Wednesday, April 30, 2008

High above the Forest Floor

There is a wood lot close to home that I have walked many times over the years with our daughters and the dog. It is beautiful in the spring with wildflowers covering the ground. We have collected acorns and leaves and are familiar with all the side trails. Until this spring, I have never spent much time looking at the treetops of the very high canopy. One evening last week as we were leaving the lot at dusk, a noisy female Pileated Woodpecker flew by and sat on a high stump near the parking lot. I returned earlier the next evening with the Becka to see if I could find the woodpeckers again. While scanning the treetops I noticed a duck high in the branches... an unexpected male Wood Duck.

Click to enlarge

I have indicated where the duck was sitting to the left of the red letters. Closer inspection with the binoculars showed the female sitting nearby, well camouflaged against the bare brown branches and bark. This bush is in the middle of an industrial park with plenty of truck traffic and roadways on all sides. The nearest pond is a couple of kilometers away across pavement and parking lots. How successful will this nesting pair be in raising their young?

I didn't see the woodpeckers that evening but was very happy to find the Wood Ducks. The next evening I went back even earlier to look for the ducks again. I went to the tree where they had been...and saw a female Pileated Woodpecker moving up the trunk of a nearby tree. Once she arrived at the top, the male flew in and joined her right above my head.

This picture was taken straight up. There were no Wood Ducks to be seen that evening. The leaves are opening quickly and in another week the activity in the tree tops will be hidden. And once the mosquitoes appear I stay out of these woods until fall. But when I return I will be looking up more often.

Post Script... A couple of people have commented on the fact that they have never seen a duck in a tree. Several ducks do nest in tree cavities including Buffleheads, Wood Ducks, Goldeneyes and Mergansers. They will also make nests in man-made boxes. Here is a You Tube Video of Wood Ducklings leaving a box. These ones do not have far to fall, but in the forest they may have to make a 40 foot drop to the ground and then follow their mother to water. This will be a treacherous journey for the ducks I saw.

Monday, April 28, 2008

About Me Meme...and School Uniforms

I copied this meme from Anvilcloud's blog and noticed that Ginger featured it recently as well. I have selected two pictures from my youth to go along with the lists. The first picture is of my Standard One class (equivalent to Grade 3) at Sherwood School in Durban, South Africa, circa 1962. The girls wore green checked jumpers and we had brown hats in a Robin Hood type of colour theme. We also had brown blazers with a school crest.

The second picture is of the physiotherapists I graduated with in 1975. The women wore medium blue polyester dresses. The polyester dresses are likely still fully intact in some landfill site. Thankfully, standard work uniforms were ditched a few years after I started working.

Ruth, third from the left in the first row

  1. Pretoria, South Africa (birthplace)
  2. Durban, South Africa (early school years)
  3. Aurora, Ontario
  4. Toronto, Ontario
  5. Kitchener, Ontario


Working full time in the community as a Home Care physiotherapist in the best job I ever had. The positions were eliminated in 2000 thanks to an ongoing effort to privatize government jobs. My other best job at the same time was raising three daughters.

  1. Peanut Butter (all natural please)
  2. Dark Chocolate (Dove, Ritter, Lindt)
  3. Crisp apples and other fruit
  4. Hovis biscuits (with tea of course)
  5. Trail mix ( almonds, cashews, dried fruit, sunflower seeds)


I would set up a number of trust funds for family and my favourite charities. I would buy a modest dwelling near a large body of water and get my husband a good fishing boat. I really am not ready to retire because I love what I do, but would look for a position that gave me ample opportunity to travel.

Ruth, third from the left in the back row

  1. Babysitter
  2. Candy Striper (teen volunteer at North York General Hospital)
  3. Librarian's Assistant in the University Medical Library
  4. Physiotherapist for the past 30 plus years now
  5. Mom

THREE OF MY BAD HABITS (according to my daughter)

  1. Procrastination (just certain things, never things I enjoy doing). I filed my income tax last night though, three whole days early and a day earlier than last year.
  2. I have an "evil mom" look that is supposedly scary, especially to small, misbehaving children. I inherited this look from my father.
  3. I lose track of time. I don't wear a watch and if I start wandering around a trail on a nice day, I may not come back for hours. I guess this is related to bad habit one, but I am not habitually late for work or appointments.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Swallow

Thomas Aird was a Scottish poet who lived from 1802 to 1876. He wrote the following poem about swallows as they returned to his homeland after wintering in Africa. Bird migration happens all over the world. I remember staying overnight at a kibbutz in northern Israel in the spring and seeing flocks of birds resting in the pines and ponds on their migration northward. Tree Swallows are returning here in large numbers. I took pictures of this pair yesterday as they built their nest in the rain.

