Sunday, March 30, 2008

Exceptional March Sightings

March is almost over and while it behaved like a lion most of the month, it is likely to exit rather meekly. (but not exactly lamb-like) In spite of the continued winter weather, I saw many new things and marveled at the returning birds and the spring sky. About ten days ago we viewed the full moon of the vernal equinox. Easter was exceptionally early because this moon appeared on the day of the equinox. I took the picture above through the silhouetted swelling buds of our lilac bush on a cold and windy night.

It looks as if the Bald Eagles have returned north after wintering in our region. On Easter Sunday evening, my husband and I were fortunate enough to approach this mature eagle as it sat in a perch above the river just behind a local hospital. The area is built up with plenty of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, but the eagle was not intimidated by those watching it.

"What are you looking at?"

Other interesting sightings included the Heron rookery, Horned Larks, Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Sandhill Cranes, hand feeding Chickadees and Nuthatches, and seeing some new water fowl on Lake Ontario.

The saga of the Cedar Waxwings continues. Samuel went birding with us yesterday and we stopped at the hospital to fill the feeders and check for any more dead birds. We found a large mixed flock of Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings in the crabapple trees. One bird was "under the influence" and Samuel posted a short video clip of it on his blog. His account of our day is very enthusiastic and detailed. It is a real pleasure to walk the trails with him.

Bohemian Waxwings (taken by Samuel)

I am looking forward to April. Our four foot snow banks should melt and some ponds should open in the warmer temperatures that are forecasted. It will be much easier to walk around and observe what is new.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Flowers: On the Street...

I lived in Toronto for six or seven years of my childhood and adolescence moving away from the big city just before my sixteenth birthday. My friend Lesley and I spent many Saturdays on the subway system, exploring the downtown, riding the elevator to the top of the Bank of Commerce building (the CN Tower had not yet been built), visiting the Royal Ontario Museum or having lunch at the counter of Eatons Annex. We enjoyed a lot of freedom and our parents did not worry as long as we were home for dinner. Our family's church was located near Danforth Avenue and I was very familiar with the streets in the area.

Last weekend, Lesley took Becka and I back to Danforth Avenue, the first time for me in over 30 years. It is now known as GreekTown and small shops and numerous restaurants line both sides of the street. The outdoor patios of the eateries were not yet open for the season, but a few places had moved some of their merchandise into the fresh air and sunshine. The flower shop above featured many bright spring blooms for Easter weekend and the prices were very reasonable. I would have purchased a couple of pots if home had been closer.

Many cities have languishing cores and their suburbs lack character and community. Toronto has a number of ethnic and eclectic neighbourhoods and shopping districts, each with their own unique flavour. I would love to be able to shop at a small produce store, bakery or variety store within walking distance of my home. My parents grew up in a small town north of Toronto and I lived there for a couple of years too. Grandma shopped at the next door butcher shop and around the corner at Mary's fruit and vegetable store But the main street died when the indoor mall and large grocery stores were built just outside the town core.

Places like GreekTown are the best part of big cities, here in North America or around the world. Toronto is very clean and safe compared to other cities its size, even more so than when I walked its streets in the 1960's.

What big city neighbourhoods have you enjoyed visiting?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is happening to the Cedar Waxwings!?

Ornamental Crabapple trees at the hospital

I filled the feeders at hospital today and was disturbed to find three more dead Cedar Waxwings and the remains of another that was likely eaten by our hawk. There was no sign of trauma on the bodies unlike the bird we found last week who had struck the window. There are several ornamental crab apple trees on the hospital grounds which have been loaded with fruit since the fall. The Cedar Waxwings have been feeding here and have made a noticeable dent in the amount of fruit compared to last week.

I was checking out possible causes for the dead birds and found this on the Cornell University birding site.

The Cedar Waxwing is vulnerable to alcohol intoxication and death after eating fermented fruit., especially when several warm days follow a cold frost. The cold causes cells in the fruit to burst, and yeast works on the mash converting sugar to alcohol. There are numerous records of birds flying out of control from the effects of alcohol.

If the birds are intoxicated, they are more inclined to hit the windows, or they may just be dropping dead. I don't know how such a problem could be prevented. This appears to be a bumper year for Cedar Waxwings in our area and large flocks have been reported in several areas of the city.

