Outdoors In The Land O' Lakes

Giant Puffball

Written by  |  Thursday, 16 September 2010 06:44  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Now that late summer is here, it’s a great time for walking in the Land O’ Lakes – there are no bugs and you never know what you might see. I’ve noticed this summer that there have been a lot of mushrooms of all types - perhaps it was the weather that, although very hot and sunny most of the time, was never really dry for a long period, as we seemed to get heavy rains on a regular basis. A few days ago, while walking along a seldom used driveway near our home on Kashwakamak Lake, we suddenly spied a large, round snow-white object. It was the grand-daddy of mushrooms, a Giant Puffball! At first glance though, it almost looked like…

Nature’s Oases: Wetlands of the Land O’Lakes

Written by  |  Thursday, 02 September 2010 06:45  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Photo: Typical Ontario Marsh A couple of weeks ago I was wandering about our property east of Sharbot Lake when I stopped at a rocky knoll overlooking a small wetland. This wetland is a former beaver pond abandoned by the beavers several years ago, which has since grown in with a host of wetland plants. Five or six butterfly species including fritillaries and monarchs were flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar. Against the sonic background of a million crickets and other late summer insects, a few song sparrows chipped and chirped as they foraged in the shrubs and other tall plants along the edges. Looking across the gently waving sea of flowering goldenrod, boneset and joe-pye weed, I reflected…

The Cheeky Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Written by  |  Thursday, 19 August 2010 06:46  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By: Lorraine Julien Illustration: Audubon’s Warbler by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. This summer we’ve noticed lots of yellow flashes throughout the cedar bush near our deck. Sometimes the trees looked as though they’d been decorated for Christmas but on closer inspection, the bright bits of yellow were flocks of Yellow-Rumped Warblers flitting in and out of the branches in their search for bugs. Roger Tory Peterson, a well-known author of many bird guides, described these warblers as the “butterflies of the bird world” - a very apt description as that is just what they looked like. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler has two distinct subspecies that used to be considered separate species: the “Myrtle” warblers of the eastern U.S. and Canada’s boreal forest, and “Audubon’s” warbler of the…

The Red-Shouldered Hawk

Written by  |  Thursday, 05 August 2010 06:46  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight For me, a welcome sign that spring is right around the corner is the loud, repeated "kee-aah," calls of the Red-shouldered Hawk. Every year since we bought our cottage on Bobs Lake, we have been greeted by this very vocal hawk early in the breeding season when it is busy courting and establishing its territory. The bird prefers mature deciduous or mixed-wood forests containing shade-tolerant hardwood trees like maples and beeches close to water – lakes, ponds streams or major wetlands. As deep forests and plentiful surface waters are hallmarks of the Land O’Lakes area, it isn’t surprising that our area is one of the “hotspots” in the province and the country for this majestic bird of prey. What may be more…

The Northern Flicker

Written by  |  Thursday, 22 July 2010 08:30  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Lorraine Julien A few days ago, I happened to glance out one of our windows that faces a little concrete slab pathway. I had not seen a Northern Flicker here before so was amazed to see one digging for insects in the cracks between the slabs. Too bad he didn’t continue his work as he did a good job of getting rid of the weeds around the concrete as well as the ants! Apparently, ants alone make up almost half of the Flicker’s diet. In fact, this bird eats more ants than any other North American bird. No wonder they like to visit here! As my neighbours will confirm, this is a bountiful year for ants! The Northern Flicker is a strange character compared…
by Steve Blight My first exposure to flying squirrels was through a long-ago popular cartoon character named Rocky – of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. Although I was young, I recall wondering at the time whether flying squirrels were real. As it turns out, they are indeed real, and though not often seen by people, flying squirrels are surprisingly common in the Land O’ Lakes area. In fact there are two species of flying squirrels in our part of the world – the Northern Flying Squirrel, and its close cousin, the Southern Flying Squirrel. My love affair with flying squirrels began in earnest shortly after we purchased our cottage on Bobs Lake. We put up a simple platform bird feeder and regularly stocked it with sunflower…

Monarch Butterflies – Against all odds

Written by  |  Thursday, 24 June 2010 08:32  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Recently, I’ve noticed some disturbing articles in several southern Ontario newspapers and on the internet reporting that Monarch butterflies may be facing another year of declining numbers in their struggle against loss of habitat and North American weather extremes. These migratory insects spend their winters in Mexico where the population count this past winter was the lowest on record. According to a recent Globe & Mail article, the largest Monarch populations are found in southern Ontario and Quebec although they do range across all of North America. The Monarchs that migrate south from central and eastern Canada in the fall (called the “Methuselah” generation), are long lived insects that travel up to 2500 km to several points in Mexico where they winter…