The Swallow

Thomas Aird

The swallow, bonny birdie, comes sharp twittering o’er the sea,
And gladly is her carol heard for the sunny days to be;
She shares not with us wintry glooms, but yet, no faithless thing,
She hunts the summer o’er the earth with wearied little wing.

The lambs like snow all nibbling go upon the ferny hills;
Light winds are in the leafy woods, and birds, and bubbling rills;
Then welcome, little swallow, by our morning lattice heard,
Because thou com’st when Nature bids bright days be thy reward!

Thine be sweet mornings with the bee that’s out for honey-dew;
And glowing be the noontide for the grass-hopper and you;
And mellow shine, o’er day’s decline, the sun to light thee home:
What can molest thy airy nest? sleep till the day-spring come!

The river blue that rushes through the valley hears thee sing,
And murmurs much beneath the touch of thy light-dipping wing.
The thunder-cloud, over us bowed, in deeper gloom is seen,
When quick reliev’d it glances to thy bosom’s silvery sheen.

The silent Power, that brought thee back with leading-strings of love
To haunts where first the summer sun fell on thee from above,
Shall bind thee more to come aye to the music of our leaves,
For here thy young, where thou hast sprung, shall glad thee in our eaves.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Flowers: Early Spring Wildflowers

Trillium, Trout Lily, Bloodroot, Red Trillium

Our weather continues to be unseasonably warm and we have caught up and surpassed the average spring wildflower schedule. The tree leaves are emerging and that usually occurs the first week of May around here. Last week I saw no wildflowers other than the Skunk Cabbage and a few patches of Coltsfoot. The leaves of the Trout Lilies were just poking out of the ground. By Tuesday this week the wildflowers were not opening in polite succession, but were rushing to get their share of light before the woodland canopy closed over. I took the pictures in one area of a local bush on April 22.

My garden is also starting to bloom with plenty of yellow from the daffodils and forsythia. Grandma gave us a forsythia for our first garden and she always loved their early blooms. Our wedding anniversary is tomorrow. Grandma and Mom hoped the forsythia would bloom for our wedding day, but they delayed until early May that year due to cooler weather.

Happy Anniversary to us... April 26, 1975... thirty-three years and counting!

Forsythia in my garden

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth Week: Water Bottles

When I was in Junior High School, Mom bought me a Thermos bottle for my lunch time beverage. It had a glass liner and if dropped, the interior would shatter into a mess of fine shards. She had to replace the liner more than once and when plastic bottles became available, they seemed like a cheap and safe alternative to the old fashioned beverage containers.

On Earth Day the Waterloo Region District School Board voted to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in schools as of 2009. This is to be done to make an effort to reduce the consumption of plastic. One of the trustees, Ted Martin is quoted in our paper as saying,

"People who complain about spending $1.20 on gas are spending almost twice that on water," he said. It takes more water to manufacture a bottle of water than can be held in that bottle. What's more, nearly nine out of 10 water bottles aren't recycled, even if they're placed in blue boxes, because nobody wants to buy used plastic, Martin said.

"We're creating far more plastic than can be recycled. . . . We have to pay people to take it away."

On August 15, 2007 the same paper reported that the region sent 680 tonnes of mixed plastics to Asia last year because the waste is not recycled in North America. And plastic water bottles are being used more than ever around the world.

We have used a water filter system at home for many years. I do trust the safety of our municipal water but dislike the taste of chlorinated water, especially in my tea. When I travel I take a portable Brita or Pur water filter bottle with me. Bottled water is not regulated for purity but our city water is tested regularly. I have used a Nalgene bottle for carrying water for a long time too and am very reluctant to use disposable plastic bottles. If I do need to buy drinking water I purchase a four litre jug and fill reusable containers.

