Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Moon and Jupiter

It is an amazing night out there.  The 4 degrees C is a little crisp, but with no wind it is just perfect for a walk.  For the past half hour or so I've been walking under the brilliant moon.  If you're out there tonight or in the next couple of days look for Jupiter.  It is the really bright object sitting just below and to the left of the moon. 

Fall is a great time for star-gazing.  The Sky and Telescope website will allow you to check out the sky and find many planets.  Happy Walking!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dogberries and Winter

When September rolls into October in Newfoundland and leaves begin to fall some colours jump out. Few are as dramatic as dogberries. The brilliant red berries are left hanging in bunches through the fall/winter and provide continued snacking for the birds that hang around.  It seems they are reserved for those lean winter days and tend not to disappear in fall.

Dogberry an alternate name for these small decidous trees or shrubs. They are actually called Showy Mountain Ash and American Mountain Ash; both are native to Newfoundland.  They look so similar that people tend to call both Dogberry, in Newfoundland and beyond.  There is much variability about whether the berries are edible. Some say no.  They are, in fact, quite useful for jams and jellies, even for dogberry wine. Eating them raw is not recommended; they are very acidic and not enjoyable to eat straight from the tree.

How about as a predicter for a bad winter?  When dogberries ripen people tend to consider the severity of winter based on the amount of fruit. More fruit = a rough, cold winter because more fruit is made available for birds. This has been the subject of much consideration. Who knows?  My non-scientific monitoring over the past 20 years has shown no correlation.  :)

Let's hope for a good one!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Goldenrod and Fireweed

If you get a moment to walk in the woods in fall - take it.  Newfoundland falls are so amazing.  The colour changes are dramatic and the smells are so different than any other time of the year.  If mosquitos and blackflies have kept you away, fall is your opportunity to reclaim outdoor spaces. 

Two native Newfoundland plants that you will see on roadsides and throughout the landscape is Goldenrod and Fireweed. They have been around all summer but seem to stand out in September when other plants are diminshed.

Goldenrod has a green top for much of the summer so blends in with the backdrop of all green. In late August and September they pop with tons of yellow blossoms. They provide a great source of nectar for bees and wasps trying to wrap up their seasons. Goldenrod grows to a metre tall or a bit less in Newfoundland.  It's such a outstanding plant that it's the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska.

Fireweed is one of our province's coolest plants. It too grows along roadsides and is especially abundant on cut-overs and open spaces.  The name comes from its ability to quickly establish itself on burnt places.  Like Goldenrod, Fireweed can be easy to miss for much of the summer.  In August and through September the purple-pink flowers emerge. Into the fall a nice transition happens. The plant appears fuzzy and it's feathery parts detach to spread seeds.  Fireweed tends to grow more than a metre tall in Newfoundland.   

Get out there and check them out!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

In Newfoundland we are fortunate to be insulated from the spread of some insects commonly found on the mainland.  We don't hear much about Deer Ticks or Lyme Disease here.  There is actually a small population of Deer Ticks (aka Black-Legged Ticks) in the province.  In fact, I just read a note out of Clarenville that a dog there tested positive for Lyme Disease and Deer Ticks have been found in the area.

Though deer is the desirable host for Deer Ticks, our moose and caribou populations may offer an adequate host to enable to population to grow.  You can provide protection for your pets. A community vet will have the appropriate collars.  People do get Lyme Disease - it comes following a bite (i.e. sucking blood) by a infected tick.  Not all ticks will have been infected by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.  If you are bitten and it was by a tick - expect a rash which expands outwards over several days, aches, chills, fever and other symptoms. Have this checked out by your doctor and get treated.

If you plan to hike in summer and will be travelling through long grass or brush, wearing pants would be a preventative measure. If you think you've found a tick bring it to a local or provincial government vet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yarrow...little bouquets

It's good to be back, returning from 35 C temperatures to a more comfortable 20 C or so.  The weather here has been no-so-good for much of the summer.  However, if you like doing things outside and can appreciate breathing fresh, salty air without being overwhelmed with heat, Newfoundland is the place to be.

While on a walk today I saw so many native plants now in bloom.  One which can easily be missed is Yarrow.  It grows throughout the province and is common in drier areas.  They are usually easy to spot on roadsides. The flowers are white and if pulled from the plant in small bunches they resemble tiny bouquets of flowers. Kids are fasinated by this. The leaves are almost feathery.  

The plant has been used for varying purposes over the centuries. Thousands of years ago it was used to staunch the flow of blood from wounds. So glad we've evolved from that.  I've read that in rare cases it can cause an allergic skin reaction.

When you are out and about take notice of this common plant.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The June Bug has its own month too.

