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Mar 16, 2008

Spring harbinger???

Now here's a face only a mother could love: the Turkey Vulture. I saw one of these huge carrion-eaters fly over the house today. I wondered for a moment if he had heard of my Kidney Stone attack and flew by to see if my body was lying in the ditch at the front of house. Fat chance Mr. Big Beak -- I'm a tougher old bird than you. I haven't seen a Robin yet, this spring, or a Red-winged Blackbird, or a Blue-bird, or any of the other birds that people normally think of as spring harbingers. I have seen lots of Horned Larks, but they come back sometimes in January so they don't really count. No, it the Turkey Vulture that is my first spring migrant of 2008, here in southern Ontario. What's the world coming to? Another manifestation of global warming? Or maybe it's just that road kill occurs anytime of year, even in winter, so there's always a meal available for some intrepid early-bird. Actually, Turkey Vultures have been extending their range northward for some years now, and are becoming more and more common. Ohhh, to be able glide like one of these big black beauties! Photos from Wikipedia- above by Max Waugh, below by Callie Bowdish

Mar 15, 2008

Beware of dog in Kettleby

My sister Denise sent me a cute little story about a friend of hers, named Rita O'Connor, who was visiting the nearby hamlet of Kettleby, in King Township. Rita's story goes like this: I was in Kettleby and went into this little store. There was a sign on the door saying "Beware of Dog". I entered warily, but the only dog I saw was a big old mutt lying down by the cash register. I asked the man at the counter, "Is this the dog you're warning about?" "Yeah" he said "Before I put the sign up people kept tripping over him."

Yes, Kettleby is small and laid-back, and that's the way they like it there. Below is a picture of some kids on a rope-swing over the Kettleby Creek, that I took at last year's Kettleby Fair. This spot was once under many feet of water, as the dammed-up Kettleby millpond. Now, 183 years later, the pond and mills are gone, and the scene looks once again as it probably did in 1825, or thereabouts.

Mar 9, 2008

More bluebird stuff

L'Oiseau Bleu Haiku

Bluebirds fly o'er me

Lifting my spirits so that

I too levitate

Mar 1, 2008

Bluebirds may be here by mid-March

In this part of Canada, a few kilometres north of Toronto, Eastern Bluebirds usually show up sometime between the middle and end of March. I had to keep reminding myself of this today as I and three colleagues from the Cold Creek Forest & Wildlife Area Stewardship Committee tramped around for 2 1/2 hours, cleaning out bird houses. It was about -2Celsius, with a nasty wind, and snow from yesterday's storm that was often above our knees. We made excellent time and did a did a pretty good job, I thought. The four of us are in our fifties and sixties, reasonably active, but we found carrying tools and step-ladders over Cold Creek's frozen fields and wetlands, rather gruelling. At the end I was describing Cold Creek as 'No Country for Old Men' and my birdbox buddies agreed.
It's hard to imagine how bluebirds can survive in this weather, but there are hundreds of them strung out along the north shore of Lake Erie, existing on wild berries or things put out on bird feeders like suet, raisins or even live mealy worms. There is no guarantee that this diet has or will keep them all alive. But those that do survive have an incredible urge to get on the breeding and nesting grounds early. Being a timid bird, by nature, bluebirds like to occupy nests early, rather than fight for spots later.
They take huge chances by arriving early because the wild berry supply at Cold Creek may not be sufficient to tie them over to the appearance of insects. Once as common as robins are today, these little thrushes were in great decline in the mid-to-late 1900s (blame habitat destruction and competition for nesting sites from house sparrows and starlings), but are making a comeback. The building and placing of bluebird birdhouses has been a big part of the turnaround in numbers.
Here's what Joan Rattner Heilman, in her book, Bluebird Rescue, begins with: "With their radiant blue feathers, soft round bodies, appealing little faces, and gentle manner, bluebirds have come to symbolize hope, happiness, springtime, and love. More songs were written about them than about any other bird in our history, and one famous writer, Henry David Thoreau, said that bluebirds carry the sky on their backs.
It's a joy to help these beautiful, little birds, but my Cold Creek pals and I must get around to cleaning out the boxes in October - not March!