Wednesday, November 25, 2020

It has been an awesome year for predators

Click on this for a better view. Isn't this a gorgeous coyote? He is crossing the field right in front of our house.

Every day, it seems, we spot a new predator near our house. Last night it was a grey fox, the second time we have ever seen this small canine. It was the last of the possible canines to see. We've already spotted timber or grey wolf, eastern coyote and red fox.

I have gotten trail camera pics of a Canada lynx, Canada fisher and marten (aka pine marten.) I have seen the tracks of the least weasel. We also had three bears here in the early fall.

About the only thing left in the four-legged category are bobcat (rare here) and, possibly, the even more rare eastern cougar. I personally place the cougar in the myth category even though I saw something last week that made my heart jump. It was a cat, seemingly too large for a lynx, walking across our field in late morning. I strained my eyes for a long tail -- that would clinch it as a cougar but alas, I couldn't see one. So, I have put it down as the largest lynx ever.

 I guess a wolverine isn't beyond the realm of possibility too. I would be thrilled to see one. I have a friend who lives about 15 miles away who found wolverine tracks in the snow last winter.

Then there are the avian predators.  It started with a northern shrike. I saw it nail a junco right on the driveway. Next we had a sharp-shinned hawk terrorizing the pine grosbeaks at our feeders for about a week. Six of the panicked birds flew right into the windows of the sunroom and killed themselves. I think the hawk might have gotten an equal number on the wing. The sharpie disappeared right after I saw what can only be described as a white feathered missile. It went by our house and into the bush after the sharpie like a blur. I could only see that it was flying, not diving, and was mostly white.

It was way, way too fast for a snowy owl. The only two falcon possibilities are goshawk which I have seen a few times in my life and gyrfalcon which I have never seen. In reading up on the subject I suspect it was a gyrfalcon -- the fastest bird in the world for level flight. It hits 50-68 mph on the level. By comparison, the peregrine falcon chugs along at about 60. However, the falcon can dive at 242 mph, making it the fastest creature on the planet.

My mystery hawk was flying, not diving, and went across our yard and into the trees after the sharpie in a blink. So gyrfalcon it is, maybe.

At night we have the owl set working around the place. I have heard great-horned and barred owls frequently and found the gut pile of rabbits they have eaten.

No doubt the little saw-whet is in the bush behind the house too. Good luck seeing that one. However, next spring he might give himself away when he starts with his "back-up" alarm call.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Pack of coyotes a Nolalu first


 In the 35 years that we have lived in Nolalu I have never seen more than one coyote at a time. The same holds true for my trail cameras. Every coyote photo has been of a single animal, never a pack. That has changed suddenly.

I got my first photos of at least three of the wily canines traveling down one of my trails. I didn't use any of those shots here because they were taken at night and weren't the best quality. But here is one of the pack in the daylight.

I was first alerted to the presence of coyote packs about six weeks ago when I heard them yipping at night. We normally hear timber wolves, not coyotes. 

We live right on the edge of coyote country. Just a few miles east of here coyote packs are the norm and wolves the exception. That is probably because there is more farm country to the east. Here it is mostly bush.

I had just gotten the pics of the coyote pack on my trail cam when I noticed dozens of coyote tracks right around the house. What were they doing here? My best guess is they were after a red fox that had been coming to our bird feeder. 

The next thing was I spotted a big coyote walking in the field right in front of the house. There was a large whitetail doe eating at the feeder at the time and while she didn't instantly bolt, she was alarmed and moved off as soon as the coyote went out of sight. 

Meanwhile wolf tracks are few and far between. My conclusion is that something has happened to the wolves and the coyotes have filled in the void. We haven't seen the fox recently either.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A Yankee in the Canadian Bush - School


 Chapter 13

I went to school by correspondence from Grade 3 through Grade 8. This was part of the Ontario Department of Education system for kids like me who lived where there were no schools. It was nothing like home school is today.

Each month I received in the mail large manila envelopes filled with that month's lessons. At the start of the school year I would also get boxes with textbooks as well as art supplies and materials to do upcoming science experiments. The lessons were the same as the core curriculum in the schools.

The lessons were arranged for each day of the school week. For instance, I would have printed lessons that said: Monday -- Science, followed by Monday--Writing, followed by Monday -- Art and then Monday -- History, etc. There were chapters to read in the books, then questions to answer and problems to solve, maps to colour and sentences to parse.

It was so cool! I loved it! 

I would sit by the oil stove in the dining room at camp and would lose myself in all this new information. My mom soon learned that rather than push me to "go to school" she had to slow me down. I would get so engrossed in a subject I would ignore what day it was and just keep going. Within a few days I had done the whole month.

"Oh my goodness!" she would say. "You did it all! You're going way too fast. It's not a race, you know."

She would review what I had written and say, "You better go back and check your answers."

Mom thought it best if I maintained the same schedule as kids did in real school. So, I started at 8 a.m. and had recess at 10, lunch at noon, recess at 2 and finished for the day at 3:30. The only difference for me was that I took my .22 and went partridge hunting during recesses and would throw the whole schedule out the window when I heard a boat coming back to the dock.

"Tony's coming in with a moose!" I would yell as the screen door slammed behind me.

At the end of the month I would send off my completed work in the postage-paid envelopes provided. I had a teacher who would mark or grade my work and return it in the next mailing of lessons. She would make comments just as if she was in the room. 

"Danny, you have a great imagination and that comes through on your story about the red fox. You could make it more interesting to readers by thinking of different words for "fox" and "mouse" when you repeat these names. You can get some ideas by looking up these words in your dictionary. Keep up the good work! You have the makings of great writer!" -- signed Mrs. Peters.

Huh! Different words for fox and mouse? I got out the dictionary. Well, I'll be.

By erasing a little my story became, "The hungry fox stopped its long nighttime hunt when it found mouse holes on each side of the snowshoe trail. The vixen ..." no wait, "... the clever vixen knew it was just a matter of time before a rodent would appear and provide breakfast."

School became even more interesting when we moved into town for the winter. We lived at what was then called Ken's Lodge on the west side of the Forestry Point. Today this camp is called Sunset Lodge.

The lodge was on the western outskirts of town and was meant to be used just during the summer. We lived in the owners' quarter rent-free in exchange for my dad putting up ice in the camp's icehouse.

The arrangement worked pretty well except for the fact the building was uninsulated. That would prove interesting for us when the temperature dipped to forty below zero. For obvious reasons, the building's water system was disconnected in the winter. We got our water by walking down to the lake and chopping a hole in the ice. We quickly learned to cover the hole with a wooden box and tarps so there would only be two inches of new ice the next time we came instead of two feet.

There were two ways to heat the living quarters -- a DuoTherm oil stove that was identical to the one we had in the dining room at camp, and a tin airtight woodstove, just like we had in the camp cabins. Both systems ran full-out all winter.

