Fireworks and fireflies

Me in my kayak with sparklers

Last weekend, the little girl next door turned five years old. Other than having a dragonfly-themed birthday party (a huge departure from the usual Frozen theme), all she wanted for her birthday was to stay up late after dark.

To honour her wish and give her a birthday she’ll never forget, we hatched a scheme with our neighbours to shoot off fireworks at the lake at dusk.

It was a warm summer evening, one of those nights when the air hangs heavily like wet clothes on a clothesline and the water is as still as glass. Shortly after eight, we headed down to the lake and piled in boats and kayaks. My neighbour Bruno was the pyrotechnician. He devised an ingenious launching pad in his boat (he only has a trolling motor, no gas can!) so he could light the fireworks, then swing the wooden stick that was serving as a launch pad away out into the water for safety.

Within minutes, we heard little voices chattering excitedly coming down the hill. The kids piled into their pontoon boat, anxiously anticipating a special treat.

Their eyes opened wide when the first fireworks lit up the sky. Burst after burst of sizzling rockets, fountains, firecrackers and sparklers were met by squeals of delight and cheers and claps.

After the show, we lit up sparklers on the dock and in the boats. From my kayak, I wrote the birthday girl’s name in the air with my sparkler, just like we did when we were kids.

As we were getting ready to head home, we looked up the hill. The brush and trees were lit up by fireflies, flitting like mystical fairies in the dark. I guess Mother Nature didn’t want the show to end.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy some fireworks or fireflies this summer. If you want to read more about fireflies, check out this earlier post.

Kids watching fireworks
Kids watching fireworks
Fireworks in the sky

Who wants to be a millionaire?

My house

There’s a new trend sweeping the nation, something we’re all secretly indulging in and speculating about: what our houses are worth.

According to a Statistics Canada report released last month, the net worth of Canadians rose by $770 billion in the first three months of 2021 with the net worth of households with a major income earner aged 55 or older being over $1.1 million dollars.

The vast majority of this is from house values. At the end of March 2021, the average price of a Canadian home was over $700,000, and that was before the housing market started going crazy.

You don’t have to look further than the crop of SOLD signs on lawns and online to see the frenzy.

We’ve had two friends who have sold their houses in the past few months. Each had more than 50 showings in a week, received more than a dozen offers and had people write letters why they should get the house. In both cases, their houses sold for 20% over the asking price. It’s downright crazy.

For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s singing along to The Barenaked Ladies, “If I had a million dollars”, it’s a bit surreal. In 1992, when the song was released, the average house price was $149,864. Since 1985, prices have risen by 5.65% annualized over the past 30 years.

If you look at our parents’ generation it must be unfathomable. My parents bought their tiny two-bedroom, one bathroom bungalow in Port Credit, a now bustling suburb of Toronto for $11,000 in 1954. They couldn’t afford the much bigger and nicer three bedroom house up the street for the extra $2,000. It’s still there today, nestled between the mansions that line the street now.

Yes, things have definitely changed since the Ladies sang, “If I had a million dollars…I’d be rich.” A million dollars probably wouldn’t get you a shack in downtown Toronto or Vancouver.

But it is fun dreaming of what we could sell our houses for until you realize you need to buy somewhere else.

Happy speculating.

Ed. Note: If you are thinking of selling and getting out of dodge, check out this Moneysense magazine article featuring the top ten best places to buy in Canada where you’ll get good value for your money. Spoiler alert: beautiful Bancroft, Ontario is #1. Here’s a picture of our house–while it may not be worth a million dollars yet, we’re happy with our million dollar view.

Where eagles dare

December is always an interesting time on our lake because we get unique guests: migrating birds and ducks heading south as the northern lakes freeze.

This year we’ve had some very special visitors. For the past week, we’ve had five bald eagles take up residence on our lake. Now even if you aren’t a “birder”, spotting one of these magnificent raptors is considered a “feather” in your cap. I’ve seen bald eagles many times in Red Lake Ontario, and in British Columbia, but I’ve never been able to see them so close and watch their daily antics and habits.

We saw the first eagle last Saturday—it was literally sitting outside our sunroom windows and it was MASSIVE. We thought at first it was a golden eagle because it was all brown with a hint of gold on its neck, but we are now pretty sure it was a juvenile bald eagle. Many people may not be aware that only mature bald eagles have the white head—juveniles are nearly all brown.

