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Dec 9, 2009

Charles Long ~ brewer's labourer

The photo at right shows the Old Malthouse in the village of Langton Matravers, in Dorset, England. It is a couple of kilometres from the English Channel and also that part of England's southern shore known as the Jurassic Coast. For the last 100 years or so, the Old Malthouse has served as a school, but before that it was a brewery, lived in and operated by Charles Chinchen Edmunds, a maltster and brewer. In 1881, in a cottage next to the Old Malthouse, lived the 75-year-old Charles Long, his 77-year-old wife, Betty, and their 26-year-old grandson, WilliamLong.
Charles Long was my great-great-great grandfather and at age 75 he was employed by Charles Edmunds as as a brewer's labourer. My great-great-great grandmother, Betty Long, kept house, while my 1st cousin (3 times removed) William Long, worked as an agricultural carter. I came across this ancestral information, last night, while checking online 19th-century British censuses, as part of my ongoing research into family history. I thought it was somewhat interesting that I had discovered one of my great-great-great grandfathers worked in a brewery as it was just earlier this year that I switched from regular beer to non-alcoholic beer. I couldn't help but wonder if Charles Long turned over in his grave, a time or two, when I made the switch.

Dec 1, 2009

First Snow Buntings arrive

It's December 1st and I photographed my first Snow Bunting of the season, today, in the Queensville Flats, north of Holland Landing and just south of Cook's Bay, on Lake Simcoe. There was a flock of about 50 of these pretty birds and I had a heck of time trying to get them to stay in one spot, long enough to take a picture. I didn't have a tripod for my telephoto lens, either. This one was at the back of the pack and kept looking over its shoulder as I followed it. There is some indication of its distinctive colour patterns and I'll get a much better shot in the near future, I hope.

Nov 29, 2009

Stumbleway of dysrationalia

I've always tried to walk a balanced path when it comes to the environment; protecting the planet on the one hand, while making a living on the other. I always felt during my lifetime that I was, more or less, in lock-step with successive national governments on the subject. Such a concensus was purely coincidental I thought, for I was no expert and the governments had experts aplenty. Now, with granchildren on my lap, I feel worlds apart from the Conservative stumbleway of dysrationalia that passes for a highway to health for our environment and economy. I see pragmatism as a useful tool for the daily coping of Canada's existence, but I lament that there seems to be no sensical vision or goals for a sustainable society on our increasingly fragile earthscape. I am baffled by our national leader's inability to think and behave in a rational manner despite adequate intelligence. It's like a bad dream. Surely, there's no mystery here and we, the people, can expect that leadership seeks goals based on evident reality. I want to wake up from this bad dream and learn that Mr. Harper has also awakened and is smelling the roses while there are still roses to smell.

Nov 28, 2009

Colder than a witch's heart

Here's a photo taken at Niagara Falls many decades ago. My better half, Linda, sent me this as part of an email which asks the question: "Who says there is no global warming?" Apparently, in 1911, Niagara Falls completely frozen over and people actually walked along the upper edge of the icy precipice. Colder than a witch's heart is how my granfather, Sid Thomas, would describe wintery scenes like the one above.

Nov 7, 2009

Another Don Flucker photo

Here's another photo by Don Flucker, of Ladner, B.C., that is just too charming not to be shared. It's a Mute Swan with a cygnet hitchhiker. I get the feeling that most things centre on the water in Don's part of the world. It is after all in the Fraser River Delta, which empties into the Pacific Ocean. I read recently however, that all the waters around that part of our western coast have unofficially, or semi-officially, been re-named the Salish Sea, in recognition of original aboriginal settlement.
It occured to me that the word sea is not common usage in the west. Westerners seem to call the Pacific an ocean, while easteners seem to refer to the Atlantic as the sea. Anybody out there who has lived on both coasts and can comment on this?

