Fall babies

It’s… baby season??

🍼🍂: Some critters have babies in the spring, and then again two or three more times before winter comes. Which explains why, when I went for a run the other day, I ended up with this baby chipmunk on my shoe!

🐿️🍂: Coming around a corner in the forest path, I heard a small unfamiliar rustle in the leaves to my left. On closer inspection, I discovered I was surrounded — by baby chipmunks! Their ears and feet too big for their bodies, like little stripey puppies. So a chipmunk, but with the cuteness dial cranked to 11. I’d chanced by a chipmunk burrow just as the babies made their first explorations of the aboveground world.

From Hinterland Who’s Who: “at four to seven weeks old, the young chipmunks begin to leave the burrow to forage. At first they are unafraid, but after a few days above ground they are more wary and escape quickly if disturbed…”.

🌰🍼: It’s a little unusual for chipmunks to have a second litter in the fall, but they’ll do so in a favourable year. And this does seem to be a good year for acorns…

Though this particular baby was very bold — it ran over to me on the path, had a chew on my shoelace, and then ran off again — it didn’t show any signs of distress. A baby critter that is human-clingy or acts in a “are you my parent?” way is showing an unnatural behavior that may indicate they’ve been orphaned.

🐿️🤹: But these baby chippies seemed healthy and rambunctious. I encountered them again in the same spot a few days later, and this time everyone was too busy trying to climb twigs and sedges and check under every leaf to be fussed with me. Perfect.

🐸🐰🦌: In the past couple of weeks we’ve also had encounters with baby tree frogs, baby cottontail bunnies and seen a young fawn with its mom on the trail camera. My own attention may have turned to stacking this year’s winter firewood, but it seems fall baby season is still in full swing!

Have a great week folks! 🍂



There is no frog.

Little gray treefrog we relocated to a red oak(it was on the BBQ and we were about to make sausages…). It was on the tree for about 2 minutes before we had trouble spotting it again, and we put it there.

“Frogberto” seemed quite content with the move.

Have a great week folks!


D-I-Why Not fauna

Downstairs Neighbours

Woodburned this little scamp on the weekend. I wasn’t sure what to draw, then I looked out the window and fifteen thousand chipmunks went running by…

There are so many chipmunks here that I suspect our home sits on a bedrock of swiss cheese.

It would be so wonderful to know what goes on here, under my nose, beneath my feet. The rabbit warrens and chipmunk tunnels. Where the voles and moles and mice live. Snake dens, toad hidey holes. I glimpse only little flashes of tails disappearing, a crevice that doubles as a front door, a dug out doorway into a slopeside home. The original earthship builders.

The presence of chipmunks reminds me that I’m perched on an iceberg. The earth below is teeming with life, and I walk obliviously on a hundred rooftops. Tunnels and dens and caches and retreats and sanctuaries. Under my feet, life goes down and down and on and on…

Burned on local cherry wood, an offcut from the work of @mysticwoodcarving (now @rhizaecosm).

Have a great week folks! 🐿️


homeMADE tracks & scat


I found a pretty perfect coyote paw print in the mud yesterday, and thought I’d have a go at casting it!

2 parts plaster of paris mixed with one part water. I cut the bottom off a plastic ricotta pot to use as a retaining wall for the plaster goop. Carefully poured in the plaster mix, and left it to solidify for 24 hours. I returned this morning to find well preserved wild canid toe beans! I think I’ll mount it by the front door so I can hi-five a coyote whenever I leave the house…

FOX, DOG or COYOTE — How can you tell?

Here are 3 tips to help tell whether a single print belongs to a wild canid (fox/coyote) or a domestic dog. (NB There are exceptions to every rule, hence my liberal use of the word “tend”… 😉 )

1 — 🌕🥚 Round vs Oval. Domestic dog prints tend to have a round shape overall, with toes more splayed out. Wild canid toes tend to all point forward, and the overall shape is more oval.

2 — 🗡️🥄Claws. Wild canids tend to have sharper, pointier claws than domestic dogs. They spend less time walking on hard surfaces like pavement and floors.