Earlier this month , plastic bottles containing
Bisphenol A, or BPA, were listed as a health hazard as some studies have linked them to breast and prostate cancer, infertility and premature puberty. Baby bottles made with BPA will be banned in Canada as the chemicals can leak out especially when the bottles are heated. Many stores have removed the popular Nalgene water bottles off the shelf as well. The hard plastic coloured bottles that have a recycling number 7 on the bottom are the polycarbonate plastics that are considered dangerous. My soft, opaque Nalgene bottle shown in the picture above does not contain BPA.

Local sports stores are now stocking stainless steel water bottles. If the hard Nalgene bottles are used for cold water, not hot liquids or acidic foods, they are considered reasonably safe for adults. However, who knows what next year's health studies will reveal. Many plastics leach chemicals when heated, especially if used in the microwave oven.

In my last post I endeavored to reduce my use of plastic bags and containers this year. This is difficult as virtually everything we buy is packaged or double packaged in plastic. But we don't have to buy plastic water bottles. I make iced tea in the summer and don't drink soda so we use a minimum of plastic from these types of beverages. We will continue to put plastic in the recycling bin, but it is disturbing to know that my it may end up half way around the world.

I will have to remember my growing up days in the 1960's when we had paper grocery bags, tin garbage cans and used glass containers. Perhaps the old ways were best.

Check out KGMom's post from earlier this month called
Fouling the Nest.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

Earth Day has developed into an international environmental awareness day since its inception on April 22, 1970. According to Wikipedia, "Earth Day was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson after a trip he took to Santa Barbara right after that horrific oil spill off our coast in 1969. He was so outraged by what he saw that he went back to Washington and passed a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth."

I believe there is more awareness of environmental issues today and in some areas progress has been made in cleaning up some parts of the world. The fact that I saw Bald Eagles several times this winter is testament to efforts of those who recognized that pesticide use was affecting the species negatively. The Great Lakes have been cleaned up considerably in my lifetime. But every day we see that more change is needed. Spring reveals a season's worth of garbage that has been abandoned along roadsides, trails and parking lots. But more telling is our attitude towards transportation, convenience and accumulation of goods.

Along this trail I found discarded water bottles, plastic snack containers, drinking boxes and garden garbage within large plastic garbage bags. There is no need to dispose of things this way as our city has garbage collection, yard waste collection and recyling available. Some people simply do not care.

We have had exceptionally warm temperatures over the past week and the airflow has been from the south. That means we have had several smog days already which is earlier in the year than ever before. A haze has been hanging over the city as pollution from Canadian and American sources moves northward. People with respiratory conditions are warned not to exert themselves outdoors. It takes me about 15 minutes to drive 14 km to work every day. A bus goes from the end of my street to the hospital in about 45 minutes. Because of the extra 6o minutes of commuting time I am not anxious to take public transit.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced today that the province will ban the cosmetic use of pesticides.

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ontario said on Tuesday that it will ban the sale and general use of pesticides in what the province said would be among the toughest such environmental laws in North America.

Canada's most populous province said the new legislation -- expected to take effect next spring -- would outlaw homeowners' use of lawn and garden pesticides for such things as killing dandelions. Exceptions would be made for golf courses, farms and forests.

In Canada, only the province of Quebec has a similar ban, and according to the pesticide industry no U.S. state has a ban in place...

My personal Earth Day resolutions are to reduce my use of plastic bags, to naturalize our back yard (the dog has given us a head start on that!) and to add more native plantings to my garden. Over the winter months I did not use our composter and have to try harder to chop up my organic garbage and make the trip to the bin. And maybe I will take the bus to work one day a week...

Small changes do make a difference.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food... The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2

I posted some pictures I took this morning to celebrate Earth Day.
Follow this link.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Concerto of Colour

In Ginger's comment yesterday she said, "Looks like there are a lot of browns in nature at this time of year." I agree that the last post reflected a brown state of affairs, but after two days of well above normal temperatures, colour is showing up everywhere.

Yesterday my husband took me to the Guelph Lake Conservation Area. The site doesn't open until next weekend for campers but it was easy to enter for a walk on the trails. The Speed River was dammed in this spot after the big flood of 1974 which I wrote about here. Guelph Lake is a reservoir for the Grand River watershed and along with a few other reservoirs has prevented bad flooding from occurring again. I remember when it was built and watched a large tract of farms and roadways become submerged under the water. For a while it was an eyesore as telephone and hydro poles stuck out of the water. But the area is naturalized now and is wonderful nature centre.

