Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Odd Ducks

I found a website by Kevin McGowan that has a page called Confusing Domestic Ducks. This is a good place to visit if you find a duck that is not in your birding book. Mallard and Muscovy ducks are the only two breeds that have been domesticated and mutations can end up in the wild. I previously posted pictures of a completely white "male mallard" and this past week, I found some more odd looking ducks.

The green-headed "mallard" looked very ragged and scarred and its partner...well, your guess is as good as mine. They were an obvious pair and spent a fair bit of time grooming their feathers together before they swam down the river again.

I was walking on a trail in London, Ontario along the Thames River a couple of weeks ago and saw far too many Canada Geese. The lone variation was this odd goose, which I cannot find in any of my books.
Here is the backside of the same bird, which seemed to be getting along famously with all the other geese.

Birds aren't the only things that can show up in unusual outfits. This fisherman caught my eye a little ways down the Thames River.

I wonder if the ducks and geese looked at him and said, "What an odd human. I don't see his likeness in our guide book."

Does anyone have any idea what these birds may be?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mennonite Relief Sale

This past weekend, the annual New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale was held a short distance outside the city. The event, which started in 1967, is held on the last Friday and Saturday of May. All proceeds from the sales go to the Mennonite Central Committee, which distributes funds and volunteers to areas of the world suffering from poverty, natural disaster, conflict and oppression.

The event is famous for its quilt auction and each year hundreds of donated quilts are sold to the highest bidder. I admired the displays during the Friday night preview and there is no doubt that quilting is an art form.

The amount of work that goes into the design, piecing, embroidery and bindings of each quilt would seldom be adequately reimbursed at a minimum hourly rate at the time of sale. The featured quilt sold for $11,100.00 this year, and the total quilt auction sales were $187,285.00.
Quilting is still a common social activity in the Mennonite community. Church and community groups meet together throughout the year to work on a large project, and the women share a friendship and camaraderie that is becoming a thing of the past.

The Relief Sale featured plenty of other interesting venues. Crafts from around the world were sold in the Ten Thousand Villages tent. We have a number of these stores in South Western Ontario that sell fair trade items, from crafts, jewellery and gifts to coffee, tea and sugar.
No Mennonite sale would be complete without homemade foods. One of my husband's young co-workers described how he had worked with the group who made 1500 pie crusts that morning. On Saturday these crusts were made into fresh strawberry pies, constructed in assembly line fashion by many volunteers. There were ethnic foods as well as the usual Pennsylvania-Dutch fare. The line up for tea balls was soooo long;- they must have been really good. Jars of dandelion jelly were sold along with local honey, elderberry jam and other delicious preserves.

The Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are peace churches, spiritual descendants of the Anabaptists of Europe. While they will not carry arms, they work in areas of conflict as peacemakers. This song from their hymnal describes the mission they feel is their calling in the world. Without a doubt, their labours of love and compassion were evident on this occasion.

Brothers and sisters of ours are the hungry
Who sigh in their sorrow and weep in their pain.
Sisters and brothers of ours are the homeless
Who wait without shelter from wind and from rain.

People are they, men and women and children
And each has a heart keeping time with our own
People are they, persons made in God's image
So what shall we offer them, bread or a stone?

Lord of all living, we make our confession
Too long we have wasted the wealth of our lands
Lord of all loving, renew our compassion
And open our hearts while we reach out our hands.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Week of the Catbird

This weekend I took an early morning walk on my favourite river trail and enjoyed the little sunshine we had that day. (We do need rain and I am not complaining about the wet, cool weather.) I have walked this trail weekly this spring and have been delighted with some new discovery every time. A couple of weeks ago, there were many Baltimore Orioles visible as they sang in the trees. The next week I saw numbers of Yellow Warblers working with nesting materials. This was the week of the Catbird.

I saw the first Grey Catbirds in our neighbourhood and around the hospital at the end of last week, but did not hear their distinctive call. While walking the trail on Saturday, I saw four Orioles, two Yellow Warblers, heard one Warbling Vireo, and saw an abundance of Catbirds. They were "mewing" in the low shrubs and bushes and it took only a couple of minutes waiting to see them move around the higher branches, still vocalizing in their unique way. The Catbird is an imitator like the Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher, but it has a squeakier voice and imitates a song only once. They do not always make cat-like sounds, but that is what I heard on this day.