3 — ✖️🐾 The X Factor. In a wild canid track, because of how the various pads relate to each other, there tends to be an ‘X’ shape through the middle of the print. See if you could draw an X through the print, and not touch any pads.

My ID: I believe this track is the front paw of an eastern coyote. The dimensions are bang on for a coyote’s front paw, ~2.75″x2.5″. Fox would be a little smaller, closer to 2″, even allowing for fuzzy mud measurements, and it lacks the callus ridge I’d expect to see at least a hint of in a clear fox print. Let me know if your eyes see otherwise, and you have a different ID!

I’m really chuffed with how well this first attempt at casting went. You betcha I’ll be trying this again!

Have a great weekend folks! Don’t forget to set aside some time to play in the mud.


tracks & scat

Following Fish…ers

❄️⏳: There’s a lot to love about a snowy winter. For one, it gives everybody a superpower — the ability to look back in time.

❄️📝: Because snow’s crisp white pages note every passing. From the stealthiest critter to the tiniest one, in snow, they all leave their mark. Even when their paws or hooves move in total silence, the snow records it. A fisher went this way, a fox went that. Mice scurried back and forth and back and forth and back and forth under this fallen tree. A weasel wandered along the ridge, and a deer did a u-turn.

❄️📚: It all happens before I get there. But snow is a great storyteller, always ready to share its tales. An otherwise quiet walk is enlivened with a cast of dozens, story after story, chapter after chapter.

👃👀🔍: In other seasons, the stories are often written in invisible ink. One day perhaps I will learn how to read the missing moss, smell the earth more thoroughly, notice crushed grasses, follow gentle tracks left in morning dew.

But for now, in the winter, I’ll revel in the bright bold text of these frozen moments. This peak into the recent past. There are still plenty of mysteries — the snow doesn’t do spoilers — but it’s enough to follow some of the plot, meet some of the characters.

It’s storytime. 💙
Wishing you all well in this first chapter of 2023 ❄️


birbs homeMADE products

Birb’s Eye View

🐦✏️: This is a little winter wren that is actually not a winter wren but instead is a Carolina wren. Because I got aaaaaallll the way through drawing a winter wren and then read that most winter wrens move out of Ontario for winter. 🤦‍♀️

🍄❄️: (In my defence, I ran into a winter wren in the woods here just a few weeks ago. Though I guess a few weeks ago the woods were also full of oyster mushrooms and not snow.)

🐦🔁🐦: Fortunately I was just a brighter belly and an eye stripe away from a Carolina wren — who *does* overwinter in Ontario. And who is also super adorable, and is also a sometime resident of our woods.

🖨️❔: This artwork is intended to be printed up as this year’s Maker’s Dozen holiday card. Though I’m having trouble finding a local printer with recycled (or FSC at minimum) cardstock. It’s really put a WRENch in my plans. Any recommendations in the Quinte West area welcome! 👍

Hope you’re having a great week folks!❄️🐦🌲

🙌🏳️‍🌈: And thanks to the incomparable @wellpreservedcreative for reminding me to quit playing colour wheel roulette and just look at colour theory when I’m stumped. (*Rogue colour choices remain my own.)


amphibians birbs

The Night Shift

Owls and salamanders 🦎🦉🍂
🕯️🍂: A little before midnight last night, I went for a short candlelit walk. There’s always a lot to do this time of year, before the cold and icy thrall of winter. But right now we’re perched on that point between light and dark and warm and cool, and I try to make moments to go notice it.

🦎🚪: When I got back to our front door, I found a little friend sat on the door mat. A blue-spotted salamander. As perfect as it could be. A nocturnal critter that enjoys the damp and dark, its hunt was just starting up as we wound down for rest.

👶🐈❓: When I crouched down to look at this blue beauty, I noticed a call repeating in the night air. A bit like a child, a bit like a cat — a Great Horned Owl. In the autumn, their calls become more prominent and frequent. Now is the owls’ time to court and set territories, before they make their winter babies.

