Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Flowers: Wild and White

Chokecherry bush along the Grand River

May has rushed by very quickly and each day has presented something new to admire in the spring lineup. I have taken many pictures on my walks of birds and trees and rivers and flowers. The domestic fruit trees have almost finished flowering but the wild shrubs and bushes along the river are just coming to their peak of bloom. These pictures were taken along one of my favourite trails at the confluence of the Speed and Grand Rivers.

Chokecherry Blossoms

Flowering shrubs protect many small birds and will provide important fruit later in the season. The river along with the many fruit-bearing shrubs on its banks make this a great area for birding. I like Chokecherry blossoms with their elegant white spikes of flowers.

Dogwood in bloom

Dogwood is beautiful in all seasons, even in the winter when the red stems stand out against the snow. I would like to plant Dogwood in my yard, but our soil is far to dry and sandy.

Hawthorn Blossoms

The thorns on the Hawthorn bushes are impressively long and sharp. I often see small sparrows, warblers and kinglets hidden among the protective spikes.

I had posted a picture of this tight purple bud last month. I have looked at many guides and internet pages and tried unsuccessfully and identify this shrub.

This is what it looks like now as it grows on the edges of the woods. Does anyone recognize it?

Wildflower identification can be a challenge. These flowers look like Field Chickweed, but the leaves do not match the description given. They are very pretty nevertheless.

We are taking our first week of "summer" vacation starting this weekend and I will be taking a break from blogging. I will look forward to catching up with my blog roll later!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Seasons of Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3

I have posted pictures of the Sheave Tower in Blair, Ontario three times now, in the summer, fall and winter. I wanted a spring picture to complete the set and was able to take one earlier this month. We experience four definite seasons in Canada and I do enjoy each of them in particular ways. Sandland brother is living in the United Arab Emirates. He misses our seasons and greenery even though he does make the best of what the desert has to offer.

We pass through seasons of life and each has its own beauty too. I am definitely done with spring and will not speculate on whether this is my summer or early autumn. Working with elderly people I have learned that inside of them there still lives someone who is perhaps 30 or 40 years old. Our bodies age faster than the perception of ourselves does.

My mother and her older brother Bill are shown skating in this picture in the 1940's. I am sure this does not seem that long ago to Mom even though she has done a lot of living since her teenage years. She is with her brother and father in the picture below.

About 12 hours ago Uncle Bill passed away peacefully after a long illness. It is a relief for his family that he is no longer suffering, but I know the loss is felt and that Mom is wondering where the years have gone. She came to Canada to see him this past Christmas when he was able to recognize her and enjoy the visit. I also have fine memories of my uncle and he kept in touch with me regularly until the past year or so when his health was failing.

Transitions are not easy and my thoughts and prayers are with my aunt, cousins and mother as a chapter in their lives has closed. When my cousin called me with the news she said, "It was time..."

There is a time for everything under heaven...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More River Raptors

These pictures were taken the same evening I saw the Red-winged Blackbird attacking the Red-tailed Hawk. On the hospital grounds is a large house that was once part of the TB Sanatorium. It is in sad disrepair with a big hole in the roof and is situated fairly close to the river. It is not unusual to see several Turkey Vultures perched on the building and this evening, six of them were lined up. As we walked down the trail the birds flew off and landed on some dead branches ahead of us. The vulture above sat with wings opened in the evening sun.

Another one took a less spectacular pose nearby. The group continued to move ahead until they got to the river and gathered on a rocky shoal near the bridge. I admire how these homely looking birds can soar so elegantly in the air.

We crossed the bridge and approached a hydro pole right on the trail where a pair of Osprey are building a new nest. A few weeks ago we watched them near the hospital as they broke branches off the tops of dead trees while in flight. This building project continues.

Below the nest and under the pole the trail is strewn with branches that have fallen to the ground. I would call this pair beginners. There are other Osprey along this river who tolerate human activity without too much anxiety. These birds start making a lot of noise when people are approaching the nest from a distance on the pathway. (It is a public trail) As my daughter and I came closer, one of the birds flew out, hovered over us and dropped a big stream of fecal material directly at us.

Fortunately it was windy and the stream overshot us, but my daughter ran very quickly in the other direction. I would not purposely harass a nesting bird and did not stay around long but I do hope they get used to people soon.

I have difficulty spotting little warblers and vireos in the trees, but these big birds are hard to miss.

