was about fifteen feet away -- but I guess I didn't seem threatening (story of my life), and eventually the two of them got busy browsing among some small trees and plants.
I stayed still, praying the ants weren't swarming up my legs, and trying to ignore an Extremely Large mole or mouse (??? some kind of fat, dark grey, rodenty thing, I couldn't pay much attention at the time) that suddenly appeared a foot away. The red-winged blackbirds were freaking out all over the place -- trying to warn the deer about me? Or warning something else about the deer? My camera was over in the box, so I resigned myself to just enjoying the moment and not having any pictures to show for it.

After five or ten minutes the deer moseyed on down to the pond for a drink, and I was able to scuttle over to the box for my camera. My new friends didn't seem bothered by this. They were very alert, but I'd say they were much less skittish than herons, cormorants, and the egret I saw at the pond once. I'd also say they were a bit larger than I'd expected. After their drink they came back my way and I took a lot of pics while they had another snack.

Finally they made their way northwards. I wonder where they spend the day? (This happened about 8 in the morning.) Here's a hoofprint at the edge of the pond:

On my way home I noticed some mayapples growing near the path:
There's a nice native plant -- I hope they flourish in that location. I used to see them when I walked on the other side of the river, but I don't remember them in this neck of the woods before. (Of course, there are a lot of things that escape my notice. Obviously there are deer around, but it's taken me four years of regular wetland visits to see them.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dagnab it, these things are forming seedpods already. It doesn't take long. A fairy godmother left me a present of some extra gear for my "guerrilla stewardship," so I'm well equipped to continue the battle. (But now I'm envisioning rival stewardship gangs fighting over the right to remove garlic mustard.) Now if only someone would leave me a thermos of coffee and a sandwich ...

There are a lot of interesting birds in the valley these days. Yesterday an oriole was singing loudly, the goldfinches were zipping around at top speed, and I saw a pair of Eastern Kingbirds hanging out by the pond. Of course there are the usual black-crowned night herons, cormorants and mallards, mainly on the river but sometimes around the pond as well, along with the commonplace robins and sparrows.

Here's one of the Eastern Kingbirds, looking slightly annoyed with me. You don't want to mess with a creature whose Latin name is Tyrannus tyrannus.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The uprooted garlic mustard gets thrown on a big compost pile on the other side of the path. Note the forest of GM growing in the background (outside of my territory). Today I finished clearing it from around the entrance and headed back to the main patch near the pond. I also did a quick scan of Marnie's Point, just to be sure it was as clear as I'd thought, and found only a few plants to remove. Once again I'm feeling optimistic about removing all the GM from the site, but that may change. (Removing all the flowering stuff, I mean: there are millions of tiny plants that will gather their strength this year in preparation for flowering and seeding next year. I can't begin to get all those, but I'll be ready for 'em next spring. I'm bound to break this thing's spirit sooner or later.)

It's actually very rewarding to remove garlic mustard; in the right conditions the long root will come up without much effort, and even in hard-packed or stony ground a little spade-work will quickly loosen it. The biggest clumps are the most satisfying, and fill up my garbage bag quickly, so if I'm getting tired of pulling small, single stalks, I treat myself to some of the bigger stuff for a while. One thing never fails: I can clear a particular area, scan it carefully and find no more white flowers, go off and dump my bag onto the pile ... and come back to find a metre-high clump of GM right in the middle of where I was just working. I'm sure it sneaks around behind my back.

While I'm making such great progress with the garlic mustard I'm eyeing the Japanese knotweed nervously, and surveying the dog-strangling vine with dismay. There's a lot of both, and they're much harder to eradicate. Ah well, as a friend who does similar work in North Carolina (where privet is the flora non grata) says, "As to the invasive plants, never never never do it thinking you will win. Just do it for the joy of killing evil things, making small islands of botanical purity and correctness." Exactly!

Oh great, look who's come back to the equipment box this year:

Exquisite fungus:

Grapevine sending out leaves and wee grapes: