We're bringing back a Beacon favourite: Into the Woods with Curio! Enjoy!
November always seems so deserted. Most of the songbirds have left long ago, migrating to warmer climes where there is a ready supply of their necessary food. By now many other animals, ranging from wooly bear caterpillars and mourning cloak butterflies to wood frogs and Massasauga rattlesnakes, to black bears, are hibernating.
Those that remain must contend with a Muskoka winter. These animals have adapted. Some, such as foxes grow a thick coat of fur. Others, such as weasels and snowshoes hares, also change the colour of their fur to match winter's predominantly white palette. Some of the songbirds that remain change their wardrobe, adapting a more drab dress than their bright breeding plumage, and adding many more downy feathers.
All of these strategies allow their owners to survive the cold and snow, as long as they can get enough food.
They are not deserted in this respect.
The maple and beech and oak trees, though bare of their leaves, offer an abundance of seed and nut crops. Mountain ash trees and winterberry bushes are loaded with berries, while spruce and hemlock and fir trees are covered in cones. All of these and more supply food to sustain many smaller mammals and birds, such as deer mice and chickadees, which in turn become food for other animals, such as foxes and owls.
When there is a bumper crop of berries and seeds, as seems to be the case this fall, the abundant food crops attract birds from outside the region, even from as far away as the northern boreal forest and the arctic.
Muskoka could see a number of these northern finches invade the region this winter, according to this year's 'Winter Finch Report', (a well researched document released annually by the Ontario Field Ornithologists). The species expected to visit Muskoka include red and white-winged crossbills, and common and hoary redpolls.
Crossbills are small and unique, parrot-like birds that feed almost exclusively on cone crops. Their flocks wander throughout the northern forest, all across the country, seeking a sustainable supply. Once found, they congregate on the tops of conifers, and sometimes descend to roadsides to pick grit, a somewhat hazardous occupation. Crossbills have even been known to nest in the middle of the winter when food supplies are abundant, so that could happen here this winter.
Redpolls are the size of goldfinches, but totally different in colour, being mainly white with variable brown streaking, and a small red blotch on their foreheads. Breeding in the high arctic, they also roam all winter in search of birch and alder seeds. And they're not averse to partaking of bird feeders filled with black sunflower seeds or nyjer seed.
A proliferation of berry crops such as mountain ash and ornamental crabapples sometimes attract another winter visitor, the bohemian waxwing. A larger and more colourful cousin of the cedar waxwing seen in Muskoka during the summer, the Bohemians were seen in good numbers in Muskoka last winter. It could happen again this winter.
All of this proves how well the Lord takes care of His Creation, including "the birds of the air -- they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." (Matthew 6:26a). It should remind us that even when things seem deserted they aren't as they seem. We can be encouraged by reminding ourselves about what the Lord said -- "Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matt. 6:26b)
Doug "Curio" Smith is the Director and Curator at the Muskoka Lakes Museum in Port Carling, Ontario. He is deeply interested in nature and history, and is a welcome addition to the Beacon blog team!