Friday, January 18, 2019

Temperature is definitely 'snappy' today

Cork and I walk our snowshoe trails daily
Webbing on these 'shoes needed revarnishing
At dawn today the thermometer registered -27 C or -16 F. That is the record so far this winter in Nolalu. It was far colder in Red Lake. I heard on the radio that it was only -36 C there. Those temperatures do not take into account the wind chill. I could certainly feel the wind as I walked down the road to the mail box. At these temperatures even the slightest breeze makes you turn your head away.

(Update: Temperature Sunday was -34 C which happens to be 30 below F)

I had big plans about raising the final beam on my wood shed today but came to the conclusion that a better idea was to sit in the sunroom where a combination of the sun and the wood stove made it feel like a tropical beach. So I read a book the whole afternoon.
Cork and I have now packed down the snow on all of our bush trails. It was tough going with snowshoes the first time around. The snowshoes plunge about half way down through the two feet of the white stuff. I noticed that I have worn off all the varnish on my snowshoes so I brought them into the house for a few coats. In the meantime I borrowed Brenda's which are of a modern design and have a solid nylon material under the foot. I broke some new trail with them just to see if they held me further aloft but no such luck.
It is important to varnish the rawhide lacing on snowshoes from time to time to waterproof them. If the temperature ever gets above freezing the untreated rawhide will stretch and make walking absolutely miserable.
There are no signs of any canines in the bush now, not foxes, wolves or coyotes. I'm a little worried that something drastic has happened to the whole lot, like disease. On the other hand it could be these animals are hampered by the deep snow now and aren't moving.
Every time I snowshoe on a trail that I have made I think back to when I was a kid. I loved to make trails in the bush around our house at Red Lake. Perched three feet above the ground in the deep snow I could fly over the windfalls that make summer walking difficult.
One time my friends Dennis and Brian Larson and I found a deep drift at the edge of the lake and beside a small game trail. We thought it a great spot to make a fort and spent hours chopping out blocks of snow and piling them around the hole we had dug using our snowshoes as shovels.
We were exhausted and sat with our backs against one side of the "igloo" that had no top. Uncharacteristically we were silent, probably because we were too tired to speak for the moment and it just felt good to soak up the sun's rays down in the hole where there was no wind.
Just then a dog came walking along the game trail which was on top of the snow and about three feet higher than our heads. It was only about six feet from where I sat. The dog never saw us and walked down to the lake where it followed the little trail to the other side of the bay and walked into the bush.
As it disappeared all three of us realized at once, "That was a wolf!"
Wood shed site now buried in snow

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Evidence that nature abhors a vacuum

A Harris's Sparrow, rare in these parts, is a regular visitor to our feeder this winter
There is a postscript to the posting awhile back regarding grey foxes appearing for the first time in Nolalu. It now seems that something has happened to the usual population of red foxes. I haven't seen a single one all winter, not even along the roads. Red foxes are just about the most commonly seen animal on our rural roads, especially at night. Where are they?
It is still early to say for sure but a neighbour reports finding two dead red foxes last year. What could be killing them? One suggestion is distemper.
At any rate that might explain how grey foxes are gaining a foothold. It is only about 30 miles from here to Minnesota where grey foxes are fairly common. The greys may be filling the niche left open by the reds.
In other wildlife news, the Harris's Sparrow above seems to have made the decision to spend the winter at our bird feeder. He showed up with the first snows in November. He is about half a continent away from his usual territory of Alberta - to - Texas.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Call it Snow-la-lu instead of Nolalu

Thank goodness for our Kubota tractor and snowblower
We had a white Christmas in Nolalu but the snow was only about six inches deep. Then Old Man Winter blew in. We got 14 inches a few days ago and a few more inches last night.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Merry and Peaceful Christmas!

This is the scene just about any afternoon at our home in Nolalu, Ont. We are so blessed to have so much wildlife right outside our windows. Brenda and I as well as our Chocolate Lab, Cork, wish everyone a joyous Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Evidence of our prickly neighbour

Birch and pine are its favourites
A white birch with its bark gnawed away shows that a porcupine was here. Cork and I found this tree yesterday and the damage looks recent. I expect we will find more such trees in the future.
Porcupines do not travel far in the winter. When it gets really cold they seem to hibernate right on the tree. They don't move at all for days.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Things are really hopping here in the bush

Snowshoe or Varying Hares seem to be everywhere
There are only a few inches of snow here in Nolalu, ON, which is 50 kilometers southwest of Thunder Bay, but that snow is just about trampled with rabbit tracks. I can see the tracks clearly but spotting the animal that is making them is another matter. This bunny just happened to "show up" on one of my trail cameras.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

'How do they know all this climate stuff?'