Note to Cheryl... In your comment yesterday you mentioned the eagle nest that is supposed to be at the river near Breslau. I am sure this is an Osprey nest. There are four Osprey nests on the Grand River that I know of between Bloomingdale and Cambridge.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Haughty Hawk

Last week while walking below the hospital along the river at noon, we spotted this Red-tailed hawk in a nearby tree, I stopped and took a number of pictures of the very indifferent raptor as it stood on one foot and groomed itself. As we returned to work, the hawk was still there on the same branch, so still that it looked like part of the old tree itself.

I returned to the same trail in the evening with my daughter for another walk. The wild life is abundant down here and we saw a deer, a muskrat and a good variety of birds. I heard an awful racket in a shrubby area under the bridge where the highway crosses the river.

A Red-tailed hawk was sitting motionless again on a branch while a frantic and noisy male Red-winged blackbird attacked the much bigger bird over and over again. The little bird would fly down from a higher branch and shriek as it flew into the hawk. I watched it do this at least ten times...and the hawk did not flinch.

I have seen a Red-tailed hawk eat a Red-winged blackbird near our home and I have watched smaller birds pursue hawks across the sky. This blackbird must have been protecting a nearby nest and had no regard for its personal safety at this close range.

I wonder if both hawks were one and the same bird? They were both fearless and confident and took their prideful position on the river bank. I attended a raptor show last fall and the bird handler felt the Red-tailed hawk would be a good choice for a national bird as they are found in all Canadian provinces. (We do not have a national bird) A number of different hawks are found locally but in my experience the Red-tailed is seen most commonly.

Nature is harsh, but I do hope the brave blackbird was able to defend his nest this time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Evening Bird Song

Orchard Oriole

When Mom visits from Mexico in the spring, she comments on the bird songs that awaken us in the morning. In Mexico, roosters and braying animals bring a harsh and noisy start to the day before dawn, but song birds are not heard. I love having the bedroom window open a little to hear our birds greet the day.

Song Sparrow

Those who are not morning people can hear an even larger bird song mix in the evening. I never understand why people walk on trails plugged into their MP3 players. When we got our first colour Macintosh Performa computer in 1995 (the girls called it our first real computer), we had a game called Amazon Trail.

Grey Catbird

As you trekked through the rain forest, flashes of colourful birds and bird sounds came from the screen. Last evening I felt like I was in a movie or bird game. The birds and songs were everywhere. I caught a few singers but many more were hidden in the trees.

Yellow Warbler

What a great way to end the day!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Cup

Young Kitchener Rangers Fan
(All photos courtesy of Andre)

This is the Memorial Day weekend south of the border and the weather here is absolutely gorgeous. One week ago our Victoria Day long weekend was accompanied with rain, snow flurries and cold winds. And they call it the first long weekend of the summer season. Go figure!

Hockey season continues and the finals for this winter sport almost extend into summer. Our city is hosting the Memorial Cup championship in a round robin tournament that started on May 16th and ends tomorrow. The top team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) compete for the championship of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The host city's team also competes even if they did not earn a berth. Our Kitchener Rangers did win the OHL championship and entered as top team in the league.

Matt Halischuk

My husband is an avid Rangers fan and rarely misses a game. He travels to out of town games when possible including games in Erie PA, Saginaw MI and several Ontario cities. I would be happier if hockey games were two periods long instead of three and I don't know the difference between "offside" and "icing". But I am interested in the history of the tournament. Andre has kindly allowed me to use some of his terrific game photos.

Kitchener Rangers Commemorative Memorial Cup Jersey
Mike Duco

The Memorial Cup was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association in 1919 as a memorial to the Canadian dead of World War One. I never knew the history of the cup until our local team introduced special jerseys for the first game of the tournament. Some people think that a memorial to war dead should not be associated with something as trivial as hockey, but I think that any method of respectful remembrance for future generations is a good thing.

Spokane Chiefs' Goalie Dustin Tokarski

The Kitchener Rangers will play in the final tomorrow afternoon against the Spokane Chiefs. Spokane is the only undefeated team in the tournament so the game should be exciting. My niece Jaspenelle lives in Spokane and wrote a short post after she went to one of their games this past season.

Kitchener Rangers Goalie Josh Unice

Junior hockey is very popular in Canada and the fans are very enthusiastic. My husband plays goal in the Old Timer's League and is very proud of the the performance of the young Kitchener goalie Josh Unice. He had a 9-0 shut out in Friday's semi final game.

