Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

Looking at clouds from both sides

2018 08 11 billowBy David Hawke -- A trait shared by both weather forecasters and creative writers is the ability to accentuate the mundane, embellish the boring, until it becomes quite exciting.

To be a creative writer one does not need to be a weather forecaster, but to forecast the weather one does need a good aptitude for creative thinking.

          This can be seen daily in any forecast: “Tomorrow morning will have a 10-percent chance of showers, turning to 30-percent by afternoon.” In other words, dear reader, there is a 90-percent chance of sunshine in the morning, and despite the possibility of a few clouds floating in later on, still a 70-percent probability of continued sunshine!

So why the accent on the negative? Even though the day will be gloriously sunny, the small threat of rain takes precedence within the forecast, as if trying to shake your smug confidence in enjoying your vacation. Seems to me this negative-first system must have invented by some dour Scot whose clan motto is “Don’t enjoy the good stuff because sooner or later you’ll pay for it” (I can say this as a good part of my heritage is dour Scot).

The other part of creative weather forecasting is to make it sound so much worse than it really is: “A gentle breeze will waft about the countryside, occasionally being punctuated by damaging gusts of wind.” Therefore, don’t fall asleep in that hammock, dear vacationer, as you could wake up on the other side of Lake Simcoe! Oh sure, you can lay there, but be ever vigilant for that rogue gust… it can come out of nowhere! At any time! Never let your guard down, especially while on a relaxing vacation.

As we all well know, this summer has been wickedly hot, and oft heard are the good old sayings “Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk,” or “Must have been 104 in the shade.” Unfortunately, I believe Health Canada now prohibits the frying of eggs on sidewalks, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit is actually only 40 degrees in Celsius, and thereby loses a lot of verbal impact in the translation. May I suggest "Hot enough to melt your plastic-paper money"? No? Okay, you come up with something better.

Are weather forecasters happy giving us dire warnings of temperatures in the high 20s or even mid-30s? Nope, they feel we must have more drama in the daily report. So, in 1965, we Canadians came up with a system to make hot temperatures sound even more miserable, a thing called the Humidex (which sounds like a Superman archvillain to me, but then I wasn’t asked to be on the naming committee).

The Humidex ranking is based on a combination of air temperature in the shade and the humidity (or amount of moisture) in the air. Our human bodies have adapted to keep our inner selves at a more or less constant 38 degrees Celsius. This level of interior heating is optimum for destroying most fungal infections yet low enough to allow our body to metabolize the food we take in. When our body temperature rises above this magical level, we get feverish and cannot perspire fast enough to cool the body.

What all this medical talk means is that when the outside of your body is warmer than the inside, you feel sick. And that sums up the way most of us felt the last couple of weeks when the Humidex regularly approached 40 degrees! Of course, it probably wouldn’t have felt quite that bad had the Humidex scale not been invented… we would have just thought that, "Wow it seems hot for 32 degrees." Silly us.

The other thing about weather is that it happens all year long, which provides good employment opportunities for weather forecasters. But what happens when the temperatures are low and the dreaded Humidex can’t be used to scare weather listeners? Ah, that’s when the wind chill index comes into play.

Wind chill is a combination of air temperature and wind speed, with the resultant number being how cold you’d think it was if standing naked atop a snow bank. Minus 10C with a gusty wind (there’s that awful ‘gust’ brought into play again) makes you think it’s minus 20C, even though it’s actually just minus 10. But, if you are standing naked atop a snow bank, I don’t think you really care about these finer points of weather prognostication anyways; you probably have other things on your mind, like, "How did I get here?".

There should be a t-shirt manufacturer that can print up snappy slogans on a whim, with red and yellow colored wiggly lettering that says, “I survived Humidex 38!” or for the foolishly brave: “Humidex 41… bring it on!”.