Hummingbirds

Written by  |  Thursday, 10 June 2010 08:32  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve BlightWithout a doubt, the return of hummingbirds to our area is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of spring. These brilliantly coloured, pint-sized bundles of energy are the smallest bird in eastern North America, but they punch well above their weight class. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds aggressively defend flowers and feeders, leading to spectacular chases and dogfights, and even occasional jabs with the beak. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in the world, all of which are found in the Americas – from Alaska to Argentina. Twenty-three species are known to breed in North America, with most found in the deep south west United States. In Eastern North America there is only one hummingbird – the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This is “our” hummer.…

American Ginseng

Written by  |  Thursday, 27 May 2010 08:43  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Photo Top Right: American Ginseng. Bottom Right: Sarsparilla. Just what is this legendary and intriguing plant that still grows wild in a few areas of eastern and central Ontario, across southwestern Quebec and through some U.S. states? Well, for starters, I’ve learned that in Chinese, Ginseng means “man-root”. The name is derived from the fact that the root often grows in the shape of a man and its medicinal properties are believed to benefit the whole man. The aromatic root resembles a small parsnip that forks out as it matures. The plant grows 6 to 18 inches tall, usually bearing three leaves, each with three to five leaflets 2 to 5 inches long. There are two main types: North American Ginseng (Panax…

Midges and Mayflies

Written by  |  Thursday, 13 May 2010 08:44  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Photo Top Right: Adult male midge -- males have feathery antennae. Bottom Right: Adult Mayfly. Now that the wildflowers are out and the migratory birds have either arrived or are on their way home, there is something else to look forward to – bugs! Two of the most abundant kinds of insects that people are going to see (lots of) in the Land O’ Lakes region are midges and mayflies. Anybody who has ever spent time outdoors in our area will be familiar with these often superabundant insects. Let’s start with midges. Midges are insects that vaguely resemble mosquitoes but don’t bite – which is fortunate, because there are so many of them. There are at least 700 species of midges in…

Fascinating Feathers (Anatomy & Function)

Written by  |  Thursday, 06 May 2010 08:44  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Feathers are a defining characteristic of birds. Simply put, if an animal has feathers, it is a bird. Although feathers play a major role in enabling birds to fly, creatures without feathers can also fly. Some examples are bats, which are fantastically agile fliers, and various types of insects. In fact, insects were probably flying millions of years before birds. Birds, however, have refined flying to an art form unmatched by any other present-day living organism. Of course, feathers provide many other functions as outlined in a previous column: insulation, waterproofing, UV protection just to name a few. Feathers are made up of keratin, a fibrous protein that is also the main structural element in hair, nails, reptilian scales, hooves, horns, etc.…
By Steve Blight Adult Trumpeter Swan For many people, the mere mention of swans evokes pleasant images of large, white, noble birds swimming gracefully on peaceful ponds. This impression is supported by the frequent appearance of swans in popular culture – the children’s fairy tale about the ugly duckling developing into the beautiful swan, or the classic Russian ballet, Swan Lake. In real life swans are indeed graceful – both in the air and on the water. Swans are the largest members of the duck family, and are among the largest flying birds. The largest swans can reach lengths of over 1.5m (60 inches) and weigh over 15kg (33 pounds). Their wingspans can be almost 3m (10 ft). Compared to the closely related geese, they are much…

Facts About Feathers

Written by  |  Thursday, 15 April 2010 08:45  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien When you look closely at some of the things in nature, it’s often the little things that are the most interesting and unique. Feathers are quite complex and are a good example of nature’s wonders. The following general feather facts mainly describe the functionality of feathers. My thanks to the www.earthlife.net website from which I’ve gleaned a lot of this information. Of course we all know that feathers allow for flight, but feathers are so important in many other ways: Feathers provide insulation and protection from UV light – amazingly the body temperature of most birds is kept at about 40C. Feathers control what a bird looks like – a chicken does not look very attractive once its feathers are removed. Feathers…

Early spring butterflies

Written by  |  Thursday, 01 April 2010 08:46  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Adult Mourning Cloak Butterfly Why a column on butterflies this early in the season, you may well be asking. While it is true that butterflies are more common in the warmer months, you may be surprised to know that there are a few butterflies in our area that can be seen very early in spring – even when there is still snow on the ground. I was reminded of this by a reader, Neil Carleton, who reported seeing a Compton Tortoiseshell in early March. Another common butterfly you might see flitting along woodland roads on a sunny day in late winter or early spring is a Mourning Cloak. Let’s take a close look at these two handsome butterflies. The Compton Tortoiseshell is…

Northern River Otter

Written by  |  Thursday, 25 February 2010 09:26  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Note the webbed feet on this otter.Photo Dave Pape Just before the big rainstorm in the last week of January, I was out exploring the winter landscapes in the Sharbot Lake area and was surprised by the richness of the traces of local wildlife. January didn’t see much snow this year, and there had been a significant accumulation of tracks and trails in the thin layer of light snow on top of the frozen surface. Traveling up and down the creeks and across the beaver ponds, taking care not to fall through the ice, gave me a wonderful chance to follow the travels of one of my favourite animals, the Northern River Otter. In winter, otters normally travel across snowy landscapes by…
 

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