Monday, April 27, 2009

Birds, Botany, and My Butt

As usual, click on the pictures for a better look.

The latest hike (yesterday) was about 7k through woods to the power line that runs between Sandy Lake and Marsh Lake. When I was there a week and a half ago there was no sign of nesting osprey. This time we saw two nesting pairs. The birds are still putting the final touches on their summer homes and will lay eggs in the next two weeks. The osprey cam that I featured last summer should be up and running again soon and I'll post the link to it when that happens. The Wookie got better shots than I did but hasn't posted them yet. So mine will have to do.

Along the power line were these transitioning pussy willows:

Following the power line we arrived at the stream (though now a river) that empties Sandy Lake into Marsh Lake. Following the stream into the woods towards Sandy Lake was an option we hadn't enjoyed before so we tramped through the wet trail that was there. On the way we came across a mouse condo:

I saw tons of ferns sprouting from the wet ground. Almost time for fiddleheads! Boiled with butter and salt or a little bit of vinegar....yum:

We managed to traipse around the eastern side of Sandy Lake and got right back to our starting point with no problems. Now I need to get to the western side. I also found an insect pupa. No idea what it is or what it's going to be so a little research first and pics and identification will follow. The fish ladder cleaning was cancelled because of high water and it's been rescheduled for next weekend.

We also attended a skating party yesterday afternoon. I foolishly borrowed someone's skates, got 5 feet on the ice and promptly smashed onto it, butt first. I ended up straining some butt muscles so am walking a little slowly today and it will delay my biking by a few days, but I'll be riding soon enough. I also have to write a note of apology to the rink maintenance people for cracking their ice......


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Frog Eggs.....and Deer Poop

Today the Wookie and I went for a few short jaunts. Neither of us had the energy for one big hike. The first pic is of one of the neighbourhood "gate hinges" as I like to call hem. Blue Jays are one of the noisiest of birds and sound like gate hinges to me. My father says they sound like a laundry line pulley.

We came across a couple pf wet spots in the woods and upon closer examination discovered clutches of frogs' eggs.

In the same wet spot another species of frogs' eggs. I think there are 4 or 5 different species of frog in Nova scotia and they all live fairly well together; bullfrogs, leopard spotted, green frogs, peepers, they all share the land and water.

The flying insects were out in great numbers today; I came across a few different beetles, flies, and bees. And the spiders were scurrying like mad. Except for this one. I suspect it's a species of crab spider; small but brave it will put up it's first two pairs of legs in a defensive motion (or maybe it's offensive). And what would a hike in the woods be without the obligatory shot of deer poop for Braincheese?

Tomorrow we'll be helping to clean out the fish ladder at Heffler's Mill on the Sackville River. I hope to return with a few more caddisflies to put in the aquarium. And pictures!


PD and MS

Sergey Brin is the brains behind Google. But he's got a "bug" in his brain. From Wikipedia:

In May 2007, Brin married Anne Wojcicki in The Bahamas. Wojcicki is a biotech analyst and a 1996 graduate of Yale University with a B.S. in biology. [4][16] She has an active interest in health information, and together she and Brin are developing new ways to improve access to it. As part of their efforts, they have brainstormed with leading researchers about the human genome project. “Brin instinctively regards genetics as a database and computing problem. So does his wife, who co-founded the firm, 23andMe,” which lets people analyze and compare their own genetic makeup (consisting of 23 pairs of chromosomes).[6] In a recent announcement at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, he said he hoped that some day everyone would learn their genetic code in order to help doctors, patients, and researchers analyze the data and try to repair bugs.[6]

Brin's mother, Eugenia, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. In 2008, he decided to donate a large sum to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where his mother is being treated.[17] Brin used the services of 23AndMe and discovered that although Parkinson's is generally not hereditary, both he and his mother possess a mutation of the LRRK2 gene that puts the likelihood of his developing Parkinson's in later years between 20 and 80%.[6] When asked whether ignorance was not bliss in such matters, he stated that his knowledge means that he can now take measures to ward off the disease. An editorial in The Economist magazine states that "Mr Brin regards his mutation of LRRK2 as a bug in his personal code, and thus as no different from the bugs in computer code that Google’s engineers fix every day. By helping himself, he can therefore help others as well. He considers himself lucky. ... But Mr Brin was making a much bigger point. Isn’t knowledge always good, and certainly always better than ignorance?"