There are hundreds of nesting boxes up and Tree Swallows swooped and perched on the bare trees along the walkways. Blue was a predominant colour as these were the most common birds to be seen.

And talking about blue...I saw my first Eastern Bluebird ever!!! The picture is distant but we watched this lovely, colourful bird through binoculars for several minutes. It obviously had not been raised with help from Jayne or Mary as it was very shy.

This Savannah Sparrow buzzed from a low shrub. While it is predominantly brown it has a distinctive yellow eyebrow that stood out clearly.

The leaves on the trees and shrubs could be observed opening by the hour and this willow-like bush had purple blooms emerging as well. I don't know what is is, but will endeavour to find out.

This lake has no cottages and motorized watercraft are not allowed. I hope the opening of the park does not scare away the many birds. We watched a pair of nesting Osprey, listened and watched an Eastern Meadowlark sing, saw Phoebes, Blue Jays, Finches and Robins. In one low tree there were four perched birds...a Robin, Goldfinch, Bluebird and Tree Swallow.

And that was a beautiful blend of colour.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Just Chillin'

My, I like this yard! ...lots of food and water
and the dog can never catch me.

I may look like a dead leaf, but if you get too close
I'll have to leave my comfy spot.

This swamp is just perfect now that the
water level has dropped below our sunning log.

We're soaking up some April sunshine.
What a beautiful weekend!

(My condolences to blogging friends in Western Canada
who are receiving snow and very cold temperatures)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Staying Close to Home!

What a shock this morning to see this new price at our local gas station. At $1.20 a litre (roughly $4.56 per US gallon), it is going to cost over $70.00 to fill my tank. On the news it was reported that Montreal and the Maritimes are paying around $1.30 a litre for fuel.

I haven't ventured far from work and home this week but there has been lots to see and enjoy in the warm spring (more like summer) temperatures we have had the last couple of days. It is hard to believe we had fresh snow last Sunday.

Blue-winged Teal Ducks were swimming in a vernal pool just five minutes from the hospital. I have never seen these birds before. I also saw a Hermit Thrush at the same location.

A male Downy Woodpecker was working hard on a nearby stump

And this Mourning Cloak butterfly was quite ragged and worn but it was a welcome sight on the damp trail.

I wandered around the field at the end of our street after supper and recorded some more frog sounds. The female Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived and were busy in the nesting areas of the ponds. The evening was beautiful and the moon that will be full in another day hung brightly in the sky. Here is a one minute video taken in our neighbourhood. My guess is that Spring Peepers and American Toads are the songsters, along with the odd Red-winged Blackbird.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Flowers: Skunk Cabbage

Last week I tried to walk the trail along the river here, but everything was flooded far beyond the flood plain of the top picture. The trail, which is a distance out of the picture to the right, was completely under water. Last year I found my first Skunk Cabbage flowers here but of course I found nothing at the same time this year. Yesterday I returned and the water is flowing within the river banks again. I walked along the river's edge in very muddy and marsh-like terrain and found what I was looking for. It was worth another "foot soaker".

These Skunk Cabbage hoods or spathes contain a flower which reportedly smells bad and attracts insects. I never took a sniff. And I didn't kneel in the wet ground to get a macro shot of the flower that is contained inside the coloured leaves. Some of the Skunk Cabbages were larger and appeared to have been eaten by something. The unpleasant smell is suppose to deter larger animals from nibbling on it, but some creature had taken a taste.

So my first wildflower of the season has made an appearance. I enjoyed watching the large green leaves unfurl as spring and summer progressed last year. It was 20 C today and tomorrow promises to be warmer. The other wildflowers that must bloom before the tree leaves open will be emerging quickly. Later in the evening I saw a patch of Coltsfoot as well.

This Song Sparrow was sitting on a branch of a flowering maple tree near the river. I mentioned the Red Maple in last week's Friday Flowers post. Jennifer at A Passion for Nature wrote in much more detail about the flowers of this tree this week in a post called Oh Those Sexy Red Maples. She also wrote about Skunk Cabbage in this post earlier in the month.