Nov 5, 2009

B.C. bird photos by Don Flucker

Fraser River Bald Eagle

Mute Swan and cygnet

Wood Duck
These great photos were taken by Don Flucker of Ladner, British Columbia. Don and his wife live in a floating house, with a spiffy trawler tied up out front. They're near to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which sits on the edge of the Pacific, in the Fraser River delta, about an hour south of Vancouver. In addition to eagles, swans and ducks, Don sees lots of other neat species such as Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese.
Don is a person I was acquainted with many decades ago, here in Ontario. I was reacquainted with him last week when his brother, Dave, still here in Ontario, emailed some of Don's bird pictures to me. I've since exchanged a few emails with Don and have discovered, among other things, that Don and his delta neighbours host 80,000 Snow Geese each winter! I had to admit to Don that my next Snow Goose sighting would be my first Snow Goose sighting. Don told me that he has sold several, large-format prints of the terrific eagle shot above. No kidding. I will share others if I'm lucky enough to have Don send some more my way.
Please comment if you wish.

Oct 26, 2009

Another new-camera photo

Kortright Sugar Shack
I was out today, shooting some pictures for a friend who is publishing a history book next year, and found myself at the Kortright Centre for Conservation, near Kleinburg. Although I didn't find what I was looking for in the way of pictures for my friend's book, I did take the photo above of the sugar shack at Kortright. I love my new camera, but have to admit that anyone with a camera could make this setting look beautiful.

Oct 25, 2009

More new camera photos

Fox Sparrow

Blue Jay

Here are some backyard shots taken this weekend. The Fox Sparrows will be around for another week or so, while the Blue Jay I expect will be around all winter, especially if I keep stocking up the bird feeder with the 'Ultimate Mix' from The Maple Barn Store. My new telephoto zoom lens is so powerful that I'm having trouble getting the focus just right. Between my less than perfect eyes and the hip-hop behaviour of birds like the Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch, it's a challenge to get that perfect shot. Ahhhh, but that's the challenge. Stay tuned in and we'll see what we can capture in the lens.

Oct 21, 2009

New Camera

I got a good deal recently on a new digital 35mm SLR camera and two lenses, one of which is a 70-300mm F/4-5.6 zoom lens. I haven't a clue what the numbers mean, but above are a couple of shots I took this past weekend at the Koffler Scientific Reserve in King Township. I was quite pleased with my beginner's effort and am really looking forward to taking lots of my own great birds and critters shots, instead of plagiarizing those of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers on the internet. The bird is a southward-migrating Yellow-rumped Warbler who stopped by to have lunch with me. The White-tailed Deer was one of three does that were flushed by a group of field naturalists, on a hike at the scientific reserve, which is also locally known as Jokers Hill. I was helping with two hikes at Jokers Hill that day. The hikes were billed as "Trees & Fungi - Friends or Foes?" For the record, they are both. Everyone seemed to find the hikes interesting and enjoyable and I found some time to do my own thing; the results of which are pictured here. Please comment if you wish.
Say cheese, BtheB

Oct 12, 2009

Words that caught my Thanksgiving eye

Interesting words appeared on the front and back pages of the Life section in my Globe and Mail newspaper today. On the front page was a headline with these words from author, Michael Chabon: "A father is a man who fails every day". It was like a punch. I was sure I knew what Chabon meant without reading the story. In an interview with Dave McGinn he goes on to say the minimum behaviours for being a good dad are paying to raise your kids, paying for their upkeep, and sticking around. He goes on to say the most important part of being a dad is to just be there for your kids, what he calls emotional presence. He says he doesn't always meet the standard, but he tries. I like to think I tried to be there for my daughters, but there was always that "...nagging sense of inadequacy", as Chabon puts it. Hence, the every-day failure syndrome.
The other sobering words, on the back page of the Life section, were from Alfred D'Souza: "For a long time it has seemed to me that life was about to begin - Real Life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid - then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life." Well, thanks for the insight, Alfred, but I hope this doesn't mean I have to give up dreaming.
Pictured below (photo by Auralee) are the grandkids, for which I am always thankful.
HappyThanksgiving and please comment if you wish.

Aug 28, 2009

The Rage of Hurricane Bill

My good friends Mark and Deb, of Boutiliers Point, in Nova Scotia, have passed on photographic evidence of Hurricane Bill's rampage, last weekend, in their neck of the woods. Boutiliers Point is on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, about half way between Halifax and Chester. Mark and Deb and their two young sons live just a stone's throw from the ocean. None of them are native maritimers but they have lived there, for many a year now, and have a deep respect for the Atlantic and for what it can throw at the unwary. They were forewarned of Hurricane Bill, of course, and took the appropriate measures, as the huge storm roared up the east coast.
They were unscathed inside the house, but it was a different story outside. Below is an amazing photo of the front of their home, showing Hurricane Bill's impact. Some people are just damned lucky, I guess. Please comment if you wish.

