June 10, 2008

Wonders

“But let not care and humdrum deaden us to the wonders and the mysteries amid which we live, nor to the splendors and the glories. We need not translate ourselves in imagination to some other sphere or state of being to find the marvelous, the divine, the transcendent; we need not postpone our day of wonder and appreciation to some future time and condition.”

- John Burroughs

Erstwhile readers of my blog are probably wondering where I have been by now since it has been a few weeks since I have posted anything here. The answer is that I have been in the woods which are full of all sorts of wonders at this time of the year. I have been hanging out in the forest that you see in today’s photographs, some days sitting still in one place for many hours, and other days hiking to my favourite places. I have come across many interesting things and have been taking numerous photographs. Understand that it is hard to find myself sitting in front of my computer with all of the nature activity that is going on at the moment. It has also been time for the annual gardening rituals and I have been hard at work getting my modest little garden in. I find that while each year brings the familiar, each year is also different and there are always new wonders to appreciate and ponder over. I am excited about so many things at the moment that it is hard to know where to begin. The new eaglets, a rare turtle, a Blackburnian warbler, the nesting geese, the blooming shadbush … The list goes on and on. So bear with me, gentle reader, and I will try and share all of these wonders with you in the coming days.

May 9, 2008

Website of the Week

Since it is Friday it is time for our occasional weekly feature, Website of the Week, wherein I share with you a link to a website that I have found useful, informative or interesting. I am interested in and curious about many different things, so you can never tell what might turn up here.

I have mentioned before how I like to use the Internet to travel vicariously across the globe. This week’s website is not just one website, but rather a series of different ones with the same theme. These are the Daily Photo blogs from various cities around the world. A very well known one is Paris Daily Photo. This is a great way to discover images from places other than your own, allowing you to be an armchair traveller. There are almost 200 of these photo blogs available on the internet from many diverse places. You can find a list of them from this post on Avignon In Photos. Bon Voyage!

Here also are a couple of photographs that might appear on my own Daily Photo blog, if I had one.

Seeing

The science of anything may be taught or acquired by study; the art of it comes by practice or inspiration. The art of seeing things is not something that may be conveyed in rules and precepts; it is a matter vital in the eye and ear, yea, in the mind and soul, of which these are the organs.

- John Burroughs

A few posts back I wrote about the spring blush. Well, it has happened here over the last few days. Now the fresh, lime green of springtime colour is beginning to appear everywhere. Today’s photograph is as close as I can come to that in between moment from blush to green. For years I was oblivious to the spring blush. Each year I would look for the first signs of green, not even seeing the delicate hues of red. It takes practice and inspiration to become a good naturalist, or a good photographer for that matter. I become better at both the more I work at it. The more I study nature the more I am inspired. Ultimately, I would suppose, my goal is to become one with the natural world around me. To be more sensitive to the subtle changes in the forest from season to season. To see things more clearly.

May 7, 2008

Daffodils

Daffodils

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

- William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

We are in to days of 20° temperatures now and the spring flower bulbs are coming on strong. Tulips and hyacinth and daffodils everywhere. And male robins staking out their territories with their springtime song.

Did you ever think about what you remember from school, and maybe more importantly, what you don't remember? I find it interesting to contemplate what has stuck in my mind all these years later. I had to memorize the poem 'Daffodils' for Mr. Ciolfi's english class in seventh grade. I still have a particular fondness for it some forty-five years later.

May 2, 2008

Agog

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdies is.

The little birds is on the wing,
Ain’t that absurd,
The little wing is on the bird!

- childhood poem

There is so much springtime activity going on, particularly with the birds, that I am completely agog. I am having a very hard time keeping up with all of the excitement. The biggest news in the province of New Brunswick at the moment is the fact that the Saint John River is reaching flood stage in our capital city, Fredericton, and down river from there in smaller farming communities. We had a lot of snow this past winter and the spring runoff has driven the river to near record flood levels, creating the worst flooding since 1973.

Hundreds of homes have been evacuated and hundreds more have at least flooded basements. Over forty streets in the capital are closed because they are under water. At the moment probably even the farmers are having a hard time seeing the bright side of things. There is at least one, though. Along the river there is land that floods almost every year that is used as farm land. Referred to locally as the ‘interval’, this land is preferred for growing crops because the annual flooding enriches the soil.

At the moment for me a big preoccupation is the birds. For the last few days my feeders have been overrun by two different large flocks of birds, one group getting ready to leave here, and the other group just arriving from down south. The former, Common Redpolls, and the latter, Chipping Sparrows are eating as much seed as I will put out. They are emptying a feeder in a day that would normally be filled once a week. The Common Redpolls are fattening up for their migration and the Chipping Sparrows are starved from theirs.