With June drawing to a close, it's timely to give a shout out to the June Bug.  It's actually called a June Beetle, but they are know as bugs most everywhere.  The June Bug is found in Newfoundland but it isn't common. It you see it or come into contact you will remember it.  June Bugs are about as large as we see and they are quite stout.  They are about an inch long and are brown in colour.  The body segments are compact so it appears as one solid nugget with three pairs of legs.

June Bugs emerge in late June to early July in Newfoundland. I've seen them mostly on the western part of the province and have not seen any on the east coast. If something bounces heavy near your porch light it could very well be the June Bug. Its interest is in biting leaves, not people.  :)

I'm heading out on a two-week journey and will post again when I return.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Collecting Mussels in Newfoundland

If you travel around Newfoundland this summer most restaurants will have Mussels on the menu as an appetizer or as part of a seafood dish. They are delicious.  The Mussel is a member of the clam family and are found throughout Newfoundland. Here the 3-4 inch shells are mostly dark blue with some light blue sections. When boiled/steamed the insides turn either a pale or brilliant orange. Mussels picked during a full moon seem to offer the biggest yield.  Those in restaurants come from Mussel farms where thousands are suspended on lines in small isolated coves.

If you decide to collect Mussels visit small coves away from settlements. Wait for low tide and if they are present many will be accessible attached to the shoreline. Collecting is a common practice locally and some people travel to beaches ready for a cook-up.  It just takes a small fire, a large pot and you'd boil them in sea water. When the shells open they are cooked.  The downside of collecting Mussels is that some will have tiny black pearls which are crunchy.  Don't collect them when the surf is up; no need to fall into the ocean.

Enjoy getting out in Newfoundland. The thousands of miles of coastline offers much adventure. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Water Beetle

There are some insects which usually stay out of sight and are so different from the norm that they totally freak people out.  One of those is the Water Beetle.  They are found in Newfoundland and throughout the world.  It's a big insect - often 2 to 4 inches long and with a very stout body. The hind legs are visible, flattened and with fine hairs to help propel them in water.

Because they spent the majority of their time living in water and hidden under its surface - they rarely come into contact with people.  However Water Beetles have wings and can fly long distances.  They are attracted to lights and some believe they mistake roads for still water.  They are unlikely to intentionally come into contact with humans and only want to find a water source. Still, at least once each summer a Water Beetle will emerge among my friends. Treat them well - they mean no harm to you or your property.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tadpole Time

While Newfoundland does not have any native frogs, several species have been introduced over the years.  The American Toad, Mink Frog, Green Frog and Wood Frog are found throughout the province. Of these the Green Frog is the least secure. In local communities people tend to know where the frog pond(s) are located.  I only know of a few places on the east coast and in central parts of the province.  I've stumbled upon these by accident.

June is a great time to get out near small ponds with your kids.  Usually tadpoles begin to emerge by now.  If you find some it'll make going back each week really exciting. The development is quite fast.  This year does seem slower due to the colder temperatures.  Yesterday I visited a well-populated pond and only saw two small tadpoles. They are fun to catch, but are quite swift - adding to the fun.  Find a frog pond - you'll be drawn back there throughout the summer!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Hi there,
Just a quick note to say thanks for visiting this blog. The numbers and visitor locations have increased steadily and I'm humbled that you are taking a moment to visit.  Here's where people have viewed the blog from in the past week: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Philippines, Germany, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Brazil, Greece, Belgium, Spain and Taiwan. 

If you see a plant/bug/theme which reminds you of things in your neck of the woods please drop a comment and/or a pic.  Thanks again!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Snout Beetle

You may be reading this and thinking 'Snout Beetle, do we really have such a thing?'.   Yeah, we actually do.  These beetles are found in Newfoundland and throughout North America. There are many different members.  For the most part you will not encounter Snout Beetles on your travels.  They rarely enter your house and if so they are there by accident. If you find one it will most likely play dead while you usher it outside.  I've sometimes had them cling to my finger when dropping outside - but they only clung and did not bite.

Most Snout Beetles are pests to cultivated plants.  So, you're most likely to see them in your garden...or evidence of their damage.  I'm not sure how common they are in Newfoundland - I only see a couple each summer.  If you see one, the snout is unmistakable!  There are antenna on either side of the snout and the beetle is about 1 cm long.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rhodora: Painting Newfoundland Purple

A walk in Newfoundland's woods or along the coastline in June provides an amazing display of new growth.  A colour which begins in May/June and lasts throughout the season is purple - or its varieties. Right now and for the next couple of weeks the Rhodora is in bloom. In fact, if you are out and about in Newfoundland right now the rose-purple you see is most likely Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense).

