Category Archives: nature

Rocking Aspens

As promised, my cousin took me to see the Aspens today. 

We weren’t able to make the trek all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park, but where we did go was absolutely delightful. 

Mud Lake is just outside the town of Nederland, known for it’s quirky nature. Many people who aren’t happy with the gentrification of Boulder have been moving to Nederland, giving it a hippie, homie feel. 

There is even a classic carousel, known as the Carousel of Happiness, that offers great entertainment and history to the younger crowd. My cousin’s son loves it, so we had to be sure to ride before heading back home. 

The 1910 carousel has an interesting story. Visit the website to learn more about the history and community impact of this unique merry-go-round. 

Back to Mud Lake. 

There are several trails around the lake, none of which were too difficult. Perfect for the little man traveling with us. 

  
The crisp autumn weather provided a perfect climate to enjoy the many types of trees. There’s one that apparently smells like butterscotch, which I found interesting, but my favorite were definitely the aspens. 

Whenever conversations about autumn and Colorado come up, all I hear is how gorgeous the aspen trees are. Ever since I decided to make this trip, seeing those trees were at the top of my list to see. 

There were a lot of coniferous trees around Mud Lake, so the region wasn’t as bright yellow/orange as many pictures you’ll see of Colorado in the fall. Those pictures are probably from places like Rocky Mountain National Park, but the trees we saw were no less gorgeous or glamorous. 

  
In fact, the pockets of yellow among the evergreens made them even more brilliant and stunning. Their small leaves were sprinkled along the edge of the path, as if marking the way for our journey. 

I picked up a few leaves from the ground as keepsakes and “presents.” I had had a flute student, when I was telling her about this trip and the aspens, ask me what type of music they played because she thought they were a band (free idea for you all – you’re welcome), so I’ll sign one of the leaves for her. I’m sure she’ll love it. 

Upon closer inspection, it even looked as if the trees had eyes. While I don’t believe in them, I can definitely understand how people came to the conclusion that wood nymphs and other sorts of woodland spirits exist when I see things like that. When I see it, I think of how wonderful and creative Creator we have to have made such beautiful things for us to admire and appreciate. 

  
When we left Mud Lake, I felt satisfied and content. My one desire for this trip has been fulfilled. 

Only one and a half days left! Let’s hope I make the most of them. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

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A Second Chance

Today I had the opportunity to save a life. 

While doing laundry this morning, I noticed a fledgling blue jay on our front porch. I had never seen a baby blue jay before, so my first instinct was to bask in it’s cuteness. 

As I kept washing, my mom also saw the blue jay and made a comment about all the outdoor cats we have in the neighborhood. We ourselves own two cats, but they never go outside and weren’t a threat. The others, though, were likely to make this little creature their next meal. 

I decided to grab a pillow case to toss over the little creature (gave me quite a chase for something that couldn’t fly properly), and gently but firmly held it in my hand. I was surprised that no parent blue jay attempted to five bomb me. This little guy was screeching for a while, but no one came to the rescue. Perhaps it had been abandoned? After a few minutes, though, it relaxed and rested quietly in my hand. 

    
“What should we do with it,” asked my mom. Thankfully, I knew exactly where to take it. 

  
The Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, MD is an amazing place that nurtures and rehabilitates wild animals that have been abandoned, injured, or found ill. 

Mom drove while I held the little jay and we were soon at the door of the Center, which doesn’t look much more than a normal house on a lot of land. The last time I had come was in 2011 with a baby starling that had been found in the old music building at Washington Adventist University before it was torn down. I was given a tour of the place and saw where they kept the birds, bunnies, raccoons, and all sorts of other things while they regained their strength to be released back into the wild, if possible. Some, sadly, do not make it but most do. It seems to be very rewarding work and perhaps someday I’ll get a chance to volunteer

This time we weren’t allowed to tour, but the young man at the desk was very nice and gentle with our little jay. There was also a woman making a documentary about the affect of house cats on birds who asked if I wanted to be filmed for her work. She filmed me giving the jay to the keeper and was going to ask me questions when a woman came in carrying a box with a full grown yellow-billed cuckoo that her daughter’s cat had nabbed the night before. 

