Hello, everyone! After a months-long hiatus that has been filled with a whole lot of Queensborough community work plus the day job that pays the bills here at the Manse, I am back! And I have many things to tell you about: an amazing art-themed event coming up in Queensborough next month; the ridiculous system that we Queensborough people have to use to get rid of our trash and recycling; the major road-repair project going on just west of our hamlet; some fantastic improvements to the landscape in Queensborough; and my terror-of-renovation paralysis. To name just a few. But today I want to talk about – wait for it – deerflies.
Because the deerflies have been really, truly terrible this summer of 2019, as anyone who’s been outside in rural Ontario will surely agree. “Never seen them this bad before,” I’ve heard quite a few people say.
Now, I suppose an obvious way to avoid being bitten and bothered by these very annoying insects is just to stay indoors. But who wants to do that, when summer is so beautiful in Queensborough?
For me especially, being outdoors is a big thing these days, because I’ve taken up a walking routine. Four or five afternoons a week you can find me walking the Queensborough “block” – not the “downtown” Queensborough block that you can easily cover in less than 10 minutes, but the big block that takes you eastward out Queensborough Road toward Moore’s Corners, then south till you get to Bosley Road, and then west and north along Bosley till you arrive right back at the Manse where you started. It’s a five-mile/eight kilometre route, which I cover in a tiny bit over one and a quarter hours, mixing it up every other day by starting out on Bosley Road and walking in the other direction.
Normally that hour and a quarter is a very pleasant time indeed, good for my brain and spirit as well as my body. I listen to the breeze and the birdsong, wave to the motorists who meet or pass me (and who almost invariably give me a big, friendly wave in return), say hello to the various dogs along the way (Lacey, Jugs, Mimi, Bella, Lily, Magnum and China, among others), observe the wildlife (bunnies, turtles, butterflies, ducks, frogs, once even a fox) and the cattle, horses and sheep grazing on local farms, and quietly meditate on the life and beauty that surround me.
But for the past few weeks, the deerflies have significantly intruded on my walking pleasure. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there are a lot of deerflies on my route. And of course that photo – one day’s haul of deerflies caught on the sticky strip I wear on my walking cap, an essential deerfly-survival tool that I have my Queensborough friend and neighbour Herb to thank for introducing to me (you can read about that here) – only shows the deerflies I actually vanquished that day. The ones dumb enough to get irreversibly stuck on my cap are a small proportion of the ones that fly in zippy circles around my head and body, eager to alight and suck my blood via a painful bite.
However, there is quite a bit of satisfaction in bringing an end to a significant number of deerflies using this handy tool each day. And it makes for rather a dramatic look; as my friend and neighbour Tory commented yesterday when she saw my fly-filled cap at the end of my walk: “It’s like art!”
This brief video from yesterday’s walk will give you some idea of what the deerfly situation is like. Those little things that zoom in and out of view in the blink of an eye? They are, of course, the deerflies.
The video was taken along a stretch that I call Kilometre 4, a not-very-imaginative title for the final kilometre on the 4K Bosley Road portion of my walk. (That is, on the days when I start by going south from the Manse on Bosley. It’s actually Kilometre 5 when I walk in the other direction, but in my mind it’s always Kilometre 4.)
This is the section that has the fewest homes and open fields, and the most wooded areas. And those wooded areas make it Deerfly Central.
If you come across me walking that section during these high-summer days, you may be hard-pressed to pick me out amid the black swarm of deerflies that will be circling me from head to ankles. Mercifully, once I emerge from that stretch they peter out, at least a bit.
I am not much for insect repellant, but I have discovered that spraying my arms, legs and back of my neck with Deep Woods Off at least keeps the deerflies from alighting and biting, and that helps a lot. They still swarm and annoy, but at least I arrive home more or less unbitten and unbloodied.
The other thing I seem to have discovered is that deerflies are attracted to sound – or at least the sound of tinkling bells. On my walks I carry a little bracelet with bells attached, and I jingle it when I’m along the quietest and most wooded stretches of the walk. It’s because I don’t ever want to meet up with a bear, particularly a mama bear feeling protective of her cubs, and I am reliably informed that making noise will warn the bears of human presence (because they don’t want to meet me any more than I want to meet them) and keep them steered clear. You might think that the chances of meeting a bear on my walks are slim, and they probably are. But bears are not infrequently spotted in the Queensborough area and, you know, it only takes one.
But back to the deerflies and my accidental discovery: on one particularly horrific deerfly day, I noticed that they seemed to be a little less thick around me in the periods when I was not jingling the bells. Now, my first thought that was that this was only because the places where I use the bells are also the most wooded places, where the deerfies are thickest. I dismissed my observation.
On the next walk, however, I noticed the same thing. And to test it, I tried jingling the bells a little bit two or three times when there were few or no deerflies about. Instantly, more appeared. Have I made an astounding, groundbreaking scientific discovery, do you suppose?
On the last couple of walks, I refrained from using the bells entirely. And you know what? While the deerflies were still very much in evidence, they weren’t as thick as they had been previously. Which is a very good thing. On the other hand, there’s a tradeoff, in that to make this new system I’ve discovered work, I don’t get to use my bear-repellent method. In the overall scheme of things, I think you’d probably agree, deerflies are a better thing to run into than a bear.
Then again, the decrease in the deerflies could simply be due to their season coming to an end. To which I think many of my readers in rural Ontario will say: can’t come soon enough.