Aug 102018
 

Black Bear at Chemong Lake

Just a report of a Black Bear on August 1. It was large. I couldn’t get a photo as I wasn’t going to open the door. It came right up to our roadside door as I was standing there and yelling for my husband to wake up and come see it. Our dogs didn’t bark until after it left. It was at 2:30am. We are on Pinehurst Ave. in Selwyn. Maris Lubbock

Black Bear footprint – Maris Lubbock – August 1 2018 – Chemong Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Increased sightings of Monarchs and frogs 

Every summer we feel lucky if we see one Monarch Butterfly, but on August 26 I was treated to the sight of two butterflies feeding up on Joe-Pye Weed for several hours alongside the river bank.  They seemed to be working as a team, getting ready for their long journey south.  Maybe next year we’ll see more. This year our frog count has gone up, having been on the low side for a few of years.  On August 24 we counted eight Green Frogs in the shallow creek that drains into the river and there are three Grey Treefrogs residing in and around our house deck.  This one almost looks like its smiling. Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Monarchs on Joe-Pye Weed – August 2018 – Peter Armstrong

Gray Treefrog with green coloration – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green Frog – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sightings from Roadsend Farm

On the weekend of August 19, my husband and I saw a very light coloured Ruby-throated hummingbird (leucistic) at one of our feeders. Although we have no flowers, except for day lilies at the front, we are inundated by hummers every year.  Ed puts up and maintains nine feeders spread around our large backyard and so each year I guess the word goes out…Go to McAuleys! The battles at the living room window feeders are amazing.

I’ve been following the Smilax plants each year, since I first told you about them. Last year we had butternuts like crazy, but none this year. Nor any apples, no elderberries, no fruit on the Ironwood trees and very few hawthorn or buckthorn berries. Last year we had several dozen morels but none this year. No puffballs this year or last, either.  We did, however, have the first bittersweet I’ve seen in two decades. I know that is what nature does, but it’s still amazing and somewhat distressing.  Darienne McAuley, Roadsend Farm

Smilax – These berries will soon start to darken, until they are all navy blue – August 2018 – Darienne McAuley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monarch migration underway

On August 30, I drove down to the shore of Lake Ontario, just west of Port Hope at Port Britain. Monarch migration was in full-swing. Standing on the shoreline, Talulah Mullally and I watched a steady stream of Monarchs flying from east to west. In the space of 15 minutes, at least 80 individuals flew by. Winds were light and the temperature was probably about 20 C. Drew Monkman

Monarch on Buddleia (butterfly bush) at Millennium Park – photo by Ben Wolfe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trumpeter Swans

There are two beautiful mature Trumpeter Swans and 1 juvenile half their size… been hanging around here for over a week. Buckhorn Lake down Kawartha Hideaway Road to 2nd causeway. Look to the left out in the bay.  Jane Philpott

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shorebird migration continues

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) (1)
– Reported Aug 30, 2018 11:35 by Dave Milsom
– Otonabee Gravel Pit Conservation Area, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Least Sandpiper – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) (1)
– Reported Aug 29, 2018 07:40 by Iain Rayner
– Bridgenorth–Yankee Line pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “About KILL size with yellow legs, short decurved beak and heavy dark head and breast with abrupt change to white on mid breast.”

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) (2)
– Reported Aug 29, 2018 07:40 by Iain Rayner
– Bridgenorth–Yankee Line pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Greyish peeps with a lot of white on head and contrasting supercillium, short thick bill, wing tips same length as tail. Quite comfortably feeding in water up to their belly. Leg colour not obvious at that distance.”

Pectoral Sandpiper – Wikimedia

Semipalmated Sandpipers – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This great summer for Monarchs continues!

No doubt people have seen many Monarch butterfly larvae this season; however I was excited to see seven large ones on our Butterfly Milkweed plant (August 26). Just wanted to share! Gwen McMullen, Warsaw

Caterpillars on Butterfly Milkweed – Gwen McMullen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard hummingbird action in Peterborough

I just had to send you these photos I managed to get last evening (August 24) from a feeder hung in our birch tree by the deck. I’m thrilled because we don’t get many hummingbird visitors but clearly patience pays off! I now know how wildlife photographers feel when they get a shot after hours of waiting! Wendy Marrs, Ridgewood Road

Note: This is the first summer we’ve had hummingbirds coming to our feeders on Maple Crescent in Peterborough all summer long. We are now seeing at least one juvenile bird, so it appears that the hummers nested. D.M.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Wendy Marrs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nighthawk migration is under way
Now’s the time to be looking for migrating Common Nighthawks. The best time to see flocks is late afternoon and evening. They feed as they fly and are often seen over water. In my experience, they often turn up after a rain event. A great location to view from is the Indian River near/at Back Dam Park on Rock Road, just outside of Warsaw. On the evening of August 20, I saw 77 nighthawks between 6:30 and 7:45 pm. They were appearing in the NW and flying SE. Most were fairly high, maybe 150 – 300 feet, and in loose flocks of about 5 to 15. Binoculars are a must.
On August 24, Tim Dyson observed an amazing 162 nighthawks between 5:10pm and 8:40pm. 73 of the birds passed over in the space of just 90 seconds! All were seen from his home on 1st Line of Douro-Dummer. The migration will continue until early September.   Drew Monkman

Common Nighthawk – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another successful nesting of Trumpeter Swans