The poor creature looked so pitiful in that box, both of its legs broken. I hope it makes it. 

It’s a lesson we all need to learn – if you have cats, please keep them inside. Many endemic species of birds, rodents, and other small animals suffer greatly from house cats hunting them. If your cat must go outside, have them wear a collar with a bell to reduce their stealthiness. Let’s do our part to help our local wildlife and keep our pets indoors. 

Our little jay is in good hands now, and the Center will contact us when it (or the brood it’s placed with) gets released. It’s nice to know that we made a difference in a life, even if it was a very small one. 🙂

To learn more about the Second Chance Wildlife Center, click this link. They are always in need of volunteers and donations. Support a good cause and help give local wildlife a second chance. 🙂

NOTE: Please don’t attempt to handle wildlife unless you have knowledge and experience. If a particularly large or dangerous animal like a fox or deer, call the authorities. 

– Wandering Minstrelette

Algonquin Adventure: Day 3 – Finale

Sadly, our time in Canada has drawn to a close. What a wonderful way to end it, though!

Yesterday we had discovered the Old 127 and how beautiful it was now that it was no longer a major route for heavy traffic. We woke up early to be on Old 127 by 8:15am, and honestly could have made it earlier, in order to get some good birding in. Our efforts paid off, and we saw several different species that we had not yet seen on the trip including one lifer (the first sighting of the species by an observer). We spent an entire hour and some minutes driving extremely slowly, patiently waiting for birds to appear.

We did not, however, leave the vehicle. I refused to, because the amount of mosquitoes and black flies was absolutely insane today. Even though I hadn’t mentioned them before, they had been a nuisance over the past couple of day, but today they were particularly bad and would swarm our van’s mirrors every time we stopped to look at a bird. Even later on, it seemed like no matter how much repellent you wore, they would still follow you like a little black cloud.

The heat didn’t help much either. Once completing the slow drive through Old 127, we headed straight to Lookout trail, which we had not done on either of the previous days. Blue skies meant that the sun was able to strongly shine, making the hike – already considered a difficult one – oppressive. Combine that with the insects… Not a happy picture.

My mom and I decided to opt out of hiking before even reaching the first post marker (all the trails have booklets that inform you about things surrounding the trail and each point it marked by a post), and instead go for lunch.

(You may be wondering how this is supposed to be a wonderful ending, but I promise, it gets better.)

This weekend is a long weekend in Canada, with Monday being Victoria Day, so TONS of people showed up in the park. Apparently this time last year, the Visitor Center had 3,000 people come in a single day. Talk about heavy foot traffic.

All the people made for interesting observation while eating, however, and it will always baffle me how people travel with children under 3. Kudos to them, I don’t know if I could do it.

After lunch, Mom decided she wanted to head back to the house for a nap. Not wanting to waste my last day at Algonquin inside, I dropped her off and went back out to the park myself.

I have to say, I’ve enjoyed spending this time with my mother but it was nice having a chance to be alone in the woods. Some people might find that frightening, but I find it pleasant and peaceful. I feel rather safe in the woods, actually. Often much more so that in a city.

That’s why it was funny to me when an Indian couple who had passed me while walking on the Two Rivers trail, suddenly backtracked and struck up conversation. The woman inquired whether I was out there alone and when I responded affirmatively, her eyes widened and she proclaimed me brave – she was there with her husband and was nervous to be out in the woods. Later in the conversation, she mentions how she very much wanted to see a bear. I wasn’t quite sure how the two fit together… Anyways, I was able to give some suggestions of trails that were shorter and enjoyable for them to try later on. They thanked me and we parted.

Trying to be alone on the trail when half of Ontario has come to Algonquin was rather difficult and I would often let people pass me, wondering whether that would scare off all the birds I wanted to see or not. Thankfully, I would often leave a large enough gap that I was able to see quite a few birds, as well as squirrels and chipmunks.

