Archive for May, 2009

Although I have seen deer tracks in the snow and mud of the forst floor, I hadn’t seen any deer until one evening this week. Just before dark, at the edge of the forest, I saw this pair. In the twilight, their appearance seemed magical.




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Ring-tailed Lemurs

At Saunders Country Critters, two species of lemurs are on display. Pictured above are two Ring-tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta). As their name suggests, they have distinctive tails, about 60 cm (23 inches) long, ringed in black and white. When walking on all fours on the ground, they hold their tails aloft like flags. Ring-tails are the species of lemur most commonly kept in captivity. In their native Madagascar, they are found in the dry south and south-western regions, inhabiting deciduous forest with grassy undergrowth and dense scrubland. Lemurs are diurnal, active during the day. On sunny mornings, especially after a cool night, lemurs may “sunbathe”, sitting upright in the treetops with their arms outstretched or crooked on their knees, exposing their bellies to the warm rays. In lemur society, females are dominant over males.

Also represented are Black and White Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia variegata). The white ruff that gives them their name runs under the chin and around the cheeks, ending as tufts on the ears. Ruffed Lemurs are noted for their loud, raucous calls, and the lemur pictured below was pleased to demonstrate this feature. Black and White Ruffed Lemurs live in the primary and secondary rainforest in the lowlands and mid-altitude regions of Madagascar.

Lemurs are primates, found only on Madagascar, the 4th largest island in the world. Madagascar separated from Africa more than 100 million years ago. About 80% of the plants and animals found there are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. Madagascar is so unique it is sometimes termed “The Eighth Continent”. People reached Madagascar only about 1500 years ago, but since then about a third of lemur species, (mostly the largest, most slow-moving ones) have become extinct, and about 80% of those remaining are threatened with extinction. Black and White Ruffed Lemurs are classed as Critically Endangered, meaning that they face a very high risk of extinction in the near future. Ring-tailed Lemurs are classed as Vulnerable, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the medium-term future. The main threat to lemurs is the overpopulation of the island by impoverished humans. Lemurs suffer from the uncontrolled destruction of their forest habitat, overgrazing and wildfires, and wood collection for charcoal production. They are also subject to poaching for food and collection as pets.

Unfortunately, far from improving, the outlook for lemurs has recently taken a turn for the worst, as political turmoil has broken out on Madagascar, threatening the $400 million eco-industry, a vital source of income, and turning loose pillaging gangs in the forests.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur

Black and White Ruffed Lemur

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Saunders Country Critters and Garden Center is located southeast of Kemptville. The garden center offers a nice assortment of annuals, perennials and hanging baskets for sale. In the entrance to the garden center are a couple of cages featuring a pair of squirrel monkeys and a three-toed sloth, so you can enjoy walking through the greenhouses, lovely in the spring, and visit the animals as well.


I’m not certain if this is the male or the female squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus). The male is named Mr. Stitches, because he came to Saunders after he was attacked by younger males in the troop he was living with. Squirrel monkeys are native to the tropical areas of South America, where they live in trees and are diurnal, active during the day. They enjoy a diet of fruit and insects. Squirrel monkeys have the largest brain, proportionally to their body mass, of any of the primates.


We visited the zoo after we were done at the garden center. The zoo has a variety of domestic animals such as these donkeys.

crested duck

For many years, when we attended the Royal Agricultural Fair, we were sure to visit the “ducks in hats”. This sign explains how crested ducks get their ‘hats’. It reads, in part: “The crest is formed from a mass of fatty tissue that emerges through a gap in the cranium. From this, feathers grow.”


This charming llama, seeing that the grass was clearly greener on the other side of the fence, was almost as much outside the fence as inside. Down the way, a hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus sp.) was bustling about his pen, but stopped to take a look at us. We probably looked a bit blurry, as these South American animals have poor vision. Look at those diggers! No wonder they are noted burrowers.


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dryad's saddle 2

Near the barn door, a large tree stump is decorated with an impressive bracket fungus called Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus). Dryad’s Saddle fruits in the spring and fall on hardwood stumps and logs, or living trees, and is widespread and common. Bracket fungi are excellent wood rotters and play an important role in breaking down woody debris.

dryad's saddle 3

The fruitbodies are kidney-shaped or round, and can be quite large. The background colour is yellowish to tan, with an interesting pattern of dark brown flattened scales. While most fungi turn to mush within a few days of fruiting, bracket fungi can persist for longer periods, in some cases even through winter, as the fleshy fruitbodies become touch and rigid.


