Monday, June 29, 2009

June Babies: Barn Swallows

Earlier this year Cheryl sent me a picture of Barn Swallow babies in a nest at the farm where her family lives. This week she invited us up for a visit to the farm as this year's baby swallows were growing quickly. We were not disappointed and had a lovely afternoon with her very hospitable family! There were a few nests in the barn, but this one had six birds in it. Five are visible in the picture above.

The sixth is visible in the back right corner of the nest in this shot. They were watching the parent coming in the window with some food. What a hungry bunch. These youngsters were "potty trained" already. They turned around in the nest and defecated on the floor below. A couple were exercising their wings and I am sure they will fledge very soon.

The parent would not come to the nest when I stood right under it, so this picture was taken at a respectful distance.

There was so much to enjoy at the farm and I will post more pictures another time. Right now it is time for a break,

...a break from the daily routine, from the internet and computer

...time to relax, refresh and recharge.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Flowers: Memories of Grandma's Garden

Grandma's House and Grandma -undated photos
Click photo to enlarge

My mother's parents built a big house near the main intersection of the small town where they practiced medicine. The doctor's office was accessed through the side door near the driveway. The windows on the left lower window looked out from the waiting room and the next window was the examination room and dispensary. The back of the house overlooked a large yard with a deep perennial border on three sides. Grandma loved working in her garden in the evenings.

In 1984, Grandma shocked me with the news that she was selling the house and moving to a condominium. She was only 88 years old! I was busy with our two year old twins and hadn't noticed her getting older and struggling to keep up the big property. Before she moved, she made sure I had several boxes of plants from her garden.

Iris, Pulmonaria, Peony, Coral Bells, Lily of the Valley, Evening Primrose, Trillium, ferns, and more...

We moved to another house in June 1987 and I moved the plants to the new garden where they still bloom every season. Each spring and summer I enjoy the flowers and remember Grandma's garden. I still have her old watering cans and use them to water my potted plants and tomatoes.

Flowers, like memories, can last forever.

Thoughts on the Life and Death of Celebrities

The news event of the week will undoubtedly be the untimely death of Michael Jackson. I never listened to his music (other than in the movie Free Willy), never practiced his famous dance steps, and never took a picture of his wax likeness at Madame Tussaude's in New York City last year. But he was a child of my generation and his influence in popular music and culture cannot be denied.

I lived a life free of radio and television as a child in South Africa. Television was not introduced in that country until 1971 (ref) and I never even heard of it until I came to Canada. We left Durban, rounded the tip of Africa and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a four week journey on a Norwegian freighter. We were entering the St. Lawrence River getting ready to arrive at our destination of Montreal when the captain reported the death of Marilyn Monroe to the passengers. I didn't have a clue who she was, but still remember the reaction on the ship to the shocking news.

That was my introduction to the power of the media.

Not long after that, I was badly frightened by the events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination which was likely the first major event to be followed minute by minute on network television. I watched the funeral on my grandmother's TV and had nightmares for months about Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.

I remember the other assassinations of the 1960's and the huge public responses to the untimely deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Princess Diana. Many other celebrities have died tragically in my lifetime, but these three affected the world the most in my opinion. Michael Jackson's death is likely the first where breaking news, misinformation and comments were seen first on the internet and then Facebooked and Twittered endlessly.

The media has the power to create and destroy larger than life personalities. But each "celebrity" is someone's child, brother, sister, parent, or friend, just like everyone else. I see the face of death often and each visit is tragic in an individual way. Life is precious and each moment a gift to be celebrated, loved, shared and lived to the fullest.

Who's loving you, really loving you??

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Big Birds Against the Sky

I remember being surprised the first time I saw a Great Blue Heron perched high above the river in a willow tree. Since then I have visited a local heronry several times and have watched pairs of these large birds nesting and mating on flimsy tree top branches. Still, I look twice when I see them them against the sky rather than wading at the water's edge.

The heron in the first picture stayed in one place for over an hour while I sat below and watched the owl and other birds at the swamp. Its mate perched on the very top of a pine tree a short distance away. I always think of flying dinosaurs when I watch herons in flight and their call sounds harsh and primitive.

Osprey Nest on the Grand River

Last year we watched a pair of Osprey build a large nest across the river from the hospital. They flew by many times with large sticks which they snapped off the tops of dead trees. After a lot of work, they abruptly left and abandoned the nest at the end of June. They have returned this year and possibly have eggs or young in the nest. Time will tell if they stay around this season.

