A walk in the woods


We had an unexpected guest yesterday, so I ended up not getting a chance to post about the walk in the park. I’d actually just got back from a return trip yesterday, where Raven and I walked another part of it, to find we had a visitor. The last couple of days have been so nice, warm enough for short sleeves but not so warm you’re dying. It just seemed a shame not to take advantage of that. Today was cool and rainy, so I’m glad I went out again when I did.


Round trip, we probably walked just over two kilometers (1.2 miles). On a straight and level road that wouldn’t be all that far, but the terrain in the park is far from straight and level. Little mini valleys cut through the granite to create ridges and plateaus. The plateaus are no problem to hike, but the ridges and valleys give you a bit of a workout. Raven outdid both Blackburnian and I; she was still charging onwards even at the end of the hike. She absolutely loved the outing. We let her off-leash in her harness, but she never strayed far from us, no further than her extendable leash would have let her go anyway. And this way, no wraps around trees!


We had no map, no compass, no GPS, and no particular destination in mind. We hiked out towards a promising-looking ridge, and upon cresting that, set our sights on the next. We headed approximately east, but followed the landforms and the suggestion of interesting sights beyond the next valley. There are no trails in this section of the park; in fact, given the size of the park, it’s relatively trail-poor. There’s only one trail that’s somewhat easy for us to reach from our lake, and it’s through a campground at the far north end, some 3 km (1.9 miles) away by boat. Not long after moving in, we had stopped by the park office to pick up some maps and get information on the area. We spoke to one of the staff, who indicated that walk-in access to the park is free, and you’re welcome to just dock your boat on the shore and hike in. So we felt no reservations about doing so.


So we boated directly across the lake, and docked the boat on a narrow gravel beach where the land sloped gently upwards into the park. It’s been a long time since I explored an area without being confined to a trail, or knowing what’s coming next. Everything was new, interesting, and different. There are an interesting array of habitats within the park. From the shore it looks like fairly uniform mixed forest. In fact, when you start hiking in, it turns out to be primarily deciduous, at least the sections we walked through. There were a number of more open areas that resembled oak savannah, though I don’t know if they had quite the combination of characteristics to qualify as such.


There were also a few low, wet areas that were obviously flooded at certain times of year, but not currently. Fallen logs, soft and decaying, were covered with moss and ferns. The area had a very lush, green appearance because of the ferny understory. For some reason, most of the areas we walked through had a sparse understory. It wasn’t that the understory was absent, just that it was thin. There were small saplings and a few little shrubs, patchy wildflowers and vines, but generally it was pretty easy walking. I know deer inhabit the park, so it may be that they keep the understory thinned out. Or, it may be something to do with the soil, or some other factor.


Our “final destination” (meaning, the point where we decided it was getting on, and we were getting tired, and we should start heading back) turned out to be a large, old swampy wetland. It looked like it may once have been a river, but had been dammed by a beaver and flooded, killing the resident trees. This would have happened quite a while ago, as most of the trees were long dead and fallen. Also, the water level wasn’t maintained, and while it appeared the water was probably high enough to form a continuous lake in the spring, by this time in the fall it had dropped substantially, such that the ground was mostly moist with just small patches of water remaining.


Raven, eager to continue on, bounced down and into the wet area to check it out. She paused when it was apparent we weren’t following. She was very good about not getting carried away, and coming back to us when called, with the exception of one spot where her nose found something deliciously intriguing buried in the soil, and she required some coaxing to be drawn away from it (even then, it didn’t come down to us going and picking her up, which I was worried about having to do during the hike – either to take her away from something, or to carry her back when she got tired).


You comin’, slowpokes?


During the hike we came across lots of things that grabbed my interest. I didn’t spend a lot of time paused to examine anything, but did snap photos of the stuff that really caught my eye. One was this frog. I’ve encountered a number of different species of frog here, the most numerous at our house being Leopard Frogs. In the forest, during the hike, the most common were Wood Frogs, I must have seen at least half a dozen of them. But as we came down to the edge of the water, in the muddy wet bits, Blackburnian spotted this guy. I spent a lot of time debating its identification. The tight, squareish nature of the spots on its back and sides made me think Pickerel Frog (a species I admittedly have never seen), while the fact that there were three rows of spots on the back wasn’t a feature of this species. Apparently the definitive feature is bright yellow to the underside of the legs of a Pickerel Frog, but I didn’t think to pick it up. I’m thinking now it might just be a very dark, strongly-marked Leopard, but it may remain a mystery.


