Sunday, 28 September 2014

Go ahead, mice. I dare you.

Today was "get at the one spot we couldn't get at" day in the war against the mice.

I cut a small trap door in the deck to expose the corner where they are coming in.
A porthole in the deck
I moved a few rocks to gain a really good sightline to their entry point.
See the chewing?
Then I filled the whole freaking space with expanding anti-pest foam.
Immediately after application 
10 min later, the foam is still expanding
It took the whole can, but there's no freaking way they're getting through that.

Come on, dudes. I dare you. The house is now closed, buddies.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Larches and pikas and bears, oh my

The larches are turning, and I really wanted to get up to my favourite place to go see them. I have been to, and written about, Sparrowhawk Tarns before -- here, here and here. But I rarely hit the larches in their peak colour.

Larches are to Alberta what maples and oaks are to Eastern Canada. They are one of the few things that change our green forests to a beautiful colour in the fall. I wish they would last longer; they go from pale green to yellow to gold to gone in a matter of 10 days. Sparrowhawk has a magnificent grove of larches.

We started by picking up our friend Monty at the Canmore Nordic Centre, where the aspens and poplars are magnificent.
Mt. Rundle in the background
As you can tell by looking across from the Sparrowhawk trailhead, fall colour is not the "norm" here.
Still green
About 45 min up, we looked and found the day's first pikas.
Posing for me 
They don't sit still long.
Running away
The fall colours of the bushes on the way up are brilliant.
Looking up at Mt. Sparrowhawk
When the larches start, everything just goes magnificent.
The first of the larches 
A solo 
Larch after larch after larch 
And even more
Groves, looking back towards Read's Tower
We passed even more pikas in this section...
Contemplating life from a rock
...and saw a Clark's Nutcracker rooting for seeds.
On the ground 
In the larch
We emerged from the larch forest and got into the upper basin proper just in time for lunch. We stopped at the top of a knoll, sat down, and started to eat lunch. A few ravens were flying around, making a lot of noise. I followed them and saw something in the distance.
Our lunch view. But there's something there
We pulled out binoculars and saw something large and brown and moving...
Hey, that's a...
...which looked from our distance (of ~500 m) to be a grizzly bear. He was digging and rooting around a lump in the ground, and the two ravens were trying to get him away from whatever he was digging for.
Digging with company 
The ravens won't go away
After a few minutes, the bear lay down on the lump, but the ravens would not leave.
"Go away"
I shot a short movie of him.
Knowing fully well I would lose picture quality, I turned on digital zoom, and continued shooting.
Fuzzy, but
When we got home and looked at these photos, it became clear that this is not a grizzly, but a cinnamon coloured black bear. Ah, well. Seeing him was just awesome.

We left the bear to be (after each taking about 100 photos), and continued into the basin, making a heck of a racket. We passed awesome streams...
A low down creek 
Amazing green next to a creek up high
...tarns with some water in them...
Tarn 1 of 5
...the spectacular basin...
The route up Red Ridge
...hunting camps...
Tables and chairs out of stone
...and just beauty everywhere.
Looking back into the basin
On our way back, we just had to see if Mr. Bear was still there where we first saw him. He was. Lounging.
That's chilled.
The light wasn't nearly as good on the way down, but the larches were still nice.
Lovely colour
We saw more than just bears and pikas today, but not much. We did see the odd chipmunk.
Cute. And eating
What a fantastic day in the mountains. The larches were perfect, seeing the bear was amazing, and of course there were pikas.

And I hiked 17 km, climbing 780 m. Which is why I am now dead tired. Not bad for a guy recovering from a broken leg.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

More de-mousing

After Jello and us caught 12 mice in under 3 weeks, we decided we needed professional help. Again. For the 3rd time. I wrote here how we pulled up the deck and thought we found the problem: a hole around the casing of a window we didn't even know was there.

The exterminator came, and looked, and found a few things we didn't see. The mice actually come in under a section of deck we did not remove (and who's removal would be VERY tough).
Look carefully
Two things are visible in the photo above.

  1. Where the concrete foundation wall of the house meets the siding of the garage, dead centre of the photo above, the garage siding has been chewed to make it bigger.
  2. About 5" to the right of this, hiding but visible is a grey conduit pipe. This is the wire that leads to the garage.
There's also evidence that the mice are using this as their main entrance. There are trails leading around and over that rock in the middle.

