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Nov 29, 2010

Fastest flying bird in the world

The fastest flying bird in the world is not the Peregrine Falcon, but the Spine-tailed Swift (Hirundapus caudacutus), also known as the Needle-tailed Swift or the White-throated Needletail. Call it what you like, this Asian bird has been clocked at 171 kph or 106 mph, in a level flight. Ah, but what about the Peregrine Falcon, you ask. The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) has been clocked at 390 kph, or 242 mph, in a dive. So, the distinction here is between flying and diving. Is diving really flying? At best, the Peregrine, when flying on the level, can only get up to 110 kph, or 68 mph. In an unofficial internet list, the Peregrine doesn't even make the top ten. Interestingly, six of the top 10 speed-demons are ducks, with speeds ranging up to 129 kph. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Peregrine Falcon was commonly called the "Duck Hawk", for its taste for duck meat. But how does the Peregrine catch up to those speedy quackers, like the Mergansers and Canvasbacks and Eiders? That's where that diving-speed prowess comes into play. It just gets above its prey, dives, and knocks it out of the sky. It does not have to hit its prey at the top speed of which it is capable. Much slower speeds will do the job and it is less hazardous for the Peregrine, which could knock itself out of the sky also! (Swift photo from Wikipedia)
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 28, 2010

Cackling Geese in Bolton

Photo by Dave Milsom

Dave Milsom, of Bolton, spotted and photographed these Cackling Geese (Brant hutchinsii), pictured above, in some of the village's ponds. He counted at least five of the smaller birds mixed in with hundreds of larger Canada Geese. Canada Geese are now split into two species (Branta canadensis or Canada Goose, and Branta hutchinsii or Cackling Goose). The two species are further divided into 7 subspecies, in the case of the Canada Goose, and 4 subspecies, in the case of the Cackling Goose, for a total of 11 subspecies (David Sibley is my source here). There are legitimate birders who think Canada Geese could be split into as many as six species and as many as 200 subspecies! No one really believes this will happen, however. Likely, the small Cackling Geese in the centre of the picture above are of the subspecies Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii, but I will defer to the experts, like Dave, to be more accurate than I. Thanks for the heads-up and photo, Dave.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 27, 2010

Oh wings... my wings... where are you?

Made into a bird
I would fly around the world
The moon the morrow
Haiku by BarrytheBirder

Wikipedia photo
of Pied Cormorant
by Glen Fergus
Moreton, Australia

Nov 25, 2010

Unexpected sightings at Holland Marsh

Wikipedia Photos

I drove up to the Holland Marsh in King Township today looking for some last summer birds, such as Osprey, Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron and the smaller herons, or to see some early winter birds, like Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl and Redpolls. I did see two Repolls but none of the others. What I was impressed to see was a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant sitting on a fallen tree branch in the north canal, just east of Hwy. 400. It had struck the classic pose (both wings widespread and held high) for drying it wet wings. However, the air was only 1 degree above freezing and there was a cold and nasty, south-east wind. It occured to me that it might freeze its wings. Then again, maybe its intention was to have 'freeze-dried' wings. I tried to get a photo but it wanted nothing to do with me and headed east, underwater, along the canal. I headed to the south canal, where a massive multi-$million relocation of the canal is underway. Once again I did not see what I was hoping to see, except for three mallards. Then a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustri) caught my eye. It's not an uncommon bird, but I don't see or hear them often. The photos above are from Wikipedia. The juvenile Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritis) was taken by D. Gordon E. Robertson, at Shirley's Bay, Ottawa, in October of this year. The Marsh Wren photo, on the right, is from Below is a photo of what the canal relocation work looks like. It looks more like a logging road, along a river in northern Ontario to me, instead of an irrigation canal in southern Ontario's salad bowl. Please comment if you wish. BtheB

Canal photo by BarrytheBirder ~ Click on photo to enlarge

Nov 24, 2010

Haiku of confession

I broke into a
home in the forest today
A grouse woke and fled

Nov 22, 2010

Like father ~ like son

In the photo above, on the left, my son-in-law, Rob, is scaling the Chief, a 3,000' vertical, granite dome, at Squamish, British Columbia, that all self-respecting rock-climbers dream of mastering. The year was 2004. Rob, now an old married man and father of two (Will and Spencer), made the mistake of letting William (4-and-a-half years) watch a climbing video in the Mountain Co-op Store and telling him that there was climbing gear stowed away in a cupboard at home. It seems Will was immediately hooked and has been rappelling between floors at home, for over a week (photo at right). Brother Spencer (2-and-a-half years) has been more than willing to join in. Rob thinks his boys are not just mimicking him but that there is something karmic going on, and that the boys are channelling or transmigrating previous, unknown existences, because of him. Whatever, as long as they don't fall and break their necks on my watch.

