Outdoors In The Land O' Lakes

Wild Parsnip

Written by  |  Thursday, 21 July 2011 07:59  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Photo: Wild Parsnip courtesy Roy Lingen The leaves and sap of Wild Parsnip can cause severe skin reactions when the plant is flowering, as it is now in July. Be extremely careful if you see this biennial plant growing along our roadsides and in other undisturbed areas. It looks very much like a tall Queen Anne’s Lace but the flowers are yellow rather than white. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) grows about 2-5 feet tall and is a member of the Carrot family the same as dill, celery and caraway. This plant has a long, thick taproot that is edible. The elimination of roadside spraying has assisted in the spread of this weed, which has now spread over most of North America. Wild Parsnip…

Mystery Bug

Written by  |  Thursday, 14 July 2011 07:59  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Photo: Birch Shield Bug I’ve learned a lot about bugs this past few weeks. I was lucky (not sure if that is the right word!) enough to find a strange looking bug perched on the side of one of my planters recently. I didn’t realize then but some of these bugs can be quite destructive to plants, literally sucking the life out of them. After a lot of research, I’m quite sure the bug on the planter (as shown in the picture) is a Birch Shield Bug (Elasmostethus interstinctus – order Hemiptera). Since Stink Bugs and Shield Bugs share a similar shield-shaped body, I initially thought it was a Stink Bug but couldn’t find anything that matched my photo. The search was made more…

Tent caterpillars of the Land O’ Lakes

Written by  |  Thursday, 16 June 2011 07:54  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Photo: Eastern Tent Caterpillars I have strong childhood memories of gathering bluish hairy caterpillars and keeping them in jars until I became bored with that pursuit and my mother quietly released my captives. My attention span at the time wasn’t long enough to see what they would have become if I had looked after them longer. It turns out they were forest tent caterpillars. If I had had more patience and watched them until they changed into adults, I would have been rewarded with a rather dull, medium-sized, reddish-brown moth. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been much of a reward, so having plenty of other things to do with my precious summer probably saved me considerable disappointment. We have two species of…

North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Written by  |  Thursday, 12 May 2011 13:16  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien While gathering firewood on our property this past February, we came across the handiwork of a very experienced logger – the beaver. His handiwork was evidenced by the number of fallen young birch trees on our island. While we usually harvest damaged or dying trees for our woodstove, this fellow just chooses the very best healthy trees! Placing the fallen trees exactly where he wants them is also no problem for this logger/engineer. Usually you have to trim the branches from fallen trees but this was already done for us so we just cut the trees into manageable sizes and carted them across the ice to the shore with toboggans. A beaver can cut down a 5” thick tree in about three…

Identifying Spring Wildflowers Part 2/2

Written by  |  Thursday, 28 April 2011 13:21  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight The last Outdoors in the Land O’ Lakes column was intended to help readers identify five common and attractive woodland wildflowers that bloom during early spring. This week, we’ll take a closer look at another five showy flowers that bloom a little later, typically beginning at mid-spring. None of the following plants are considered ephemerals, as under the right conditions they can persist above ground well into the growing season. Large-flowered Bellwort Large-flowered Bellwort showing unfolding leaves. Photo: William S. Justice @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (or Bellflower) is a perennial member of the lily family that is typically found in hardwood forests in alkaline (i.e. containing more calcium) or neutral soils. Its nodding six-petal yellow flower blooms in late April or early…

Identifying Spring Wildflowers - P1/2

Written by  |  Wednesday, 20 April 2011 20:00  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Spring has sprung, and for woodland wildflowers, spring is by far the peak of the flowering season. There is an explosion of life under the canopy of the tall trees once the snow has melted and the forest soils begin to warm up. Many early flowering woodland plants have made a remarkable adaptation to their normally shady environment. Known as spring ephemerals, their strategy is to make as much use as possible of the direct sunlight streaming through leafless deciduous trees in early spring to do all of their flowering, seed production and growth for the year. Once the trees have completely leafed out by mid-May and have begun starving them of light, they wither and return to their dormant stage underground,…

Eastern Bluebirds

Written by  |  Thursday, 24 March 2011 07:27  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight For many rural residents, the arrival of the Eastern Bluebird is one of the most welcome signs that spring has finally sprung. This cheery member of the thrush family normally arrives back in our area by about the last week of March. The earliest I have ever seen one in Ontario is on March 18. Bluebirds are one of most easily recognized birds. The male’s deep blue back and head, chestnut-orange breast and white belly are unmistakable. The female looks like a slightly duller version of the male. It isn’t a large bird – at about 7 inches in length, bluebirds are significantly smaller than their cousin, the American Robin, which measures in at about 10 inches in length. In fact, it’s…

