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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Saskatoon20-2

It’s nearing the end of May and it’s finally warmed up. Although no frosts are forecast, there could easily be some over the next week or so. Last year there were heavy frosts the first couple of days in June, and some of the wild berry flowers took a big hit. The forecast over the next while is warm and some rain. It’s a good start to producing a good crop of wild berries later this summer.

By far the most numerous wild berry in this neck of the woods is the blueberry. Nothing else comes even close. Blueberries are not only abundant most years, they are also yummy. Everyone and everything likes blueberries. I’ve even watched flocks of ducks in mid September fly and land on hillsides to feast on blueberries. Usually blueberries are virtually gone by the 1st of September, but sometimes they linger on for a surprisingly long time.

Some years other berries can also be abundant. Last summer was reasonably good for what we Canadians call the Saskatoon berry, also called Juneberry, shadbush berry and the service berry. It’s a complex shrub of the genera Amelanchier. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a nice, plump, purplish berry that makes a great pie as well as tasty jams and jellies. But the woody shrubs, while common, don’t often produce a good crop, at least around these parts. Usually, some sort of fungus hits them, the birds and small mammals eat all the berries before they have a chance to ripen, or something else happens.

Anyway, besides the blueberry and Saskatoon, there are many other berry producing plants around here that can be fun and worthwhile picking. There are raspberries, cranberries, currants, wintergreens, wild plums,  a variety of cherries and more. Some are best in preserves, others can be eaten raw while some are, for humans, inedible. All are relished by some species of wildlife. Indeed, berries, known to wildlifers as ‘soft mast’. are an important indicator of wildlife health and many wildlife agencies monitor mast abundance. A bad berry year usually means reproductive success in a host of species will be low, and many others, like bears, need lots of berries to fatten up to survive months of hibernation under a blanket of snow.

I’m hoping this is a good berry year. But dodging the late spring frost is just the first step. Like the Saskatoon’s, almost all the wild berries seem to susceptible to a host of parasites, fungal infections or something. A good crop of several species of wild berries is a banner year, and quite rare.

That’s another reason blueberries are so wonderful. A failed blueberry crop is actually the exception, as they seem to be resilient to the various things that afflict the other types of soft mast. But one still has to go looking for them, as they don’t grow everywhere.

 

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There’s a snowshoe hare feeding on the lawn edge regularly the past few days. It’s about the only place where there is any green vegetation as yet. No leaves on the trees, just a few buds on shrubbery. At least the pussy willows are out and except for the deep lake trout type lakes, the ice has finally melted.

But the ticks are out. I counted three ticks in one of the hares’ ears. On this photo, I can see one. Ticks are a scourge here – I for one wouldn’t mind if a plague or something wiped them out. Even tick extinction would be okay, I think.

As an aside, fishing was great on opening day (Saturday, the 17th). It took three of us less than 2 h to limit out on walleye, and also catch 10 jumbo perch. The walleye were spilling milt, so obviously the spawn is imminent. We did not keep any large fish, so no females spawners were taken (by us).

But back to wildlife. With little greenery yet, it might be tough on newborn deer and moose. Not for the young, but the mom’s need a lot of good food to produce milk. It’s not going to happen, but given the severity of the winter, I suspect most deer will be stillborn, or not last long after birth. Moose are more resilient, but it can’t be good to have this cold (and wet) spring.

Oh well. It’s just part of the natural cycle, where only those that are the most fit survive. Not like with us humans. Most of us – at least in the 1st world – have a darn good chance of living a long life. That’s a good thing for us as individuals, but the long-term implications may not be quite so rosy. Only time will tell.

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It’s still cold, and only yesterday (May 6) did the last bit of ice melt off the pond. It was the first night since I’ve been back from turkey hunting that a substantial part of the pond didn’t freeze overnight. Indeed, it didn’t freeze at all, which was nice, because it prompted the wood frogs to start calling. Soon it will be a cacophony.

Except for browns and yellows, there’s not a lot of colour in the woods as yet; and even the greens are mostly conifer trees, moss and lichen, all of which are evergreens.

The biggest splash of colour comes from the ducks, especially the drake mallards and woodies. Each of these two species are fighting a lot among themselves. A few days ago I watched a slug fest between two wood duck drakes and a hen. I took some pictures – unfortunately, they were a bit far from my blind – and in some photos one of the drakes shows eye damage. I don’t know if it was the result of the fight, ot had occurred at some other time. It was certainly looked like a vicious fight, but after it ended they still hung out together, and continue to do so as of today.

Without the beavers, the pond shrinks considerably once spring is over. We think that’s why the ducks haven’t reared a brood on the pond in recent years – when the pond becomes too small and shallow it becomes an easy hunting ground for both avian and mammalian predators. It’s not even safe for the Canada geese, although we are hoping the pair nesting here will be successful. Canada geese are excellent parents.

Still, early feeding and courting ponds are important too. There’s always life around a marsh.

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Back from a few days of turkey hunting in the Ottawa area. Did not bag one. That’s hunting.

The turkeys were there. As expected, the general consensus by the people I talked to, was that turkey numbers were down from the year before. The hard winter in the Ottawa area was interpreted as one that was long, with lots of cold ( e.g., -30 C) and snow and without too many serious bouts of melting. Still, I saw turkeys over a wide area during my stay. Some white-tailed deer, too, although again, the consensus was that numbers were down.

The weather wasn’t bad for hunting, although conditions were only what I’d call ideal one morning. Bob and I called in what sounded like a big tom turkey from at least 500 m that morning. We talked with tom for well over an hour, but in the end the bird left without us ever having spotted him. We know what didn’t go our way, because hindsight is always perfect.

What I saw a lot of was geese. Tens of thousands of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Mostly Canada’s, but one day we also saw close to a thousand snows and blues. Licensed hunters have limited, but liberal harvest quotas only for snow/blue geese during the spring season, while Aboriginal and Metis hunters can hunt for both species without bag or possession limit restrictions. One morning we heard steady shotgun blasting for a few hours, which was later attributed to Aboriginal hunters who had obtained permission from a farmer to hunt on his property. Depending on the crop and other factors, geese in the numbers I saw certainly have the potential to do serious damage to crops.

Leaves hadn’t sprouted and only a few types of fields were green. Most of the landscape was various shades of yellow-brown, with some very dark brown to black patches that were exposed earthy fields. Apparently, widespread flooding had barely retreated, and farmers were just starting to be able to venture out on the land. Over the past few years, a lot of small woodlots had been converted to crop production, and this was reducing the suitability of some areas as turkey habitat. Woodlot removal impacts many species of wildlife, but may make fields even more attractive to species like geese.

Back at home, I wasn’t surprised to still see many patches of snow scattered throughout the forest, and there are still some sizable chunks of ice on the abandoned beaver pond in front of the house. A pair of Canada Geese are nesting on it, and it’s being used by mallards and other ducks. So far the ducks I’ve seen include about 10 different mallards, a few wood ducks and a single pair of green-wing teal, blue-winged teal and hooded merganser.  It remains cold in the area, a pattern that appears to be widespread. There is still a lot of ice on the Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior. http://iceweb1.cis.ec.gc.ca/Prod20/page2.xhtml?CanID=11080&lang=en

Time to get serious about training our young Wachtelhund while watching and waiting for spring to unfold.