Saturday, December 6, 2014

The High Lonesome

This expression has several meanings, all derived from the North American west, at least the areas within view of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

In one context, it refers to a drunken bender by a lonely cowboy.  In another, it refers to the music cowboys might like,  a Country and Bluegrass sound, perhaps with lyrics like "I'm a lonesome cowboy in the field of liffffffffffe".  Mooo. Louis L' Amour used the expression in one of his novels.

It is also a motion picture title from both 1950 (John Barrymore!) and 1995.

As poignant and endearing as these usages may be,  one other attracted me to the term.  Ken Spicer, a local colleague in the Macnamara Field Naturalists' Club, told me that he, and his brother Barry, heard the term while they worked out west in Alberta (the winds sure blow cold way out there). For them, it is broader than the "bender" or "drunken spree".  It refers to going off into the mountains to be alone in nature for a time, to straighten ones thoughts or to take a breather from everyday life.

It was with this in mind that the Spicers called their 200 acre property in the Pakenham Hills "High Lonesome".  With Barry's passing a few years ago, the family donated the property to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust:

which conserves the property and makes it available for natural history education, appreciation and research.

It is with this background in mind that I made my long anticipated first visit to High Lonesome with my colleague Joel.  It was the morning of Friday, September 5th, and the weather was splendid. recent rains had freshened the wetlands and varied forests of this granitic spine of rock which emanates from the Canadian Shield, piercing the surrounding alluvial plains.

Meeting in Pakenham, Joel and I made the short drive to High Lonesome.  Greeted warmly by Ken, we set out to walk the kilometres of trails through the property.  An above average summer rainfall has created excellent conditions for fungi.

One of the most beautiful fungi in the Americas is "Yellow Patches", Amanita flavoconia. Mushroom aficionados know to leave any Amanita alone, as most of them are toxic, and some deadly. Personally, I leave all wild mushrooms in place, since I enjoy the super market supply of the best flavourful mushrooms: cremini and shitake.

The distinctive slightly enlarged base is not seen in this photo.  This does show the yellow patches at their very best. Powdery yellow remnants at the base are the remainder of a veil, common to the Amanitas.  This species is found in rich woods and the Boreal Forest east of the Rockies , and extends into the Colombian Andes in South America.

The following species (get ready for this, people, extra points for spelling and pronunciation) is either Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus (and is therefore also found in Australia and Europe) or a distinct North American species, Buchwaldoboletus hemichrysus or these two names are synonyms!  Anyone who can clarify this is welcome to do so.

Some of the Buchwaldoboletus species may be super ugly! This one isn't too bad, in my super judgmental opinion. I have only recently become more interested in fungi, thanks to friend Suzanne and her mentor Richard Aaron:

Above is the underside of the same mushroom.  Note, like all Boletes mushrooms, there are pores instead of gills.

Unlike the last mushroom, this one both looks good AND smells good.  This makes it popular for photographers.  Unlike B. Sphaerocephalus, this 'shroom, Clitocybe odora, abounds in web-based photos.  Its stunning blue-green flesh combines with the Anise-like aromas to make identification fairly easy. One common name I found was Aniseed Cap Mushroom.  It is most commonly found under Birch and Beech trees in Asia, Europe and North America.

The above attractive orange-coloured umbrella shaped mushroom, Entoloma  salmoneum is usually found where I photographed this one: in mossy humid places under trees.  It is small,  usually 5 cms. or less, gilled and poisonous.  The one common name I found is Salmon Pinkgill.  And, yes, the gills/spores have a pinkish hue. Take a photo rather than a bite!

Don't bite the above caterpillar either. If you have been looking at Milkweed leaves in search of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, you might be finding more of these Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars, Euchaetes egle. The moth is a plain slate gray moth with a golden abdomen with dark spots along the spine.  The caterpillar, on the other hand, is very colourful and spiny!  Although the tussocks themselves aren't a problem, the colour pattern tells birds to back off, as, like Monarchs, the Tussock Moth caterpillars are poisonous...the milkweed sap providing the basic ingredients.

Above is a Russula mushroom species. There are so many red-capped mushrooms in the Russula genus, only experts are able to identify them.

Strawberry Blight, an uncommon and deeply coloured flower, not very often seen. Ken, and others, have gone to great lengths to ensure this flower thrives.

The clover does provide some contrast to the flower on the right.  One of our later-blooming orchids, and common in High Lonesome-the Nodding Ladies Tresses, Spiranthes cernua.