Jul 6, 2009

Riding the rails in Vivian Forest

My wife, Linda, and grandson, Will, are pictured above riding one of the many steam trains at the Richmond Hill Live Steamers club property, in the Vivian Forest, east of Aurora. If this isn't a bunch of fun, for young and old alike, then I don't know what is! It was a great time for all involved: grampa and gramma, the moms and dads, and four grandkids. We all got to ride for free, although donations are greatly appreciated. These train-crazy folks are located at 15922 McCowan Road, a couple of kms. north of the Aurora Sideroad, in Whitchurch Township.
They have two open houses each summer when the public is welcomed to come and ride. They are the weekends after Canada Day and Labour Day. You can also visit Sunday afternoons from May to October, between 1-3 p.m., to view the goings-on, and if you're lucky, you may be allowed to ride also, but no guarantees. If you've got kids, mark Sept. 12 & 13 on your calendar right now. That's the next Open House for the Richmond Hill Live Steamers. I noticed on my calendar, the 13 of September is also, officially, GRANDPARENTS DAY in Canada. Have fun and maybe I'll see you there.

Jun 21, 2009

Farewell Jokers Hill

This then is King's roof
Jokers Hill crowns the moraine
10,000 years young

My six months as a student ,in the Naturalist Training Program, at the U of T's Koffler Scientific Reserve, on Jokers Hill in King Township, has come to end. The photo and haiku, shown above, appear together on the last page of a photo-journal I kept between January and June of this year. I made a copy of the journal, which has over 80 photos, for each of my classmates, plus the director and associate director of the Koffler Scientific Reserve. Each time I look through it now, I have a pang of regret that this special time in my life has come to an end. My professor, Ivana, and my 19 classmates, were so enthusiastic that I could barely wait for each class to roll around. We all became friends in a setting, on top of the Oak Ridges Moraine, that has few rivals in York Region. Below are a few other pictures from my photo-journal highlighting the lush rolling realm that is KSR at Jokers Hill.

Jun 13, 2009

3-year-old granddaughter admonishes me

What do you do when you forget to wish your 3-year-old granddaughter a happy birthday on the exact day? Well, the next day you out to Tim Horton's and buy a really decadent donut with strawberries and cherries and yoghurt icing and present it with a flourish, while hoping that she's forgotten you were AWOL the day before. Emmy was delighted with the treat I had brought her and was busily munching away when I announced: "Now that you're three years old, you can eat all the donuts you want". Her mother instantly leaped in with: "That is not a new rule!" Emmy immediately piped up: "That would make me sick". To which her mother smugly remarked: "Look at that, only three years old and smarter than her grampa already".
Harrumph! So, not only is my memory failing but I'm not that bright either. That's Emmy, in the photo above, admonishing me. I actually bought two donuts at Timmy's, because I knew I couldn't hand Emmy a donut and not have one for for her sister Brawley. As it turned out, Emmy shared her donut with her sister and gave the other one to her dad. Me? I went home, chuckling to myself, and had a peanut butter sandwich. Please comment if you wish.

May 26, 2009

Fuchsia Rodent

I wrote back in February about White-footed Mice living in the treetops at the Koffler Scientific Reserve, in King Township. Well, my naturalist-training classmates and I were back at it again last week. We went on another hike with Dr. Monika Havelka, of the U. of T., in search of another White-footed Mouse. Finding the critter was easy enough. It was another matter when it came to measuring him, determining his sexual maturity, and putting an ID tag in his ear. But the Doctor had lots of experience and things went routinely for her. Her final item of research was to facilitate the tracking of of this little mouse's comings and goings by coating him with fuchsia-coloured powder. The powder trail that the little guy leaves behind is readily picked up by a UV light source, and is a valuable tool in research on this small mammal species. The powder, by the way, is not harmful to the mouse and wears off in a few days. Until that happens, though, he probably looks like a rock star to his buddies.