The nest is built right above a walking trail and the birds seemed very upset when people approached their perch last summer. But this year, they appear more tolerant of pedestrian traffic. I stood behind some bushes to take these pictures of the male on the hydro post and the female on the nest.

A couple of days ago, the Snowbirds of the Canadian Armed Forces did a fly by through our city. Our small regional airport is close to the hospital and I heard they would be landing there at 10:20 AM. I took one of my patients outside with me and watched his surprise and delight as the nine planes passed overhead three times with a loud, loud roar.


I visited Israel in 1977 and watched the Israeli armed forces patrolling the air space between their border and Jordan as we swam in the Dead Sea. The military was ever present on that trip, in great contrast to peace we often take for granted in Canada. Military aircraft raise no cause for alarm when we see them in our skies, and for that I am very grateful.

Follow this link for more Skywatch posts from around the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June Babies: Children at the Park

Compared to babies of the animal kingdom, human babies take forever to grow up, their time of parental dependence lasting years rather than weeks or months. Even with all this time for maturing, it seems some adults are stuck in perpetual adolesence. What complex creatures we are! What a complex world we have created for our young to find a place to fit in and belong.

Young Aboriginal dancers

My childhood summers seemed to be endless with long days of exploration and play with my brothers and friends. The summers with our children seemed to go faster but we enjoyed many hours at this park from the time they were still in strollers.

What all cannons should be used for

The Multicultural Festival was for all ages, but much of it was geared for children. Here are a few of them who enjoyed the special day, the kind of day summer memories are made of.

Buskers are always popular

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer is Here!

Summer is officially here. Yesterday was a day of celebration in our community;- summer solstice, Fathers' Day, National Aboriginal Day and the city's annual Multicultural Festival. The temperature outside reached 80F (27C) for the first time this year and high humidity made it seem even warmer. Canadians consider this hot weather but many of the people at the festival have come from countries where 80F would be considered a cool day. We visited the various booths set up in a large, sunny field and joined a long lineup for a drink of icy cold, fresh lemonade.

These ladies, originally from Turkey, had an efficient assembly line going as they filled large cups with ice, syrup, freshly squeezed lemon and fresh berries. We sat in the shade and sipped our drinks as we watched the festivities around us. It seemed like representatives from the entire globe had dropped in for the party as people in colourful ethnic dress moved in the crowds.

This lovely young woman from Kenya was a story teller and shared some of the oral traditions of her culture. Tales of children and elders, life and death, animals and nature were narrated in a musical tone and rhythm that is so African. This section of the festival was called "Latitudes" and stories from many countries were shared with young and old alike under the trees. Story telling is no longer significant in our culture but it was very popular with the audience who applauded the participants warmly.

After a rest it was time to go back into the sun and check out the good food that was being served.

Greek gyros made a perfect hand held meal and for a couple dollars more, you could get a container of delicious Loukoumades, Greek honey dumplings for dessert. These are the Greek answer to Timbits and they were warm and delicious. If you wanted something even sweeter, you could try various types of baklava or some hand churned ice cream.

Summer is the season for parks and festivals and outdoor fun, not a season to be locked in air conditioned rooms. Of course I say that from a Canadian perspective where hot weather isn't all that hot and unpleasant.

Click here for more My World posts from around the globe.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

This is my Father's world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise.
This is my Father's world:
he shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

(the entire poem is found here)

Many of us, myself and our children included, have good fathers who are here with us. Some fathers will be remembered in the past tense as they are now gone. For others, there is nothing special about today and they may have no memories of a father figure in their lives. The words of this hymn were written by a Presbyterian minister who had a pastorate near Lockport, New York. He enjoyed nature and the view of Lake Ontario from the escarpment in particular. His words tell us that our heavenly Father is always present and surrounds us with reminders of his love and care.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Flowers: Raindrops

Fuschia bud in our yard (click to enlarge)

June continues to be wet and cool in southwestern Ontario and judging from other posts I have read this week, this has been a rainy spring in other parts of the continent too, especially in the east. Flowers, vegetables and other crops are off to a slow start. We should be at the peak of our strawberry season by Father's Day and I have yet to taste a local berry this year. A few days of sunny warmth will make the difference as there is plenty of moisture in the ground.

