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Posts Tagged ‘woods’

Red-backed salamanders are always a joy to find lying under rocks and beneath the dead leaves in the woods.  They are most frequently seen on moist days in spring and fall.

These woodland salamanders are amphibians but do not lay their eggs or have a larval stage in water.  Adults are lungless and breathe through their skin.  Consequently, moist surroundings are crucial to their survival and they are very sensitive to slight changes in their environment.  As the weather warms or cools, salamanders bury themselves deeper in the ground or under logs.

Years ago, salamanders became associated with fire, probably because they’d seemingly come to life when logs, to which they were clinging, were flung into the fire.  Considered by some to be magical creatures, they’ve been known to exist since the Jurassic period.

These small creatures eat tiny arthropods found in leaf litter.  Their numbers can be quite numerous in eastern American woodlands.  Although they keep a very low profile, salamanders contribute to the biodiversity of their habitat and play an important role in the natural recycling process of the forest. 

Their gentle nature endears salamanders to many.  Scientists see them as bioindicators,  and employ their numbers to indicate the health of woodlands.  Threatened by clear-cutting and extremely vulnerable to fungi and disease, their absence from an ecosystem is cause for concern.  Perhaps because of their fragility and silent presence in the woods, these red-backed salamanders are my favorite amphibians.

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
~ C.S. Lewis

For more information about the mythology surrounding salamanders, see Dragonorama.

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The ants are already active in the yard after such a mild winter.  So, I’m glad to see that a couple of Northern flickers have made a nest nearby.  They are the ants’ worst enemy.

Flickers may not be easy to spot in the morning mist, but their calls to one another are strong and lively.  They’ve been working on their nest in an old tree for the past week.  I’ve also spotted them looking for ants in the lawn. 

These migrating members of the woodpecker family have an unusually long and raspy tongue, not unlike that of an anteater. After digging holes in the ground with their sharp beaks, they use this sticky tongue to gather numerous ants, pupae and eggs quickly and efficiently.  Ants and other insects are the flickers’ primary food. 

Flickers make their nests in old trees, also known as snags.  After a 3 inch diameter hole is made, a large cavity about 15 inches deep is created by both parents.  Six to eight eggs are also incubated by the pair.

At this point, the cavity is still being excavated as I frequently see the birds flinging wood chips out of the hole.  Although they are known to re-use old cavities, this nest is a new one, and there’s much work to be done to create such a deep nesting hole.  The fungus seen growing next to the hole in these photos was removed by them yesterday afternoon.  They’re busy all day long, and the harder they work, the more ants they eat.  Imagine how many ants this entire family will consume over the summer months!

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There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.
~ Aldo Leopold

Hiking along trails into the Nova Scotia wilderness has become a popular pastime in recent years.  For many, it offers an opportunity to see wild things in their natural surroundings.

Last year, when a young female hiker was killed by a coyote in Cape Breton, many Nova Scotians called for a bounty on coyotes.  The call was reiterated last week, when a young woman was again attacked by a coyote near Lunenburg. 

The Department of Natural Resources in the province does not believe that bounties on coyotes work.  One was unsuccessfully employed here in the 1980s.

As a precaution while hiking in the wilderness, the Department of Natural Resources recommends:

  • making noise
  • not walking alone
  • carrying a hiking stick

Following their recommendations seems more reasonable than putting forth the idea of getting rid of all coyotes in the province for the sake of a couple of bad ones.

A couple of homemade hiking sticks

Last fall, many family members laughed at me when I created a couple of hiking sticks for use along the Salt Marsh Trail where I’d seen a coyote last year.  They doubted if a stick would be useful in an attack and probably thought such sticks were best carried by the likes of wizards such as Gandalf and other old men.

On my first walk along the trail with my stick, another hiker asked me in passing if that was my coyote stick.  Maybe my idea wasn’t so far fetched after all. 

Though I used the stick several times, it was a nuisance to remember to bring it along.  I eventually began leaving it at home, especially on days when I was hoping to take photographs.  You need to find a place to rest your stick if you hold your camera with two hands as I frequently do. 

However, in light of this more recent attack, I’m wondering once again if carrying a big stick would be a good idea.

Recently, while reading ‘The Places in Between’ about Rory Stewart’s journey on foot across Afghanistan, I was surprised to come across the idea of walking sticks being used to fend off wildlife…

I had carried the ideal walking stick through Pakistan. It was five feet long and made of polished bamboo with an iron top and bottom; I had walked with it for nine months but had not brought it into Afghanistan. It was called a dang, and Jats, a farming caste from the Punjab, used to carry them, partly for self-protection, until the middle of the twentieth century.  Many people in both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab still had their grandfathers’ sticks in their houses… One man told me that his great-grandfather had killed the last lion in the Punjab with his dang; striking the ground on every fourth step gave a rhythm to my movement…

As I walked out an old man with a bushy white beard looked at the stick.