The Sharp-shinned Hawk

Written by  |  Thursday, 10 March 2011 06:26  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by  Lorraine Julien The Sharpshin (sometimes called “Sharpie” or “Bullet hawk”) hunts in quiet woodlands through most of Canada and the U.S. It eats rodents, frogs, snakes and insects but prefers small birds and may even attack young poultry. The Sharpshin (Accipiter striatus) is the smallest of the North American raptors except for the Tiny Hawk, which inhabits the southernmost areas of the continent. A Sharpshin may be small but it is the fiercest hunter in this Accipiter family. It might be mistaken for the slightly larger Cooper’s Hawk, which has similar plumage. Another close relative is the Goshawk. The Sharpshin’s short, rounded wings and long, squarish tail allow it to make abrupt turns and lightning fast dashes in thick woods and dense shrubbery. Average…

More Snowbirds

Written by  |  Thursday, 24 February 2011 06:26  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Winter is beginning to wind down, the days are getting longer and the sun feels a little bit stronger every day. Not to say that we can put away the snow blowers and bring out the beach umbrellas just yet – we all know that March can bring some pretty good snow storms. Still, by this time of year maple syrup season is usually either underway or just around the corner, a welcome sign for many residents of this part of Ontario. Late winter can be a good time of year to see a group of three small birds that spend the winter in our area – Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs. These three species can often be seen flocking…

Kick-sleds

Written by  |  Thursday, 10 February 2011 06:25  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by  Lorraine Julien About 15 years ago, I purchased a sleigh I’d seen advertised in a cottage magazine. It was an intriguing looking contraption, unlike anything I’d ever seen. In the years since, I’ve used it every winter – if there’s not enough snow, there’s always ice on the lake.   Since this sleigh (kick-sled) is always a conversation piece, I thought it might be an interesting and timely subject for the Outdoors column.    Though some sleds may be bigger, my adult-size sled has two narrow flexible steel runners about 80” long and about 16” apart. It has wider plastic runners which I leave attached to the steel runners, enabling the sled to move better in snow, but they are easy to take off…

Red squirrels: Little red chatterboxes of the Land O’ Lakes

Written by  |  Wednesday, 26 January 2011 19:00  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight It’s midwinter in the Land O’ Lakes. Around this time of year, the human residents of the area who haven’t flown south for the winter along with most birds normally begin seeking signs of life away from the woodstove. One creature that can be counted on to provide a little entertainment is the red squirrel. This fiery little rodent (full name American Red Squirrel) is very common in our area. Although primarily a creature of coniferous forests, the red squirrel also inhabits deciduous woodlands and can even be found in suburban and near-urban areas throughout their range. Their adaptability in terms of both habitat and food sources has made them remarkably successful. Contrary to what many may think that a rodent normally…

Suet cakes for wild birds

Written by  |  Wednesday, 12 January 2011 19:00  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Photo of two Jays bickering by Heather Bashow. Making suet cakes for wild birds is actually quite easy and you can use a wide range of ingredients, most of which can be found in your kitchen cupboards. Birds require the high energy available in fats, seeds and nuts and suet cakes can provide these nutrients. Pure suet is raw beef fat from around the cow’s kidney area. Rendering the suet can be a stinky and time-consuming chore but you can substitute lard, shortening and even leftover fat from cooking beef or bacon. Simply melt the fat until it reaches an easy-to-pour consistency; then mix in a few ingredients and pour the mixture into a mold. In addition to fat, you can use…

The Beech Tree

Written by  |  Thursday, 06 January 2011 06:15  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight The American Beech is an elegant tree that is commonly found in the forests of this area. They make lovely contributions to forest landscapes at any time of year, but they really stand out in winter when their smooth bluish-gray bark contrasts beautifully with the snowy forest floor. Many people have no trouble recognizing beeches, even without leaves – only the bark of young red maples is likely to be confused with beech bark. Although there are 10 species of beeches around the world, only the American Beech is native to North America. It can be found in the Maritime Provinces (but not Newfoundland), across southern Quebec and southern Ontario, west to Indiana and the Mississippi River, and south to eastern Texas…

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Written by  |  Thursday, 16 December 2010 05:34  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Lorraine Julien The first thing to note is that this woodpecker does not have a red belly! Very confusing for a novice bird-watcher! The male has a red forehead, crown and nape, while the female only has a red nape – both have pale under parts and striking, black and white, barred backs and wings. It’s a medium-sized woodpecker at 8-10 inches long. The Red-belly could be mistaken for a Red-headed woodpecker but, although it is a close relative, it looks quite different. Red-bellies have a long, chisel-like beak with an unbelievably long barbed tongue. The cylindrical tongue can shoot out to more than twice the length of the bird’s head. The barbed tongue acts like a bottle brush with bristles at the end which…

Porcupines

Written by  |  Thursday, 02 December 2010 05:37  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Drawing: Porcupine quill, Hinterland Who’s Who, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada. Reproduced with permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 2005. The porcupine is a common and well-known animal in Canada and across much of North America, and is no stranger to most people in the Land O’ Lakes area. The porcupine is Canada’s second largest rodent, next to the beaver. Adult males reach an average weight of 5.5 kg (about 12 lb.) after six years; the females reach 4.5 kg (10 lb.). Its fame stems mainly from its quills, which keep most enemies at a respectful distance. Unfortunately quills are no defence against vehicles and the slow moving porcupine often falls victim to traffic. The quills are longest on the…
 

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