Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Parents

Raising a family is life's most challenging undertaking. While we may be equipped with basic instincts for the job, the variables are many and the outcome uncertain. Most parents are loving and attentive with their offspring although our human array of emotions, learned behaviours and cultural influences greatly impact the final product. Good parents are not perfect parents but they do their best.

It is hard to believe that the Canada Goose was on the verge of extinction at the turn of the 20th century. Through the efforts of Jack Miner of Kingsville, Ontario, they were protected and have made an amazing comeback. Most would consider Jack's efforts too successful. Grandma D. used to visit Jack Miner's bird sanctuary in the spring*. It is a short distance from Point Pelee and I would have liked to stop there this past weekend to see where Grandma birded. However, Point Pelee National Park was more than enough to explore in two days.

One does not have to travel far to find Canada Geese. There are many in the city and now is the busy season of caring for newly hatched goslings. One cannot find more attentive parents. Both male and female, who mate for life, are actively involved in guarding the nest and caring for their large broods. They can be very aggressive with their posturing and hisses when you approach their young. As annoying and dirty as geese can be in our parks, trails and golf courses, their offspring are very cute indeed.

These birds continue to be protected and our municipality tries to control their numbers by oiling eggs and transporting city geese to outlying areas. Because they are common and easily recognized, they are popular with many children and adults alike.

As well as trying to be a good parent, I am also trying to be a good citizen and have just finished filing our income tax returns. The tax deadline in Canada is April 30th so my Point Pelee pictures and posts had to take a back burner for the time being. Spring is a busy time of year for everyone it seems!

*Follow this link to an older post about Grandma's visits to Lake Erie.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Birds, birds and more birds!

Hermit Thrush at Point Pelee

My husband and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary yesterday. We went away for the weekend to Point Pelee, the most southern tip of land in Canada. Many birds migrate through this point, crossing Lake Erie northward in the spring and southward in the fall. A small archipelago is in the area providing places to rest on the long journey across the lake. I will be featuring some posts on this interesting spot but have to organize my thoughts and pictures first. We saw so much in such a short time.

Fox Sparrow in my yard today

After work today, I noticed a couple of unusual birds with spotted breasts in our yard. I assumed they were a pair of thrushes and went out after dinner to take a closer look. I got two good identifying shots and to my surprise realized I had two different species digging in my garden at the same time;- a Fox Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush! These birds confused me before and they confused me again.

There were many thrushes on Point Pelee this weekend and I identified a Hermit Thrush and a Wood Thrush. I find these birds to be quite elusive and was surprised to see one so visible in our yard.

Hermit Thrush in my yard today

Spring migration is in full swing. We have had several warm days with a southerly wind and the birds are coming north in large numbers. Our birding forums are buzzing with sightings and pictures. When I got home my Google reader had 120 new posts up in the past three days. It must be an inspiring time for many bloggers. I will read through the list, but cannot catch up on commenting. I am sure many of you find yourselves in similar situations and want to be outdoors as much as possible now that spring is here.

More to come...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Flowers: Barren Bush?

We walked along the trails in a nearby bush this week and scuffed through the dry fallen leaves. The trees remain leafless although their buds are enlarging, awaiting a warm day or two to burst out and turn the forest to a soft green. In mid-summer, this area is overgrown with a ground cover of leafy plants along with plenty of mosquitoes. The canopy is full and filters out most of the sunlight. I was looking for spring wildflowers and had to look closely to find them amongst the dead leaves.

Blue Cohosh, Bloodroot,
Red Trillium, Trout Lily

Along the south edge of the woods we found a few plants that were already flowering. In a couple of weeks the ground will be completely covered with Trilliums, Trout Lilies and Jack in the Pulpit blooms.

The north section of the bush is growing at a noticeably slower pace, but green shoots are beginning to grow up around old stumps and trees. Fungi and mosses are plentiful and most interesting to look at although I have not learned to identify them yet. This is one of my favourite spring spots even though birds other than woodpeckers are quite scarce here. These flowers wait fifty weeks for a half month of beautiful floral display. I don't want to miss it.

"Come, gentle Spring! Ethereal Mildness! Come."
James Thomson

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Urban Skywatch

Today marked Earth Day 2009. Last year I took a number of photos to reflect the theme of the day and posted them here on my Flickr page. April 2008 was warmer than this month as my forsythia was already blooming. Today we had drizzle, snow flurries and cold winds so I did not spend a lot of time outdoors.

On the eve of Earth Day, we had a beautiful sunset as there was a short break in the clouds that have filled our skies all week. I drove northward along the west edge of the city and followed the hydro towers that spread out from a nearby hydro station. A new throughfare has been built here and acres of land have been cleared for new subdivisions and businesses. Urban sprawl is so unattractive with row upon row of identical houses crowded onto small lots.

