Sundogs and Sundries

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Photo supplied.
A pair of sundogs, a stunning weather phenomenon.

Where has January gone?! And where has our snow gone?! The cold, dry snow of December and early January was wonderful for walking. Now the ice and uneven, crusty snow make for difficult footing. Nevertheless, for the person equipped with good ice cleats the outdoors beckons, with many things to experience. And there is a new trail to explore: the Station Trail is now open. You can find it on King Street West across from the Medical Centre. A second note to walkers:  the work on the dam is starting soon and to get to the trails you must go to the Old School and start along the boardwalk to Medd’s Mountain Park.

Earlier in the winter, I was on my morning walk when the sun was just coming up over Medd’s Mountain. And to my amazement and enjoyment I saw a pair of sundogs. I think I’ve only ever seen this once or twice in my life. And if you don’t know what a sundog is let me tell you. It is a glowing light beside the sun, almost always when the sun is just on the horizon. Often it happens that a pair appear either side of the sun. And like a rainbow a sundog can show colour. This pair actually did contain some prismatic colour. I believe sundogs are caused by ice crystals in the air reflecting the light of the sun–hence the similarity to a rainbow. Just describing it cannot convey how beautiful a thing it is!

And to add even more to my enjoyment the sundogs appeared again the next morning! To me it’s these rather simple things that brighten and make interesting our everyday world. It is truly wonderful, in the older sense of causing us to wonder. And it truly does help to “drive the cold winter away”, as an old English carol charmingly states it.

Readers of this column know that watching birds is a passion of mine and something I would sorely miss, especially in winter. The feeders at my house have been a hive of activity this winter. And the various woodpeckers give me great enjoyment. But somehow I was not satisfied with seeing only Hairies, Downies and Red-bellieds at my feeders! Why were some people able to attract the large and beautiful Pileated and I wasn’t?! Well, I can’t complain anymore. A male Pileated has deigned to make repeated visits to my suet. And if that wasn’t the limit, one day I saw the Pileated AND the Red-bellied at the same time. Many people would think I was lying!

The snow has remained with us for a long stretch already this winter. And in Medd’s Mountain you can see on the snow evidence of how the forest floor renews itself. All over the surface of the snow (and ice!) there are bits and pieces of leaf, needle, twig and bark. It’s only in the winter that it’s really noticeable. We take for granted the marvellous carpet which is the forest floor.

But you don’t even need to venture onto the trails to see things. The millpond frequently has things to show us, especially when there is any open water. The first day of the January thaw I saw a kingfisher and a Bufflehead on the newly open water. And the next day three pairs of Mallards. This is twice the number that I have seen braving out the winter. In the most frigid days, two or three Canada Geese and two or three Mallards could be seen in the open water below the dam or roosting on the ice. I think every year some birds try to “push the envelope” and risk remaining instead of migrating. What in their brain tells them this?!

Winter is still with us, don’t kid yourself. So you might as well get out! And enjoy!

Get Out! by Glen Spurrell

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