May 25, 2009

Dirty Bird Joke

Off-colour jokes, with a birding theme, are not so easy to find. Sometimes, you have to depend on friends. My friend, Pieter, the Squire of Toad Hill, in the Mulmur Hills, sent this candidate along today.
I took my 92-year-old dad to the mall to buy some new shoes. We decided to grab a bite at the food court. I noticed he was watching a teenager sitting next to him. The teenager had spiked hair in all different colours: green, red, orange, and blue. My dad kept staring at him. The teenager would look over and find him staring every time.
When the teenager had had enough, he sarcastically asked: "What's the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?" I quickly swallowed my food so that I would not choke on his response, knowing he would have a good one, and in classic style he did not disappoint.
"Got drunk once and had sex with a peacock. I was just wondering if you were my son?"

May 20, 2009

Archaeologist for a day

The young fellow, pictured at right, is Scott Eckford, a member of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority's Restoration Services. He is holding a Indian arrowhead, or as archaeologists call them "points". It was the only really exciting artefact that 3 TRCA staffers and 6 volunteers, including me, found during a 5-hour archaeology research survey of a field on Jim Rainey's farm in north-west King Township. It was a learning experience for some of us. I learned a couple of things.
#1. Walking back and forth, bent over, across farm fields, for hours at a time is a back-breaking pastime.]
#2. You have to be very, very patient to be an archaeologist (45 man-hours produced one arrowhead). Plus there was lot of pre and post-activity involved by the TRCA folks.
Was it worth it? As a first-time experience it was very interesting; mainly because there was a lot of information exchanged. King Township has largely been overlooked, archaeologically, among Greater Toronto Area municipalities. The Royal Ontario Museum did numerous digs in King, decades ago, but the sites were never officially registered. And the fate and whereabouts of the ROM's artefacts, from those digs, is questionable. There's even a suggestion that they may even have been put out with the trash - inadvertently.
But the situation is changing. With ever increasing development pressures on King Township, organizations, like the TRCA, are trying to leap into the breach when it comes to the study of King's human history and prehistory. Can you dig it? Well. if local archaeology sounds like something you may be interested in, go to and click on the Claremont Archaeology Festival icon to find out about TRCA's first-ever archaeology festival on June 7. You and your family can just be observers or you can actually help in the excavation of the remains of an 1870s era blacksmith's homestead.
As for me, I heading to bed early tonight, to rest these weary bones.

May 16, 2009

Backyard warblers keep dropping in

Connecticut Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler
Three more warblers have shown up in the cedar hedge in the backyard. Connecticut, Tennessee and Bay-breasted Warblers all dropped in this afternoon after a rainfall. They had all been brought to ground by the rain, just like the other warblers noticed in the last couple of weeks. This spring is turning out be quite productive for backyard warblers and Linda and I are loving it. All three internet photos, above, were taken by a fellow named Brian E. Small.

May 13, 2009

Birds to booze - I answer the call

The word went out. Volunteers were needed to assist the Toronto Police Services. Were Tamils running amok? Point duty at some intersection where the traffic lights were out? Did cruisers need washing? Coffee and donuts, somewhere? No, none of the above. A few community-minded individuals were needed, however, to imbibe enough alcohol, as to make themselves intoxicated to the point where police officers, in training, could readily recognize an inebriate, even when the inebriate was well beyond being able to do so himself, or herself.
With no selfish thought for myself, I appeared at the designated time and place, to do my duty. I was filled with civic pride. Being full of emotion was quickly replaced by being full of a pleasant-enough Sangiovese. Sangiovese gets its name from the Latin 'sanguis Jovis', (the blood of Jove). Jove, or Jupiter, according to Roman mythology, was the king of the gods. As my grandchildren call me Grandpa Jupiter, or approximations thereof, such as Jupa and Goonda, I felt things were off to auspicious start. I felt the Blood of Jove also set me slightly apart and above the other participants, who had chosen to relegate themselves to beer and that mean spirit, Vodka.
I learned that drinking 40 ozs. of red wine, over the course of two hours, takes away any sense of auspiciousness, much less a sense of balance. I did not fall over, however, and was cheery and cooperative throughout the testing that followed. I was asked to walk a straight line, hands at my sides, toe to heel, turn around and return to my starting point. I was asked to stand, hands at my sides, on one foot, with the other foot held out in front of me and count to 30. I was also asked to touch the top of a pen, held 12" from my nose, and then, without moving my head, to follow the pen, with my eyes, as it was swept from side to side, in front of me. Apparently, I failed every test and was declared "arrestable"on all the scoresheets. I was asked if I thought I could drive an automobile at that point. I said no. At least, I got that part right.
Late in the day, I was delivered by a police constable into the hands of my son-in-law, Hector, who saw that I safely got home. As I walked away from the experience, I thought about getting intoxicated, free, right under the noses of the cops, without be charged with anything. Part of it had been great fun. My ex-boss, Murray, who had recruited me for this affair, and I had laughed our heads off at several points. But there is just no ending this blog on a humourous note. Getting drunk like this was sobering. The kind of testing I was put through has been standard practice in the U.S.A. for years, and it is now coming to Canada. It's one more tool for police officers to use in the fight against drinking and driving.
My retirement is full of lessons, and this was one of the serious ones. I missed a day of monitoring birdboxes at Cold Creek Forest and Wildlife Centre on this day, but I have a new appreciation for how lucky I am to have the opportunity to enjoy another day.
Please comment if you wish.