There is a bit of controversy with genetic testing and licencing to companies that offer it. The industry of "educational genetic testing" is still in its infancy. Many companies offer to test your DNA to determine your ethnic ancestry, which parts of the world your ancestors came from. But there is also a growing number of labs that will check your DNA for certain diseases or "markers".

Brin is in the process of getting people signed up with 23AndMe who have Parkinson's Disease or who may have a genetic connection to it. He is offering reduced rates for testing in order to build a database to be used for further study. At a glance, this appears a cool idea. But it is peppered with criticism about scientific validity. Whatever happens with his study I'll be watching. My interest in the project and perhaps others like it is my connection with Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis.

I'm not worried that I will develop PD on top of my MS. What concerns me is that if I do develop PD, symptoms may be confused with MS symptoms and treatment for the two diseases is different. I contacted a friend's wife who is a genetic counselor at a local hospital. She passed on some info to me that explains "familial PD" and the process of differentiating the many types of PD. My odds of developing PD are only slightly more that the general population, which is what I thought. Unless I have my DNA analyzed, I won't know for sure. Familial PD occurs less frequently than other PD, and of the two aunts I had who did have PD, one developed early onset PD, the other, late onset PD. The uncle and grandfather who had (undiagnosed but evident) essential tremor developed it late in life.

So what do I take from all this info? There appears to be a propensity for movement disorder on my paternal side of the family. MS is not a movement disorder, though movement is definitely affected. Right now it is classed as an auto-immune disorder. But both PD and MS are diseases of the brain. Where does MS fit in? That's what I'm waiting to find out.


Monday, April 20, 2009

More Hikes

The past week has been rather on the busy side, with work commitments, dinner with friends, and then getting the Wookie at the airport.
Last Wednesday I took a trek to Jack's Lake from the western side. It's completely cleared of ice as this picture can attest. If you look to the opposite side of the water you can see the little beach I normally come to for pics.

Saturday morning I was part of a spring clean up in and around a small part of the Little Sackville River. It didn't take us long to gather 25 bags of garbage plus bigger stuff that won't fit in a garbage bag. I had a young partner, Jennifer, who, though quiet, was excited to be part of the clean up. And as an added bonus we came across another cocoon in a pussy willow tree. It was almost hidden by leaves and grass but I gently pried off a bit of the leaves to reveal the cocoon to Jennifer. I later sent her pics of our discovery and pics of the moth that I believe will emerge.

On a trek today I found a skull in a tree. OK, not a real skull:

On our hike yesterday, the Wookie and I tried to get pictures of a couple of woodpeckers but they were uncooperative. I did spy the cutest little racoon pawprint, though:

But I think the greatest discovery was of the rare, endangered, and dangerous Kung Fu Panda Bear:

The bike will be coming out of hibernation very soon. I'm hoping that all the hiking is building muscle in my legs in preparation for the long bike rides I'm planning for the spring and summer. And I'm currently researching Parkinson's Disease. It is a very different animal from MS, but it does run in my family. I hope to have something on that in the near future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Surprise Waterfall

The weather in Nova Scotia is volatile at the best of times. Because we stick out into the ocean, have a run of mountains in the northwest and the northeast, we are affected by a number of systems. First, there's the Arctic cold that comes down in the winter. It is usually tempered by the Gulf Stream, though not always, and January and February can be drastically cold for a maritime province. The Gulf stream and its warmth is affected by the ocean and so we get a lot of precipitation and fog. In the fall, we get the tail end of hurricanes that come up the Eastern Seaboard of the US, sometimes we even get an actual hurricane (like Hurricane Juan about 5 years ago). The summers are generally nice, but frustrating when we get a wet one. People at work wait to find out when I've booked time off and don't take the same weeks as that's when we get the down pours.

