Category Archives: Nature

Bees and Pesticides

Honey Bees with beekeepers
Honey Bees with beekeepers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve seen numerous reports over the past couple years about declining bee populations in North America in general and in Ontario in particular, leading to the question, what’s killing bees.

 

In this CBC article, a beekeeper says millions of his bees have been killed by a new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Premier Wynn is doing what all politicians do…she’s forming an expert panel to produce a set of recommendations by spring of next year. Meanwhile the folks who make pesticides along with some scientists suggest that the culprit may be Varroa mites and not the pesticides. Corn farmers say they need the neonicotinoid. What if both the mites and the pesticides are contributing to the collapse of bee populations? Perhaps there are other factors at play as well.

From the Globe and Mail July 31: This past winter was one of the worst on record for bees. In the U.S., beekeepers lost 31 per cent of their colonies, compared to a loss of 21 per cent the previous winter. In Canada, the Canadian Honey Council reports an annual loss of 35 per cent of honey bee colonies in the last three years. In Britain, the Bee Farmers’ Association says its members lost roughly half their colonies over the winter.

So why are the bees so important? They pollinate a high percentage of our flowering crops, meaning with no bees we’re going to lose a lot of food directly, not to mention crops that are used to feed livestock.

We’d better get this right and get it fixed.

Chanterelles

I took the dogs out for a walk in the woods this morning, and was fortunate to find around 30 chanterelles. They’re a little hard to see right now. There is a lot of leaf litter on the forest floor and the chanterelles are just peaking out from under it. I had hoped to find some edible boletes too, but mostly just found boletes with red pores – not for consumption. I saw one bug-eaten lobster, a few yellow Amanitas and some red russulas and that’s about it. The chanterelles were the highlight.

Chanterelle hiding in the leaves
Chanterelle hiding in the leaves

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From the “I hate when that happens” department

Cyclist chased by wolf on Alaska Highway.

I once encountered a wolf many years ago while I was cross country skiing. I saw prints in the snow first. It was early morning and I was the only person out on the trail. I thought the prints seemed really big for a dog, but didn’t worry myself over it. A few minutes later I was skiing along the top of a ravine and in front of me a wolf came up the hill and parked beside the trail. I didn’t know what to do so I just kept on skiing as if I didn’t have a worry in the world. The wolf didn’t move. It just watched me pass. I was plenty un-nerved, I can tell you that.

I’ve seen coyotes a number of times, including right close to where we live in Long Branch, in the SW corner of the amalgamated Toronto. Once I was fly fishing the Nature Conservancy stretch of Silver Creek in Idaho. There are several paths there that find there way from the visitor centre to the stream. I was coming up for a bite of lunch and noticed a coyote on a path below me, a path that ran parallel to mine. I stopped. The coyote stopped. I continued walking, and so did the coyote. We played this game until I got close to the visitor centre and parking area and the coyote peeled off.

Never have I felt in imminent danger. This fellow in Alaska must have felt very scared when the wolf ripped a bag off the back of his bike!

Rivers

I’ve been drawn to rivers since that day as a young boy my father gave me my own spinning outfit and took me to a little creek where I caught my first trout. I find it hard to pass a river without stopping to check it out. Why go all the way to Upper Michigan, you might ask. Why not stay home and fish the Credit or the Grand up the road? Part of the reason is simply the adventure of the roadtrip. Then there is the special literary lore of UP rivers, thanks to Robert Traver and Ernest Hemmingway. As well, on the Upper Peninsula you can fish two, three, four streams all within an hour or so of driving. Parts of the mountain west are like that too, where some fishermen give themselves challenges such as catching three different species of trout in a day. (in the mountain west they also like to combine fishing and hunting in an extravaganza known as a “cast & blast”).

Indian River at the campground
Indian River at the campground
Indian River at the downstream end of the prime trout water
Indian River at the downstream end of the prime trout water

UP Rivers mostly have a brown tinge from tannins in the water. This makes it difficult to discern how deep some of the runs are without getting in there for a look. Most of the rivers are lined with deadfalls and tag alders. Some are difficult to wade. Bottoms are mostly sandy but there are holes and there are spots where you take a step and sink down, down, down, spots where you get mired in the muck and can barely move.

