Safe Returns – April 20th 2017

Even before I opened one bleary eye at dawn this morning, I heard him.  – “Eeee – oh-layyy! bup bup -…..Layoieeee! ….bup bup EEEoh layyy, …Leee ohieeEEE!”

Nothing means spring has arrived as much as the call of the wood thrush.  Even though every morning now brings a welcome song that means an old friend has arrived back home.  It was the excitable little eastern phoebe a few mornings ago – flicking his tail and calling repeatedly, “SqueeeGEEE!” ….causing me to regret a late night and little sleep.  The rousing dawn chorus of all the feathered ones has declined greatly in my lifetime,  but there is still a fevered pitch of sound to greet the start of the spring day.   There’s nothing you can do except give in to the clarion call and go outside to listen – and once the dogs hear you sigh and don your clothes, they are happy to reinforce your awakening, and accompany you!

The flutebird – (as I call him), and I have an uneasy relationship.  I love his ethereal song, and the fact that this plucky little bird comes back to our woods each spring, migrating along one of the longest routes of all the neo-tropical songbirds, from the central americas of Panama to the mixed deciduous forest at the far reaches of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence range.  This bird and his family seem invincible, migrating at night, all that distance, using the stars and the earths’ magnetic field to orient their flight.

But I worry about him, on several fronts.  Firstly, his species is in decline, and have been on the near-threatened list since the 1960’s. When I was a front line environmentalist, my hearts’ focus was on forests, and the need to retain large tracts of the landscape from fragmentation through road accesses and harvest.  The wood thrush is one of the first birds to suffer when their woodland habitat is altered.  Their absence from a supposed “habitat managed” forest is as strong an indicator of illness as the dead canary is in a coal mine.  They return to the same home in each region every spring and winter, where they need a canopy forest and a leafy floor to forage. Any home they have to subsist in, other than this, decreases their food supply and leaves the birds vulnerable to predators; both those that kill the adult birds, and in the case of the ubiquitous cowbird, predate their nests. As we loudly decry the fragmentation of forests in Central America,  we are as guilty of the same crime here in the north of the continent.

So even though my flutebird is a welcome spring blessing I wish I knew less of the story, which tempers hearing his song with a hint of sadness.

A more immediate anxiety I have once I hear this silly little bird each spring comes from being aware of the dangers I am directly responsible for.  I say “silly” – because if this bird has one detrimental attribute, it would be that of owning an aggressive and reckless nature – it flies as if shot from a cannon, banking around obstacles and aero-planing in top-speed and exceedingly low glides through the forest.  It delights to shortcut sharp corners and has no regard for buildings and windows. Thrush are territorial and will chase each other until totally winded and unable to fly,  and they show off to each other in reckless flight even more.

You would think after that huge journey the agenda would designate some R and R for a few days? Huh! …..no chance of that, they puff out that dual vocal chord, sing their hearts out, and terrorize the other feathered foes with some kamikaze hazing.

After a few trial and errors I have finally arrived at a seemingly effective way to keep them from knocking themselves out on one particular window, the one at the corner of the house that seems to present an attractive shortcut.  I have laced a cobweb of light twine across each section of the glass in a random pattern, and after many other options this has worked to keep the thrush family from diving into it.  I reasoned that if birds dislike to fly through cobwebs, this lacing of twine would look like a huge malevolent one, and so far my theory seems to hold.  It’s fairly invisible from the inside, but presents a no-fly zone for these little fearless featherbrains.

So of course, once that clarion call comes through the dawn, sleep has no power to hold me in thrall.  I have to go out into the dawn to listen and count all who have returned with last night’s spring wind, and check all my contrived cobwebs to keep them as safe from harm as I am able.  And those are the touchstones that let me sleep well at night, if I get to bed early enough!

It would be a shame to miss tomorrow’s dawn chorus.

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HAPPY CANADA DAY!

