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