Writers of the creative bent are allowed certain freedoms in their craft, their ability to embellish being an enviable trait to be emulated by those who follow their every keystroke. Thankfully, these writers do not regularly submit weather forecasts, or we’d end up with stories like: “Overnight, as you slumber peacefully, large cylindrical orbs of hydrogen and oxygen will stratify the area where you live; accompanying this liquid coverage of the earth will be gusts… woe, the gusts!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap on the hammock, even if there is a 3-percent chance of torrential rain… I think I can risk it.

© 2018 David J. Hawke

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Barn swallows need the right conditions to nest

2018 08 08 BarnSwallows.small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By David Hawke - It seems that some farmers will do anything to best their neighbour.

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Luckily for us, dragonflies eat mosquitoes

20180716 TC Agnew Canada Darner 4

 

By David Hawke - Spiders make some people jump. Bees and hornets make some people cringe. Mosquitos and deer flies make some people crazy. And then there are the dragonflies.

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Hunt is on for scaly wings

2018 07 22 swallowtail revBy David Hawke -- Every July they emerge to scour the countryside, long-handled nets at the ready.

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Nature's darker side

Tomasini fox 1

By David Hawke (Photo by Chris Tomasini) -- As I write this, and certainly by the time you read it, the subject of today's column likely will be dead.

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A dewdrop fell from a small flower - a tiny link in Nature's chain

2018 07 07 woodsorrel         

By David Hawke -- A vibration caused a dewdrop to quiver and fall from the leaf of a small flower that is growing at the base of a cedar tree... 

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The Nature of Canada

2018 07 01 canadaflag

By David Hawke  -- "The Nature of Canada" is the course title of a program that I have the privilege of co-teaching at Lakehead University in Orillia.

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Giant silk moths are big, bold, beautiful – and fascinating

2018 06 25 Cecropia small

By David Hawke -- They are big. They are bold. They are beautiful. They are elusive yet unmistakable when found. If you think I'm talking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie you are so in the wrong column.

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Chasing cows - not a favourite sport

2018 06 17 cattle small

 

By David Hawke — It's been a while since I wrote an article about cattle.

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Wildflower blossoms decorate our Lake Simcoe area

Moccassin Flower reduced

By David J. Hawke — Our local woodlots, meadows and wetlands have already been decorated with a wide variety of wildflower blossoms, and it's only going to get better.

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Curiosity, effort and luck reap double reward!

20180520 Barred Owl 4x6 small

By David Hawke - The sound coming from our woodlot was eerie, not just because of its sound but that it was the middle of the afternoon. Eerie wails are a night-time thing, when raccoons, fisher and other things that go bump in the night are out and about. It was a single note, drawn out with a downward slide to it, repeated once every two minutes.

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Why our turtles are at risk

20140623 Hawke turtlesBy David Hawke - Over the past few years you may have (should have) noticed new roadside signs being installed that indicate the area is used by turtles to cross the road from one side to the other.

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How to see the 'wee feathered beasties'

2018 05 20 binocs By David Hawke – Taking the time to observe nature is an eons old pastime.

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Birdwatching - a look at the wild side

2018 05 11 hawke osprey        

By David Hawke -- "Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the boidies iz?"  While the origin of this little jingle is arguably from Ogden Nash, it has been recited in our family for years. And sure enough as spring arrived, albeit in a stormy and haphazard way, so have the birds.

          The act of birdwatching can be passive or intense, superfluous or in-depth. One may simply check off names (mentally or on paper) or one may opt to study bird behaviour in some detail. This column is about three observations of bird behaviours: the aggressive, the adaptive, and the normal.

          Beside our home is a shallow creek, along whose banks grow grand and ancient black maples. These great trees are beginning to die from old age and, high above the once strong limbs and trunks, are now riddled with decay and sprouting fungus shelves. Within one such sizeable branch is an excavated hole, perhaps about half the size of my fist. A week ago, you could see chips of wood being tossed out from this hole and catch an occasional glimpse of the hairy woodpecker busy inside.

          A couple of days ago, I heard a frantic commotion going on and upon investigation, found several birds down in the creek. As I approached, starlings, woodpeckers, sparrows and doves took flight in several directions. Left laying in the mud was a female hairy woodpecker, totally soaked, bloody and muddy. She had the energy left to hop up a nearby sapling and haul herself above my reach, but it was obvious that she was done for.