For the second year in a row, a pair of Trumpeter Swans has nested in the Woodland Campsite wetlands in Lakehurst, ON. This year they successfully reared one cygnet. The one adult is tagged J07. The second adult has no visible tag. Shortly they should be bringing the cygnet nearer populated shorelines. Barb Evett

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Egret (Ardea alba) (1)
– Reported Aug 21, 2018 10:35 by Kyle O’Grady
– Peterborough–Television Road pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47987089
– Comments: “Continuing bird”

Great Egrets south of Riverview Zoo several years ago (Michele Hemery)

 

Pandora Sphinx moth caterpillar
I found this Pandora Sphinx moth caterpillar on the woody part of a grape vine on August 20 in Bridgenorth.  Jennie Gulliver

Pandora Sphinx moth caterpillar on grape vine – August 2018 – Jennie Gulliver

Pandora Sphinx moth – Peterborough – July 2012 – Susan Sackrider

Common Nighthawk migration under way
Last evening (Aug. 18) at 6:15 pm, 5 or 6 of us observed about 15 Common Nighthawks swirling around over our farm near Keene. I have seen the odd one here over the years but this sighting was unprecedented . The skies were clear and there was very little wind , thus making it ideal for hawking. Michael Gillespie, David Fife Line, Keene

Common Nighthawk – Wikimedia

Great Egret – Carl Welbourn – Television Road – August 28, 2016

Great Egret (Ardea alba) (1)
– Reported Aug 17, 2018 16:25 by Ben Taylor
– Laurie Avenue, Ptbo, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47906925
– Comments: “Large white egret. Previously reported.”

Great Egret (Ardea alba) (1)
– Reported Aug 17, 2018 18:05 by Chris Risley
– Peterborough–Television Road pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47908850
– Comments: “continuing large white heron in pond”

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) (1)
– Reported Aug 17, 2018 08:15 by Iain Rayner
– Peterborough–Millennium Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47898454
– Comments: “Large bird on top of Charlotte Towers antenna”

A rarely seen Walking Stick

We are camping (August 17) at Woodland Campsite in Buckhorn. This handsome fellow was on our trailer door this morning. I haven’t seen one of these in years…. Probably because they blend in so well. Cathy Mitchell

Walking Stick – Woodland Campsite Buckhorn – August 2018 – Cathy Mitchell

Great summer for Monarchs
In my opinion, this is the best year for Monarchs in the last half dozen.
Michael Gillespie, David Fife Line, Keene

Monarch on Buddleia (butterfly bush) at Millennium Park – photo by Ben Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

Sightings from the Indian River near Warsaw
Sightings have been fairly quiet this summer but August is proving much more interesting.  And an update on the House Wren’s nest in the hanging basket.  The couple raised two offspring and the nest was empty by July 23.  One egg was punctured and did not hatch.  The eggs are so tiny.
August 5/6:
An Osprey has found a handy perch on a dead branch across the river and when we first saw it back on June 30 it was being harassed by a couple of Red-Winged Blackbirds, though the Osprey held its ground and is still using the perch occasionally.

August 8:  We discovered a large amount of fresh Otter scat and flattened grass abutting the open underside of our river deck.  Fresh stuff, and the odour was very strong!  We put out the Trail Camera, but so far nothing captured on film.  The scat is now dried out and is full of shell.

We also saw a female Scarlet Tanager spotted eating a Common Whitetail Dragonfly in a spruce close to the house. A Caspian Tern, gull-size with a bright orange/red beak, flew back and forth three times along our stretch of the Indian River, plunging four times into the water with no success, then continued flying down river.  Fascinating to watch!

August 9:  A female Belted Kingfisher dived into the river and emerged with what looked like a small bright orange disc-shaped something which it banged hard several times against a fallen dead tree branch, then returned to its higher perch to continue surveying the river.  I have no idea what the “disc” was.

August 13/14:  Our first migrating Yellow-rumped Warbler looking for insects in a large White Pine.
Stephenie Armstrong

Osprey – Indian River – August 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

Otter scat – Indian River – August 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak at north end feeder in Peterborough

I had a juvenile male Rose-breasted Grosbeak on my feeder today. First time I’ve seen a young grosbeak, so I didn’t recognize it as this species. Quite different from the adult male or adult female.  Margo Hughes, Peterborough 

Immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak – August 14, 2018 – Ptbo – Margo Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coyotes and possible Red Fox kits on Kawartha Golf and Country Club property

Had a great sighting today, as well as an audio. Both of these events happened on the Kawartha Golf and Country Club property. I’m not a golfer but often walk their driveway as part of my morning walk.
     The first was a sighting last Tuesday, August 7. As I started up the driveway from Clonsilla, I glanced up the fairway to my left and noticed two kittens playing about 150 yards away. As I stood there another joined them, then another and another and so on. This continued as more came. Some returned then disappeared again making it difficult to count, but I would guess 12 to 15 were there at a time. I mentioned this to a groundskeeper and was told because of the Coyotes there were no cats on the grounds, so he thought they were probably young Coyotes. The problem, however, is that all were light tan or beige in colour so I think they were Red Fox kits.
    The audio happened today, August 15, and sent chills up my spine. While walking up the driveway, I heard a sound of probably a police car using its siren in a short beeping sort of way. No sooner had it stopped when a large pack of Coyotes began to howl. It was quite unnerving. These Coyotes were behind me near the entrance. When it ceased another pack in front of me began howling. It also seemed to be large and now I was in the between the two with a hiking pole as my protection.
    While on the driveway I have seen many singular Coyotes watching me watching them but never a pack and today, there two packs. A good way to begin the day don’t you think!  Don Finigan