Moon rises over Thunder Bay as seen from Nolalu, ON
If you don't understand all the information coming at you about climate change, I highly recommend Earth's Changing Climate, a course taught by Professor Richard Wolfson as part of the Great Courses program.
The Great Courses are university-level courses that you purchase to be viewed on your computer or listened to in your car. I prefer listening to these courses instead of commercial radio. Lectures are 30-45 minutes in length and there are usually 18 or so lectures to a course.
Courses like Earth's Changing Climate are designed for non-scientists so don't be afraid that you won't be able to understand. At the same time Earth's Changing Climate gives you all the facts and tells you what is known and not known about climatic processes.
Climate change is going to drastically affect us all. The more you know, the more prepared you will be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Strange animals showing up in Nolalu

Where are all the grey foxes coming from?

These smaller tree-climbing canines haven't been seen here in recent memory
I was stunned to look out the window the other night and see two grey foxes eating sunflower seeds beneath our bird feeders. They were the first grey foxes I have seen in the 33 years that we have lived in Nolalu.
A neighbour told me he has heard of two other sightings this fall.
I called the local Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry office with the news. Biologist Laura Darby said other grey foxes have been seen in Thunder Bay.
That is news because in the past there has been almost nothing but red foxes here, at least in recent history. Red foxes themselves are immigrants from Europe. They were brought to North America with the first British settlers for fox hunts.
So, hundreds of years ago this might have been grey fox country. What happened to them is anybody's guess but they are known to be killed by coyotes.
I'm just guessing but I can imagine the coyote population rose when Europeans settled here. Those mid-size predators thrive around humans, especially around agriculture.
That might explain why the grey foxes disappeared, if in fact they actually once lived here at all, but what accounts for them coming back? Not much has changed, agriculture-wise.
My guess would be climate change.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Just missed filming wolves killing deer

These deer look worried. The kill took place about 10 feet to the right, a day and a half later
This would appear to have been the kill time.

This guy is looking for scraps. There was just a hide, backbone and hooves when we came along this afternoon
When I went to pick up the SD card from one of my trail cameras today there was blood, deer hair and hooves strewn all about just 10 feet away. For sure I thought I had gotten photos of wolves killing a deer. But the camera, which was focused on a deer scrape, just recorded before and after scenes. The blurry night photo of the wolf at 6 a.m. today was no doubt when the kill took place.
Cork and I came upon the scene at 3 p.m. as we traversed this trail to gather a firewood tree.
We have known the wolves were killing deer right behind the house for the past week because of all the ravens and bald eagles flying about. I wouldn't be surprised if the wolves are getting a deer every night.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The ultimate window bird scarer

I find this to be the very best way to keep birds from flying into the windows. A CD of DVD hung on a piece of thread moves with the slightest air disturbance. In fact it is virtually never still. Its hologram side casts an ever-changing rainbow of colours. Even the non-hologram side and the edges create flashes, all of which keep birds away.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Just 12 years left to save ourselves

