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Sep 29, 2010

Up on the King Ridge today

Disappearing into the woods

Vernal pond hangs on to become an autumnal pool


The King Ridge is one of my favourite sections of the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail, especially the unopened road allowance between the 6th and 7th Concessions of King Township. As I write this blog, I am co-incidently listening to Willie Nelson's sweet, sweet version of September Song. It talks of the September days dwindling down to a precious few. The next two weeks will be prime time for fall colours during the shorter days of autumn. Get out there and enjoy them while you can. Please comment if you wish.

Sep 27, 2010

This one had me confounded

Bill Salter, a friend who lives on the Oak Ridges Moraine in King Township, sent me the above picture of a bird that crashed into one of his house windows. The bird didn't survive and as Bill prepared to dispose of it, he was puzzled about the identity of the bird and intrigued by the bright pink colouring on its underwings. I too was puzzled and intrigued and sent the picture to fellow King City resident and friend, Gerry Binsfeld. Gerry is one of Canada's best birders and cleared up the mystery for Bill and me. This bird is a 1st fall (juvenile) male, Red-breasted Grosbeak. I have certainly seen Red-breasted Grosbeaks before - but usually the adult male, with its very distinctive black and white and red colouring. I know I've seen females in the company of males, but would be hard-pressed to describe them off the top of my head. Ignoring the large, thick conical bill, its overall size, and its white face markings, I was completely baffled by the underwing colour. Gerry contacted his buddy, Mark Peck, who oversees the ornithology collection at the Royal Ontario Museum. Mark expressed an interest in having this bird (which Bill Salter had put in his freezer) and arrangements have been made to pass it on to Mark for the museum's collection. I was amazed at how a fairly common bird, when see from an uncommon perspective, could confound me so. Not the case with Gerry, though, and that explains why his bird life-list is probably ten times longer than mine, or more.
Please comment if you wish.

Sep 21, 2010

Walking into Wilderness

Walking into Wilderness is the title of Heather Robertson's newest book. It is sub-titled The Toronto Carrying Place and Nine Mile Portage and has been published by Heartland Associates, Inc., in Winnipeg, Canada. I have known of Heather for several years (we live in the same village) and have come to know her better in the past couple of years. I was humbled and delighted when Heather asked me to be one the contributing photographers for Walking into Wilderness. A dozen or so of my photographs were eventually used and I feel priviledged to have played a small part in Heather's outstanding recording of Canadian history. The photo above shows Heather at one of the recent, numerous launches for her book; this one at the celebration, in King Township, of the 400th anniversary of the French in Ontario. In the hectic year leading up to the publication of this remarkably researched and deftly written book, Heather found time to battle cancer and is now on the mend. Heather is a prize-winning author for both her fiction and non-fiction books and Walking into Wilderness is another great, literary contribution to the understanding and appreciation of Canadian history. Please call on me again Heather, for any future projects you have in mind. It was great fun.

Sep 19, 2010

This one's for the guys

I visited an old friend, Glenn McKinnon, and his wife Joanne, last week. It had been many, many years since we last saw each other. One of the the things Glenn showed me was his collection of motorcycles. Anything with wheels and a motor, and Glenn is in his element. Stored with the bikes was this 1974 International Harvester Cub Cadet garden tractor. We've all seen restored cars, right? Well, I don't know about you, but I've never seen a restored garden tractor. This beauty is 36 years old. It might seem hard to appreciate this restoration in the same way you would a car or a truck or even a motorcycle, but trust me, you just can't help but stand there and say "Well, I'll be damned". This little beauty is special, just like Glenn: a talented guy, indeed.
Please comment if you wish.

Cyprinus carpio

My Cambridge Encyclopedia says the carp "...thrives in warm pools, lakes, and rivers with rich vegetation...". That's certainly the environment in which this one greeted me, at Lake Jonda on Seneca College's King Campus this morning. In no time, he (or she) was taking tidbits of vegetation from my hand. Any hope of ever being described as attractive are dashed by those two pairs of barbels on the upper jaw. A friendly enough fish however, and I quite enjoyed our close encounter.

