Seasons – Part One

by Jennifer Howard

Well, autumn is moving right along. And it has been beautiful. Colors, mild, sunshine galore. Clear starry nights. We were blessed with a beaver blood moon eclipse on November 8th and it was a beautiful clear night. I went out at 3 am and started shooting in my backyard. I was joined by the beautiful call and tremolos of our resident screech owl.  Just made the night more special to me. One is never alone. And since I was up, I then drove to the lake when the moon was no longer visible and got the most incredible sunrise ever, hundreds of migratory birds, gulls, and terns, all waking up to the golden skies. I was surrounded by beautiful life. Listening to migratory birds flying at night was also part of my eclipse experience.

This is the time our trees drop their leaves, to provide shelter for other life if we allow the leaves to remain on the ground. The bare branches make it easier for us now to see the night skies, catching the milky way on a moonless night, and opening our eyes to the beauty all around us. This is the time when our wildlife is all getting ready for winter, storing food, looking for a place to hibernate, and finding berries, nuts, grubs, acorns, pine cones, and leftovers in farmers’ fields. They eat constantly to gain much-needed weight to get them through the winter. For deer and moose, it’s a time to get ready to bring new lives into the world come spring. The rut. Be aware and do not interfere as their minds are preoccupied and they are big and strong. “Love is in the air,” I guess one could say. 

It’s a wonderful time of year. While most of us get into the clean-up mode. It’s really best to wait a while before you trim those plants and rake those leaves. In fact, leaving them is the best thing you can do for our wildlife friends. Yes, I know, it’s messy. But it gives life. Even if you do just a bit of cleanup to keep you happy and leave the rest. It’s a very important habitat for our tiny wildlife species, insects, bees, certain butterflies, caterpillars and so much more.

Wood frogs actually hibernate under the leaves, they freeze, and come spring, they thaw out and head to the vernal pools to breed and lay their precious egg masses. Vernal pools (seasonal pools of water) are critical for certain species to lay their eggs, and for the young to grow while these pools are still wet; vernal pools actually dry up later in the spring unless we have a lot of rain.  And without them, our wood frogs and other frogs and salamanders wouldn’t survive. Quite spectacular.

Queen bees will actually overwinter under the ground, so the leaves give them more protection. So, while the leaves protect some tiny species, cutting some flowers back but not all provides an empty stem for other bees and insects to winter in, and the dead flowers provide birds with seeds and insect larvae through the winter months.

Our miniature world is quite incredible. But so tiny we tend not to think about how they spend their winter months.  How important our leaves etc. really are. Brush piles are also good to help birds hide from predators and weather, animals to weather out a storm in. But other brush piles you plan to burn need special attention if you plan to burn them. Please make sure no one lives inside.

Winter is fast approaching; snow will be falling soon and some animals actually change color to blend in to protect themselves from predators. Snowshoe hare turns white.  Tiny little weasels change to white such as the least weasel, long tail weasel, and short-tail weasel, also known as ermines. Collared lemmings which are from the arctic also turn white and burrow under the snow as well as willow ptarmigan, and arctic foxes. What wonderful features nature has provided to help protect them from their predators.

This is a reminder that winter way up north holds the beautiful snowy owls, if their food (lemmings) get scarce they make their journey south right into the Toronto area and places in between. Please and I can not stress this enough. DO NOT USE RAT POISONING. You poison everything that eats these poor souls, owls, foxes, coyotes, hawks, etc. The list goes on, oh, and cats.  Please be kind. It’s a horribly cruel death and live traps are kind and work. Also do not post your owl sightings. Owls need to be left alone to rest, to hunt peacefully for their survival.

DO NOT FEED. These animals are wild, they are perfectly equipped to hunt and find food on their own. Plus, when you feed you have no control over who you lure in. Healthy and sick don’t mix, disease spreads to healthy animals when fed in a close area. Distemper is horrible this year, raccoons mostly and some skunks too, it can also spread to foxes. It’s an awful death. And there is no cure. You may also attract coyotes. A coyote has a healthy fear of people. But if they get fed, they lose that fear, long story short, a fed coyote is a dead coyote, they always pay for our mistakes. But it’s not their fault. If you see an animal in distress, call us right away. Get a photo if you can.  We will help you and assess the situation.  During the winter months, we mostly admit sick and injured animals at the centre. The first year for all young is the hardest. Sometimes they need help, and that’s what we are here for.  So, remember, do not try to do it yourself, always make that call. Always. 905 729 0033.

So as the last days of fall continue to be on the mild side, changing every day, however. Get out and enjoy. Go sit by the lake and get the last of the migrating waterfowl, loons etc. You may see a mink or beaver swim by, always an added bonus. Take a walk in a forest but always keep your dogs on their leashes, remember to look up in the trees for special sightings. Forests are magical places where we are the visitors, so please, leave no footprints behind. One day we will wake to a covering of white beautiful snow. A change of season for all life. Sparkling in the glowing sun. Hoarfrost that glistens on all the grasses and plants etc. A truly beautiful sight. One I love to go out and photograph as one can even see the snowflake/ frost shapes that form it if you shoot in macro. Beautiful beyond. Take it all in. Open your eyes. Mother nature is beautiful and oh so peaceful and healing.

Jen Howard

Procyon volunteer/photographer

Enjoy the gallery, Seasons. Photos by Jennifer Howard

Seasons – Part One