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Mar 29, 2011

Beginner birding at Jokers Hill ~ a reminder

Tree Swallow photo by BarrytheBirder
I'd like to make a reminder, for anyone who might be interested, about the Birding for Beginners Workshop which I will be leading on Saturday, May 7th, 2011, between 9.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., at the University of Toronto's Koffler Scientific Reserve, at 17000 Dufferin Street in King Township.   Cost is $60 per person and includes a sandwich luncheon and refreshments from Dorio's Catering in Kettleby.   Registration opens on April 15th.   More info available at:   There's nothing quite like a May day, at the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine, in King Township.

Mar 28, 2011

Near Glen Huron, Ontario

            Oh those sweet moments
            Spying green moss and white snow
            in spring's blinding light
Haiku and photo by BarrytheBirder 
Please comment if you wish.

Happy Valley never disappoints

My wife and I walked along the crest of the King Ridge today, in the Happy Valley, and it was King Township at its best: wild but quiet, overwhelming but gentle, brilliant but beautiful.   We were rewarded for our efforts by spotting a Turkey Vulture (a very early migrant, in my opinion), two Hairy Woodpeckers and a skunk (in broad daylight no less).   It was very cold and windy on the steep, woody ridges but down in the valleys we almost languished in the sunny, spring sunshine.   The picture above shows a memorial to Roberta Langtry, one of the benefactors of the Happy Valley Forest.   I always give a silent thank-you to this lady each time I tread here.   As old as the old-growth Happy Valley Forest is, it is still 50 years from climax.   I can't help but think that in 50 years time, the appreciation of people who will be living in a vastly more populated GTA (Greater Toronto Area) than that in which I find myself, will be infinitely more appreciative of the Roberta Langtrys of this world.   Best wishes for the joy and liveliness that is the promise of spring.   Please comment if you wish.

Mar 26, 2011

Haircuts at Hogan's Inn

Migawd!   Is it really 55 years ago since Bob McWaters and his father Dave, cut my hair in the barber shop that is now Hogan's Hunt Pub in King City?   The answer is yes, and it is 55 years since I last saw Bob McWaters, the barber, until this week, that is.   Bob now resides in the Maple Health Centre on Keele Street North in Maple, a few kilometres south of King City.   Hogan's is a fine, upscale dining room and pub, in what was Armstrong's Variety store in the mid-1950s.  The barber-shop was in the basement.   It had 2 barber chairs as I recall, a pool table, and a big old pop cooler with the tall bottles of Coca-Cola, 7up, Pepsi, and Orange Crush (my favourite), etc., standing in icy cold water, up to their pop-off tops.   There was also a white barber's towel attached to the cooler lid for drying off your bottle of pop.   There were also mens' magazines.   No, not that kind of magazine, but real mens' magazines about huntin', and fishin' and cars. The reunion with Bob came about as a result of a picture I had put into a blog, a few weeks ago, of a King Township farm pond.   I thought Bob's father, Dave had constructed this pretty pond but during my research discovered he had not.   But I was surprised to discover the McWaters family had lived there for a little while.   A chat with Bob's sister, Jane, who lives just outside King City, led to me enquire about her father Dave, and brothers Bob and Jack, who I had lost contact with long ago.   She told me where Bob was and suggested I drop in on him.   Bob suffered a bad accident a few years ago which left him with what appears to be damage to some fine motor skills.   He also speaks slowly and softly.   None of which kept him from reminding me that we played on the same baseball team, nor asking about numerous guys with whom we had gone to school and hung around with.   Bob only mentioned one girl by name and I was surprised to hear her name, because it was my wife's older sister.   He described her as "... a really nice girl".   Bob and his brother Jack were lifelong bachelors, but here was what I mused might be a decades-old infatuation re-surfacing for a moment.   We were both quite capable of discussing the here and now, but we both seemed content and comfortable to dwell in the past, on this occasion.   Next time, who knows?   We shook hands and agreed to see each other again.   I hoped, as I left, that it was as pleasant a visit for Bob as it was for me.   I mentioned the name McWaters to my friend Ken McQuarrie, the proprietor (for the last 50 years) of Clearview Motors, on Keele Street South, in King City, and he of course remembered the McWaters clan.   He told me also of another barber from that era.   Half a century ago, if Dave or Bob McWaters didn't cut your hair, then the next nearest barber was in Maple.   His name?   It was Mel "Clipper" White, from whom you were pretty much guaranteed to get a haircut that never looked the same twice.   Finally, I must mention Bob's brother Jack.   Several year ago, Jack retired to Elliott Lake in northern Ontario.   One day he drove into the backwoods and got involved in trailing a moose to take photographs.   He was with an acquaintance and they got lost in the woods.   The other fellow found his way out the following day but Jack wasn't found until the third day.   He had tragically passed away from hypothermia.   When I mentioned to another old King City friend, John Dew, who new the McWaters's well, that I thought I might write a blog about the McWaters's, he quickly suggested, as a title: "Still McWaters run deep".   In a strange way, it seemed entirely fitting, but rather as an epilogue, I think.   Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                                                          (Photos by BarrytheBirder)