Tiny wire jails

My recent encounter with an escaped Zebra Finch got me to wondering about why, of all the creatures in the world that we put into cages, we put birds into the smallest ones. Birds are the one creature that can fly anywhere in the world and yet we put them in tiny wire jails. I suppose a similar case could be made for fish and small glass prisons. But when we think of freedom, we don't usually think of swimming free: we think of flying free. Many caged creatures are part of our food chain and their treatment is often inhumane. But caging birds out of spite, or jealousy, or dominance, or because of a myriad other human foibles, it is unworthy of us; supposedly the most consciously aware and emotionally sensitive of animals. European Goldfinches, like the one below, were once very popular caged birds. In time, the world came to discover and prize the exotic-looking birds of far-off places. In some places laws had to be enacted that stipulated cages had to be large enough to allow a bird to stretch its wings to their full, natural extension. In the USA, it is against the law to cage native species of bird (go figure). And don't get me started on zoos. I won't even take my grandchildren there anymore. Please comment if you wish.
Wikipedia Photo

Sep 18, 2010

Unlucky puss

In nature there are neither rewards nor
punishments - there are consequences.
Robert G. Ingersoll, 1876

I took the above picture a few days ago, at the home of my brother Bob and his wife, Nancy, in Parry Sound, Ontario. It shows the simplest of grave-markers. It is also the very spot where one of their pet cats was recently killed by a fisher. The fisher is a 10-to-20-pound predator that is easily capable of killing a cat of the same size. It seems in the Parry Sound area, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment determined that re-locating fishers here was a natural way to control a porcupine population that was wildly out of control. The fisher is one of the few predators that can successfully hunt porcupines. The word in and around Parry Sound is that having reduced the porcupine population to a level that could not sustain its own voracious appetite, the very large weasel is now rapidly reducing the populations of several other wild creatures. Whereas it was once thought that fishers rarely preyed on cats, locals in the Parry Sound area are reporting many slaughters of their cats. This is the second cat that Bob and Nancy have lost in this way. My use of the word slaughter is deliberate, as the fisher is a remarkably efficient and masterful killer, violently tearing its victims from limb to limb and scattering the shreds around and about. The unfolding of nature can be gruesome, as well as pretty. I am usually uneasy, sometimes queasy, when humans presume to re-balance nature. Invariably, we over-react, over-correct, fail to make the world a better place, and misspend a pile of money. Then there's the collateral damage, even if it's just another dear pet. Lord, save us from our own accomplishments.


Sep 14, 2010

Purple ponderings

"I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple
in a field somewhere and don't notice it".
-- Alice Walker, from The Color Purple, 1982

Although everywhere is an ocean of goldenrod this September, I did notice these wild asters today at Humber Trails Conservtion Area. Alice Walker, please take note.

Please comment if you wish.


Destination: Octopus Islands

My old acquaintance, Don Flucker, an Ontario expatriate now living in lower British Columbia, just sent some photos of his family boating adventures this summer in the Georgia Strait, aboard their 'Chantilly Lace'. Don logged 8oo kilometres this summer and reached Desolation Sound and the Octopus Islands. Below are some of the pictures. I believe any time on the water is a special time, but when you get to do it along B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, it's one of those near-to-paradise times. Best wishes to Don and his family on many more trips.

Sunrise at Comox

Jervis Inlet ~ a Canadian Fjord

Moonglow over Comox
Please comment if you wish

Sep 12, 2010

Migrating warblers drop in

Black-throated Green Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler
Here are two southward-migrating warblers that appeared in the backyard this morning after overnight showers. The Orange-crowned Warbler is a lifer for me: #387. (Click on photos to enlarge).
Please comment if you wish.

Sep 10, 2010

Hiking at Cawthra Mulock

My hike today was at the Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve, just south of the Holland Marsh, in King Township, between Bathurst and Dufferin Streets. The western trailhead on Dufferin Street does not present a visually-promising start: a large weedy meadow flanked by huge hydro towers. 300 metres and 5 minutes in however, things take on a promising aspect. My hikes are usually taken to bring me selfishly close to nature, but today I was keeping in mind the fervent protests of many Ontarians concerning a planned Ontario Hydro installation nearby. The Premier of Ontario has intervened and it seems the project is a go, no matter what. The case for the hydro plant is seemingly well made in that the surrounding countryside here is already host to a large transformer station and major intersecting power lines. On the surface it seems an excellent business case has been made, but sadly, environmental, social and aesthetic considerations fall by the wayside. The trails on this 268-acre site serve their purpose quite well and are deservingly popular. Some of the pictures I took are show below. The nature reserve and its trails will continue to exist, cheek by jowl, with the the hydro towers (new and old). The trick will be to not look over your shoulder.

I sat on a bench and enjoyed the view over a pretty little pond, which has a resident Kingfisher who wouldn't come close enough for a good picture. I'll get him next time.

