Monday, June 30, 2008

Around the Dock

There were a few times during our cottage stay a couple of weeks ago, which didn't revolve around dragonflies. Please remember to click to enlarge the photos below.

Fishing was the first order of business. We didn't have use of the boat, so we were limited to casting off of the pier. This was a typical scene - Benny at Frank's feet, watching and waiting for him to reel in his line, and then barking at each recast.

Frank snapped this photo of my catch. I wasn't focusing on Benny when I reeled this critter in, but I think what he saw flopping around on the end of the rod led to his new-found habit of...

...biting the rod. Every now and then, Benny would have to take a little nip at the rod, just to let it know who's really boss.

Since the dragonflies were only in the early stages of their development, there were still too many mosquitoes. This made a cozy, evening campfire unlikely. We did build one during an afternoon so that we could roast hot dogs. Frank used this hatchet to chop our firewood.

The hot dogs must have smelled good because this little snake poked its head out from a nearby raft to check it out.

One perspective from the dock. I was leaning back toward the lake to take this shot.

Turning to the lake, this ever-ready net remained unneeded.

A rod at rest.

A dog at rest - in body only. His curious mind never relaxes.

If we abandoned the rods for a while, we'd leave them on the dock, dangling in shallow water.

One had a crayfish clinging to it when we lifted it out.

We tossed it back into the lake but Benny wanted to catch it again.

This Mayfly was resting on the porch screen.

As the day became saturated with the colours of the setting sun, this was our view from the cottage.

Though mostly overcast through the day, the night sky dazzled us with the colours of a sun-kissed country night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dragonfly Wings

Last week we spent a few days up at Frank's family cottage. The weather wasn't terribly cooperative, offering just a few moments of sunshine here and there over the course of the week. We didn't have access to a boat so we were pretty much cottage and dock-bound for our full stay. That was just fine with us.

The overcast days didn't lend themselves to photographing colourful vistas, and since sunrises occur so early at this time of year, I wasn't anxious to get out of my cozy bed to attempt to capture the non-existent sunrise. What was left to photograph?

Last June, when we arrived at the lake, we were greeted by dozens of dragonflies which zigged and zagged their way around our heads, kindly reducing the mosquito population for us. This year, we might have arrived a week before that schedule. There were a few here and there, but it seemed that many of the dragonflies we saw were not in flight.

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This is the empty skin of a nymph. In previous summers, mature dragonflies dropped their eggs into the lake where they grew and developed into nymphs. They stayed underwater from one to a few years, eating, growing and maturing until they were ready to climb out of the water and begin the process of becoming a dragonfly.

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Here is a healthy dragonfly which has just emerged from, and abandoned its skin.

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This one is resting on the dock while its wings unfold and dry off over the next hour or two.

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This beauty recently emerged from its nymph state, and appears as if it is almost ready to fly. Its wings are still too wet to separate. See the water droplet suspended from its tip? It took a little over an hour until it flew off in search of food.

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Here we have a sick or perhaps injured dragonfly. We didn't realize it at the time, but it soon became apparent that it was not recovering from its ordeal as it should. Its body was dry, but its wings remained stuck together, and we could see the droplets of water captured between them. Unlike others which we had observed, this one didn't appear to be able to separate and spread its wings. We wondered if they had not formed properly. Perhaps they were somehow fused together. Late in the day, this dragonfly had not progressed at all. Frank wondered if his fish filleting knife might have a thin and sharp enough blade to help separate the wings.

It seemed to help. With such a skilled touch, he should have been a surgeon.

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A short while later its wings were open for the first time.

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Climbing the rope a few hours later, it appeared to be just as unable to spread its wings as before the "surgery." We placed it so it would be more sheltered from impending rain and predators. In the morning it was in worse shape than before.

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It seemed fairly obvious to us that it wasn't going to make it, so we figured that the best we could do for it was relocate it in a more natural setting and allow it to die a dignified dragonfly death. It clung to my finger allowing for an easy transport.

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I zoomed in for a closer look.

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We gently placed it on the end of a cut branch where it remained for the rest of the day.

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It was unable to capture its own food, so we made a clumsy offering of a recently-swatted mosquito. You can see it over on the right side of the branch if you enlarge the photo. Shortly afterwards, the mosquito was gone and the dragonfly remained.

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Later in the day, we learned that our dragonfly friend still had some fight left in it, when its safety was threatened by a determined caterpillar.

I learned that I could take a video while my camera was on the macro setting. Watch as our dragonfly friend displays its survival instinct as it fights off the caterpillar.

It won that fight, but we're not so sure it survived the night. In the morning, it was nowhere to be seen. It may have become a bird's meal. Had we checked more thoroughly, we may have found it lying somewhere below its previous perch. Or, perhaps it gained some strength overnight, managed to spread its wings and fly. Neither of us really believe that but we'd like to.

In a few days I'll post some random photos taken at the cottage. There won't be a dragonfly among them.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

First Rose

I was about to turn thirteen when my parents bought their first and only house. I had lived in a lovely, old, mid-town Montreal apartment from the time I was born up until the day we moved into our new home. It was a first for us in a few ways.