July 1st 2014 is almost upon us … and it  is hard to believe we are already past our longest day of the year. We marked the solstice this month (….and our thirtieth anniversary of putting up with each other!)  – with a wonderful house concert by Liam Titcomb, who most definately keeps me believing in the value of live performance! Such expertise and spirit, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who can measure up to Liams’ level, at any age. Listening to his performance, delivered so effortlessly and yet with such intricate guitar work and writing abilities, it is shocking to think he is not yet thirty years old, and has that depth of resource within. I have always felt guilty for not enjoying those shows “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” … people tell me they get so much pleasure from them – but having been in the music business for so many years it is just so painful to see how “dumbed down” a performance or singer/musician’s message has to be to appeal to the mass population. I find most of those performances so boring and predictable, it is actually painful for me to see the accolades that are heaped on the artists. Music is one of the easiest arts to force a square peg to go in a round hole. Once that happens you aren’t hearing the performers’ voice anymore – just the “star-maker machinery” as Joni Mitchell called it. 

The summer so far has not been kind – we have a surfeit of mosquitos and yet a lack of water. Keeping the garden happy has been a struggle! It is rather discouraging to invest so much time energy and sweat to grow a great crop of lettuces and greens – and then be unable to harvest any for dinner because of attacking hordes of mosquitos! They are lasting so long this year … taking the place of the usual swarms of blackflies. Enn says when he was a child and returned home after a buggy play day, his mom called the blackfly bites his “northern Ontario necklace”! ..and yet I don’t think I have seen one blackfly here yet this year.

But these MOSQUITOS!! We have been so clothed! – this morning is supposed to be the hottest day of the summer so far, up to 30 degrees – yet at six thirty this morning when I rose to water the garden, I dressed in wool socks, undershirt, overshirt, long pants which I tucked into the socks, put on a hat, dove into my bug shirt, zipped the face screen up, nitrile gloves, tucked the sleeves of said bug shirt, …then sprayed citronella, and eau de DEET over all this concoction. Then I opened the door and stepped out into this beautiful day. You think the sight would just frighten them away! Here we are, pasty white and suffering scurvy from a lack of sunlight and fresh food! At the height of summer!  😉

I have to admit I have refused a few bookings here at the lodge, knowing that some people would not be able to enjoy their holiday with us at present. It’s a matter of assessing if people really know what you are warning them about when you say the bugs are horrendous … let’s hope the heat today will take them out, and we can cautiously get on with the short and tank top season, even if it only lasts a few days I will welcome it!

No  one seems to be talking about west nile virus this year – was all that discussion just a flash in the pan? I’m sure most of us living in theses muskeg and cedar swamplands of Ontario have been exposed to it by now. And I don’t want to appear alarmist – but there is a definate lack of warblers, forest birds and bats this year. And that is who eats most of these mosquitos. Most summer mornings at 5 am I am awoken by the beautiful dawn chorus – usually starting with wood thrush, oven birds, vireos, then the robins, warblers and other less solitary birds join in….this past week the whine of mosquitos at the windows is the prevalent song. Bats have suffered in this region from White Nose Syndrome … a fungus that infects them in their winter hibernaculae … and a bat will eat 4000 – 8000 mosquitos in one night. That is an amazing amount! I still have one old friend of a bat spending the days in the cedar shakes above the door, but other resting sites don’t seem to have been used yet this summer. If those bats were alive, they would be here, bats return to the same areas every year just as birds do. 

Mornings that I have this particular style of internal dialogue I just try to remind myself that once we make this planet uninhabitable for humans, either by bad art or bad air and water, other species will fill the niche and perhaps there will be a time when the rise and fall of hominoids will happen with a different set of defining values. 

Happy Canada Day, everyone!  ♥

 

18th Annual Snowflea Telefest – Feb. 21-23 /14

…just reposting my emailed letter from a few weeks ago here in the blog- in case we missed anyone! See you soon!

“Hellllooooooo!!! …..a reminder to join us for a fluffy and fun-filled weekend, our 18th Annual Snowflea Telefest, February 21st-23rd!
Hi folks! Well, you just can’t keep a good deity down, and our personal buddha, Heikki Lunta, a.k.a. good ol’ Hank Snow has been flurrying us with his attention for a few months now!