There's a saying in Nova Scotia: If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes, it'll change. On Saturday night we had a thunder and lightening storm the likes of which we don't usually see until August. On Sunday, the northern part of the province, connected physically to the rest of the country, and New Brunswick received almost a foot of snow. On Monday, we experienced snow, snow-showers, sunshine, rain, and snow pellets. Every time I looked out the window there was something different going on. The only way to know if spring is actually coming is by the plant and insect life.

So, Lanette, in answer to your question on my last post, yes, spring is here, judging by the buds, crocus, and the few bugs I've seen. However, even if we do get warmer weather, and an abundance of gnats and black flies, they are often killed off with a "killing frost" in mid May. Their populations rebound of course, as that's how Mother Nature works.

I have been trying to convince my dad to so a little hiking with me and the Wookie. He was ready until he discovered that sneakers aren't appropriate for where I go. I showed him how to use Google maps to see the different hiking trails and access roads I use and with the promise of taking him to Jack's Lake when it's dry and he can do it in sneakers, he has agreed. That's a few more months away. To inspire what he can see on the hikes I snapped a couple of pictures of Marsh Lake yesterday. Sandy Lake is to the south and empties into Marsh Lake which in turn feeds into the Sackville River.

I was standing on what I'll loosely term a road taking those shots. Runoff from the big hill I'd hiked is going down the road and emptying eventually into Marsh Lake. In the summer time it's bone dry on the road with sometimes a tiny trickle on the side.

While standing there, the wind picked up, the clouds moved in, and the snow started again. I couldn't continue on that road in those conditions so I ducked into the woods on the left. Those woods are chock full of cross country running trails and extreme mountain biking trails. If you just duck into the shelter of the trees along the edge you can wait out any weather, secure from the winds and dry from the snow and rain. I was stunned when I ran into the trees. I could hear water pouring from somewhere and it wasn't the stream on the road I heard. Fearing a possible flash flood (not bloody likely), I whipped around towards the source of the sound and discovered:

How cool is that? The tree was kind of scary looking, but despite the onslaught of water, it was standing like a sentinel.

After a few minutes I popped out of the woods, feeling almost like a deer during hunting season. After inspecting more of the road and checking my watch, decided to cut through the woods back to Sandy Lake. I went into the woods at a different place, but very soon ended up on a familiar trail that the Wookie and I had discovered last year. Continuing on I was going up hill. At one point I got off that trail and onto another, going down hill now, and ended up at a dirt road. A road?! It was still snow covered, though melting, but I couldn't figure out what road it was. I knew if I kept on going I'd end up somewhere along Sandy Lake. I sat down to rest, have some water, and try to figure out what road this was. Once I sat down I could see blue water through the trunks of the trees. Aha! That's Sandy Lake, about 100 metres away. I laughed as I realized I knew exactly where I was, continuing through the trees until I ended up at the park on the shores of the lake. I had seen this path from the entrance of the park but had never ventured to travel it. The road I had crossed actually leads to two cabins close to the park that are privately owned.

From the park to my car was short 1 k walk on a gravel path/road, so the final leg of my journey was an easy one. At one point on my jaunt I frightened some large animal in the bush; I saw a flash of black and white run away. A feral cat? A skunk? Glad it decided not to stay. And the wind was causing the larger dead trees to rub against each other making creepy squeaky toy noises that made me wonder if I hadn't been followed by a demonically possessed baby. And of course, I found several signs of deer with tracks and poop. So every time I go on these walks I think of Linda at Braincheese when I see the deer poop.