I loved these ferns, which were abundant thoughout the park. The circlet of leaflets recalled to me a crown, and I thought perhaps it would be named something reflecting that, but the species is Northern Maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum. I don’t recall seeing them at my parents’, or in that region of Ontario, but it’s very widespread, occurring from coast to coast, and from as far north as Alaska and Labrador down to southern California and Georgia.


Most of what I was paying attention to, though, was fungus, which will be the subject of the next post. As we turned for home, the sun’s rays started slanting low and golden, illuminating the trees with rich light. A forest that is cool and shady during the day, when the sun is shining straight down on the canopy, becomes aglow as the sun sinks toward the horizon.


Our house, at the end of the day, as viewed from the park; the only reason I knew I was looking toward our house was because of the barely discernible pale line created by the trunk of the big aspen at the shore. There’s so much more to explore, but it will have to wait for another day. Home beckons, with cold drinks and a place to put your feet up.


The death-defying frog

Wood frog

Last week, while out checking my moth sheet at my parents’, a frog came up and found me. He hopped right up and on to the white sheet, where I couldn’t miss him. Perhaps he was jealous of all the attention the Gray Treefrog got a few weeks earlier, but he certainly seemed to want his own feature story. What could I do but oblige?

He was small, and his colours seemed underdeveloped, which made me wonder if he was still an immature, not too far removed from his water-loving days. Still, despite the indistinct markings, they were clear enough for me to confidently identify him as a Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica. Adult Wood Frogs will have a dark chocolate-coloured mask, which has contributed to their colloquial names of bandit frog or masked frog, though these names are rarely used. They’re the only species in eastern North America with this facial marking. The top of their eyeball is golden while the bottom is dark, blending in with the mask pattern that crosses it. They have two lines that run laterally down the length of their back, a white “moustache” along their upper lip, and a small dark patch at the front of each shoulder, but generally otherwise they’re brown and fairly nondescript. If the mask isn’t well-developed, as in this individual, they’re not very distinctive.

They vary in size according to age and sex. Males are smaller than females, and the small size of this little individual may also have meant it was a male. In breeding season the males will develop a swollen “thumb” that they use in gripping the female during mating, but it wouldn’t be apparent at this time of year. Wood Frogs may live up to 4 or more years; males begin breeding their first summer as an adult, but a female doesn’t breed until her second.

Wood frog

Wood frogs are North America’s most northern-occurring species, and the only one found above the Arctic Circle. They range from coast to coast in Canada, found from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, through northern and interior British Columbia and the three territories, east to Labrador and the Maritimes. In Ontario, they’re found right up to the Hudson Bay coast. They are also Canada’s most wide-ranging species. They’re less widespread in the states, found mostly in the northeast, with small local populations in Colorado and Wyoming.

Part of the reason for this distribution is their choice of habitat. They’re found in the boreal forest and the deciduous forests of the northeast. Although individuals may move up to a kilometer during their summer foraging activities, they’re rarely found far from water. More specifically, they must be near vernal pools, small ponds and wet depressions that dry up partially or completely in the summer, their primary breeding habitat.

Wood frog

Even before the Spring Peepers start peeping, the Wood Frogs emerge and congregate at vernal pools to breed. They are quite often the first frogs heard calling just as spring starts to arrive. Males will gather at the breeding site, calling loudly and sounding a little like a duck quacking. However, they only call until the females arrive, which may be right away or up to two weeks later, after which they’re infrequently heard.

Females may lay up to 2000 or more eggs, secured to the base of a submerged shrub or other vegetation. Eggs are laid in a large mass, and later females may add their eggs to the initial groups. Laying eggs together like this creates a large, dark ball, which warms up in sunlight more quickly than individual or a string of eggs would, important in early spring when the water can be very cold. Mating takes place in early to mid-April, as soon as the pond’s water is accessible. Because the pond is likely to completely dry up in the heat of summer, it is mandatory that the frogs’ tadpoles get as early a start on life as possible.

Although the tadpoles in vernal pools are under constant threat of their habitat drying up before they’re ready to leave, they’re also protected from fish and many other predators found in larger water bodies that can’t tolerate the drying out. It takes a tadpole anywhere from about 45 to 85 days to go from egg to frog, with the wide range depending largely on water temperature. Warm conditions can speed up the process considerably (which is good, because warm conditions can also speed evaporation). Usually the tadpoles are out well before the water dries up completely.