My first bedroom - I no longer had to share one with my sister. Our first back yard - where I spent much of my summer days soaking up the sun. Most importantly for my Dad, for the first time we had lots of space for gardening. He no longer needed to resort to displaying window boxes on a balcony railing. He spent a great deal of his time tending to his flowers and shrubs - a hobby which he enjoyed, and at which he became quite accomplished. We had beautiful blue hydrangeas, yellow roses, daisies, petunias, pansies, marigolds, geraniums, and impatiens in bloom throughout the summer out front. Vivid sunflowers, hollyhocks and black-eyed Susans shared fragrant space with a lilac bush in the back yard.

The house next door had recently changed ownership as well, and the Portuguese family who took up residence there had three daughters. Two of them were close to me in age, and we became fast friends. The Mom tended a lovely garden of her own in their back yard where she took particular pride in her rose bushes. My Dad was impressed with her gardening ability and they could often be heard discussing soil conditions, fertilizer brands and other gardening tips.

Every summer, my friends' mother would bring my Mom their first and last roses of the season. Its beauty would brighten a room as it breathed its sweet-smelling perfume into the air. I think about my old neighbours every time I see the first rose on my own rosebush.

This one is for them.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Fly-by Shooting

Benny is Frank's dog. The two of them visit me pretty much every weekend, much to my cats' dismay. Benny is a very high-energy Jack Russell Terror who is used to two long walks a day, and several instances of tug-o-war and fetch throughout the course of the day. When he's here, he's also used to a few games of Chase the Cat. Skittles is the more energetic of my two cats, and more often than not, opts to engage Benny in these games. Skitty gets the chance to hiss, spit and growl - activities that he doesn't usually pursue during his everyday life. It gives him a chance to explore his feline roots.

This past weekend, both of the critters were outside. Skitty had wandered over to my neighbour's front yard and was happily munching on some grass - an activity he loves nearly as much as throwing said grass back up on my carpet hours later. Benny decided that a happy cat was fair target for torment. He started running circles around Skitty, each one brought him close enough to give him a little nip or lick as he made contact on the fly. Occasionally, Skitty would get a good swipe in at Benny.

The following series of photographs were taken just seconds apart - one shot for each time that Benny zoomed around and past Skitty.

Can we say "pest?"

I see trouble coming...

Don't even think about hiding. I can see you! (Whap!)

Brace yourself, old boy! (Mrrrow!)

Neener, neener! (Thwap!)

Wheeeeeeee! (Hisssss!)

Touchdown! (Grrrrowl!)

A change of location. (Maybe he won't find me.)


Back in hiding.

If you'd like to read about more of Benny's antics you can find some past blog posts here, here, here and here.

If you'd like to see him and Skitty in action, you can take a look at this little video here.

We'll be heading up to Frank's family's cottage for a few days this week, where Benny will most likely participate in another one of his favourite games - Bite the Waves.

See you next week!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Finding Inspiration

I often post images of the scenes and creatures I encounter while walking along the paths of my local park. The pond within, offers a setting which is inviting to a wide variety of birds, but it also attracts animals of the human variety, including camera-toting bloggers.

This post is no exception. When you scroll down, you'll see some photos taken around the pathways near home, but my mind has wandered to a few of the regular characters I see during the course of my walks on any given day.

One evening, when Frank and I were out walking Benny, we noticed a youngish woman walking toward us from farther along the path. Another person, walking a medium-sized dog approached her from the same direction we were walking. There was nothing aggressive nor even curious about the dog as it neared the woman, but she forged a wide detour around him, which took her off of the path and onto the grassy area nearby. She resumed her pace on the pathway several meters behind him. It was obvious that she was afraid of dogs, and so we reeled Benny in to allay her concern, and to save her the extra steps. Frank tried to tell her that Benny was quite harmless. Her smile was sweet and apologetic, but her outstretched hands said "Keep away." We respected her fear, and speculated about what may have caused it.

I've seen her several times since that day. A few of those times I had Benny with me, and the woman always walked out of her way to avoid passing too closely to him, and always with that same shy, contrite smile. On the days that we've crossed paths without canine company, her smile was big, bright and relaxed. I feel bad that her life's experiences have molded her in such a way that she is fearful of what may lurk around the next corner, but I admire, and feel inspired by her ability to keep walking these paths despite her fears.

In the late afternoons, I'll often encounter another inspiring woman. She's in her late sixties or early seventies, and uses a walker to get around - the kind with four wheels, a flip-up seat and a frame that partially wraps around the body for support. The paths are hilly and steep enough to require moderate exertion when biking, so I am always quite impressed to see this woman travail as she takes in the sights, and exercise both her body and her will. Occasionally she'll stop, flip down the seat and have a rest, which is when we'll chat for a bit.