When I'm out on these treks now, I almost always think of the MS blogging community, snapping pics for Diane and Herrad to enjoy from their homes, looking for little things that I want to put under the microscope for Linda, and interesting birds Joan may not have a chance to see in Delaware. Which reminds me, Joan; the Wookie, on his business trip had a seagull poop on him. That's supposed to be good luck isn't it?


Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Hike

I went for a great Easter hike yesterday, in the drizzle. There were many great finds including a cocoon of some sort. I debated leaving it on the tree branch, even taking pictures of it on the branch, but decided I needed to know what kind of creature would emerge from it. My thinking is that it's a cecropia moth, like the one I found last June after having just emerged from it's own cocoon, wings still limp. It's safely ensconced in my bug cage on the dining room table and I'm looking forward to this one coming out.

I also came across a couple of birds' nests, each only about 4 feet off the ground and very close to the start of the trail I was walking. I was surprised to find it so close to the start of the trail as it's very close to a major highway as well. It's not too often that you can get an up close look at a birds' nest though so I took advantage of it.

At one point on the trail I came across a small seasonal marsh with a whole lot of old cattails. When I was younger I would take apart the cattail and watch the fluff from inside spread in the wind. I haven't done that for years and this time I broke one in half and felt the fluff with my nose. Sometimes my fingers aren't as sensitive as I would like them to be and I really wanted to feel the fluff. Despite the rain we had for a day and a half and that morning, the inside fluff was bone dry. The picture is a little fuzzy, but I did that on purpose. Look at it really closely for a minute and then close your eyes and imagine bringing it to your nose to feel the softness.

I think the best shot of the day was at the very start of the hike. I rarely see pussy willow trees any more, but came across tons of them in bloom. I was like a kid on Christmas morning, but because it was so drizzly, touching them to feel their softness only got me wet. So I stood back to get the bigger picture, so to speak.

A neighbour on my floor put up an Easter decoration on her door. It's an Easter bag with a bouquet of flowers in it (they're in a vase). On my way back to the car I broke off a small branch of the pussy willow and when I got home I put it in the vase with the flowers. I didn't see her until today and she told me that her brother (long since passed away) used to send her a bunch of pussy willows from home every spring. She was quite overcome yesterday when she saw them.

Funny how things work out, eh?


Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge them and really make out the drops on the pussy willow. And come back tomorrow for today's hike and pics of a surprise waterfall.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Luckiest People in the World

I was waiting for the Art Gallery to open this morning when a man about my age an a boy about 8 came along. The boy was pretty excited about going inside and the man was trying to take a picture of him with his cell phone.
"If you show me how, I can take a picture of the two of you, " I offered.
The man accepted as the boy said "You'll take a better picture since my dad is blind". The man showed me which button to push as his son continued "But he's only blind in the left eye."
They smiled for the picture as the man explained he had an aneurism many years ago that took the sight from his left eye.
"But it's fixed now," he said.

In the few minutes it took for the gallery to open I learned that the man was a single dad, on disability, and he and his son had come all the way on the bus to get to the Art Gallery for the Easter Egg Hunt. It was an hour and a half ride on the bus, as they were coming from just outside the city and because of his disability he can't drive. I told him that I have MS and I'm interested in all things neurological. I asked him about the aneurism and how it was "fixed".

The doctors did an angiogram to discover the aneurism, and with a similar procedure as angioplasty on the heart, they inserted a needle through the arteries to his brain to inject a biological glue to seal the aneurism. He told me that he had been told that this works in only a few cases and he's had it for 10 years.

"You're quite lucky," I told him. "Who's your neurosurgeon?"

"You heard of Ivar Mendez?" he asked. I smiled and said yes. I didn't tell him how much admiration I have for Dr. Mendez as a researcher, or as an artist, or that I have blogged about his efforts to get the Brain Repair Centre up and running in Halifax, or his drive to use technology in brain repair.

