Moved in and online!

Black-eyed Susans and new house

We are now moved and mostly settled in at the new house, after a hectic couple of weeks. I have yet to have a chance to really enjoy the meadows, as the only really sunny day we’ve had since the move was on the actual date we were moving. However, a couple of short semi-sunny breaks have inspired me enough to try (whereupon I promptly get rained on again).

I am housesitting for my parents again for a couple of days, and have solid internet access, but just as I was leaving this afternoon the serviceguy arrived to test for signal strength for wireless internet at our house, and to install it if the strength was good. I arrived here late, after Dan had headed out to do Whip-poor-will surveys, so I haven’t heard what the final verdict was, yet.

Skipper and meadow

We were up at 3am for MAPS this morning, and because of the housesitting I missed the usual post-MAPS recovery nap. My eyelids are droopy and my neck starting to go rubbery, so just a short post tonight. However, I have lots of material from our recent MAPS visits that I want to post, so look for those over the next few days!

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Scheduled post: Moving day!

Raven and Oliver

Today was moving day! If everything went well (which, fingers crossed, it did), Raven is one happy puppy. The cats, most likely, are not so happy, but they’ll settle in quickly to their new surroundings. It will take Dan and I a little while to get completely unpacked and settled in, but once the last box is put away we’ll be happy, too. And I’ll especially be happy to return that truck to the rental office. At 26 feet, that thing is a beast!

scorpionfly

I couldn’t think of a catchy way to tie this in with the first photo, so I won’t. I found this insect at Rock Ridge this week. I’ve only ever seen one other, which I’d spotted at my parents’ old house in Halton County. It’s a scorpionfly (family Panorpidae), its name obviously taken from the similarity of the curled tail to the desert invertebrates. In North America, scorpionflies are only found in the east. Their habitat can be quite variable, from woodlands to grassy fields, often but not always near open water or seeps. They’re usually seen low, a few feet off the ground, resting on leaves. They use that long “beak” to scavenge dead or dying insects, though sometimes will take nectar from flowers. Despite their appearance, scorpionflies do not sting – the bulbous end to their curled tail is used in mating.

Moving on

geese5

I was one of those lucky, though unusual, kids who never had to move growing up. My parents bought their house, five acres out in the scenic countryside of the Niagara Escarpment, a couple years before I was born, and it’s the only home I’ve every really known. I’m now starting to put down roots in the Frontenac region, but making the move from the Toronto area was tough; even during university I never lived far from where I grew up.

My parents have just bought a new house and are now selling their old one. If I think it’s tough for me to move, I imagine it’s ten times harder for my parents. They, too, have always lived in the GTA, and they’ve spent more of their life living at this house than they have elsewhere. Making the decision to move is tough, especially if there isn’t a factor forcing the move, such as a job transfer, and deciding on the timing is tougher. They’ve been talking for a few years about selling the house, since all us girls have grown up and moved out, and things finally culminated with the purchase of this home. Their new place is some 100 km (60 miles) further east than Dan and I, over 400 km (250 miles) east of their old home. If this same move was made in the eastern US, it’d put them in another state. As it is, the Canadian provinces are so big that it doesn’t even take them out of southern Ontario.

geese2

My mom asked me to come house-sit for a couple days while she returned to the old house to pick up some more things (such as some plants from her garden while the weather was so balmy) and run a few errands. Also to keep an eye on the cats, who have made the move but are not completely settled in yet. Only one is upstairs keeping me company (currently curled up on my lap), the rest are hiding in the basement. For them, too, the other house was the only one they’d known, and the move has been a little traumatizing, especially for the 10-year-old (although interestingly, the other 10-year-old, and the only female, was the only one to have settled in fairly quickly).