Sometimes a collection of plants, like those in this wetland, provides a visual feast. The large leaved plants are cattails,

Jack O'Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens (on the right side of the above photograph). This common mushroom grow in clusters on roots of deciduous trees.  It is always orangish.  The mushroom on the left is more difficult to identify. It is conical and possibly knobbed. My best guess is it is an Entoloma, a genus with many species.  If the spore print is pink (mature mushroom brought home, placed on top of a white piece of paper, spores fall onto paper for ID), then we can narrow it down to several species.

Note that mushroom identification requires much more than just a top photo. I have just begun studying these plants, and have consulted with experts who always advise caution and study when identifying. Therefore, my identifications here, even those corroborated by experts, are best guesses, based on insufficient information!

Mushrooms are just the "tip of the iceberg" of a fungus, most of which is composed of Mycelia. What we call "mushrooms" are only the fruiting bodies, containing the spores, of a much more complex plant.  Fungi may make up as much as 90% of all the world's biomass.  Many of these are micro fungi, which, as the name suggests, require a microscope to see.

Note the teeth on the above mushroom revealed, possibly, by rodents, which eat many of the ground mushrooms in our forests. I have not been able to ID the above mushroom, but possibly an expert will help me out. if I do find any more information, I will post it. My intention is to develop my ability to identify fungi through further work next year.

The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria var. Formosa, above is another of the widely distributed genus, of which many species are highly toxic.  Fly Agaric comes in many shades and forms.  This one above looks similar to the "Yellow Patches" pictured earlier in this blog.  Another common form of Fly Agaric is red with white warts.

Mushroom above is possibly Painted Bolete,  Suillus pictus.

This is White Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum,  a common late summer flower of pond or lake sides, and borders of rich woods. Nearby, pictured below, was another Eupatorium...

Eupatorium maculatum, Spotted Joe Pye weed, another plant common beside ponds and lakes.  This one was hosting one of my favourite dragonflies, the Common Green Darner, Anax junius. This is a female. The male has a blue abdomen at maturity. Green Darners are one of the few migratory dragonflies.  If you are lucky enough to visit South Florida and see a few flying, possibly they are also Canadians.

Common Polypody Fern

The above plant stymied me, in terms of ID for quite a while.  It is one of the Viburnums, a genus of shrubs which abound in our forests and include the High Bush Cranberry, Wild Raisin, and Nannyberry. I had never seen one with these small terminal clusters of yellowish fruits.  Only one species has these characteristics, Viburnum edule, or Mooseberry. it is a common plant in the boreal forest. It is not common in our area. High Lonesome is part of the Pakenham Hills, a granitic spine emanating form the Canadian Shield.  As such, it does include boreal characteristics and some boreal species. 

I haven't featured any animals in this edition.  They were most uncooperative during our walk through High Lonesome.  This one was not any more compliant, though I did manage a quick photo.  Many will guess Garter Snake,  A good guess, but incorrect.  This is a less common cousin of the Garter Snake - the Eastern Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis sauritus. You may tell a Ribbon Snake from a Garter Snake by: 1. a whitish spot in front of the eye (I managed to see the head on  this one) 2. long tail 3. narrow head 4. side stripes on third and fourth row of scales.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Completing Some Circles

Labour Day Weekend 2014...good weather, and a long trip from Arnprior to Guelph, Ontario where daughter Ilana attends university.

When she first started, 3 years ago,  we drove her down "the long way". we took a more pleasant but circuitous route to avoid the traffic gridlock of Toronto, which is now worse than Los Angeles. Down highway 7 to Peterborough, and then via Newmarket and Orangeville.  My mother and her 8 siblings grew up in a foster home in Orangeville after my Grandmother died in the 1920's.

The family had been together where my grandfather has a farm (rented) at Acton, Ontario.  My mother was born in Acton in 1912 and spent her first years there.

The route we took went through Orangeville and then Acton, just before Guelph.  My mother was so pleased to hear that Ilana had seen her home town. Though the town and the surroundings have changed very much.

We met Ilana on Friday afternoon, and she gave us a tour of Guelph, a tour she does for prospective students and their parents. The highlight for me was the Arboretum, one of Canada's finest, which contains, among many other interesting southern trees, several Bald Cypress; large and healthy and more than 1000 miles from their northern range limit! I asked, via email, the arborist how this was accomplished.  I am still awaiting a response. I enjoyed seeing Tulip Trees, and Black Walnuts and so many more.