The latest alarm from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that all hell is going to break loose by the year 2030 if the world doesn't reduce its carbon emissions by 45%. That is predicted to be the time when we will have raised the average world temperature by 1.5 C from burning fossil fuels.
Is it even possible to meet the 45% reduction target? Yes, say these experts, if we take drastic action starting right now. We need a major conversion to electric vehicles, tremendous expansion of mass transit systems, carbon capture and sequestration for the cement and waste disposal industries, and a reversal of deforestation to make room for agriculture.
In other words, we need to stop using carbon fuels and start planting trees and crops to act as carbon sinks pronto.
Is this going to happen?
Well, right now in the U.S. we still have rapturous crowds dancing around the Coal President chanting "Lock her up! Lock her up!" In Ontario we just elected a premier whose first acts were to destroy every climate change initiative in exchange for "Buck-a-Beer!"
In other words, no, it's not going to happen. Human beings are incapable of making decisions other than those that bring them immediate gratification. Want to get elected? Promise to lower the price of gasoline.
Even if we did hold the warming to 1.5 C there will still be catastrophic changes ahead: sea level rise, extinction of many species including most of the fish in the oceans, incredible hurricanes, rainfalls that wipe out communities, crop failures, billions of refugees. But humans could still survive for the hundreds of years it will take for the carbon to come back out of the atmosphere.
The prognosis for reaching 2 C is far more dire. That is when feedback mechanisms will start clicking into place. We could end up with a runaway atmosphere like Venus which is 860 F (460 C).
There likely won't be anyone around to see that happen. We will have long since suffocated from lack of oxygen. 80 per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton in the oceans. Already we have killed 40 per cent of the world's phytoplankton just from the 1+degrees C we have heated the atmosphere.
There is no time left. We either do the right thing and save life on the planet or we dance around the coal fire chanting "Lock her up!" while we toss back "Buck-a-beers."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hawks attack jays which just don't care

Call it a case of unintended consequences. I had been feeding the birds all summer and had attracted large groups of blue jays and gold finches especially when a few days ago a couple of Sharpshinned hawks showed up. They started attacking the bluejays which, to my amazement, barely seem to care.
Now there are four or more hawks joining in the hunt. They dive bomb the feeder and obviously want the bluejays to fly. Some always do and the nimble hawks pursue them right through the limbs of the trees nearby. Other jays just refuse to take wing.
The jays will return to the birdfeeder immediately after each attack which come every five or six seconds from one or more of the hawks. Incredibly the bluejays will land in the feeder even when the hawks are perched on limbs only 10-15 feet away.
All the little birds such as goldfinches, purple finches, nuthatches and chickadees have vanished.
To my amazement, however, a group of ruffed grouse pecked away in the yard with the air war taking place nearly over their heads.
Go figure!
I have now suspended the feeding operation until the hawks move on. 

Sharpshinned hawk sits on branch mere feet away from feeder full of jays

Back view shows square tail that IDs Sharpie, not rounded like Coopers hawk

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Rare glimpse of a camera-shy critter

My first photo of a fisher. I have only seen one other
I have had at least one trail camera set up in the bush behind our home here in Nolalu for the past 15 or so years. Sometimes I have had three cameras on the go. I love getting wildlife photographs and it is a hoot checking out my camera cards every day.
I also had an ulterior motive: it seems everyone in the townships south and west of Thunder Bay has seen a cougar, except for me. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry maintains there are no cougars in these parts. They point to a lack of physical evidence -- no photos, no scat, no dead animals -- just eye-witness accounts. As police officers will tell you anywhere, eye witnesses often see what they want to see. Well, I was determined to prove the authorities wrong by getting trail camera photos of the elusive felines.
Now, 15 years later (it might actually be 20) here are my results. I have about 10,000 photos of whitetail deer of which 95 per cent are does and fawns. The next-most photographed animals are timber wolves at a few hundred photos. I have a few dozen photos of red foxes and a few of marten, porcupines and skunks. I have one trail camera photo of a lynx (although I have many more taken with a standard camera through the window of the house.)
Today I got my first photo of a fisher. I saw one other from the house a few years ago.
I have zero photos of cougars.
Do cougars exist here? Well, I have to admit there just is no physical evidence, at least on our land which is crawling with the cougars' favourite food -- deer.
But then, it took me all this time to get the fisher photo and they are known to be common in this area. Also I have no moose photos either and yet tracks tell me they still cross the land here at least once a year.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

No summer problems with bears

This plump bear eats clover blossoms on our property a couple nights ago
By all reports there have not been many problems with bears in Northwestern Ontario this summer. Typically the bruins run afoul of humans by raiding garbage cans, barbecues and bird feeders. However few bears have been seen anywhere, including along roadsides. What does this mean?
One of our neighbours who has a bear hunting business says there is a bumper crop of berries and the bears are feasting on them rather than in people's backyards. That makes sense. When bear problems are at their worst a poor berry crop is usually to blame.
I wonder, however, if we lost some bears last winter to the exceptional cold. We experienced a lot of -40 temperatures and when coupled with a scarcity of snow could have killed some bears in their dens. A typical bear den is just a few inches beneath the surface. A common site is in the cavity made by tree roots when a tree has blown over.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Book: let's begin writing it right here