An abandoned farm destined for "development" lay beneath a pink and blue sky, the boarded up windows of the old homestead glowing eerily in the light of the setting sun. How many new houses will fit on this hill?

The sun illuminated wires, light standards and rooftops as the colours of the sunset changed quickly. I pulled into a nearby strip mall and parked beside garbage dumpsters in the rear to take these pictures. The man made structures were insignificant compared to the grandeur of the sky.

At one point, a pair of sundogs was seen on either side of the sun. Ice crystals in the atmosphere refracted the light creating the phenomenon seen most often on very cold winter days. (I have outlined the sun dogs in this picture if you are unable to see them here)

Cities rise and the natural landscape is paved over, rerouted and subdued. Man controls the power coursing through wires and grids, but his efforts are child-like compared to the power and beauty of the sun and the atmosphere.

Does the earth need to be saved by mankind?

Or is it mankind who needs to be saved from destroying himself?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

With A Little Help From My Friends

I have learned much from other bloggers in the past two and a half years and have been inspired to look for new things in my own world. I have also met people who share my interests and have made some new "flesh and blood" friends as well as on line friends.

Last spring I met Cheryl on a local trail. Her binoculars were a sure sign she was a birder and we have kept in touch since that day. She emailed me the very, very cute picture above of Barn Swallows at her father's farm and wrote,

"As the babies grow the nest seems to get smaller until finally they are forced out. I attached this picture I took last year of a "bursting nest". Note the horse hair... I hope that in the near future you can come and see the barn swallows at the farm. You will be able to watch them from just a few feet away. The timing window of the babies bursting out of the nest is small (maybe a week or so). "

What a great invitation!

Deb is a co-worker who loves nature and birding. We have gone out together several times. She sent me pictures of ducks she found in an out of the way spot, including the Blue-winged Teals above, some Wood Ducks and a Hooded Merganser. I found the area and now have another quiet spot where I can go to observe birds and wildlife. There were no ducks there tonight, but a Kingfisher flew around noisily and a large flock of Wild Turkeys was in a nearby field.

Esther Garvi of Niger has written a couple of interesting comments on recent posts. She sent me this picture of one of their white herons which looks like a Cattle Egret to me.

"We have white herons here in West Africa. They nest in thorny trees and make so much noise, but the worst part here when you are unfortunate enough to have them settle in your garden (and don't have the heart to chase them away) is that their little ones get stuck in the thorns and rot in the trees. A large majority fall down from the tree in their attempts to fly. I imagine in the wild, they would make easy prey for predators but in the city, they starve to death. Although I love the herons when I see them in the bush, I am very grateful not to have a heronry in my yard!"

(If you don't like that mental image, drop in to see this post of hers for a big dose of sweetness.)

My cousin Samuel moved two hours east of here at the end of March. I will miss birding with him. On our last outing he took this great picture of gulls at Lake Ontario. He has moved close to the shores of Lake Ontario and I hope to get over to see him for some new birding experiences.

And so I continue to learn and share, to make new friends and see new places.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bluebirds and more Flowers

I saw my first Bluebird last April with binoculars and managed to get a very fuzzy photograph as a record of my sighting. Perhaps half a dozen sightings were reported on our birding forum last season outside of the Guelph Lake area. Bluebirds are not endangered but many people are encouraging them with Bluebird box trails in rural areas of Ontario.

Bluebird on April 5th. This box is now used by Tree Swallows

I saw this Bluebird and several others on April 5th in a field where a number of bird houses were erected. We went back this past weekend and the very box where I photographed the Bluebird was occupied by the Tree Swallows I featured in my last post. It seemed that all the boxes in the area were claimed by Tree Swallows. We walked about half a kilometer down the path and found one Bluebird defending another house against four persistent swallows. There were at least 20 houses in the field and some appeared vacant.

Bluebird on April 19th defends nesting box against Tree Swallows

Both Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are native birds, but our sympathies were with the Bluebird, just because it seemed so outnumbered. When researching the problem on the internet, I found this interesting article about Bluebird/Tree Swallow competition on a Tree Swallow Projects webpage. The author** minimizes the problem and gives a historical perspective on Bluebird populations. (** Chris Gates, has left a thoughtful comment on this post)
Whatever issues there are between these two species, the numbers of Bluebirds in our region appear to be increasing. I have seen several this season and hope to be able to observe their behaviour more closely over the next few weeks.