We then had supper and went to our friends' home where we stayed. They have one of the largest Black Walnuts I have seen growing right out of their deck.

Another circle: Martha and Jan lived together in Ottawa back in the early 1980's. She, and her spouse, Daniel, both got jobs at U. Guelph, giving us yet another reason to visit.

One other circle we need to close...Jan's cousin Bob Davis had founded back in the mid 1960's the first alternative school in Canada: Everdale.  We had wanted to see it with Bob. Tragically, Bob died a few years ago. Yet, we wanted to see this magical place, which didn't last long as an alternative school, and has now gone on to other great things. Daniel, Martha, Ilana, Peter, Jan and I drove northeast of Guelph to Hillsburgh, where the school, much changed, has been converted to a community farm, provided Harvest Share, training and education about sustainable agriculture.  Bob was quite proud of this changed role for Everdale, as the people who founded the farm were long-time friends.

Helena and Wally greeted us warmly and gave us a tour. He also explained the growth of the Harvest Share endeavor, and that they also operate a large farm at Black creek just North of Toronto.  So if you live in the area, do check them out.

I suggest you learn about Everdale and the Harvest Share concept at their Website:

Daniel, Martha, Jan, Ilana at Everdale

Wally explains how Everdale works to Jan

Plaque dedicated to Cousin Bob Davis

Scenic view of Everdale. Helena and Wally get to enjoy this view!

The next day, Peter, Ilana, Jan and I went to the Elora Gorge.  When I went to school at University of Waterloo, I visited this spectacular Grand River gorge several times. The town of Elora (near Guelph) grew as a mill town, taking advantage of the tremendous water power supplied by a narrow limestone cut.  On a Sunday afternoon, people come from all over to wade in the shallow water, fish or just observe the view. Elora is not far from St. Jacobs, heart of a local thriving Mennonite community.  You can see two very dapper Mennonite gentlemen amongst the visitors below.

Many silly people, who obviously do not share my terror of heights, enjoy (!?) this strange activity called "zip-lining" across the Gorge. This looks like ET is enjoying (?!) the trip.

Girls enjoy a wade.  Note the bridge crossing the Gorge.  That's one of the streets in the "touristy" town of Elora. Nice, huh?

Closer look at bridge.  High, isn't it? Shudders....

No, really? This is something people PAY to do?  I don't comprehend.

View from bridge.  The Grand River Conservation Authority does a decent job of keeping the local parks in a semi-natural state.  Given the development pressures, this is a vitally important organization.

Back home via the long lovely Highway 7 route,  then to High Lonesome in our next shared experience.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Journey 'cross the Fundy and the Evangeline Trail to Little Harbour

Thursday AM August 21. Another lovely sunny summery day, little wind. Perfect for crossing the Bay of Fundy on the Ferry.

Bow of the ferry as we leave St. John

We leave the New Brunswick shore behind

Ship awaits in St. John

Peaceful St. John, New Brunswick

A lighthouse guards the harbor

I had left my binoculars in the car in the hold of the ship and, of course, I found a fellow birder, Alain, from Montreal who was seeing some very interesting Pelagic birds.  Jan volunteered to go down to the hold to retrieve my binoculars while I stayed with Alain in the bow of the ship. We noticed frenzied activities off the starboard side as dolphins and seabirds had found a large school of fish.  Amongst the birds were Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, a lot of Gannets to add to the Black Guillemots and Razorbills we had already seen in the water. It was spectacular viewing and great to meet a new friend! The 3 hour crossing flew by.

We landed in Digby and took off towards Little Harbour (Shelburne), Nova Scotia where our friends summer.  We enjoyed the drive past the French Shore, Yarmouth and the many places called Pubnico along routes 103 and 101. We arrived in time for supper at Little Harbor (tucked in at the mouth of the Sable River) delivered by local fishers to Bob and Kathy's front door.  Aside from the warm welcome, the accommodation was stunning. Since our last visit, Bob had worked with a local handyman to finish Dad's Fish House, which is a fully functional modern home now.

The call of the ocean is hard to miss, as the house is yards from the dunes and shore, with crashing waves pushed by winds originating in West Africa.  The cold water is rich with sea life, and the shore abounds, in late August , with a bounty of wild berries, including Service Berries, Raspberries, Blackberries and,  still unripened Cranberries massed in the wetlands at Hemeon Head.