          I wondered how she had gotten herself into such a mess and was given the answer the next day. Again, a terrible fuss was heard, this time high above, near the nest hole. As I watched, the male hairy would poke his head out, and a starling, which was perched beside the entrance hole, would grab the woodpecker's head and try to pull it out! Such was the aggressive competition for nesting sites. Such was the fate of the female woodpecker the day before.

          The next bird observation took place along the busy paved road that connects us with the rest of the world. As I came home one evening I noted a large hawk-like bird rising from the field with prey in its talons. To cross the road, it had to fly through the telephone and hydro lines that parallel the pavement. With deft flipping and flapping, the bird managed to do so and continued on its flight across the next field.

         

          While that was interesting enough, the shock to me was that the bird was an osprey and the prey was a sizeable fish. But this was farm land. Just as I went zooming by, I noticed that a medium-sized pond had been built within the rolling three-acre lawn of a neighbour. And within this artificial pond had been placed fish.

          Imagine the osprey's line of thought as it flew by: “Hmm. A pond, in a field, with fish. Cool, I can live with that.” And it is. The question remains, can the landowner who created the pond and stocked the fish now live with the osprey who has adapted its area of hunting?  

          The third observation was made just outside the growing mini-metropolis I call my home town. What were once large and undulating farm fields are now filled with box-like houses, box-like stores and straight rows of paved roads. But along the borders of this “progress” can still be found grassy strips and shrubby lots, land too small or too awkward to access to be considered “valuable land.”

          Within such a grassy slope a red-tailed hawk spied a garter snake and dove down to capture it. (No doubt the nearby mice were thankful that something else had caught the eye of the hawk that day.) For the past several decades prior to the arrival of “progress” this small field had been home to a wide array of creatures, from insects to wildflowers, from sparrows to groundhogs. And today a hawk did what comes naturally, it caught its daily food from within the web of life that continues to exist here.

When the hawk rose from the grasses, prey not quite firmly in hand, it landed to readjust its grip. Its perch was large, brightly coloured, square sign which read "Commercial Land For Sale". Like a customer grabbing a deal in the closing-out sale of a long-established store, the hawk had paid a final visit to this remnant of land.

          Birdwatching… more than a passive hobby... a revealing peek into the world of our wild neighbourhoods.

© 2018 David J. Hawke

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

While there's still a chill to the morning air, many wildflowers are doing their best to carpet the forest floor: red and white trilliums, fawn lily, spring beauty, blue cohosh, wild ginger, and squirrel corn to name a few. I hope that any mid-May frost will not be enough to knock them back.

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The early bird gets the worm - and the radio backpack

By David Hawke - "T20180423 Bluebirdshe early bird gets the worm." True, especially in June, but what if the early bird has arrived in an April snowstorm? Our recent spate of weather really put to the test the notion that "only fools rush in".

The spring migration of birds has been occurring in these parts of the country for a few thousand years, ever since the first shrubs and wildflowers returned after that bothersome glacier melted away. Where there was food and shelter the birds would find it. Our records of this annual migration go back in time only about 200 years, so it's hard to accurately extrapolate the earlier 11,800 spring arrival dates. What the data lacks in quantity we make up for with intensity, as the current methodologies for tracking bird flight is truly awesome.

Representatives of several species have been captured, banded, and outfitted with a wee backpack. Inside that backpack is a battery, an antenna, and a radio code. Built along the entire Atlantic migration route, from Florida to Ontario, are many receiving towers that will pick up the presence of these birds as they pass by. As tiny blips show up on massive computers, the movement of these birds can be monitored fairly closely. Arrival times at certain destinations can be forecasted within hours.

This tracking of the birds allows us to better understand migration routes and perhaps a bit of the "why" and "how" these avian critters survive disruptive weather patterns. Do they sense impending doom and hunker down in Pennsylvania? Do they push onwards through the night to ride a warm thermal? Do they time their travel to meet emerging insects? Does the ice-out date of a certain lake trigger advancement?