One day last week, I saw her resting on the dock, staring out onto the water. The late-day sun was glaring into my eyes, making the small silhouette which caught her attention difficult to see. I squinted more effectively, and focused on and snapped the photo of the fuzzy, yellow gosling shown in the previous post. She offered her theory as to why there was only one offspring. She believed that some other creature has been attacking the rest of the flock at night. She was probably right since I've not seen any sign of young water fowl after that day. I do hope to chat with her at length one day soon. Her spirit and strength is ennobling.

For the last several years, I occasionally encounter a tall, slender man who walks slowly - a large, impressive lens-laden camera hanging heavily from his neck. I would usually rush past him, iPod clipped to my waistband, keeping pace to the music that only I could hear. From time to time, I would catch a glimpse of him - his deliberate saunter drawing him to a bush or by the water, his eyes never losing their locked focus. He was busy observing. If he'd look up, we'd pass each other with a nod and a quiet hello. I was always curious about what he was photographing, but never wanted to intrude on his hunt.

It's no coincidence that his stance is rather birdlike in appearance. It turns out he is one of the best bird photographers I've ever seen. We finally began chatting last summer when I embarked on developing my own interest in photography. Mario is a soft-spoken, intelligent aerospace engineer who immigrated to Canada from his native Romania some years ago. His recently-discovered passion for photography has occupied much of his free time, and he can often be seen tentatively stepping toward the bushes and trees of parks and conservation areas in order to capture that perfect shot. And he always does.

When I don't know what species of bird I've just seen, I know I can find out in a hurry, as Mario would have already seen, photographed and provided information about it days earlier on his
site, or readily advise me in a quick exchange of email. He may not know it, but he has inspired me to work harder at attaining better shots by waiting, watching and mostly by learning which creatures can be found just steps away from home.

A few weeks ago, Frank and I were sitting at a picnic table which overlooks the pond, not far from the dock to our right. Coming from that direction, we could hear the distinct sound of a woman's voice singing a gospel song. Glancing toward the dock, we could see a middle-aged black woman, moving rhythmically to the music she created. She knew there were others in the park, but she danced as if she were alone on that dock. She wasn't. Nearby, a white teen-aged boy scurried awkwardly, back and forth between the rail at the edge of the dock, and the grassy area behind it where a tall weeping willow grows. We were drawn toward them.

A closer look told us that the boy was mentally handicapped. He was taking great joy in finding sticks beneath the tree, and running over to the water to toss them in as far as he could. His eyes beamed with pride as we applauded his efforts, and he immediately ran to repeat his ovation-worthy performance. The woman belonged to him - possibly his care-giver or his adoptive mother. Her beautiful smile told us that she too took pride in the applause and admiration that was shown for her impromptu song and dance. Perhaps she sang to help sooth and keep him grounded. Perhaps she sang to help sooth and keep herself grounded.

She explained that the boy could not speak. He could vocalize though, and his enthusiasm mounted with each splash he made in the water below. He'd then turn to us to await our appreciation and encouragement, which we happily delivered. After a short while, he enlisted my help by grabbing me by the hand and running with me to the waters edge to make sure I would see where his stick landed, and applaud the deed. I thoroughly enjoyed our wordless communication. After we said our good-byes, we walked home wondering about the relationship between woman and boy, and marveled at how inspiring it was that they each existed within their own space, doing what it took to keep afloat amid the sticks and debris that were tossed into their respective waters.

I'm looking forward to seeing and chatting with all these inspirational people again throughout the course of this summer.

Below are some photos taken during the past couple of weeks. Please remember to click on them to enlarge.

Before leaving my yard, I noticed this iris bud a day or two before it bloomed.

And these tulips in full bloom.

I'm not sure what this small flower is, but they're growing wild in the park. Water droplets accumulated on its petals shortly after a downpour.

I liked the little crinkle at the top of one of these heart-shaped petals.

This cute little guy looks like he's doing some sort of a Kung Fu-type pose, but the image was snapped the split-second before he turned and ran off.

This young robin was also keeping a watchful eye.

Stopping to enjoy the water fowl, I noticed this chalk drawing on the dock. As indicated, Tanaika is a 14 year old artist who obviously took a liking to one of the Mallards. I'm glad I was able to capture a shot of her art before the rain washed it away.

Generally, our lake is populated with Canada Geese and Mallards and other transient creatures. Occasionally we'll see a few different species of ducks stop by for a day or two, and then move on. This Wood Duck seems to have decided to make this place its home. It's been here since the winter.

This dead tree stands pretty tall and unobscured from view. Its bare branches allow a winter-like look at the birds which perch upon them. The tree came alive with dark silhouettes against the pre-dusk sky. These two appeared to be deep in conversation.

And this loner actually showed up the night before - when it was a little later and a little darker.

I live less than twenty minutes from Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Consequently, there are planes going by every couple of minutes. As this one cruised by overhead, I caught its reflection in the lake below.

And one last airplane (did you notice one in the small photo at the top of the page?), silhouetted against the setting sun, taking off for places unknown. Perhaps it's flying to where you live...