Sunday Snapshots: Walking the dog

Raven and snow

I take a lot of photos of landscapes, and particularly Raven-in-landscapes. I don’t share them often, though, mostly because I’m busy sharing other things. Here’s a selection of some recent ones.

Raven and snow

Raven and snow

Raven and snow

Raven and snow

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Sunday Snapshots – February snow

Snowy landscape

While it seems like every few days this winter our friends down in New England and the midwest were being hammered by yet another snowstorm, up here in Ontario our winter has been exceptionally dry. We had a big storm come through right around Christmas, and then for the last two months there’s been very little, just the odd sprinkling here and there. We got our first big snowfall since Christmas this week, with about 8 inches (20 cm) coming down in a day or so. When I put Raven out that night before bedtime the snow came up to her belly.

Snowy landscape

These photos were taken from our front porch, late in the day. When I went to bed that night, the lilac bush you see on the left in the bottom photo was completely flopped over, so weighted down by snow was it. And then, overnight, the wind picked up, the trees shook free of their burdens, and by the time I got up the next day the world was back to normal, the magical whiteness gone till the next storm. In my hiking around in the couple of days since, I have seen hardly any damage to the trees.

Snowy landscape

Our snowplowing service came by this morning to clean out our driveway. The last couple of days have been mild, and the snow was heavy and wet. It packed up at the sides of the driveway in giant snowballs bigger than my car’s tires. I had to go out today to pick up a couple of groceries. The road was wet and deep with slush, I couldn’t travel very quickly without it grabbing the tires and tugging at the car. So I had hardly any momentum when I got back to our driveway, and as a result I got the car stuck halfway up, immobilized on a tiny rise by an inch of slush. I left it there today but have to go up to Ottawa on Tuesday, so Dan and I will be out tomorrow afternoon to push it free. Or rather, Dan will push. I’ll do what women do best and sit in the car and give directions. ;)

Sunday Snapshots – Snow and sky and ravens

snow and blue sky

I’m away this weekend, back in the Toronto area to visit a friend for Christmas, and then spending a day with my sister. As usual, I’m trying to madly wade through my pre-departure to-do list and still make it out of the house on time. I wanted to schedule a post to go up this weekend, but in the interest of expediency, I’m just going to do a Sunday Snapshots. Perhaps today will be the day I actually hit the road when I plan to!

Lots of lovely snowy scenery around here these days, with gorgeous blue skies. And of course, what would a hike be without a Raven sighting, or two.

sunflower head against blue sky

snow and setting sun

snow

snow and blue sky

snow and blue sky

Raven

sunset and snow

Raven and snow

Christmas sunset
(This last one was taken at my parents’ house while I was there for Christmas.)

Signs of holiday visitors

Field in winter

If you’ve noticed a slight sparseness to the posts here over the last week or so, it’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time on various holiday projects. For whatever reason, maybe because I’ve finally got a space where I can do so, I’ve decided to do a few home-made projects as Christmas gifts this year. Last weekend was my mom’s birthday (because it’s less than two weeks before Christmas, it kind of gets rolled in to the same gift-prep boat), which I made her a horse-head hat for. From there I’ve carried on to other gifts, and the poor sewing machine has barely had a rest. I’ll be doing some Christmas baking tomorrow, and then it’s off to get together with the family for a few days of holidays. My youngest sister took her holidays in the week preceding Christmas, rather than the week after – you really need that extra time to get everything done!

I’ve made a bit of time to take Raven out for her walk, which she really needs to get or otherwise we have a very restless dog pestering us to play ball in the evening. I buckle up the snowshoes and hike off back into our fields along the trails we’ve made, which are quickly becoming well-packed. The several inches of snow we received a couple of weeks ago has stuck around (and shows no signs of leaving now until March – it seemed like an unusually abrupt transition from November browns to winter whites this year). Raven has a blast tearing around in it, and I have to admit the landscape looks quite lovely, especially at dusk, with the setting sun casting an orange-pink glow on the western side of the snow hummocks, their eastern side shaded with pastel blues.

Deer track

One of the neat things about snow cover is that it reveals the movements of the local wildlife, normally hidden from view during the warmer months. You get a chance to see what pathways are traversed by which animals; suddenly you’re aware of rabbit highways and squirrel burrows and the foraging routes of mice. Deer make especially large and noticeable tracks, and when out a few days ago I discovered a set of them leading out of the woods and down to our now-frozen pond, using the trail that Dan and I had packed down with the snowshoes. The next day I found some more – many also following our snowshoe paths – heading into the cedar groves at the back of the fields. In the summer, would we be aware of these beautiful creatures following silently in our steps? But in the winter we can have a small peek into their world.

There seemed to be three sizes of deer tracks following our trails; a rather large set, at slightly smaller set, and a quite petite set. I really hope that at least one of them happens to be young Joe Buck, who I haven’t seen since before hunting season when he happened to wander by while Raven was outside and she chased him off the property. The little tracks are so tiny my first thought would have been doe with fawn, except it’s quite the wrong season for dependent fawns. The mating season usually occurs around the end of November.