Wood frog

Newly-metamorphosed froglets and adult frogs that have finished breeding will spend the rest of the summer hopping around the woods surrounding the vernal pools, foraging on typical frog fare: crickets, earthworms, slugs, spiders, beetles, and whatever other similarly-sized invertebrates they happen to come across. During this period they may roam hundreds of meters from their home pond, and about 20% of young froglets will disperse to other nearby ponds, maintaining gene flow.

When fall rolls around, the frogs return to the upland forest area near their pond and start preparing for the winter. Part of this involves converting the glycogen in their bodies into glucose. Glucose acts as a sort of natural “antifreeze”, preventing the fluid inside their cells from developing ice crystals which will puncture the cell walls. The frog then buries down under the leaf litter, but, unlike many other frogs that will burrow down below the frost line, the Wood Frog remains near the surface. Slowly as the weather turns cold it stops breathing, its heart stops beating, and its brain shuts down – for all intents and purposes, becoming clinically dead. The internal (but extracellular) fluids of the frog freeze almost solid. The frog remains protected from the elements by the surrounding insulation of the leaf litter and snow, but still able to withstand ambient temperatures of as low as -6 C (21 F).

Wood frog

With the melting of the snow and the warming weather, the process reverses. The sun’s warm rays hit the dark leaf litter, warming the ground and the frog hidden within it. Slowly the frog’s internal fluids melt to become liquid again. About an hour later its heart then begins beating again, and it starts to breath. Brain function returns to normal, and the frog’s body begins to convert the glucose back to glycogen again. Within a day the frog can resume normal activity.

Several species of frogs have evolved the ability to survive such winter freezing, nearly all being early spring breeders. Spring Peepers, Boreal Chorus Frogs and Gray Treefrogs all freeze during the winter. The advantage to such an adaptation is that it allows the adults to start breeding as soon as temperatures rise above freezing. Virtually all of these species are terrestrial forest species that take advantage of vernal pools and need to lay their eggs as early as possible.

Naturally, scientists are very interested in this amazing ability, since it would have application in tissue and organ preservation, and the practice of cryonics (freezing whole living organisms to be resuscitated later). Given that a frog may live to age four or more, it may go through this freezing process three or more times in its life. Check out this documentary clip (from YouTube) to watch a frozen frog come back to life:

Desktop pond

Desktop pond

This week I returned to my parents’ to help paint the exterior of the house. Nearly all of my time over the two days was wrapped up in that, with only a bit of time for wandering about outside, so I didn’t get any photos. The one area I did spend a bit of time looking at was the water garden I mentioned a couple weeks ago. I was looking for Gray Treefrog tadpoles, the possible offspring of my midnight singer, and the garden’s proximity to the house meant I could wander over for a break and poke around.

Peering closely, I spotted a few hanging at the walls of the trough. Tiny and black, their body only a few millimeters, perhaps an eighth of an inch. With their tail, not more than a centimeter, less than half an inch. At this age, I have no idea if they’re treefrogs or another species, though the former seems most likely given the circumstances. Once tadpoles get older, there’s a great identification table put together by a professor at Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario) that I’ll be able to reference, but it won’t be a lot of help right now. For all I know these guys could turn out to be Leopard Frogs, or even American Toads, although I haven’t noticed either hanging around the water garden (that doesn’t mean they couldn’t’ve popped by, however).

Predaceous diving beetle larva

Also while checking out the water garden, I noticed these fearsome looking creatures. There were several, all at least an inch long. They’d hang from the water surface with their head hanging down, I presume breathing at the surface. Mom and I brought one inside to check out more closely; it turned out to be a predaceous water beetle larva. These things are ferocious, sometimes called “water tigers” or “dragons of the pond” for their hunting habits. They’re large enough to take small vertebrates as prey – and this includes young tadpoles.


I really wanted to see what these little guys turned into, and I didn’t feel that they really had a good chance of reaching that point with these tigers in the trough. After some thought and a bit of research, I decided to collect some of the tadpoles and bring them in to let them grow in a protected environment. To that end I grabbed a large, shallow tub, filled it with some of the water from the trough, added some algae and surface plants for food and shelter, and then collected some tadpoles. It was late in the day by the time I did, and I suspect a number were already tucked away at the bottom or in corners, but even still, all I could find were five lonely little tadpoles. I brought the five back with me and they’re now sitting here beside my computer, my own little desktop pond.

