Signs of winter’s approach

Brisk winds of autumn blew through the woodlands, stripping leaves from trees. All too soon, November’s mantle of gray, punctuated by brown stubbled fields and conifer’s evergreen will define the Pontiac landscape.

And the migrant songbirds’ chatter and trill will be but a summer’s memory.

But wait! Not so fast... There are still some reminders of those glory days of summertime.

Just last week I snatched such a memory of summer. Wednesday’s balmy temperature climbed to the mid-twenties... so out I went with some friends to sit on the deck and (surely a quintessential summer pastime) share some chit-chat and enjoy a beer.

A familiar-sounding trill combined with a familiar hunched silhouette on the hydro wires made me sit up and take notice.

It was a male bluebird. Suddenly he swooped up and flew north to the aspen to the east of our home. Those three trees are among the last to lose their leaves, so the bird disappeared into its protection.

Imagine my astonishment -- and thrill -- when five other male bluebirds followed suit. We all spied them: my visitors Ron Byrne and Wilfred Walsh bore witness to the splendid flashes of blue announcing these once-uncommon birds.

The six hung around our home for several days, most often seen together. One activity they appeared to enjoy was to sweep in unison above the ground, say 10 metres or so, and hover, twittering. Another typical activity was for them to perch more or less in a row along the hydro and telephone wires leading along our laneway.

What a thrill: I haven’t ever seen so many together at once.

Another sighting I made was while enroute to Herbie Road and Highway 148: off to the south of the highway I spotted the usual throng of Canada Geese.

But a stranger lurked amid them: a solitary Snow Goose.

Although not unknown in the Pontiac, snow geese are migrants that are by no means as common as their cousins. The bird I saw was snowy white with some black tail-feathers. It was on the outskirts of the throng of Canada Geese, but just as eagerly scouring the stubble of the corn field for remnants of kernels.

Yet another sign of late autumn is the thronging of blue jays. They overwinter here but now is the time that these raucous birds start calling their “creaking door” cry and flitting about close to our home. Along with them, I am now seeing a host of “confusing fall warblers,” as the Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds calls these migratory songbirds.

These days the warblers accompany the flycatchers, the Eastern Phoebes, as they all hover and flit near our home eating up the cluster flies.

How I wish they would eat those awful flies up completely. Makes me wonder if Muscovy ducks really would help (but of course, those are birds you keep outside... and we all know that having fowl around the garden fouls the garden. Not to mention attracting other critters like foxes. There are no easy solutions, are there?

This has surely been one of the worst years ever and, though I hate to “knock” a product, I’m sorry to relate that the touted product, “Cluster Buster” did not appear to work.


How I wish I could report otherwise, but some of the containers of pulverized egg shells appeared to be defective. While he was vacuuming the cluster flies from our windows, Eric noticed several white flies staggering about. After examining the Cluster Buster traps, he noted that there was a pile of white flour-like eggshell surrounding them.

We are back to vacuuming flies several times a day. But we cannot keep up with these gross creatures which bring new meaning to the word “computer bug” and “Y2K bug” when they emerge flattened and warm, adhering to a piece of paper that has gone through our printer.

Yuck. Well, that’s one sheet of paper that won’t end up on a client’s desk. Such “computer bugs” create particularly assiduous quality control at this time of year.

Friends of ours swear by the pesticides they use inside their homes which certainly is effective in keeping the flies vastly reduced. However, I do have a concern regarding their effect on our personal health.

By all means make up your own mind about whether you want pesticides sprayed in your home as a control for flies. But do inform yourself about the chemicals used and how they effect small children, pets ... and you.

Whether we like them or not, the signs of late autumn are upon us.

And who knows how to read the signs? Almanacs, wise folk and legends tell us that seeing lots of woolly bear caterpillars means a cold, long winter. Well, I’ve seen more crossing highway 148 and other roads than ever before, it seems.

Does that mean that this will be a long hard winter?

I cannot predict any better than Environment Canada. So perhaps it’s just as well to cleave to the far more interesting old-time soothsayers.

Whatever. What I do hope for is lots of snow cover. We need that to protect our woodlands, our perennials, our overwintered crops like rye, and to replenish our groundwater supply.

And to keep us skiers, snowshoers and skidoers happy.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at