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I also had the distinct pleasure of scaring a particular loud and slightly annoying group of university students who were proclaiming to the world, it seemed, of how “connected” they felt to nature and responded to each other’s comments and quips with raucous laughter. (Wow, writing that makes me feel like an old woman, lol – these younguns! I’m sure my group of friends and I have been viewed the same at some point.) There was a part of the trail that overlooked a precipice, and there were several parts of the cliff available for visual enjoyment of the scenery. Bits of brush separated sections of the cliff, and I was on a section where I could hear, but not see, the university students.

Not actually intending to do anything that go on my merry way birding, I cupped my hands to let out a long, loud hawk call (surprisingly, I only saw two this whole time, one of which I couldn’t identify…). The group on the other side instantly started chattering – “What in the world was that?” “Did you hear that?” “What kind of animal do you think that was?” “Man, that sounded so close!”

They came scurrying to my section of the cliff where I contently smiled and gave them no further clue as to the origin of the sound.

The hike around Peck Lake was a little better in terms of crowds, and actually in terms of bugs as well. The terrain wasn’t too difficult, but wasn’t flat, and skirted the entirety of the placid waters of Peck Lake.

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I didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife on this trail, but it was such a beautiful walk that I didn’t mind. Again, the peace that comes from being in the woods, smelling its scents, hearing its sounds, feeling its breeze… It truly does make you feel one with nature. When you quiet your heart and mind from the worries of the week and absorb the gifts of God’s Creation, the Book of Nature, you feel more relaxed and calm. Regularly walking in natural areas can reduce stress and make you better equipped mentally and emotionally for handling the stresses of the work week. I highly suggest trying to walk in nature at least once a week – it will do you much good.

Not wanting to have my mother worry too much, I returned to our AirBnb a little before 8pm and started preparations for tomorrow’s return trip.

Our host, Mariska, came down to chat with us for a while and it makes me wish that we had had a chance to hang out more with her and her husband Kirk. Perhaps we’ll get to know them better next time, because you can be sure that I already am making plans to come back up to visit this wonderful park.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Operation Ontario adventures and seeing all the pictures. I promise I’ll post those Niagara photos by the end of the week – I start a new job on Monday, so I’ll be focused on that for the next few days.

One last wildlife count before we go:

(Today) 2 moose, 1 snowshoe hare, 3 red squirrels, 2 chipmunks, heard one specie of frog, and 19 species of birds.

(Total) 8 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 9 red squirrels, 7 chipmunks, 2 snowshoe hares, 1 ribbon snake, heard three species of frog plus one tadpole, and 40 species of birds (3 of them lifers – and yes, I saw my loon).

Praise God for a wonderful trip, not just to Algonquin, but to Niagara and Toronto as well. It’s been great, Ontario. I’ll definitely come back to visit. 🙂

Happy travels!

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Algonquin Adventure: Day 2

My mom and I woke up and left the house a little earlier than yesterday, anxious to get a head start on the day. We decided to cut straight across to the West Gate and hike trails on that end, working back towards the East Gate and “home” by the end of the day.

Well, let me tell you that choosing to do so made all the difference.

Not long after entering the park we discovered an accumulation of cars – another moose! We were excited to see one so early and it proved to be a good omen for the rest of the day.

The first trail after the West Gate is the Whiskey Rapids trail, where once upon a time loggers who were supposed to be bringing a barrel of whiskey to their camp and co-workers, decided to partake early, drank a little too much, and ended up losing the whiskey barrel in the rapids, never to be recovered. That’s what one gets, I guess, for celebrating before it’s time.

Running water accompanied us the entirety of the trail, first as a babbling brook and then as small, but vigorous rapids. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the sounds of birdsong filled the air. In fact, we saw four different types of warblers plus White-throated Sparrows. Doing a proper search for the birds, pshing (making a psh sound at intervals tends to attract birds and bring them up where they are more visible), and then patiently waiting for them to respond and appear caused us to take three hours on a trail that should only have taken one and a half. It was amazing, really – it didn’t feel like so much time had passed.

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Still, wanting to make sure we got as much in today as possible, we headed for the next trail called Hardwood Lookout trail. This trail features the towering presence of beech, maple, cherry, hemlock, and pine trees, all of whom had yet to produce or were just budding new leaves. Leafless branches means that the sunlight is better able to reach the forest floor, which results in the blooming of several delicate and beautiful flowers. We really came at just the right time of year to see these blooms, because most of them apparently only last for the month of May – when the frost disappears and the leaves are not yet out. In a couple more weeks, the sugar maples and beech will have leaf-filled branches and the forest floor will be covered in shade, so we are blessed to be able to have seen these precious forest ornaments.