I should have flowers blooming in my garden this weekend as the daffodils and hyacinth buds are getting large and colourful. I have never planted early bulbs like crocus and snowdrops. Anvilcloud, another Ontario blogger posted these beautiful crocus pictures this week that are well worth viewing. I know everyone is enjoying the spring blooms after a long winter.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Herons at the Rookery

My picture of one tree at the Great Blue Heron Rookery (click on picture to enlarge)

About three weeks ago I wrote about the heron rookery located north of the city. When I first visited it, the nests were clearly visible but I saw only one heron at that time. Things have become very active since then. My husband and I went there about 10 days ago and I took the picture above which gives a general idea of the number of nests these birds make in each treetop. And what a racket they make!

One of Andre's first pictures of the rookery

My husband's co-worker, Andre, who let me use his ice fishing pictures earlier this year, asked me about the rookery. It is very close to their workplace and he went out there with his new camera. This was his first time taking bird pictures but he has been back three times now. I think he is seriously hooked! Each set of pictures is better than the last. His Flickr photo stream is here and he has kindly allowed me to use some of his shots in this post. He has other excellent shots that are worth viewing on his site.

A picture from Andre's latest outing

I could stand and watch these large, graceful birds for hours. They have a fair distance to fly to the river and there is constant travel back and forth for food. When we drove by a section of the river which was about 10 km away, we saw five herons fishing along the bank of the fast flowing water.

There is much to see in the spring and things are progressing so fast that it is hard to keep up with what is new from day to day. I will have to check by again and see how long the rookery is occupied and when the birds fledge from their aerial nests.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Frog Chorus

The rain stopped and the ground was covered with a new layer of snow on Sunday morning. The spring sun melted it quickly but the air remained cold and windy. I went to a wooded area that offered some protection from the weather and was surprised to see how much snow was still packed on some of the trails. I was walking a new section of the trail and heard a sound I could not identify in the distance. It sounded like some machinery that was grinding repetitively.

As I approached a familiar section of the woods, I came across a vernal pool in an area where I had only seen marsh grasses in the fall. What a racket! I had never heard anything like this at 2:30 in the afternoon. I know virtually nothing about frogs and amphibians. The water was full of frogs (what kind??). I thought Spring Peepers were tree frogs, but I saw none out of the water. I have made a two minute video recording what I heard and saw today. There was more than one kind of frog sound.

Any help in identifying the occupants of this pond would be most welcome!

Thanks to Jennifer Schlick from A Passion for Nature for identifying the Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs heard on the video. She has recommended this site for learning more about various frog species in the north eastern part of North America. You can listen to their voices as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April Showers

(click image to enlarge)

The weather is dull and rainy this weekend and few people are out and about on the streets. I saw one lively youngster wearing bright yellow boots and a raincoat as he jumped in puddles. I wish I had taken a picture.

As I cleaned the house yesterday I found excuses to look out at the yard and feeders frequently. There were plenty of visitors including some new ones for the season. I saw my first Chipping Sparrow, a White-throated Sparrow, a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds at the feeders (!), and our little chipmunks who have emerged from hibernation. The Red-breasted Nuthatches have been here all winter, but were appearing as a couple at the peanut silo. And the American Goldfinch was resplendent in his new breeding plumage. The first daffodils of the season hung their heads in the steady rain, but their colour was most welcome. The Robins were loving the rain and spent the day digging in the lawn for worms.

The best thing was the many cheerful cheeps, whistles and melodies...singing, just singing in the rain!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Flowers: Pussy Willows and Maples

Spring arrived with a bang this week and we have had several days of above average temperatures. We still have some snow in our north-facing front yard but I broke up the last of the ice on the deck yesterday evening. The robins have been pulling worms out of the ground and insects are beginning to fly around. We are sure to get more snow, but it will not last long. With this quick thaw, the rivers and streams are very high. The areas where I saw skunk cabbage flowers at this time last year are completely under water. But the earliest of spring blooms have opened.

The American Pussy Willow (salix discolor) is a native deciduous shrub found in northern forests and wetlands. The flowers are soft, silky catkins which open in early spring before the leaves appear. The Pussy Willow, like all willows, provides a compound called salicin which is similar to the active ingredient in aspirin. Native people extracted it from the bark and roots for a painkiller and anti-fever medication.

On Thursday I saw my first Red Maple (acer rubrum) tree in bloom. The flowers on this tree emerge three to four weeks before the leaves open and bring some of the earliest spring colour to the landscape. Each day will bring new growth as dormant plants respond to light and warmth. Nothing will stop spring now!