The first time the deep cold hit in January, the oil stove quit working. Dad figured the problem was caused by "summer" oil which contained wax that would precipitate out when the temp was less than 20 below. He wrapped the oil line with an electric heat-trace wire and plugged it into an outside outlet. It worked.

The oil stove sat in the living room while the wood stove was in the walkway between the kitchen and the living room. There was a counter peninsula between the wood stove and the kitchen sink, 10 feet away. The dish cloth would freeze to the sink. The sink drain was disconnected and we collected the water in a five-gallon pail. When we dumped this outside the back door it instantly froze, making a little glacier that increased in height each day.

A stairs off the kitchen led to the bedrooms. My parent's room was right at the top of the stairs where heat from the stoves below would find its way. There was also a heat-collecting device on the wood stove chimney. The temperature in this room was usually above freezing but not by much. There was a cot in this room that I could use but I preferred a second bedroom which didn't get any heat from below. The temperature in there wasn't much different than outside. There were probably six blankets and sleeping bags spread open on this bed. I would get things warm by heating rocks atop the wood stove and then wrapping them in towels and putting them in the bed a half hour before I got in. I wore long underwear and two pair of socks. I pulled my head under the six inches of blankets to keep it from freezing. It sounds awful but actually I slept very well there. Sometimes though when it was near 50 below and the house was cracking, Mom insisted I sleep in their room. 

Our winter quarters had hydro (electricity) which was something we didn't have out at camp. There was no television in Red Lake in those days so people had to make their own entertainment. Churches held teas regularly, there were lots of dances and just about everybody was involved in hockey, curling or bowling.

"True Canadians like winter better than summer," my dad said one time. I don't know where he got that fact and it is disputed to this day by my wife, Brenda, who is about as Canadian as you can get but for me, those first winters were indeed what led to my Canadian citizenship. It started with learning to skate.

I had several friends that lived within a half-mile and every one of them could skate like the wind, or at least that's how it seemed to me. I couldn't take a step without falling on my butt or my face. I was determined to learn. So I took the snow shovel and cleared the snow off the lake in front of the cabin. It took days but eventually I had made a small rink. Mom got me a pair of used skates and watched as I walked out on the ice only to see me fall again and again and again, for days. I fell forward and backward and sideways. I did the splits. I hit the front of my head and the back of my head. I had bloody noses and split lips. One night I was taking a bath and Dad laughed, "Your bruises have bruises. Even your ears are swollen."

By the end of the week, I could skate, even backwards, at least a little.

There were no social functions on Saturday night. That was Hockey Night in Canada and we all had our ears glued to the radio to hear Foster Hewitt call the game. 

"Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland," he would always say.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were everybody's favourite but personally, I preferred the Chicago Blackhawks. I liked their logo better. It was a noble looking Indian man and reminded me of Tony Paishk.

Bobby Hull played for the Blackhawks and he was a sensation. He had a slap shot that traveled 100 miles an hour! Incredible. That would be faster than the eye could see, I thought. I wanted to practise my slap shot but that was difficult because there were no boards around my rink. If I whacked the puck at more than a few miles an hour it just disappeared in the snowbanks and was lost forever. But I found a piece of plywood and stood it at one end of my rink and shot at that. Mostly I missed and the pucks were never seen again. It would be two weeks before I could get another puck; so, in the meantime I would have to content myself with shooting chunks of ice around. 

I would often stay out on my rink after it got dark even though there were no lights. For one thing, it got dark about 6 p.m. In the winter, with everything white from the snow, you can see quite well at night. As I skated around, doing step-overs on the corners and picking up speed on the straightaways, the ice would rumble like thunder as it froze deeper and deeper. Northern lights would appear in the sky and crackle like tinfoil being shaken. Some people said they couldn't hear them but I swore I could.

Dad would park the car up at the garage at the top of the hill and walk the 100 yards down to the camp on a snowshoe trail we kept well-packed. Mom would then call me for supper and I would walk up the trail to the house where I would take off my skates and wince from the pain as feeling came back to my feet. What a great life, I would think.

I absolutely devoured my school work. There wasn't much else to do anyway. I wondered about other kids enrolled in the system. We all sent our pictures so others could see us and we were encouraged to become penpals. There were only a couple dozen of us. I got the impression that the kids all had white fathers and Indian mothers. We were spread out from Hudson's Bay to Red Lake. 

There were certainly more than two dozen Indian kids on traplines in Ontario's North, I guessed. Were they able to go to regular schools? My best friend was Stanley Keesic who lived over the hill from Ken's Lodge. We were in the same grade and he went to regular school in town, coming and going on the bus. Other Indian kids went to the Mennonite School on Forestry Road. It would be decades before I learned where most Indian kids in remote areas were sent -- the infamous residential schools.

My Mom, God love her, continually worried that I wasn't getting a good education. Knowing that I was breezing through my correspondence classes, she would also enroll me temporarily in local schools, including those in Ohio when we went to visit my sister and her family. So I might attend two schools -- Red Lake and Ohio -- plus do my correspondence work in a single school year. She also worried that I wasn't socializing enough. I don't know why she felt like this as I had many friends in Red Lake -- virtually all the kids in the vicinity of Ken's Lodge plus, eventually, several close friends at Red Lake Public School and the kids who came year after year with their families to camp.

By popping me in and out of schools, particularly in Ohio, I did indeed learn one thing: there were bullies in every school. I learned to recognize them immediately; they were the biggest boys who had failed several grades and were a head or two taller than everybody else. They had a universal routine --  humiliate and torture smaller boys. If you stood up to them, they would order you to meet them after school or on the weekend when they would be accompanied by two or three bullies-in-waiting.

I was no milquetoast but there wasn't a remote chance of winning these fights. Even though Dad had shown me how to box it was just impossible. The bully would be a foot taller and twice my weight. If ever I did get in a good lick, the bully lieutenants would grab my arms and let the big bully pummel me. Bullies only pick on people they know they can beat, the more helpless, the better. Why do they do this? Because they are sick sadists. And they aren't alone. There is an endless line of succession of little bullies waiting for the big bully to finally graduate, or get a job, or become president.

I thought and thought and couldn't see a solution. I didn't want to be bullied all my life. I was sick of it. And then, one day, the answer came "out of the blue." It was, I would learn decades later, a Superconscious answer. What is the Superconscious? It is when there is an answer to a problem that is a blinding flash of the obvious, that takes into account not just every known fact but, curiously, at least one thing you didn't know. It is always accompanied by a feeling of warmth, of elation, and you know in your heart that it is the right thing to do. There is another part of a Superconscious decision: it must be acted upon right away.

