Today not at Kingsford – How to separate your shadow

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I am back at my parents’ new house again for a few days. My mom asked me to come to look after the horses, which have made the move to the new property, while she returned to the old house to meet with realtors, visit the dentist, and other tasks. My sister was going to cover the weekend days, and I would be out during the beginning of the week. However, my arrival here was bumped forward a couple days by the unexpected (and proving terminal) breakdown of my sister’s car. She lives not too far away (relatively speaking) in Ottawa, so I came out a bit early and we spent today car shopping up in Ottawa. It’s always a bit of a stressful experience, but she thinks she may have found something she’d be happy with. In any case, my day was mostly tied up with that, and I didn’t get much opportunity for wandering about outside, except for briefly early in the morning. Not that I would likely have spent much time out.

It was a butt-numbing -10 oC (14 oF) plus windchill (so it felt more like -15 oC/5 oF, with tears forming in your eyes if you faced into the wind) this morning, and has been sub-freezing for a few days now. The ice on my parents’ pond had frozen over, and looked to be about an inch and a half to two inches thick, at least near the edges (I wasn’t willing to press my luck venturing further in). I wandered out a few feet from the shore, marveling at how glassy-smooth the surface of the ice was. It was possible to see right through it to the pond bottom, without it even looking like anything was there. It was an odd thing to see your feet disconnected from your shadow, so I had to take a photo.

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I measured the depth of the ice mostly using the bubbles that were trapped in it. It was neat in that you could see the stratification of the bubbles, I assume as they were slowly released from the mud over a period, while the ice gradually froze thicker. It’s interesting that things don’t really come to a halt under the water’s surface even as the surface itself freezes. As I was squatting on the ice, peering down between my feet at the pond bottom not so far below, I noticed water boatmen and little baby fish swimming around in the unfrozen depths. I find it amazing that critters are still moving in what must be incredibly cold water, only slightly above freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of any of them.

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There were water plants and the wildflowers that had flopped over from the shore trapped in the surface of the ice. Where they protruded they made interesting ice crystal patterns on the ice surface, almost looking like long white petals growing from the central seed pods. The glassy ice surface added to the effect, masking the change between the frozen submerged part, and the unfrozen bits sticking up from the ice, so it just looks like a browned stem that is perhaps hanging above the water.

Today at Kingsford – Ice, ice, baby

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Surely I’m not the only one for whom that line of the song starts running through their head when they start to think about ice. What, I am? Um. Okay. Forget it even came up, then.

Today when we got up there was ice covering most of our sheltered little bay. Just a thin sheet, and as the water lapped at the edges and moved underneath it tinkled quietly like a flock of little finches in the trees along the shore. It took me a while to figure out where the noise was coming from, it sounded so unlike what one would expect from ice. This is the first we’ve seen our bay (or really any larger water body) freeze up here, and suggests that winter isn’t too far away.

The last few days have been cold, usually below freezing, and colder overnight. When we’ve gotten up in the morning, perhaps 6 or 7 hours after the fire has gone out, it’s been chilly in the house, 15 or 16 oC (around 60 oF). It’s tough to convince oneself to crawl out from under the covers, although upon coming back inside after taking the dog out to pee, it doesn’t feel quite so bad. We haven’t been able to find the shutoff valve for the outdoor faucet, despite repeated searching and conversation with the landlord, so we have it on a low drip to prevent it from bursting until we get that sorted out – I find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t be a shutoff.

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I ran off a few photos of the ice this morning, with the intention of posting them to the blog for today’s Today at Kingsford, and apparently Dan independently had the same idea – his photo is up here. His blog is still experiencing some growing pains as he figures out what works for him, what he’d like to share, what he’ll be able to maintain over the long-term, and also just simply what there is to post about. He’s decided to try doing a photo-a-day from around our home here to fill in the gaps between artwork and research. Certainly there’s no shortage of photo opportunities!

Peering in the pond, part 1: Don’t fall in!