Again taking longer than expected on this hike because of birding (we saw three species of woodpecker, more warblers, other songbirds, and a Spruce Grouse – lifer!!) and spending some time admiring the view from the cliff that marked the end of the trail, we found ourselves rather prepared to eat a late lunch.

Thankfully there was a store/gift shop not far down Highway 60 where we were able to grab lunch. The Portage Store also provided canoes for rental, either for the day or for multi-day trips. One of the owners explained to us how most beginner itineraries would look like – spend a day paddling until you reach a campsite, set up camp for the night, portage the canoe and your gear to the next body of water (usually not very far away), and keep on going. Repeat for as long as desired. It sounded so exciting to me, although my mom wasn’t too thrilled at the idea, and we wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that at this time anyways. But I already have ideas spinning in my mind of bringing a group of friends up here for a several day canoeing trip – that would be so much fun!

After entertaining ourselves by watching people attempting to get in and out of canoes for day trips and purchasing gas, we decided to run through the park to another store in search of beans for tonight’s dinner. Along the way, we saw several more moose and actually almost ran in to one that appeared rather suddenly on the road. It seemed just as startled as I was, as if it only noticed my presence at the same time I noticed his. Thankfully, nothing happened but I think both I and the moose were in a bit of shock for several moments afterwards. Gracious, that thing was big! I knew they were big, but seeing one that wasn’t knee deep in water finally gave me perspective on how massive of an animal the moose is. And that was a young bull with tiny antlers – I can’t even imagine was a fully grown, mature bull would be like!

The rest of our moose encounters were much calmer by comparison. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a female or a juvenile, all the ones we’ve seen so far have been young bulls.

After doing our grocery shopping, we ran the produce back to the house and decided to explore a road near the our accommodations. The road that we take to get to Algonquin is called Route 127, from which we turn left onto Highway 60 that runs through the park. Apparently there is an Old 127 that is a gravel road that is a bit of a scenic shortcut from the house to the turn onto Highway 60. It took us by a lake with houses on islands, marshland, spruce bogs, and tons of vegetation. Again, we were surprised to not see it teeming with life, but there were a few things we found along the way, like a sandpiper and a dove which I have yet to identify.

Overall, it has been such a good day with gorgeous scenery, much more wildlife, and absolutely perfect weather. I’m definitely falling in love with this park and will be visiting again and again.

Tomorrow we’ll try to catch some of the shorter trails in the middle of Highway 60 that we have yet to try and I’m hoping that we’ll see the last thing on my wishlist for the trip – a loon!

I’m hoping that the next post will tell you that I saw the loon, completing my southern Algonquin experience.

Wildlife count (today): 5 moose, 1 fox, 2 red squirrels, 3 chipmunks, heard one new specie of frog plus saw a tadpole, 20 species of birds.

(total): 6 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 6 red squirrels, 5 chipmunks, 1 rabbit (hare?), 1 ribbon snake, heard 3 species of frog plus one tadpole, and 29 species of birds.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Algonquin Adventure: Day 1

Several months before leaving for Canada, I decided that making a stop at a major park/preserve was a must. After a little research, Algonquin Provincial Park became the easy and logical choice – and I am so glad we decided to visit.

Algonquin Provincial Park was established in 1893, making it the oldest provincial park in Canada. It is absolutely enormous at 7,653 square kilometers (2,955 sq mi), which Wikipedia claims is about a quarter of the size of Belgium. Located within a decent distance from Toronto and Ottawa, besides being considered some of the most pristine, woody wilderness in eastern Canada, has made Algonquin one of the most popular parks in Ontario and the entire nation.

There are over 2400 lakes, hundreds of kilometers of trails, and the southern, developed portion of the park is easily accessible by the Highway 60, which runs through the park. The majority of the park, however, is not developed but allowed to maintain it’s natural state and provides prime habitat for beaver, otter, red wolves, fox, black bears, trout, deer, all sorts of birds, and, of course, moose.