So who will win tomorrow's championship? Kitchener or Spokane? Check back tomorrow to find out.

And here's wishing our American neighbours and fun and safe Memorial Day weekend.

Sunday evening update...
Spokane won the Memorial Cup beating Kitchener 4-1.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Flowers: Yellow and Blue

Here are some yellow and blue flowers from my garden. The yellow ones were a gift from a patient's garden, the name unknown to me. The blue Forget-me-nots have seeded themselves everywhere in the flower beds, even in the lawn. They will be pulled out when the blooms are done. I love their delicate colour and shape.

Along the edge of the woods, blue and yellow violets poke through old leaves which cover the ground.

Blue and yellow blend to make green. The Jack-in the-Pulpit grew in a lovely natural arrangement near a stream. The green ferns are opening in my garden amidst the little blue flowers.

Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,

there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Double-crested Cormorants

Burlington Bay, Lake Ontario

If the Trumpeter Swan is a white angel water bird, the Double-crested Cormorant has become the black demon of the Great Lakes. Both birds were present in Burlington Bay and they mingled together near the shoreline. I have watched large numbers of Cormorants on Lake Manitou on Manitoulin Island as they group together on rocky shoals and then take off into the air in a long line. I counted 100 birds flying up from the water together one afternoon last summer.

Fishermen on the Great Lakes dislike these birds for their perceived impact on commercial and sports fishing, especially since their numbers have increased dramatically in the past decade or two. Their population was almost wiped out in the middle of the last century due to the effect of DDT on their eggs, just as the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon populations were affected.

As the Great Lakes have been cleaned up these birds have increased greatly in number. The details of their decline and resurgence is described on this Environment Canada web page. I had a very close view of a Cormorant as it dove and fished close to the shore of Burlington Bay.

At times I have confused them with Loons from a distance because they sit low in the water. Like Loons, they dive for fish and may come out of the water many metres from the spot they went underwater.

Cormorants at Columbia Lake, Waterloo ON

Cormorants are also present in ponds and rivers in our region. There is a small "lake" by our local university that is really a reservoir for a creek. It is a great area for birding and when I went there early in the morning last week, several Cormorants were perched in the trees.

I still find it odd to see water birds high in the trees whether they are Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons or Double-crested Cormorants. Three of them flew off as I watched and they landed in the water to begin their day of feeding. Perhaps Cormorants are in the same class as Canada Geese and Brown-headed Cowbirds, birds with appearances and habits that are not particularly endearing, but interesting nevertheless.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The suitcase

I went back to the site of the mystery suitcase. It was still there and someone else had broken the edge of the locked case. (I wouldn't have done that!)

When I looked inside it was empty but a rolled up calendar from 2003 had been in it. Perhaps something else was here as well but taken by the person(s) who opened it.

I think the mystery was more fun than the apparent truth! Are the curious readers satisfied?? (Click picture to enlarge it)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I have mentioned more than once that I enjoy good mystery stories. My personal library has a number of classic "who dunnits" and our video/DVD library has many Poirot, Miss Marple and other BBC mysteries.

Most of the time I can make sense of what I see every day and I am not on the lookout for trouble. Some things do puzzle me and leave me asking questions that may not have obvious answers. Last spring I saw a dark shape in the river from the bridge near the hospital. My first thought was that it was a body. I noted the date and time and then talked myself out of the silly notion when I should have called the police. Two weeks later when the water levels had dropped, a body was found in that exact location. (death by misadventure) But most of the time my mysterious findings are far less concerning. Recent finding include...

...a suitcase beside an aluminum drainage pipe along a river trail. I took a picture of it, listened closely for any ticking, but did not have the courage to open it. I left wondering if a pile of unmarked cash was inside. Or perhaps it contained something else I really didn't want to see.

Along the same trail I noticed an Inuksuk on a rocky shoal in the middle of the river. Who built it and how did they get there? It is too deep to wade there so a canoe or boat must have carried the people who piled the stones up.

I have many pictures of "bird butts" taken from my angle twenty or thirty feet below the tree tops. This mystery bird did not give enough clues from the backside for an identification. Fortunately I did see it with my binoculars another day in the same area and recognized it as a Warbling Vireo. But I have many other underside pictures I do not recognize.

This blurry picture is of a "mystery gull" I pursued for several minutes. It was white with a black tail and it flew out from under the bridge three times as it was chased by another similar bird. When I got home the picture showed three black and white pigeons. What else would fly out from under a bridge? (Cheryl, I was taking this picture when I first noticed you and Roxie on the other side of the creek)

One final question...Would you have opened the suitcase???