Rhodora is a native shrub to Newfoundland and can be found throughout the east coast of Canada and the northern U.S.  Look for them on bogs or in other wet places.  They are pretty but toxic.  Rhodora can be found in bunches spannning several meters and much further. They stand at about knee-height and are often among other woody-stemmed plants such as Sheep Laurel and Labrador Tea.

Pause and take a closer look at Rhodora on your next excursion. The flowers will only last until about the end of June.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Newfoundland from Space

I saw this pic recently while watching the CBC program 'Here and Now'.  It is a remarkable view of Newfoundland's east coast from space.  In the past week the east coast has been blanketed with fog while today the west coast had sunny skies and 24 degrees C.  In Newfoundland the wet, foggy days coincide with caplin season - small fish which spawn on many beaches each June.  These foggy days are therefore referred to as 'caplin weather'.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cherry Blossoms in Newfoundland

Newfoundland is not particularly known for its cherry blossoms.  There are no fesitvals to mark the new blooms and they certainly are not plentiful. Yet, in the past couple of days cherry blossoms have emerged and have provided some pretty flowers to launch the growing season.  You just have to know where to look.

The province has two native cherry trees, the Pin Cherry and Choke Cherry.  Neither grow to become large trees so expect a heigth in the range of three to six metres.  An unfortunate identifying feature on the larger trees is Black Knot, a fungus which attacks the trees and appears as a large black lump on branches. The Pin Cherry is more common and appears throughout the province. It will produce small, edible berries in late summer. They are quite nice for nibbling.

On your hikes look for small, five-petal flowers with yellow centres.  It's the Pin Cherry.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pounding Waves at Middle Cove Beach

Last evening I was visiting St. John's and took a drive out to Middle Cove Beach - about 15 minutes drive from downtown. What a cool aspect about the place; absolute nature just outside the city and everywhere else in the province. I arrived just before dusk and the waves were pounding the shore - beautiful. Also, the roar of the ocean was everywhere. It was a bit chilly with the wind, but tolerable.

Get out and enjoy these beaches, just keep a safe distance to avoid being swept out to sea. I've pasted in a video below from the beach, though the seas were not quite this rough on my visit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Red Maple or Reddish Maple?

It has been a beautiful day in Newfoundland.  The trees have begun to flush and things are looking great.  When it comes to plants and trees sometimes the logical name for something is nearly correct, but not quite so. The Red Maple frequently comes up when my friends ask about tree identification. It seems a no-brainer. The Red Maple is native to Newfoundland and the leaf has that perfect maple leave shape.  In fact, the maple leaf on the Canadian flag is modelled after the Red Maple.

Through most of its leaf season the Red Maple has green leaves. It's true brilliance emerges in fall when the leaves are dramatically red.  The occasional Red Maple among evergreens makes for an awesome contrast.

The debate comes from a reddish maple which is not native, but is quite frequent in gardens throughout the province. It's the Crimson Maple and has a reddish-burgandy colour.  The Crimson Maple begins red and stays red throughout the season. Naturally, people refer to these beautiful trees as red maples because that's exactly what they look like! 

It's all in the name...and colour!

Crimson Maple

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The hiccup of living in a climate like Newfoundland's is while we wait for winter to merge into spring and summer, we too accept the company of insects.  Most simply mind their own business but the Black Fly needs your blood.  :)   Blackflies have begun to emerge in Newfoundland, though they were not-so-bad this past weekend. Temperature plays a role in hatching so numbers varied across the province. June tends to be a very difficult month for blackflies.  Many campers/hikers question their choices around that time.  I have been in the deep woods in June when they are simply a cloud - on every skin surface and in my mouth.  Not fun.  The Lure of the Labrador Wild vividly described just how bad blackflies can get.

You'll notice in Newfoundland that blackflies are around from spring through to early fall.  They vary in size and aggressiveness. This is because we have about 12 different blackfly species emerging at differing times.  There is a die-off during the hot days of July, making July to August tolerable days in the woods. Blackflies are small, 1-5 mm long.  Both males and females use nectar for energy.  The males do not bite.  Females have biting mouth parts made for cutting skin and they use your blood for egg development. 

Staying near the ocean - with open spaces and winds - is probably best if you do not wish to tolerate blackflies.  Some believe that light clothing and few scented products reduce contact...but, they seem to like some people more than others!  Bug lotions are effective to varying degrees. Some people develop allergic reactions to fly bites.
Enjoy the great outdoors!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Camping Weekend

This is the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada and marks the official start to camping season in Newfoundland.  It tends to be a roll-of-the-dice weather wise and this weekend we rolled mostly rain once again.  At the moment it's about 6 degrees C outside and the rain is off and on until sometime Sunday afternoon. The bright side?  The black flies have not emerged in huge numbers yet so hopefully people will enjoy the outside, though damp and chilly.