In bracket fungi, the spores are produced in tubes that open by pores on the underside of the fruitbody. Because of this, these fungi are sometimes called polypores. The tubes can be shallow or more than a centimeter deep. Inside the fruitbody, there are thin-walled hyphae, or filaments for the transport of nutrients and the production of spores. Most bracket fungi contain thick-walled dead hyphae as well that give the fruitbody its rigid toughness. Dryad’s Saddle fungi can have a short stalk.


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Turkey Time


It’s not uncommon to see Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) around the area. Over the winter and spring, I occasionally saw a small flock of turkeys well down our field, near the forest. If I went outside and approached them, they beat a hasty retreat into the woods. It’s incredible how totally these large birds can disappear in the forest. By the time I reached the trees, there would be not the slightest sign of turkeys.


Therefore, I was very surprised when I glanced out the living room window on Tuesday morning and saw a turkey in the yard! On closer inspection, I found that he was not alone. The rest of the flock was casually strolling about too.

turkey pair

The spot where the turkey was standing is where I usually throw out a bit of seed for the birds every day. I don’t know how the turkeys discovered it, but that turkey sure looked expectant! Unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten around to my morning seed run yet. After gazing reproachfully at the house for a few minutes, the turkey and his flock-mates made a gracious exit and returned down the field to the forest.


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An apple for the Birthday Girl

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The Leeds County Draft Horse Club was formed in 1986. The club welcomes all types of draft animals, from traditional horse breeds such as Belgians, Clydesdales and Percherons, heritage breeds such as Canadians, Shires and Suffolk Punches, or more recent arrivals to North America, such as Fjords, and Halflingers. Even mules and oxen have participated in Club events. Its mission is to promote the proper care and use of draft horses, whether it be for agricultural or recreational endeavours. Its motto is: Sharing a Wealth of Experience. That experience was on display at the club’s spring field day on Saturday, May 23rd.


Ken and Tiny pulling a walking plow.

Ken and Tiny pulling a single furrow walking plow.

Single furrow seated plow

Single furrow seated plow

Drawing logs

Log skidding



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For Reading Out Loud! by Margaret Mary Kimmel & Elizabeth Segel. Dell Publishing, 1983.

From the time our children were toddlers, nearly every evening until they were pre-teens and busy schedules interloped, our bedtime ritual included story time. Over the years, we enjoyed many, many good books, with everyone cuddled together on the living room chesterfield. When children are small, it is easy to choose books to read. You can pick up an armload of picture books at the library, and if some aren’t as wonderful as others, it matters little, as so little time is invested in their reading. As children reach their school years, however, and are ready to move on to chapter books, it can be harder to make a good choice of what to read. Whatever you choose will occupy you for a week or two of evenings and you want everyone to enjoy it! It’s helpful to find some guidance for suggested titles. Although I had a few different reading guides, and no doubt more have been published since my own kids grew up, I found the best place to start was For Reading Out Loud! The opening sections of the book discuss why continuing to read to post-toddler children is a good thing (I never needed convincing) and makes suggestions on fitting reading into the day. The bulk of the book is a recommended reading list. More than just recommendations, the authors devote a couple of pages to each title and give a suggested listening level that I found to be quite appropriate for my own children. The list includes titles you will recognize, such as Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. There’s a reason why these classic stories were adapted by Disney! The original is still worth the read. And there are many titles that were new to us, stories such as Leon Garfield’s Mister Corbett’s Ghost, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, Mollie Hunter’s A Stranger Came Ashore, and others that bring pleasure to both the reader and listener alike. For Reading Out Loud is readily available through online sources such as Amazon.ca or Chapters.Indigo.ca in their used book service, or from Abebooks.com. Below, a few sample titles from For Reading Out Loud are highlighted.


My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Random House 1948.
A Toad for Tuesday by Russell Erickson. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1974.
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. Harper & Row, 1954.

My Father’s Dragon (Suggested listening level K-4) is a funny tall tale, told in ten short chapters, of the adventures of Elmer Elevator as he sets out to rescue a baby dragon being held captive on Wild Island. It is an excellent introduction to chapter books. There are a couple of sequels.

A Toad for Tuesday (Suggested listening level K-3) is the story of a toad called Warton, who sets out one sunny winter day to deliver a gift of beetle brittle to his old Aunt Toolia, and finds himself in a dire predicament when an owl captures him and holds him hostage, saving Warton to be a special treat on his birthday, next Tuesday. This warm, funny, exciting story is a personal favorite of mine. It can be read aloud in two or three sittings.