Roses, Lily leaves, Peony Bud

We have had years of drought in the past when lawns are brown and crisp by mid June and no rain is seen for six weeks or more. Our municipality allows us to water with a hose on one day each week and encourages the use of rain barrels and plantings which require less moisture. Canada is blessed with an abundance of fresh water but we still need to appreciate this resource which is so precious in more arid regions of the world.

It was raining steadily when I left work on Wednesday but I stopped at the rose garden to take some pictures of the wet blossoms. Many people in the world celebrate the rains when they come, and I can do that too.

I loved this rainy post that Esther Garvi posted in May from Niger.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June Babies: Owls and More at the Swamp

I received a tip from a couple of birders/photographers that a family of Great Horned Owls lived in the vicinity of a swamp just a few minutes from our home. I have seen Snowy Owls in the winter but have never seen any other type of owl in the wild. There have been various "Owl Prowls" at local conservation areas but they take place after dark and are more about hearing than seeing these birds. The trail was familiar to me but I had to go off the path and climb a sizable esker before descending to a small creek and swamp. Every step I took in the bush stirred up mosquitoes but when I got to the opening, a breeze kept them at bay. I sat on a mossy log and took a picture of the view. Scanning with binoculars, I found the juvenile Great Horned Owl in a pine tree in the opposite end of the swamp. I was surprised to make the discovery at three in the afternoon.

Young Great Horned Owl peeking through the branches

I returned early the next morning before work (this time with bug repellent) and saw the same owl in a pine tree much closer to my seat. For such a large bird, it was well camouflaged in the tree as it sat motionless for over an hour. When I looked at my pictures later it seemed that the bird spent much of its time with its large eyes closed. Babies do need lots of sleep. Just as I was leaving, a group of crows started harassing the young owl and it flew deeper into the bush.

Sleepy baby

The swamp was alive with more than mosquitoes and from my log I watched a Great Crested Flycatcher, a Belted Kingfisher and two Great Blue Herons as they looked for food. Directly across from me a pair of House Wrens brought a succession of bugs to their nest in a dead stump. They would sing loudly from a branch when they were not feeding the young wrens.

House Wren in its nest

This past Sunday a couple of friends were sitting at the same location early in the morning when a young coyote stepped out of the rushes. They reported that some emergency vehicles drove on a nearby road with sirens on, (this is an industrial/residential zone of the city) and the swamp came alive with the howls of several invisible coyotes. I hoped to see a young coyote when I came early in the morning but was not lucky enough to have one come out in the open even though I could hear movement in the area. Andre has kindly allowed me to post this picture he took of the pup which looks very healthy and inquisitive.

Coyote Pup (Andre Secours)

The swamp was inaccessible by foot beyond where I stood which is likely why it offered such a variety of birds and animals. Many other creatures with young were hidden in the vegetation. But I was very happy to find the owl, a species that is not rare, but is rarely seen due to its secretive ways.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June Babies: Red-winged Blackbirds

I started the week with pictures of some adorable children and thought I would continue the theme of babies and parenting. There are many young birds and animals about right now and some very busy parents feeding multiple hungry mouths. It isn't all that hard to figure out where nests are as the adult birds tend to get very aggressive when you approach them. If you see an adult with a grub in its beak, just watch where it is going as the babies are sure to be around. I missed this Red-winged Blackbird nest at first because it was in a small tree. I thought these birds nested near the ground in rushes and was looking down instead of up.

I knew I was near as the female was acting very territorial and scolded me soundly for standing in the vicinity of her nest. I did back up as she was distressed and would not go to the nest to feed her three youngsters. The baby birds in the first picture fledged later the same day.

The male Red-winged Blackbird was also an involved parent and was just a noisy as his mate. Last year I took pictures of a male attacking a Red-tailed hawk perched too close to a nest. (here). These bird parents are most protective and alert for possible danger.

And here is the face only a mother or father could love. This homely chick was crowded in the nest with two others, ready to fledge. They will hide among the rushes and grass at the edge of the swamp and still be fed my the parents until they are more mature and able to fend for themselves.

(I am having some significant computer problems today with very frequent Vista crashes. I hope to figure out the problem and get back to reading and commenting on blogs soon)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Picnics

Old-fashioned, multigenerational picnics are becoming less common these days. Grandma was a great one for organizing picnics in her large backyard, at the farm, in a park, or on a trip. I remember the special food she made;- tomato aspic, lemon cake, orange soda, hot dogs or sandwiches, cut up celery and carrots and butter tarts. (We never had soda any other time except for gingerale when we were sick.)