4 elections in 7 years ~ that's contemptible


I know, I know.   The cartoon's cynical, but I am too.   I'm also sadder but wiser.   Why can't politicians just get on with the job?    Please don't come to my door, unless you're ready for an earful ( Green Party candidates excepted).   Please comment if you wish.

Mar 25, 2011

Regrets about not snorkelling

The Lionfish ( Pterois antennata )

For the first time in many years, I did not snorkel on a recent Caribbean holiday.   My wife and and I have snorkelled in Mexico, The Caymen Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, Florida, Turks and Caicos, Barbados, St. Marten, St. Lucia, Aruba and Bonaire.   Two weeks ago, the whole family visited Cozumel and while I spent most of my time birdwatching and trying to get over the 400 life-birds mark, everyone else went snorkelling.   My wife, my daughters, and my sons-in-law all did it, and even my two oldest grandchildren were given a bit of an introduction to it.   I went for one short swim close to shore.   Today I was looking at The Guardian newspaper website, from England, and the saw the picture above (bottom one) of Lionfish.   The top Lionfish photo is a Wikipedia shot.   As I read about Lionfish and there invasion of the Caribbean and eastern U.S. waters, I found myself wishing I had gone snorkelling after all.   Frankly, watching schools of spectacularly-shaped and colourful fish, up close, is as thrilling as birdwatching.   I would really like to have had a Lionfish moment - not to the point where one would sting me, however.   The Lionfish is native to the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, but now has the distinction of being the first non-native marine fish to establish a self-sustaining population along the U.S. Eastern seaboard, and in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.   It was first reported in the mid-1980s along the Florida coast, but didn't become numerous until 2000.   In its new locales, it has no natural predators and is disrupting natural ecosystems and is decimating stocks of over-fished species.   Its fins give it the appearance of having a lion's mane, hence its name.   It's venomous sting is painful to humans, but not fatal.   I could find one in an aquarium, but I'm rather anti-aquarium, in the same way I'm against zoos.   I'd rather see creatures in the wild.   Please comment if you wish.

Mar 24, 2011

Grackles get a cool reception

Quiscalus quiscula
(BarrytheBirder Photo)
A week of warmer weather and the diasappearance of snow meant the arrival of a flock of Grackles two days ago.   They were joined by a few Starlings and one Red-winged Blackbird.   Today they were all greeted by what is hopefully the last snowstorm of the winter.   The remaining winter birds (redpolls, juncos, finches, sparrows, mourning doves, etc.), whose numbers had dwindled somewhat with the pleasant winter, were left to grumble on the sidelines while the blackbirds took over the feeders.   The only exception were the chickadees who blithely carried on, zipping in and out, as if nothing was amiss.   Life just isn't fair sometimes, but it always goes on and it's always about food first, in nature.   Please comment if you wish.

Mar 23, 2011

Last Mexican vacation bird photo...