Today was gorgeous weather, especially for November, and I took advantage of it to grab my camera and binoculars and hike out to explore some of the property. The new place has 65 acres, a large jump from the 5 they owned before, and hiking through it all could almost be a day’s undertaking. I only walked a small portion of it; it takes 20 minutes just to walk the kilometer straight to the back property line. Fortunately, a previous owner had cut trails into the woods which makes the going easier. About two-thirds of the property is young successional forest that I estimate to be perhaps 30-40 years old, mostly maple, birch, aspen, and other quick-growing early colonizers. The other third is cleared land. The surrounding region is largely agricultural, and I suspect this property to also have been, several decades ago.

geese1

As I stepped out of the house and started making my way back to the edge of the woods, I heard a cacophony of geese coming from the north. Canada Geese aren’t an unusual species by any means, and the sight of small flocks of them flying south is common enough, especially in agricultural areas where they stop over at grain or corn fields and feed on the waste left behind after harvesting. However, this was no small flock. As they gradually came in to view over the tops of the trees to the north, I could see many flocks of varying sizes, easily a dozen or more. Counting them all was tough as they blended in one to another, but counting the individuals was even harder. I figure more than a thousand geese must have passed over while I stood there.

geese3

As they started to be lost from sight to the south, I could see a few flocks start circling. I assumed they were coming to roost at a cornfield on the next road over, but they seemed too near for that. Mom had told me about a large pond at the back corner of their property (actually on the neighbouring property, but butting up against theirs). I assumed this was where they’d come to land, so I headed back that way to check it out.

Sure enough, when I reached the pond there were a couple hundred geese on the water. They were quieter than they had been while in the air, but were still making a fair bit of noise. I was impressed with the pond itself. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, but something a bit more sterile given its history as an old sand pit quarry. It was actually pretty naturalized, with lots of cattails, phragmites, and other emergent vegetation lining the edges. Reeds poked out from shallow areas in the centre. Foraging among the vegetation in one of these spots were five yellowlegs, a very pleasant surprise. No Cackling Geese among the large flock, that I noticed, though it did seem like there were a number of individuals of the smaller Canada subspecies mixed in.

geese4

I’d only run off a few shots of the geese before something startled them (perhaps me? Though they hadn’t seemed perturbed when I arrived, and I hadn’t moved) and in a flurry of wings they took off from the water’s surface. One flock circled around, but then joined the rest as they all headed further south. Time to move on; I couldn’t help but think, as I watched them disappear over the horizon, how their travel seemed like a metaphor for my parents’ relocation. They may settle in to a spot to raise their young, but once the nest is empty* they pack the bags and leave, in search of a cozy spot to spend their post-family months.

(*Still metaphorically speaking, of course; young geese may only stay in the nest for the first day after they hatch, after which they trail around after their parents.)

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At home with the birds

Dusk

Well, here I am, finally! I didn’t intend to be gone quite this long, but through various mix-ups, miscommunications and snags, we only just got our internet hooked up today. We opted to go for a bundle deal with one of the primary companies around here, and have been rather unimpressed with how things have gone. Our phone was hooked up two days late, and our satellite television still isn’t working quite right (we have a service person out today to have it looked at). Hopefully the last of all this will be sorted out today.

But, we made it, without incident, and we’ve otherwise settled in. We unpacked the last of our boxes yesterday, and there’s just a few last tidying-up details to take care of. It’s certainly feeling like home already. We’re just loving the location. Although it’s a bit further from town than we’d probably originally have considered, it’s still an easy, reasonable drive for once- or twice-a-week trips for supplies. If we were the commuting sort, it would be an average commute in to the “big” city (big being a relative term; compared to Toronto, virtually all of Ontario’s cities, with the possible exception of Ottawa, are moderate in size).

Dawn

The scenery and wildlife make it all worthwhile, however. Right across the lake is a provincial park, and the non-park shore has a pretty low population density itself. It’s not a small lake, at about 3.5 km long, but there’s only a couple dozen buildings along its outer shore. There’s hardly ever anyone out on the lake, at least that we’ve noticed. This weekend was a holiday long weekend for most people, and even then, while there was an increase in boaters, it still wasn’t busy, by any means. During our housing search we checked out a couple of other places that were located on lakes, but they were very busy, and noisy. Not our speed, really.