While this bird is not uncommon, it is on the "Conservation Priority" list for this river shed area.

These species have been identified by Bird Studies Canada to help planning authorities set priorities for conservation efforts. In this way, bird species and habitat that are significant within the Grand River Watershed are targeted for conservation efforts. A total of 120 species in our watershed have this status. (Source)

I have identified fifty-three bird species along this trail so far this year. There are 292 birds on sighting list for the Grand River watershed, so I have a lot more to find. Who knows what the next bird of the week will be??

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Living in Harmony

Live in harmony with one another;
do not be haughty,
but readily adjust yourself to people

and give yourself to humble tasks.

Never overestimate yourself

or be wise in your own conceits.

Romans 12:16
(Amplified Bible)

Pictures taken in Harmony, Ontario
(near Tavistock)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Flowers: Fairy Bells

Bleeding Heart

I grew up reading books by Enid Blyton. I started with her Noddy books and even had a 45 rpm record that featured her reading the stories. When I was able to read, I loved her book of short stories called Now For a Story, and when I was older, I read and re-read her Adventure series. My own daughters have read my books and we purchased paperback versions of several of her chapter books as they were growing up.

Wood Hyacinth or Spanish Squill

Enid Blyton wrote a number of stories about mythical forest creatures such as fairies, goblins and elves. I loved to imagine that these little people really existed under the leaves and flowers outdoors. Whenever I saw dust particles floating in a sunbeam, I believed they were fairies. (Maybe that explains my ongoing aversion to dusting.) When I was older, I enjoyed the symbolic fantasies of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the descriptions of mythical creatures in their books.

Solomon's Seal

Junior Girl Guides were known as Brownies and I worked hard to earn my badges when I belonged to a troop. I still have my fairy pin and the wings I received when I graduated to Guides. We used to sing this little song as a two part or four part round. Perhaps you know it as well.

White coral bells
Upon a slender stalk.
Lily of the valley
deck my garden walk.
Oh, don’t you wish
that you could hear them ring.
That will happen only
when the fairies sing.

It is no wonder that little bell shaped flowers are favourites of mine.

A "long time ago", in the 1970's, hippies were turning into environmentalists. Jean skirts, long hair and tie dyed shirts were the rage and we shopped at the first health food stores and made homemade yogurt and granola. My friends and I used to visit a quaint local village to shop for antiques and have lunch.

We drank Earl Grey tea in a little cafe that always had bouquets of lily-of-the-valley and forget-me-nots on the tables in the spring. I still love these flowers together in a little container. The fragrance of lily-of-the-valley rivals lilac for beauty. When they are done blooming in my garden this spring, I will have to do some serious uprooting of their spreading ways.

I enjoy the back corner of my garden where the ferns, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon's Seal, and other wildflowers grow. The toads love the moist shade, and perhaps some other little fanciful forest visitors come by as well...

I wonder...

I had written the draft for this post a while ago and then Jennifer wrote about Fairy Spies on her blog. She has a fine scientific mind, and a great imagination too!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

As from the earth the light Balloon

As from the earth the light Balloon
Asks nothing but release --
Ascension that for which it was,
Its soaring Residence.

The spirit looks upon the Dust
That fastened it so long
With indignation,

As a Bird
Defrauded of its song.

Emily Dickinson

I admire the beautiful hot air balloons that go over our house on calm evenings, sometimes five or six at a time. It costs close to $300.00 for a ride, and even if that was inexpensive for me, I don't know if I would have the courage to get into one.

Have you been in a hot air balloon, riding in the domain of the birds?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better!

Dad took this terrific picture of two Barn Swallows at their home near Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. He said the birds were "harmonizing" as they sang to each other. Well, it looks like a domestic dispute to me, or else they are rehearsing for the musical Annie Get Your Gun, in particular, the song that goes like this...

Any note you can reach I can go higher.
I can sing anything
Higher than you.