Coyotes in field on Stewart Line (Randy Therrien)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) (1)
– Reported Aug 09, 2018 09:32 by Peterborough County Birds Database
– Otonabee Gravel Pit Conservation Area, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 1 Photo

Semipalmated Plover – Wikimedia

Olive-sided Flycatcher – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) (1)
– Reported Aug 09, 2018 13:23 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Warsaw Caves Conservation Area, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) (1)
– Reported Aug 03, 2018 17:30 by Martin Parker
– Stony Lake–Mount Julian-Viamede Resort, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “small tern. much smaller than Caspian Terns”

Common Tern – Wikimedia

Bay-breasted Warbler – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) (1)
– Reported Aug 09, 2018 08:13 by Iain Rayner
– Peterborough–Millennium Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Looked to be a non breeding adult male. Seen well through binos from 20 ft. Greenish yellowish face with faint eyestripe and arcs around eye, heavily streaked green back, smooth buff/greenish underparts with visible chestnut flanks. Two bold white wing bars and white edged tertials. Based on migrant warblers I have seen locally in the last week…I would say all warblers are fair game now.”

Jul 292018
 

Another fox in city dining on Gray Squirrels

There was a large number of squirrels in our neighbourhood. Then came a large, gray-coloured fox, easily the size of my fifty pound Springer Spaniel. I’d often see it at first light, and thrice seen carrying a black-phase Gray Squirrel. The squirrel population has dropped dramatically. As of July 23, I have not seen the fox for about three weeks. I presume he has moved on to another neighbourhood where the roof rabbit harvest is more promising. When I first saw the fox, I was not sure what I was looking at.  I thought perhaps it was a coyote/fox hybrid, but that probably does not happen.  Larry Love, Norwood Terrace, Peterborough

P.S. By the way, there is lots of Black Bear activity in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.  Last Thursday while stopping for dinner on Campsite 301 (Wolf Lake) I  saw a handwritten “Bear Warning” note, concerning a juvenile nuisance bear.  The sign was tacked to a tree at the site.   During our two hour stay, there were a number of gawkers who came into the bay to see if there was a bear around.  One kayaker told me about an MNR culvert trap set on a cottager’s property, not far from Site 301.   Two years ago, I put a small bear off of an adjacent island.  He had been gorging on blueberries.  The bears are everywhere in KHPP, but this boldness is new.

Red-headed Woodpecker at Gannons Narrow (July 21)  This is the first year we have ever seen one in the area. He has been around since early June and just in the last week or so has found our black oil sunflower seed feeders. He is a feisty fellow who will scare away the other birds and not give way to blackbirds or jays who try to get him to move. Kingsley Hubbs, Gannons Narrows, Selwyn Township

Red-headed Woodpecker – July 2018 – Kingsley Hubbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-billed Cuckoo near Warsaw:  At around 8 pm this evening (July 20), I heard (twice) the call of a Black-billed Cuckoo in our bush near the Indian River. I didn’t see it, but its call was unmistakable. It moved to 2 different locations within the bush. We’ve been here 19 years and haven’t heard a cuckoo every year.   Jane Bremner

Black-billed Cuckoo – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) (1) from eBird
– Reported Jul 19, 2018 15:13 by Daniel Williams
– Peterborough–Millennium Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Flew out from willow tree on island, landing on dead tree near sand bar. Presumably same individual reported here a few weeks back. ”

Black-crowned Night-Heron – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) (4)  from eBird
– Reported Jul 17, 2018 20:50 by Daniel Williams
– Peterborough–Beavermead Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “1 adult, 2 young, and presumably a 3rd young calling. Adult giving steady hoot calls similar to NSOW, but mixed with clicking and whinnies. In ecology park hopping around. Seen previous night as well but only as silhouettes. ”

Eastern Screech owl – red phase – 9th Line of Selwyn Twsp – March 11, 2017 – Kathy McCue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our neighbor has a family of Mallards visiting regularly. What is remarkable, however, is that all  of the ducklings have, so far at least, survived. They have survived the Great Blue Heron that has totally cleaned out the Eastern Chipmunk population. Sad. Yeah, I know, nature. But, the maddening part, of course, is that the Great Blue is really, really lazy. He has decided to stop fishing, and go chipmunking!  Gord Young, Armour Road  

Mother Mallard and eight ducklings – Dianne Tyler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have had 3 Pileated Woodpeckers in our yard at the same time this month. However, I couldn’t get all three in the picture below. We know there are a male and a female juvenile, but we’re not sure about how many adults/parents. The Osprey nests around here all seem to only have one baby this year but its really hard to tell. We  watch the nest behind us in the ball diamond, the nest on the Bridgenorth-Selwyn Road, and the one at the corner of Yankee Line and Robinson Road across from the trailer park.  Jennie and Peter Gulliver, Communication Road, Bridgenorth

Two or the three Pileated Woodpeckers in our yard – July 16, 2018 – Jennie Gulliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On July 12, we were camping on Secret Lake in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes and 2 half-grown chicks foraging along a marshy shore. Secret Lake is located north of Long Lake and Loucks Lake. It is reached by a short portage from Loucks Lake. Gary Moloney