Apr 10, 2009

Mark Peck knows his woodcocks

The first bird hike of my Naturalist Training Program, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve, was led by Mark Peck, a Royal Ontario Museum technician in the Natural History History Department, where he oversees the ornithology collection. Mark is pictured (right) before we set out looking for what I thought would be the usual suspects. We did, indeed, see the usual suspects, everything from Red-tailed Hawk to the ubiquitous Chickadee. A little further along: a Turkey Vulture and then a Brown Creeper...and so it went. After a while, Mark stopped beside a low-lying grove of alders and instructed our group to spread out and proceed slowly though the trees in an attempt to flush out American Woodcocks. He said the wettish alder grove looked like perfect habitat for American Woodcocks. I haven't seen a woodcock for ages and it was only April 2nd, so was I was quietly skeptical. Within a minute we flushed up five woodcocks! Everyone got a good, if not long, look at these fast flyers and for many if was their first time seeing this interesting species. Mark said that woodcocks, along with the Kildeer, are often the first shorebirds to return in the spring. Apparently, as long as the ground has thawed, woodcocks can probe with their long, tapering bills, into soft soil or mud looking for earthworms. The photo below, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, shows the distinctive colouring, markings and shape of this plump, little gamebird (10-12"), with the large dark eyes set high on the forehead. Females are considerably larger than males. Much discussion about woodcocks ensued and then I learned that this bird is also commonly called a "Timberdoodle". I'm good at remembering the important stuff.
I'm really liking this course. BtheB

Mar 29, 2009

First time in Jamaica

Linda and I spent last week at Runaway Bay in Jamaica. Snorkelling and birdwatching were high on the list of things to do. High winds, all week, kept the snorkelling to a minimum, but I did add 11 birds to my life list, which now sits at 386. Jamaica is a lush, beautiful island. The food, music (reggae) and swimming were great. It doesn't take long to see that the Jamaican people live a hard life by our standards, but everyone seems to be trying their best to get by.
One of the hawkers, on a nearby beach, was an middle-age lady named Gloria. I paid her to sit down with Linda and I, for a few minutes in her little shack, and to briefly tell us her story. It was an eye-opener and I admired her determination to provide for a family of 10 children as a single-parent. It was the best 20 bucks I spent all week.
Two of the 11 'lifer' birds I saw were hummingbirds: the Jamaican Mango and the Vervain Hummingbird. The one hummingbird I especially hoped to see was the Streamer Tail, known locally as the 'Long-tailed Doctor Bird' and, by most estimations, the most spectacular West Indian hummingbird (see attached internet photo below). It's green and black body is only 4.25" long but it has two long, black, streamer feathers which emit a whirring sound in flight. It is the most abundant and widespread bird in Jamaica, and yet, I failed to see it. Oh well, it's just one of a number of reasons to re-visit this lovely island one day, hopefully.

