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Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

Many nature lovers ache for more close encounters with wildlife.  If wilderness adventures aren’t a possibility for you right now, perhaps answering the call of the wild lies in managing your expectations.

Wild fly visiting a wild daisy

Maybe you’re unknowingly already surrounded by wildlife.  This wildlife may not be getting picked up by your radar because as much as you may want to see it… it doesn’t want to risk any encounter with you.  Back in 2006, scientists estimated that up to 2,000 coyotes were thriving in the city of Chicago.  Raccoons and squirrels also thrive in urban areas.  These often become pests if they are intentionally or inadvertently fed by humans.

Unseen local wildlife may also be nocturnal (like the Eastern American toad shown at top or the raccoon below).  The best times to see activity are at dawn and dusk when animals are waking up or going home to sleep.

Tired raccoon still looking for grubs at the edge of the lawn at sunrise

You may also be underestimating the wild nature of creatures in your own backyard.   Just as fashion magazines have narrowed our vision of beauty over the years, so too have nature programs in exotic locales narrowed our idea of what’s wild.  Even small or unsightly creatures deserve a closer look.  Just be sure to keep a safe distance!  Some  creatures might seem tame but wild is wild. 

Once you begin to observe wildlife in your own backyard, you may notice qualities you didn’t before.  For example, the red squirrel with the sleek fur at bottom left is younger than the one with the nipped ear at right.  You can also see a black stripe between its white underside and brown back which will fade in winter.  Good luck in seeing more wildlife!

Young and old red squirrels foraging for food just before sunrise

If you’d like to learn more about how to see more wildlife, see Sea Urchins in the Woods:  How to See More Wildlife.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Sometimes it’s difficult to tell one cat from another, especially if they’re plants, not animals.

A cattail from last year looking ragged in springtime

In the spring, last year’s cattails look shabby and ragged.  An aggressive native species, colonies of this spike-like plant are commonly found in ditches and freshwater wetlands.  The soft down-like seeds are easily dispersed by the wind.  Besides being employed by birds to line nests, the down was used by First Nation’s people as a firestarter and to line moccasins and papooses.  Many parts of the plant are edible.  (For more see the Wikipedia page for Typha at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typha) New green cattails will appear later this summer and turn brown as the season progresses.

Cattails growing in a ditch.

Cattails are often confushed with catkins, the male (and sometimes male/female) reproductive part on some trees and bushes.  Below are catkins on an alder tree.    The word ‘catkin’ is derived from the Dutch word for kitten.  In late spring, these catkins certainly look like kittens’ tails.

Male catkins on a speckled alder in May

In the next image, you can see the greenish catkins as they appeared earlier this spring, hard and closed.  Also visible on the leafless branches are small brown cones leftover from last year.  These cones hold many small seeds that are a favorite of chickadees.

New catkins on speckled alder with last year’s cones

Below are the pussywillows that are such a welcome sight in early spring.  Their soft grey fur invites petting by young and old.  As a child I recall my first grade class glueing these to an image of a kitten to provide texture and color.  It was a common craft back then when most children had access to pussywillows near their homes.

Pussywillows are a type of catkin growing on willow trees or bushes.  Eventually, they go to seed and appear quite different than when they first emerged from the branch.

By now, it’s difficult to find evidence of  pussywillows in our woods.  However, fresh green catkins can now be found on the yellow birch trees.

Yellow birch catkin

With such staggered and changing appearances, cattails, catkins and pussywillows can seem as mysterious as their feline namesake.  Perhaps that’s part of their charm.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Why did the snake cross the road?  Didn’t it feel the vibrations from oncoming traffic? 

Hey, do I look worried?

This maritime garter snake managed to survive being run over by a truck, luckily slipping between the tires.  Why was it willing to risk life and limb to get to the other side?  Was it looking for something tasty to eat? Snake berries perhaps?

For years I’ve heard both adults and children talk of ‘snake berries.’  Could these be berries that were frequently eaten by snakes? 

As children, my sons and their friends used the term to describe the fruit of the bunchberry plant, shown above.  It seemed that only the daring among them had ever tried tasting these snake berries.  My friend Sandy thought snake berries were blue. Others who knew of snake berries weren’t able to describe the plant in any detail. 

After a bit of digging, I discovered that the term is used to describe any berry of questionable edibility.  So, if you are in the woods, and see a berry that you’re not sure you can eat, you might choose to call it a snake berry.  All snake berries are therefore considered poisonous.  By the way, bunchberries are edible.  They’re bland with a large pit, but edible nonetheless.