Sandhill Crane with chick – Barb Evett – Buckhorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems that my leaving wide swaths of my orchard uncut to establish zones of biodiversity, which  include apple trees, nesting boxes as well as many milkweeds, has paid off. This morning, July 9, I noticed quite a few Monarchs fluttering about and visiting multiple milkweed plants that are happily blooming – having escaped the blades of my bush hog! Michael Gillespie, Keene

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed  – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have lived outside of Millbrook for 20 years & have noticed a large decline in birds and bees. I’ve also seen very few fireflies, whereas they were abundant a few years back.  Ludvik Kouril (July 9)

Photinus pyralis – a common firefly – Art Farmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a very large patch of Himalayan Balsam in my backyard. I’ve been fighting this invasive species for years, and I was just about to start pulling these plants out when, on July 7, I saw a Monarch laying eggs on them. Wendy Hicks, Peterborough

 N.B. Don Davis, a Monarch expert, told me that this is very unusual. D.M.

Himalayan Balsam, an invasive species in Ontario – Wikimedia

 

 

Mar 082018
 

“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.”

Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

A decade or so ago, I came upon a considerable mystery. It was a fall afternoon and, while walking down the road toward my home in the Haliburton wilderness, I noticed enormous undulations on the dusty road. A snake perhaps? Now I knew no part of Ontario, or indeed any place on earth, held a snake that huge, at least I hoped not. The S-shaped pattern was approximately 75 cm wide, but its length was uncertain. I thought this beast must swallow deer for breakfast and dine on moose for lunch. My imagination was racing. Adding to the mystery were the occasional patches of dark blood—the remains of prey perhaps?

I have cameras that take photographs automatically when sensing both heat and motion. While these camera traps take photos, I’m usually at home drinking Glenmorangie single-malt scotch. To photograph the extraordinary animal that made these tracks, I attached one of my special cameras to a tree overlooking its trail. And I placed a large quantity of cracked corn, on the off chance the creature was a herbivore, and four pounds of hamburger in case it was a carnivore—the more likely choice. I activated the camera and departed.

The following morning I could hardly wait to check the site. As I approached I saw that all the food was gone, every bit of it, and that there were tracks everywhere, including those of this undulating monster. More significantly, the display window on the camera revealed it had taken 186 photographs. Jackpot!

I replaced the memory chip and ran home to boot up my computer to view these pictures. And what did I see? Bears, black bears, lots of them but no undulating monster. One large mother bear (sow) came early in the evening with her two small cubs—probably females. Four hours passed before a second mother bear arrived with her two larger cubs—probably males. (Each photograph is time stamped.) But still I saw nothing to explain the strange undulations. What was I missing? I had photographs of the two different sows. Where was the monster?

Then I saw the problem. The solution to the mystery was obvious, but so incredibly improbable. The mother bear in photograph 1 had no use of her hind legs. She was a paraplegic! Note the worn-away fur and exposed flesh on her back legs plus their unnatural position. Unbelievably, she was dragging herself everywhere, and this was the source of the undulations. There was no monster, just a mother bear of inconceivable endurance determined to feed her cubs and herself. I decided to call her Mother Courage.

Mother Courage and her two cubs – Gord Harrison

I contacted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) about what we should do to help this injured bear. “We” quickly became “me.” But they did suggest that, if this sow made it to hibernation, about two weeks away, the cubs would have a better chance of surviving the winter—it can be 40o below zero where I live. Until then, I decided to feed Mother Courage and her cubs at my back window so that I might observe their behavior. After I began, they came every night; however, I never saw the other large sow and her two small cubs again. Two weeks passed, and then two more. Would Mother Courage ever hibernate? I telephoned the MNR to ask if my feeding was inhibiting them from going into hibernation—the officials said no! Another two weeks came and went; it was now the middle of December, and this family often arrived during a blizzard. The cubs were always first by several minutes until this heroic animal dragged her bleeding backside out of the deep forest only to collapse in exhaustion. On many occasions, she never ate—she just watched her cubs devour the cracked corn and dog food.

 

Note the exhausted mother at the back right and the concerned cub at the front left. Her mothering instincts could challenge those of most humans.  Gord Harrison

I became curious about the location of their wintering den. I surmised finding her lair would be easy. It must be close; after all, how far can an animal drag itself? After an hour’s trek I reached an embankment sloping down to an ancient glacial lake and located her den. This daily journey—both ways—would have intimidated Marco Polo. Yet Mother Courage had done this every day for weeks, perhaps even months. I was stunned by the magnitude of her endurance and the power of her instincts. Neither torn flesh, nor exhaustion, nor death itself I thought would prevent her daily rounds. Some will say I am anthropomorphizing; I would say it is simple empathy with a fellow mammal in great anguish.

By comparing my initial photographs to the later ones, Mother Courage appeared to be losing body fat. So, on December 17, I decided not to feed her and her cubs anymore hoping to force them into hibernation, lest she die crawling. It was a melancholy evening for everyone. They came. They searched. They left. And I never saw them again.

 

 

The final picture on that snowy night – Gord Harrison

Early in the New Year, I snowshoed to the den and was elated to find they were all safely asleep—or as asleep as hibernating bears ever truly get. The den entrance was encrusted with ice crystals caused by their emanating body heat. My flashlight revealed the back of a bear almost completely blocking the entrance in an effort to retain this heat. I took this to be Mother Courage in her ultimate act of protection for her cubs. She was following those deep instincts that had preserved her genes through a million years of evolution.