It occurs to me that I can start writing my book right now, right here on the blog. When Brenda and I retired two years ago from Bow Narrows Camp after 26 years as owner-operators and a 56-year history at the camp, many of our friends implored me to write about that experience. I joked that a good title might be Wilderness Plumber, considering how much time I had spent at that trade over those years. I realize, however, that folks might like using the plumbing but really don't want to hear much about it. So I probably will call the book something else, eventually. Right now I'll just refer to it as The Book.
Here's a bit of a bio about my writing resume: I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1979 with a double major in biology and journalism. I then spent about 10 years at the  Chronicle-Journal, a daily newspaper in Thunder Bay, Ont., where I worked as a reporter, photographer, outdoor columnist, editorial writer, editorial page editor, wire editor, city editor, weekend editor and managing editor. I also worked for four years for a forest products company in Thunder Bay in the public relations department where I wrote the company's employee monthly newspaper as well as press releases and advertisements. In addition I was the company photographer.
Brenda and I returned to the camp in 1992 and soon afterward I started the Bow Narrows Camp Blog. By the time I quit writing the blog in 2017 it had over a million views.
I like writing. In addition to the stuff above I have written a couple of dozen songs and poems. I think my writing bent comes from my beginnings. When I moved to Red Lake in 1960 with my mother and father at the age of 7 we did not have television. It barely existed in the town and was only available for a few who could afford such luxuries. That definitely didn't include us. During the summers at camp we didn't even have electricity for many years and in the winters we stayed at another camp in Red Lake that did have power but no running water. Needless to say I did a lot of reading. During the long winter nights I read absolutely every book I could find. By the time I was 10 I had read almost all of Ernest Thompson Seton, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Jack London and Ernest Hemingway's works.  I read romance novels, spy thrillers and murder mysteries. One time I even read the complete Instrument Flight Manual for pilots. I'm sure I could have passed the test if anyone would have given it to a 12-year-old.
With all that writing and reading experience under my belt I have a strong hunch that despite some great plumbing stories from camp to relate I should begin my book with something more exciting, for instance, how it almost never came to be.

Chapter One 

Holy smokes that was close!