Jaspenelle is truly intrigued and posted this response to the suitcase mystery.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trumpeter Swans

Burlington Bay- Burlington Skyway in the background

My daughters wanted to go to IKEA this weekend so we headed out to the nearest store in Burlington, about 40 minutes from home. The day was rainy and cold but when we came out of the store the clouds were breaking up. The driver (me!) announced a stopover at a local park on Burlington Bay which is part of Lake Ontario. LaSalle Park has an interesting history and now has a marina, recreational facilities, and nature trails along the waterfront. It is an important winter migration area for many waterbirds and local photographers have posted impressive photos of a variety of birds seen last fall and winter. I didn't expect to see anything special as the over-wintering birds returned north a few weeks ago.

From the parking lot I saw a large number of swans in a small cove and was very surprised to find Trumpeter Swans for the first time. They were all tagged and I spoke with a lady who was doing a daily count of the flock. There were 25 swans present today down from the 100 or so that were present in the winter. She told me the mating pairs had already gone and these were young swans who had not yet started breeding. They do not mate until they are 2-3 years old.

Trumpeter Swans came to the verge of extinction in the early 20th century due to over hunting. They have been reintroduced in several areas and their numbers are increasing to the point where they are no longer endangered. They must be taught to migrate and this has been undertaken in some locations by humans in ultralight planes. A group of volunteers buys corn and feeds the flock at LaSalle Park over the winter. The lady I spoke with was in her 70's and she told me the organizer of the group is in his late 80's. He still comes and tags any new birds that show up in the bay. The swans are not being fed right now and have plenty of food available in the natural environment.

Mute Swan (orange bill) with Trumpeter Swans

There were Mute Swans in the bay as well but the Trumpeter Swan is a native bird unlike its introduced European cousin. The Trumpeters were quite vocal and are well named for their call which some compare to the sound of a French Horn.

Observe the speed limit!

LaSalle Park has a variety of habitats including lake front, marshes and Carolinian forest. Signs were posted along the boardwalk with information on the history and natural environment of the area. Apparently the shoreline here was full of rattlesnakes in the past. There are some things about "progress" that are fine with me! I like the posted speed limit at the marina. I am sure the sign could have a variety of meanings in other locations.

I will be a driver again for anyone who wants to go to IKEA if they agree to a stop-over at the bay.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Living like the Stars

Columbia Lake, Waterloo

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin"— they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon— all of these simply are as well— yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful.

The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and "the lilies of the field"— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.

Excerpt from Oswald Chambers' classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest.

This is part of today's devotional reading from the book, My Utmost for His Highest. Oswald Chambers' wife compiled it from his teachings after his premature death from appendicitis during World War I. Living simply and unaffectedly is contrary to our human tendency to bring attention to ourselves, our opinions, and our desires. I want...

to be wise, not just a smart know-it-all...

to bring peace, not strife...

to bring order rather than confusion...

to let God live through my life.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another Chance Encounter

Pioneer Tower, Grand River, Kitchener

I have been able to go for a good walk almost every day in the past week and have seen a number of migrating birds. Even if no new birds are to be seen, the trails and woods are fresh, fragrant, green and so beautiful. A young mother was biking with her two young daughters on the trail where I took the picture above. I could hear them coming and the youngest girl said more than once, "Mommy, this is so pretty." She kept stopping to admire the view. (Way to go, Mom! You are doing your girls a big favour)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

On Thursday morning, I went out before work and met another lady in the same area. We chatted and admired a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the tree above. I had just seen my first Indigo Buntings nearby and was showing her my pictures. We exchanged names and I truly hoped my busy brain could retain her name and address as I had no pencil or paper with me. (I need to add a notebook to my camera bag).

My first Indigo Bunting

Well, thanks to Google, I found her quickly and discovered that she and her husband have a house on the river and a most interesting home business. She had been very modest and had not told me about the handcrafted bird feeders they sell at craft shows and online. Here is a YouTube video from their website, Moore Design bird feeders, that is worth watching for three minutes.

The Moores (from their website)

I had great success with my window feeders this year at the hospital, but the squirrels were a nuisance and eventually chewed up the plastic frames. The cost of these hand crafted ones would be offset by the savings on seed consumed by unwanted creatures.

Nice to meet you Carole!