Tunnel of Love: still crawling into winter

Despite the inevitable, I continue to be amazed at what I’m finding out there still, end of November, post-snowfall, frost, icing up.

Yesterday I had a couple hours to spare for an excursion, so I grabbed my newly acquired superzoom for some hopeful bird spotting along the lake. And just out of habit, and a lot of irrational hopefulness, I tossed my Olympus TG5 into my jacket
pocket too.

A very grey, mizzly day. Still some snow on the ground in pockets. And a cold northwest wind with lots of gusting. When I got to the lake, it was too choppy. Yeah, the odd shorebirds were just visible, but with all those waves and their distance, I knew it was a lost cause.

So I called it quits on the birding early and decided to go a little further to a park where I knew there were lots of good, mixed rotting wood. I figured I’d do the fungi consolation tour. (Sorry to fungi enthusiasts. No insult intended here. I love these species too, but that’s been the bulk ‘fibre’ of my observing diet for weeks now. I was really missing the ‘berries’.)

About five minutes of driving later, I pull over to the shoulder of the highway access road I’m on as I see a great big Red-tailed Hawk land on top of some signage. A good omen, right?

It was a large, fully mature bird and I played it safe by stopping maybe a hundred feet from it. I had read recently that shooting from within a vehicle was great for avoiding the spook-off, so I thought I would test this. The hawk did a little dance and some big wing ruffles. Of course it knew where I was at all times. Anyhow, I was able to see it very clearly through the windshield but, when I tried to zoom focus the results were pretty bad. That’s one thing about these smaller sensor bridge cameras. You’re really shooting through such a tiny hole it gets really mess up when you shoot through any window glass. It was like there were two images which I guess is part of the window thickness refraction? Anyhow, I learned something. On to fungi land.

When I got to the park I decided to scout the bare trees for any avian action. Other than a few soaked starlings, there was nothing else to view. Onto the woods.

When I say ‘woods’, it’s really just a little remnant strip of what was once a fine oak forest that has been trimmed, over the decades to accommodate the ever-widening six-lane highway (plus two service roads) along its long side. Even so, many fine great oaks and pines remain, as does a diverse range of lifeforms. But here’s the unusual bit: to get to this little park, you follow a sidewalked, concrete pedestrian path built high above a creek that goes right under the highway’s service road via a 20 foot wide, concrete-walled tunnel.

The tunnel itself is maybe 60-80 foot long. It’s not lit (other than a fair bit of natural light bouncing off the ends) and the grey day made it seem even darker than usual. I could see that there were some cobwebs along the ceiling and walls but I didn’t think much of that, at first.

Then I spent about 20 minutes sniffing around the woods on the other side. I found some nice, but not new to me, fungi samples. That was about it. Nothing else stirring. Nothing feathered, furred, or chitin bound. Not even winter ants, or cluster flies or a single bark louse. [sigh] So I headed back to the tunnel.

That’s when I remembered the TG-5 I had in my pocket. Too bad I hadn’t packed a light of some sort. Wait a sec… my phone! Would that work as a light? Why not? You never know…

Paydirt! Well, at least in End-of-November terms. And everyone of these things was alive. Not ‘too’ lively. But definitely walking, and even flying about.

I figure the tunnel must in many ways mimic more of a moderated cave environment, and that’s why the frost hadn’t got in. In any case, I’m going back in a few days (with better lighting) and see what I can add to my December list!

That’s my big tip. Do you have a large pedestrian tunnel in your park neighbourhood? Are you going through November/December crawly-withdrawal? Then go check it out! You may (hopefully) be very pleasantly surprised!

Anyone else care to share their late season, little crawlies discovery tricks?

I’d love to hear about them.


Here in California, winter is among the best time to see many of the animals (and fungi, and many of the plants, and even some terrestrial algae). It has been so dry for so long that the greens faded to yellows, then to browns, then to grays. We are finally getting some rains, and everything that was estivating is waking up. But similar to your winter experience there, looking underground in the long dry summer and fall here is a good way to find interesting life at the hardest of times.

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If you shoot from vehicle you of course open the window unless you’re the passenger and car is driving, even the best cameras aren’t good with thick uneven glass being an additional lens.

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