Blue-capped Sandpiper

Baileyia spencerii
 ...also known as my 2 1/2 year-old grandson 
                                                                                             (Photos by BarrytheBirder)

Kirk Wipper lays down his paddle

Kirk Wipper, Canadian camping icon and Godfather of the Canadian Canoe Museum died last Friday. March 18th.   Kirk's death was not really a surprise, as he was 88 years old, but the way he died was startling.   Kirk choked to death while eating.   There is great sadness over his death across the country.   I only met the man once.   I was introduced to him by my friend, Mike Ormsby, a year or so ago, and the short time I spent in his company was a warm, mind-expanding and unforgettable experience.   I will leave eulogizing him to the thousands who are more capable than me.   Many already have and by simply typing Kirk Wipper into Google you will learn of the man and his accomplisments in detail.   Below, is a photo I took of Kirk (right) and Mike (left) on that memorable day that I met Kirk in his home.

Mike Ormsby and Kirk Wipper
Mike Ormsby was a student and employee of Kirk for several years and their friendship lasted until Kirk's death.   Kirk's home near Peterborough, Ontario, was decorated with many items reflecting a Canadian natural history interest.   I took a picture of one such item: a table-top carved by Basil Self, which hung in a commanding position above a fireplace.   It is pictured below, left.   Kirk thought this Basil Self carving was a wonderful work of art. 

Basil Self was a carver and furniture-maker of some repute many years ago, in King Township, where I live.   I am quite familiar with the piece of work pictured here.   The design was extremely popular  among collectors of Basil's work and he produced many versions of it for appreciative fans.   My own brother has a similar version in his Parry Sound home where it serves its intended purpose as a table.   I must say that Kirk Wipper's use of the carved table-top is an inspiration.   It hung like a huge  a coat-of-arms in a baronial mansion, with a uniquely Canadian outdoorsy flavour.   My condolences go out to Kirk's wife, Ann, especially. and to the thousands of people who regarded this man as  as a teacher, an enviromentalist, an inspiration, a champion and a friend.   Please comment if you wish.
BtheB      (Photos by BarrytheBirder) 

Mar 22, 2011

Maple Syrup or Petimezi ~ take your pick

After I blogged about Gordon Craig's Hammertown Wood Maple Syrup, Effie Kadoglou of Volos, Magnesia, Greece, near the Aegean Sea, wrote to me, asking about maple syrup.   She wondered if it was anything like petimezi?   Straight to the search engines.   Petimezi is an ancient recipe and specialty of the Greek island of Crete.   It is a naturally sweet syrup poured onto ice cream, yougurt, pancakes and even snow.   Sound familiar?   Yes, but Petimezi is made from grapes, not maple syrup sap.   It is made by cooking down grape must or 'moustos' for several hours, until is becomes dark and syrupy.   Final colour depends on the grapes being used.   Below (left) is a Wikipedia photo of Greek Petimezi and on the right is some almost-finished King Township Hammertown Wood Maple Syrup.   Oh that they were side by side, in the here-and-now, with me sampling them on pancakes or ice cream.   I'm sure Gordon Craig would join me in a taste-test.   Thanks for your comments, Effie.  

Please comment if you wish.

Mar 21, 2011

60-year-old albatross gives birth

This is Wisdom, one of the world's oldest known wild birds (60+ years) who has just given birth to what is probably the 35th chick in her lifetime.   Wisdom is a Layson Albatross who lives on Sand Island, in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands.   Not did she just give birth but she survived the recent Japan tsunami that killed many of her neighbours and their young on the island they share.    Wisdom was first banded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1959, when she was about five years old and was incubating what was probably her first egg.   Over the years she was re-banded six times.   Wisdom is the oldest wild specimen in American records, documented during the 90-year history of the U.S. and Canadian bird-banding research program.   Wisdom is estimated to have put in two to three million miles of flight time in her lifetime.   Chandler Robbins, a USGS scientist, was the first to band Wisdom in 1956 and he repeated the feat, 45 years later, in 2001.   Thanks to my former business colleague, Sandra Althoff for drawing this item to my attention.   (Photo by John Klavitter / US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Please comment if you wish.