The Indian in the campground stretch is difficult fishing but it is a stream that boasts outstanding growth rates and big trout. There is a lot of wood in the river to snag your fly, and there are many trees across the stream, forming deep pools and making it very hard to move about without getting out of the river and negotiating around through the bush. In the absence of bug hatches, this is streamer water. I hooked a very large brown trout in the pool featured in the top photo. I only glimpsed it before it wrapped itself around a log and shed the hook, but I would say it was a brown of 20+ inches. In the bigger water featured in the lower photo above, I caught a very nice brook trout of about 13 inches. The lower water was way easier to fish than the campground stretch. First, the mosquitoes were not nearly so bad. Second, rather than a jumble of logs, the stream was defined by pools and runs and bank cover. I tried to access the Indian at another spot, in which I drove along a two-track to a primitive campsite. A trail then led toward the river. I checked out the trail prior to gearing up and came across these mushrooms growing out of moss.

Unidentified mushrooms
Unidentified mushrooms

I don’t know what these are. They are among the few mushrooms I came across all trip. Their caps were about 2.5 inches across. I found them where the trail became mossy and spongy and wet. At this point, well along the trail, and knowing the river couldn’t be far away, I got the sudden feeling that I might get lost deep in these woods, never to be found. There was a time when I would not have even considered my safety in a situation like this. I would have sallied forth without a worry. But these days I think about it, and I decided the river was just too far from the car and the car was just too far from the road and the river was difficult….and I turned back.

The Little Indian
The Little Indian

The Little Indian is beaver water. It’s slow and meandering. When you try to wade it, the bottom is spongy and silty and you need to have a care you don’t sink into a hole or trip on a hidden branch and go for a spill. It’s beautiful water. I found it to be like a hatchery for small trout, 6 and 7 inchers. And then surprisingly, a fat 9 incher came up for my tiny dry fly. There will be big brook trout in this stream but I think the only time to get them would be late evening, just before dark. In the heat of the afternoon when I visited, a 9 inchers was about the best I could expect.

The Driggs
The Driggs

Deadfalls, tag alders and deep runs make parts of the Driggs a challenge to fish. The river has great access with a two-track that runs along much of its length. It features many S-curves, some surprisingly deep pools and runs and a very health population of brook trout. I didn’t catch any larger than 11 inches in this river but when it was hot, as it was all day Tuesday, I lost count of the the trout I caught and released. (what is this strange compulsion to chase after trout, anyway?…I can’t explain it. Robert Traver took a shot at it with this famous quote: “I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”). The Driggs seems inaccessable until you get in the water. It looks deep and tangled. How do you cast with all those trees and tag alders? Once you are in the water, it is as if you have been enveloped by the river. You find the rhythm of casting to avoid the alders on the backcast and on the landing. When you move, it is a wee step at a time, slowly and gently.

I pulled off on one of the two-tracks that follow the river, and as many of them do, the trail ended beside the river at a primitive campsite. But this one was special. I found a memorial there.

Memorial
Memorial
Memorial
Memorial

Was this a favourite camping place, a spot where a group of guys met and camped and fished together? Are there remains buried there or is this simply a memorial recognizing the importance of this remote pinprick in the universe to a few people who cared about it? I decided not to fish the river at this memorial. It was their spot, and I left it for them.

Fox River
Fox River

The Fox is among the most famous trout rivers in Upper Michigan. There is a lot of water and many accesses. Wading a stretch like this one, I tie a bandana in an obvious spot on some tag alders so I can find my way out again later. Once you wade a half mile upstream or downstream it become very difficult to find the trail that took you to the river. Years ago I fished this river and almost got myself badly lost. Now I leave a marker.

Fox River
Fox River

Many of the locals float the Fox, usually in 12 or 14 foot aluminum car top boats, occasionally in canoes. Tourist fly fishermen often float the river too, in belly boats or one-man pontoon boats. The local guys I talked to are somewhat bemused by fly fishermen. “Ya, some of those fly fishermen are mighty fancy, but if you really want trout, you’ll use a minnow (dead or alive, apparently it matters not) with an inline spinner tied about 10 inches from the hook.” One fellow I talked to complained that they lowered the possession limit from 10 to 5 trout in the Fox to better manage the pressure on the river. “It ain’t right. We deserve to take 10 trout.”

Good bug bad bug

This post has background music. Lanquidity by Sun Ra and the Arkestra.

I pulled into the Indian River Campground with the duel idea of fishing the river and checking out the campground, with an eye to setting up camp there for a couple days. It was deserted. Why? It was clearly deserted because it was home to an unbelievable number of the fiercest mosquitoes in America. I opened the car door and ducked out of the way as millions of the little bastards flew in. This led to the question, how do you get them to leave? The answer is to drive fast with all the windows open. On this stretch of the Indian, there was no respite and  eventually the mosquitoes drove me off the river. In other places, the mosquitoes came in waves. At the campground on the Fox River, I tried to play the canjo. The rhythm went bum-ditty bum-ditty bum-whack. WHACK. Bum-ditty whack. Whack WHACK. Bum-ditty whack. On Wednesday, a warm day with gusty swirling west winds, the mosquitoes just about disappeared. Curiously enough, Wednesday offered the slowest fly fishing of the trip as well. There seemed to be a connection between being tormented by biting insects and catching trout, a connection I can’t understand.

