Sunday afternoon in the woodlot

February 21, 2011

Martin’s parents were visiting from Halifax and so he and Anne-Claire brought them to the farm.  Bet and I were quite curious to see what combination of personalities would produce a character like Martin, so we looked forward to the visit.

André and Simonne Mallet came across as very nice people.  We drifted into the garage, a year-long project where Martin had gained the early part of his building experience.

Turns out André has quite an interest in woodworking, so we talked tools until the house visit came up.  Then came the woodlot tour.  André pulled a hard-sided suitcase out of the trunk and opened it to reveal two sets of snowshoes.  Immediately I saw where Martin gets the equipment fetish.  His parents had packed two suitcases for the flight to Ontario, and one of them was for snowshoes.  Turns out they hadn’t had a chance to use the new webs in two years of trying.  Even an owl-spotting expedition on Wolfe Island the day before had been conducted on bare ground.

I assured them that a lack of snow would not be a problem in the woodlot today.

The clear, calm day proved perfect for tree hugging.  The crust retained tracks from previous days, as well as the fresh marks in powder of recent passers-by.  We had fun speculating as to whether one set of tracks was from a massive squirrel, a short-toed raccoon, or some mystery animal beyond our experience.

The turkeys seem to have taken over the woodlot for the winter.  On one southern slope in the soft snow they literally tore the hill apart, digging into the leaf litter for whatever it is turkeys eat.  Martin commented that it looked as if a herd of feral hogs had been loose in this area.  The snow was soft and they were hungry, I guess.  Turkeys are strong birds.

Turns out the wind that tore the shingles off the new garage last week also ripped into one of the trees in the woods.  Scarred from the ice storm, this 24” black walnut seems to have had one dead root, for that section pulled out of the ground, spitting the trunk into two sections over about nine feet, leaving quite a mess.  There’s still potential lumber in the wreckage, so it’s time to get the winch and saw out before the ground gets too muddy for skidding.

Martin and Charlie showed everyone the trees they tapped last winter, and while they were looking around Simonne pointed to an old nesting box left over from the plowing match:  “Is that an owl in that box?”

Surely enough, there was a small owl standing in the duck-sized entrance to the box screwed twelve feet up the trunk of a maple tree.  Martin sneaked in with a camera, then blew up the shot to show us.  “It’s a screech owl, and it seems to be asleep.  I want to get the binoculars and take a better picture through them.”

So off they dashed to the parking lot, father and son, sprinting across the butternut field on snowshoes.  Fleet-footed Roz couldn’t resist the chase and took off after them, showing every sign of overtaking when Martin tripped head-over-heels and skidded to a halt.  Up they were and off again.  The rest of us walked back toward the house until Simonne spotted a pileated woodpecker placidly feeding at the top of a clump of basswoods.

They’re cheerful birds, and not very shy, so we stood and watched while Anne-Claire provided fun facts like, “Did you know a pileated woodpecker’s tongue is very long, and circles around its brain?”

I showed Simonne one of the resident red mulberry trees.  She countered with a tale about the yellow raspberry bushes they have in New Brunswick, called gooseberries.  The crew returned with the binoculars, Martin collected my camera again, and away they went for a photo-shoot with the dozing owl.  Simonne joined the bird watch.  Turns out the expedition on Wolfe Island had produced only two owl sightings, and the screech owl was the essential third tick to qualify the weekend as a success, in birding terms.

Somewhat later they returned to the shop and Martin handed me back my camera.  On display was a remarkably large image of the small owl.  Apparently, if you are determined, you can take a usable digital photograph through one lens of a pair of binoculars.

Over chili André and I compared fish from the Maritimes and Eastern Ontario, and talked about professional bass tournaments.  The largemouth bass is an invasive species in much of the world, introduced by avid fishermen.  In New Brunswick it threatens the brook trout, and so it isn’t looked upon with the favour it finds in Leeds County.

I asked if I could catch cod off a dock in Nova Scotia.  Martin responded that very few docks adjoin 100’ of water, and the shallowest a cod will get is about 65’.  Mackerel are available, though, and very fast on a light line, and his dad added that the rainbow trout fishing is excellent.  It sounds as though we need to explore the Maritimes in the near future.

2 Responses to “Sunday afternoon in the woodlot”

  1. Tony Izatt Says:

    We have a gosseberry bush at the lodge right beside where you park your truck. Right under the old tree next to the clothes line pole.

    • rodcros Says:

      Are they the same gooseberries they have in the Maritimes? Theirs are yellow raspberries, according to Martin’s mom, not the spiny beasts of Leeds County. I think it must be a local name for cloudberries, which could easily be described as a yellow raspberry.

      The trouble with gooseberries here is that they host the alternate generation of the fungus that is killing my pine seedlings. This spring I’ll have to go at them with the Roundup, though Donna O’Connor says it won’t do much good as the spores are everywhere. Kinda like the Conservative get-tough-on-crime legislation — it will at least let me feel I am doing something about the problem, however costly and ineffective.

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