The birdlife here has been amazing, and we’ve only been here a week. We’ve tallied 63 species so far at our home, on the lake, or within a short walking distance along the road. To put that in perspective, our yard/neighbourhood list back in Toronto was less than 30 after five years of living there. August is perhaps the quietest time of the bird-season (April through October), when all the breeders have stopped singing, but the migrants haven’t really started to arrive yet. And in winter, while the diversity is lower, they’re coming to your feeders and are easy to observe. We anticipate some great birding through the rest of the year. The park has a checklist of 170 species to date, so we still have lots yet to see!

REVI2

Red-eyed Vireos are abundant, in any flock of birds there will be at least two or three of them. For the first few days after we arrived, there were Red-eyed Vireos hanging around in the trees just off our deck. At first we just saw the adults, but shortly a fledgling showed up with them. This photo was taken from the deck, looking down into a little shrub the family was sitting in. Also in the trees around the house has been a regular family of chickadees. Young chickadees are very vocal, loudly begging for food from their parents, so we can always tell when they’re outside.

CERW

A few mornings ago, Blackburnian was on his way down to the dock with his morning coffee when he heard some commotion along the road, a mixed flock of birds moving along the trees of the road edge. He grabbed his binoculars and went out to check them out. Among the flock was a family of Cerulean Warblers, and, knowing that I’d like to see them, he came back in to get me. Ceruleans are an endangered species in Ontario, sparsely distributed through the southern part of the province and only found in certain local patches. However, in these areas they can be locally common. One of the spots recognized as being among the best places to find breeding Ceruleans is not too far east from us, and we’re at the western edge of their eastern Ontario stronghold. It’s a great place for them; around here there is extensive forest cover, because of the low population density and the rocky landscape, which makes farming impractical.

YTVI

Although this isn’t a great photo of it, this was one of the birds I was most pleased to catch a glimpse of. It actually sat rather obligingly for a little while in this open spot on the branch, catching the morning light nicely to illuminate his bright colours. It’s a Yellow-throated Vireo, and it’s a bird that’s been on my jinx-bird list (those birds that seem to elude you no matter how hard you try to find them) for quite a while. I had heard a few singing before, but try as I might I’d never been able to see one. I hadn’t actually expected them to be breeding this far north and east, I tend to think of them as a Carolinian species, but consulting my recently-published copy of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, I see that they actually occur in a strong band along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, as well, and their largest pocket of high abundance in the province is actually the Frontenac Axis.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warblers are also abundant in the area, if not quite so much as the Red-eyed Vireos. I haven’t seen any adult males, with their bold black throats, but I’m not certain whether that means the birds I have seen are females and immatures, or if the adult males have already moulted into their winter plumages. There’s a surprising diversity of warblers in our area. Back in Toronto and area we had a small handful of species that might breed commonly. So far here we’ve tallied 10 species of warblers, all of which would be local breeders, with the potential of another 10 or 11 that we haven’t encountered yet.

RTHU2

The first birds we observed at the house were a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on our first viewing of the place. One of the first things we did outside once we moved in was to fill up the hummingbird feeder. The previous residents had a feeder in place, but it didn’t look like they’d been keeping it filled. It didn’t take long for the hummers to find it. Since they did they’ve been regular visitors. They decided quickly that we weren’t any serious threat, and will often feed while we’re only half a dozen feet away.

COLO

And finally, the quintessential cottage-country birds, Common Loons. We didn’t notice any when we were viewing the house, but we were only here for an hour or so each time. Once we moved in they became quite apparent – but more by their calls than by spotting them. They call regularly every evening and periodically through the rest of the day. They seem to be done breeding, and move often from our lake to any of the many others in the area. On the same morning that we were out looking at the Cerulean family, a family of five Common Loons flew overhead, calling to each other, as they moved to the lake on the other side of the road.

We also noticed a phoebe had built a nest on the security light above the deck stairs, and occasionally hear one singing in the area. I was worried that we wouldn’t have scrub and meadow birds around here and that I’d miss birds from my parents’ like the Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird or Indigo Bunting, but they’re all here. There are Osprey and Red-shouldered Hawks frequently seen along the lake edge. We also have some more northern birds that I was hoping to get in the area, such as White-throated Sparrow, Common Raven, or several of the warblers. We’ve heard Red Crossbills on a few mornings, though it’s hard to say if they’re post-breeding dispersals or early “winter” irruptives.