Mar 14, 2009

Horsing around with grandkids

It was a beautiful spring day for Linda and me to take in the Schomberg Agricultural Society's 'David & Goliath' Farm Tour 2009, with our two oldest grandkids, William and Emondine. The 'David & Goliath' theme meant that we would see miniature horses up to giant draft horses. The kids had a great time and so did we. The photo at top, shows a mighty Belgian mare and her 4-day-old son, in a stable at Hugh Haven Farms, just north of Schomberg, in West Gwillimbury Township.
The Hughes farm has been in the family since 1828 (181 years)! They currently have 17 Belgians, including 2 stallions, and expect 6 more foals this year, in addition to the little (??) guy above. William and Emmy found a perch, on top of some hay bales, in the 159-year-old barn, to take in the proceedings. I love this time of year.

Mar 3, 2009

This week's haiku

Kleptomania's bad
But when it gets really bad
Take something for it

Feb 19, 2009

Mice in the treetops

This is a photo of Monika Halvelka and a White-footed Mouse, during a ramble, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve last week. Monika is a University of Toronto professor and small-animal mammalogist at the UofT's Erindale campus in Mississauga, Ontario. She was a guest lecturer at my Natural History/Docent Training course last week. She stopped at a tree with what appeared to be a bird-box mounted on it, at about chest height. She reached inside and pulled out this groggy little guy. He was in a state of torpor.
White-footed Mice are excellent tree climbers (great swimmers, too). I was surprised to learn they will spend the winter in covered-over, abandoned bird nests, high in hardwood trees, or in tree cavities when they occur. Although they can enter a state of torpor for several hours, they do not go into true hibernation and therefore they cache food in the fall for the winter. The little guy above had stored several acorns into the tree box, from which Monika had pulled him. These tree boxes in the Koffler Scientific Reserve, at Jokers Hill in King Township, are artificial nests which make scientific observation of the mice much easier for researchers and students.
These mice usually eat at night and their diet consists of nuts, seeds, berries, grains, fruits, fungi and insects.
Maybe in another 10 million years, these little creatures will evolve to have wings and they'll fly around in the treetops, as well as nest there. Who knows? We do have flying squirrels, right?

Feb 13, 2009

Talking dirty

My friend, Pieter, at Toad Hill, near Mansfield in the Mulmur Hills, recently e-mailed me a fascinating, albeit lengthy, piece entitled: "The Origin & Common Usage of British Swear-words". It was very informative and somewhat titillating. I won't post it here, but it does start with this warning: "This entry discusses the etymology and application of a selection of words that, to varying degrees, can be considered vulgar and offensive. As a necessity, this entails the use of said words, and it is strongly advised that, should you find such words distressing or inappropriate, you do not read on beyond this point". Well, that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yeah, sure it did!
It went on dredging up many old and new, rude and crude words, names and phrases. Many of them referred to body parts and body functions. It was all very educational and I was familiar with one or two of the terms. I did have an ever-so-slightly queasy feeling at the end of it, but felt I should reply to Pieter's generous sharing of the information.
I sent him the following haiku, and directed him especially to an acronymical riddle in the third line. You, dear reader, are invited to solve the riddle also. And for those of you who need the benefit of academic research to solve the riddle, I direct you to .

Sometimes takes my breath away
Swearing has its tangs
Please comment, if you wish.

Feb 3, 2009

The Redpolls prevailed

After writing the blog below, I thought there might be a skeptic or two thinking I might be exaggerating the numbers of Pine Siskins and Redpolls, so I decided to try to get a photo, through the livingroom window, to give credence to my numbers claim. In the photo above, there are 82 birds at my largest feeder. There are two more feeders nearby. Most of the birds in this shot are Redpolls. There are a couple of Pine Siskins and Tree Sparrows, but after the grand congregation this morning, the Redpolls have prevailed. Inexplicably, they swelled their numbers from 50 to over a 100, between this morning and this afternoon, and sent the Pine Siskins packing - except for a couple who decided if they couldn't fight the Redpolls, they'd join them. Gotta run now...time to fill up the feeders, again.