Then the next day a magnificent adult bald eagle landed on the same perch off our deck. All week they’ve been soaring from treetop to treetop,  looking for fish and having a grand old time. There are three adults and two juveniles, and what’s interesting is the adults don’t seem to have much to do with the youngsters—kind of like us and our teenagers right now.

Bald eagle in a snowy tree

I especially like to watch the eagles terrorize the flock of common mergansers on the lake. They like to dive bomb the ducks and let out a few high-pitched chirps. The ducks get all upset and flap their wings and take off. I swear the eagles are actually laughing at them.

They have been a marvel to watch. Here are some pictures I’ve managed to take this week although they are quite shy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to keep your eye out for a different type of raptor in the next few weeks instead of the ones that usually play in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.

If you are interested in birds, why not join the annual Christmas Bird Count in your region?

The CBC is the largest citizen science project of its kind. It started in 1900 and happens between December 14 and January 5 across the country. Local groups choose a single day during that period and conduct the count—counts are carried out within a 24-km radius. The information is fed into the National Audobon Society which uses it to track species and impacts on bird populations.

The South Frontenac and Kingston bird counts this year are on Saturday, December 19. With COVID this year, they are hoping more people will come forward to simply count birds at their backyard feeders. Here’s where you can find out more information on the Frontenac bird count or message me and I’ll send you the info. Happy viewing!

Bald eagle in tree
Bald eagle flying

It’s not over until the heron leaves

Here we are. Despite Covid, despite Trump, nature has blessed us with another spectacular show of fall colours in Eastern Ontario.

I find this time of year, I bring my camera with me wherever I go, longing to capture that perfect shot, but rain and clouds have been my nemesis this fall. Every time I head out, the clouds roll in and the trees seem to transform from a brilliant debutante into a dowdy old maid.

I was paddling in our back lake the other day, and here’s the good news, the heron is still here.

Herons are the first to arrive each spring, and the last to leave each fall. In the spring, you’ll see their majestic return as the first creeks and streams open up, well before the ice has melted from the main part of the lake.

In the fall, after the loons fly south, the turtles stop sunning themselves on the logs, and the beavers stop being so busy, it is the solitary heron standing sentinel over the chilly waters.

Some people say it’s not over until the fat lady sings. I say it’s not over until the heron leaves, so get out and enjoy the last of this brilliant fall weather.

Here are some photos from my fall photo essay Autumn ablaze last year and from my latest outings. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Old faithful

Author in her blue flannel shirt

For the past 20 years, we’ve spent Labour Day weekend up at our friends’ Murray and Libby’s cottage for our annual “Labour Day classic weekend”. This year they came to us due to COVID.

No matter where our Labour Day gatherings take us, I have one old faithful friend who has my back, literally, the final weekend of summer–my checkered blue flannel shirt.

I’m not sure when exactly I inherited it from Dave. It was some time when we were first dating or married, but one day, it somehow ended up in my closet instead of his. It’s been my faithful friend ever since.

Old faithful always makes an appearance on Labour Day weekend. It’s a great dock shirt when the summer sun begins to wane and the cooler autumn breezes return. And it’s a great cottage companion since it doesn’t care how much dirt, grime, wine or food gets spilled on it.

It’s been my faithful friend all these decades and is still as comfortable and comforting as the first day I wore it.

So here’s to you, old faithful, the memories we’ve shared, and always having my back. And here’s to the final days of summer. Enjoy!

Author's husband in the same shirt
Dave wearing old faithful many moons ago

The night time is the right time

whippoorwill

 

Special guest post by Alison Taylor

I have been spending more time in my screened-in gazebo this summer.  Not only during the evening cocktail hour, but as day turns to night.  It is one of the best times to sit back, listen, and watch the show.

There is that magic time when the sun sets and the daytime creatures tuck into bed and the nighttime creatures wake up.

The crickets get going first, then the creepers and tree frogs. Next, the whip-poor-will calls out….and if he is close by, he goes on and on and on. Anyone who has heard one knows exactly what I mean. They are very difficult to see as they are masters of camouflage, but you can’t miss their call. Around our place, they like chatting with their friends and we often hear them calling back and forth in the night.