Walking along the beach, or in Bob and Kathy's splendid seaside gardens, there are plenty of local, and even alien, species colouring the landscape or creating constant movement and interest.

One of these was causing local concern. Our most common Satyr Butterfly, a denizen of local woodlands throughout our continent, is the Common Wood Nymph.  Hundreds of these handsome insects were visiting Kathy's flowering herb garden, partaking of nectar of Oregano.  This turned out to be a good example for those who garden: know your friends and enemies well. These quick moving butterflies can be mistaken for moths and may appear to be a pest.  They are 100% benign and essential pollinators. Once identified, my hosts were pleased to know that their visitors meant only pleasant views and no harm.

Scurrying all through the beach sands and around the array of coastal flowers, if one looks closely:

Tiger Beetles abound throughout North America, especially in sandy locations. These predatory insects race and fly incessantly. Get close to them, and they are colourful, irridescent fierce-looking creatures, and among my favourite living things!

This is a common one, the Bronzed Tiger Beetle, Cincindela repanda repanda.

And some of the flowers found:
Common Sow Thistle, one of several "Dandelion" like flowers which abound in our region. most are alien, mostly from Europe. Roadsides, open area, paths often are covered by alien species like these.

Most of the Mustard family plants are alien to Canada. They adapt well to roadsides...but I was astonished to see this one growing on beach sand, battered by salt and winds. It was blooming prolifically, though it and its neighbours were growing horizontally rather than the normal vertical form. This Wild Mustard appears to be Sinapsis arvensis, determined by the leaf shape and the shorter beak on the seed pods.

This stunner also occurs in our area. I have never seen a more eye-pleasing individual plant: Meadowsweet, a Rose Family plant, one of the many Spiraeas, Spiraea alba Du Roi varlatifolia

Several Asters were on the beach. This one is found widely through North America, the Calico Aster, Aster lateriflorus

A real salt marsh plant, colouring the seagrass...Lavender Thrift, Limonium carolinianum. These striking flowers colour the seashore all along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

The above plant, Seaside Goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens is found along coastal dunes. The Latin name is more descriptive.  It flowers well into Autumn (always alive!). In October, as you will see in a soon-to-be-published edition of this blog, it was blooming all over the Assateague, Virginia,  National Seashore.

A further treat...looking closely feeding on the nectar of this lovely Goldenrod is a moth which , I am sure, many of you have seen (it is day-flying) and have believed it to be a wasp:  the Ctenucha virginica (pronounced ten-OOCH-ah) and, sorry to tell you, the only common name I could find is Virginia Ctenucha!

This unassuming shiny-leaved vine looks to be one of the briers (Smilax spp), Greenbrier,  Smilax rotundifolia, The Greenbrier (or Catbrier) is our only woody monocot vine in Nova Scotia. If any of the botanists reading this could confirm, I would appreciate it.  The leaves of this plant do not match the photos of S. rotundifolia well.

As previously mentioned, Bob treated me to a trip out to Hemeon Head:

where, while Bob enjoyed the surf, I quickly snapped photos of some of the many millions of Arctic shorebirds which migrate through here on their way to South America.  In October (more later), I saw more shoreburds further down in the coast in Chincoteague, Virginia.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris pusilla . I have seen thousands of these birds in the Bay of Fundy.  Many go through Hemeon Head too. Notwithstanding their numbers, this species is decreasing rapidly, and is of concern to biologists. (See IUCN red list):

This flock of Ruddy Turnstones, Arenaria interpres, was resting on rocks, whiling away the afternoon. Recall another Turnstone back in Shediac, NB. I often see these with Sanderlings plying the Florida surf and beaches, skipping by sunbathers who rarely give them notice. They, like the Sanderlings, run in and out of the surf feeding on tiny organisms, mainly crustaceans.

Willet, Tringa semipalmata . This is likely a WESTERN Willet which breeds in the North American Prairies.  The Eastern Willets are rarer, smaller and more banded, especially on their tails.

If you like puzzles, you may assess the evidence and agree or disagree that this is a Western Willet:

We ended our trip to the east coast by driving to Kamouraska, Quebec the next day.  My next installment will have more cultural elements, as it documents a visit to Everdale at Hillsburgh, Ontario and the Elora Gorge. Everdale was created by Cousin Bob Davis as an alternative school back in the 60's.  With our daughter at Guelph, this was a good opportunity to catch up with her and to visit some interesting local (Guelph) sites.  Look for this new installment in the next week.