I found the remains of an ancient farmstead interesting, especially what appeared to be a square silo.
Markers on the main trail are red paint on old wooden posts or white arrows with a red background on metal posts. There are four connecting trails in total.

Butterflies, like this obliging Red Admiral, abounded at Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve today.

Please comment if you wish.

Sep 8, 2010

September turns yellow

It's the time of year when goldenrod takes over from all other wild plants and paints every rural roadside and bit of uncultivated open land with tall tufts of yellow flowers. One moment the countryside is green, then almost overnight everything is yellow. This summer has seen a great growing season and here the goldenrod exceeds its normal maximum height and rises above the fenceposts at Seneca College, on the outskirts of the village of King City. In early September, it's hard to overlook and easy to admire, even on a damp overcast day.

Nearby, on the floor of a wet hardwood forest, Sensitive Fern provides a cool alternative to Seneca's goldenrod. The Sensitive Fern is distinctive from most other ferns, but some observers describe it's large-lobed fronds as coarse. There are other who call it beautiful. I side with the latter. It got its name from its wilting sensitivity to even the slightest, early frosts.

And finally, this afternoon's jaunt to Seneca College ended with a fly-over by a Great Blue Heron. While the lighting did not favour this bird's lovely colour tones, it did accentuate its remarkable profile.
Please comment if you wish.

Sep 6, 2010

Zebra Finch in King City?!?!

I was awakened from my afternoon nap by Linda hollering at me to come to the backdoor to "..see this bird!" Lo and behold, the lady of the house had spotted A Zebra Finch in the cedar hedge. Now if Linda and I lived in Australia, this sighting would be no big deal. But in Canada? 15,000 kilometres is a long way to stray. I rushed for my camera, took a dozen quick shots, while babbling like an idiot about Linda's unbelievable sighting. To which she replied: "It must be an escapee." "Oh, well of course", I said, crestfallen. It was the only realistic explanation. Nevertheless, this tiny little bird is spectacular to see. No wonder it is one the most popular cage birds in the entire world. It joined us on the back porch and looked at the Goldfinches and Chickadees at the feeders. It seemed intrigued by their activity. Then it flew into the cedar hedge again and then down to our back steps before moving on. I refuse to speculate on its fate, and will be content with the knowledge that this tiny, fragile and free-flying creature made my heart sing for part of this day. Thank you Linda. I owe you one.
Please comment if you like.

Sep 5, 2010

Late summer ~ Marylake

I've been wandering around the grounds of Marylake Shrine & Augustinian Monastery Farm for about 50 years now. I had never, in those 50 years, circumnavigated the lake on foot, until today. There are footpaths the length of the lake, along the east side, but the west side is mature forest and tangled wetlands, and as I discovered, generally passable only to the young and fit. Moreover, it has little to offer compared to the other natural physical areas of this former Sir Henry Pellat estate. But at least I can say I have walked right around Mary Lake. I also took the opportunity to have a look inside (the doors were wide open) of the massive brick barn that always amazes visitors with its size and style. The picture above shows the unusual criss-crossed rafters under the main roof. Sadly the barn is no longer in use and is deteriorating. What was once a thriving dairy farm, operated by numerous monks, is now mainly a religious retreat centre. Marklake is just north of King City, on Keele Street, and the Oak Ridges Moraine hiking trail provides access and great views of the lake and the surrounding fields and forest. Go far enough and you'll wind up at the Pine Farms Orchard on the 16th Sideroad and its charmingly cozy cafe.
Please comment if you wish.


Sep 2, 2010

Grampa's 99-year-old corn

My grandfather, Sid Thomas, brought this cob of corn from Wimborne, Dorset, England in 1911. As you can see, some of the kernals are missing. Did Sid nibble on some while crossing the Atlantic? Did mice expropriate their share? Or did Sid plant some of the kernals in the soil of his new homeland, Canada? After 99 years, it seems the right time to plant some of these kernals should be next year, marking the 100th anniversary of the cob in Canada. My sister, Denise, suggests if the planting is successful that she and I, along with our sister, Diane, and brother, Bob, could get together for a corn roast. That would be great, but we do live apart from each other, by a combined distance of 3,700 kilometres. A simpler solution might be to send them some kernals, from King City, for planting in Parry Sound (Ontario), Wemindji (Quebec side of James Bay) and Vernon River (Prince Edward Island). How will this turn out? We'll all have to wait a year to see an outcome. Stay tuned.