In an instant I knew I was about to be charged.
The animal was staring directly at me and had its ears pulled back so far it was like it had no ears at all. Every creature I’ve seen attack has first slicked-back its ears -- sheep, deer, dogs -- but this was none of those. This was a black bear and it was really close, maybe five yards away.
They say your whole life flashes through your mind when you are facing your death. That didn’t happen exactly but what did flash through me were all the mistakes I had made that led to this predicament.
The year was 1996 and I was placing out bear baits for the fall hunt at various locations near our remote fishing-hunting camp on Red Lake in Northwestern Ontario. My first mistake had been in picking this particular spot.  A week earlier I had walked up an old gold mining road to where I had found a game trail. I was probably half a mile away from the lake -- so far back in the bush that a bear could not have heard my outboard motor when I drove up.
Mistake No. 2 had been in following the game trail until it led to a “clearing” where I had tied a plastic pail containing fruit, meats and sweets about four feet up in a jack pine. The “clearing” was actually covered in waist-high bushes and ferns. Because of them I couldn’t see if there was a bear at the pail from a distance and, more importantly, it couldn’t see me coming.
My third mistake had been not making noise as I approached.  Despite the isolated location I would have been fine had I only whistled or sang or tied a can with some pebbles in it to my belt – anything.
Now here I was walking through the tall ferns when a bear suddenly reared up on its hind legs right in front of me.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, a split-second later, two tiny cubs climbed a tree right beside her.  
It had been such a sweet afternoon too. I had left camp about 2 p.m. with my 16-foot Lund boat full of bait pails. It was late August and the temperature was very pleasant, probably 15 C or about 65 F. The sky was clear and the wind was light – perfect for running around the shoreline of expansive Pipestone Bay with a small boat.
As always, I was unarmed. The only firearm I could have carried legally would have been a long gun and that would have just gotten in the way when carrying the pails. Also, I just never felt like I needed protection. Oh, I saw bears alright. In fact, at some of the bait stations I saw them every time I was there. Basically they were waiting for me. They knew I was bringing food for them and that was one reason I had nothing to fear. If they scared me they weren’t going to get fed. They seemed to realize this and would, politely, stay back in the shadows. If I looked long enough into the trees I would eventually spot their beige noses and beady eyes. I usually spoke to them in a friendly voice.
“Hey there, Mr. Bear. You’re going to like what I brought today. I’m leaving you a whole pail full of apples and plums. Can you believe it? See you again in a few days.”
They never moved until I started up the outboard and was driving away. As I looked back I would sometimes see the dark shapes step out of the trees.
I had been around bears all my life: dump bears and camp bears, mostly, but also bears you just encountered while crossing portages or out for hikes. I had also helped bait bears with my dad when I was just a kid back when there was still spring bear hunting. I was totally at ease around them. When you are feeding them they just want the food and when you are traveling though the bush they will avoid you as long as they know you are coming.
But this was something new. True, I was bringing food but I had done so in a totally stupid way. I had seemingly snuck up in silence on a mother with cubs, a creature whose motherly instinct to protect her young ones has been well-documented.
And silent it was. I remember trying to identify the calls of unseen songbirds as I walked along the game trail. “I think that might be a red-eyed vireo,” I was saying to myself, scanning the tree tops when, POP, the bear rose up out of the ferns, nearly at my feet. She was silent too. The only sound came from the cubs’ claws on the loose bark of the pine tree.
Looking back, I believe it was the fast action of the cubs that saved me. Years before I had been in a couple of situations while out walking where I had encountered mothers with cubs and as long as the cubs were safely up a tree the sows had been cool and had run off.
One time, in fact, I just came across a cub up a tree.  I looked around carefully for the mother but didn’t see her and figured she had heard me coming and fled. So I took out my camera and tried to get a shot of the cub. The problem was it was evening. The meter in my 35 mm indicated I didn’t have enough light for the shot so I moved right to the base of the tree and tried to silhouette the cub clinging to the big poplar about 30 feet up.
It was then I heard a little sound and looked down to see the mother standing on all fours about 30 feet away. She wasn’t acting aggressive but was just standing in a spot where a few seconds earlier there had been nothing. At the same time the cub decided it wanted to go back to mom and just let go of its grasp on the straight trunk. It basically fell down the tree and actually brushed the camera in my hands. It then ran to its mom and the two of them beat it into the bush. Although I never felt threatened I made a mental note to stay away from a tree with a cub up it.
The difference then was the bears had heard me coming. The cub went up a tree and the mom hid in the bush. This time I had surprised the mom and her babies and we were all just steps apart. I understood that difference in a blink, what my mistakes had been, how the sow would feel and why at such close quarters her instinct would be to charge.
I had been walking forward at a slow pace with a bait pail in each hand and despite the sudden shock of her appearance I instantly started backpedalling with the same motion and speed.  I also started talking to her in what I hoped was a calm, soothing voice, kind of like talking to a baby that you are rocking in a chair.  I said something like this:
“Oh, I didn’t know you were here. Sorry about that, mama. No problem. I’ll just come back another time. You’re fine. Nothing to worry about. I’ll just leave a pail right here on the trail and you can get it later. You’re fine. You’re fine.”
Nobody make any sudden moves, I thought, and slowly kept putting distance between us, nothing threatening about my actions, just getting farther away every second.
I knew that the worst thing would be to run. A human cannot outrun a bear and my running would just trigger the bear’s chase impulse.

I put one pail on the path in the faint hope its alluring smells might distract her. I kept the other because it amounted to my only weapon. I couldn’t hurt the bear with it, of course, but if it came to a standoff, maybe I could fling tasty things around and get her to go after them and buy some time.
After a dozen backward steps I turned calmly around, so I didn’t trip over any fallen trees, kept my walking motion the same and also repeated my little message over and over, “You’re fine. You’re fine.” As I walked away I kept my head turned to see if she was coming. She hadn’t moved a muscle. Finally, at 50 yards, I lost sight of her but kept up my singsong and slow retreat.  I eventually hit the old road and it was then I broke out in a cold sweat and started to shake.
Whoa! That had been intense.


Temperature is definitely 'snappy' today

Cork and I walk our snowshoe trails daily Webbing on these 'shoes needed revarnishing At dawn today the thermometer registered -...