In conclusion, here are the first daffodils I have seen outdoors this season. Are they in competition for space with the blue windflowers?* I think not, and the two go very well together. Hopefully the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows will also come to some sort of truce and share their space as well.
(* Thanks AC for the ID!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tree Swallows

I have never considered my blog to be a "birding blog" per se, and I try to write about various subjects and experiences. It seems lately that birds are the topic of all my posts. What can I say? It is April and next month is May. One of my birder friends thought the yearly calendar should go like this;- January, March, April, April, May, May, June, July, August, September, September, October. (I would prefer two Octobers but otherwise like the model)

Today my husband and I drove to Guelph Lake, about twenty minutes from home. This is such a short drive for great birding. It is the only local spot where one can find Bluebirds fairly easily as many bird houses have been erected in the fields around the man-made lake. But for each Bluebird, there are a dozen, or perhaps a hundred Tree Swallows. Bluebirds are as shy as Tree Swallows are gregarious. They swooped close to our heads as they chased each other noisily around the road and field.

"How's the house work going, Honey?"

I stood near the box where a pair of Tree Swallows was building a nest. I did not know which bird was the male, but could make assumptions based on their behaviour. One of the birds was working diligently on her the nest while he the other flew around inspecting the work or perching on top of the house. Wait a on the second picture to enlarge it. The bird on top of the nesting box is banded on the right leg. Here is the male so my initial assumptions were correct! (Of course I cannot project any of these observations and make similar assumptions about the behaviour of men...)

Here is some more blue, this time from Siberian Squill blossoms, to show that I am appreciating newly emerging flowers as well as newly arriving birds. These were blooming at our city's municipal gardens yesterday. What a wonderful time of year!

Friday, April 17, 2009

All for the Love of Peanuts

I was out with friends for dinner last evening and we were discussing our favourite foods. (what better topic of conversation!) All five women agreed that peanut butter was the basis of the best sandwiches. Some preferred it with jam, others with cheese, honey or banana. I remember reading about George Washington Carver as a child. He was truly an innovator in sustainable farming in America and was my hero because he "invented" peanut butter. What greater contribution could someone make to mankind?!

Peanuts are favoured by my backyard visitors too. If I put a mixture of peanuts and sunflower seeds out on a tray, the peanuts are the first to go. Even a little chickadee will struggle to fly away with an entire seed. I put a few peanuts in the shell on the deck while eating breakfast this week. It was interesting to see who got first dibs on them.

Our resident red squirrel, Buttons, came first and swished his tail territorially, intimidating the three Blue Jays lined up in the lilac bush. Buttons has a Buttonette now, and very occasionally I see them both together. The Blue Jays came next, but only one at at time. They had determined their own seniority and kept a respectful distance from each other.

A Junco was the next to arrive. In the winter I noticed these birds were crazy about peanut butter. This one was looking for little scraps of peanut that may have fallen from the squirrel and jays. I watched a male Goldfinch approach from the shrubs. He came behind the Junco most aggressively and scared it off.

His breeding plumage is almost completely in, but he is still a little scruffy. He pecked around for scraps of peanut too and then settled for the seeds.

I put very little food out for the birds now. The larger squirrels are too plentiful and greedy and make every effort to destroy my feeders. Early each morning I put out a handful of seeds for the
the red squirrel, chipmunk, cardinals, jays, chickadees and finches and watch them get a good start on their day. There is plenty of food around naturally for them now that the snow is gone. But I will keep a supply of peanuts around throughout the warm months as a special treat for my feathered and furry friends.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


White-throated Sparrow, first winter plumage

The snow has melted again, the ground is not yet green and the brown earth appears barren and bleak in this early spring season. Dead grass, twigs and leaves that have dried out in the spring wind crunch under foot. Where are the bright birds on conspicuous branches and perches?

Pine Siskins on the path

Stop and listen, hear the scritch, scratch of something in the brush. Look and see the little birds foraging for seeds and bugs.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

Wings flutter upwards from the ground and a "dead leaf" comes to life to escape your next step. These wings have stayed hidden through the long, cold winter and now seek the warmth of the sun.

Nesting Canada Goose

Stand at the water's edge and watch the ducks and geese swimming on the surface. Take time to notice the nest in the old stump where eggs are quietly warmed and guarded.

Look for the bright birds on conspicuous branches and perches and you may miss what is at your feet;- the shy, the hidden, the camouflaged treasures of nature.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Sightings at the Swamp

A muskrat enjoys fresh green shoots

I used to view swamps as stagnant, dead places except for creatures such as snakes and biting insects. I now know they support a great diversity of wildlife and as wetlands, provide important resting places for migratory birds. I have visited our local swamp a few times this spring, twice in the evening and once after dark from the car. It was the noisiest at night with a symphony of frog song as well as a surprising amount of goose and duck accompanyment.

