Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the Rocks

Painted Lady

I am learning to walk quietly along gravel and sand trails as I try to keep my eye on the path ahead looking for butterflies and birds that rest on the ground. Butterflies congregate in wet sand, gravel and shallow puddles as they get moisture and salts from the soil. They also like to rest on warm rocks and are more likely to stay still for a picture in these places than on a wildflower.

A few days ago I sensed some movement ahead and used my binoculars to single out the well camouflaged wing of a Painted Lady. The open wings contrasted with the ground and were much easier to see as I approached.

Great Spangled Fritillary, Red spotted Purple (tattered!)
Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Common Wood Nymph

Perhaps I am noticing more butterflies because I am looking for them, but it may be a very good year for them this wet summer with an abundance of flowers in the fields and ditches. The Queen Anne's Lace in a natural area near our home is almost five feet high.

Twelve spotted Skimmer, Ruby Meadowhawk

Dragonflies are around by the thousands and land on flowers, grass, gravel, cameras and heads. The wet summer has brought successive hatches of mosquitoes so they have lots of food. But all the dragonflies, Swallows and Kingbirds in this field barely make a dent on the swarms of biting insects. This is the first year in a long time that I have had to use mosquito repellent generously when going for a walk, even in a sunny meadow with a breeze blowing.

Huron Natural Area

We now have a stone border around our backyard perennial garden and I have noticed more butterflies and dragonflies outside the house. Last evening I watched an Eastern Comma near the deck but did not have my camera close by. I will endeavour to make my yard even more butterfly friendly with the plantings I choose for the new bare spaces. And I will leave a little wet sand and gravel for them as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cardinal Virtues

Since the discovery of the Cardinal nest in our yard, I have spent every possible spare moment watching it. Unfortunately, spare moments have been scarce and I can hardly book off work to "babysit". We have heard the Cardinals around more than usual recently, which is why I filled the feeder.

So they have been busy with their offspring for a while because we watched as the first one fledged last evening. What a homely little creature! But it blended in well with the mulch and lilac runners beneath the nest.

It tried valiantly to fly and clawed it way up the branches of the shrub toward the nest, but could not make it. The parents were always nearby though, feeding the three in the nest and the one on the ground.

In the past week I have watched a mother Wood Duck care single-handedly for her brood of five. Cowbirds are the epitome of neglectful parenthood. But Cardinals have a parenting partnership and are very devoted caregivers. I felt compelled to help them find grubs, dug some holes in the garden and added a little water. They really didn't need my help and tolerated my presence only because duty displaced their fear.

I have a little time before work this morning, so I shall sit on the deck and watch the show for a while.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Family Stuff

Brother and Sister*

Sandland Brother has been in the Toronto area over this weekend but today was our first chance for a brief visit before he boarded a plane for more business meetings in Newfoundland. He has been living in the United Arab Emirates for a few years now and has actually enjoyed the heavy rain we have been experiencing in Ontario. It has been almost three years since I last saw him.

The Becka and I picked him up at the hotel, stopped for lunch and then went to Toronto's Harbourfront for a stroll. The Becka had the audacity to take a rear view photo of the two of us as we took photos of the skyline with our almost identical Canon Powershot cameras. Family traits run deep. I couldn't help but notice how my brother talked and moved his hands like our father and our next brother, Philip.

Terminal One, Pearson Airport*

We drove him to the airport and headed home again. My husband had some backyard news for me when I returned. We had noticed a pair of Cardinals in the garden recently and they had been checking out our empty feeders. I have not been feeding the birds over the summer. Yesterday I bought some seed again and filled one small container.

Mama Cardinal with a tasty grub

Today he noticed a nest in the top of our lilac bush and four little heads poking out as they waited for their next meal. Mama and Papa Cardinal took turns bringing tasty grubs to their youngsters and then the adults would fly down to feeder for a little treat of their own. It was cloudy and rainy when I tried to get some pictures of the action but there was not enough light to get a shot of the nest.

Time for her...

Families are important. Life goes on from generation to generation. Sandland Brother is off to Spokane WA later this week to see his new grandson of whom he is very proud. Then he has to return to the Middle East. He was commenting on how the internet has made it easier for families keep in touch, even when they are far apart.