Country Drive

Falling snow through my icy window on March 25th

We are still receiving doses of bad weather a couple of times a week...Texas lows, Colorado lows, Alberta clippers. Call them what you want, most people are tired of the mix of snow, wind, freezing rain and ice they bring. One of my patients told me yesterday she took her new walker outdoors for the first time. The sun was shining, but the snow from the previous day had left the pavement treacherously icy. Many people are unable to get out much at all and will be housebound until the snow melts and the temperatures rise. We have had more sunny days in the mix though and a car ride is a warm way to enjoy a preview of spring.

The country roads north of the city are lightly travelled and generally free of the high snowbanks we have in town. The shoulders are soft, but the Mennonite buggies travel through the mud.

The little black lamb followed its mother through the snow. Colts and calves are appearing outdoors during the day near the barns and in protected fields.

I never identified a Horned Lark until this year. That was mainly because I didn't know where to look for them. Every country road that has some gravel and runs by a cornfield has many of these cheerful birds in the ditches and fields. Their song is bright and cheerful.

This bird serenaded the sun and perhaps its mate from a fence post.

The Old Order Mennonites are setting up roadside stands for selling fresh maple syrup. These two young women parked near an intersection and settled themselves comfortably in the snow for the day. I cropped this picture closely to see what they were reading.

Janette Oke...

I have a German Colony OOM patient at the hospital who only reads German even though she speaks English fluently. So I was a little surprised to see these ladies reading English romance novels.

I haven't noticed that spring smell in the air yet as the wet ground is exposed to the wind. We still need a slow thaw to prevent flooding. Next weekend is the famous Elmira Maple Syrup Festival and we all hope that the sun will shine warmly for that big day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Great Blue Heron Rookery

Great Blue Heron Rookery near Guelph Ontario

Donna, at KGMom Mumblings wrote an interesting post yesterday about the loss of wild life habitat related to development. Our local paper is seldom without a story of some battle between environmentalists and developers. Right now there are ongoing fights to save the home of the Jefferson salamanders from a new highway, and resistance to paving over a moraine to the north that is important for recharging ground water.

Last year I hoped to find a Great Blue Heron rookery. I finally found one (with help from some birding friends) and was surprised at the location of the many nests high in the trees in a marsh area near the Grand River. I saw one bird in a nest already even though it seems a little cool to be laying eggs. This story regarding the destruction of GBH nests was in today's paper.

Migratory bird act opposed by N.B. forestry giant
The Canadian Press


New Brunswick forestry company, J.D. Irving Ltd., is challenging Canada's laws protecting migratory birds at a time when experts warn that some bird populations are in free fall. Arguments began yesterday in New Brunswick provincial court on an application by Irving to have the Migratory Birds Convention Act declared unconstitutional.
The company filed the application after it was charged under the federal act as a result of the destruction of several great blue heron nests during a logging operation in Cambridge Narrows, N.B., in 2006. Irving has pleaded not guilty to the charge, but in advance of the trial, it introduced a motion challenging the constitutionality of the act, which has been on the books since 1917. Irving is claiming that the Migratory Birds Act violates the Charter of Rights.

"As well, we say it is unconstitutional because it really is provincial jurisdiction, not federal jurisdiction,'' said Irving lawyer Christopher Wayland of Toronto.

Prosecution witness Steve Wendt, a former director with the Canadian Wildlife Service, told court that protection of migratory birds is just as important now as it was 90 years ago, when the convention was enacted by the United States and Britain on behalf of Canada.

"When the migratory bird convention came into being, people had observed several extinctions,'' Wendt told the court, using the disappearance of the passenger pigeon as an example. "There was a lot of concern then and we have similar concerns now.''

Wendt says a number of migratory birds -- including such insect-eating species as the common nighthawk and the swallow -- are vanishing from the Canadian landscape. That's making the protection of remaining habitat critical. The Audubon Society recently published a list of songbirds that are disappearing at alarming rates from North America, including such once-common species as the evening grosbeak and the field sparrow.

Roland Chiasson of Nature New Brunswick, who attended court proceedings, asked, "If this act is struck down, what is going to happen the day after?''

A large forestry company is looking for lumber, not nests, and while Great Blue Herons are not endangered (yet), invoking the Canadian Charter of Rights is an extreme action for their defense.