“You’re carrying it for the wolves, I presume,” he said.

“And the humans.”

~ Rory Stewart, The Places in Between

Perhaps we westerners could stand to learn a thing or two from folks in the East about the advantages of walking with a big stick. 

FAQs about Eastern Coyotes in Nova Scotia

Coyote Problems in Nova Scotia

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Three species of spruce trees are found in Nova Scotia: white, red and black. All three types grow around Flandrum Hill.  Tolerant of shade, they’re often found in stands together along with balsam fir, yellow birch and sugar maple.

All are shallow-rooted and susceptible to being toppled by strong winds. The black spruce can be especially top heavy and is best left growing in a stand in order to remain windfirm.

Ripe cones of all three are closed and leathery during wet weather, and open and hard when it’s dry.

White spruce often has a whitish cast to its green or bluish-green needles. Bark is light greyish-brown. Its cones are the longest of the three types, usually up to 2 inches in length.  Green at first, they turn brown in autumn and fall off the tree in winter.

Red spruce growth is confined to Eastern Canada.  It is Nova Scotia’s provincial tree. Needles are yellowish-green. Bark is light reddish-brown. Red spruce can interbreed with black spruce, sometimes making identification between the two difficult.  Cones fall off the tree either in winter or the following spring.

Black spruce have blunt tipped needles that are the shortest of the three (1/2″ long).  These trees are often stunted in growth when situated on boggy soil.  Bark can be greyish to reddish brown.   Their cones are egg-shaped and can stay on the tree for years.  They can be extremely hard and difficult to open.  Individual seeds are black.

The ability to grow new trees by rooting lower branches in wet moss is unique to black spruce. 

Some diseases and pests have a tendency to prefer one type of spruce over another.  It’s best to keep a diversity of trees on your lot, should one species of tree be affected. 

References:  Native Trees of Canada by R.C. Hosie and Trees of Nova Scotia by Gary L. Saunders

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You never know what you’re going to find in the woods… especially on Saint Patrick’s Day.  The Little People, or leprechauns as they’re more frequently known, are in the mood to have fun on this, their favorite of days. 

Unwilling to part with their treasure, it’s understandable that leprechauns have a natural fear of humans.  It’s no wonder that they keep a low profile in the woods throughout most of the year.  But today, they’re so focused on their dancing and merrymaking, that they could possibly let down their guard. 

Leprechauns are solitary creatures, if they’re out at all in the open during the day.  However, if taken by surprise by a cat or human, a leprechaun can always rely on clever evasive tactics, such as transforming himself into the shape of a hare. 

I spotted these two hares this morning in the front yard.  

At first I thought they were the usual snowshoe hares found in Cow Bay, but as I approached, I noticed a mischievous gleam in their little eyes.  Could they have been leprechauns in disguise? 

Now hares can easily evade predators by running in a zigzag fashion and changing direction on a dime.  They can also sit very still and conform to the landscape.  It only makes sense that a leprechaun would choose such a form in order to escape detection. 

If you do get lucky and manage to see a leprechaun today, it’s best to leave him alone.  The Little People are far too clever to be outsmarted of their gold by humans, and one may just take a notion to put the come hither look on you.

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After numerous days of torrential rains and relentless wind gusts, it’s refreshing to get a glimpse of blue in the sky.  Could winter’s fury finally be giving way to a calm resignation that its days are numbered?

Strong winds caused many tired and weakened trees to snap.  There seem to be even more diagonal lines in the forest. 

Rain water has gathered in the recesses beneath uprooted trees and in lower lying areas in the woods.  Known as vernal pools, these temporary wet areas not only provide animals with access to fresh drinking water, but also contribute to the biodiversity of the forest.  Amphibians thrive around these pools as do numerous varieties of mosses and grasses.  They will slowly dry up, but be filled again during subsequent rainstorms.

The rain melted all the snow, which is not at all good for snowshoe hares still wearing their winter white coats.  By contrasting more with the landscape, they become easier prey for foxes, coyotes and bobcats.  Hares will begin acquiring their brown coats later this month.  Until then, they’ll just have to keep a low profile and run a little bit faster if they want to survive until spring.

After every storm, the sun will smile;  for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.
~ William Alger

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