And that’s just a small sampling of things! The rest of the local wildlife is just as varied and abundant… but that’ll be another post.

See you on the flip side

Moving boxes

Tomorrow’s moving day! We started packing yesterday and have nearly finished everything today. There are a couple dozen boxes and a dozen garbage bags of soft stuff all piled up near the door, ready to be moved out into the truck. We pick the truck up this evening, load everything from the storage locker and what we can move out from here, and then finish the last of it tomorrow morning before hitting the road.

We’ll be leaving this view:

Apartment view

For this one:

Lake

I’m pretty happy with that trade-off! Although, as city views go, ours isn’t too bad. I’m looking forward to taking my tea down to the dock our first morning there and sitting and watching the lake, a relaxing experience you just can’t get in the city.

Our internet and tv get set up on Thursday, so hopefully I’ll be back online at the end of the week. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share!

See you at the other end!

We’re moving!

House as seen from the lake

After some five years here in Toronto, Blackburnian and I decided it was time for a change, time to move on. Neither of us are city people, and when circumstances allowed that we could move back out to the country, we jumped on it. We’ve spent the last three weeks or so driving around a good portion of southern Ontario checking out house listings, which, it turns out, are few and far between when you’re looking for a rental (we want to both save up a bit and also make sure that we really want to be in the area before we commit to investing in a home). Yesterday we spent a long day on the road, checked out four listings, two of which we absolutely loved. The view from the one of them finally won us over, and we went back today to take care of paperwork. While we were out that way (it’s nearly three hours from where we currently live, so not exactly around the corner!) we revisited the house to take some measurements and also some photographs to share with people.

View from the upper balcony

It was the view that really drew us to the place, and the general setting. It’s right on a shallow lake, with the house at the top of a small rise, looking through the trees at the water. It’s surrounded by forest, with small open patches here and there. Unfortunately, both days we visited it was later in the day, past the hour when birds would be active and singing, but it’s starting to get late in the summer to hear much anyway. The timing of the move isn’t great for experiencing the local bird life (we may have to wait till next spring for most of the residents), but we’ll get to see all the migrants through the fall and feeder birds in the winter, and in the meantime there’s still lots of other wildlife to be seen.

Lake

A view looking up the lake from the dock. It’s a relatively small lake, and quiet. Apparently most of the water traffic is human-powered, with just the odd motor boat going by. The other shore is only about 200 meters/yards away, an easy paddle, or even an easy swim if one was so inclined. The other shore is part of Frontenac Provincial Park, another reason why boat traffic is quiet. A short canoe paddle will take you to miles of hiking trails through relatively untouched wilderness.

Looking back from point

Part of the 2 acre property swings out into a little point. This is looking back toward the dock and shoreline from the point. The water in this area is fairly shallow, only a couple feet deep through most of it. The water is pristine and clear, and you can see right down to the gravelly bottom. There are plenty of fish in the water, and what I would consider to be larger stuff (fisherpeople would scoff at that description, I know), bass and sunfish and others that are easily six or eight inches long. There are even bass spawning beds in the gravel just offshore (Blackburnian had to point them out to me; he used to fish and knows all this stuff much better than I do).

Muskrat

To make up for the lack of birds while we were there, other stuff put in appearances. Here’s a muskrat that was paddling around in the lilypads just off the dock, while we were standing there.

Black Rat Snake

And a Black Rat Snake that we startled from the shrubs at the edge of the lawn (I’m actually not sure who was more startled, the snake or us). It’s the first one either Blackburnian or I have seen in Ontario, where their range is extremely limited, and the species is declining and listed as threatened. They’re only found in a few patchy locations in the southwest, and in the Frontenac axis in the east. Unfortunately, I only had my wide-angle lens on the camera, not anticipating to be taking photos of wildlife. It seems that there will be lots of good fodder for future blog posts from there!

Main deck

Not sure if you can tell, but I’m excited to move! We officially take possession August 1, but are hoping to arrange to be in a few days earlier, if possible, both so we could overlap the move with our last day at this apartment, but also simply because we’re really looking forward to moving in!