Fairy fern and duckweed

I brought two types of plants, which I hope will keep the water well-oxygenated. The red ones on the surface are called Azolla, also known as Fairy Moss, Fairy Fern, Duckweed Fern, and others. They start out green, but when exposed to sunlight turn this striking red colour. Mixed in with them are some bits of duckweed, a commonly-found surface plant on still waters such as ponds. These plants happened to be purchased by my mom; Azolla can’t establish itself in our climate because it doesn’t survive prolonged freezing, but it would be possible to find duckweed on many ponds through our area.

The other type of plant lives below the water surface. I snagged a few clumps of filamentous algae, and there was a fair bit of it on the roots of the Azolla, as well. The algae’s purpose is twofold: first, to provide oxygen, but also, and more importantly, to provide food for the little tadpolets. Algae is one of the tadpole’s primary food sources. Many tadpole-raising websites suggest feeding pureed, frozen lettuce, but it seemed easier just to bring along the tad’s natural food item. It has the added benefit of reproducing on its own, so hopefully I wouldn’t need to keep supplying more of it.

Tadpole eating ostracods

The tadpoles supplement their diet with the occasional bits of protein. The websites I checked were unclear about just what constituted good protein for tadpoles, some suggesting they could get enough from algae, others suggesting you can buy such pellets from pet stores (intended for fish or captive amphibians or reptiles). Well, it turned out I brought some of that, as well.

All those little green spots are little invertebrates called ostracods. They’re bivalved, like muscles or clams, only tiny, and not actually related to the true bivalves. They’re sometimes called seed shrimp for their appearance under a high-powered microscope. To my naked eye (and even to my camera) they just looked like little dark dots, about the size of your average printed period, swimming around in circles.

The ostracods tend to feed predominantly on organic detritus, and indeed the few bits of …stuff (I couldn’t identify what it had originally been) that had settled out to the container’s bottom had clusters of little green ostracods on them. During the afternoon I watched as one of the tadpoles came up to one of the clusters and started chasing and eating some of the ostracods. Guess that’s their protein.

Predaceous diving beetle larva and caddisfly larva

I also had a few stowaways in the Azolla. Here are two critters side-by-side, a very small predaceous diving beetle larva (too small to be a threat to the tadpoles) and a caddisfly larva. The caddisfly has a neat little case made of bits of organic debris as well as what appear to be tiny snail shells. Both were less than a centimeter, maybe a quarter inch long.


There are a few snails in there, mostly this sort of conical type. The snails also feed on the algae, and that’s where I found them all. A number of sites say to avoid bringing snails in with your tadpoles, because they could bring disease, but I figured they came from the same water source, they’re unlikely to be a problem.

Predaceous diving beetle

There are a couple of little predaceous diving beetles in there, adults, little guys. They’re smaller than the heads of the tadpoles. I assume they’re likely to also be feeding on the ostracods in there; there’s not a lot else for them. This may be what the larva, above, will eventually turn into.

Midge larva

Then there’s these guys. I found two of them. I think they’re a type of midge larva. They’d made themselves little homes out of the filamentous algae, kind of similar to what the caddisflies fashion in terms of being a tunnel, but dissimilar in that these larvae weren’t going to be dragging their homes anywhere. They were fairly active, but only insomuch as they would partly emerge frequently from their tunnel and then dart back in. I watched one for a bit and it appeared to be gathering more algae that it would wrap into its tunnel.


This last one was really neat to find. There were two that I noticed, hanging on, it appeared, to the side of the container. It’s a hydra, a type of predatory invertebrate that uses its long tentacles to snag prey. I’ve never seen them outside of my invertebrate zoology classes back in university, so it was really neat to spot these guys. I gather they’re not uncommon; perhaps I’ve just not been looking in the right places. The critter on the left I think might be a type of daphnia, though I’m not sure.


Tadpoles generally take 6-8 weeks or longer, depending on species, water temperature and food availability, to metamorphose into frogs, so these guys may be sitting on my desk for a while. So far they seem to be doing quite well – and I’m finding just watching all the activity in the container to be rather distracting. I may have to move the container to the bookshelf so I can get some work done…

Gray, but not really

Gray Treefrog

The weather cooperated for me, and I was able to get some mothing in on all three nights I was at my parents’. The nights were relatively warm, and there was quite a bit of activity at the blacklights, so I took my time browsing over the sheets looking for species I hadn’t seen yet. I have the one sheet set up on the clothesline, which is not far from my mom’s water garden, an old watering trough, not used for that purpose for many, many years and now filled with rocks and aquatic plants. While I was standing there, a frog started calling from the water. So I thought I’d have a peek and see if I could spot him.