"I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world," he said. "I see him twice a year for a check and he asks if I want them to remove the aneurism. I say no, 'cause why open my skull and dig around in my brain if the glue holds? But it's congenital so me and my son get checked out regularly."

The man didn't know it, but the self proclaimed "luckiest man in the world" had just met one of the luckiest women in the world.

The single dad, Michael J. Fox, and me. We have three different neurological conditions. And we are three of the luckiest people in the world.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Fibre, Fish, and Fields

Here's the wood I took home Sunday from my hike on the land being cleared for an access road. The area was littered with pieces of this stuff, pine, that had tons of these little holes in them:

I took the wood with me on Wednesday to Heffler's Mill in Lower Sackville when I was going to check the fish ladder. One of the guys there told me it was made by one of many wood boring beetles or the spruce bud worm. The beautiful pattern left behind is devastating to the tree of course, if there are enough of the bugs. I put it under the microscope and could detect tiny spider-web like fibres which may be from a spider or other bug, though it may also be fungus. Anyway, up close it was pretty cool.

I also stopped in at the Sackville Rivers office and Steve showed me the salmon fry that had hatched March 23rd. There is a program for school kids, run by volunteers, where classes get a bunch of salmon eggs to keep in a tank in their classroom for the year. Once they hatch and they're big enough they're released back into the Sackville River by the kids. We had a handful of the eggs in the office aquarium and of course I wanted to share my excitement as well:

Once they hatch they just lie around at the bottom of the stream, feeding of the yolk sac (which looks like a fried egg) until that's gone and they have to fend for themselves.

I also paid a visit to the fish ladder. You can't even see the grate that covers the top because of the amount of water right now. We'll be going there to clean it out in May, removing leaves and debris clogging up the underwater grate. It's dirty, wet work, but it's fun and good exercise. And I'll be able to get myself a couple of caddisflies for my aquarium again this year.

You may remember from last May, I had a couple of caddisflies for a noth, until one was eaten by the other and the remaining one disappeared before I could set it free. When I move I'll probably find its dessicated remains under the couch, along with the diving beetle that escaped. Which reminds me, it's almost time to take the two cocoons in the fridge out into the bug cage in the living room. One is a luna moth that I took home as a caterpillar last summer, the other will be a surprise.

I tried to walk along the Bedford Sackville greenway but most of the start of it is still under water. Range Park is quickly draining though and at least most of the football field (and the bleachers) are exposed again:

I took a hike yesterday along a different path and am about to head out shortly for another walk. Pictures later. By the time I get on the bike, I should be able to go for miles and miles....


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Force 10 From Lake Dam

I went for a short hike today around the Kearney Lake area. The lake crosses under a minor highway , forms a pond, and that has a dam at the end. Normally the water laps gently against the dam. There is an output pipe at the bottom of the opposite side of the dam and water flows at a slow but regular rate into a river that leads to Paper Mill Lake, which in turn has its own dam that empties into 9 Mile River (and used to be used to power the Moirs Paper Mill), which then empties into the Bedford Basin, which is the northern part of the Halifax Harbour. Whew. Anyway, the Kearney Lake dam, about 25 feet high, today was more like Niagra Falls.

I walked to the bottom of the dam and around the pool at the bottom and into the woods a little way. There I discovered another stream, partly formed by runoff and snow melt and partly fed from underground. It was rushing by a felled and decaying tree that made me think of some arboreal Hannibal Lechter victim. I know how to spook myself, that's for sure.

Another tree I came across looked like it should have a for rent sign out front to advertise a two level woodpecker home.