No, you can't. (High) Yes, I can. (Higher)
No, you can't. (Higher) Yes, I can. (Higher)
No, you can't. (Higher)
Yes, I can. (Higher)
No, you can't. (Higher)
Yes, I can. (Higher)
No, you can't. (Higher)
Yes, I CAN! (Highest).....

Any note you can hold I can hold longer.
I can hold any note
Longer than you.

No, you can't. Yes, I can
No, you can't.
Yes, I can
No, you can't.
Yes, I can Yes, I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I
No, you C-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-N'T--

CA-A-A-A-N! (Cough, cough!) Yes, you ca-a-a-an!

My parents' home is a mountain ridge away from the Pacific Ocean. They see a large number of native and migrating birds on their propery outside the city. My brother has planted many fruit trees over the years and the area is surrounded by sugar cane fields. Dad picked up a camera with a good zoom when he was in Canada and sent me some of his recent pictures.

The bird above is a Violet-crowned hummingbird and the bird below is a Blue-throated hummingbird. Both species are found only in the south-west of the continent, mainly in Mexico.

The last bird is a Cattle Egret in mating plummage. This picture was taken near Houston Texas when my parents were driving back to Mexico. This Old World bird likely flew from Africa to South America in the 1880's, where it has naturalized and spread northward. Breeding birds were found in Florida in 1953 and in Ontario in 1968. It will ride on the backs of cattle and other game, particularly in Asia and Africa, to feed on ticks and other insects.

I hope this post will encourage Dad to take more pictures of their many feathered guests. Feel free to correct me if I have made any ID errors!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nests and eggs

I have been watching the Kildeer in the field near our home since early April. Generally, they have been easy to see, especially before the grasses started growing again. Last week, we were walking on the pathway and this Kildeer came toward us at an usually close distance. As we kept walking , the bird's distress became more evident and I knew we were near the nest. The dog was along, and when I did not see the nest readily, we proceeded on our way home.

The bird did its dramatic broken wing act with lots of noisy overtures and after we were a safe distance away, it returned to the nesting area.

The following day, I went to the field by myself and found the nest easily. Four specked eggs lay in a small depression in the ground. I did not get too close and used the zoom on the camera to take the pictures.

It seemed improbable that these eggs would stay undiscovered until hatching, and that the nestlings could be safe from predators out in an open field. The brave actions of the parent were the main protection for the eggs as the bird offered itself as bait to a predator. I will not let the dog roam free in the area for a while until I am sure the nesting period is over.

On another walk last week, this time near the hospital, my walking partner found this tiny egg on the sidewalk. It was intact, but had a small hole started on the one side. The shell broke easily and this fully formed bird was dead inside. It looked as if it had started to break out of the shell, but had fallen from the nest.

I think this is a Nuthatch according to the size and colour of the egg. Perhaps it had fallen from the nest with the movement that comes with hatching, or with the wind.

It would seem that a nest in a tree would be safer than one on the ground, but either way, there are many risks to overcome before a bird comes to maturity. I wonder what percentage of nest eggs this spring will end up as healthy, adult birds?

The Kildeer's field is to be transformed into two soccer fields and a parking lot in the next year;- another habitat lost because of the biggest

Monday, May 21, 2007

Victoria Day

Erected by the Imperial Order
of the Daughters of the Empire
Princess of Wales Charter
Berlin 1909

Our downtown city park is named Victoria Park after the long reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. Her stern, regal, matronly likeness dominates the park entrance. This community began when Mennonite settlers arrived from Pennsylvania. Afterwards, many people of German origin came and established a number of successful manufacturing operations in the area. The town of Berlin was incorporated as a city in 1912 and was considered to be Canada's German capital. After the start of the First World War, there was pressure to change the name of the community. In 1916, Berlin was renamed Kitchener, after Lord Kitchener who was killed in 1916 when his ship was sunk by a mine. In spite of the strong German heritage, there was obvious affection for the British monarchy.

Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819 and reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901. The Industrial Revolution was at its peak during her rule and Britian was the global power of the time. Her birthday was a national holiday and has remained so in Canada to this day. Victoria Day is celebrated on the Monday before May 25th and is the unofficial start of our summer season. It is the weekend that gardens can be planted as the risk of frost is supposed to be low. (We have had a few night time frosts this week though!) Our provincial parks open for the season for the many campers who wish to brave the usually cool night time temperatures.