Clearly, this mother bear was exhibiting behavior that can only be described as moral. And just as clearly, this behavior was preserving her genes by enhancing the chance that her two male cubs would survive and reproduce. There was pressure for moral behavior, stemming from natural selection, because this behavior is adaptive for the preservation of genes, which are life itself. In his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett calls evolution by natural selection “the best idea anyone has ever had.”

Photograph 3: Mother Courage and Her Children

At my latitude, the average date for bears to come out of hibernation is April 10, so, about two weeks after this date, I revisited the den site. The MNR had assured me that this sow (Mother Courage) would not exit the den alive—I had to see for myself. I found the den again. It was empty, the entire family had left. In the distance was a kettle of turkey vultures, and I wondered if they were recycling Mother Courage. I suspected as much, but I declined to investigate.

Male bear cubs will depart from their natal territory—following the instinctive taboo against incest by Ursus americanus. Genetics tells us that inbreeding is generally detrimental to the gene pool. And, again, natural selection is the source of our discomfort and bears’ avoidance of this practice. It’s significant that sows will share territory with their female cubs since this sharing presents no danger of incest.

Many readers may have wondered how Mother Courage came to be a paraplegic. Only two reasonable speculations are possible: she was either hit by a car or shot by a hunter. It was bear hunting season when I first noticed the undulations on my dusty road.

Some moral behaviors exist outside of, and independent of, humans. If as a species, we had never existed or had gone extinct—and 99 percent of all species have—morality in terms we could recognize would still be flourishing on this planet.

Humans have driven thousands of species to extinction, and another universe must pass away before such creatures will ever come again. I am not a vegetarian, but I would speak for all those who cannot speak for themselves.

All herd or pack animals have a large moral repertoire: whales, elephants, and wolves. Naturally, moral differences exist between humans and other animals just as they do among all individuals of the same species including Homo sapiens. It’s a matter of degree not of kind.

To the shock of those who are stony faced and stony minded, the evidence that humans, apes and monkeys, whales, elephants, wolves, and even rats and mice inherit ethical behaviors honed by natural selection is profoundly disturbing. But should it be? We are a part of, not apart from, all life on earth. We are not descended from angels or demigods but ascended from ape-like creatures. Ours is a heroic past, at times so close to extinction that a wink might have made it so. Darwin would be delighted to witness this expansion of morality to non-human animals by natural selection.

Mother Courage crumpled in exhaustion – Gord Harrison

In the last photo, taken on a bleak November night, Mother Courage is just hanging on to life. But, in my mind’s eye, she will always be one of the bravest and most caring creatures I have ever known.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

 

 

This article comes from my book My Cousin & Me: And Other Animals available at Amazon and Avant-Garden Shop in Peterborough. Gordon Harrison is a writer and wildlife photographer can be reached at harrison153@gmail.com

May 212017
 

This past Tuesday, May 16, I got up early (6AM)….well early for me (I volunteer at the Turtle Trauma Centre and had a large recovered snapper to release in Orillia)…. threw open my drapes …..beautiful sunny morning……and thought someone had let their dog run free the other side of my fence…….wait, not a dog……a large, healthy Black Bear!!! This is the first bear I have ever seen in a natural setting!! My backyard is diagonal to the intersection of Fairbairn and Highland….so he came out of Jackson Park. Funny, I go to the trailer to see wildlife……but I probably see more here right in the city!

NOTE: Bears do enter Peterborough occasionally, but rarely hang around for more than a matter of hours. I’m not aware of anyone ever being attacked in one of these situations. The bears that very occasionally do attack (a handful of incidents across Ontario per year) are adult males in remote areas of Northern Ontario. It’s usually a bear that has never encountered humans before. Even mother bears with cubs rarely – if ever – attack. Why not? Because they don’t want to end up dead or injured and their cubs become orphaned and unable to survive on their own.   D.M.

Black Bear – Randy Therrien

May 202017
 

We caught this hungry little Black Bear with his hand in the cookie jar over the weekend of May 6. He came back to our place multiple times after the feeders were removed and settled on picking dandelions from the yard. I may have to provide him a salary after all the rainfall we have had this spring!

Nima Taghaboni, Deer Bay, Lower Buckhorn Lake

Black Bear – May 2017 – Nima Taghaboni

Black Bear at feeder – May 2017 – Nima Taghaboni

Dec 012016
 

“The woods are wide and full of wonders, but we boys were mere counters, nibblers and sniffers at her mysteries. Just two skinny lads roaming fields like foxes searching for whatever we could find. Here a quartz rock, there an emerald snake, and over there a woodcock’s nest.”

Local author Gord Harrison’s new book, ‘My Cousin & Me: And Other Animals’ is a powerful natural history memoir of two young lads chasing wildlife in the hinterlands of Haliburton County. Scattered throughout the pages are more than 350 of the author’s fabulous wildlife photos of everything from eastern wolves and snowy owls to Cecropia moths and orchids. Harrison’s heartfelt love for the land where he grew up and now calls home rings true on every page.