We also found a few other things:
  • There is a 3" standoff between the house siding and the house walls. Heaven only knows if there are ways mice can get up between the two.
  • That window we found is packed around its edges with fabric, mostly dark blue corduroy, ripped from an old pair of pants.
Bits of fabric jammed into the top of the window
The exterminator did a bunch of stuff:
  • He squirted expanding foam into the cracks around the window, including the big hole we found;
  • He put down a bunch of ZP. This nasty stuff, zinc phosphide, is a powder that gets on the mice. When the mice lick the powder off to groom, it turns into phosphine gas and they die within 2 hrs;
  • He put down some pesticide laced winter wheat pellets. 
But because he couldn't access the obvious entry point and seal it, nor access the entire wall to close off the 3" gap, we got no guarantees the mice would stop.

So Jello caught one that night. And so did we, in a glue trap. He caught another the next night...
Hunter pride
...and another the next afternoon. Then we caught another in a glue trap last night. Five mice in 3 days. So obviously, the exterminator's work wasn't successful.

I decided to try to attack the problem from the inside. We went into the basement, took down the suspended ceiling along the problem wall...
Tiles removed
...and cut portholes in the drywall above the ceiling level to access the foundation wall.
A bunch of holes
Along the way we found a dried up, desiccated mouse.
Say cheese
The way the basement was finished, it was difficult to get 100% visibility of the wall, especially in the problem corner. But we did find where the wires come in, a hole big enough for the mice, and a lot of poop.
There's room there
We also found that the expanding foam the exterminator dude squirted in around the window did indeed make it into the house. We found another couple of spots where there were holes, too. So I took some of my own expanding foam and filled everything I could see.
Awkward reaching into tight spots
Did we get everything? I doubt it. Did we get where the mice are coming in? Maybe. Only time will tell. What makes me nervous is that the conduit visible in the top photo above is 5" to the left of where the mice chewed the boards. You can see that 5" to the right of where the wires exits the house is nothing: no means of entrance. So I have to assume that the mice make it between the siding and the walls, then come in via the electrical conduit hole in order for what I just did to work.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

More physiotherapy hiking

Last week was winter.
A plant in 28 cm of snow
This week is summer. All that snow is essentially gone except up very high, so we took advantage of the spectacular weather to continue my "hiking for physiotherapy". I picked C Level Cirque, a hike that is similar in distance to the wander I did pre-winter up at Sunshine, but has a bit more height gain (580 m vs the 325 m I did at Sunshine). It's not my favourite hike; there's a long, boring forest walk in the middle, and the trail's rooty & rutted. But it's not far from my house, and there's always pikas -- and I had not seen a pika yet this year.

The first stop is always the Lake Minnewanka overlook, only 45 min up the trail. It's at the old coal mine workings.
A spectacular view on a spectacular day
I even got a panorama from that viewpoint.
My house is in that photo (sort of)
It takes another hour of trudging uphill through a not-terribly-interesting forest to get to the next views.
Looking down the Bow Valley to Canmore and my house
Then 10 minutes after that, you get to the cirque -- which is a mighty impressive big bowl of rocks -- and the end of the official trail.
A very big rubble field
If you blow up that picture and look really closely, you'll see a trail leading up the right side of the basin. Follow this and you will get yelled at by pikas in the boulder field...
My first pika of the year
...but at the top is a small grassy meadow of rocks which is pika heaven and an idea place for a sit and a snack.
Monty & Karen making the crest
In addition to the pikas, there are overly friendly Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels, who have obviously been hand fed once or twice (say, by the Dutch tourists we ran into who were feeding them apples).
But mostly there were pikas, at least 5, all industriously collecting grass...
Hard at work 
Quite the mouthful 
The endless searching for green stuff 
Watching me watching him
...filling their middens...
The stash is under that rock 
A winter's supply, or part thereof
Initially, the little dudes don't want to have anything to do with you, and don't like you being around -- so they just hide. But once they figure out you're not going to bother them, they go back to work storing grass for the winter, and stop paying attention to you, allowing some fairly close encounters. One little guy seemed interested in watching me watch him.
He's actually sitting still
Interested & observant... 
...but cautious and ready to run 
The money shot pose
It was a really glorious 26° this afternoon, very summer-like and not at all feeling like fall. Aside from colours turning on aspen, poplar and some avens, there wasn't much in the way of fall colour -- as yet.

But it's coming.