Nov 21, 2010

Dr. Oz's wonder health supplement

This is my dear wife Linda offering to share with me, some of Dr. Oz's new wonder food. She whipped up this bowlful about a week ago and after seven days of infusion, it was ready to eat. There are only two ingredients, the first of which is raisins, which Linda had on hand. I was sent off to get the second ingredient. I visited a health food store called "LIBATIONS CONCOCTED of BOOZY ORGANICS", or LCBO, for short: also known as Liquor Control Board of Ontario. I came home with a generous quantity of an elixir called Bombay Sapphire (it looked like gin to me). Its main ingredient is juniper berries. When mixed with the raisins and left to stand for seven days, it is ready to consume. It seems to be a noteworthy antidote for pain from joint inflammation (arthritis). Dr. Oz advises taking just nine raisins a day and one shouldn't gulp them all at once. Linda stuffed two handfuls of marinated raisins into her mouth at one time and almost choked to death. Be careful out there folks and try not to abuse the recommended dosage. Our second batch was underway the moment we tasted the first batch. Linda is already considering it "...a special treat", above and beyond its good health properties.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 20, 2010

Tree marked 7 generations

I took the above photograph, a year or so ago, of my grandson, William, putting the hug on a giant White Spruce, along the main trail at Cold Creek Conservation Area. The photo below is the same tree after it fell victim to 80 mph winds earlier this week. King Township workers sawed through it, in a couple of places, in order to keep the trail passable. I counted the growth rings in one of the remnants and determined this monster was 135 years old, which means it started its skyward climb back in 1875. And that was 44 years after my grandson's great-great-great-grandfather, William Cairns, first set foot on this same piece of land, in Upper Canada, in 1831. William Cairns was in his mid-teens and had accompanied his older brother, Adam, from Scotland, as settlers in this virgin Canadian forest. He remained for a few years, helping to clear the land and learning to adapt his British farming skills to the Canadian reality, before relocating within King Township and making his own way as a farmer.
It seems all so natural that this one-generation spruce tree and the 7-generation portion of the Cairns family tree have co-existed all these years. Is there a spruce seedling in the ground at Cold Creek that will mature and be seen by a great-great-great-grandchild of my grandchildren? Development pressures, global warming, human lifestyles and relocation, and numerous other dynamic influences will play their parts here. I hope that repect for the history of all living things prevails and all shall share and treasure our origins in this unique world.
Please comment if you wish.
Photos by BarrytheBirder

Nov 19, 2010

Bark-stripping extraodinaire

I came across this Hemlock at Cold Creek Conservation Area yesterday and it immediately caught my eye. Starting at about 4" off the ground, the outer layer of bark had been chipped away from the the entire tree trunk. It was stripped right to the very top of its almost 60' height. None of its branches had been touched. My guess is that it is the work of woodpeckers, and not necessarily Pileated Woodpeckers. They are big birds capable of dismantling whole trees, but they usually carve-out big holes (see photo below-also at Cold Creek). If it was a Hairy Woodpecker, it must have taken the whole summer to complete this huge task. Or maybe it invited friends over to help with the work. They must have discovered a payload of larvae or worms, of some form.

Photos by BarrytheBirder

Nov 18, 2010

More Fungus among us

I photographed these fungi today at Cold Creek Conservation Area in King Township. It rained on and off most of the afternoon, which created some extra contrast in some of these shots. Interesting birds over the past two days included Trumpeter Swan, Horned Grebe, Kingfisher, Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk.