I also took a short walk close to Sandy Lake and after a trek through the woods determined that I had enough exercise for the day. It poured again last night and this morning and it'll be cloudy and drizzly until Sunday at least, so the boots and jacket are drying out again. When I got home I decided to take a quick peek at the garden. First signs of life are the grape hyacinth:

Second signs of life are the rhubarb buds:

In case you're wondering, the Wookie is away on business. *sigh*


Sunday, April 5, 2009

How Dry I Ain't

Since Friday night we have received rain in epic proportions. The local rivers are swollen and overflowing and the woods are as soggy as can be. The rain won't keep me from exploring though.

There is a new construction site I wanted to explore where an access ramp to one of the local highways is being built. They're just at the tree-clearing stage and this is perfect for getting a look at the ground close up. My first discovery was deer poop.

Looking from the top of a cliff of sorts (don't worry Herrad, it wasn't the same sort of cliff I climbed before) you can see the clearing happening on both sides of the highway.

Looking behind me into the woods I could make out a larger body of water. I think this was my main reward for the hike as I had no idea this pond was there. I'm not sure anyone else was aware of it either until the clearing began and it may just be a temporarily as large as it is because of the amount of water that has come down, snow melt, and the effects of clearing. But if you look at the rock cliff on the left side you'll get an idea of what Nova Scotia is made of. That cliff is about 20 feet high and ponds like this are all over the province.

I also took home an interesting rock and a piece of a tree that had a really cool hole in it that I need to find out what creature made it. I'll post pics of those soon as I want to put them both under the microscope.

I took a couple of pics of the Sackville River to show how swollen it is:

The soccer field is completely under water, the bleachers almost covered. In the distance you can see a highway overpass that goes over the Bedford Sackville Trail which winds along the river. There was supposed to be a guided walk along the river yesterday, but most of the walkway is under water.

My boots and jacket are drying out and should be ready for another jaunt by Tuesday. It's going to be wet most of the week apparently, but that's ok as it means less people to contend with while I'm out enjoying nature.

Bum Legs

When I was 7 I asked my grandmother what had happened to her leg to cause her to limp. She told me she had been kicked by a cow. That wasn't an unreasonable explanation to a 7 year old and I spent the next 10 years thinking that my grandmother had been injured during a milking accident. When I was 17 I found out that she had polio as a child. That's what caused her bum leg. Why she told me the fib about the cow I'll never know, though I think she might have thought that was funny somehow. Anyway, not once did I see or hear Nanny complain about her leg. I know it slowed her down, but she worked hard at child rearing, housekeeping and cooking all her life. She spent weeks in the summers at a church camp cooking for all the kids. I never heard her say "If only I didn't have this bum leg".

For the past two years a certain crow has been hanging around where I live. It's hard to tell one from the other, but this one has a deformed left leg. I don't know if the deformity was there from hatching or if it was the result of a run in with a cat or other predator. And it may not even be the same crow, but I'm pretty sure it is. Most animals hang around where they can get food and crows are no different. They have certain neighbourhoods they hang around, leaving at night for a communal rookery. Some hunt or forage for food together, some are solitary. But they are creatures of habit, so I like to think my "disabled" crow is the same one.

I hadn't seen it all winter. Today I saw it about half a block from my home, hopping around on the front lawn at a neighbour's house. It made it through another winter and appears healthy. It put a smile on my face to see this bird.

Because of its injury, its survival is compromised. Its reproductive success is also compromised. With only one functional leg it may not be as good a defender of food and territory. It might lose more arguments on the ground with other scavengers. But it doesn't go around thinking "if I only didn't have this bum leg I could get a girl crow (or a boy crow) and have baby crows". It will go through the motions of attempting to woo a mate or perhaps be wooed. But getting and keeping food is undoubtedly a struggle that may not be enough to feed a family. But it still hops around from spot to spot checking things out and of course its flying ability is intact. If I ever see it with nesting material in its beak then I'll know it's attempting to reproduce.

Perhaps if I were Native Canadian I would believe my grandmother's spirit inhabits the crow. I don't, but the crow makes me think of my grandmother and how she stoically carried on with life. And it's a gentle reminder that I am carrying on as well.