Newfoundlanders are a hardly bunch and will get outside today. Have a grand time and be safe.
I'm packing up in a few minutes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tip of the Burin Peninsula

If you live in Newfoundland or have even seen the map you'll know of many very cool distinguishing features.  One of those is the Burin Peninsula.  It is our boot-like shape. Very different from Italy but there it is - geography which looks like a boot!  If you travel within Newfoundland I'd recommend a visit to the Burin Peninsula.  It is about 150 km from main highway to the first large communities, Marystown and Burin, and the drive is quite something.  Large, open vistas - beautiful.

Just last summer we drove around the tip of the Burin Peninsula. We left our nice B&B at Marystown and spent most of the day driving and stopping before making our way back to Marystown. The landscape was amazing and differed from many other parts of the province. We stopped at St. Lawrence, where the U.S.S. Truxton and Pollux went ashore in 1942.  Sailors were rescued by local miners. The route takes you past the ferry to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, the French (yes, France) islands 25 km from Newfoundland. Lovely place.

Not far from St. Lawrence stands a little but very cool forest of windmills.  Very impressive.

Friday, May 13, 2011

This Wasp is a Yellowjacket

When it comes to wasps, people who don't like them don't like them a lot!  A Yellowjacket is a type of wasp. With its potential to be nasty and dangerous, they make us avoid them at all costs.  Even though we can logically say that it's a small insect and its sting are no big deal - the irrational fear of wasps can make one react dramatically.

Yellowjackets are common throughout Newfoundland in summer, though not enough to impede most folks.  They will be most noticed in early summer when searching for a place to build or late summer when searching frantically for rare nectar.  If you camp or sit outside with food they will be attracted to sweet things.  Wasps will mostly not bother you - but sometimes whether you wave your arms wildly or stand still, one will make you a target.  They can sting as a many times as they like and do not die from the act of stinging.  Your best bet - move slowly and gain some space from them.  If you react to the sting get help immediately.

You'll find wasp nests in dry, undisturbed places.  Before you move the overturned boat in mid-summer take a quick peek inside. Some are also built into the ground.  If you find one it's best to have pest control remove it.  If you're adventurous the small beginning ones (baseball sized) can be destroyed at a safe distance with a water hose. If it's football sized - danger!

Wasps are excellent pollenators and we need them.  Take care to avoid contact this summer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Dandelions are about to emerge on my lawn and those of the neighbourhood. In some parts of Newfoundland today the temperature hit 15 degrees C.  Yellow blossoms are soon to follow!  Beauty is everywhere and it's all about how you see things. A perfectly sculptured green lawn is beautiful.  Without the framework of what a good lawn should or should not look like, none could find fault with amazing yellow flowers spread across a green background.  Without dandelions we'd be tempted to plant them and would only hope our green thumb was good enough to produce such hardy, maintenance-free flowers!

I accept dandelions as natural part of summer and mow them down about once per week. I don't use herbicides and alas, the lawn police have not come for me yet.  Each of us will live and die usually without any tributes to the state of our lawns. However, there is a full planet just asking for us to think greener. 

You might replace weed with herb.  Dandelions have been ingested for many years and herbalists consider it a valuable source of vitamins. Please read about quantities and preparation - that's not my forte.  The good news - if you ever get lost hiking this easily recognized plant will provide a nutritious snack!  Stick with the greens and they are most tasty in spring.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Campfires and Forest Fire Season

The season has arrived when we all strive to get the most of the great Newfoundland outdoors. This is perhaps my favourite time for campfires. The trails and places to sit are mostly dry, as are the sticks and twigs which make campfire fuel. Spring also keeps some of that chilly bite in the air so the heat of a fire is most welcomed. Finally, in early May the biting insects are yet to emerge. This gives even the low bug-tolerant person a great opportunity to enjoy the woods.

This great time for campfires aligns with the beginning of Forest Fire season.  Many people are unaware of the regulations pertaining to campfires and, in doing so, place the natural environment at risk of a forest fire.  The 2011 Forest Fire season began in Newfoundland on May 1st, and starts in Labrador on May 15th. You are permitted to have a campfire during Forest Fire season, you just have to do so in line with the regulations. Doing otherwise may make you responsible for a larger fire.

I've pasted in a portion of the Regulations below which show the exceptions. So, get out there and enjoy but be careful.