Photos by BarrytheBirder

Nov 17, 2010

King Township ~ horse country

Photos by BarrytheBirder
Any drive along the concessions and sideroads of King Township will quickly prove that you are in horse country. The municipality feels obliged to erect numerous signs that will inform you that you are in an equestrian community (see at top). This seems quite redundant and a waste of taxpayers money when one sees the horse farms themselves and all their accoutrement. The gateways to many of these rural estates are grand to behold. But none is more magnificent than the one pictured above. In my humble opinion, there is nothing to match its artistic scope and elaborate construction. It is more than twice my height, nearing 4.5 metres tall. I know it has been fabricated, as opposed to being sculpted, but it has the gripping and dominating presence of sculpture. All of these 'Equestrian Community' gateways are very expensively constructed and presented, but this one, while arguably ostentatious, also makes a remarkable, artistic statement. It's on the west side of Weston Rd., a kilometre or two, south of the Aurora Sideroad.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 16, 2010

Golden White Birches

Birch grove and pond at the Fry Farm ~ King/Vaughan Townline
Photo by BarrytheBirder

Nov 15, 2010

Source of the East Humber River

Lake St. George

Footbridge over the East Humber River's origin

The East Humber River in York Region has its origin on the south-west bank of Lake St. George, east of the community of Oak Ridges in the Town of Richmond Hill. It is a kettle lake sitting on a 120-hectare site owned by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. The TRCA has operated this property as an outdoor education centre since the 1970s. There is a lovely trail that circumnavigates Lake St. George. The problem is that uninvited guests are not encouraged (the old liability insurance bugaboo, I guess). Anyone who is interested in Lake St. George is asked to contact the field centre for permission to visit. I wandered about on a Sunday morning and although I saw few birds on a drizzly November day, I could very well imagine that this property is probably jammed full with numerous species of birds in the spring and summer. BtheB

Photos by BarrytheBirder

Nov 14, 2010

Fungus among us

Photo by BarrytheBirder
My wife and I hiked through a part of the Happy Valley Forest in King Township yesterday. At one point I came across some Horse Hoof Fungus on a fallen and decomposing tree trunk. What was noteworthy was that there were several fungi at right angles to each other (see photo above). I can't say that I've ever noticed this before. But it illustrates perfectly how Horse Hoof Fungus can grow (parasitically) on tree trunks while they are alive and upright, and continue to feed (saprotrophically) on the same tree when it is decaying or dead on the forest floor. The obvious difference being the direction of growth. The dark fungi (above), in a vertical plane, were from the days of the host tree's upright existence, while the light-coloured fungi, on a horizontal plane, represent a later generation flourishing on the same tree.
The origin of the name Horse Hoof Fungus is self-explanatory, based on its shape and appearance, and yet it goes by other names also: Ice Man Fungus and Tinder Fungus, because of its ages-old, fire-starting properties. Beyond this little discovery, it was almost a balmy day for walking in the woods. It was sunny and got up to 13 degrees Celsius, plus it's almost the middle of November. Yes, winter is shorter already!
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 13, 2010

Becoming a Topographicalist

Cold Creek Bog photo by BarrytheBirder

A few days ago, I thanked my sister Diane for her part in helping me to get over a recent rough patch in my life. I noted how her encouragement had got me back to blogging regularly. She subsequently commented that my blog-writing reminded her of the 20th/21st century writer Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) but "without the hysteria". She also referred to a Thoreau quote about seeing nature clearly. Henry David Thoreau (Walden, or Life in the Woods), along with his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature), were two key figures of the Transcendentalism movement in America in the mid-1830s. Annie Dillard has been described as an ecotheologist, among many other things, and someone who would likely have fasicinating chats with Emerson and Thoreau, were they alive today.
Thinking about the references my sister mentioned, made me ask myself what I was really trying to do with my BarrytheBirder blogspot. I am not a transcendentalist, nor am I an enviromemtal ethicist. But I have always loved maps, especially topographical maps. I love to have a topographical map nearby as I stumble about the countryside. I am intrigued with how places, buildings and natural features that appear on a sheet of paper or in a photo come alive, as I walk along and experience the real thing. I become an explorer and love to note what others might not notice. It is a simple pursuit and serves no truly useful purpose, but I feel at one with the world around me, and am sometimes inspired to share the simple wonders with others. This interest in topography and stepping out to embrace the landforms, the waterways and creature encounters makes me what I have decided to call a Topographicalist. I will continue to be a birdwatcher, a wine-lover, a writer of haikus and a doting grandfather, but for the near future, when asked what I do, I will say I am a Topographicalist. It will be amusing to see if it starts or stalls conversations.