As I sit still and listen to the nighttime symphony, you can also tune in to all the bugs that are busy buzzing in the night (definitely glad to be in a screened enclosure!)  I’m not sure what different species there are–not a real bug lover–but I can confirm the mosquitos are alive and well.

The best part of the evening is the call of the Great Horned Owl. We also have a few in the area that like to chat with each other. I find their call peaceful and soothing, not like my whip-poor-will friends. When you hear the owls, you get to know each has a distinctive call and they do sound like wise owls as they calmly chat with each other.  I wonder what they are saying?

This week’s #HappyAct is to eavesdrop on nature at that special time from dusk to dark the next time you are in the country.  I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Editor’s note: We are very lucky to have several owl species in Eastern Ontario. While Alison may be hearing Great Horned Owls, she may also be hearing the popular Barred Owl, which is famous for its “who cooks for you” call. If you are ever lucky enough to see these shy magnificent creatures, the Great Horned Owl has yellow eyes and tufts of feathers protruding above the eyes, to make it look like they have horns. Barred owls have brown eyes and no tufts. This is a picture of a barred owl I took at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area–not a great picture, but he was still a handsome fellow. You can see the difference between him and the Great Horned Owl, pictured below. Happy hooting!

 

Barred owl in a tree

Great Horned Owl

Swimming in the rain

raindrops on a lake

My hands move rhythmically beneath the surface of the water
The water parts unwillingly, creating a wake with each stroke

The water is calm and cool
Dark clouds swirl above
Threatening the peace and stillness

The first raindrops fall
Tiny circles ripple across the surface

The drops grow in intensity and size
Until the entire lake is like pebbled glass
Or bubble wrap in an Amazon shipment

The raindrops make a perfect, pitter patter pattern
Pounding down, then reversing upwards to the storm clouds
The skies’ tears flowing freely

I glide through the water
Watching the drops dance and leap like the lead dancers in a ballet
It is blissfully peaceful

A thin veneer of fog forms on the horizon
A rainbow appears and I swim towards my treasure
The droplets cleansing my sins

Ed. Note: I wrote this poem one day last week on my iPhone after I went for a swim in the rain. I’ve never figured out why people don’t swim when it’s raining. You’re going to get wet anyway. I find swimming in the rain one of the most beautiful, peaceful times to swim. Of course, at any sign of thunder and lightening, make sure you get out of the water to be safe.

This week’s #HappyAct is to swim in the rain. Enjoy!

If I could talk to the animals

baby loon

It’s official. I’ve gone Covid crazy and have started talking to the animals. I have become Dr. Dolittle.

I had no choice. After four months of living in close quarters, my family has stopped listening to me. The animals still listen.

I had a spat the other day with a five foot black rat snake that was crossing the road. I started off asking him a joke. “Why did the rat snake cross the road?”. He just lay there, heckling me in silence. Then I told him he better hurry up or some mean person might run him over. I kicked a few pebbles toward him to urge him along. He recoiled and hissed at me. “How ungrateful”, I said.

The next day I had to apologize to a kingfisher when I startled him in the back lake. It was very still, and as I paddled up to him, I let out a huge sneeze. He jumped two feet off the branch and flew away, chattering the whole time. “I’m sorry, your highness”, I yelled as he flew off in a huff.

I presided over a christening for our loon family on the lake. We christened the baby “Letty” since her parents are Lionel and Lucy. They inform me Letty is doing just fine, and has learned to dive and fish.

I swore at a fellow creature when I surprised a mother bear and two cubs on my nightly walk. I was on a desolate stretch when I heard a rustling in the trees beside the road. Thinking it was a deer, I stopped and peered in the woods. I heard a few snorts, then saw two bear cubs scramble up a tree.

“Holy sh**t” I exclaimed, then looked to the left to see the mother standing on her hind feet, staring at me. Running through my head was the silly song, “The other day, I saw a bear, a great big bear, away up there… she looked at me. I looked at her”, then we both took off in opposite directions.

Mostly I’ve been having friendly conversations with our little chipmunk that Clare has been feeding. We talk about the weather, what’s for breakfast, how many nuts he can stash in his cheeks (he says 12), and how many tunnels he’s dug under our lawn.

Oh, if I could talk to the animals, think of what fun it would be…

Go wild for wildlife

Moose in a pool

Last week, I blogged about the abundance of birds who have made this spring a delight. It’s only fair that I give the same air time to the animals who have reclaimed the land during COVID-19.

