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- Page Three - Humber Portage - James E Garratt's hp -

OBSERVATIONS


The Humber Valley's Wild Inhabitants Through the Seasons


November 8/98: Mild today. 8 degrees c. The landscape is clothed in muted, soft tones of grey and brown. The goldenrods are long gone to seed, and their stems and leaves are brown. Only a few rusty oak and beech leaves still cling to the deciduous branches. The forested sides of the valley appear open and grey from the absence of leaves. The white pines are fully revealed.

Tree sparrows have returned to our feeders. They will remain here for the winter.
Apples still remain on the old, leafless apple trees around our house. They hang bright red among the grey branches.

November 22/98. Very mild today, 14 c. Strong northwest wind all day...very clean and redolent of the North. Earlier, a storm threatened; but now the sky is completely clear and a crescent moon is shining.

December 5/98. Mild weather continues. Chipmunks which usually are hibernating by this time of year, are still active. Honeybees visit our corn feeders, mistaking the corn powder for pollen.
The earth is very dry after the long summer, and if the present dry, mild conditions continue, then next summer could bring a severe drought.

December 13/98. Clear, mild weather past three days. Coyotes are at the top of the mammalian food chain here in the Humber Valley. We often hear them howling during moonlit nights. Rarely do these canines allow themselves to be seen. However, over the past three years, we've been catching regular glimpses of one particular specimen. This is a large (bigger than an adult Shepard) very light-coloured individual. Yesterday he or she watched me from a distance as I opened the gate. Mutual curiosity seemed to bridge the distance between us.


December 17/98. First significant snowfall last night. A half-inch of snow remains on the ground today. The year is getting restless it seems, and eager to move on toward winter.

December 23/98. Seasons Greetings. Winter really has arrived. Heavy snowfall (2 inches on ground) and cold north winds for the past three days.
Cottontail rabbits huddle beneath the bushes as I walk past; they appear too cold to move. But their nighttime activity is revealed in the freshly fallen snow.
Cold Creek remains open. This morning I see a kingfisher visiting the creek, probably to catch some of the brown trout fingerlings which were released there this autumn.

January 4/99. The new year brings a major snowstorm. We have been completely snowed-in for a couple of days. Fortunately, we are self-sufficent to some degree.
I always wonder how the local wildlife is faring when the temperature dips this low (minus 30c in wind). Dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, house finches, mourning doves and blue jays visit our feeders. And an unusual guest: a whitethroated sparrow has been here for the past week.

January 18/99. Heavy snowfalls and cold (-30c) the past week. Two feet of snow remain on the meadows. It's been a struggle to keep our third of a mile laneway open... a tenuous link to the urbanized world.

January 23/99. Today is mild, 8c. Rain has been falling for the past 24 hours. Now the lane is a sheet of wet ice, lined with three-foot snowbanks.
The mild, moist air rests in the forest. Mists have condensed below the dark green hemlock boughs.

February 2/99. Fair weather the past three days. Sunshine after several weeks of grey skies.
Today as I walked to work through the forest, I noticed that about six whitetailed deer have created a 'yard' in the hemlock grove. I see and smell the deer as they move away at my approach. They have worn trails into the deep snow below the trees. Apparently they are feeding on the lower hemlock boughs and twigs from hardwood saplings. About one hundred feet from this hidden 'deer yard', cars rush past on the local highway.

February 9/99. We feel the strengthening sun. The air is light and fresh. A sure sign of Spring is the approach of Maple Syrup time. I am getting to start tapping the maple trees next week.

February 20/99. Sap has been flowing in the maple trees for the past two weeks. Already we are collecting sap and have boiled some down to produce this year's first maple syrup.
Although temperatures still remain generally below freezing, steady sunlight is thawing the soil in the sugar bush. It feels good to slip in the mud as I tap the trees. When will the first wild leek leaves appear?

February 24/99. Cold, but clear weather this week. A sure sign of Spring: chipmunks have emerged from hibernation and are seen scurrying across the forest floor.

February 28/99. Two male redwinged blackbirds visit our feeders today: the year's first.

April 8/99. The maple syrup season was average this spring. The maple sap stopped flowing one week ago. We produced about twenty gallons of syrup.
Well, the wild leeks have been out for about two weeks, and they are accompanied now by trout lily leaves.
Two days ago a single Canada goose was observed standing on the shoulder of the highway beyond our lane. Closer investigation revealed that a dead, road-killed goose lay in the ditch. This was evidently the lone goose's mate. She defended the body for several days, and could be seen standing vigil hour after hour. Later we discovered that her nest was closeby.

April 27/99. Summery weather the past two days. Now it becomes difficult to keep track of the profusion of new lifeforms.
The great sweeping boughs of the willows along Cold Creek are tinted lime green as their buds open. It was windy today, and I watched the willow boughs waving easily and gracefully in the fresh breeze. An abundance of air, light and life.