3. A person shall not light a fire on forest land or within 300 metres of forest land during the forest fire season unless that person lights the fire under the authority of a permit to burn issued by the minister or the minister's designate under the Forestry Act.
48/95 s3; 31/99 s1
4. Notwithstanding section 3, a person may light a fire on forest land or within 300 metres of forest land without a permit:
(a)  in a prepared location in a provincial, national, municipal or private park that has facilities to contain open pit fires when permission to light those fires is granted by a park attendant who is responsible for supervision in the park during the period the park is open to the public and every park shall have fully functional back tank pumps of a type approved by the forest service each with a 20 litre tank filled with water and located at a central point in the park where open pit fires are permitted and provided that there are at least 2 pumps for every 10 prepared sites in a park;
(b)  on a sand or gravel beach or quarry if:
 (i)  the fire is located at a distance of not less than 15 metres from the nearest woods, brush or other flammable material,
(ii)  the fire does not exceed a surface area of 0.4 square metres,
(iii)  the fire is located at a distance of not more than 1.25 metres from a body of water whose surface area exceeds 10 square metres;
(b.1)  in an outdoor wood burning unit if:
(i)  the unit is made entirely of non-combustible materials,
(ii)  the unit completely contains the fire,
(iii)  the unit is screened to prevent the escape of sparks or other burning material,
(iv)  the unit rests on legs or supports and is placed on mineral soil or non-combustible material having a surface area a minimum of 1.5 square metres, and
(v)  the unit is located a minimum of 3.5 metres from the nearest woods, brush or other flammable material;

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mayfly: an insect with its own month.

It is entirely possible that you have been near ponds and streams throughout your life without ever noticing the Mayfly. They are very common in Newfoundland and throughout the world.  Because they emerge in spring when so many other flying, and often annoying, insects are in the air - they easily mix in with the crowd. Mayflies are very distinctive and extremely valuable to the habitant in which they live.

Why are they so easy to miss? The lifespan is super short.  The adult Mayfly (with wings) will live for about two days - some species only last a few hours. The job of the adult is simply to mate and get the eggs deposited back in the water.  Adults don't even stop to eat.  Most of the Mayfly's life is in the nymph stage - living and feeding under water.  They are a great food source for fish and the body type is copied for some fishing flies.

Watch in May and usually in early fall for clouds of Mayflies dancing at the surface of water where they are finding mates. They do not bite or sting so enjoy their short lives without squirming.


Mayfly Nymph

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A tune for May

This may seem a totally random post...but besides being a lover of nature, I'm a huge fan of new tunes. This song by Mumford & Sons not only has messages of hope but also sounds very cool.

So, enjoy this tune and kick off May with a smile!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Iceberg Season

It is probably safe to say that the 'season' has begun. Icebergs have been spotted around Newfoundland - I saw my first one a few days ago.  These massive pieces of ice are quite something to behold up close.  From shore they are certainly interesting - a brilliant white nugget against a background of deep blue sea. On the contrary, when a berg moves close to shore or if you visit one in a boat - whoa!  It's a bit shocking to see how big they are. 

Usually June and July are great months for iceberg viewing in Newfoundland - though in some years the bergs are less frequent than in others.  Some interesting news today, a huge ice island from Greenland's glacier is near Labrador and headed towards Newfoundland.  It'll be good viewing, though it is disconcerting that the world barely notices when glaciers are slipping away.

If you have an interest in the Titantic, the ship went down at about 380 miles from Newfoundland.  See a berg up close and its potential for destruction is very clear.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Amazing Twillingate hike

Two days ago I visited Twillingate, on Newfoundland's northeast coast.  It was really a stunning day, with temperatures near 10 degrees C.  April can be very wet and chilly on that coast in spring.  I walked an amazing trail for just over two hours.  With beaming sun, great temperature and awe-inspiring views, my work-week was far behind.  I returned with peace and joy.

If you are reading this from outside of Newfoundland, I'll describe what awaits.  The land is all open to public travel and one is free to wander most anywhere. The trail is good. Other hikers are rare, so you'd have the landscape to yourself. I saw nobody on my hike.  The cliffs and sea are breathtaking, with continous pounding surf.  In summer blue berries, crow berries, bake apples (cloud berries), raspberries and partridge berries are abundant and you are free to pick as many as you'd like. Twillingate is a large island joined by a causeway. There are no dangerous mammals, no snakes, nor any dangerous insects there.  Icebergs are common is summer and one can occasionally see a whale from this trail.

If you visit ask the locals for the trail which leads from Spiller's Cove to French Beach; you won't be disappointed. Prepare for some wet places on the trail. The pic below comes from mid-way on the trail, near a place called Spiller's Rock.  It shows the very cool hole in the cliff.  The video below was taken Saturday at Spiller's Cove - a lovely place to sit, rest and marvel.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Humpback Whale and Dolphins in Newfoundland

I had planned on showing a video of Humpback whales from the surface. The coastline of Newfoundland is so rugged and beautiful. Then I stumbled on this video and was blown away. It's amazing underwater footage of dolphins and a Humpback whale.