Gord Harrison's new memoir evokes a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn childhood (Gord Harrison photo).jpg

Gord Harrison’s new memoir evokes a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn childhood (Gord Harrison photo).jpg

Themes

“My Cousin & Me” is many things. First, it is a celebration of a childhood that few kids today will ever know – a Huckleberry Finn childhood, free of the shackles of over-protective parents. At the same time, the book is an invaluable guide to seeing nature through the lens of evolution by natural selection – “the single best idea anyone has ever had”, as the philosopher Daniel Dennett famously stated. Finally, “My Cousin and Me” is a tribute to the diversity and wonder of nature in central Ontario.

Enthralled by the glorious life all around him, Harrison came to realize that all of this beauty is the result of natural selection, namely the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. As Harrison explains in multiple, fascinating ways, predators and prey like flowers and bees ‘dance’ together in the struggle for existence. Each shapes the other.

In a chapter on white-tailed deer, the author demonstrates how nearly every characteristic of a deer has been molded by millions of years of “descent with modification”, as Darwin liked to call it. While humans would quickly and miserably perish in the conditions that deer must face, the latter “appear to have just walked out of a grooming salon.”

Harrison is a proud, unabashed non-believer; but he knows his Bible. He is especially critical of creationism which, in addition to simply being wrong, reduces the wonder of nature to “God did it. End of story”. Nor is he a fan of authority. He explains how blindly obeying the powers that be – parents, priests, politicians  – can often lead to bad outcomes. “If all you know is to follow authority and imitate your parents, how do you judge novel situations? If a plague hits your region, you pray; the plague persists and millions die… However, science recognizes no authority but reality.” Thankfully, knowledge derived from science now saves countless millions every year. His mistrust in officialdom and ‘business as usual’ is also grounded in the sad reality that humans have treated the wilderness and its wildlife as the enemy to be subdued, killed, eaten or skinned. He adds, “It has been a long night’s journey into light, and we’re not there yet.”

Harrison’s book is not just for nature lovers, but will delight anyone who is curious about science and critical thinking. It will also resonate with readers who remember what it was like to grow up in rural Ontario in the 1940s and 50s. The author recounts the story of how is ill-natured, superstitious aunt suffered from goiter and actually believed in the healing power of snakes. She asked Gord and his cousin to go out and capture a snake long enough to “wrap around her neck twice”. Local wisdom affirmed that doing so would cause the goiter to shrivel up and disappear. Because the boys didn’t particularly care for their aunt, they decided to grant her wish by catching a garter snake for the job, knowing all too well that the foul-smelling musk the snake exudes would linger on her neck for days! And it did. The book is full of similar amusing anecdotes.

You'll find an entertaining story of Barney, the black bear, in the book. (photo by Gord Harrison).jpg

You’ll find an entertaining story of Barney, the black bear, in My Cousin & Me. (photo by Gord Harrison).jpg

I couldn’t help but be impressed by Harrison’s first-hand insights into animal behaviour and how ‘received knowledge’ is not always accurate or the whole picture. He tells the story of a female black bear leaving her 18-month old cub to fend for itself. Rather than aggressively driving the cub away as many books describe, Harrison observed how she commanded her obedient cub to stay in the middle of his field. She then shambled off into the forest only to return in 20 minutes to see her cub again. Then, once more, she left. “This coming and going repeated itself half a dozen times over a period of three hours. It had every appearance of a long, sad goodbye. Finally she left forever.”

Morality

As this story suggests, Harrison is convinced of the innate morality of animals – not something God-given but rather the result of natural selection. In other words, being ‘moral’ is beneficial to the survival of the species. In an amazing story charged with heart-breaking emotion, the author describes how he came to know a paraplegic mother bear – probably the victim of an encounter with a vehicle or a hunter’s bullet. Despite the pain of warn-away fur and exposed flesh, the bear literally dragged herself by her front legs in the service of her cubs. Harrison contacted to the Ministry of Natural Resources who told him that if the sow made it through to hibernation, the cubs would have a better chance of surviving the winter. Harrison decided to feed “Mother Courage” and her cubs and put the food outside his back window. He watched for several weeks as the cubs always arrived first, followed by their heroic mother dragging her bleeding backside out of the deep forest, only to collapse in exhaustion. He discovered that mother and cubs were travelling nearly a kilometre over arduous terrain from their winter den to his house. “I was stunned by the magnitude of her endurance and the power of her instincts. Neither torn flesh, nor exhaustion, nor death itself I thought would prevent her daily rounds… Clearly, this mother bear was exhibiting behaviour that can only be described as moral.”

Math in Nature

Anyone with a love of mathematics – Harrison was a high school math teacher himself – will be intrigued by a chapter entitled “The Young Pythagoreans”. It highlights the famous Fibonacci sequence in which the next term in a number series is simply the sum of the previous two terms. For example, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… Amazingly enough, the sequence can be found in everything from the florets of composite flowers to the spirals of pine cones. Harrison recounts how he and his cousin stumbled upon some terms in the Fibonacci sequence by counting flower petals. With composite flowers – those with multiple florets on their heads like daisies and sunflowers – there is actually a double Fibonacci pattern. Ox-eye daisies have 21 spirals going clockwise and 34 going the other way. Although different sizes and species of composite flowers have different numbers of spirals, they’re always neighbouring pairs from the Fibonacci sequence. The same is true for pine cones. Harrison goes on to discuss how nature molds such order out of what appears to be chaos. As it turns out, a Fibonacci spiral is the best method to pack seeds closely, and evolution is “on a close-packing quest: produce more seeds, have more progeny, be fruitful and multiply, or perish.”

A majestic Algonquin (eastern) wolf photographed by Gord Harrison on his Haliburton far.

