Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Promise Of Spring

Every year about this time I notice a dramatic lengthening in the day, morning and evening both, and then announce my joy at the promise that brings.

Today is such a day. Reading my paper in bed and watching the dawn break over a crystal clear sky, here was well more than two hours of bright light on the snow before the first rays of the sun appeared at 8 am.


Just to keep things in perspective, however, the current temperature is -35C (15 below) and there's enough breeze to produce a wind chill of of about -40.

Spring will be a while yet. Put some more wood in the furnace and start the oatmeal cooking!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It won’t be long before we begin watching for the return of our summer birds.

Robins, redwings, bluebirds. And ducks.

You may be surprised to learn that an important place to watch for wood ducks in spring is in your furnace.

It is also important that you do watch there, ‘cause it’s a very dry, dusty place, unhealthy for a duck.

Wood ducks are hole-nesters. Which means they nest in holes in old dead trees - and in the many nesting boxes that sportsmen’s clubs and naturalist associations erect for the ducks to use. Surprisingly, these nesting spots don’t have to be close to water.

A prospective mother wood duck can be quite creative when searching for a new home. She wants a deep, dark hole, where she and her nest can be protected from marauding crows, blackbirds, raccoons and other predators looking for an easy lunch.

Chimneys can be quite attractive to female wood ducks. At least, mine seems to be.

On two occasions I’ve had to retrieve these ducks from my furnace and release them back to the wilds.

I live in the Wolf Grove of Lanark County in eastern Ontario. It’s a large, rough area of limestone ridges, dense mixed forest and many beaver ponds. Ideal wood duck nesting country.

I found the first wood duck in my furnace quite by accident. In our passive-solar efficient house we no longer need to use the wood furnace for heat by early spring. But on a couple of occasions a couple of days apart I heard metallic noises from the furnace room. I put it down to my two cats, who liked to clamber around on the air ducts in search of adventure.

Then, one morning, I was passing the furnace door and heard the sound again. I knew both cats were outside and couldn’t imagine what the sound might be. Soon I heard it again, coming from inside the firebox.

On opening the door I found one very dry and dusty female wood duck. How long she had been there I have no idea, but I had no difficulty catching her and releasing her outside. She seemed strong enough, able to fly well, and headed directly down my long driveway and into the woods.

I passed the experience off as unusual and thought no more about it. For a couple of years.

Then, one late March morning, I heard that metallic noise again. I knew it wasn’t cats, because my allergist had some time earlier directed me to find other good homes for them.

“Surely not another wood duck,” I thought and headed for the firebox door.

Wrong again. There was a second would-be-mother wood duck, equally dusty and disoriented, but certainly not as dry as the first one. This one was able to get out of the firebox, and we had an energetic game of tag through a large cloud of wood ashes before I finally pinned her in a corner of the wood pile by using my butterfly net.

She also flew strongly down the driveway and out of sight into the woods.

I’ve often wondered if it was the same bird. I even thought of applying for a federal bird-banding licence, just in case she came back again. In the end, I decided a screen over the chimney was simpler, and I haven’t had any wood ducks in my furnace since.

But if you use a wood furnace and don’t have your chimney screened, I suggest you watch your furnace for wood ducks as spring arrives.

The maternal instinct leads us all into some strange adventures - even for wood ducks.

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