Canada Goose and Male Northern Shoveler

Migrating waterfowl may just rest for a few hours or a day. I have seen Northern Shovelers, Wood ducks, Teal ducks, Buffleheads, Gadwalls and migrating Canada Geese. I largely ignore Canada Geese, but noticed one sporting a bright orange neck band with four numbers on it. I can find little information about neck banding but read that the colour and numbers on the collar are significant. We have Canada Geese in the city all year but this one was obviously a migrant.

Banded Canada Goose

Last evening I watched bright blue Tree Swallows swooping over the water. A Kingfisher flew noisily from perch to perch and a single Great Blue Heron moved from one end of the swamp to the other. Many Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were also present.

Esther Garvi is a lovely young Swedish woman who has lived in Niger since the age of six. She works as a volunteer for the Eden Foundation which endeavours to help people in this very poor nation live a sustainable life. She blogs about her work, the people of Niger, her horses and Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Sheba. She recently posted this picture of birds who share the drinking water put out for her animals. I found it interesting to see a dove and grackle that looked very similar to our North American birds.

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Our Common Grackles have no water shortages to deal with. They perched on logs and sipped swamp water at the end of the day. Sometimes it appeared that they were just admiring their reflections.

A stagnant, dead place?... I now know better. Change happens around us every day in every corner of our world whether we take notice or not.

Follow this link for more My World posts from around the globe.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


See! The winter is past;

the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;

the season of singing has come,

the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:11,12 (NIV)

Friday, April 10, 2009


The Becka and I drove outside the city last evening at dusk to watch the rise of the full moon. There were bands of light cloud in the sky marking the surface of the orangey ball as Becka took this picture. The Pascal Moon describes the lunar cycle which occurs after the vernal equinox. This cycle determines the date of Easter each year with Resurrection Sunday being the first Sunday after its full moon.

The observance of Easter has become removed from its origins in the Hebrew Passover celebration. In many European languages, the word for "Easter" is derived from "Passover";- Pascha in Greek and Latin, Pasqua in Italian, Paques in French, and Pascua in Spanish. The Paschal lamb is symbolic of Jesus who died to redeem a sinful world.

Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Handel's Messiah was originally performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742 in a secular theatre. Today we usually hear selections from the first of its three parts at Christmas, but much of the oratorio deals with the passion and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Handel's selection of scripture from Isaiah 53 and some of the Psalms in Part 2 is as follows:


Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

AIR (Alto)
He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.


Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed.


All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

RECITATIVE. (Accompanied - Tenor)
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart; He is full
of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort Him.

AIR. (Tenor)
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.

RECITATIVE. (Accompanied - Soprano)

He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken.

AIR (Soprano)
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.

We are drawn to stories of sacrifice and redemption. How many great movies and books can we name where these are the themes? A brother of my friend was in a car accident and suffered kidney failure due to the pain medications taken during his recovery. His siblings agreed to be tested as live donors and one sister who was an excellent tissue match gave a kidney to her brother. He lives today because of her sacrifice. Countless others have given their lives to save those they love.

Many Christians remember Jesus' death on the cross today and will celebrate his resurrection this Sunday. It is not hard to recognize "death to life" symbolism each spring as new growth breaks out of the frozen, dead earth. Here, in Part 3 of Handel's Messiah are the words from Job 19:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:20.

AIR (Soprano)
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though worms destroy this body yet, in my flesh shall I see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the firs
t-fruits of them that sleep.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Spring Time White and Blue

I wondered what the view would be like from this airplane as it flew across the waxing Pascal moon last week. The moon is full today but it has disappeared from the daytime sky for now.

I had been out looking for the first pussy willows of the season and finally found a stand of them at the edge of a swamp. All of the lower branches had already been cut by people wishing to make a spring bouquet so I just admired the furry white catkins against the clear sky.

The flower of this willow is one of our earliest signs of spring. I did manage to reach one small branch and have it in water at home. It has come into full flower with miniature yellow stamens and the leaves are starting to come out in the warm indoor air. I have heard a branch can rooted and planted in soil and may see if it survives in my garden. But I doubt that our dry, sandy soil will support a willow that prefers wet roots.

My best early spring treat was this beautiful Eastern Bluebird perched on a wire on a country road along the river. Eastern Bluebirds are not commonly seen in our area but efforts are being made to encourage them to nest here. This bird and its mate were checking out a numbered Bluebird house that had been placed on a post in the field.

These white Tundra Swans were making the spring journey north to their arctic nesting grounds. This day was favourable for migration with light winds and clear skies.

Spring sky watching is most rewarding!

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