So, the next day, without hesitation, I did it. The school day was beginning and I had just gotten off the bus. As I walked down the corridor toward my locker I had to pass the big bully yucking it up with some bully wannabes. He was taking something out of his locker when I tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned I punched him with all my might in the face, a sucker punch. That was one part of the solution; bullies don't fight fair but they expect you to. Well, not this time and not ever again. 

Brutus went straight to the floor while blood spurted from his nose. I kicked him hard in the gut and he twisted away from me in the fetal position so I kicked him several times in the butt.

"Get up, fatso!" I yelled.

The junior bullies shielded him as he got on his feet.

"You're dead meat!" he yelled. "Meet me after school!"

That brought up another part of the Superconscious solution. Bullies are afraid of being thrown out of school. If they are expelled they will get a beating from their old man. Not my problem. And I couldn't care less if I got thrown out. This was my ace-in-the-hole.

"Hey, I'm here right now. Come and get it unless you're chicken."

Big Dummy didn't know what to do. I started clucking.

"The kid's a psycho," said Bully No. 2.

Yeah, that's it. Nobody can beat a psycho. Whatever.

The next day I was ready to repeat the performance, only this time the group saw me coming. I walked right up and started clucking. 

The day after that there was no group in the hall.

...to be continued

Others in this series

 Prologue

Bullies
Wolverine 

Roots

Animals

Mentors






Sunday, November 15, 2020

Winter is coming real soon


 The snow on the ground, the bite in the air and the fact it starts getting dark at 4 p.m. means only one thing: winter is just around the corner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Remembering why nothing lasts forever

Yesterday there was no snow. Today there is six inches

 It is Remembrance Day -- Veterans Day in the U.S.  It's a time to reflect on all of those who gave their lives so that we could live ours.

A rare hollow log

It also makes me think about life, period. Dogs die and puppies are born. Magnificent trees get imperceptibly taller each year except for those blown down in tornadoes or broken off by heavy snow. Once in a great while a dead tree trunk turns into a hollow log. 

Today a buck walks into the sunlight

Buck deer are walking hundreds of miles without sleeping. A month from now they will sleep and sleep and barely walk at all.

Everything changes every day. That is called Life.

Bucks will come back to the cedar swamps in a month to rest

When things don't change it is called Death. 


Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Yankee in the Canadian Bush -- Mentors

Bill Stupack was my hero


Chapter 12

Growing up at Bow Narrows Camp was, literally, a unique experience. Not only was I usually the only child in camp, I was also the only kid at the west end of the entire lake. I was adopted by the camp's fishermen, hunters and Ojibwe guides as well as area geologists, trappers and prospectors. Each had something to teach me. Chief among them was Bill Stupack, the camp's former owner and still a prospector and trapper.

Bill had no children of his own and in me found a willing student. I, in turn, idolized him, even as I realized his racism about Indians was wrong.

Bill was one of the North's many larger-than-life characters. He had come to the Red Lake Gold Rush in 1926 as a 16-year-old wide-eyed Ukrainian kid from Manitoba. His only possessions were his immense strength and steel resolve. He learned everything on the job at the area's many fledgling gold mines. He shoveled ore, cut firewood for steam boilers and learned carpentry skills as he helped build bunkhouses, kitchens and headframes -- the tall structures with pulleys that stood over every mine shaft. In boom times, there were a couple dozen mines around Red Lake. Only a few would produce substantial amounts of gold.

Like 10,000 others in those first years of the gold rush, Bill staked claims everywhere there seemed some chance of locating the treasured metal. He concentrated on the west end of the lake in the vicinity of what would become Bow Narrows Camp. A couple of his claims would be bought by the West Red Lake mine and Bill used that money to buy land and build his home just a half-mile downstream, where the camp is today.

Before long Bill realized he worked best alone and outdoors. He became a market hunter for the mines. Year-round shooting of big game was allowed in Red Lake in those days because there was no road to the community and no other way to feed the thousands of hungry miners.  He also obtained a registered trapline, 20 miles to the west of camp, and built a cabin at Prairie Lake, approximately the center of his trapping area. As winter approached each year, he would paddle a canoe and make a dozen portages to reach his trapping cabin, then stay there alone until Christmas when he would snowshoe the 20 miles back to his home at the camp in one day and to Red Lake the next to sell his furs. He would spend Christmas Day with the Art Carlson family in town, then load up his toboggan with supplies and make the return journey back to Prairie Lake until spring. 

In the summers Bill didn't take much time off from his prospecting and claim-staking but when he did he would often take me fishing for lake trout, his favourite fish. Perhaps at one time many of the hundreds of miners and their families who lived at the west end of the lake knew where and how to catch the big trout, but by the 1960s there was only one person with that knowledge: Bill.

He used short trolling rods with ocean-size Penn reels that had no level wind. The reels could store a couple of hundred yards of 60-pound, lead-core, trolling line that was marked in a different colour every 10 yards. At the end of this line was a 2-ounce lead sinker, a three-foot piece of heavy monofilament and a large snap. Bill's favourite trolling lures were 8-inch canoe spoons, Doctor spoons and Williams wablers. With the outboard idling as slow as possible, six or seven colours of line (60-70 yards) was let out and the boat steered along a precise route, often a very large figure 8 that covered miles. The knowledge of where those trolling patterns were became my early ticket to a guiding career.

Bill had told some friends of one of his old guests that he would take them trout fishing but then was too busy. 

"Take Danny," said Bill. "He knows where to go."

We started out with one of the guests driving the outboard but when I kept telling him that he was too close to shore or should swing wide around some coves that were so shallow we would get snagged, he turned over the tiller to me. Within a couple of hours we had boated a 29-pound and a 19-pound lake trout and my reputation as a fishing guide had begun. I was 9.  From that point forward I would spend the majority of my summer days at the stern of a fishing boat.

Bill would also take me fishing to portage lakes. He had a line cabin on Crystal Lake 16 miles to the west that was excellent for small lakers. We would leave camp at daylight in Bill's 14-foot Crestliner with a Johnson 10 and tie up at Douglas Creek, the falls at the end of Trout Bay. Bill had a canoe waiting at the other end of the portage, on Douglas Lake. It was the first of eight portages we would make, with Bill carrying the canoe and a packsack, to reach Crystal. We would start fishing on the lake about 11 a.m. and after only a couple of hours and a lunch, made the reverse trip. All told we would travel 32 miles and cross 16 portages. We would get home about supper time. My arms would be so tired from paddling that I could barely lift them the next day.