I will be keeping an eye on the Cardinal family and an eye on my family as some grow up and others get older. Cardinals don't migrate, but my family seems to. But life is always about change isn't it.

*Photos by The Becka

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Flowers: Collecting Butterflies

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail on Sweet Clover- Waterloo Region

Sandland brother was a collector of snakes, rocks, especially the fossils from our gravel driveway, bugs and butterflies. We lived in the north part of Metropolitan Toronto in the mid to late 1960's just as suburban sprawl was creeping northward from the city core. From our home one could see farmers' fields which have since been paved over as the city has spread many miles north, east and west. A couple of blocks from our house a large hydro right-of-way provided a place where we played and picnicked during our endless summer holidays. Nathan had a butterfly net and would pursue flying insects, catching them and killing them in a jar before mounting them for his collection.

Great Spangled Fritillary near Bird's Foot Trefoil- Manitoulin Island

Last summer I re-read Gene Stratton-Porter's book A Girl of the Limberlost. Elnora Comstock pays for her education by collecting rare moths in Indiana's Limberlost Swamp and selling their mounted bodies to collectors. Somehow the killing of butterflies and moths for collections has lost its appeal in this day of increased environmental awareness. But our society has depleted the habitat of many butterflies and instead of killing them, we have killed their food source with pesticides and pavement.

Cabbage White on Bird Vetch in Waterloo Region

In this digital age we can collect butterflies with our cameras. Our city has implemented a partial ban on pesticides and city parks and schoolyards are no longer sprayed for weeds. I am once again seeing butterflies as I remember seeing them as a child in North York's hydro fields.

White Admiral on Joe Pye Weed- Manitoulin Island

I have been trying to capture some butterfly pictures and have found them even more flitting than warblers who at least tend to flit in one tree, not all over a meadow. I have some lovely mental images that passed faster than the shutter of the camera. Last week I watched a Swallowtail butterfly and a Ruby Throated Hummingbird feeding at the same group of flowers.
Our wildflowers have had a great growing season this year. Sweet Clover, Bird Vetch and Common Milkweed flowers are favoured by many insects including butterflies. And several garden flowers including Purple Coneflower attract them near our homes.

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed- Manitoulin Island

I took a number of butterfly pictures and then struggled to identify them. I find most butterfly guides confusing with plates of similar looking wings. Someone recommended a field guide called The Butterflies of Canada so I ordered one that I received this week. I am very pleased with it and it is organized by region and habitat which is very helpful.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on Milkweed- Manitoulin Island

The images in this post are of butterflies I have seen this month near flowers. Wet gravel also attracts them, but I will save those pictures for another time. We have a lot of wet gravel around lately with almost daily rains so it pays to look on the path for butterflies as you walk along.

Sandland Brother arrived in Canada yesterday from the United Arab Emirates. I see him on average about every other year or so. I wonder what he is collecting now?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More Sandhill Cranes

Last year I wrote about the Sandhill Cranes on Manitoulin Island in this post. This year they were around in great numbers again and we saw and heard them frequently in the fields around the camp. I saw a pair of young birds for the first time as they walked down the gravel road ahead of me one evening. An adult bird was off to the side keeping an eye on them.

Watchful adult a short distance away from the young birds below

With all the rain we have had this summer, the vegetation in the fields is much higher and it was hard to see the birds unless they were in a freshly mowed hayfield. There were many deer about in the open this year, even in the mid-afternoon. We saw a group of cranes and deer in a field close to the road. I have yet to see a Sandhill Crane in the water.

Juvenile Sandhill Cranes

We don't have many large birds like these (other than Great Blue Herons and the rarely seen Great Egrets) in Ontario. Manitoulin Island is a nesting place for many birds we see only in the winter or during migration in southern Ontario. The Mergansers and other diving ducks, Bald Eagles, and Cranes raise their young in this relatively safe and quiet place. And other birds such as Cardinals and House Finches never venture this far north.

