Welcome to the outback of the Ottawa Valley. Where getting in tune with nature is almost mandatory, if you want to keep your sanity. You have to accept the fact that you share your home with far more than a couple of house flies and a noisy mouse. Every insect becomes quite tame (they come right to you) and loves the comfort of your home. From the tinniest, the Sand Fly, which will leave a welt on you the size of a nickel to the Wolf Spider which when put in a 1/2 litre Mason jar, appears quite cramped.
You don't need an alarm clock. If the Pileated Woodpecker hammering on your eve at dawn doesn't wake you, her Downy cousin, on the metal roof, will.
Your first order of business is to chase the herd of deer off your lawn to prevent them from eating your entire cedar privacy hedge. Caution must be taken when doing this as Momma Bear may be taking a break on the other side of one of those hedges. Stay down wind and the aroma will remind you.
Before you mow the grass, a search must be done to ensure no baby rabbits will meet a premature trip to that cabbage patch in the sky. If your wife is doing the mowing, then all Garter, Copper, Milk, Green and the occasional Water snake must be persuaded to vacate the premises. Turtles also, but extreme force is not required for these. Unfortunately the frogs, due to their large number, must fend for themselves.
Any pets must be put in an enclosed yard or on a run, which I have found best. The stronger smell that your pet's constant presence brings helps to keep away porcupines, skunks, weasels, mink, and fisher. You definitely don't want your pet getting friendly with that lot.
As the day winds down the ever present and widely varied song of dozens of our feathered friends helps calm your nerves. All you have to do is imagine all the bugs they're eating. As you sit there listening, it is best to keep your eyes closed so you can't see just how close those fighting Hummingbirds are coming to your face in their race for the feeder. You must also resist the urge to slap at the picky feel of insect feet on you bare skin. At least until you can distinguish between a Horse Fly, a Bee or Wasp and a Dragonfly. Our dearly loved Dragonflies usually land on our head or shoulder where we can hear quite plainly his crunching through a meal of one of the other aforementioned pests. Mmmmmmm
Before bed you check out your door and as usual Mother Toad is sitting with one or more of this year's brood. In quiet anticipation they stare at you. You can almost imagine them saying, "Hurry up and turn the light on, we're starved."
As you lie in bed waiting for sleep, the cricket song has a soothing sound, unless one has taken up residency somewhere in your headboard. With the frogs and tree toads it becomes a beautiful three part harmony. You wait patiently for the surprise performer. Who will it be tonight? The Whip-Poor-Wills or a return engagement of the Loons, that husband and wife team from up the creek? Or maybe the Hoot Owl or Screech Owl. Those solo performances usually don't start until quite late. Your flesh tingles as you remember a past performance. The pack of Timber Wolves under your bedroom window. If only one could hear that lullaby more often.
As your eyes become heavy you make a silent plea for one sound you do not want to hear. The light beat of wings inches above your face from the little brown bat that always manages to head the wrong way when making its way out of the roof for a snack at night.
A few of our local residents.
If there are any that, in my haste, I have named incorrectly, please let us know.
Mother Toad has been a constant companion at the main entrance to our home for at least four years now. Well we think it is the same toad. She is in the same area every year. She knows all the same little hidey holes. And it seems like she actually recognizes us. She isn't even too worried about our fifteen pound stalker, Shynarra, our pet Terrier. This year however she surprised us. Instead of always watching for her on the ground we were shocked to have almost stepped on her when we came out of our door. Our deck is a fair piece off the ground but she managed to make it up. I was unsure why she would want to be right in the way of the highest traffic area of the yard until I looked out one evening before bed, to see if she was anywhere in sight. There she was, right at the door, happily eating up a smorgasbord of insects being attracted by our yard light overhead. Mystery solved. Since I knew she would not leave this cornucopia easily I brought one of my hand made toad houses and put it in an out of the way corner for her during the day. I wasn't sure if she would use it because I had made several of these out of stone and cement and was dismayed when they never attracted anything but a copper snake. I put it up anyway and the next day coaxed her out from under the BBQ, where she found shade, and guided her to her new home. She didn't like it. I sat and wondered what could be more perfect. A nice thick stone dome resting atop three one inch flat stones. It was dark and cool. I watched her for several days to see where she bedded and how. The only thing that was consistent was that she always rested near a solid object. A full 360 degree view was not to her liking. I removed two of the stones, guided her back to it and she has been there ever since. So now we say goodnight to her before bed and peek in to see her sleeping the day away, and wait patiently for the yearly nervousness of walking through a yard full of dime sized baby toads. I thought they came earlier than this but maybe all the rain made a difference. Once or so a year I take a walk into the woods behind our home to seek out Father Toad. He can readily be found in the same area year after year. The spitting image of Mother Toad, to my eyes anyway, in looks only though. Size separates them quite handily. Mother Toad is roughly the size of half of my fist though sometimes it appears more. Probably after each night of binging. Father Toad, however, is well over the size of my fist, and hunkered down in the earth appears closer to two. He seems quite unconcerned about us sitting and looking him over either. Altogether a right neighbourly pair. As a precaution, this year, I made several signs warning people to watch their step. Who would of thought one could become attached to a warty old toad?
Mother Toad watches the day pass by from her cozy spot under the BBQ
and when night comes down and the lights come on Mother Toad heads for the Smorgasbord. I believe she is a Fowler's Toad (Bufo woodhousei fowleri) or a hybrid between that and the common American Toad.