The usual collection of Black-capped Chickadees, Purple Finches, American Goldfinches, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays are coming to visit every day. The male Purple Finches and American Goldfinches have just about finished moulting and are in their bright springtime plumage. There are Common Grackles about and this morning I saw Canada Geese on the wing. So far, as near as I can tell, there is no activity at the Bald Eagle’s nest although I did see a Bald Eagle cruising the marsh the other day. The warblers are beginning to arrive and soon springtime birding will be in its high season.

A real treat for me each year is the first sighting of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). One came to visit my backyard the other day. This is a rather large member of the woodpecker family with very distinctive markings. John Burroughs referred to this bird as the ‘high hole’, which I presume has to do with where they make their nest. Usually I spot the flickers in Victoria Park which is next door to our house and features a bandshell, flower gardens, fountain, the city's cenotaph and some very nice trees.

This is also high season for what I refer to as the ‘small flower bulbs’. Today’s flower photograph is of Glory Of The Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) which is one of the early blooming spring bulbs. Daffodils and tulips are also beginning to bloom and soon there will be a riot of colour everywhere. So spring will soon be in full swing. The woodland flowers will begin to bloom in the next few weeks. I can hardly stand the excitement!

April 25, 2008

Website of the Week

Since it is Friday it is time for our occasional weekly feature, Website of the Week, wherein I share with you a link to a website that I have found useful, informative or interesting. I am interested in and curious about many different things, so you can never tell what might turn up here.

I love Internet webcams. I have a program that lets me easily display a user-defined list of webcam sites from around the world. I have close to 1000 webcams programmed into the list which lets me take an around the word tour from the comfort of my desktop in just minutes.

This week’s Website of the Week is one such webcam. WildCam Africa is sponsored by the National Geographic Society. The webcam focuses on a major watering hole on the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. Depending on the time of day you can see all sorts of African wildlife. In the last ten minutes I watched a crocodile, some exotic birds and some warthogs wallowing in the mud. Pretty neat!

Today’s photograph shows a local watering hole of sorts. It is a picture of the beaver pond that I visit showing the beaver dam covered by the spring run off. It is flood season in our province and the Saint John River is out of it banks in a number of places.

April 24, 2008

Willow

The spring-like weather has taken a decided step backwards today with rain and the temperature around 2°c. April showers bring May flowers. The rain is supposed to turn to snow later this afternoon. This will melt right into the ground and may turn out to be what is known as “the farmer’s snow”. This is the last snow you get in the spring which is also known as “poor man’s fertilizer”.

I took this photograph a few days ago of pussy willows just beginning to blossom. Here is one of the most familiar early signs of spring. Bunches of these now surface at our farmer’s market and in the hands of little children trundling off to school. Pussy willows are really the flowers of the shrub American Pussy Willow (Salix discolour) which is native to North America.

Actually, I need to be less specific about this because here in New Brunswick there are about 30 different species of Willow (Salix spp.) which are either native or introduced from Eurasia. Willows like water and will mostly be found in wet places – along the banks of streams or creeks for instance.

The fuzzy, soft gray catkins will blossom over the next few weeks with male and female flowers on separate trees. I once saw a time-lapse video of the pussy willows blooming and it could best be summed up in one word – SPROING!

Willows are one of those plants that have proven to be important to humankind for its medicinal properties. Native North Americans used willow bark for its pain relieving properties for hundreds of years. Willows contain salicin. In the late 1800’s the German company Bayer invented acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) which has been sold ever since as Aspirin.

April 22, 2008

First

It was a very respectable spring day here today with a temperature of 18°c. On my walk in the woods I started a rabbit. It reminded me that I still have to practise walking gently through the forest. Years ago I would bash my way through the forest sending wildlife willy-nilly before me. I am better now, but it still takes a conscious effort to be at one with nature. Oh, that I could walk like an Indian.

Today’s wildflower is the very first flower that blooms here in the spring. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is a member of the Sunflower Family (Asteracceae). It is a handsome flower and you will find it now in bright yellow splashes next to roadsides and in waste places.

It is a plant that seemingly has two identities. It produces its flowering stems at this time of the year while other shoots will develop the leaves much later after the flowering stems have died down. An old name for Coltsfoot was Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the dandelion-like flowers appear and wither before the broad, sea-green leaves appear.

Because of the time delay between the flowers dying and the leaves appearing, you might not associate the two as belonging to the same plant. The leaves are very distinctive and are said to resemble a colt’s foot, hence the name of the plant. I will try to remember to show a photograph of the leaves later in the year.

Other common names for this plant include Coughwort, Hallfoot, Horsehoof, Ass’s Foot, Foalswort, Fieldhove, Bullsfoot, Donnhove, and the common French name is Pas d’├óne.

The botanical name, Tussilago, means ‘cough dispeller’ and the plant has been known since ancient times as one of the most popular of cough remedies. In Paris, the Coltsfoot flowers used to be painted as a sign on the doorpost of an apothecary’s shop.