Ahhh, spring!

According to my calendar, winter has ended and spring has begun.   My tracking of backyard winter birds has ended with 19 species making appearances.   Common Redpolls were the most numerous with 224 of them showing up at one time.   American Goldfinches were second with 61 birds at one time, and the elegant little Juncos were third most numerous, at on time, at 34, along with the Treesparrows.   The Juncos, shown above (female - left / male - right) will be the last leave - they always are, it seems.   Following is the complete list.                                                      
    Common Redpolls - 224
American Goldfinches -   61
Dark-eyed Juncos -   34
American Tree Sparrows -   34
Mourning Doves -   19
House Finches -     8
House Sparrows -     6
Northern Cardinals -     5
Blue Jays -     4
Chickadees -     4
Starlings -     3
Red-breasted Nuthatches -     2
White-breasted Nuthatches -     2
Downey Woodpeckers -     2
Grackles -     2
Hairy Woodpecker -     1
Cooper's Hawk -     1
Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                        (Photos by BarrytheBirder)

Mar 20, 2011

23 lifers added to bird list

My family vacation to Cozumel, Mexico, produced 53 species of birds, 23 of which were new life-birds for me, bringing my life list to 421 species.   One of the 23 new birds was the Western Spindalis (Spindalis zena), pictured at left, a songbird who joined me at lunch one day.   This bird used to be known as the Stripe-headed Tanager.   While a number of the birds I saw, both old and new, can be found in many other parts of Mexico, plus countries like Guatemala, Belize and San Salvador, this bird was special because it occurs mainly in the Bahamas and places like Cuba, Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands, and even extreme southern Florida.   For a long time, it was thought that the only place it resided in Mexico was on Cozumel Island, off the Yucatan Peninsula, and that may still be the case.   Foolwing is a list of the 23 birds that I have added to my life list.   Finally, after many years, I can order a '400' button from the American Birding Association to go along with the '100' and '200' buttons that I wear on my Tilley hat.

1.   Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
2.   Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)
3.   Solitary Eagle (Harpyhaliaetus solitarius)
4.   Ruddy Crake (Laterallus ruber)
5.   Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)
6.   Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis)
7.   Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi)
8.   Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii)
9.   Mexican Sheartail (Doricha eliza)
10. Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster)
11. Dot-winged Antwren (Microrhopias quixensis)
12. Greenish Elaenia (Myiopagis viridicata)
13. Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum sylvia)
14. Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea)
15. Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea)
16. Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris)
17. Cozumel Thrasher (Toxostoma guttatum)
18. Cozumel Vireo (Vireo bairdi)
19. Yucatan Vireo (Vireo magister)
20. Northern Parula (Parula americana)
21. Golden Warbler (Dendroica petechia) in part
22. Western Spindalis (Spindalis zena)
23. Melodious Blackbird (Dives dives)
A Tricoloured Heron is preparing to 'mantle' for fish in a Cozumel mangrove pond.   Mantling is a birding term used to descibe a bird's bringing forward of its wings in an umbrella position over its head to shade its vision of fish beneath the surface of water.   It also refers to certain raptors which will spread their wings in an umbrella-fashion over a recent kill to hide it from would-be thieves.
Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                                                            Photos by BarrytheBirder

More Mexican moments

mmmmmmmmmCOZUMEL SUNSETmmmmmmmmm
I didn't notice anyone trying to shinny up this palm tree (left), and for good reason.   
Right, a Black Vulture takes a time-out from soaring over the Yucatan Peninsula. 
Left, a sun-sunbleached tree trunk is festooned with remains of divers' conch shells.  Right, a Cozumel version of the oldtime cigar store indian stands near an abandoned dive shop on the beach.
Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                                                           Photos by BarrytheBirder