On one of those portages Bill instructed me to go ahead and clear as many branches from the trail as I could. I ran because Bill was a fast walker and I didn't want to be overtaken. The only things in my hands were the two fishing rods. I sprinted over a small hill before I noticed that just a few feet to the side of me were two tiny bear cubs. About 10 yards away on the other side of the trail was the mother bear. I was standing between them, exactly what you are never supposed to do. In a flash I reversed direction and sped as fast as I could toward Bill. When I got to him I realized I was no longer carrying the rods. Bill swung the canoe off his shoulders, the only time I ever saw him do so before the trail's end. We walked up to the little knoll and found the rods where I dropped them. The bears had fled.

"You know, Danny, I was chased by a bear over a portage one time," said Bill. "I thought I was a pretty fast runner but that bear kept gaining on me. I looked over my shoulder just as he made a big leap. I instantly fell to the ground and the bear passed right overhead. By the time he got turned around I was gone. A day later I went back over the portage and saw that bear again and do you know what he was doing"

I didn't know.

"Practising short jumps! HAHAHA!"

Bill paddled a canoe exactly like the Ojibwe guides. He took short strokes and barred the paddle against the gunwale on what would be the rear of the J-stroke. The craft would shoot along at 4-5 mph.  

I also went trapping for 10 days with Bill on Prairie Lake in January when I was 12. Each day we would walk about 10 miles on snowshoes, five out and five back from the cabin. Bill showed me how to "read" the lake ice to avoid slushy sections. We were both wearing moccasins and had we plunged through the snow into the slush, our wet feet would have frozen in the 20-below F temperature. 

One day we encountered the tracks of about 30 woodland caribou right in the middle of a lake. Bill gazed at a hillside in the distance and made a prediction: "Caribou are very curious. I bet they are laying over there on that hillside wondering what kind of animals we are. Let's go over to the portage and see if they come down to sniff our tracks."

We walked about a mile away and ate our lunch while we watched. Sure enough, a half-hour later, the herd of caribou came right to where we had been walking.

Bill would usually stop to boil a billy can of snow for tea every few hours. On one occasion we had just reached the far side of Prairie Lake when he did so. We could have walked to the cabin in 30 more minutes. I realized he called the time out because he felt we needed some hydration. It was a bit of wisdom that he had learned trapping alone for decades in the deep bush. There just was no room for mistakes.

Uncle Ervie, left, and my great-uncle Charlie Carpenter. My Brownie camera is at right.

While Bill had taught me how to lake trout fish, my uncles Ervie Kitzel and Charlie Carpenter, both from Ohio, helped me perfect my skills at northern pike and walleye. They would come for a week's fishing trip each summer and always took me with them, letting me drive the motor. Mostly we would paddle or drift along the weedy shorelines, casting for northern pike which we caught by the hundreds each day. Before long I figured out how to paddle our 14-foot wooden Nipissing fishing boats, using the wind to my advantage, and we would silently move along all the bays and shorelines, spotting moose, bear and all sorts of aquatic creatures around every turn. We were so successful using this system that after Ervie and Charlie would return home, other guests asked if I could guide them as well. At first I just worked for tips, then $5 a day and finally $12 a day, just like the big guides. My dad said it was only right since I worked just as hard, cleaned all of my guests' fish and cooked them shore lunch each day. 

While I paddled the fishing boat I always kept an eye peeled for shore creatures and watched my guests' lures as they returned to the boat, often spotting "follow-ups" -- fish trailing behind the spoons and spinners. I overheard one of my guests, a woman, say to my dad, "We always like going with Dan because we see so much more with him. I don't think we go for more than a couple of minutes before he says 'there's one,' (a follow-up).

Once or twice a summer we would spot a bald eagle or an osprey, that is how few there were back when DDT was the pesticide of choice. But then Rachel Carson wrote her book Silent Spring and spawned the environmental movement. Today there are eagles in virtually every bay on Red Lake. Curiously, ospreys are still a rare sight.

... to be continued

Others in this series

 Prologue

Bullies
Wolverine 

Roots

Animals

 





 


 



Monday, October 26, 2020

My life with the animals

 "The animals, they speak to you," Brenda said one time.

Two days ago

Yesterday

 That, in a nutshell, explains me.  

I understand animals way better than I understand people. I pick up nuances of their behaviour that others don't seem to notice. For instance, a few days after Cork died, a red fox observed there is no dog here now. It spent most of yesterday afternoon searching for sunflower seeds that had fallen from the birdfeeders. Likewise it is not an accident a timber wolf came trotting past one of my trail cameras in full daylight -- in hunting season! Since nobody's home, we can do whatever we like, they are saying.

As I buried Cork last week I flashed back to just seven years ago when I buried our other chocolate Lab, Sam. It was exactly the same time of year, in fact, all four of our dogs have died within the same 30-day period.

There was a mother bear with two cubs cleaning out the apple tree back then, just like they did a couple of weeks ago. I feared the bears would dig up Sam's body. I knew it was just his body, that Sam himself was gone, but I was not going to let that happen.

I had nothing against the bears, nothing at all, but I would have shot them dead if they came after Sam. That's just the way it was. But even in my grief and despair, I thought about the most merciful thing to do if they came to Sam's grave -- first shoot a cub. In all likelihood, the mother would flee and take the remaining cub with her. If I was to shoot the mother, the cubs would not know what to do and would just hang around in which case they also would be shot. 

I like bears. I like all animals. But nothing was going to get Sam's body. That's just the way it was. 

The bears never came .

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Finally, a good photo of a fisher

Fisher climbs a white cedar tree

 

Of all the creatures in the Boreal Forest, this has been the most difficult one for me to capture on camera: the Canadian Fisher.

It is a member of the weasel family, twice the size and four times the weight of a marten. Its prey includes everything from mice to snowshoe hares and porcupines. In fact, it may be the only creature to kill porcupines. Bill Stupack, the original owner of Bow Narrows Camp, told me he once saw this happen.

The fisher tracked the porcupine to a tree and immediately climbed to where the porcupine was clinging. The fisher powered itself underneath the big rodent making it lose its grip and fall. It landed on its back and, according to Bill, the fisher was upon its soft, quill-less belly before it could right itself.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Thank you, everybody


 We were blessed to have shared Cork's life, even if it was so short. 

Like a lot of you, I make a great connection with my dogs. I'm usually devastated when they die.

This time though, as I was burying Cork, I was suddenly surrounded by birds of many types. They landed on branches right at my head similar to what happened here at the birdfeeders. There were even a couple of grouse. What a peaceful and wonderful send-off. 

Time to move on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A sad note: Cork has died

 We had Cork put down yesterday. He had cancer.

Lots of you knew Cork, so I just thought I would let you know.

He was six weeks shy of being 7 years old.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A Yankee in the Canadian Bush -- Animals

I hold one of that first woodchuck's pups

Chapter 11


Whether I was born with the ability or just developed it due to the circumstances will never be known but within weeks of living at camp it became apparent that I had an unusual connection with animals.