Please comment if you wish.


Nov 12, 2010

More Wild Turkeys

Photo by BarrytheBirder

I photographed these Wild Turkeys in the Town of Vaughan today, on the the northern outskirts of Toronto, as they gleaned leftovers from a recently harvested grain field. There were approximately 30 of these very attractive birds in a flock that has survived the fall hunting season in Ontario. All they have to do now is get through a long, cold, snowy Ontario winter. And it seems the wild turkey is remarkably able to do just that. Since a few hundred of them were introduced to Ontario, from the United States back in the mid-1980s, they now number around 80,000 in the southern part of the province. Almost 10,000 Wild Turkeys were killed in Ontario by licensed hunters in 2009. Most were killed with ordinary shotguns, but a few were brought down by muzzle-loading shotguns, bows and crossbows. There are many rules and regulations about hunting Wild Turkeys, all supposedly designed to sustain some sort of natural balance to the new bird population in our province. Inserted into all of the info and data is the following question: "WHY IS BIODIVERSITY IMPORTANT?" The printed answer is as follows: "Biodiversity is all about being connected ... all species, including humans, are dependent on one another to survive". This would seem to presume that dead turkeys are an essential part of the food chain in which human beings participate. Lucky for us that turkeys aren't licensed to shoot. For the record, there is no hunting for turkeys allowed in Vaughan, but there is immediately north in King Township where I live.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 10, 2010

American Coots at Seneca College

Eight American Coots (adults and juveniles) showed up on Lake Jonda today and mixed in with the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls. They will be heading south of the Great Lakes soon to spend the winter on open water, in places like Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee and right on down to northern Florida. But with global warming, it's seems that American Coots are not going as far south as they once did and we will probably see them as year-around residents in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie environs, in a few years. I couldn't get close enough to the coots today to photograph them, so have included a photo of a watercolour sketch I painted almost 20 years ago of an American Coot in a notebook from a canoe trip I made on the Current River in Missouri. If you are not familiar with this bird, it is duck-like, about 13-16" long and its big feet are lobed - not webbed. Oh, and they are omnivorous and will eat just about anything on land or in the water. Alas, coots themselves sometimes show up in Cajun cuisine.

Sketch by BarrytheBirder

Please comment if you wish.

Nottawasaga Bluffs / Mulmur Hills

Wind turbine protest

Wild Turkeys at Mansfield

Contrapositive moss and snow
Photos by BarrytheBirder

Nov 9, 2010

Images and haikus

a pale yellow barn
defies november's crispness
I think warm custard
milkweed pods unlock
legions of seeds fly off on
white silk parachutes

Photos and haikus by BarrytheBirder

Nov 8, 2010

Tamarack Time

Tamaracks at Kettleby

Tamaracks in Cold Creek Conservation Area
Photos by BarrytheBirder
It's November and the last splash of colour in the forests comes from the Tamarack (American Larch). It's always a wonderful contrast against the dark green of other conifers. The Tamarack is a deciduous conifer that loses its needles in the winter and there are people who feel the special green colour of its spring needles rivals that of its autumn gold ones. Tamarack can be found across eastern Canada and are prevalent along the Oak Ridges Moraine, here in King Township, Ontario. Lucky us.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 7, 2010

White-breasted Nuthatch

Photo by BarrytheBirder
Sometimes you have to give it all you've got, to get that tiny tasty morsel.

Nov 3, 2010

Red Squirrel for Thanksgiving

Photo by BarrytheBirder

No, no, this is not about eating Red Squirrel for Thanksgiving. It's about coping with a Red Squirrel at a time for giving thanks. My sister-in-law, Margaret Asbury, regaled everyone at Thanksgiving dinner with the following tale. One day just before Thanksgiving, here in Canada, Margaret's husband, Richard, went out to start their infrequently-used truck. It would start but not keep running. After a few frustrating minutes, Richard checked under the hood. The entire engine compartment was full of Black Walnuts from nearby trees. They were packed in tightly. Richard and Marg cleaned out about 40 of the nuts but the truck still wasn't working. Further searching revealed another 20 or more nuts packed under the pad in the top of hood. Also the pad had been stripped and part of it had been used to create a wonderful nest. They also found a wire had been chewed, which they speculated was in the way of this whole project.
They proceeded to call the CAA. The Canadian Automobile Association service person put the chewed wire back together but the truck still would not run. The truck was towed into town to a mechanic who said that even though the wire was attached, the computer settings were messed up. $250 later, the truck was finally running. Back home there was a little Red Squirrel running around in a panic about his missing walnut stash. Richard was mad, but Marg felt sorry for the squirrel. She thinks the squirrel thought it was set for the winter.
Now the Asburys don't go anywhere in the truck without checking under the hood. Ironically, Marg had just bought a winter's supply of peanuts to feed to the squirrels, which she still says are a joy to watch. So that's the Asbury's squirrel story for this year. It was just a few years ago that a squirrel chewed the gas tank in the Asbury's garden tractor. They're still trying to figure out what the attraction was there.
Please comment if you wish.

