Sunday, January 30, 2011

Intimate Bird Moments

SITTING quietly outside watching the birds, we were delighted when first a chickadee, then a tufted titmouse and finally a nuthatch flew over and nibbled at the feeders right over our heads. We sat until our behinds threatened to freeze to the metal patio chairs, captivated by the little creatures flying back and forth. The whole time they kept a watchful eye on us, but obviously considered the chance for a tidbit more important than the risk we posed.
Another day we were inside when a strange seagull-like cry enticed us outside. It was a red-shouldered hawk sitting atop a tree in the back garden. They circle the neighborhood now and again, and seeing them semi-close is a treat!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Velcro Trees

A lesson in seed dispersal disguised itself as a fun game of lobbing sticky seeds at each other followed by trying to take branches of it home. The cocklebur seed is covered in long hooked spines which stick to fur, hair and many fabrics. We experimented with all different parts of our clothing to see which it stuck best to, and woolly fabrics were the clear winners. Then, as we each took a branch in hand to take home and ended up with bare twigs by the time we arrived at the car, we discovered how easily the seed is knocked off the branch.

We concluded that the cocklebur is a very accomplished hitchhiker. Supposedly it also boasts the honour of being the inspiration behind Velcro.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snow and Ice and All Things Nice

A huge winter storm took the US by - well - storm last week, causing chaos in those parts of the country more familiar with sunstroke than snowploughs. While snow fell only once, consistent low temperatures created a thick layer of ice, and residents were urged to stay off the streets as much as possible.

For a whole week, we drove nowhere, and what fun we had! Snowmen, snowballs, melted maple syrup over shaved ice, frozen fingers, hot chocolate, excavating ice-entombed treasures... but most of all sliding.

Sliding on our fronts, on our backs, on (off) our feet, on cardboard, on plastic, in the laundry basket, down the driveway, down the hill in the park, skating across the patio and even on the grass. The strange white stillness broken by giggles of delight.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Christmas Tree's Next Life

IT must be a funny life, that of a Christmas tree, as tree lives go. Most grow for eight or more years in neat rows on Christmas tree farms with regular watering, fertilization and pruning. Not exactly your natural forest environment. Then just as they reach their prime, they are cut from their roots and loaded onto a lorry for a grand, if short-lived, adventure. Their ultimate destination is a family home, where they become the central decoration for the Christmas season, adorned with ornaments, twinkly lights and glittery garlands. After just a few weeks of glory, the decorations are removed and the tree is cast back out, destined for the chipper.

We are keeping our tree around a little longer. He's moved outside and now instead of baubles, his branches hold sprigs of berries and little bags of nuts, seeds, fat, cheese rind and other goodies. We admire him more than ever, and little winged visitors flock by the dozen to shelter in his branches and enjoy a meal.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Animal Tracking

MY latest exploit is joining a tracking club, where we are taught not only how to identify animal tracks, but also to really think about it. Who made the track, What was it doing, Where was it going, When did it make the track, and Why was it there? On our first visit on the sandy bank of a stream, we looked at tracks made by raccoons, a beaver, a grey fox and a stork. Very exciting!