A majestic Algonquin (eastern) wolf photographed by Gord Harrison on his Haliburton far.

You have probably gathered by now that Harrison crafts beautiful sentences, which is yet another way to enjoy the book. He holds nothing back! In talking about wild turkeys, the author writes, “…let it be said that turkeys dispatch bodily liquids and solids through a single orifice. A combination not unlike rain and hail having the colour of gray gravel glazed with an indescribable stench…”

At almost 300 pages, “My Cousin & Me” covers a lot more territory than I can do justice to in one article. Harrison also takes the reader on fascinating journeys into the lives of bumble bees, Cecropia moths, fishers, flying squirrels, owls, hawks, moose and especially wolves. The book contains many of Harrison’s exquisite photographs of the Algonquin (eastern) wolves that he regularly sees and hears on his property. The book concludes with a chapter on the human history of “The Land Between” where Harrison’s farm is located. But it’s not just any human history. Harrison tells the ‘deep’ human past as revealed by his own DNA, an epic story he traces all the way back to Africa. “We are all one tremendous family; ideas of race are false, totally false! We are all Africans.”

My Cousin & Me can be purchased at The Avant-Garden Shop on Sherbrooke Street east, Chapters Peterborough, Hunter Street Book Store, and through Amazon.ca

 

2017 Peterborough Pollinators Calendar

I am proud to announce that a group I belong to has just published a calendar & nature guide to our gardens and yards. It contains a year’s worth of plant and pollinator explorations. Each day of the year has its own nature happening, suggested activity, local event or garden task. The calendar is illustrated with 80 beautiful colour photographs of bees, butterflies, birds, plants, trees and more. All proceeds go to Peterborough Pollinators, which is working to create a pollinator-friendly community for citizens and pollinators alike. The calendar sells for $20 and is available at Avant-Garden, Peterborough GreenUp, Hunter Street Books, Bluestreak Records and Happenstance. Order online at calendar@peterboroughpollinators.com

March photo spread from new calendar. (Ben Wolfe)

March photo spread from new calendar. (Ben Wolfe)

Cover of Peterborough Pollinator's new 2017 calendar (photo by Ben Wolfe)

Cover of Peterborough Pollinator’s new 2017 calendar (photo by Ben Wolfe)

Calendar page for December 2017 (Ben Wolfe)

Calendar page for December 2017 (Ben Wolfe)

 

 

 

Nov 202016
 

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that my American Chestnut trees produced what appear to be a few viable nuts. The bad news is that the number of viable nuts is much smaller than I had hoped for. American Chestnuts are monoecious, so although the largest tree produced many catkins and many seedcases, only one of the other two trees produced catkins, and not very many. (The second tree was topped by a moose a few years ago, setting it back a year or two.) So the second tree produced one solitary seedcase, compared with probably fifty for the main tree, and was not efficient in pollinating the main tree. I was only able to recover three viable nuts from both trees.

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

Not much else to report, except to say how annoyed I am with the Black Bears up at the cabin (near Crystal Lake). They have completely destroyed a beautiful hawthorn  tree and almost completely destroyed another while removing the bumper crop of haws. The 5 cm long thorns didn’t seem to be a deterrent at all. After he wrecked this tree (I have a mug shot of him – a BIG male) he revisited the yellow jacket nest he dug up earlier in the summer. No pain receptors I guess.

Michael Doran

Aug 282016
 

I have some news that I think is important. On Friday night (August 19) we were driving home from some friends’ place over at the 5th line of Selwyn near the Lakefield Highway, and coming back we saw at least ten bats flying above the road over the km or two between their place and Chemong Road. Also, we were up at our cabin in the woods on the weekend, near Crystal Lake and just south of Kinmount and there were at least two bats flying around after dusk. Although they were once plentiful up there, we haven’t seen them for several years, until this Summer. One came out of its normal daytime roost on the west gable of the house on one particularly hot afternoon and had a bit of a rest on the screen of our porch (picture attached; note the Daddy Longlegs living dangerously beside him).

Probable Little Brown Bat - Crystal Lake near Kinmount - August 2016 - Michael Doran

Probable Little Brown Bat – Crystal Lake near Kinmount – August 2016 – Michael Doran

I am also happy to say that the American Chestnut tree that I wrote to you about four years ago (See Nov. 11, 2013) that had produced a few chestnuts (but hasn’t since) is now laden with nuts. Better still, one of the other three American Chestnut saplings that I planted in 2002 also has one single nut on it. I figure that’s a good start. I hope to beat the squirrels to most of these and plant them, ultimately spreading the saplings throughout our property and beyond. With large enough numbers, I am hoping that the many nut-loving animals that are around won’t find all of them. Our trees haven’t shown any sign of susceptibility to the blight that killed off most of the trees in North America early in the 20th century (I presume they used to grow in our area up there).

I bought the American Chestnut plantings as seedlings about 30-40 cm tall from the Grand River Conservation Centre in September 2002. The tree that is now loaded with nuts is about 5-7 m tall and its diameter at chest height would be about 12-15 cm. The other two, which grow in shadier spots, are maybe a metre or two shorter and proportionately slimmer. One of them was topped by a moose a few years ago (grrr!!!!), partly explaining its stature; nevertheless, it has one single nut on it! I was told when I bought them that they were grown from chestnuts that came from trees in a small, surviving enclave of American Chestnut trees somewhere in the GR conservation area. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad; I hope it means they have a natural immunity to the fungus.