There have been many news stories about foxes, raccoons and other animals being seen more frequently in urban areas. Just this past Friday, a moose decided to take a dip in a south Ottawa pool. It was a hot and muggy day, so who would blame him. I heard a deer wandered in front of one of our local radio stations here in Kingston last week too.

For those of us who live in the country, run ins with wildlife are a regular occurrence. But even at our house, we had three interesting wildlife encounters in this past week alone.

Last Saturday, I was woken up by a strange screeching sound around 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I went back to bed, but in the morning, the ruckus continued and we discovered two porcupines screaming at each other in the tree down our path. I’ve seen and heard a baby porcupine cry when it went too far on a branch and couldn’t get back to its mother. They make the weirdest sound, something between a screech and a squawk. Well, the first porcupine at the top of the tree was squawking at the other one to get out—it was his tree. Finally, the second one climbed down the tree and loped down the path in defeat. Watch this video to see what they sound like.

The next day, Clare and I were sitting on the dock when we heard rustling in the underbrush on the hill between the lake and our deck. The last time we heard this, our neighbour’s dog Buddy was chasing a baby fox across our property. This time, it wasn’t Buddy, or a fox, but a fast moving brownish animal with a bear like face and a stubby tail. He went up the hill toward the house, but then came down the path and stopped behind the canoe, only about 10 feet away from us. It was a fisher.

Now I don’t know how much you know about fishers, but you definitely don’t want one on your property. They are vicious and one of the only animals that will kill a porcupine (I thought of our prickly friends from the day before and hoped they made a clean getaway). Fishers have rapier like claws and will kill cats, small dogs, and any small animals.

There was even a story in the Whig-Standard a few years ago of a fisher that dropped from the trees on a local hunter (a relative of my friend Karen who took the black-necked swan photos from last week). He said the only thing that helped him not be seriously injured was he was wearing a hood.

I was surprised at how fast this particular fisher could move. After hiding behind the canoe, he went back up the hill. Clare said she saw him as she was walking up the path, his brown face peering out between a crevice in the rock face only about twenty yards away. We’re still a little freaked out every time we pass the cliff on the way to the lake.

Our final wildlife adventure came two nights ago when we heard something moving on our front porch. We have a bad habit of throwing our recycling on the porch, then taking it to the barn the next morning. I had tossed out a coffee cake container, and there was a very handsome raccoon helping himself to the crumbs. Raccoons can be nasty too (we’ve lost several chickens to raccoons) and last winter, we had one big fat fellow eating our bird seed every night on the back deck, but at least this guy was kind of cute.

This week’s #HappyAct is to go wild for the wildlife. What encounters have you had in the wild?

It’s for the birds

Birdhouse and wren
Our little house wren on the post beside her new home

There have been several interesting and unexpected phenomenon that have come out of COVID-19. One is how the animal world has reclaimed territory as humans have retreated. Nowhere more can this be seen than in the abundance of migratory birds in Eastern Ontario this spring.

While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a birder, I have enjoyed watching and identifying all the species that we’ve seen on our property in the past few weeks as the weather has gotten warm.

We’ve had all the usual suspects: blue jays and eastern kingbirds, goldfinches, woodpeckers and robins. The herons, loons, barn swallows, kingfishers and red-winged blackbirds have all returned to the marshes and lakes.

But I can’t recall seeing so many different types of birds like we have this year. We’ve seen flickers, cowbirds, bobolinks, baltimore orioles, rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeaks, yellow-rumped warblers and blackburnian warblers. We’ve even had two wood ducks show up several mornings in the trees watching us eat our breakfast.

And the songs, oh the songs. This morning, as I was planting my annuals and perennials, I was serenaded by a beautiful brown house wren who has taken up residence in one of our birdhouses, while a rose-breasted grosbeak tried to drown her out with his own magnificent melody. If you look up the song of a grosbeak in the bird book, it says, “rising and falling passages, like a Robin who has taken voice lessons.

My friend Karen sent me a picture of two black-necked swans that flew over their boat at their hunting camp near Tamworth. They are considered “exotic” so you would normally never see them in this region.

Yes, it’s been a banner year for the birds. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and make a new fine feathered friend. Happy birding.

Black-necked swans flying over a lake
Rare sighting of two black-necked swans