If visiting Newfoundland in summer take a whale-watchin tour. It's quite safe and the whales are amazing. The great part is what will happen along the way - amazing scenery, lots of wildlife and massive icebergs.

Enjoy! T.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sea Urchin

At long last the weather in Newfoundland is allowing more varied pursuits. Spring is slow to emerge here so on days like today, with brilliant sunshine, one is reminded of the many cool places to visit. I am never disappointed with the beach. Just sitting there is awesome and Newfoundland has miles of secluded coastline.  It is especially cool to visit a beach with kids because there will always be something new and exciting.

Check out most any tidal pool and a sea urchin or two will be waiting.  They are common throughout the world. These spiny green beasts look really dangerous - with 2-3 cm spikes. If you step on one with your bare feet you'll be in pain and will never forget it.  Be care if swimming/walking in the ocean because beds of them are often sitting just out of view. Fortunately, they are fine to touch and can be picked up by children. The spikes are very pointy but when handled gently its not much different than holding a bunch of sharp pencils against your hand.  Every year I pick one up because it's wild to handle something so fierce looking.

On most beaches you'll find empty sea urchins with their insides eaten by gulls. Usually bleached pale green by the sun, a hole in the bottom and without spikes, they make a cool summertime collector's item. 


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blue Flag Iris

The Iris, more specifically the Blue Flag Iris, is one of my favourite plants.  It is native to eastern Canada and grows throughout the world. The name comes from the Greek word for rainbow; the plant has a variety of colours, depending on where you live. Maybe it's the brilliant purple or the fact that it's not Newfoundland it's a plant found occasionally in wet grassy places. The shape of the Iris ensures that a pollinating insect will move pollin perfectly from one flower to the next based on perfectly designed landing surfaces.

The jury is out with respect to it being poisonous to humans.  Some say yes, some say no.  Play it safe and don't ingest, or let your pets do so. When you hike the coastline of Newfoundland in summer have a look-out for the Iris.  You'll be staring at the same plant that Van Gogh did at a difficult time in his life.  His painting, The Iris, now sits at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa - I've been told that it's valued at 75 million.

Here's Van Gogh's The Iris.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Once, Sail Away To The Sea.wmv

Hi folks, There's little I need to say to this one. The video below features Sail Away To The Sea by The Once, one of my favourite Newfoundland bands. Enjoy the several still images of this cool province and turn up your speakers - the song is awesome! T.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ideal Bug For Kids

In a recent post I touched on fear of bugs and how most kids are intrigued by things that crawl.  The question is - which bugs are so harmless that kids (or yourself) might be very comfortable touching them?  One option is the Stink Bug. I know, not exactly the best name for a 'touching' recommendation. 

Stink Bugs are common in Newfoundland throughout the summer.  If you are clothesline person no doubt one has made its way into the house. They are about the size of your fingernail.  Stink Bugs have sucking mouth parts so pose no threat to you.  The best thing about these six-legged beauties is that they will mostly hang around. Place them on a child's hand and they will walk all around.  Though they are able to fly most times they simply stay put.

Oh - the stink.  Fortunately, Stink Bugs only use their defense system when threatened.  If you happen to hold it too tight or squeeze it accidentially - stink!  Even then it's distinct but not all that bad.

Next summer introduce your child to a Stink Bug.  It will be a huge leap in reducing fear of bugs!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Big Thank You

Hi folks,
I was surprised and humbled yesterday to see that I was Blog of the Week. Thanks for visiting and reading.  I'll keep the Newfoundland Nature coming with lots of variety.

A big thank you to Stephen and Newfoundland & Labrador BlogRoll.  I love being a part of this community and the awesome blogs here.  Stephen, thanks for the work you do in keeping it rolling.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Puffins at Bonavista

The Puffin is an amazing bird.  About the size of a pidgeon, it settles in flocks on the rocky coastline and perseveres through regular raids of its eggs by larger birds.  The nest is burrowed into the soil.  Puffins have the look of Penguins - crisp black and white attaire, but they fly. A little more squat and stocky, it's their brilliant broad orange beaks which set them apart.

Puffins are common in Newfoundland but I will highlight Bonavista given the opportunity provided there to view them up close. At Cape Bonavista one can stand close to the lighthouse and have a clear view of hundreds of birds going about their business. The business, of course, is cruising over the North Atlantic, diving and returning with lunch. It is amazing to behold, even on the foggy wet days which seem to come frequently to the Cape.  If you visit prepare for birds zooming in all directions.  Very cool. 

