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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