Mennonite women selling maple syrup at the roadside

The rookery I saw is in the heart of Mennonite country and there is nothing but farmland, bush and swamp for miles around. But fifty years from now that could be very different. Laws like the Migratory Birds Convention Act are necessary now and later to protect vulnerable species that cannot adapt to the rapid change in their environment brought on by human activity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Leslie Street Spit, Oldsquaw and More

The Leslie St. Spit, Lake Ontario

On Easter Saturday, The Becka and I went to Toronto to visit a good friend I have known since we were nine years old. We don't get together often, but when we do, it is as if we have had only a brief pause and the friendship continues as if we had spoken daily. The day was very enjoyable, and after we left in the late afternoon, it was possible to make a brief stop on the way home, taking advantage of our longer evenings.

The CN Tower and Toronto skyline will be less visible when the leaves emerge

The Leslie Street Spit is a man-made peninsula on the east side of the outer Toronto harbour. The Toronto skyline is just to the west and was silhouetted in the setting sun. The "spit" was originally designed to increase the size of the harbour to accommodate ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway, but a larger harbour was never needed. It then became a place to dump rubble and soil excavated from foundations for buildings built in the city during the 1960's and 70's.

Mother Nature had her way with this barren finger of land and it gradually naturalized becoming home to about 400 varieties of plants and 45 species of nesting birds. There are 290 species of migrating birds that seek shelter in the area. What a wonderful ecological success story! It is now designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Canadian Nature Federation.

The day was cold, but the sun had made the trail surface very muddy. I walked up one section of the park in the half hour before it closed and saw two new birds for my list in this time.

Male Long-tailed Duck

I saw a large group of unusual ducks just off shore enough that I could not see much detail. I took some over-digitally zoomed photos of these Long-tailed ducks, previous known as Oldsquaw.

Male and Female Long-tailed ducks

These diving ducks nest in the high Arctic and spend the winters along the coastal areas of the continent. Some do winter on the Great Lakes too and I don't know if these were winter guests or returning migrants. I like their old name but it has probably been deemed politically incorrect.

Pair of Red-breasted Mergansers

I was also happy to find a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers for the first time among the Buffleheads and Long-tailed ducks.

The ever present urban European Starling has benefited from the environment, this one claiming a nesting box that was undoubtedly erected to attract a native bird. But this was the only nuisance bird I saw. The park was even devoid of Canada Geese. (They are likely right in the city waiting to eat up the lawns!)

There are a number of accessible natural areas along the Toronto waterfront and Toronto Island waiting for me to explore when the weather is a little warmer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Cedar Waxwing flock in my neighbourhood this week (small sample!)

Did you ever see a tree more
beautifully decorated for Easter?
Have a blessed and special day!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Haibun

Cold north winds blow across the field chilling our faces as we trudge across the rough slippery surface. The icy crust breaks and the snow reaches our knees.

The unmistakable oak-a-lee of a male Red-winged blackbird resounds from the top of a bare tree. Perched far above the cattails of the frozen swamp he surveys the area in preparation for his mate who will arrive shortly.

Two robins hop from under a neighbour's car. The new spring arrivals to our street are celebrated with smiles and laughter. Suddenly the wind is not as bitter and the snow does not seem as deep.
Winter's grasp is weak.
Birds, budding branch, sun and rain,
Harbingers of spring.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Taking up the Cross

Today many Christians commemorate the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as he gave his life to redeem a sinful world. The cross has become a very common image recognized by almost everyone. People wear crosses, build crosses, and make the sign of the cross. The Pascal loaf pictured above and symbolic hot cross buns will be eaten during this season.

I personally doubt that Jesus died on a Friday and know the changing dates of Easter seldom coincide with the Jewish Passover that Jesus and his disciples celebrated on the eve of his crucifixion. But dates and special observances should not be the focus of argument because the cross is something that Christians must contemplate daily.

The gospels give an account of Jesus' teaching where he foretold the death he would suffer. Those who heard him speak would not understand the full significance of his words until later.

Then He (Jesus) said to them all,
"If anyone desires to come after Me,
let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world,
and is himself destroyed or lost?"