🌜: Life doesn’t end at nightfall or pause for the cold or wet. The lead roles are taken over by a new cast, but the story — the story never stops.
Have a great day slash night slash day folks! 💙
👣📝: I am only holding the salamander to move it away from the front door where we come and go and come and go — aka a High Squish Zone. I popped them into a nearby pile of logs and we both went on our way. 👍


fauna wild inklings

Bunnies, bees, and armpits

🐇🌱Bonus bunny! Painted with plants. (Buckthorn, wild grape, oak gall, avocado, and sumac.)

🚁🌻: Before the bunny, I actually started off painting a cool hover fly that Neil photographed in the garden (pics 2 and 3). I noticed it not only looked very bee-like, but it was interacting with the flower in a very bee-like way. So I fell down a whole rabbit hole (hehe) learning about hover flies, and how they are a super important pollinator! Adult hover flies feed on nectar and pollen, and are “often considered the second-most important group of pollinators after wild bees.” (🤯) So they don’t just look like a bee, they be like one too!

☣️💪🐍: Critters mimicry of each other is so fascinating. In Thomas Halliday’s book “Otherlands”, he describes how slow loris, when threatened, imitate a spectacled cobra. They raise their arms up behind their head, shiver, and hiss. From this position they can also access a gland in their armpit which, when combined with saliva, produces a venom “capable of causing anaphylactic shock in humans”. (🤯🤯)

I didn’t even know it was possible to have armpit envy, and yet, here I am.

🐇📚: Well look at that, cute bunny, you’ve tricked us into learning about hover flies AND a different kind of “pit viper”. Well played little lagomorph, well played!

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend folks. Happy August!



The Freeze Game

Mid-morning on a Saturday, I headed up to the woods for a walk.

Passing Piney, the sole white pine in that part of the woods, I rubbed my fingers in a patch of pine resin dried on his bark. I find the scent intoxicating. I had been having difficulty getting out of my head and properly arriving in the woods, and the smell pops me suddenly and effectively to where I am standing.

I decided to smell the resin for as long as the scent remained, and was happily huffing the pine-tipped tips of my fingers when I saw a large bird flush from the ground, about 10 meters to my left.

I froze, wanting to see it before it spooked further. And focusing my gaze deeper into those trees, I realized it was not a large bird that had lifted from the ground, but the head of a deer. There was a doe to the side of the trail, about 10 meters into the brush. She, like me, had frozen.

A part of me, and I admit it is a large and loud part of me, immediately went to reach for my phone. “Pics or it didn’t happen” has wheedled probably a little too deeply into my brain.

But on this morning, I made a good choice, and left my hands where they were. The moment recorded only by my own devices, rather than the kind I carry around in my pocket.

Now remember I was in the middle of sniffing pine resin on my fingertips when I spotted her, and that is exactly how I froze. I had also just stepped over a rock in the trail, and my feet were in a moment of awkward pigeon-toedness.

And that is the pose I would stay in, until this stalemate broke. “Stillness, in many ways, is the ultimate camouflage.” (~Ray Mears)

It was the deer who broke first. She began tentative small movements. I didn’t react. She made her movements a little bigger. I didn’t react. She bobbed her head owl-like from side-to-side, trying to get a read on the shape she was sure she had seen in motion only a moment before. I didn’t move.

She flicked her white-tail to its alert position, and bounded up the trail. But not the full alarm bound I have seen when deer decide to really hoof it out of harm’s way. A small scale alarm. Just a few meters further up the trail. A little further away from me, and conveniently for me, a little further upwind. The whims of the breeze still protected my scent.

But she wasn’t done with me yet. Though she looked like she might resume browsing, instead she turned towards me again, and, in movements straight out of a cartoon, extended her long neck out and around a tree. Peering at me, as if around a door. I didn’t move. She moved a little further, and did it again. And again. Leaving her body obscured by brush, but extending her neck and head like some North American woodland giraffe.

Unable to get a fix on me — pigeon-toed-finger-sniffing me — she wound her way back the way she had come. Moving even closer to my spot, gingerly, but determined. If she had been a human, her stare would long ago have become rude. Her eyes were fixed on my form.

Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is the idea that if you are trying not to spook an animal, you should take care not to focus your eyes on it. We humans have great peripheral vision, well-tuned to detecting motion. And animals can feel our predatory gaze. The theory passes the gut test — we can feel the eyes of other humans on us, why wouldn’t animals notice the same?