Since the berries shown above are unknown to me and I’m not sure if they’re safe to eat, I’ll call them snake berries until I can learn more about them.  And since all snakes are carnivores, there’s no way that they would eat this or any other berry.

So, as to why the snake crossed the road… in Cow Bay, there can only be one answer:  it was the pheasants’ day off!

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog :) You can read her post here.

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The province of Nova Scotia’s NDP government is set to announce a bounty on coyotes today.  It doesn’t seem like Natural Resources Minister John MacDonnell has been informed about the questionable effect of coyote bounties.  Surprisingly, his own department’s website offers the following in its FAQ section on coyotes:

Why don’t we put a bounty on them, or cull them to reduce the population?
Bounties do not work. Bounties have been tried across North America without success. It is almost impossible to remove all animals or even to keep a population in check. A bounty instituted in Nova Scotia in 1982 was removed in 1986 when it was apparent that there was no impact on coyote populations.

Ref:  http://www.gov.ns.ca/natr/wildlife/nuisance/coyotes-faq.asp#8

Last year, members of the Trappers Association of Nova Scotia caught 1900 coyotes (approx. 25% of the total population) without a bounty.  You’d think they were lurking behind every tree.  Nevertheless, some people have complained of coyotes hanging around playgrounds in neighborhoods bordering woodlands.  But could live traps not be used in such places?

Will traps set for coyotes in the woods mean that pet owners will have to worry about their dogs and cats possibly getting nabbed in them?  Will hunters in the woods keen on acquiring as many bounties as possible prove a hazard to hikers?

Last fall, a woman was killed by coyotes while hiking in Cape Breton.  More recently, a woman fended off a coyote that grabbed her by the leg while hiking in Lunenburg.

For more information, see

Coyote Problems in Nova Scotia

Coyotes and Hiking Sticks

Coyote Bounty Coming  and N.S. Reveals Coyote Cull (The Chronicle-Herald)

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coyoteCoyotes that have lost their fear of humans have become a concern in some parts of Nova Scotia where they are getting too close for comfort.  Problems often occur in  neighborhoods that border wild areas where there is an overlap of territories occupied by people and wildlife.

Last week, a young female hiker was killed by two coyotes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, heightening awareness of the problem.  Both coyotes were shot. One is still on the loose, but an autopsy on the other revealed that it was neither hungry nor diseased when it attacked.

Some blame the problem on people feeding the coyotes, either willingly or by keeping backyard compost piles. I once heard of a woman somewhere in the province who was regularly feeding a couple of  skinny, homeless dogs, until her husband noticed her actions and pointed out that she was unassumingly feeding wild coyotes!

Small pets often fall prey to coyotes looking for an easy meal. I’ve always kept my cat indoors after being warned of coyotes in the area years ago.  Toddlers playing by themselves outdoors might also be easy prey.

It’s been suggested that the coyotes that attacked the hiker may have been coydogs, the offspring of coyotes and dogs.  These hybrids may have less of a natural fear of humans written in their DNA.

wile coyoteAs a solution, many folks would like a bounty placed on all coyotes in the province. It’s already legal to kill coyotes that are a nuisance on your property and there is a hunting season for coyotes as well. 

One comment at the local newspaper’s website boasted that eight coyotes had been trapped in the woods near Bissett Road a couple of years ago.

The first coyote I ever encountered, a strikingly beautiful animal, was seen while I was driving along that road years ago. I saw one near there this past spring along the salt marsh trail. It wanted nothing to do with me and quickly ran off.  More recently, a Cole Harbour man complained that a coyote had approached him on the trail and seemed to have no fear at all.  The Natural Resources Department told him the animal was probably just curious.

coyote in marsh

Coyote along Salt Marsh Trail

Like other animal lovers, I don’t want all coyotes to be hunted for the sake of a few bad ones.  However, I also don’t like the idea of having to look over my shoulder while I’m out in the woods.  A balanced response to the problem is needed.

Coyotes are not native to Nova Scotia.  These clever opportunists infiltrated the province just last century, coming up from the US.   As wolves were made extinct in the province well over a century ago due to over trapping, coyotes have no natural enemies to keep their population in check.  I’d like to see parks introduce wolves as part of the solution to the problem.  This would put the balance back into the ecosystem that was removed by man in the first place.

If you do venture out in the woods, it’s recommended that you don’t walk alone and keep children close.  The best advice seems to be to walk loudly and carry a big stick.

See also:  Nova Scotia Celebrates Earth Day with a Bounty on Coyotes

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