Vernal pond

With the days getting longer, and the turning forward of the clocks a few weeks ago, daylight lingers well into the evenings these days. When I finished the day’s house renovation tasks today there was still ample light to go padding about outside, and I wanted to get out for a bit to enjoy the relatively mild temperatures. It was beautiful and sunny all day today, and with the combination of the two factors the snow was doing its best to melt. Of course, with the giant snowpiles we have it’s hard to notice much of a difference, but there was a steady rivulet of water running down the tire-tracks in the driveway all day, as if there was a spring welling up near the house and feeding it.

I decided to go down and see if the warm sun had awakened anything in the ice-free water of the little vernal ponds in the backyard. There’s two small ponds, connected through small channels, both of which mostly or entirely dry up in the thick heat of summer. One I remember skating on when I was quite young. It’s since grown in with seedlings from the Silver Maples in the front yard, creating a miniature maple swamp. The largest of the young trees are now a good 10 cm (roughly 4 in) in diameter-at-breast-height, and while it’s a pretty, picturesque scene, the leaf fall has mostly choked the waters so that the pond that I recall being too deep to wade in even with our rubber boots is now fairly shallow through most of its length. Very little inhabits this pond anymore, although I regularly return to look.

The other pond is in the middle of the fenced-in field the horses get turned out in, but despite the disturbance it sometimes gets as a result, the horses generally aren’t all that interested in it and life does well there. (There’s actually two much larger swamps close nearby, but they’re harder to access without a pair of hipwaders.) It was to this little pond that I headed this afternoon.

Dogwood

The snow still lies thick over much of the pond. Portions of it have melted to expose the water, which was free of ice in the warm sunshine and mild air, but more than half is still concealed by snow. The crusty layer over the surface of the snow allowed me to gently pick my way across without breaking through to my knees, which was generally appreciated. The snow mounds up around the vegetation, creating little hummocks from which the red dogwood branches poke up, reminding me a bit of anthills.

Black-capped Chickadee

There was a fair bit of bird activity in the area. Behind me, in the larger true swamp, the Red-winged Blackbirds were perched at the top of the small trees calling loudly their familiar “oak-a-lee!” (despite that in most field guides it’s phoneticized as “konk-a-ree”, this is how I learned it growing up). There were a couple of Common Grackles up there with them, doing their best rusty creak.

The dogwood clumps are a favourite foraging spot of both the overwintering sparrows and the local chickadees. I’m not really sure what they’re eating when they’re foraging in or under these bushes, but there’s often a lot of little birds hopping among the branches. There were a few chickadees in the area while I was standing in the middle of the pond, and I watched them for a little bit.

Black-capped Chickadee bathing

This one came down and had a bath while I was standing there. Naturally, I had my short lens on the camera, and by the time I got the long lens switched over he’d finished up and hopped up to a branch in the back of the clump of dogwood to fluff up and dry off. The water through most of the melted area is quite shallow and perfect for bathing. Well, for the birds, anyway. I think I’d find it a little muddy and cold at the moment.

American Tree Sparrow

A couple of American Tree Sparrows were hanging out in the dogwood as well. This one gave me a rather pensive stare before moving into the thicker cover of the bushes. In the areas where the snow has now melted I could imagine there being a fair bit of grass seed and other such food items exposed that had been buried through the winter.

Vernal pond

After watching the birds for a bit I turned my attention back to the water. What I was specifically looking for was fairy shrimp. While growing up, we’d come down to look for these every spring once the snow melted, but I think I’m perhaps a tad early yet. Nonetheless, it’s worth a check.

Close call

I was a little hasty and forgot that I was standing on an ice ledge. As I moved to the water’s edge to peer in, the snow under my feet cracked and I nearly fell in. Whoops! I did manage to catch my balance without falling and back away from the danger zone. And then circled around to approach from the open, muddy area.

I picked my way across the little patches of grass and stone, the few areas that aren’t submerged, till I reached the point where the water began to deepen. I squatted down on my heels, peered into the water and saw……