May 8/99. Now the tree leaves are all out, and the apple and pear trees around the house are blossuming.
After the chorus of spring peepers, now we hear the soft trilling of American toads from the wetlands. Still, the land is very dry and little rain has fallen this spring.

May 19/99. Finally a little rain fell last night. Today the air was cool and fresh. Scents of balsam poplar and lilac are on the evening air.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks and northern orioles call from the apple trees around the house.
A disturbing incident occurred last Sunday. An old barn down the laneway was burned by vandals. It was in good condition and about 120 years old. Only some charred remnants of the big square timbers remain.

June 5/99. The big willows along Cold Creek have been going-to-seed. The air is filled with drifting seed plumes and the lane is whitened with their fluffiness.
Fireflies begin to flash over the meadows as dusk deepens into night.
Yesterday we saw a family of woodcocks foraging along the lane.
More and more I am impressed by the richness of the wild meadows which constitute a large portion of the habitat around our house. There is a tendency to want to reforest these areas, but that would, I believe, diminish the existing biological diversity.

June 27/99. Heavy rain this evening. Very hot and humid weather lately. Welcome to the effects of Global Warming.
Fireflies have been putting on an awesome display in the meadow beside our house each evening. The humidity, temperature and vegetation must be optimal for them. As dusk falls, the meadow sparkles with their yellowish green dancing lights. These are the wings males; the wingless female 'glowworms' are deep down in the tall grass.
Last week I encountered a mature Milk Snake on the laneway. It did not flee as I stooped to investigate it more closely. Instead it adopted a defensive posture: head drawn back and tail vibrating in the dust... an obvious example of mimicry. But how did this harmless snake come to internalize the warning behaviours of a rattlesnake? Probably not through convergent evolution or individual learning, but rather by chance and natural selection. Sometime in the distant past, an ancestral milk snake vibrated its tail and this allowed it to survive a little more successfully than its non-tail-vibrating relatives (presumably predators generally avoid snakes which vibrate their tails!).
Yet, think of the great amount of time required to test and adopt such a behaviourism...
We talk lightly of a million years, but when confronted with the handiwork of such great expanses of time, humility must be our first reponse.

September 10/99. Now evidence of this year's ripeness is all around. The scent of wild apples is on the air. The earlier hot weather followed by sufficient rain has produced a bumper crop of wild apples here in the Humber River Valley. Many of the apples are worm-eaten, but I easily find enough to make pies with.
Now the meadows are turning gold with goldenrod, accented with purple asters. We want to hold onto this final warmth before the winter.

September 13/99. Heavy rains today. Jewelweed along the lane luxuriates in the rain, and its seedpods are ready to burst. The moist air is scented of the orange-coloured jewelweed flowers.
The late-season piping of gray treefrogs is heard from within the forest.

October 2/99. Rain again today, but the earth is still dry. Water levels are low in the wells and wetlands.
Now the trees approach their peak of colour. Maples are a deep crimson. Many leaves, particularly those in the lower levels of the forest, are just beginning to change.
Goldenrods are mostly gone-to-seed; only a few purple asters still open. The cool, rainy weather leads gradually toward winter's cold.

October 12/99. Leaves reached their most intense colouration this week. Today a storm blew through, knocking many leaves down. The storm lasted for only about fifteen minutes, but included hail and heavy rain. At the height of the storm, the daylight had a strong greenish cast, mixed with the flaring colours and overall rainy greyness. A huge demonstration of energy.

October 27/99. Most leaves are down now. Fine weather continues, with sunny days and frosty nights.
This autumn has produced a good crop of wild grapes. The dark fruits are visible now that the leaves haved thinned. Flocks of robins are enjoying this late-season bounty; perhaps they get a bit tipsy from the semi-fremented grapes.

November 7/99. The weather varies greatly these past few days: from heavy snowfall to above-normal temperatures. Nonetheless, the year's steady progression is evident.
The first tree sparrows have returned to our feeder; here they will stay for the winter.
It is rutting season for the resident whitetails. What is perhaps the only whitetail buck in this area is being regularily sighted. Coyotes, too, have been visiting the meadows close to our house.

December 11/99. The trend toward mild weather is continuing as we approach winter. No snow is on the ground, and the soil is not frozen. We've had many spring-like days this autumn. The other day we saw a large flock of geese flying north!

December 24/99. Well, winter has arrived with a few days of below-freezing temperatures. Ice covers most of Cold Creek, although little snow is on the ground.
The ruffed grouse was once a common bird in this area of the Humber Valley. It could announce its presence with startling suddenness by exploding away from the undergrowth along a trail's edge. However, over the past three years this 'game' bird was declined to the point where sightings are rare. So, today I was happy to be surprised by a grouse which flew up from beside the trail as I walked home from work. Perhaps the recent cold spell had persuaded the bird to venture farther south.

July 22, 2000. Well, we're having a very wet year so far. Heavy rains almost every weekend since early May. Cold Creek and the east branch of the Humber River have been in flood more often than not this year.


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