It started with a woodchuck or groundhog. There were a couple of woodchuck holes or dens on the slope between the yard and the lake and I had spotted a brown tail disappearing down one of them. When I reported the news to Mom, Dad and Bill at the dinner table, Bill advised killing the varmint immediately. He then regaled us with stories of how he had "blasted" many of the critters over the years and how different calibers of rifles would make them vaporize.

"You don't want holes in the ground that people can step into and break a leg," he advised.

Instead I had the animal eating bread out of my hand within a week. Even Bill was astonished at the trust the woodchuck showed me. The stocky rodent would stand upright and hold its slice of bread in both paws while I would gently rub its stomach, scratch behind its ears and pet its back.

It was the beginning of what would become Bow Narrows Camp's famous woodchucks. Millions of photos would be taken of the friendly animals as they took treats from the hands of the camp's customers and visitors. Many of those visitors would come expressly just to see the woodchucks. And after 56 years and 20,000 customers, there would be zero broken legs.

The woodchucks would have a litter each year but interestingly, the actual population in the yard never changed. That is because the mom eventually led the youngsters away, one by one to holes she had discovered or made for them away from camp. Two of the most famous woodchucks lived long lives. That first woodchuck, named Woody, lived for about six years. One of her pups, Milton, lived for eight years. Milton was actually female but by the time we found that out everyone knew her as Milton so we continued with it.

Besides the woodchuck, I would go on to tame red squirrels, chipmunks, whiskyjacks (gray jays) and chickadees, snowshoe hares and mallard ducks. The ducks were a mistake -- too messy.

One evening the Ojibwe guides had just left the supper table and called me outside. 

"Hey, Danny, do you think you can feed a deer?" one of them asked, pointing to a whitetail doe at the far side of the camp clearing. It was the first deer we had seen.

I grabbed a sugar cookie from inside and held it out in front of me as I slowly walked toward the deer.

I would stop any time I sensed she was going to spook, then ease forward when she focused on me again.

It took about 20 minutes but eventually I was just a few feet away. She stretched out her neck, sniffed the cookie and took it with her teeth before dropping it and sprinting away.

I turned around and there were all the guides, still on the porch. They were all laughing and shaking their heads in astonishment.

Although I had many animal friends I also hunted others. With my parents' permission, Bill bought me a single-shot Cooey .22 rifle when I was just 8. Once my dad had drilled me on safe firearms practices, I took it partridge hunting every day after grouse season opened. I would get dozens of grouse behind camp each year and others when hunting with my dad on nearby logging roads.

I killed my first black bear when I was 9. It was a destructive bruin that was wreaking havoc on the cabin iceboxes as well as the main icehouse. Several of the customers had shot at it and missed and even my dad had missed it. It took me several attempts too.

Dad had a single-shot Savage Model 219/220 rifle-shotgun that was light enough for me to hold up to my shoulder. This unusual gun had interchangeable barrels, a 30-30 caliber rifle and a 16 gauge shotgun. It was hammerless with a top tang safety.

The 16 gauge worked perfectly but there was a hitch with the 30-30: the firing pin seemed not to strike the primer cap deep enough.

With Dad at my side I would break open and close the rifle, sight at the bear and pull the trigger. The gun would just make a "click." I then had to repeat the whole process, break it open to re-cock it, snap it shut, sight and pull the trigger and again, just a click. By this time the bear would take off and we would head into the house.

The next evening we would spot the bear again and I would repeat the whole performance. On the fourth day the gun went off and I killed the bear. Dad pointed out that I had been shaking like a leaf the first couple of days but by the fourth day I just assumed nothing would happen. When the gun finally fired I was holding the sights dead steady. We skinned out the bear and had its hide made into a rug that hung in the dining room for years.

About a week before moose season opened, Bill and his friend Joe Johnson, came for supper and stayed until after dark. The temperature had dipped to below freezing and there was a bright full moon. As we walked the two prospectors down to their boat, Bill mentioned this would be a good night for moose calling.

"Won't you show us how to do it?" Mom prompted.

Bill cupped his hands and made a long, whining sound, moving his head from down near the ground to upright and then down to the other side.

"Like that," he laughed.

Sometime in the night we were awakened by a shake to the cabin. It had just been one jolt, like from a hard wind gust. But when we got up the next day we discovered moose tracks between the cabin and one of the sheds. There was a bare wire strung between the two that was used for a clothesline and this had been struck by a moose's antlers.

Bill laughed himself silly when we told him what had happened later. He made me a proper birchbark moose call then and showed me how to make his version of a cow moose call. The sound is what a cow in heat sounds like as she advertises for a mate. When moose season came around, all of our hunters and guides had left before daylight on opening day and I took the call down to the dock at sunrise to let go my best imitation of Bill's call. Immediately my Mom and I could hear brush breaking across the narrows. Then a moose with enormous antlers walked out to the lake shore. It was only about 50 yards from the rocky point by the green buoy to the moose on the other side of the channel and I wanted to get the 30-30 but my mom wisely said no. We needed to let one of our customers get it, she said. I didn't argue. I was scared to death. The moose left after a few minutes and no one ever saw it again.

...to be continued

Me, age 9, with one of the hunter's bears. Mine was a bit smaller.

Others in this series

 Prologue

Bullies
Wolverine 

Roots


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Yankee in the Canadian Bush -- Racism

 

Adam Paishk with leg of moose at old boathouse
Chapter 10


Editor's note: It is appropriate that this chapter appears today as Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. Started in 2013, Orange Shirt Day is a day to remember First Nations children who were taken away from their parents and sent to residential schools, from the 1860s to the 1990s. The Canadian


Government program was operated by various churches with the stated purpose of forcing the children to denounce their heritage and assimilate into what was considered mainstream culture. The children at the schools were forbidden to speak their native languages; their hair was cut and they were not allowed to contact their parents. In 2008 the Government apologized for the program which was widely recognized as cultural genocide. In addition to being ripped away from their families, the children were frequently assaulted, sexually assaulted, starved and used for medical experiments. Many of the children died at the schools, were buried in unmarked graves and their parents never told what happened to them.

Although I had never heard of the word "racist," it became obvious as the weeks went by that first year at camp that Bill Stupack hated "Indians." We were with Bill every day while he and Dad built Bill's new cabin about a mile from the camp. During that time he never missed an opportunity to point out that Indians were the "scourge" of the land. According to Bill they were lazy, stupid, thieving people who you should always avoid. Most of all, they were drunks, he said. Bill himself was a teetotaler.

We were new to Canada and Bill was really our only friend so far. It would have been easy to accept his views but to my surprise, Mom and Dad were not swayed to his side.

"Why does Bill hate Indians so much?" I asked my mom one day.

"I don't know," she said while she rolled out pie dough on the kitchen table. "We may never know.