The Puffins at Cape Bonavista have settled on the cliff side of a small island.  You can't get there but your camera lense will allow for some cool pics. If travelling in Newfoundland look for these lovely birds. Be careful if taking pics near the ocean's edge.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Moon and beyond

I sure hope you've taken a moment to get outside tonight or on recent evenings. The Moon, being the closest to earth it has been in 18 years, looks amazing. I was outside an hour ago and the moon peeked out behind some trees - it took me by surprise for a second!

The video below does a good job of showing the moon against landscape - giving this unique happening a sense of scale and perspective.

As for the Beyond - if you've read Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' you'll recall that there are an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Each galaxy has an estimated 100 billion stars. Just read a cool piece today. It seems that our galaxy (Milky Way) has about 300 billion stars with 50 billion planets. Of these 500 million exist in the not-too-cold, not-too-hot areas.

Happy sky-gazing!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Afraid of Bugs?

It's an amazing thing - something in the back of ancient brain tells us to avoid bugs; to jump, scream and squish any that come near. Of course there is a good arguement for learned behaviour.  A kid who is left alone will most likely pick up a carpenter (sow bug) and examine it.  An opposite response would likely stem from observing others.

So, are you scared of bugs - is it a phobia?  You may recall a movie called Arachnophobia?   It highlighted one of the primary bug phobias - the fear of spiders (the phobia includes insects like scorpions).  Most people do not like spiders and other insects.  Choosing not to brush up against a spider's web or allowing some insect to scurry by at a safe distance is a normal, socially-driven discomfort with bugs. 

When is it a phobia?   A phobia is a irrational, intense and persistent fear.  There is an excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the object/situation.  It's important to note that it is irrational - people say/think 'I should know better'.  For example, a person with a wasp phobia might react by letting go of a steering wheel and loosing all control of  car simply to get the thing off...all reason goes out the window.  A key question is 'is it interfering with my life?'.  If so, and you wish to change this, a psychologist could be quite helpful.  They do systematic desensitization - the thing of fear is gradually introduced over time and eventually you are able to move past it. 

This is a heavy topic.  Most bugs weigh less than your fingernail and most will not cause harm.  By the way, none of the hundreds of Newfoundland-based spiders which have walked across my hands have ever bitten me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Depending on where you live in Newfoundland the word could be ballycatter or maybe battycatter.  Though what it describes is a common winter ice structure, the word has practically lost its use among the younger generation. During winter ice forms around the coast of Newfoundland - in places filling coves and inlets completely. Rougher ice moves in from the north, seemingly endless in places such as Notre Dame Bay on the province's northeast coast.

When an inlet becomes a frozen sheet and eventually breaks up the ridge of ice left attached to the rocks is called ballycatter. It's usually solid and is sometimes used for walking around the coast. Though don't try it; falling into the Atlantic in winter will be the end of you.  Even ice thinly formed around the rocks, clearly outlined during low tide, tends to get the name ballycatter.

So, if you visit a small coastal town in winter test out the word, but stay off of the ice!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


The Dragonfly.  It is one of the largest insects you'll see around Newfoundland.  Most people avoid them for fear of their biting or stinging abilities. Still, their helicopter-like flight makes us pause in amazement when they hover over ponds or in our gardens. We've dubbed them with names such as 'arse stinger, horse stinger and in some places, devil's darning needle.  My boyhood logic told me to avoid anything which could sting a horse! 

In reality, they are not harmful at all.  Dragonflies do not sting.  Also, despite having large jaws they are unlikely to bite - only when handled.  Even then the most a Dragonfly could muster is a good pinch.  Dragonflies are very beneficial to humans in that they feed on other insects - such as mosquitos and black flies, which they catch in flight. 

Adults tend to live near water but are very strong fliers and range several miles each day.  Eggs are laid in water or on aquatic vegetation.  In late June and early July look in still water or streams for nymphs (pre-adult). They are often visible walking along the bottom.

Welcome Dragonflies to your garden. They are nature's awesome insect flier!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Backyard Birder

My good friend is a backyard bird enthusiast.  He has been feeding birds for many years and in winter provides a heated bird bath.  The birds have responded to his welcoming garden: they visit all day long and eat generously from his several feeders. His secret is consistency and variety. The feeders are always filled and they each contain different types of seeds. I admire his efforts and the calm, loving approach to providing this oasis. A well-used bird identification book sits near the window and he knows every type of bird visitor, even the rare ones.

When I visit his home I am settled as much by the birds as the nature of their care.  Life can be fast-paced with much attention to media (such as blogging!). Any opportunity to pause and really take in your surroundings is vital.  Happiness really does come from doing things which bring perspective and joy.

Some of the most frequent visitors to my friend's feeders this time of year are Pine Siskins (top) and Black-Capped Chickadees (bottom). 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Island Trilobite

This week's look at nature goes way back.  Trilobites were small ocean arthropods which lived in large numbers on the ocean floor - about 250 to 450 million years ago.  There are thousands of species and they are found throughout the world.