Luke 9:23-25

Christians are called to a life of service, self-sacrifice and obedience to the will of God. Human nature rebels at the difficult words of Jesus and we are driven to seek our own comfort and pleasure. We are called to a daily cross bearing, not a token yearly observance of a death that happened two thousand years ago. Churches can become sanctuaries of human ambition and pride and the hypocrisy does not go unnoticed by outside observers. Jesus does not call us to extreme self denial and asceticism but to a life of love for God and mankind, compassion and service, and human suffering at times. The paradox is that this reordered life produces joy, peace, contentment and eternal reward.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love…is Hell.

C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring

Sunrise from my front door March 2008

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips it's turn.
Hal Borland

The first day of spring has arrived and while the temperatures, wind and sky today deny the fact, and there is nothing vernal to be seen, the words of Hal Borland are true. The axis has changed and the further north you move, the faster the days will lengthen. It is reckoning time for those long, dark winter afternoons and evenings. One benefit of blogging is ability to review the past record of seasons and events. This winter has been interminable but looking back on last year, it is recorded that we had snow cover and cold temperatures in March as well.

And spring did come.

Yesterday we watched the male Northern Cardinals on the very uppermost branches of the bare trees singing and flashing their bright colours in territorial display. Crests up and tails spread, they competed for space and female attention. A pair of Coopers Hawks were watching nearby from the underside of a tall pine tree as the vulnerable songbirds performed. But the spring songs had to be sung despite the danger of being in the open.

What is your spring song?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Unlucky Window Strike

Missing its mate

The weather remains cold and the ground is still covered in deep snow but local bird activity has increased noticeably. Bird song is heard again as the sun rises and each week new birds are arriving back from their winter migration. Cedar Waxwings are one of my favourite birds and I have been seeing them around over the past three weeks or so.

Today they were feeding on the ornamental crab apple trees on the hospital grounds. At noon, one of my co-workers noticed two Cedar Waxwings just outside one of the back doors of the building. They had struck a window and one of them was dead. The other bird, presumably its mate, was huddled on the ground beside it not moving at all. A couple of hours later the living bird was still there and I was concerned that it was injured.

I had no idea what to do and called our local Humane Society for advice. They offered to come out right away to collect the birds, but I preferred to bring them in myself later in the afternoon if necessary. My friend put the dead bird in a box and then tried to pick up the other one. Fortunately it was able to fly and went to a windowsill before it rejoined the rest of the flock in the nearby fruit trees.

Nina has written about birds stunned by window strikes on her blog, but it seems that most of them have recovered fairly quickly and are able to fly away. It is illegal to capture migrating birds* and I don't know of any bird rehabilitation centres that treat birds other than raptors. I have asked for advice on how to deal with injured birds our local birding forum.

Migrating birds face many hazards as they travel. Watching a hawk capture a small bird does not bother me as much as seeing a bird hurt by a man made structure. I know thousands of birds die each year in window strikes especially in our big cities.

The dead bird is in a box in the yard and I will have to dispose of it in a dignified way. I hope its mate will survive and find another partner in the flock.

* Subject to subsection 5(9), no person shall (a) disturb, destroy or take a nest, egg, nest shelter, eider duck shelter or duck box of a migratory bird, or (b) have in his possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird except under authority of a permit therefor. (Migratory Birds Convention Act 1994 (Canada))

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Three Wishes Granted

Samuel took this picture of the RBNU

I mentioned yesterday that my cousin Samuel had recently come back to Ontario from an extended stay in Arizona. We went birding yesterday afternoon and he tells the story very well in his blog entry posted today. I had a three special wishes for winter birding this year including seeing an owl and some less common woodpeckers. And I wanted to have Chickadees feed from my hand. All my wishes have been fulfilled as the Chickadees and a Red-breasted Nuthatch fed from my hand at last. I took this video just as my camera batteries died. (I had batteries in the car, but it was a long trek through the snow to go back for them.) You will have to see Sam's blog for more pictures. I was happy to see two male Red-winged blackbirds who assured me that spring is really here. And the Red-bellied Woodpecker was a first for me too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Singled Out

I have never felt very comfortable being the centre of attention even though I am not as painfully shy as I used to be. It is nice to receive recognition once and a while though, especially when it is sincere and from people who are special to you.

