Monthly Archives: October 2011

Duck and Cover

This has been an unusually warm and sunny October so far, and I decided to take full advantage of it by heading to High Park with my camera. My goal was to  spot some snapping turtles, their young having somewhat recently hatched.
Upon arriving at the park, however, I soon found myself snapping things other than turtles. Autumn is a busy time of year for many animals, and there were no shortage of subjects.

The squirrels seemed eager to pose, between burying acorns.

The Eastern Grey Squirrel, and its melanistic counterpart, the Black Squirrel, were found all over the park, scurrying through bushes, up trees and across the grasslands. They bury surplus food to tide them over through the winter, when food is scarce. These two approached me, and finding I had no handouts, quickly vanished. I headed to the pond in search of my elusive snappers, but along the way some charming subjects lured me away.

Female Wood Duck

A pair of female wood ducks

The ladies were quite beautiful, with white rings around the eyes, and a band of bold blue/violet across their wings. Wood ducks are typically found in small groups, away from other types of ducks. In fact there were about 5 in this group, 2 of them sitting on a very low tree branch which hung over the water. The real stunner, as per usual, was the male.

A male wood duck

He is so brilliantly coloured, with such precise markings, that he almost looks like a carved wooden decoy. He continuously made low peeping noises, while the females had a louder, intermittent quack that lifted upward at the end.

Further down, I spotted a mixed group of waterfowl. These birds were less picky about whose company they keep.

Male and Female Mallards and a Mute Swan

A Mute Swan

The Mute Swan is so named because it’s so much less vocal than other swans, such as the Trumpeter Swan. True to its name, it didn’t make a peep other than to hiss at the ducks that came too close.

This log was a popular spot, as many came and went, the others quacking and squawking each time a new duck joined them. After awhile, another bird crashed the party.

A Double-breasted Cormorant takes over the far end of the log

The double-breasted cormorant bumped a few ducks off the end of the log and stretched its wings for several minutes to dry them off, as the feathers of this bird are not waterproof. In the late sixties, cormorants and other birds, such as the Peregrine Falcons had their numbers drastically reduced by the use of DDT.
DDT caused the eggshells to thin to the point of breaking before the incubation period could end. Thankfully, cormorant populations are now increasing.

I slipped into the dense tall reeds, and climbed over some dead logs near the water’s edge to examine a tree that had  been felled by a beaver. I suddenly realized I was not alone.

Great Blue Heron

This Great Blue Heron was surprisingly tolerant of my presence. My previous attempts at photographing herons in Algonquin Park led to frustrating silent canoe chases that always ended with the birds flying 30 meters away, over and over again. Clearly this city park-dwelling heron is more accustomed to the sight and smell of humans. I watched him intently scan the shallow water around him, looking for an unlucky fish or frog to spear.

searching for a snack

Eventually, he became weary of my constant changing of positions, and camera clicking that he decided to leave.

The blue is more brilliant in flight

After the blue heron departed, I finally did spot one snapping turtle. It was swimming about 25 feet from shore, only the sharp tip of its head and a slice of the shell could be seen, but it was unmistakably my beloved snapper!! It was not very large, and returned to the bottom after only a minute, but I’m glad I got to see at least one.

I need a longer lens.

I’ve learned to take what nature gives you. And when she offers you the beauty of mallards, wood ducks, swans and herons…well…snapping turtles are kind of ugly anyway.

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A Partridge in a Pine Tree

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my sister Ashley to our hometown of North Bay, Ontario, for a weekend of ribs, beer, and as it turned out, a little hunting. We stayed with our cousin and her husband and their two little girls. The weather was outstanding; warm and sunny, the trees in full autumn display. Of course, the thing to do was to head out on the 4 wheelers and shoot some partridge.

Ruffed Grouse - copyright MadTinman 2008

What we call partridge in the North is actually the Ruffed Grouse, a different bird altogether. Grey partridge, which were introduced from Europe, are common in the open fields of southern Ontario, while ruffed grouse are found in the dense bush and woodlands. They are tricky to spot; their feathers make efficient camouflage, and they are frequently perched in low tree bows. But my cousin’s husband, or “cousin-in-law” as he shall hereby be known, managed to snag the daily limit, five.  And, nice guy that he is, sent me home with two. By the way, if anyone is curious, I cooked the “partridge” breasts for my partner for his birthday. I did them in the oven, wrapped in bacon, with a little rosemary.

bringin' home the bacon...er, bird.

Hunting is a topic that can draw a lot of heat, especially amongst those who have never experienced it, or grew up around it. Living in Toronto, hunting isn’t exactly part of your day-to-day life. Unless you count hunting for a Starbucks. The connection between man and food, in some cases, has disappeared. Most people do not think of what they are eating while they are eating it, or where it came from. When you, or your family, personally hunt an animal for food, your connection to the natural world is actually strengthened. I feel better about eating moose, felled at the hands of my uncles, than I do about eating some poor, anonymous slaughterhouse cow. While I certainly agree with, and actively support, protecting our wildlife, I can also see a positive side to hunting. At least, as a food source.
At any rate, our pals the ruffed grouse seem to have it figured out. Studies have shown that controlling predators and disease do not increase their numbers. Conversely, hunting by humans also barely makes a dent. The natural balance has worked for them.

My family has a long history of hunting, typically for moose. And as it’s now Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, almost all the men in my family are heading up to our camp near Temagami.  In fact, I can barely remember a Thanksgiving that wasn’t almost completely devoid of males. It was so engrained in my childhood, that this picture almost seems normal:

this is normal, right??

This is two-year old me, sitting on a dead deer that is being propped up by my uncle and grampa. I don’t remember having this photo taken, but I do remember this maroon snowsuit.  I love my family.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my kitchen to hunt down a snack.