The return trip

Smooth patches

I left off yesterday just as we were rounding the corner into McNally Bay. With the sun now behind us, you could see some reflective spots on the ice surface. It turned out, when we got closer, that these were the most gloriously smooth patches of ice on the whole lake. Evidently the water had pooled in these spots, and with no underlying snow to texture the ice surface it had flattened out like glass.

Where the sun hits

Toward the north end of the bay I noticed this pattern in the snow. The north side of the bay, which the sun shone on most of the day, was snow-free, while the west side, which remained shaded, still had a layer of snow on the ground. It was evident in other spots, too, where little ridges provided protection from the sun, but nowhere was it as pronounced as in this particular spot.

Backcountry campsite

At the north end, the furthest you can skate before you have to turn around and head back again, there is a backcountry camping site for the provincial park. Empty now, of course, I don’t think the park gets many winter campers although in theory the sites are open year-round. The sites are marked by bright orange signs, to guide people in who are arriving to it by a water route. I’m not quite sure where they would be launching into the water, though, unless it was by Kingsford Dam, since the whole west side of the lake, the side the road runs along, is private land.

Taking a break

Dan and Raven take a break. By the time we reached the top of McNally we were starting to feel a tad fatigued, our long visit with the neighbours notwithstanding. Plus it was just nice to sit down in the sun for a few moments and soak it in.

Leaf-warmed ice

I stopped to snap photos of a few things out on the ice. One of the things that caught my attention were the many leaves scattered about the surface. Nearly all of them were oaks, more than likely marcescent leaves loosened by the winter winds and come to settle on the lake. Where they came to rest they absorbed the energy from the warm sun and re-radiated it to the ice around them. Virtually all of the leaves sat in little melted hollows such as this.

Icefishing holes

McNally Bay is a favoured spot on the lake for icefishing. I suspect this is partially due to the depth of the water here compared to elsewhere; Kingsford isn’t a deep lake anywhere, but the deepest spots on it are in McNally. There were at least three different areas where icefishers had set up shop for a bit. In a couple spots they’d brought firewood (or, as we noticed, harvested it from downed logs at the edge of the park – better than cutting live trees I guess, though they shouldn’t be removing anything) and made themselves small campfires for warmth. They poke small twigs into the ice beside the hole, partially, perhaps, to mark the hole in case it snows, but it’s also used to tie the fishing line to. There were perhaps seven or eight holes in this particular patch, and with the surrounding mounds of snow they looked like little winter gopher colonies.

Largemouth Bass

We encountered a guy out icefishing at another spot distant from the ones above. He’d just set up and hadn’t caught anything yet. Today when we were out we happened to run into his brother at the same location. I’m not sure how long they’d been there, but they had a good fire going and a pot of chili simmering on the camp stove. He was friendly and offered us a beer, or a Pepsi, or a bowl of chili, all of which we politely declined since we didn’t want to be gone long. He had already caught a couple of fish, however, which were hauled out on the ice; a Largemouth Bass and a Northern Pike. They were planning on eating them for dinner that night, so I guess the fish were left to suffocate and/or freeze to death. Not having ever had the desire to kill a fish, I’m really not sure what the most humane way of doing so would be.

Northern Pike

I took advantage of them being there to snap a couple of photos, though. I had seen a couple pikes before, in the summer, when Dan had got them on his bass lure, but because they’re toothy he hadn’t ever really pulled them out of the water, so this was the first good look I’d got of one. I was amazed at the amount of colour in it, especially its fins. Look at that orange! This was just a small individual, only about 14 inches (36 cm) long.

Pileated work on downed tree

On our way back down the east shore we passed that downed pine that I mentioned at the end of January. I took advantage of the second visit to have a look at the broken end of the fallen portion. A closer inspection revealed two square-shaped holes in the outer bark of the tree, one just above and 90 degrees from the other. The work of a Pileated Woodpecker. I’m not sure if it had been going after carpenter ants that had invaded the tree’s heart, but the placement of these two holes so closely together was undoubtedly what had weakened the trunk and caused it to snap in the windstorm.

Chasing the ball

As we turned for home we were facing into the sun as it began to sink into the sky. It made navigating the bumps and ridges on the ice more difficult as the glare washed out most detail. I was skating a little bit behind Dan, who was still managing to engage Raven in a game of chase the ball (she always has more energy than we do), and happened to snap this shot just at the moment they crossed over the reflected sunlight. It’s probably my favourite shot of the outing. Notice Raven is beating him to the ball. Even with her barefoot on the ice and us in skates, she’s still faster than we are.

Headed for home

Approaching home and Raven recognized where we are. She took off across the ice in the direction of the house, clearly anticipating a drink of fresh water and a nap on the comfy couch.

They’re calling for snow the next couple of days, so depending on how much we get that might be it for the lake-sized skating rink. I’m hoping it only amounts to a few centimeters; as long as it doesn’t get a crusty top to it, it’s still possible to stake through a small layer of snow. And I really do enjoy getting out on the skates, with the whole lake as our playground.