Mar 19, 2011

Hammertown Wood Maple Syrup

This is my friend Gordon Craig, long-time King Township resident, a recent mayoralty candidate, and a man of many talents and accomplishments, not the least of which is organic maple syrup maker.   His King Township property is named Hammertown Wood, which is also the name of his handmade maple syrup.   Hammertown is an  old King Township hamlet nearby to Gordon's woodlot.   Gordon is shown here bringing a trailer-load of tree sap out of the woods and to me he looks like a man who is quite pleased with the job at hand.  The gentleman's hard work will result in about 2,800 litres of sap being boiled down to 70 litres of syrup, a 40 to 1 ratio!   There is a lot of work, knowledge and artistry involved between those two amounts and after many years, Gordon has mastered it.   He takes great pride in the organic, one-man, hands-on aspect of his syrup-making operation.   The scope and scale of everything is designed to be efficient and manageable, from the permanent sap lines, to size of collection pails and storage tanks, to the handcrafted boiler, parts of which were made by Gordon himself.

Keeping the fire properly stoked is a process mastered by practise, and Gordon Craig uses only fallen wood from his own woodlot.   He never cuts down trees for firewood.   A properly laid and tended fire never has smoke coming out of the stack and I can verify this is the case at Hammertown Wood.

Taking on the distinct caramel colour of maple syrup is sure sign that the process is nearing completion and ready for drawing off. Gordon bottles his maple syrup so that  the colour and clarity is readily apparent.   Mass-produced syrup is sometimes offered for sale in coloured or opaque bottles or in painted tins, so that clarity is not necessarily assured.   Gordon states however that all syrup is sterile because of the distillation process, so the odd bits of detritus in commercial products are not really of concern.   Gordon does not sell his syrup.   He and his wife, Judy, enjoy it  themselves and with guests, and much is given away to friends and neighbours.   Some of Gordon's business customers are recipients, as are local charities. 


Once syrup has been drawn off into pails for finishing, filtering and bottling, the whole process is begun again.   Gordon lays a new fire, adds fresh sap to the boiling pan, and heads off into the woods to collect more sap.   I tasted the sap and syrup and what a transformation!  As I stood in the clouds of maple-scented steam, I thought of how aboriginal indians acheived this miracle with their primitive methods.   It must have been a hugely tedious process for European settlers also.   I mentioned this to Gordon and he replied that early settlers weren't interested in syrup.   They boiled sap right down to sugar, which was otherwise mostly unavailable and unaffordable.   This was a special morning and I felt I had stepped back in time.   Thanks Gordon for this tasty bit of time-travelling.
Please comment if you wish.

Cozumel ~ birds and iguanas

Here are some more pictures of my trip to Cozumel, Mexico, last week.   These birds are smaller and I've included a couple of iguana shots also.   Although the northern Yucatan Peninsula and Cozumel Island do not compare well with more southern areas, they are still naturalists' paradises for those willing to get out there and poke around. 
Great-tailed Grackle
Male (above) ~ female (below)

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Just over 4" long, looks like a minature mockingbird
American Redstart
Redstarts were very numerous but other warblers were few and far between: one Northern Parula, one Golden Warbler, one Palm Warbler and one Common Yellowthroat.
 A very hungry fledgling persistently follows a parent. 
The locals call this orange-trimmed 4-footer Pedro.  I called him Mister Pedro.   Below, is another 4-footer named Roberto.
Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                                                           Photos by BarrytheBirder

Mar 18, 2011

Birthdays and birds in Cozumel

My wife and I just returned from Cozumel, along with our two daughters, two sons-in-law, four grandchildren, and another set of grandparents.   We celebrated my wife's birthday and the birthday of one of our sons-in-law.   I'm very happy to report a good time was had by all.   I saw appproximately 50 species of birds during the trip, of which about half were life-birds for me.   I have finally reached the 400-mark on my life list!   Below are  some of the birds I photographed in Mexico.
Black-necked Stilts

Jacana ( juvenile )
White Ibis ( immature/1st spring )
Tricoloured Heron ( immature )
Great Egret ( breeding plumage )
Little Blue Heron ( immature )
Snowy Egrets ( plus ibises and heron )
Caspian Tern
My next blog will include pictures of some smaller birds and iguanas.   Please comment if you wish.
BtheB                                                                                        All photos by BarrytheBirder