Today at Kingsford – Raven, waiting

Raven, waiting

Here, Raven waits patiently for me to finish photographing the dead snake that we found on our walk Sunday afternoon. She’s become very patient with me and my photography habit, despite that it delays her from her walk, or other activity (in this case, she was waiting to go swimming). I snuck in a photo while she wasn’t looking.

Speaking of patiently waiting, my Miscellany post will have to wait till tomorrow. Yesterday our internet was “broken” (our download quota exceeded, the transfer speed slows to the point that a snail out for a casual stroll will still move faster), so I put off trying to do anything until it was back to speed, in the interest of preserving all of my hair. Today we were out preparing the third and final MAPS site, Rock Ridge (check out Dan’s work blog, Frontenac Birds for more about all that), and finally arrived home late this afternoon, exhausted. I had entertained the thought of actually getting some work done this evening, but I’m afraid my brain’s the thing that’s “broken” now – it’s just not operating at its normal capacity at the moment. Tomorrow we’re off for our very first day of MAPS banding, and I’m excited! Even through my haze of exhaustion. A good night’s sleep will be just the thing, and tomorrow will be an easier day physically, not to mention shorter – we should be back by early afternoon, and following a good nap I should be feeling back to my usual self. I’ll also have lots to talk about, I’m sure!

Monday Miscellany

Country road in spring

It’s amazing just how fast the trees leaf out once they start. Just two weeks ago I was noting the late afternoon sun glowing through the sprinkling of leaves on the saplings across the road from the house. Now, I can barely make out the neighbour’s house, which was so apparent in winter. By June, I won’t be able to see it at all. All manner of plant life has greened up or is hard at work at it. Some shrubs are completely leafed out, while the tall ash trees are only just starting. Like the creeks that start tumbling over their rocky beds at spring melt, once spring arrived, time seems to have picked up speed and is rushing by.

Blue Jay

We’ve had a fair bit of rain over the course of the last week. It seems to have gotten all the wet out of its system now, however, and we’re forecasted to have mostly clear skies the rest of the week (whether it remains that way remains to be seen). Although all that rain was undoubtedly part of the reason behind the green explosion, the animals were less than happy about it. This Blue Jay, for instance, was looking a bit bedraggled as it visited the feeders one afternoon.

Mink Frog

The rain has made the ground near our dock rather soggy. As Dan was flipping his boat over one day last week to try to locate a leak that had gotten worse over the winter, he disturbed this guy from the pool of water around the boat. I spent a lot of time debating the identity of this guy. The bright green upper lip and speckled underbelly should make it easy to ID, I figured. I think that it’s a Mink Frog, Rana septentrionalis, but it could also be a Green Frog, Rana clamitans. I couldn’t figure out a definitive ID characteristic that would rule one out based on the photos I have. A Mink Frog would be a “lifer” for me, a species that I’d never encountered previously. In Ontario they tend to be found further north than the GTA where I grew up, but we’d be at the southern edge of their range, here. They’ve been recorded over in the Park. I’m leaning toward Mink because of the small eardrums, dorsal ridges that terminate halfway down the back, and lack of strong barring on the back legs, but I get the impression these are all somewhat variable features.

Water bug, Belostoma sp.

Before Dan flipped over his boat, he bailed out some of the water. And sitting in the water was this guy. I believe it’s a water bug in the genus Belostoma. It was rather large, about an inch long, and quite active within the container Dan had scooped it into. This group of water bugs are among those where the female lays her eggs on the male’s back in the spring. He “broods” the eggs, keeping them clean of fungus, protecting them from predators, and making sure they’re well oxygenated (by doing “push-ups” at the surface of the water). I’m not sure if the lack of eggs on this one means it’s a female, or just a male that hasn’t been laid on yet. I did notice, however, in examining the photos on my computer, that it’s sporting a bunch of red mites.

Bolitotherus cornutus

I found this strange beetle clinging to a piece of driftwood beside my moth trap one morning. I wasn’t sure if it was alive, as it fell off the wood when I touched it, and sat with its legs curled under it. I set it on a shelf in a vial for a couple of hours as I sorted through my trap and photographed the moths I’d caught. When I returned to it, it was sitting in a different spot in the vial, and its legs appeared to be out. As soon as I picked up the vial again, however, it fell over and its legs curled underneath it again.