The Wheel of the School (Suggested listening level Gr. 2-4) is a nice book for easing into longer outings, with 298 pages divided into 15 chapters. It tells the story of a group of schoolchildren in a small Dutch fishing village who set out to find a wheel to place on the schoolhouse, a wheel that will bring nesting storks back to Shora. This 1955 Newbery Medal winner is dramatic and moving. Other great books by DeJong include Shadrack, about a pet rabbit, and Hurry Home Candy, about a lost little dog.


Red Fox by Charles G.D. Roberts. Puffin, 1972 (1905).
Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer. Viking 1943.

Canadian entries include Owls in the Family by beloved curmudgeon Farley Mowet, and well-known children’s author Jean Little’s From Anna. Less well-known is Roberts’ Red Fox. Sir Charles G. D. Roberts is known as the Father of Canadian Poetry, and along with Ernest Thompson Seton, Roberts is credited with inventing the modern animal story. Red Fox is not a warm-fuzzy animal story, but rather a true-to-life account of a fox’s life. As such, it is full of adventure, trial and hardship. In the opening chapter, Red Fox’s sire is killed by dogs as he valiantly leads the hunt away from his mate’s den. Two of Red Fox’s siblings are lost to a lynx and to a goshawk before they are weaned, and a third dies after a foolish visit to a chicken coop. Red Fox, the strongest and cleverest, survives to find his own mate, who raises a litter of his offspring. He faces battles with mink and other wild hunters, discovers skunks and porcupines, and barely escapes a raging forest fire. The story closes with a wild flight as Red Fox runs for his life, pursued by a pack of hounds and red-coated riders. Set in the wilds of New Brunswick, this adventure tale is suggested for a listening level of Gr. 4-8.

Fog Magic (Suggested listening level Gr. 3-6) is set in Nova Scotia, where American Julia L. Sauer and her partner visited every year in the late 1930s and where they eventually purchased a cabin. The village of Little Valley in Fog Magic is based on Little River, Digby Neck, Nova Scotia, and Blue Cove is based on White’s Cove. Character names used in the book are derived from those of living persons. The story is set in the pre or early-World War II years. A young girl, Greta, finds that on foggy days she is able to travel back in history to a day when neighbouring Blue Cove, now just the site of empty basement holes, was a bustling community. The time she travels back to can be dated as the closing years of the 18th century, when Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (and future father of Queen Victoria) was stationed at Halifax.

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Here are two shots of soil erosion in a recent windstorm.


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Trains played an important part in the development of Canada. Today, various historical sites pay tribute to their role. RailGuy and I set out to visit some of the railroad-related sites in the area. We visited the Aultsville Staion, near Morrisburg, first. Aultsville was one of the “Lost Villages”, one of ten villages that were flooded to accommodate the St. Lawrence Seaway project. The station was moved to its current location in the late 1950s. You can see a photograph of the station in its original location at the Lost Villages website. Grand Trunk locomotive 1008 stands beside the station on an original piece of the Grand Trunk Railway track. It is an 8 wheeler 2-6-0 Mogul built by the Canadian Locomotive Company at Kingston in 1910.


We then carried on to the Brockville waterfront. This steel caboose was built for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) at their Angus Shops in Montreal in 1954. Originally destined for the Winnipeg salvaging yards, the retired caboose was donated to the City of Brockville by CPR in 1987. It probably began its life as an “assigned” caboose, used by just one conductor, but was later “pooled”, remaining hooked up to a train over an extended route, while the crew of at least one conductor and one brakeman, would change periodically.


The caboose is situated close to the entrance to Canada’s first railway tunnel. The tunnel was originally constructed to allow rail access to the Brockville waterfront, and was in use from 1860 to 1956. The tunnel was purchased by the City of Brockville in 1983. On September 16, 1990, there was a re-enactment of the laying of the cornerstone, 136 years to the day after the original ceremony.


Inside the south portal of the tunnel are a set of posters displaying more information about the history of the tunnel and the railroad. The first 85 feet of the tunnel are open to visitors, with an iron grill closing off the tunnel to the north. You can examine the stone arch construction and a section of 5 foot 6 inch Provincial guage track and looking to the north, away in the distance, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel!


We completed our outing with a visit to a Brockville restaurant that features train memorabilia. The restaurant is located close to the Brockville Via Rail station and during our meal, 2 Via trains and a long freight trail rolled by.


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