American Chestnut Tree - Michael Doran - August, 2016

American Chestnut Tree – Michael Doran – August, 2016

American Chestnut - Pennsylvania - 1914 (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut – Pennsylvania – 1914 (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

We have seen only one Monarch Butterfly at a time up at the cabin this Summer. I’m hopeful that the one I saw this weekend is the offspring of the one I saw earlier in the Summer. Their numbers are much reduced up there over the last decade too, sad to say.

In other news, we saw a Scarlet Tanager this summer up there (I have a grainy photo to prove it, taken through the porch screen), the first time in many years too. It has been very dry up there (no surprise, I’m sure), but it is the best year for Evening Primrose that we have seen since 1993.

Bears aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but at least they are well behaved, unlike in 2004 when a gang of four of them tried to break into our cabin while we were there.

Last year, for the first time ever, we saw three Eastern Bluebirds checking out the bird house that I put up in the meadow. Sadly (for us), they found more appropriate accommodation. We saw two again this spring, but they too moved on. I don’t think that the presence of a Sharp-shinned Hawk while they were inspecting the house helped. So I will tweak the bird house and hope for better luck next year (I used American plans; our bluebirds should be a bit bigger, it being colder here, so I will make the opening just a bit bigger).

I love your column and books. Please keep writing!

Michael Doran, Crystal Lake, near Kinmount, ON

Jun 262016
 

I was camping in Killarney Provincial Park southwest of Sudbury last week and took this picture of a Black Bear at the side of the road. It wasn’t until I uploaded the shots to my computer that I spotted her cub hidden in the bracken ferns behind her!

Last night I was walking around Little Lake and saw a pair of loons near Brownsea base. Unusual for early summer on Little Lake.

Sue Paradisis

Mama bear - Killarney P.P. - Sue Paradisis

Mama bear posing for a photo – Killarney P.P. – Sue Paradisis

Black Bear with cub (behind & partially hidden) Killarney P.P. - Sue Paradisis

Mama Black Bear with cub (behind & partially hidden) Killarney P.P. – Sue Paradisis

May 052016
 

At about 6:00 pm on May 4, I was lucky to see a mother Black Bear with FOUR cubs on Beaver Lake Road/FR 220 in Trent Lakes township. About a mile down the same road, I spotted a beautiful Red Fox. Then, along County Road 507 and West Bay Road, I saw a Great Blue Heron in a marsh. Yesterday, just north of Buckhorn, I unfortunately found my first injured Midland Painted Turtle of the year and moved a Blanding’s Turtle off the 507.

Joanne O’Heron

Black Bear - Randy Therrien

Black Bear – Randy Therrien

Great Blue Heron (Paul Anderson)

Great Blue Heron (Paul Anderson)

Blanding's Turtle - Barb Evett

Blanding’s Turtle – Barb Evett

Aug 052015
 

This morning I spotted  a sow Black Bear with three cubs on the Second Line of Belmont (east of Havelock) off of Highway 7. The bears were about 300 metres north of Sama Park. Sadly, I took too long to get my camera out.

Ulrike Kullik

Black Bear - Ernie Basciano - Minden - May 2015

Black Bear – Ernie Basciano – Minden – May 2015

Jul 152015
 

At about 9:30 pm on July 13, we were driving home from a lovely cottage weekend. We were heading north on Northey’s Bay Road, along the north shore of Upper Stoney Lake, 1 km before the community centre (at Highway 28). There was no moon and therefore not much light to see the teenage Black Bear lumbering along the side of the road heading south. He quickly disappeared into the forest as we neared. Perhaps he was interested in the horses and riders which were walking just a little further north! Please drive less than the speed limit at night! A Porcupine was also out for a leisurely stroll along the middle of the roadway!

Sisi Azzopardi

Black Bear- Randy Therrien

Black Bear- Randy Therrien

Jul 132015
 

This picture was taken from inside the cottage kitchen on Deer Bay Reach Road, Lower Buckhorn, at 5 pm on Sunday, July 12. The young Black Bear was climbing an oak tree beside the cottage, possibly to get acorns on the roof. My husband was trying to shoo it off with a cutting board. Closing the window worked better!  This bear has visited several properties recently in the area.

Janet Duval

Black Bear - Janet Duval - July 2015

Black Bear – Janet Duval – July 2015

May 232015
 

I was just north of Minden today (May 22), taking a couple of orphaned squirrels to the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary, and came across a very large Black Bear. I believe it was a male but that is just a guess. He was pretty chunky for this time of year. I was able to watch him from my car for about 5 minutes before he took off into the woods.

I’ve also attached a picture of a Moose in Algonquin taken May 14th.

Ernie Basciano

Black Bear - Ernie Basciano - Minden - May 2015

Black Bear – Ernie Basciano – Minden – May 2015

Moose - Ernie Basciano - Algonquin Park - May 2015

Moose – Ernie Basciano – Algonquin Park – May 2015

Dec 162014
 

I own 100 acres in the Cavan Swamp, west of Mount Pleasant, and put up trail cameras to monitor wildlife activity. On the nights of December 4 and 5, one of the cameras recorded a HUGE Black Bear, which must have weighed close to 400 lbs. It’s by far the biggest bear I’ve ever seen and, being an avid hunter, I’ve seen hundreds of bears.

Don Herriman, Peterborough