Nov 2, 2010

70,000 Snow Geese at Delta, B.C.

The above photo of Lesser Snow Geese, filling the sky at Delta, British Columbia, was taken by Don Flucker. Don mentions in an email that the over-wintering population of Lesser Snow Geese at Delta now numbers 70,000. That's double the number of 25 years ago. These geese normally summer on Russia's Wrangel Island. Other Snow Geese migrate further south than the Delta population and spend their winters as far south as California. The total population of North American Snow Geese, including sub-species Lesser, Greater, and Ross's, is now between 5 and 6 million, making Snow Geese the most abundant of all geese in North America. While this number has been skyrocketing over the last several decades, learned opinion says that the numbers are only just approaching historical levels. Others say that the current levels are unsustainable for many reasons and drastic control measures are required. Habitat destruction by Greater Snow Geese around James and Hudson Bays are often cited as evidence for remedial intervention by humans. We seem to totally ignore the fact that the history of animal population (including Snow Geese) on this planet has always been subject to dynamic ebbs and flows. We are not content to accept that the world can exist and survive without human interference. How presumptuous and pathetic. Here in southern Canada, we are amazed at the population explosion of Canada Geese, but that is nothing compared to Snow Geese numbers elsewhere in the country. My youngest sister, Denise, lives in Wemindji, Quebec, a Cree Indian village about halfway up the eastern side of James Bay. Snow Geese were once a part of the native diet in Wemindji, but as mentioned above, Snow Geese have degraded the shorelines of large parts of James and Hudson Bays to the extent that the geese now bypass those waters and don't stop-over on their southern migrations until they they reach places like Canada's southern prairies and the northern American states. Moreover, Denise says Cree goose hunters prefer the taste of Canada Goose. The Cree also shoot a large version of the Canada Goose, which they call the Long-necked Goose, but it is falling out of favour because it is not as tasty as the regular Canada Goose and it is harder to pluck. I guess that's the end of today's class.
Please comment if you wish.
BtheB It's not all Snow Geese out in Delta, B.C. Don Flucker also sent this photograph of a male Wood Duck at a backyard bird feeder. I've seen lots of Wood Ducks over the years, but this first one I've ever seen at a feeder. Great photo, Don.

My weekly hikes with Pieter

My good friend and weekly hiking companion, Pieter Thoenes, took this photograph today of me being thanked by Daisy the Greeter for lunching at the Pine Farms Apple Orchard Cafe, just north of King City. Earlier in the morning , Pieter and I had hiked around Bond Lake in Richmond Hill and then hiked from the Augustinian Monastery at Marylake, just north of King City, up to Pine Farms on the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail. Pieter is a born and bred Englishman, with a Dutch name, who has travelled and lived in many places around the world, but who has a special affinity for South Africa and has called Canada home for decades. Needless to say, he always has an interesting story to tell. That's him below struggling over a stile on our hike today. Next week's hike will be in Pieter's bailiwick of the Mulmer Hills.

Please comment if you wish.

Nov 1, 2010

Framed landscapes at Cold Creek

Photo by BarrytheBirder
The old trap-shooting range at Cold Creek Conservation Area, in King Township, has long ceased to exist as a functioning sporting facility. The high plank fence that surrounds its southern perimeter is still standing, but many of the planks have been cut and removed for other uses at Cold Creek, such as boardwalks. The affect is what appears to be very large picture frames with the meadows and hills and trees in the background seen as large artistic landscapes. The effect is quite remarkable and gives a whole new perspective to this part of Cold Creek's walking trails.
Please comment if you wish.