We enjoy our beautiful downtown park. In past generations it was the gathering place of the community, with ice skating in the winter, live bands and dancing in the bandshell in the summer and canoe rentals on the small lake. Stately old homes surround the park and the style is definitely Victorian.

My mother's ancestors were Empire Loyalists who moved to Canada during the American Revolution, and the family has remained royalist. Mom was a few years younger than Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth, and shared her name, growing up with her as a role model. The Royal Family has always had a scandalous side, but they are a long-lived institution that has provided a common link for members of the British Commonwealth.

So Hoorah for Queen Victoria, who has given us a holiday today.
Long live the Queen!

Victoria, Queen, Empress
A Model Wife and Mother
Beloved, Admired, Revered,
She shall live the hearts of her people

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Psalm for a Spring Sunday

Psalm 8
The Glory of the Lord In Creation
To the Chief Musician. On the Instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over
the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

Pictures taken yesterday on an early morning walk along the river near our home. I was overwhelmed by the beauty around me.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Market Day

I am really enjoying Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I mentioned in a post earlier this week. Today is a beautiful day, so I went to one of our four large farmers' markets to see what local produce was available. It is my goal to make one meal a week with all ingredients from known and local sources.

My brother Philip has a large property in Mexico that has his home, my parent's home and a school on the premises. He also has at least a hundred fruit trees, from oranges to olives, that he has planted. He is never without seasonal fruit. He has ducks who eat the food scraps from the the two households, and he used to have milk cows as well. To round out their food choices, he takes his motorcycle to the Abastos Market for more local fruit and produce. I wish I had that kind of year-round local availability of fresh food.

Today, I purchased the scant amount of locally grown food that was available. The market had fresh asparagus and fiddleheads and I picked lettuce and rhubarb from the garden. We have lake trout that my husband caught on Manitoulin Island last month. Local dinner #1.
I bought some heirloom beefsteak tomato plants grown from seeds kept over from last year's crop. The vendor has maintained these plants for the past 40 years and states that they are disease and crack resistant.

The lovely Mennonite girls were selling flowers, jam and maple syrup. I bought a Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Iris, and Solomon's Seal from them for my wildflower garden.

The Becka came eagerly to the door to help me bring in my market purchases. She wasn't too impressed with the prospects for dinner. We are off to the supermarket to round out the food choices for the week, but will do so with a little more thought and consideration.
(Check here for my recipe for fiddleheads)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Flowers: Lilac

The Time of the Lilacs

Becka was in Mexico from March to June last year and missed the lilac blooms in our garden. Yesterday, she was on the deck on a cold, damp day, admiring the beauty and smell of our new blossoms and said, "I haven't seen these for two years!" Last year I emailed her pictures of the flowers that were opening, but no one has yet invented a "smell file" for the computer that would capture their lovely scent.

We had planted a small, potted lilac bush beside the deck when we moved here in 1987. Becka was a little baby and she has grown with the lilac. It is now 5 or 6 metres high and provides shade and protection for the birds and for people sitting outdoors. The rose-breasted grosbeaks that visited recently would retreat to this bush when they were startled from the feeders.

I was surprised to find that these are not native plants. The Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a member of the olive family, and grows wild in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Driving in the country around here, it is not uncommon to see large lilac bushes with mauve or white flowers growing along the roadside. Unlike other non-native species, these have not spread to the detriment of other native shrubs. It is the state flower of New Hampshire.

The lilac blossoms last only a few days, especially if the weather turns warm. This Monday is Victoria Day in Canada, our first long weekend of the summer season. The weather is supposed to be a little cool, so I will be able to sit out and enjoy the lilacs at their peak in my garden.

Post Script ~ I added this for Laura from Somewhere in NJ. She commented on her white lilac bush that fragrances her garden inspite of having few blooms. These were planted along the river within the city. There were purple, mauve and white lilacs in mass plantings together. Beautiful!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


A thinking tree in the trillium woods

…to reason about or reflect on; ponder

to call to mind, to remember
to conceive ideas, draw inferences, use judgment
to use imagination, to invent

Mary, at Mary’s View was recently nominated for a Thinking Blogger Award. She in turn nominated five other blogs, including this one, and I am supposed to nominate five more.