I pulled out my trusty Kaufman Guide to Insects (I love that book, have I mentioned that?), and there it was at the bottom of page 193: Bolitotherus cornutus. Looking it up on BugGuide.net reveals its common name to be Forked Fungus Beetle, or sometimes Horned Darkling Beetle. The two horns are projections from its thorax, and are used in “battle” with other males to win females (I’m not sure the purpose of the orange “hairs”). They are associated with bracket fungi of hardwoods such as maple and beech. The Kaufman guide makes a note that they are adept at “playing dead”, so I guess that’s what my beetle was doing whenever I disturbed it. Was pretty convincing!

Unidentified bracket fungus

While out with Raven today I encountered this bracket fungus projecting from the side of a stump. Just recently I had read over at Huckleberry Days about Dryad’s Saddle, Polyporus squamosus, a stalked bracket fungus that appears about now, so I thought, “Aha! A Dryad’s Saddle!”. I took a documenting photo and returned home. I pulled out my mushroom guide just to confirm and look up a couple of life history details about the species, and now I’m not convinced that it’s Dryad’s Saddle after all. All the photos I can find on the web for the species show it being concave where it attaches to the stalk, rather than convex like my fungus. I searched through the guide a couple of times and poked about the ‘net, but couldn’t come up with an identity.

Bee fly

Very close to the same spot, I stood and watched this bee fly hovering at several Spring Beauties at the side of the road. It was much oranger than previous individuals I’ve seen, and I wondered if it was just a dark Bombylius major, the species I’ve seen before, or a different species. I gather the half-light/half-dark wing markings are fairly distinctive, and seem to only be shared by B. major and B. mexicanus. It’s hard to make out the specific pattern of dark, but I’m leaning toward B. major.

Crab spider?

I have no idea what this spider is. Not being insects, they’re not usually treated in much depth in the usual insect guides, although Stephen Marshall’s Insects doesn’t do too badly. It looks like it might be a type of crab spider, but I’m not sure. I’d knocked it off the branch of a tree onto a white sheet when I was out looking for beetles (as per a post by Ted of Beetles in the Bush that suggested if you go around thwacking some branches in the spring, it’s possible to discover some beetles you might not normally encounter). I’ve only gone out the once and thwacked half a dozen branches before I was disrupted by the arrival of a real estate agent who was coming to take photos of the house, and then it rained much of last week. Now that the weather is nice again I plan to give it another try.

Birdwatching

A few animals from a little closer to home… with the nicer spring weather the cats have been allowed to go outside in their harnesses to sit in the long grass, enjoy the sunshine, and watch the birds. They’re tied to the deck with short 10-foot leads, so they’re not really a threat to anything except perhaps the odd bug. Both for the safety of wildlife and the cats themselves, I never let my cats roam about outdoors, so this is about as outdoor-cat as these guys will get. They enjoy it, though. Despite the chipmunk who thumbs its nose at them by foraging on fallen seeds under the birdfeeder five feet away.

Fish eats cat, fish spits up cat

Fish eats cat. Fish spits up cat.

Water dog

Since late winter, when the snow was just starting to melt, Raven has been taking an increased interest in water. At the first start of ice breakup, she’d paddle her feet in the shallows of the lake, but it’s taken her a while of gradually working up to letting her feet leave the security of the ground. Even when she started doing that, she’d only push forward half a body length, and then quickly turn around to paddle back. After once or twice of that, she wouldn’t go after sticks that were further out anymore, she’d just look at you and whine. We’d taken her out in the boat a couple times and “thrown” her overboard, and she’d paddle back to shore just fine, but was reluctant to go in of her own accord.

Then, a couple days ago, it was like she had an epiphany. We’d thrown a couple of sticks for her just out of reach from where her feet could touch bottom, and she’d pushed off to grab them, but turn quickly back around. She showed a bit of willingness to go a bit further, and so we got her to do two body lengths, and then three. Then Dan suggested throwing the stick way out and seeing if she’d go for it. So I tossed it four or five meters out, and she struck right out to retrieve it.

Water dog

Within the course of five minutes, she was suddenly paddling all over the place like a bonafide water dog. Not only that, but once she realized she wasn’t going to drown if her feet left the bottom, she discovered that hey – I actually like this! Now when we take her down to throw sticks for her, she’ll jump right in the water and start paddling out before you’ve even tossed the stick out. Quite a change from the puppy who was reluctant to even get her feet wet last fall!