"But here is what we believe: God created all people equal and he made them in lots of colours. We treat everybody the way we would like them to treat us -- with kindness and respect. Right?"

Mom would often read the Bible and seemed more religious than Dad although every once in awhile he surprised me when he would quote some biblical passage, usually verbatim, such as, in this case: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Then Mom added something that I recognized at the time was a new life lesson and maybe not even one of the Commandments. Up until then it had been: don't lie, cheat, steal, swear or hurt other people plus five other Commandments that I didn't think applied to me yet. Pretty straightforward stuff. This new lesson took some thinking.

"We don't let other people pick our friends for us. God gave us a brain for a reason."

Huh! 

As far as I knew, Mom and Dad had no life experiences with Indians. There didn't seem to be any at Pickerel River other than the wife of the next door neighbour. Dad would surprise everyone for the rest of his life whenever mentioning the woman -- Mary -- by always immediately adding, "And she was a good woman!" as if someone was getting ready to say otherwise.

Anyway, after Bill moved into his new house I was surprised when on one of Dad's first trips to town with the boat, he brought back two "Indian" men -- Frank and Adam Paishk, brothers who lived in the old log cabins at the other end of the narrows that led to camp. Dad had hired them to help with some project. Frank, about 40, only stayed a couple of days but Adam, about 30, ended up working the rest of summer and fall. He also became our teacher about "Indian" ways. 

Frank and Adam had been born right in the cabins where they still lived. They were trappers in the winter and the area around camp was their registered trapline. It had been their father's before them.

Adam smiled any time you looked his way and finished almost every sentence with a laugh.

"He is so polite," my mom said one night after Adam had gone to one of the guest cabins for the night. There was no other place for him to sleep since Dad had not yet built a bunkhouse, and the guest cabins were nearly all empty anyway because we had so few customers.

Adam spoke perfect English and seemed well-educated. Not only could he read and write but "his handwriting is absolutely beautiful," noted Mom. "Better than mine even." That was a high compliment coming from someone whose writing was always commented upon.

"Where did you go to school?" she asked Adam. I don't remember where he said other than it wasn't Red Lake. Most likely it was Sioux Lookout, about 150 kilometers to the east or Kenora, a similar distance to the southwest. This mystified Mom.

"Was your family living there at the time?" she asked.

No, said Adam. His family had always lived at the west end of Red Lake.

"Then why did you go all the way there for school?" she persisted.

"That's where the Indian School is," Adam explained.

Oh! Indian kids and white kids didn't go to the same school! It was the first we knew about this but it would be four decades later that we learned about the horrors at those residential schools.

 We learned from Adam that the Indian people in the northwestern region of Ontario were Ojibway. 

"That's the same, I think, as in Eastern Ontario where we had a cabin," said Mom.

"Yes," Adam confirmed. "And there are Ojibways in Manitoba and even in some of the States. There are lots of Ojibway people," he laughed. "Up north, there are Cree," he added.


Mom found some Indian ornaments we had brought from the Pickerel River. One was a picture frame made of birchbark and decorated with porcupine quills and the other was a birchbark heart with two small drums or barrels and a canoe slung beneath. 

"Do Ojibway people here make these kinds of things?" she asked.

Adam said no. For one thing, there were no porcupines here. They had all died from a disease many years ago. 

In Red Lake, Ojibway women made things out of moose hide and decorated them with glass beads, he said.

Other things Adam taught us were that native people kept their persons and clothes fastidiously clean.  To a man, they were the hardest workers Mom and Dad had ever seen. They were also exceedingly clever and could make all sorts of things from the bush. Adam could make a whistle out of a poplar sapling in about two minutes. In the spring time when the sap was flowing heavily, he would cut a six-inch length and turn the bark completely off in one twist of his hand. Then he carved a notch and a flattened a stretch of the wood leading to the notch. He put the bark, which had come off intact, back on and handed it to me.

"Here, Danny, blow into this."

It tooted perfectly.

In the months that followed he made me a model Cessna 180 floatplane using bits of scrap aluminum flashing and also a large wooden plane with wheels and a propeller that would turn into the wind. He suspended the plane with three strings from a long pole. I could either sweep the pole through the air or run with it. The plane would "fly" with its prop spinning. I would pretend the grass was trees and would fly the plane into landings on the bare dirt trails around the camp.

Adam also taught me how to puncture a balsam blister with a twig, then throw it into the water. The twig will shoot forward, away from the resin exuding from the other end. It was like a boat under power.

One time Dad and Adam were cutting out windfalls across the trail on a portage lake. I would help by dragging away branches. We were hot and thirsty when we reached the lake and Adam surprised us by going directly to a small birch tree, cutting a six-inch strip of bark from it and then folding it into a cone. He then held the cone in place with a branch. He reached this dipper as far out into the lake as he could and passed it back to us for a drink. It was practically watertight and the birch gave the cold water a wonderful taste.

"That Adam is a quick study," observed Dad after Adam had worked at camp a couple of weeks.

He quickly put him to work making head and footboards for all the metal frame beds in camp. These were made out of three-inch diameter spruce, aspen and birch which Adam peeled with a drawknife. Dad then showed Adam how these could be fitted together by making a dowel at the ends of one piece and a hole, drilled with a brace and bit from Dad's toolbox, on another. The dowel was made by making a shallow cut with a saw around the dowel, then splitting the wood from the end toward the cut. Adam used his Mora hunting knife for this. When the dowel was nearly round, he could finish it with by a little whittling with the knife and finally, sandpaper. It sounds laborious but Adam could fabricate the ends for a double bed in just a day. Single beds were much easier. He could produce four or five of these daily.

"Danny, do you know what Paishk means in Ojibway?" Adam asked me one day. Paishk, of course, was Adam's last name.

"No," I said.

"It means nighthawk," he said, then added. "Do you know what a nighthawk is?

I didn't.

"It's a bird that you see sometimes just before it gets dark. When I see one I'll come get you."

Sure enough, a day or so later, Adam pointed out the narrow-winged birds, zigzagging through the evening sky, catching bugs.

It occurred to me then to be on the lookout for Ojibway names of things. The first time I met someone named Keesic -- another common family name in the Red Lake area, I learned it meant "Blue Sky."

Ojibway people have really cool names, I thought. 

In the years that were to follow we learned that native people were nothing like what Bill Stupack had described although most of the men who worked at camp were indeed alcoholics. Mom and Dad didn't see that as a racial thing. They both came from large families and most of their brothers and sisters were alcoholics too. A couple of the men who guided at camp didn't drink at all and none of the few women did. We would also meet lots of Ojibway men and women who lived in Red Lake who were not drinkers.

Contrary to what Bill had told us, Ojibway people where the most decent, honourable people we had ever met. And they were scrupulously honest. I would go on to spend a lot of time with these people. They treated me like one of their own.