After circling the garden a couple times I determined he was in one particular corner. I checked all the spots I thought a frog should be, along the water’s edge, in between the rocks, in the flower bed, couldn’t see him. I finally decided he must be up inside the water spout feature, an old hand pump that, decades ago, had been used to pump water up from the property’s well. The pump perches at the corner of the trough, with the pipe set in the water, such that one edge of what used to be secured to the ground now forms an overhang over the water. I figured he’d crawled under there. So I returned to the moths. On my next trip back from the house, my headlamp just happened to pass across the top of the pump – and there he was. Such a great ventriloquist!

Gray Treefrog

He’s a Gray Treefrog, though he’s not a very gray treefrog. The species’ name is Hyla versicolor, the latter part being a reflection on the frogs’ variable colouration – some individuals are the gray that gives the species its name, while others are bright green, brown or yellowish, and there’s a range of colouration between them all. In addition to this natural variation, Gray Treefrogs are able to change their colour, like a chameleon, though the process is not nearly as fast as in chameleons. They are covered in black mottling, the extent of which varies also according to individual and surroundings. A frog on a tree trunk can be nearly impossible to detect as it adjusts its colour and mottling to blend in. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, the frog’s colour is also influenced by the ambient temperature, with more or less black being shown according to whether they need to absorb the sun’s heat or not. Males will generally have darker throats than the females, but of course I didn’t have a female to compare to.

The treefrog’s normal “base” colouration is gray – dead frogs and those in unnatural surroundings will usually be this colour. So I’m not sure why this one’s bright green – perhaps he’d just crawled up from the grass and hadn’t had time to change yet.

Gray Treefrog

In all colour variations, there are three things that make this species of treefrog distinguishable from other frog species (other than the fact that no other frogs climb trees). The first is the black mottling on the back, usually in somewhat linear patterns to create borders to slightly darker areas (though some individuals may not show these markings). The second is the wide sticky pads at the end of each toe that allows the frog to grip the tree (or other surface) when climbing (all treefrogs show this feature, of course). And the third is that both Hyla versicolor and its nearly identical sister species H. chrysoscelis show yellow on the inside of their thighs, usually not really visible unless the legs are extended or one looks closely, like here. The two sister species share much of the same geographic range and are really only separable by call.

Websites also indicate that the species has a pale spot under the eye, and it took me a while to figure that out – I was looking for an actual white or pale dot, but they were using the word “spot” as in region or area, and were referring to the patch of skin bordered on each side by darker patches. Really, the “pale spot” is exactly the same colour as the rest of the frog, it just looks pale because it’s a small area bordered on by dark markings. In the case of my individual, his dark markings aren’t even very dark, they’re barely different than the light areas.

Gray Treefrog Gray Treefrog

He seemed strangely unperturbed by my being there. He’d pause for a moment as I moved from one side to the other, perhaps assessing the sound, but wouldn’t stay quiet for long. It’s prime breeding season, after all! It probably also helped that I had the headlamp on, and as I shone it in his face it hid my silhouette from view.

It’s amazing how much their throat can inflate. When not calling it’s just a loose pocket of skin, held close to the body, deflated and loose like a dewlap. When he fills it with air, it balloons to the size of his head. The throat sac isn’t involved in sound production directly, but rather acts as a resonating chamber, amplifying the sound so it broadcasts across a much greater distance. I read at one spot that this call can be heard up to a kilometer away (a little over half a mile).

The Gray Treefrog has a short, moderately high-pitched trill, which in my area is only really easily confused with the much longer, sustained trill of the American Toad. The trills of H. versicolor and H. chrysoscelis are distinguishable by differences in speed and pitch (length is the same; speed refers to the separation between the individual notes that make up the trill – usually in milliseconds). I rather suspect this would require some degree of experience with the two species to feel confident about labeling it one or the other. To complicate matters, the speed of the trill varies with ambient temperature, and is slower in cooler weather (which makes sense, being a cold-blooded creature).

Gray Treefrog

A close look at his eye, and ear. A frog’s ear is not a hollow tube like that of vertebrates, but a tympanic disc at the skin’s surface. It’s a little like having our eardrum right on the side of our head, instead of tucked well inside. The same general structures apply to convert the vibrations of the membrane into signals to the brain. However, a frog can also “hear” with its lungs. The change in air pressure, particularly with loud noises, will also create vibrations in the lung linings, which are sent to the brain much the same way as from the ear. Also, the lungs have a direct link between them and the ear, equalizing pressure, which is presumed to serve as a protection to the eardrum against the frog’s own incredibly loud calls. An average frog’s calls are 90-95 decibels – about as loud as a lawnmower or jackhammer. Eight hours of sound this loud can permanently damage your hearing. Unless you’re a frog!

