08 January 2020
For the third year in a row, I was happy to lead a mid-winter walk along the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs
Miriam and I were up long before dawn, but as daylight began to manifest itself we could see that it was a bright day and the thermometer read minus 7°C. That is about as perfect as one might expect for a January day in Ontario.
A couple of eager participants were there ahead of us, but I always plan to arrive before the people taking part, and Miriam had time to walk down to the Conestogo River to memorialize the winter experience.
The horse and buggy of an Old Order Mennonite rattled by.
I am always a little bemused by the ill-informed benighted people who infer that we endure winter only because we have to, that somehow we should feel aggrieved and that perhaps we should simply hibernate. Does the picture below convey the sentiments of people who feel resentful of our climate? Or does it portray eager naturalists about to embark on a walk to enjoy nature in all its winter splendour?
I was astounded recently to read the comment by a fellow blogger that she would not even partake in an outdoor picnic unless the temperature was at least 26 degrees. Sometimes we picnic in the snow.
There are those who seem to only relish temperatures that blister the skin, although I suspect that intense heat drives people indoors far more than our glorious cold winter days cause us to remain at home. No doubt everyone reading these words is fully aware of the enormous tragedy going on in Australia, with wildfires out of control, and devastation and death to humans and fellow creatures alike, and the complete elimination of habitat, and houses burned to the ground. I suspect that most Australians would welcome a couple of days of minus seven with snow right about now, and would willingly trade the forty plus temperatures they are dealing with daily.
We set off along the trail.
The scenery was splendid.
Part of the magic of the Mill Race Trail is the friendly and intimate relationship that has developed with Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and feeding them is one of the highlights of this outing. We were not far into our perambulation before we were surrounded by birds eager for a gift of food, with keen bird lovers equally expectant of the time to be enjoyed with a wild creature. I am indebted to Don Thomas for a fine series of pictures depicting this activity. (In the group picture above Don is at the far right).
Other birds of course join the group, but most are reluctant to land on an outstretched hand with the alacrity of a chickadee. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) will sometimes do it and it is always a special moment if it is your extended hand that is chosen.
Recently, for the first time ever, I had a Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) feed from my hand, but I have not yet succeeded in achieving this thrill along the Mill Race.
The vivid scarlet of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) against the white of the snow or a backdrop of conifers never gets old.
Snow creates many fanciful shapes; I think that the way it has collected here reminds one of confections. Cupcakes anyone?
How about this beautiful image?
Snow, snow and more snow.....
Happy birders trundled along the trail, feeding birds, looking at birds, discussing birds, enjoying each other's company - glorious nature, glorious winter, glorious friendship.
Age is no impediment. I am sure that my dear friend, Meg Slater, shown below with the two poles will not mind me mentioning that she will never see eighty again.
Perhaps these reflections caused us to reflect on our own good fortune.
There were several small groups of Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) on the water, and we enjoyed seeing every one of them.
Chickadees were always present to remind us that though the Mallards may have a wonderful green sheen to their heads and a jaunty curly tail, chickadees are the marquee attraction on the Mill Race Trail.
As we arrived in the village of St. Jacobs, the snow piled in the parking lot looked quite mountainous, with the silos in the background.
One of the reasons that this particular outing is always such a pleasure, is that we break the journey with a visit to the Eco Café.
Everyone was ready for a hot coffee and I think that most of us got a little snack to go with it. Miriam and I split a delicious scone.
It is always a good idea to keep a close eye on wayward children.
Having refreshed ourselves and used the washrooms, we started back along the trail, having enjoyed a brisk, invigorating, interesting, rewarding morning with good friends and fellow naturalists.
Florida, you ask? Arizona perhaps? No thanks! Ontario every time!