Back-country conditions are amazing at present. It started snowing in early November and it just hasn’t stopped. Super cold temperatures have kept the snow very dry and deep, and every day there’s new powder to enjoy, on top of a base of 1.2 metres (that’s 3.5 feet for you southerners!)
But then of course, most of the middle of the continent is enjoying the same awesome conditions.

A few sad under-shovelled people are groaning about too much of a good thing – but not us Snowflea- ers!
…and hey, what’s with – “Polar Vortex”? ….didn’t we just used to call it winter?

Some of the excessive effort needed to survive this” Vortex”; (not to be confused with The Vortex of Pain on our trail system) – include catching your breath after a supreme 50-turn flight down the newest pitch, Lone Pine, slogging in a fresh access trail after every nights’ snowfall of 24 cm (10 inches) … and of course deciding what type of beer to reward oneself with after a thirsty day!

Lodge attendance has escalated this year as everyone bows down to old Heikki – and once bent over past their knees I see most using their mittened hands to strap on those trusty skis and snowshoes. What can ya do – the only seasonal alternative is Hawaii, mall-walking or anti-depressants … or a radical option, like medical hibernation. (?)

So wouldn’t it be more fun to set your compass for some snorkel-skiing at The 18th Annual Snowflea Telefest 2014? Seventeen years so far – every single one of them a blast!

Check out the snowflea page on our website here:

http://www.bellevuevalleylodge.ca/shome.html

Here’s our fancy new poster courtesy of Ryan Creagh http://www.bellevuevalleylodge.ca/telefest2014.jpg

…. we would like to remind all local friends with time constraints we still offer a special rate that includes the Saturday afternoon tour on snowshoes or skis, full dinner and concert.
This year our featured performer is Roger Marin, a very talented alt-country singer-songwriter ~ www.rogermarin.com – ( you may remember seeing him playing guitar and pedal steel in Fred Eaglesmith’s band a few years back.)

Thanks to those of you who have already registered!

Anyone else? ….just drop us a line and let us know if you will be pitching a tent, staking a chair, or reserving a room ! (Yes, we are contemplating building a snow cave just for you, Mr. “Timex” Hill!)

…yers in a big white-out,
Robin

Spring flings wings!

Sunday morning chorus … so many happy travelers have arrived back home this week! Flutebird (hermit thrush) got back late last night, his song overlapped with an early morning barred owl. Yesterday it was Wagtail (eastern phoebe) who stood out as newcomer. The Yakker family (northern flickers) were quiet for a few days, but are now making a huge fuss – perturbed that the rotten poplar where they have nested in for a few springs has fallen; checking out several other suitable spots. Mr. Cutthroat (rose breasted grosbeak) is high in the treetops, sounding like an oriole.

There are a pair of eastern bluebirds hanging out near the compost piles; we put up a nestbox but I think the hole is too big for their liking.

Robins, sand hill cranes, nuthatches, brown creeper, downy, hairy, and three-toed woodpeckers, a mourning dove, purple finch, chickadees, bluejay, redpolls, pine siskins, goldfinch, several wandering ducks, boat-tailed grackles, red-wing blackbirds, and a drumming partridge also featured solo in the choir this morning. Yesterday while raking the yard I was spy-hopped by a turkey vulture, kestrel, kingfisher, a marsh hawk, and my ever scrap-hopeful raven couple and their cousin, Jet the Crow. Jet doesn’t want the ravens around suddenly – his partner must be sitting on a nest somewhere close by “his” territory. The ravens nest a bit earlier, but I probably saw one of the nesting partners and a juvie “helper” …out cruising for a treat.

Have not yet heard the white-throated sparrow, brown thrasher, catbird, or vireo this spring- a few warblers in the woods but no sign of the black-throated blue, the olive, or the black and white, at least here near the house, where they like to pick bugs from the copse of hazel out in front.
Later on in May, just after the sand cherries bloom, I will watch for those far-ranging travelers – the scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. Always a relief when they make it back here from the tropical lands.

I’m sure that the hummingbirds must be back – anyone seen one yet?