Today at Kingsford – Technical difficulties

Raven and beagle friend

I apologize for my longer-than-usual absence. This weekend I was away at my parents’, for an early Easter dinner timed to coincide with my sister’s birthday. I had hoped to get another post up on Friday before heading out, but ran out of time, as it usually goes. And now, I return home and sit down to put something together this evening from photos I’ve taken in the last few days, and it appears the socket on my camera where the data transfer cable plugs into is broken. The computer recognizes there’s something at the end of the cable, but can’t identify what it is (both my PC and Dan’s Mac do this, so it’s not just Windows being stupid). Soooo… I suppose I’ll need to get myself a card reader or otherwise figure out an alternative means of getting the photos off of the card. In the meantime, I will probably see what I’ve got kicking around in the archives of my computer, and perhaps share some photos of subjects I took mid-winter and stored away for lean times that fortunately never came.

Raven and beagle friend

Here is one such set. Last week when I took Raven out for her daily walk we were joined by a neighbour’s beagle. He hooked up with us about 500 meters into the walk, and came with us for the next kilometer out, and then the 1.5 kilometers all the way back to our house. The three of us all traipsed down to the dock, where the water was melted enough I could put the canoe in (for the first time this spring!) and invite the dogs in to join me for a short paddle. Amusingly, the beagle jumped right in with little need for encouragement, while Raven required quite a bit of coaxing.

Raven and beagle friend

The poor little guy was game but really needed longer legs to keep up with Raven the Rocket Dog. And Raven wasn’t about to wait up for any short guys. However, they still seemed to have a good time together. I felt bad sending him away when it was time for Raven and I to go inside (so I could give her a much-needed bath). Raven doesn’t often get an opportunity to interact with other dogs (or people) out here, so it’s nice when she gets to play with one of the neighbours.

Raven and beagle friend

Raven and beagle friend

Raven and beagle friend

Today at Kingsford – Water dog

Open water

After a few days of low single-digit temperatures, the warm weather has returned. Today was 12 oC (54 oF) and sunny. It was so lovely, that I when I took Raven for her walk, I went out without my jacket. First time in 2009! I took Raven up our road and then down the next one, over to Eel Lake. Eel is the lake immediately to the west of us – the properties on our side of the road are on Kingsford, and those on the west side of our road back onto Eel. There’s public access to Eel if you walk a little ways down the road, where a narrow causeway divides Eel from Canoe.

The ice all along the north shore of Eel has melted back, exposing a wide strip of open water. We have yet to see any open water at our shore on Kingsford, although the south end is already open where the submerged river current keeps the water moving. Eel is a deeper lake than Kingsford, so I imagine that the ice doesn’t get as thick, and in turn it melts faster. Also, I suspect that being the north end and therefore exposed to the sun most of the day, the shore we visited warms up faster than at our east-facing property.

Raven immediately went down to investigate the water, and bounded about in the shallows. Seeing her interest in playing in it, I threw a few sticks for her, and she went splashing in after them. At least, she would as long as they were close enough to shore that her feet could touch bottom; she wasn’t quite ready to swim out into deeper water. Still, she was up to her neck in the water – voluntarily. A long way from not wanting to get her feet wet back in the fall.

Water dog

Water dog

Water dog

Water dog

A wet, happy dog.

Playing in the snow

Sunset

I’ve been distracted this weekend, at my parents’ new place; between the regular chores and fussing about the computer situation, I haven’t been looking at things closely enough to blog about them. I also haven’t been out too much, preferring to stay within the comfortably warm house. Though beautiful and sunny, today was a chilly -16 oC (3 oF) before windchill. The sort of weather that one likes to enjoy from the inside.

Tree in a field

I did venture out a couple of times to let Raven play, and of course I had to take care of the horses and stoke the wood furnace. I took my camera with me on the final run out today. The landscape is so different from the rocky lakes and forests where Dan and I live – here it’s flat and open. My mom calls it Big Sky Country, because compared to where they used to live, on the forested Niagara Escarpment, the sky stretches out to near infinity, finally meeting the earth at the far side of what seems, comparatively, like the endless expanses of the open prairie.

Sunset

The sunsets here are always interesting, since you can watch the sun sink so low to the horizon, unimpeded by trees or buildings. Today the lower sky was shielded by hazy clouds, subduing the colours of the setting sun, but beautiful in their own right.

Raven in the snow

The snow here is considerably deeper than it is back home. In some areas it’s up to my knees, as high as Raven’s chin. I really wished I had a video camera as I watched her bounding like a deer through the snow. Still photos just don’t do the boing-boing-iness justice.

Raven in the snow

Raven had a blast. She loves snow. At home, when I take her for walks down the road, she can’t resist rolling in the snowbanks, or flopping around like a fish out of water when we go down to the thick snow blanket on the lake.

Raven in the snow

Here, she bounded about, kicking up snow with a big grin on her face.

Raven in the snow

Her ears flying in the wind.

Raven in the snow

And a goatee of snow from snuffling for voles.