Mommy and I happened to have chose, by complete accident, the best time of year to see moose in the park. Apparently these sodium starved animals will come close to the roads to lick the sodium rich runoffs from salt that had been set out to melt snow and ice. Our AirBnb host, Kirk, told us that there was no way we wouldn’t see a moose while we were here.

Speaking of Kirk, his and his wife Mariska’s home is absolutely stunning. We found them through AirBnb and are staying in a basement apartment that has it’s own entrance, a full functioning kitchen, full bath, large bed, and combined dining/living space. It feels homey and rustic at the same time without being too much of either.

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They were kind enough to allow up to borrow an annual pass to the park, which will save us a lot of money as parking permits for Algonquin cost $17 per car, per day. Apparently they only started welcoming AirBnb guests this past January and have been a hit almost instantly. If you ever plan on visiting this area, I would highly suggest looking up their space.

Both Kirk and Mariska work for Algonquin, which gave us the added advantage of being able to ask them questions about the park and getting solid, educated answers. Mariska works for the Visitor Center and Kirk is actually a park ranger who has spent, as he told us, years running away from administrative positions that would require him to sit behind a desk because the favorite part of his job is being outside all the time. I totally get it – I would love a job like that, too.

So, armed with maps and guide books, we entered the developed area of the park late this morning and began our Algonquin adventure.

Highway 60, as I mentioned before, runs the length of the developed, southern portion of the park. It is 56 kilometers of gorgeous views of lakes, bogs, rivers, and forest. There are several paths coming off the highway for hiking and observing. Some of the trails take about an hour to complete and others can take six. Guess which ones we did today.

The first trail we walked was actually the Beaver Pond trail, which took us around two ponds/lakes that existed entirely because of the engineering skills of beavers. Although we did not see any actual beavers (we did see one earlier on, but not on this trail), we saw several beaver homes and one absolutely incredible dam that looked like the edge of an infinity pool. It was spectacular – rugged, strong, and perfect in its wildness.

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The second trail was called the Spruce Bog trail, which the provided guided book at the trail head called “the wettest desert.” Apparently there is tons of water, it’s just not accessible to anything except certain plants. The bog gives way to a sentinel of tall, skinny black spruce trees that provide a unique habitat for many creatures including the spruce grouse. Which we did not see. It would have been a lifer, but oh well. I did, however, have a chickadee land on a branch less than a foot from my face and a chipmunk come sniff my boots.

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I have to say that in general, I was surprised at the lack of wildlife we witnessed in the park today. With all the bodies of water, we barely saw any waterfowl and no loons. There was no sign of larger mammalian life either, and we started to become concerned that we wouldn’t get to see our moose, despite the previous assurances.

Although neither trail was overly difficult, both mommy and I were a bit worn out and decided to continue our exploring by car. Since the stretch of highway in the park wasn’t too long, I decided to drive to the other end to see if there was anything worth noting to come back for tomorrow. And I’m glad we did because at about Kilometer 35, we noticed a pod of cars stopped along the side of the road which could only have meant one thing – a moose!

Sure enough, a young bull moose was munching the grass and drinking the water by the highway, in search of the sodium he was in need of after a long winter.

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Admittedly, they are not the most beautiful animals. Even on the animal crossing signs they looked gangly and awkward next to the deer.

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To enhance the matter, moose are currently loosing their winter coats, meaning they look scruffy and scraggly. Almost everyone has told me that moose aren’t the brightest crayon in the box either (guess Brother Bear got that bit right), but somehow they are cute and majestic in their “ugliness” and awkwardness. I really like them and they are one of my mom’s favorite animals, so we were both super excited to finally see one for ourselves.

After seeing the moose we continued our journey to the West Gate of the park, turned around and returned to our comfy accommodations. Tomorrow there is so much more to see! Stay tuned. 🙂

Wildlife Count: 1 moose, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 2 chipmunks, 4 red squirrels, 1 rabbit, 1 snake, heard at least 2 species of frogs, and 15 different bird species.

-Wandering Minstrelette