All that aside, you and I know full well that it's not really spring until the first robin arrives and can be seen bob-bob-bobbing along in the yard. May not be the most scientific of ways to mark a new season, but seems to work for us anyways.

When that three-day snow-ice-slush storm hit in mid-April, several birds had already arrived, including robins, woodcock, killdeer, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, and Canada geese. These were the 'early birds', arguably the foolish ones that had rushed forward to lead the vernal migration. Oopsy... guess who got caught in the cold and snow?

Because each of these species has had several thousand springtimes to figure out this migration challenge, many have come up with survival strategies. Some retreat, some hunker down, and a few die thus eliminating the 'I'm going to get there first' trait of those adventuresome individuals.

The advance-retreat-advance method is noted with the waterfowl, the ducks, geese and swans that seek open water. Scouts are sent forward to determine which lakes are ice free... if they don't come back the next sortie is dispatched... if they don't come back it's time to move out and advance the flight!

The duck species that nest in the more northern parts of Ontario have an additional worry... can they get there soon enough to build a nest, lay eggs, raise young, and get out again before the next fall freeze-up? To ensure they don't get caught short with a late spring, they pair up, mate and begin egg development while en route. That way, as soon as they arrive, a nest can be thrown together and eggs laid immediately.

Robins and bluebirds are cousins within the thrush family, and share similar foods in their diet. Worms, bugs and other juicy things are preferred, but squishy fruit will do in a pinch. This is when all those fruit-bearing shrubs that you planted around your house come into play. Crabapples, highbush cranberries, nanneyberries and other soft fruits will be sought out by these birds.

Bluebirds will also do a group hug to stay warm on a chilly early spring night... there are many reports of a cluster of bluebirds found huddled inside a nesting box turned bird hostel.

Seed-eaters, such as fox sparrows and white-throated sparrows, will enjoy the late winter seeds at your feeder, jostling for position with the resident chickadees and blue jays. If they can find any natural seeds, so much the better.

The bird I'm most impressed with for spring hardiness is the woodcock. These long-beaked birds thrive on earthworms, yet when they first arrive at our farm such delicacies are below the snow and trapped by ground frost. I was fortunate to watch one the other day as it foraged between ice chunks and melting sections of our stream. It bobbed and wobbled (as woodcock do) and suddenly thrust its beak into the crusty mud. Success! A muddy and barely moving worm was extracted and gobbled down. After a few minutes the bird bob-wobbled again, and procured yet another worm. Amazing.

As weather watchers and birdwatchers combine their interests the results will hopefully reveal a few more secrets of the natural world that surrounds us. And what might the benefits be? Well, curiosity sated if nothing else. And maybe the changing behaviours of these early birds, these foolish birds, will carry a message to help us adapt to an ever-changing climate. After all, they've been working on it much longer than we have.


© 2018 David J. Hawke

David Hawke may be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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Turkey Vulture - the roadside cleaner

 

2018 04 28 turkeyvultureBy David Hawke — The word 'catharsis' means to clean or purify, a word brought forward from the ancient Greek language.

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The crime? Raiding the bird feeder. The culprit? Caught! In photos

20180422 BWRaccoon

By David Hawke — The crime scene, if I may call it that, first appeared rather quiet and orderly.

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Have we learned anything about importing species?

2018 04 15 starling rev

By David Hawke - This week's blog started out to be about European starlings, those somewhat despicable birds that insist on nesting in your mailbox, over the porch entrance, or wherever a deficiency in the exterior of your house occurs. However, as oft occurs when one does research on a subject, distractions happen. This is such a story.

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Trees need moisture, and lots of it

2018 04 08 hawke trees

 

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Weasels go by many names

2018 04 02 skunk rev

 

By David Hawke - Weasels are known by many names, such as politician, ex-partner, sly competitor, unscrupulous land developer... oops, I seem to have gotten off-track.

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