Gray Treefrog

He certainly was loud, especially when I got right up close to him. He was also very alone. The nearest other calling treefrogs were at least 50 meters/yards away. Treefrogs tend to be more solitary than other frogs, not being as confined to an area of habitat the way wetland frogs are, so it wasn’t too surprising that there weren’t other males nearby. However, it seemed his efforts hadn’t yet attracted a female. He’s in a good spot, with a handy predator-free water body right there for her. She’ll lay potentially up to 2000 eggs, singly or in small clusters, over the course of the breeding season. I haven’t seen any eggs in the little water garden, but will have to pay attention for them now, or tadpoles if I’m not around for a stretch (the eggs will hatch in a remarkably fast 3-6 days after being laid, depending on water temperature). How neat would it be to have treefrog tadpoles in your water garden?

Make a list, check it twice

Making a list

For Christmas, I got a number of books, one of which was Julie Zickefoose‘s new book, Letters From Eden. I read it in just a couple of sittings, and enjoyed every page (some day I wanna be just like Julie!). Another one I got was Good Birders Don’t Wear White. It’s a collection of “essays” by some of the country’s best-known and leading birders and naturalists. There are some good stories and advice in it, but one of them that I thought was a particularly good suggestion was submitted by Julie as well. It’s titled, “Write it down: making a calendar”.

Spring bunny
A bunny in my mom’s garden – photo credit my mom

Many naturalists, and birders especially, are great at keeping track of what they see. Usually, however, it’s in the form of lists. Here I have my backyard list. There is my year list. This one’s my life list. Lists are great because it’s a record of what’s been seen. The more specific the list, the more useful it can be later (for instance, a list for your backyard is more useful than a list for a state or province because it’s more specific to a certain spot; not everything on your state list will be encountered in a given spot in the state). The best lists are those that are accompanied by extra information. Rather than simply being a list of names, more details are attached to each name. For instance, recording the date you first saw a particular species in your backyard, or the location that you saw a certain species in your state.

Green and Leopard frogs

This is the basis to Julie’s suggestion. Keep a calendar of your observations. When you see the first robin of spring, write it down. When the first green frog starts to trill in the swamp, make a note. Record notable observations you have, such as a bluebird feeding babies, or a fox trotting across your backyard. If you do this over the course of a few years you start to get a very precise picture of the timing of nature. You have a great reference to refer to when you want to know when something happens, or where, or even if. There are some great online tools for tracking bird observations, the best perhaps being eBird.com (or eBird.ca for Canadians).

The Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, which I currently volunteer for, has essentially created such a calendar through careful records of observations every day for five years. It’s really interesting to compare arrival dates for species to previous earliest (or latest) dates, or to look at frequency (you actually have numbers to back yourself up when you make the statement, “this is the most bluebirds I’ve ever seen in a spring!”)

Red-winged Blackbird

My mom has lamented recently that she wishes she’d kept a journal or record of her observations. My parents have lived at the same home in the southern Ontario countryside for nearly 30 years. By now my mom has a pretty good idea of when the Red-winged Blackbirds arrive, or when the spring peepers start to sing. But it’s still a general idea when, and there’s no record of whether it’s the same as it was 30 years ago. My parents are planning on moving and were thinking to leave some nature notes, including a species list, for the new owners. Such a calendar would have been a great introduction to the home.

Look at that great bill! And those out-of-this-world eyes!

I myself have kept a very casual personal journal on some of my birding observations over recent years, going back to 2004. It’s been helpful to refer to for some things, when I saw a certain bird, or took a particular trip. This week, I looked back through it for the date the American Woodcock arrive here. I had been thinking that they should be showing up soon. I had the notion in my head that they start their dusk display flights at the end of February.

Well, I browsed through all my late-February entries, and saw no mention of it. I tried early March in case I’d written it down late. Still nothing. Finally, it twigged that I was a month early, they won’t return till late March. Sure enough, there were the entries, at the end of March.

How disappointing. But at least it saves me from trudging out through the snow at dusk this week looking for birds that aren’t there yet.

(For those who were curious, that leading photo is from a point count survey I did one spring for the bird research station. I had forgotten my pen and notepad, but handily found a bit of charred wood to make notes with; the list washed away in the next rain. Hopefully you’ll have paper available when making your lists.)