Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter walking in the woods

When the temperature changes drastically, say like down to minus 15 degrees celcius over night funky things happen in the puddles, even the already ice covered ones.

One such fine day, when it was no longer -15 but a little closer to 0 at a later  point in the day Freia and I made a walk through the woods on our favorite paths.

Even though we walk there almost every day there are still never ending adventures to be found and enjoyed.  Ice crystals on small branches, glittering like diamonds in the sun for one, made me smile and look around even more attentively.

And Freia as always not really enjoying what I was doing = using the camera to see the world - her biggest wish is for me to be right there with her, not running after her, just having my feelers out to know where she is and pay attention. This admittedly I don't do very well, when the camera is in my hand, there are too many opportunities to click - mind you, I have taken the sound off - the blessing of modern cameras, there is a sound to let you know you are in focus - which is great, but not if you don't want to be noticed, then it is a darn nuisance - was I ever happy the day I found the off switch for that magnificent option.

I love the bright colours of the mosses and lichens in the winter. There is so much brown, dark grey close to black, very muted colours and so, when the white frozen water crystals cover the world and the greens perk up, wow, it makes my eyes crinkle with joy to feel the energy rush entering my inner magic colouring box.

My favorite tree stump, it isn't big and magnificent, it is just perhaps 8cm in diameter and covered in the most magnificent fungi - truly fabulous. They seem to change colour with the humidity, the temperature and of course the light of the day. Sometimes sitting dull and withdrawn and other times when one takes a closeup the colours of purple, orange, brown, grey and white are in the midst of the most lively and beautiful dance.

A fallen tree still bearing fruits. and this little dude is about three centimeters long and on closer inspection it was definitely not just a uniform brown there were dots, speckles and freckles in there too. All nicely illuminated by the afternoon sun.
And then there is ice safety - in this case the 'pond' was safe, even though the ice had broken, it was about 5 centimeters thick, and all the water at the bottom of what is a most voluptuous puddle after good rains  had evaporated. Leaving the ice thick and solid, firmly planted on the ground, and quite immovable.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Snowshoe walk with Dr. S

This is a weekend of much activity outdoors.
Once a year Soren takes a group of interested people from the local naturalist society out on a snowshoe exploration trip; looking for tracks, listening for sounds, spying life and movements.
This year we weren't sure if the weather would cooperate. Snow has been a scarce commodity - perhaps to much pleasure for some but for others a sad loss when snow shoeing, skiing, sledding, building lots of snow forts and snow persons is high on the priority list of 'things we love to do in January and February!'
Luck or the weather gods smiled at us this weekend though. A few days ago we did have a snowfall, not the heaviest one but .... there was snow in the air and after a little while snow on the ground, snow on the trees, the bushes, on the cars, enough to have to get the tractor and the snow blower out for some winter exercise. 
Four of the 15 excited nature embracers did wear their snowshoes, they had so been looking forward to exactly this, trying snowshoes and the rest of us chose to walk in our winter boots, in the slightly crusty snow, which was easily broken and allowed our feet easy access to the ground underneath all this white stuff.
Along with the snow we had had some slightly higher temps, and so a beautiful layer of mixed snow and ice crystals was to be found on many branches along the track. It also had made the snow surface perfect for animal track preservation. Many snow shoe hares had been out, weasels, deermice - you can see their tail marks, as they hop along and swing their tail, hm I don't know if it is in fright or delight, but their tails are there, leaving streaky little indentations amongst the rounded paw prints.

The beavers live here too, they had tried to stop the flow of water from the water reservoir lake down into a little stream below. It didn't exactly work very well, but it was a valiant attempt. They had a larger construction further down the lake shore, where it looked like they possibly live. It had the appearance of a larder of beautiful juicy barky snacks, all piled up and holding each other down, so nothing nutritious slips away too soon.

The other side of the construction on the previous photo, this is a little sluice system to keep the water levels right (according to the humans) In both photos there are plenty of tracks of venturous little voles/mice or perhaps a squirrel having darted across the big white space to get from a to b, perhaps in the hopes of better food off there in the distance, perhaps just for the enjoyment of the adventure, will I get there, now or .... never!

Tell tale signs of a squirrel breakfast having been enjoyed - pieces of a pine cone chewed apart to get to the delicious inner seeds, providing good and warming nutrition for speedy critters who do not build fires and warm them selves with any kind of external 'furnace' - they only have their own inner power and drive to keep finding food of the kind they need to stay alive. The drive to wake up to a new day every time the sun comes up (or disappears in the snow/rain storms) propelling them along every moment of their existence.

And just for the sheer beauty of it all, walking down the Ravine Trail, seeing the sun atop the old hemlocks, the snowy heaviness of the younger ones, the ice glitter on bare branches and the fresh cold air freezing the little hairs in my nostrils when I breathed in too hard.

 On the underside of a fallen tree trunk across the trail these beauties enticed me to get the camera out again, even though my fingers were fairly frozen.
We were on the way back towards the main trail and then the parking lot - where we were supposed to break up and all go home, relishing the experiences of the day, and looking forward to another hike with stops and talks and observations to come next year, when ... there might actually be enough snow for snow shoes.
The group said their adieus, but some of us decided that it might just be the right time to find a place where a cup of hot chocolate or tea and perhaps some lunch could be enjoyed, we had after all been on the trail for almost 2 1/2 hours, and we didn't chew any bark or pine cones or anything like that - we left that food to the inhabitants of the area we had visited.

And as I am writing this it is no longer Saturday but Sunday. This morning was spent counting eagles from 10-11am - 16 districts have been set up where volunteers, walk and drive around counting bald eagles, young, old and also hawks. Soren and I saw ..... 1...... one...... eagle, even the red-tailed hawk who usually lives on the dyke had gone visiting somewhere else today. All I have to remember is.... this is not a competition, our district is in a very built up area, and .... although one team had counted 131 eagles in their district, there are many chicken farms further north that feed the bald eagles all winter, with chicken carcasses - a by-product of large scale intense food growing.  This is where any intelligent bird (and that they are) would go to stay fed, satisfied and alive in the winter. In any event, as we got closer to home again we did see soaring eagles and a red-tailed hawk, including of course plenty of sea gulls, ravens and many crows. It is cold out there but mother nature is a mover and a shaker any time of the year.