On the Wild Side: Cold climate, new discoveries

Above, Ann Brokelman’s friend Aeshin photographs wildlife and ice circles at Bluffers Park in Scarborough. PHOTOS: Ann Brokelman

Like many of you, on many of these cold winter days I like nothing more than to sit indoors, under a blanket, reading a book, with a hot drink and my warm pup curled up next to me. I also love going outside and taking pictures in -15 degree, or even colder, weather. Few settings are more beautiful than blue skies, falling snow, and a lake full of ice, ducks, swans, and geese.

When properly bundled and with appropriate footwear, winter nature walks offer many beautiful photo opportunities.

Just the other day I was out with my friend Aeshin at Bluffers Park in Scarborough when we came across something I’d never noticed before: ice circles. Aeshin kept taking photos of the ducks and swans, unaware of what had caught my eye. I wondered how many times I’d seen these before and walked passed them, or if I was seeing something new and unique. I sat on a rock to contemplate this question, before remembering that it was -5 and rocks were not the warmest platform on which to sit! The bay was full of both large and small circles of ice.

Out came my phone, and, with very cold fingers, I turned to the Internet. Wikipedia told me that, “An ice disc, ice circle, ice pan, or ice crepe is a natural phenomenon that occurs in slow moving water in cold climates.” The article went on to say that these ice circles are fairly rare, but can be found regularly in North America and Scandinavia. They initially form like any other piece of ice, but, when all the conditions line up perfectly, the ice gets trapped in a spinning river/eddy current. As the ice spins its edges are slowly rounded by rocks, the shore, and other pieces of ice until it forms a neat circle. Some of these circles can be as large as 15m (49 ft) in diameter.

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Despite your desire to avoid the outdoors on these cold winter days, I’d encourage you to get outside (at least for a short walk) and see what nature has to offer. Remember, winter is going to happen anyway, so you might as well take advantage of it. Over this last month I’ve gone to a variety of parks and each visit brought something new. For example, I went to Cherry Beach to take photos of the sunset, but found dozens of other beautiful photo opportunities: ice hanging on branches and an old fence, plants by the water’s edge completely encased in ice, ducks on the water, and more birds in the trees than you would think would be comfortable in this weather.

In addition to everything I’ve said, please remember: with all this beauty comes the danger of falling on the paths and even slipping into the water. I wiped out last Sunday as I was not paying attention to where I was walking. I even had a pair of cleats in the car, but I didn’t take the time to put them on. The city does a good job of clearing and salting our roads and walkways, but they can’t get every patch of ice in every park. Please dress properly and make sure you are careful. Our city is gorgeous this time of year…. but slippery!

Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer. Connect with her at naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca

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