Deer track

It’s interesting how variable deer tracks are. Their hooves are actually two separate pieces on the ends of toe-like digits, rather than the single hoof of horses. The separate toes given them greater traction and the ability of the toes to separate also creates a broader surface area in softer substrates.

Deer track

I like that in this one you can see the dew claws (why they’re still called claws in ungulates who don’t really have claw-like nails, I don’t know), which belong to reduced toes and don’t serve much function (though in soft conditions, such as here, or in wet mud, they may touch the ground and could potentially help with grip, I suppose).

Deer tracks in snow

Raven checks out the tracks as they head back into the forest. I haven’t seen any deer around here in many weeks, but clearly they’re about, and just staying well back of the house and its crazy black dog. It’s nice to know they’re here still, even if they never come say hello.

The world in white

snow8

More snow photos, forgive me. I just couldn’t help myself. When I got up this morning there was a lovely white fluffy blanket of a couple of inches of the stuff spread across the ground and just about everything else. The first snow we got was just a sprinkling, a hint of what was to come. Today’s snowfall was our first significant accumulation. Since everything looked so lovely, and the sun was out and shining brightly, I decided to walk to my usual header-photo-taking spot halfway along the field immediately behind the house and get a new seasonally-appropriate image for the blog. This will be the blog’s header image until winter really settles in and we’ve accumulated enough snow that you can’t see much of the grasses anymore – late January, perhaps.

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A photo of the front yard, with a smooth white frosting, as taken from the living room windows. Dan’s poor boat, with nowhere to float these days, sits overturned in the same place it’s been since we moved in in July, tucked against the foot of a spruce. I really like that we’re surrounded by so many evergreens. This photo looks down toward the road, not that you can see it. The owners, many years ago, planted the spruces (and, farther beyond, the pines) as a privacy screen when the neighbours started building their house. They do a great job. They also look stunning draped in snow. Snow on spruce boughs has to be one of my favourite winter sights. Snow on pine boughs runs a close second.

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It was too pretty to just walk back for the house photo, so I decided to take Raven and hike to the back field, and admire the snow. Raven was up for that. She’s always up for a hike. You comin’, slowpoke?

snow7

She has great fun in the snow. Her favourite thing is snowbanks, which she loves to roll around in like those playful ravens, her namesakes. (We didn’t really name her after the playful ravens, just ravens in general.) But just dashing around, snuffling at footprints, that’ll suit her, too.

snow10

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The sky was such an incredible, rich blue. There’s something about winter that really brings out the blue of the sky. Is it simply that it has no other colours to compete against?

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Midway back, a group of cedars. Number three is snow on cedar boughs. Actually, I think this little grove has a little bit of everything in it.

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And then we reach the back of our fields. At the very back there’s a large section of wet ground, almost bog-like, filled with cedars and sphagnum moss and a few tamarack. The cedars form dense groves through the wet bits.

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Led on, perhaps, by the beautiful scenery? I had planned only to go as far as the last field, but when I got there, I decided to push further, to the back fenceline. The wet areas would be frozen, which was my main deterrent for going through there in the warmer months. It would be nice to have a little boardwalk to cross through without stepping on vegetation or getting your feet wet. The evergreens through here all look so pretty with the snow adorning their branches.

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Very tall cedars where the ground dries out a bit more. It’s funny how even though the trees are the same species, the grove can have a completely different feel. Despite the closed canopy, the ground still has a layer of snow.

I get to the fenceline, just beyond. And… I’m not ready to turn around and go back to the house just yet, despite that I didn’t wear my longjohns. Perhaps just a short ways down the rail trail that abuts the back end of the property? Yes, I think so. Maybe I’ll walk down to the stream and come back… Raven thinks this is a great idea.

snow16

To be continued…

First snow of winter

First snowfall of winter 2009

There are only two occasions here in Ontario when snow is a novelty: the very first snow of the year, regardless of how light or heavy; and the heavy snowstorms that leave two feet of clean white palette blanketing your yard. The rest of the winter, snow is simply regarded as a nuisance for most people, or a recreational opportunity for a few others. But the wonder and excitement over a few snowflakes wears off quickly for anyone in a cold-winter region.

First snowfall of winter 2009

Yesterday morning we experienced the first occasion, and so I went out with my camera to take photos. The first snowfall of the year; we woke up to a light frosting that had settled overnight.

First snowfall of winter 2009

It was interesting that you could see there had been a bit of a breeze while it was falling; it had created virtual shadows in the snow on the ground as it piled up against hummocks of leaves or grass, or was blocked by things like the bird feeder.

First snowfall of winter 2009

The complex structure of the gardens made for some interesting snowy patterns.

First snowfall of winter 2009

A johnny-jump-up, coated in snow. This brave plant has continued to bloom and bloom, long after the other garden plants have given up summer for dead. It lives by the motto, “fight till your dying day”. Which will come soon for it, I’m sad to say. Fortunately, they’re perennials; they’ll be back next year. And probably stronger than ever. This was one of a bunch of seedlings given to me by our neighbour at the lake, back in the spring.