Mosquitoes are not the only insect pest around the UP. I saw several of those parasitic nasties we call ticks during my travels. I took to checking in the tent,  checking my clothes, and having a good look at my legs in the tent each night before bed, just because the idea of having one of these mini-monsters attaching itself to me does not impress. I don’t like any of the other critters that attach themselves to me either (like leeches and lamprey). Last year, around home, a tick found its way to Memphis’ head and one got Rossi too, and in both cases I had to gently but firmly remove them with pliers. Certain black-legged ticks or deer ticks carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease and as far as I’m concerned that makes them extra nasty. I guess ticks really don’t belong in this post because I think they are arachnids (like spiders), rather than insects, but to me, they’re bugs, so I’m including them.

The Driggs river runs through a sandy plane and at every place I accessed the river, the sandy banks were mottled with anthills. Big ants. Medium-sized ants. Tiny Ants. Anthills everywhere. Everywhere. Thousands and thousands of anthills. At one point I thought it was one really really huge ant colony, a world we know nothing of.  The number of ants on the edge of the river did not escape my attention, as ants are trout ice cream, and I always carry a few ant imitations in my fly foxes. (the trouble with most ant imitations is that they are hard to see on the water. There is one clever pattern that solves this problem – the parachute ant, but that is for another post).

Stenonema vicarium? The March Brown or the Gray Fox
Stenonema vicarium? The March Brown or the Gray Fox

The real good guys of the insect world are the mayflies. First, they don’t bite. I like that. Second, they’re lovely, like flying sailboats. Third, trout love them. The one in the photo was with two of its friends on my tent one morning. Let me say that I’m not a mayfly identification expert, although I sometimes like to imagine I can tell one variety from another. I suspect the one in the picture is the mayfly I always called the Gray Fox. Somewhere along the way, guys who spend their lives thinking about bugs decided that Gray Foxes don’t exist, that they’re actually March Browns that have a slightly different colour about them. That is to say, they are both Stenonema vicarium. In any case I didn’t see any of these guys on the river, only on the tent. I did see a number of light coloured mayflies, the kind we fly fishers call Cahills. And I saw some others that, if it were still May in Ontario, I would say were the ones we call Hendricksons, but it isn’t May, so I don’t know, either the timing is different on the UP or they are another variety of mayfly altogether. Finally, the predominant mayfly emerging from the rivers were the ones we simply call Olives, or Blue-winged olives, or Baetis. There are different Olives, different sizes from very tiny to pretty small in the scheme of things. Trout like all of them. I found a fly pattern known as the Usual to be an effective imitation most of the times I saw the bugs emerging.

There were June bugs and other beetles and dragons and damsels and loads of those yellow swallowtail butterflies. And, there were little wormy larvae that fell from the pines at my campsite onto the picnic table and the tent. Let’s not forget caddisflies, another trout favourite, flitting and bouncing about the surface of the stream. Bees. Wasps. Sowbugs. Those oddball stick-like mantids. House flies and other true flies (Diptera – two wings) like midges and deer flies. I’m sure there were many more I failed to notice, little bugs that live in the bark, in wood, munching leaves, or just hanging out being bugs.

 

 

Pilgrim on the Road

Pilgrim on the Road
Pilgrim on the Road

The weather changed quickly from a cool morning with a menacing cloud overhead to a hot clear afternoon, one of several rapid weather shifts I experienced on the Upper Peninsula. This turtle was crossing Country Road 450 where it crossed The Driggs River very slowly in the heat. This turtle had places to go, things to see. I agree with my friend here that the river on the upstream side of the bridge is more interesting than the river on the downstream side.

Here are Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band performing Pilgrim, from the recording “The Mountain”. I listened to this full blast in the car several times while rolling down the highway last week.

Once upon a time….

Let me first assure you all that this post is a work of fiction. It must be because any old fool knows what you see here is not possible. There are no edible mushrooms in Southern Ontario (we’ve been through this before). The morels you see below are fictional mushrooms that were picked in a fictional land where edible mushrooms are abundant.

Yellow Morel
Yellow Morel

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I’ll post some fictional video later. Some of you may say the video looks real, but as I heard many times on the news in the past week, video can be doctored so don’t believe anything you see.