So in addition to maintaining my ridiculous statue pose, I was also trying to ensure that I did not ever return her gaze. I kept my focus diffuse, only allowing my eyes to focus on her very briefly, in the moments she was facing away or largely obscured.

The doe was now quite closeby. Back where she had started, but a few meters closer to me. The head bobbing and staring continued. I didn’t want to cause her stress, but it had only been a few minutes, and I knew our deer-and-human game of cat-and-mouse would be over soon enough.

Moving to my north hadn’t yielded an answer, so now the deer began working her way to my south. She walked slowly a few meters further, now working her way downwind of me. In my current statue position I wasn’t going to be able to see her much longer, as my head was facing to the north and up the trail. So while she was walking behind some trees, I turned my head incrementally south, allowing me to continue to see her as she moved towards the rear of me.

She was now a half dozen meters further south from her starting position. From her starting place, she had gone about 10 meters, north, now back to her starting place, only now a little closer to this strange object. None of that giving her the answers she wanted, she would try a southerly position.

She stopped, and licked her nose. This delighted me! Though I knew it signalled that the jig was about to be up.

In her excellent book On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz describes the olfactory senses of her dog. Dogs keen access to smell-formation that human noses have no access to (though don’t count us out entirely — our nose can tell us a lot!). She describes observing her dog deliberately sneezing and then licking his nose before an adventure in their urban environment:

Sneezing is a dog’s way of clearing everything out of the nose, so the next good stench can be inhaled.

…by licking his nose, he was readying it to catch things to be smelled. You may have noticed that the world outside your door smells brightly new after a rain, when the ground is wet…

Wet air (or noses) allow for better absorption of an odor.”

On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz

This deer, I reckoned, with its similar big wet dark nose, was attempting to do the same. And so she was. Only seconds after she licked and sniffed, she bolted. Tail head high, this time she bounded away with commitment. Downwind, my human stink had inevitably given me away. She may not have encountered many humans before who stood perfectly still with their fingers half up their noses and their toes pressed together, but she wasn’t taking chances. No matter how strange its shape, if it smells like a human, I run.

The whole encounter lasted maybe 5 or 10 minutes, but like so many nature moments, time goes muddy. It becomes alternately fast and elastic or slow and stretchy as treacle. Each detail in high relief.

However many moments passed on the clock, they were each precious to me. We get so few chances at chance encounters. And I am glad that for this moment, I was smart enough to leave my phone in my pocket, and really capture it.



The nest of the Thunder Chicken

Ruffed grouse nest!!

My love of the “Thunder Chicken” runs deep. So I was ecstatic when we came across this ruffed grouse nest at the base of a tree.

Neil and I were walking the woods when a grouse flushed from the brush beside us. That’s not so unusual here, but she was calling as she flew away, which is a bit unusual. Given the time of year, we had a quick look for a nest — and found one! I snapped this pic and we skedaddled out of there, to leave her in peace.

Ruffed grouse nest in hollows on the ground. Like this one, they’re often concealed at the base of a tree, or next to a log. The birds are incredibly well camouflaged in dappled deciduous woods. I now know exactly where this nest is, with mama sitting on the ground, and I still find her tricky to see.

Only 4 eggs were visible when we found the nest, though the hen may lay as many as a dozen or so eggs in total. Spot the feathers she’s added to the nest! In the photo below you can see what the nest looked like four days later — if you didn’t know the eggs were there…

This nest is close to a path we have to use. I’ve taken these two photos while mama hen was off the nest, but I know my attention is not helpful to her or her future babies. For the next month while she incubates and the babies hatch, we’ll dial down our frequency on that trail and pass by as quickly and respectfully as possible.

I love love love that the woods has its secrets. There’s no bulletin board listing who is nesting today. For every nest I see, there are probably a dozen I don’t. Moments like this remind me that even when I’m paying all the attention I have, I’m only glimpsing the tip of the iceberg. Life abounds.



More information on how and where birds nest — among many other fabulous facts — can be found in “The Birder’s Handbook” by Paul R. Erlich, David Dobson, and Darryl Wheye