I write about many topics and am an expert on few, if any of them. There are great birding and nature bloggers who are the best of teachers. Others have a gift for literature, poetry and writing and can express themselves beautifully with words. There are exceptional photography blogs and compassionate medical blogs that I enjoy as well. I avoid political and religious rantings and whiny, self-centred bloggers. All the blogs I read make me think, or I would not return to them again. It is interesting to see ideas passed around and how one person’s post will inspire someone else to think in a new direction.

We all share common, ordinary experiences and this is what keeps us reading what others write. People like Mary celebrate the little things of life that bring us joy and pleasure.

When my daughter was in nursing school, she had to write a “reflection” after each clinical session and hand it in to her instructor. While she found it a chore, it did help consolidate the learning and emotional experiences of the day. The blogs I enjoy do that well. They share a new discovery, some beauty, some emotion and humanity that I can relate to, perhaps with laughter or with tears.

I have struggled to try and nominate five new thinkers. All the blogs in my sidebar are thinking blogs and I will pass on the tagging for now. (Mary said that was OK!) My Google Reader is my first stop when I turn on my computer. I look forward to reading what each of you write. You are all far more interesting and informative than the news!

I would like to introduce a newer member of the the blogosphere, Ruth Johnson (RuthieJ) of Rochester, MN who writes about her life, dogs, birds and her 5 acre backyard in Nature Knitter. I enjoyed discovering and reading her blog this week. She drinks tea and thinks rhubarb cake a la mode is a good breakfast. I can identify with that, even if this Ruth does not share her tatooed biker woman status!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rhubarb and other Local Foods

It has been years since I planted a vegetable garden. Our city used to offer free 20'x20' plots for those who wanted to grow vegetables, but it was not uncommon to have your perfect tomatoes picked by someone else, and all watering had to be done by hand from an inconvenient single watering source. Some of our recent immigrants, especially those from eastern European and Asian countries, would tend the gardens nightly with their families and likely enjoyed good returns for their efforts. Our neighbours have converted their entire back yard into a vegetable garden and I do admire their tidy rows of healthy produce.

I grow a little lettuce and arugula, a few herbs and have a raspberry and rhubarb patch. The spring lettuce is always good, but the little bunnies have enjoyed most of it so far this year. My rhubarb patch was ready for its first harvest this week and today I made a rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb coffee cake and stewed rhubarb with raspberries. The recipes for the cake and pie are in my recipe blog, Come Home for Supper.

Earlier this year I wrote a post about the Buy Local, Buy Fresh initiative in our community, which encourages individuals and restaurants to buy and prepare local foods. Last week I purchased a book by Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Poisonwood Bible) called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. This non-fiction volume chronicles a year in which the author and her family made every attempt to eat local foods. They did all they could to avoid the "industrial food pipeline". I have not yet finished it, but so far it is an interesting read, with a sprinkling of recipes and plenty of personal stories.

My youngest daughter has never liked meat. As a baby, she refused the pureed meats and always loved legumes, vegetables, cheese and eggs. Friends would be surprised to see this toddler happily stuffing brussel sprouts in her mouth. Becka has asked me to help her prepare healthy ovo-lactovegetarian meals. She and I have been doing this for the past month or so, and feel very healthy and energetic. (My husband will always be a meat eater and loves his BBQ, but is not thrilled about grilled zucchini) Personally, I have decided to keep eating fish occasionally, especially the fresh lake trout and pickerel from recent spring fishing trips. The only substitute I need to work on is a replacement for the lard I use in my pie crusts. Lard makes the best pie crust and I refuse to use hydrogenated shortening. We do not eat very many pies in a year.

It is time for me to start planning a week (or two or three) of local food menus, both vegetarian and meat based. Rhubarb and asparagus mark the beginning of our seasonal crops and they are now available. We have several excellent farmer's markets within a short drive from our home. I don't regret buying a pricey Ataulfo mango this week to make a mango curry, but I would like to start a habit of buying more local fresh foods and becoming more aware of the environmental impact of my food choices.