We used to attend annual Sunday School picnics and played all the traditional games;- the sack race, three-legged race, egg and balloon toss, and baseball. The ladies brought their best salads and desserts and there was always ice cream for the children. I haven't been to a church picnic for at least a decade and now children tend to have their own special events minus the adults.

We enjoyed a picnic this weekend on a beautiful June afternoon at a small town park. Children still love them and want to do the same things children of all generations have enjoyed. Food remains the central attraction and competitive games are geared for many age groups. The scavenger hunt was very popular and all participants got a prize. And baseball is still best as a pick up game.

These two cute girls were acting so grown up, sitting in their little lawn chairs and visiting with each other. The little puppy, Bear, did not get the hot dog.

Do you enjoy summer picnics, with your family or community? Or am I right in thinking they are becoming a thing of the past?

My niece, Jaspenelle wrote this response to my post.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Flowers: Buds to Blooms

(click on photo to enlarge)
In spite of the dull, damp weather this month, my garden has been fresh and colourful. Iris and poppy flowers are so fragile and last only a day or two in hot weather but I have enjoyed them for many days now. The flower buds of both these plants are as interesting and beautiful as the fully opened bloom, in my estimation.

Yesterday I went out on the deck early in the morning to enjoy the garden before work. It was chilly and damp enough to see fog curls rise from the ground. I have a couple of feeders hanging in the middle of the lilac bush now that it has finished flowering. What a treat it was to see the Red-breasted Nuthatches bring their newly fledged brood to the peanut feeder. They are very bold and do not leave when I stand close by. All five birds were yank-yanking noisily as the parent placed pieces of peanuts in their beaks. Then they went to the bird bath for a dip and a drink.

Budding flowers, baby birds, big blooms,
butterflies and bigger birds...
Beautiful June garden!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


He built his retirement house with his own hands and looked forward to a leisurely life outside the city. Wiry and strong, decisive and capable, his outward appearance was deceptively invulnerable.

The stroke happened one night as part of the left brain was deprived of blood for too long. Weakness of his right arm and leg resolved in a couple of months, but he remained unable to talk, unable to comprehend, uncertain of what he was seeing, locked inside himself.

He walks briskly outside with me for 30 minutes on nice days. I have to guide him across the street as he doesn't notice things on his right side. I talk to him about what we see, pretending he can understand.

Other days he pedals the stationary bike ferociously, lifts weights and walks on the treadmill. He is getting stronger and stronger. His high blood pressure is now treated so he won't have another stroke.

But what is life without the ability to communicate? How can you use a vocabulary which consists of "what to do", "fourteen" and "sh*t"? Books, television, radio make no sense and cannot alleviate the boredom of days that blend into weeks and months.

He does what any of us might do...

lashes out angrily and unpredictably when frustration builds intolerably, when words are incomprehensible, when others do not understand him...

and paces... paces... paces.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Grey Days

This spring has been chilly and wet with many grey days. The sunny days have also been cool and April seemed warmer than June has been so far. Yesterday we took a group of patients outdoors to do some container gardening. Most of them wore jackets and sweaters and they got the plants out just before a heavy downpour. I haven't been venturing out on many trails lately, puddling about the garden instead most evenings.

My seedlings and flowers which haven't been eaten by the red squirrels and visiting rabbits are established but need some warm temperatures to grow.

Here are some recent photos to celebrate the colour grey.

The owners of the Bed and Breakfast we visited in May had two outdoor cats;- a very friendly orange one and this grey one who always observed us from a distance with a distinct attitude. I have never had a cat, and have no particular desire to own one, but this pair behaved well and left the birds alone, even the baby robins in a knee level nest near the pond.

I have seen Northern Shrikes only a handful of times and enjoyed watching this juvenile hunting from a fence along a rural road. It would zip down to the ground and return just a quickly to its perch.

And this is a picture of the first and only Mockingbird I have seen. They are uncommon in Southern Ontario and this one was in a field near the north shore of Lake Erie. Its cousin, the Grey Catbird is very common, and I was happy to get the shot of this bird from the car.

The sun is supposed to appear by the weekend so grey will will be the shade of the week. The time for other colours will come and one of these days I may even be complaining about the heat.