100 Redpolls & Pine Siskins

Photo by Don Norman/King City
This morning set some kind of a record, I think. I had over 50 Common Redpolls and 50 Pine Siskins at my backyard feeders, at the same time. The Juncos, Chickadees, Tree Sparrows, and other usual suspects were completely intimidated. Even the Mourning 'Duuuvs' were sitting on the sidelines, waiting their turn. A few weeks ago the Pine Siskins showed up in a horde, but disappeared one day when I forgot to load up the feeders. A few days later the Redpolls showed up and and have been around ever since. They are much more forgiving, it seems, when I am tardy replenishing the feeders. But this morning the Pine Siskins returned to duke it out with the Redpolls. All hell broke loose. At this rate, I'll be filling the feeders twice a day.

Jan 26, 2009

Too soon old - too late smart

I thought I understood the old Yiddish proverb 'too soon old - too late smart', but it's only now, in my grey-beard years, that I am painfully experiencing and emotionally appreciating the wisdom of those words. I have begun a Natural History course, through the University of Toronto's Continuing Education Program, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve, located at Jokers Hill, in King Township. It's a 22-week program that includes classroom lectures and studies, plus outdoor exploration of the physical environment of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

It is both mentally and physically challenging. -21C was the temperature on the first day we hiked through Jokers Hill. There were 17 of us ploughing through a good foot of snow and I kept bringing up the rear. That was so I could walk in the trail broken by the previous 16 hikers. Even so, I was still exhausted at the end of an hour and a half, and was extremely glad to get back at the classroom and my thermos of tea.

At the end of the 22 weeks, we will earn a certificate that allows us to be a docent at the Koffler Scientific Reserve or any other conservation facility, on or near the Oak Ridges Moraine. Never having gone to college or university, I have no acedemic degrees. Becoming a docent sounds pretty good to me, though. I looked up docent in my Oxford English Reference Dictionary, but alas, it is not listed. So, I 'Googled' it. Here's what Wikipedia had to say. In American English (but not in British English, where the word is not used), the word docent has two meanings: firstly, a professor or university lecturer; and secondly, the corps of volunteer guides who staff museums and other educational institutions. Docent is derived from the present participle (docens, docentis) of the Latin word docere, meaning "to teach".

Wow! I'm going to be a educator...who knew? When the time comes, I'll probably start out by instructing my grandchildren on things like slime mould and poisonous mushrooms. I'm sure I'll have more to say about this, plus have some photographs, as the months pass between now and next June. Until then, carpe diem. That's some more Latin, which roughly translated means "Get off your ass and do something!".
Please comment if you wish. BtheB

Jan 14, 2009

Redpolls and Starlings show up

European Starling photo by R. Hays Cummings

It was -25C this morning, but not a breath of wind, mercifully. The bird feeders were almost empty. In addition to the usual hungry suspects, the newly-arrived Pine Siskins have swelled their number to 45! They're eating me out of house and home. Now the Redpolls have arrived. There were four of them this morning, jostling with the Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, Juncos and Pine Siskens for the Black Niger seed.

I finally got around to putting out some suet balls this week. I was hoping for woodpeckers, of course, but the first arrivals were five Starlings...a bit of a surprise. While a year-around resident of Southern Ontario, in winter Starlings usually forage in large flocks, in the hundreds or thousands, where there is a good food supply. I'm hoping the five Starlings in my backyard, right now, keep the suet balls their very own secret.

Starlings, in the winter, look quite different. In winter, they are covered in hundreds of white spots and I think they are quite interesting to see. The internet photo above, taken by R. Hays Cummings, of Ohio, shows how striking the Starling's winter plumage is.

Below is an interesting internet photo of painted feathers, emailed to me by old friend, Peter Marsh. I don't know the identity of either the painter or photographer, but there is a lovely symbiotic message in the artist's presentation of image and materials.

Jan 11, 2009

Pine Siskins at the feeder

Pine Siskin photo by D. H. Baker
A flock of about 20 Pine Siskins showed up at our bird feeders this weekend and they were a welcome addition to the winter-feeding menagerie we have been enjoying so much. When I went out to fill up the feeders for them, they landed at my feet - very tame, indeed. So far this winter we have had Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, House and Purple Finches, House and Tree Sparrows, Juncos, Chickadees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and now Pine Siskins. I'll have to get out and stock up on seed tomorrow, as I'm getting low and with the really cold temperatures predicted for this week, the birds will all be ravenous. UPDATE: Make that 35 Pine Siskins - Jan. 12/09