Nearly all the men who worked as guides and camp workers were single, homeless men. In the winter they trapped or worked as wood cutters. We didn't understand at the time why they didn't have homes but Dad recognized that they were the most skilled.

"These guys know the bush like the back of their hands. They were born there. There isn't a lake they haven't been to," he said.

We also realized that Ojibway people were almost all very poor. Dad thought it ridiculous that the government wanted them to live on reserves. Why? There was nothing to do there. We should help them build homes in town, he said.

We had a lot to learn about the history of native people, the racism that went behind segregating them onto reserves, the racism that saw them arrested and jailed for being intoxicated while white inebriates were given a ride home by the cops. We didn't know that in the past native people had been decimated by diseases brought by Europeans, that priests had told them their deaths were God's way of punishing them for "living like Indians," which is to say sustainably and with a reverence for all living things. 

We did know that the U.S. Constitution was fashioned after the Six Nations Confederacy. That was about all that was taught in our schools.

A couple of decades later I would marry a descendant of those Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee (People of the Long House.) Brenda Cooper's grandmother was a Mohawk from the Six Nations Reserve in Southern Ontario. Brenda was extremely proud of her heritage and would go on to teach me things she knew about her First Nation.

Ironically, Brenda's ancestors and mine were from the same basic area. Before the American Revolutionary War, the Mohawk had lived in what became Pennsylvania and western New York. My ancestors were from the Ohio-Pennsylvania area.

...to be continued

Others in this series...

Roots

Bullies
Wolverine

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Story of the Three Bears

Once upon a time there was an apple tree in our yard

Those crabapples were red and juicy and Cork's favorite

Along came a mama bear


These apples are just right, she said


But they are too high to reach from the ground

"I'll knock the apples down to you kids," she said

"Or I'll break the branches so we can reach them"

No apples, broken branches are the end of the story

Saturday, September 26, 2020

What is the second right answer?

Our house and drive in Nolalu, Ontario

 Years ago I took a course that changed my life. It was called The Phoenix Seminar and the instructor was Brian Tracy. As I recall, the course took several days. I was one of maybe a dozen enrolled in the class which was facilitated by Irby Stewart, a man whom I had worked with at Great Lakes Forest Products in Thunder Bay. Irby was a fascinating man. He was a forester and was in management at the company. He also started up his own business on the side called Positive Communications.

My introduction to Irby's talents began when Brenda and I attended one of his public events which was held in the city's largest hotel ballroom. I forget the exact title of the seminar but Irby was all about the importance of being positive so that might have been it right there. 

I think we went because I had gotten to know Irby at work and a bunch of us were interested to see what his sideline was all about.

We got there early and shook hands with Irby at the registration table.We were followed by 150 others and took seats at tables all over the ballroom.

Once the doors were closed, Irby, wearing a microphone, astonished us all by going from table to table and thanking us individually, using our full names. We weren't wearing name tags. He had remembered everyone's name from that moment when he met them at the door. A few of us he knew personally, of course, but there were probably 100 or more that he had never seen before.

"You probably wonder how I did that," he remarked. "You might think I have a photographic memory, or maybe I'm a genius of some kind. Well, I'm no smarter than you. I did this because I have learned a system for remembering names. Anybody can do it."

That was the gist of his message that night: We can change anything in our lives by being positive and by seeking out the knowledge that we lack. Want a better memory? Learn how to do it. Make learning a habit. And, most of all, beware of the pitfalls that come from being negative, things like the "victim" mentality. 

I left Great Lakes Forest Products, went back into journalism and eventually back to Bow Narrows Camp. I kept in touch with Irby and when the chance came to take The Phoenix Seminar I at first balked at the cost. I think it was $500. That was pretty much my winter's spending money at the time. 

"It's not a cost," said Irby. "It's an investment."

The course was extensive, he explained. It taught how we can use personal psychology to deal with virtually everything. It taught methods for dealing with stress, memory, grief -- all sorts of problems -- and how to get the most joy out of life. The course was taught by video with Irby stopping after each segment to ask us questions and do problems in a workbook. At the course end we would be given a set of audio tapes of the seminar and the workbook. 

In the end, it was just my faith in Irby that made me sign up. I never regretted that decision and I have probably re-taken the course through the audio tapes a dozen times since. I rank its impact on my life right up there with getting married, having kids and graduating from university.

The seminar was so extensive and thorough that it is just impossible to summarize it. One thing that I use every day is its revelations into problem solving. When looking for a solution to any difficulty it is human nature to latch onto "The Right Answer." By posing the question, "What is the Second Right Answer?" we remind ourselves there are always alternatives and to explore them before making a decision. 

We should really call it the Best Answer, not the Right Answer, and we should always be aware that any answer has a time element to it. The best answer today might not be the best tomorrow and similarly answers made yesterday might not be the best today.

A neat group problem-solving technique is to write down seven solutions to any problem. This forces the group to not seize upon the "obvious answer."  It also makes us look more closely at the problem.

A remarkable young man who worked several years at camp was Ben Godin. Ben already had a lot of skills when he came but he was also a quick learner and probably most importantly, was sensitive to why other people acted the way they did.

One time Ben was helping me pull the fishing boats out of the lake for the season. These were stored upside down on a concrete pad where the old fish house used to be. We pulled the boats out of the water using a slide and the electric golf cart, then manoeuvred them by hand into a row on the pad using rollers and a rope pulley. It was tedious work.

After a couple of boats, Ben asked, "Is this how you used to pull out all the boats, with the rope pulley, before you got the golf cart?" I answered in the affirmative.

"I guess that is why you put all the boats right here next to the lake," Ben added.

Suddenly I realized this was Ben's polite way of pointing out that since we were pulling the boats out with the golf cart, we could put them anywhere in the yard and without needing to wrestle them onto the pad with the pulley. It was a slap your forehead moment. The best answer of yesterday no longer applied.

I thought of this when listening to reaction to the federal Liberal Government's Speech from the Throne the other day. The Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, was apoplectic that the government isn't going to spend the necessary billions to prop up the oil industry in Alberta. The oil business is in decline around the world. Oil prices have tanked and not just because of the pandemic. There is a glut of oil on the market because the world is turning away from fossil fuels and turning toward renewable energy sources. This is largely led by the private sector. Witness Amazon's energy plan. This retail giant wants 100,000 electric vehicles and has set a schedule for total renewable energy in all of its operations 10 years faster than required by the Paris Climate Accord.

Renewable energy is today's answer and there are limitless opportunities in this field. Ironically, Alberta is already Canada's leader in wind and solar generation and this industry is booming there. Where is it getting its employees? From yesterday's oil industry.

When I hear people like Kenney moan about not spending taxpayer money on oil, I think what he might have done back in the early 1900s. Should we all have chipped in to help companies make horseshoes when everyone was buying Model Ts?