About a month ago I handed in my resignation for my job as a community physiotherapist. I left the hospital in 1995 and worked full time in this capacity for the next nine years. There were many changes in the way home care was delivered in this time and I went from being an employee of the regional government to a contract worker for a private company. The reporting requirements have become more complex and time consuming every year. Therapists work from a home office and the paper work and calls are always there awaiting completion. In 2004 I returned to the hospital but kept a small community caseload as well. I really love visiting people in their homes and find the patient part of the work very rewarding. But the time had come to move on and have just one job. I took the recent blogging break to finish my paperwork and visits and refused to let myself become diverted from my task until it was done.

Last night some of my co-workers from the community, past and present, honoured me with a supper and a gift. The beautiful potted Bouvardia shown in these pictures was one of my presents. I hired some of them when I was the professional leader between 2000-2004. All of them are good friends and committed therapists who have been great to work with. I look forward to maintaining these friendships.

My cousin Samuel returned from several weeks with his family in Arizona just in time for the big snowstorm last Saturday. He had been saving a gift for me since my birthday in January and I received it today. Samuel has one and his life list is much longer than mine. But I shall start recording my bird sightings in this Birder's Journal and hopefully add a trip or two to Arizona or Mexico to get some of the south-western species.

Gifts are nice, recognition is appreciated, but friends are best of all!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What a Storm!

I am taking a very brief hiatus from my blogging break to post a few pictures of the weekend snow storm. We received 40 cm of snow yesterday, on top of the 20 cm received last Wednesday, (that is two feet right there) on top of the snow that had accumulated from a February that produced 100% more snow than average. Canada is often called the Great White North, but this is over the top! We do not live in a major snow belt area near the Great Lakes.

This is officially the snowiest winter in the local record books and yesterday's snowfall was the largest single snowfall recorded. Thankfully we have a snowblower. My husband is 6'2" to give some perspective on the size of the snowbanks shown around our house.

He spent two hours early this morning blowing our snow and the snow for two neighbours. The street has not been plowed yet and that will create another snow mountain to remove from the end of the driveway. Life is going on pretty much as normal for those who can get around. Much as I want spring, Ontario ski hills will have a fantastic March break. This snow will have to go down slowly or we will have major flooding problems.

Giant snowdrift at the end of our driveway last night

Thursday, March 06, 2008

March Break

The hospital parking lot

I don't know when the winter weather is going to give us a break, but I am taking a March break for a week or so. Yesterday we were dumped with 20 cm of snow and the next snow storm is forecast for the weekend. Tempers are definitely flaring, even with die-hard winter enthusiasts who have had enough winter driving and shoveling.

Lots of snow at the grocery store

My daughter called me to say the plow had gone down the street and she had tried to clear the end of the driveway. But she found it impossible to throw the heavy snow six to eight feet up on the snowbanks. The afternoon shift at the hospital found there were no parking spots left in the lot when they came in yesterday. It was a busy day, but many parking lot spaces are occupied by mountains of snow.

The sun shone after the storm. I noticed that our Goldfinches are also getting new feathers and are starting to show their new bright spring and summer colour.

See you soon...Hopefully it will be spring when I return!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pileated at Last!

We are digging out this morning after another big storm (that is my husband is digging out...) and it will not be a good trail walking day. Yesterday, I took advantage of a lull between weather systems and went to the Huron Natural Area which is right in the city only a couple of minutes from our home. I had seen fresh evidence of a Pileated Woodpecker a month ago and posted this picture. It has been difficult to get back to the area since then.

The trails were very icy as we had a day of rain on Monday and then a flash freeze. I do love my Yaktraks! Once again, the woods were very, very quiet without even the cheerful song of the Chickadee. The trees creaked in the cold wind but I could hear no woodpeckers at work.

There were plenty of fresh holes and I saw these wood chips below a tall deciduous tree. These were created very recently. I heard a strange sound ahead, one that I did not recognize. Perhaps there was a quail or wild turkey in the distance. Following the noise led me right to a very busy, very loud Pileated Woodpecker. This Cornell University link has a good example of the call. The wood was so soft in the large holes where the bird was working that there was no hammering sound at all.

The tree was half way up an icy hill and I couldn't get as close as I would have liked to, but the bird worked away for the next thirty minutes until I was thoroughly chilled.

It really does remind me of a prehistoric creature.

Another new bird for my list during this endless winter. Some people are lucky enough to have these birds come to them at feeding stations. We have to work a little harder to see birds here in the north but this icy walk was well worth the effort!