Baby Toad eyeing up the bug that has dropped on the crack.
Our pet, Shynarra, taking a nervous look at Baby Toad out of the corner of her eye when she jumps toward her.
Mother on the screen door looking to get in? Looking for bugs or just taking a break?
Opened the door one evening and she hopped right in. The wife decided that that was more of her house than she was willing to share with Mother Toad. I had to nudge her back out onto the deck.
That spot on the screen door is popular. This Tree Toad likes it too. Tetraploid Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
This Eastern Newt / Red-Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is the terrestrial stage (or red eft) which is orange to reddish brown with black-bordered red spots down the back. The aquatic version is yellowish to greenish brown.
Another common but secretive resident is the Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale).
This common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is best watched from a distance.
Even this little fella should not be taken for granted. He may look the same size and the one above but can actually sit in the palm of your hand. Not that you would want him there.
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). As his name implies, there is a cross design on his back although it is hard to see from this angle.
This Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingi) lays a clutch of eggs in the soft sand near our front step every year. She is uncommon to Southern Ontario.
This baby Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) is hung up solid!
This puts his size in better perspective.
They say this fellow brings good luck. I hope he brought friends.
This looks like a Rhino Beetle but I'm not sure.
If this was the Wolf Spider that came inside to visit us once a year I'd be a happy man. Our usual visitors can reach the size of my open hand!
Beasts on the wing!
Seldom seen but often heard, this Cicada, or "heat bug" is a common sound on those hot "dog days" of summer. One of our pets had this one under paw but we saved him in the nick of time. I've heard it said that you can tell the exact temperature outside by counting how long a Cicada makes their distinctive buzz with their wings. Give it a try this summer.
The following six shots are of the Large Tolype Velleda.
Can you guess what type of moth this is?
A Polyphemus Moth
Northeastern Pine Sawyer [Cerambycidae] (Monochamus notatus) This guy can give you a nasty bite... if you bug him ;D
My son didn't believe me when I told him that wasps keep guards posted inside and outside the hive. Here, at night, we see one of two of the outside guards well out past his post to check us out. When they were agitated the inside guards came out to provide back up. Amazing!
A...birds eye view of a Pine Grosbeak
I think this is a Tennessee Warbler but it could be a Vireo. My book says that I might get it right after 10 years of study.
American Goldfinch male.
Purple Finch male.
Black-Capped Chickadee. If you are not an outdoors person then you have never gotten to know why this is one of the most beautiful of little birds. I cannot count how many times I have spent the day in the forest hunting big game and having a dozen or more of these little fellows flitting about and perching on the little branchs around me. Some brave enough to even perch on my sleeve or shoulder or hat brim. Hearing the little noises they make brings back a flood of memories of wonderfully spent days.
Hairy Woodpecker An almost exact larger replica of the Downy with a larger beak and no tailfeather bars.
A Red Phase Roughed Groused isn't as numerous as the Gray Phase.
Ruffed Grouse strutting his stuff for the ladies.
This fellow is always showing up but always unexpectedly, and he/she never gives us time for a decent photograph.
Wild Turkeys have really flourished here.
This Barred Owl spent the day quite low to the ground sleepily watching a chipmunk forage underneath.
Fury, fanged beasts of nature!
This gopher, ground hog, woodchuck, side hill gouger, whatever you want to call him, appeared one year and had made his home under my 10' by 12' shed. Not satisfied with coming out from under the shed at its natural opening, he digs a tunnel to open up two feet from the shed. There is nothing worse than when you're just walking along and suddenly the world drops out from under your feet. My son and I caved the tunnel in back to the wall and put a big flat stone at the bend upwards in hopes it would discourage him from digging it out again. So far it has worked.
Flying Squirrels are cute to watch but...
It can be creepy when they're watching you.
Mother Field Mouse on the run with suckling babies securely attached and dragged along for the ride.
One baby fell off but we eventually reunited them all.
These two fellows came for a visit in the early spring. The first guy was just about to walk between my legs into the house when I said hello. He turned and left but his buddy stayed while I give him a snack. He loved oranges but hated peanuts. I learned that these guys can walk right along the outside wall of our board and batton house, half way up to the roof. Weird to watch though.
These little guys have really taken off in our yard after I built them a huge burrow system out of old logs. They sun themselves daily right outside our window. Shhh...don't tell Fudd.
Red Squirrel looking for something to destroy.
Deer in the front yard. Deer are quite over populated now. My cedar hedge bears witness.
One of the most beautiful creatures in these parts.
A chorus from this beauty and the pack is the most haunting and beautiful sound one will ever hear in the bush. Wolves have been quiet for years now. The last time I think I heard them had to be well over 25 years ago. It's the end of the first decade of this century and they are finally coming back. I can almost guarantee hearing them if I sit quietly just before dusk. One evening they were just inside the forest's edge in the feild next to me. That'll stand the hairs up on your neck. I only pray that they will not be shot to near extinction again.
And speaking of bears and hedges, the wife was a little nervous taking this one and forgot the flash. I would have reminded her but I was too busy running.
And a word to the wise when walking in bear country. Always were little bells and attach bright orange ribbons all over your clothing so that the bears can both hear and see you coming. Not sure if you are in bear country? You can tell by watching for bear droppings. A dropping will be a rather large clump of brown matter with bits of orange ribbons and little bells in it. Happy Hiking!!
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Brydges Keep Lance Brydges Lone Wolf Way 1452 Brydges Road Burnstown, ON K0J 1G0 Canada