Remember: yesterday is history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Today is a gift; that's why it's called the Present.







 




Saturday, September 19, 2020

Here's to the fungus among us

 

Amanita muscaria

The Amanita muscaria are enormous this year. I have seen many the size of dinner plates. Too bad they are poisonous because each one would make a meal. They certainly are beautiful.

There are some really interesting facts and stories about this mushroom that I went over in one of my old blog postings.

A fall mushroom that I never noticed until this year is the Upright Coral Fungus or Ramaria stricta. Isn't nature wonderful?

Upright Coral Fungus


Friday, September 18, 2020

Not just the times that are achanging


 "Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way"

Joni Mitchell

 

All my life I have studied the clouds at Red Lake. Not just because they can be beautiful, awesome or menacing but because they tell the future. They are the weather forecast. As I plied the waters between town and camp, I knew what was coming: glassy calm or a roaring tempest, gentle rain or a deluge.

There was something strange about the clouds at Red Lake last summer. They didn't behave the same. For instance, weather systems have always moved from west to east. Not this year. In fact, one day there were small storms moving simultaneously in all directions. I went out fishing right after a storm had passed, moving west to east as normal, and looking north, saw another storm over Pipestone Bay, heading south. The whole storm was also rotating and had a shelf cloud in a circle that spread for miles. I went back to the cabin and watched from the dock but the storm missed us entirely, moving over Trout Bay. To the east I could see another thunderhead and realized it was headed north.

The next day I met Brian who had seen it all too. He called them mini-cyclones and said they are common in Kansas. What are they doing up here?


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Reflecting on what was missing

Scene off our dock this summer

In the 56 years that the Baughmans owned and operated Bow Narrows Camps it was our good fortune to have seen nearly 20,000 guests, almost all from the United States. By comparison the Municipality of Red Lake has only 4,000 residents.

Many, many of those guests came year after year, generation after generation. Some came more than once a year. I would like to say something here on their behalf.

These people love Red Lake. They love Bow Narrows Camp. They love Northwestern Ontario and they love Canada. Their annual trips were far more than just about catching fish. They were a sanctuary from the stress and madness of modern life, a way to cope, a balm for the soul.

The ability to boat alongside loons, to see moose and other wildlife, stand in awe at night under the Milky Way, meant everything to them. 

We know how sad they were that they couldn't come this summer. We were sad too. We missed those handshakes and hugs, the jokes, the catching-up on life stories. We love you all.

We just need to stay safe. Stay smart. Beat the virus. And get back up here!

When we were at the cabin this summer we heard the Grand Old Opry one Saturday starring Molly Tuttle and Old Crow Medicine Show. Here's a link to a YouTube video with them that was not part of that night but I think you will find it particularly relevant to the posting above.

Friday, September 11, 2020

This wildlife program highly successful


 One wildlife management plan that has been very successful for me here at our home in Nolalu has been the placing of nesting boxes for Eastern Bluebirds. In the 35 years that I have placed out boxes there have been at least one pair of nesting birds each year. This year I believe we had two nesting boxes occupied at the same time and at least one of those females also had two clutches. An unusual twist to the nesters this summer was that while there were two females, there seemed to be only one male.


I place out pairs of nesting boxes, about 15 yards apart. This system allows tree swallows to claim one of the boxes. They are normally the more aggressive species and nest earlier than the bluebirds. They are also territorial and will defend their nesting area against other tree swallows. This leaves the second box open for the docile bluebirds. 

Both species are wonderful birds to have around your house. The swallows gulp down large quantities of flying insects while the bluebirds concentrate on crawling bugs. Bluebirds hunt by sitting on a perch and watching for bugs and caterpillars on the ground. They prefer to hunt over bare ground such as you would find in a garden although they will also settle for the short grass in a lawn. Our bluebirds also do well in fields where the vegetation isn't more than about six inches.

Bluebirds are fairly common in many areas of eastern North America now thanks to nesting box programs. As recently as the '80s they were considered a threatened species. European starlings and house finches (another import) had pushed the little birds out of their nesting cavities. The nesting boxes are designed to fit the bluebird but not the starling. If placed in open areas away from buildings they will also not attract the house finch. 

When it comes to attracting bluebirds three things are paramount: location, location, location. The birds want the box to be far away from forest or buildings. The more exposed the location, the better. The birds know exactly what the boxes are meant for. The farther away they can spot a box, the more likely that box will be found. They do have a couple other preferences, such as a bush or small tree 10 yards in front of the box for the young to fly to as well as perches not too far away to hunt from. However, you can decoy-in bluebirds to your property simply by putting a house right in the middle of an expanse, then let them find your pairs of boxes in other areas that provide the other requirements.

We still have the last nest of fledgling bluebirds hunting bugs at our house. This despite three nights of frost. I would expect them to migrate any day now.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Red Lake 2020 summer nature notes

 

These enormous caterpillars kept falling out of the birch trees at our cabin this summer. They were as long as my little finger and maybe 5/8 inch in diameter. I think they weighed about an ounce.

They were so large that they made a "thunk" when they hit the ground. What are they? A couple of guesses are the larva of the Polyphemus Moth and maybe even the Luna Moth.

Our cabin sits on a micro eco site. It is a shelf of sand and glacial till that extends just 150 feet along a hillside of clay. Paper birch love sandy, gravelly sites so that is why there are so many at our place.

Other creatures we saw this summer were a pine marten, least chipmunk, red squirrel, garter snake, leopard frog, American toad. We also had a Swainson's thrush that was nearly tame, a real oddity for a bird that is so elusive you can go your whole life only hearing their beautiful morning and evening serenades and never seeing the bird that makes them.

Bald eagles, with no fish guts to eat from the camp anglers, had to fend for themselves. A favourite fishing spot for them was the corner between our dock and the big hill. 

The usual pair of nesting loons was out front, without any chicks. They were out in the middle of the bay one evening when I took my guitar down to the dock. As soon as I started to play they swam directly to me, finally stopping about 15 yards away. They seemed to like the guitar and stayed around for nearly half an hour. 

We saw no moose or bears. We are meticulous about keeping our garbage inside and took the little we had to town each week. That became a problem during the evacuation and the ban on travel in Red Lake. The garbage bag was smelling and had to leave the cabin. Our best solution was to put it in the bow of the boat, covered with a tarp to keep ravens away. Fortunately, nothing found it until we could get to town.

Not sure if you heard this terrible news but a Red Lake man was killed by a black bear this summer. He was picking blueberries by himself south of town. He was a bush-wise guy who would have known all about dealing with bears. 


It has been an awesome year for predators

Click on this for a better view. Isn't this a gorgeous coyote? He is crossing the field right in front of our house. Every day, it seems...