First snowfall of winter 2009

The snow actually persisted all day, despite above-freezing temperatures, and into this morning. By this afternoon it had all melted. Last night I was out taking a few photos of the moon for my mom with my DSLR camera set up on a tripod for 20-second exposures, and while I was out there I took a few of the yard and the snow, as well.

Full moon on snow

The spruce trees cast shadows on the snow. I love that when you take a photo of the sky at night out here, it actually comes out blue, instead of the horrible pinkish-orange that you’d get back in the Greater Toronto Area. No people = no light pollution. One of many things I’m loving about eastern Ontario.

Full moon on house

The house at Tay Meadows, aglow at night. Look at that gorgeous, rich blue sky. This one’s better at full size.

Tracks left behind

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The thing about winter is that, despite the lack of insects and plant foliage, there will never be nothing to look at when you go out for a walk. If nothing else, there’s always animal tracks. Usually squirrels, who frequent feeders but are also often observed bounding about the forest, from one tree to the next. Another species whose tracks are commonly seen are rabbits. Around here, Eastern Cottontails. Strangely enough, I have yet to see one (or its tracks) around our house, and I’ve seen hardly any tracks elsewhere. They’re distinctive with their T shape. The two vertical prints are the forepaws, and the crossbar of the T is the back paws.

If you think of an animal such as a rabbit (although your dog does the same thing), their front paws are the first to hit the ground in a stride. These are usually planted one in front of the other. Then the back legs catch up. They actually overreach the front legs, so that the back paws are planted in front of the front paws (although, by the time the back paws touch the ground the front ones are usually leaving it). The back paws are planted together, side by side, for animals like rabbits that use their back legs for most of their momentum; more power is gained that way than if they were also one in front of the other. So the front paw prints of a rabbit are actually the ones at the back of the tracks.

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Deer do the same thing. I found the tracks of two deer along the driveway of the abandoned property down the road, in the clean, fresh snow. They had been meandering along, digging under trees and nibbling at bark when something spooked them. They ran down the driveway about a hundred meters or so before pulling up, I guess deciding that whatever it was (possibly a bird they’d flushed?) wasn’t a threat after all. They were booting it. When animals with longer legs than rabbits run their back legs don’t often line up as nicely, and the faster they run, the more stretched out their tracks become. I’m pretty sure they were running away from me, though – the two tracks closer together, the back feet, are further away from where I’m standing, and the two tracks closer to me are quite spaced out. Deer also bound, usually if they’re less alarmed or are some distance from the threat, and their feet remain closer together in that movement. This is a great series of shots showing the running motion.

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Mice and other rodents are bounders. Their back feet land just about right where their front feet were, so you end up with a series of side-by-side dots. In the case of mice, their tail drags along the snow behind them, so you see a line with parallel dots periodically along its length. Often the tracks disappear into (or emerge out of) a hole in the snow, which leads either to a subnivean (below the snow) tunnel network, or to a burrow. This set of tracks was going from a hole in the snow over to the edge of the foundation of the abandoned house.

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This has to be one of my favourite tracks. I had the advantage of seeing this track happen, so I knew the animal that made it, but I could probably have guessed anyway. There were no tracks anywhere around it to suggest the animal had traveled along the ground for any distance, which means it was a bird. We can look a bit closer for more detail.

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Birds of prey will make isolated tracks such as this when they drop down onto an unsuspecting rodent. Quite often though, you see a tail mark behind the depression. Also, the wing marks are on either side of the depression, not in front of it, as the bird lands on the rodent in the snow with its wings outspread.

These marks actually belong to a Ruffed Grouse. I startled the wits out of the poor thing as I was walking, and got a little too close to where it was snuggled up, all nice and cozy, bundled and insulated in the snow. The bird exploded from where it was roosting, pushing off with its feet as it unfurled its wings to take that first pumping flap. The initial push meant that the first wingbeat hit the snow in front of the depression where the grouse had been holed up. The bird disappeared into some cedars, and although I thought I had seen where he went, I wasn’t able to spot him again for any photos of the bird itself.

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Finally, a real puzzler. I only have a hypothesis on this one. We observed this out on the ice of the lake. The tracks were crossing from the park over the wide, open stretch of the centre of the lake. There was just a light dusting of snow on the lake’s surface, which seemed to have accumulated on the tracks as it blew across the smooth expanse. The tracks appeared to belong to a canine, though it would be impossible to say whether it was a domestic dog or one of the coyotes from the park. And it appeared to be dragging something. It looked almost as though it had a very heavy prey item, which it would pick up above the ground for a few steps, and then either have to lower its head and drag it for a short distance, or touch to the ground as it readjusted its grip. It would have been interesting to see, whatever it was.

Edit: A comment by Webborne suggests the tracks may be from a River Otter, and checking it out, it certainly looks to fit. Because the tracks were blown over by snow, it would have been easy for me to misinterpret the pawprints as canine. I know otters to be in the vicinity, though I’ve yet to see one myself. How neat is that, though!