These are great for fossil-hunting with kids.  Trilobites are found in sedimentary rock - the kind which flakes off in layers. Why so common?  When Trilobites gathered in large numbers under/near a slope and that slope collapsed, they were trapped. Their remains were fossilized. Where you find one there will be many.

The most well-known place in Newfoundland  is at Manuel's River on the Avalon Peninsula.  I explored an area on Random Island, at the base of Trinity Bay and near Clarenville.  There, on a hillside, was sedimentary rock and an occasional Trilobite. You have to pick through many pieces of loose rock to find one.  It's amazing that the entire area was once under water.

Here's one of mine below.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pearly Everlasting - a classy plant

For anyone that has been out and about in any part of Newfoundland, you have walked by the lovely plant Pearly Everlasting. It grows usually in dry, well-drained areas; very common along roadsides. The plant grows throughout Canada and in much of the U.S. In fact, it's so common that most people barely pause to give it a closer look.

Pearly Everlasting blooms for many weeks from mid-summer onward.  It stands at about knee-length. The leaves and stems are covered with fine hairs, giving the plant a silver sheen.  A remarkable feature about the plant is that it holds its form for many months.  It looks good in late fall and stands up to early winter. I've read that it is poisonous so don't nibble.

This plant is good addition to your garden; it does well in dry areas and requires very little care.  Better yet, get out for a walk and enjoy in its natural place.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Baby Beluga in Plate Cove

Summertime in Newfoundland holds many surprises - especially at the ocean. While Humpback whales are the norm, Potheads are common and Killer whales are occasional visitors. In recent years Belugas have been showing up.

They have been spotted in many areas of the province, often in quiet coves. Their interest in humans, and ours in them, have provided lots of great close encounters.

The footage below is from Plate Cove, on the province's east coast.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Snowshoeing in Local Shoes

It has been a busy couple of weeks and the blog suffered!

Today was awesome!  My family was presented with some locally made snowshoes recently. We just returned from a test run.  As much as I'm a fan of cross-country skiing, snowshoes offer a different experience and a varied workout.  Local snowshoes are relatively easy to find in Newfoundland and beyond.  If you plan to try them make sure that the circumference is big enough to hold your weight.  Another important thing is the straps/bindings.  Buy something of good quality; you'll be thankful when in the snow.  Finally, a set of ski poles are very helpful for stability. They allow for an excellent shoulder work-out.  Fit the snowshoes snugly to your boots while still at home.  Once you get out there you'll need to re-adjust slightly after about ten steps.

Today there were lots of animal tracks and a great dispersal of seeds on top of the snow to keep the birds happy. There are still lots of delicate plants poking through the snow despite its height this winter.  Our walk in the woods was excellent and the snowshoes performed well.

Get out there - its good for the mind and body.  Lifting snowshoes at every step also provides an excellent leg work-out.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Snow Walk

A very nice Sunday morning in Newfoundland.  I'm just back from a walk in the woods; a new storm is about to start and it feels good to get outside.  The snow just started when I set out - heavy in open areas but gentle in the woods.

A rabbit had crossed my path a few minutes in front of me. Its tracks were still perfectly outlined despite the falling snow. I've taken a video because the tracks led to a pretty stream where the rabbit seemingly paused for a minute.  I was drawn to the same gap in the woods. 

If you're feeling couch-potatoish, take a some time to dress well and get outside.  There is beauty, some nice surprises and clarity of the mind awaits.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Though the coyote was not native to Newfoundland, it has established a presence for at least 20 years. It will probably here for the long run.  There has been ongoing discussion about the relative safety of coyotes when near people.  However, most of the focus has been with the increased numbers and the impact on moose and caribou populations. 

We shouldn't be really surprised. Coyote-like canines have roamed North America for about 40 million years, moving throughout the continent and onto Europe. They find new places to thrive. Newfoundland has been an open territory since about 1911, when the last Newfoundland Wolf (canis lupus beothucus) was spotted. The species is extinct.

Like wolves, coyotes are highly social and have a complex system of communication - allowing them to be excellent group hunters.  There is a theory that the relationship between humans and dogs was made possible by the social skills of early wolves. They could tolerate human beings!

For the most part coyotes stay away from humans. However, they are quick learners and notice our behaviour - such as leaving family pets outside and unattended.  At 25-40 pounds and nearly five feet in length, they are big animals.  Give them their space.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Awesome Smith Sound

This is a quick and simple post.  The view while driving through Clarenville today was just amazing.  Smith Sound lies at the bottom of Trinity Bay.  The pic below has Random Island to the right and Shoal Harbour to the left.

What an amazing day in Newfoundland!