Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nature in the Yard

Got up this morning to another hot summer morning. Looking out the back window I saw something on the cedar hedge next door and checked it out. Real nice dragonfly. The three boys thought that it was pretty cool to be able to see it up close and to look at the massive eyes.

Well we went out the front door an hour later and had a real look at nature in the raw. This is the first snake I have seen in the yard in the two and a half years we have been here! In fact I was thinking just last week that I had seen very few snakes this summer period!! Have seen a few toads, though there is now one less in the yard. This got the boys excited seeing the snake swallow the toad. I apologize for the quality of the last photo as the snake was moving and Jake was trying to catch it as I snapped the photo!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poison Ivy

I was out to dinner with friends the other day and the topic turned to Poison Ivy. It turned out that neither of the other guys at the table, both of whom spend a fair amount of time in the bush whether hiking or cottaging, were confident in identifying Poison Ivy. It got me thinking that my upbringing with a father who was a botanist gave me an advantage over many who venture out into the woods. Since the whole purpose of this blog is to encourage others to get out there, I guess it is my duty to attempt to educate a few about poison ivy. Besides, it was a kick in the proverbial "behind" to do some posting.
Poison Ivy can be just about anywhere in Ontario, so if you are out there it is wise to know what it looks like and to avoid it. Having said that it can take on a variety of forms. I have seen it as a vine covering tree trunks 30 ft high, as a low shrubby plant and its most common variant as a ground cover. The following photos were all taken Aug 27 at the Orono Crown Lands, some along an abandoned railway line and others in a old white pine plantation.
The old adage about 'three shiny leaves, let me be' is a start. However there are literally hundreds of three leaved plants out there so it really doesn't narrow it down much. These photos are in dry habitat so the plants and leaves are rather small. It can be much larger than these examples. Having said that, it is the small inconspicuous ones that will get you in trouble.

Typical dry area Poison Ivy.

Fall is coming and the leaves of this Poison Ivy are starting to turn red.

Leaves and berries.

A closer look at the berries.

My boot for scale. Only the two largest sets of three leaves in this photo are poison ivy

A couple of more examples.

I hope this will get you started with ID ing this plant before it gets you. Take a look at some field guides or do more research on the web. It is worth knowing how to spot it and avoid it, especially if you are likely to take your kids into the woods with you. I hope I was of help.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Adventures in Orono

A friend of ours, Raj had to go back to India a little while ago as his Father and Uncle both passed away in the last few months and he had to go home ot settle estates etc. He has a son, Neel, a couple of years older than our boy Isaiah. Seeing as I am laid off at the moment I volunteered to watch him with my two, while he is in India, and his wife is working . So with three rambunctious boys around I am often looking for something to get the three boys out of the house. This last little bit the "go to" place for them to explore has been the Orono Crown Lands. What is ideal about this place is a) it is close to home, b) it is free (see above employment status) and c) the two oldest can hike or, ride bikes and I can still push the youngest in the jogging stroller as there is a fair amount of what you might call doubletrack along with the singletrack.

On one of our first visits with the three boys we ventured along the old railway bed to the bridge over Wilmot creek. There is quite a drop to the river, so it involved leaving the stroller and carrying the youngest down the slope to look at the creek. There is a little pedestrian bridge just by the old train bridge. It is made of cedar logs nailed together and it is quite the work of art. It isn't new by any means and I wouldn't recommend more than two adults at one time. When the boys got out in the middle and started bouncing I had visions of the whole thing collapsing. The water isn't very deep but I wouldn't want to be on a bridge of that type when it gave out. Luckily for us a large salmon or brown trout chose that moment to make its presence known. I say large meaning at least two feet long. That was enough of a distraction to get the boys off the bridge and chasing this "monster" fish upstream. Just by the train bridge there is a large rock on the edge of the water and we could look down on this fish from a distance of about three feet. Even Jake was excited saying FSHHH! FSHHH! over and over again. On further observing we realized that under the rail bridge itself there were probably twenty of these fish and the one we were looking at was the runt of the litter. The boys, myself included, got quite a kick out of those fish!

A small group of large trout or salmon(?)

After saying goodbye to the fish, we climbed the slope and as I was putting Jake back in the stroller I realized that he had lost a shoe!!! Oops! I ran back down the hill and did a quick, cursory search but couldn't find it. I wasn't even sure where we had lost it but as it was nearing lunch time and getting hotter we headed home. When Lianna got home from work I took the two oldest and went back with our bicycles. We returned to the same area and did a more thorough search. Still no shoe! Thinking back to the bouncing bridge I wondered if it had fallen in the creek. I carefully picked my way along the deadfalls etc for a hundred feet or more on the off chance that it had floated along and been caught up by one of the snags. No such luck! Instead I ran into a little stinging nettle, just on the side of my hand. I immediately grabbed a chunk of orange jewelweed and crushed that and rubbed the spot. It seemed to do the trick, just as I had been taught it would relieve bug bites. Anyways I made my way carefully back to the trail and was rewarded with finding a nice cluster of Great Lobelia in bloom. And then as I gave up on the shoe and made my way back to boys, at the base of the hill tucked deep in the vegetation I spied the errant shoe! Success!

Great Lobelia

Since that hadn't taken all that long we then proceeded to go mountain biking through some of the rest of the crown lands. For a five year old it is just gentle enough to be manageable and rugged enough to qualify as "mountain biking".

The explorers: Jake in stroller, Isaiah and Neel

Since that day we have been back a couple of times with various agendas. I tried to introduce them to the idea of map and compass work. They thought it was fun for a while but it was a bit beyond them.

Compass work!

I have tried teaching a little botany, mostly the identification and avoidance of poison ivy. They were quite interested in the wild cucumber that was very common near the entrance. Mostly they just like the act of exploration and hopefully seeing some wildlife, although more along the lines of a butterfly, than a bear, that they seem to think is behind every tree.

White Admiral butterfly

In the dog days of summer a trip to somewhere similar with your kids will always produce some good memories!!!