I wonder what I would find another 360 km further north from the island in the James Bay Frontier?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fuel Efficiency: Good, Better and Best

I filled up my vehicle yesterday at a bargain price of $1.25 per litre. How quickly our perception of a "good deal" changes! Last week gas was $1.38 per litre. Small cars are quite popular in Canada and Cooper minis and Smart cars are not unusual to see on our streets. I took these pictures on Manitoulin Island. Mrs. Bean's Cooper was parked in front of the docked Wyn Cooper. Rowan Atkinson's character, Mr. Bean, has a loyal fan here.

Manitoulin Island's roads are great for biking. Traffic is very light and the terrain is not overly hilly. Our city buses have bike carriers on the front so passengers can pedal their way to their destination after they get disembark at the transit stop. The occupants of the little car above obviously use a bike for shorter trips too.

And here are the die-hard cyclists waiting for the ferry to take them back to the mainland. I wished them well against the rain, wind and bad drivers they would encounter.

One of my co-workers lives a few kilometers from the hospital. She bought herself an electric bike for about $500 and is very happy with it. She has to do some pedaling, but the little motor assists on the hills. It is nice to arrive at work without having to shower and change your clothes.

The price of fuel is changing our behaviour. I am driving less for pleasure and have cut back on extras at the grocery store in favour of feeding my vehicle's gas habit. My next car will be a lot smaller for sure. That Mini Cooper is very cute!

I laughed when I read this comic a couple of weeks ago. Click image to enlarge.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Saskatoon Berry Treat

...Amelanchier, shadbush, serviceberry, sarvisberry, juneberry, Saskatoon berry, shadblow, shadwood, sugarplum, and wild-plum...

Call it what you will, but we have one growing in our backyard. A few years ago a friend gave me a small sprout from her large bush and we planted it in the back corner of our lot. It grew quickly and my husband, who is a force to be reckoned with when he has a chain saw, decided to prune it rather drastically. The little bush responded by putting out fifteen shoots to replace the five that were cut and sprouted twice as high as the fence.

This year has been wet and the bush was covered in white blooms which have now produced a bumper crop of berries. In the past I have made pies and jam when the blueberry-like fruit ripened to a dark purple, but this year the other residents of our garden have been feasting on the unripe red berries.

A family of robins have been regular visitors. The young birds are as large as the adults. but Mom and Dad still pick the berries and put them right into Junior's mouth. The babies have been trying to pick their own but are still rather clumsy on the thin branches.

A couple of chipmunks pick their fill and run along the fence with bulging cheeks. The birds scold and dive-bomb them as they scurry to the relative safety of the deck to eat their meal. Cedar Waxwings, Cardinals and squirrels also visit and the berries are almost completely gone. My raspberry patch grows along the fence and the first crop is beginning to ripen. But these red gems are next on the list for the birds who enjoy the fruit of my labour.

The September raspberries are usually bigger and sweeter than July's, so I will not fight for my share at this time. The weather has been a little too hot, humid, rainy and mosquito-y for the trails so the backyard birds and animals will be my guests and amusement for now.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Temple


Enter the temple beautiful! The house not made with hands!
Rain-washed and green, wind-swept and clean,

Beneath the blue it stands,
And no cathedral anywhere
Seemeth so holy or so fair.

It hath no heavy gabled roof, no door with lock and key,
No window-bars shut out the stars,
The aisles are wide and free--
Here through the night each altar-light

Is but a moon-beam, silver-white.

Silently as the temple grew at Solomon's command,
Still as things seem within a dream
This rose from out the land:
And all the pillars, grey and high,
Lifted their arches to the sky.

Here is the perfume of the leaves, the incense of the pines--
The magic scent that hath been pent
Within the tangled vines:
No censor filled with spices rare
E'er swung such sweetness on the air.

And all the golden gloom of it holdeth no haunting fear,
For it is blessed, and giveth rest
To those who enter here--
Here in the evening--who can know
But God Himself walks to and fro!

And music past all mastering within the chancel rings;
None could desire a sweeter choir
Than this--that soars and sings,
Till far the scented shadows creep--
And quiet darkness bringeth sleep.

Virna Sheard (1865-1943)

Mom went to Glen Bernard Camp near Sundridge, Ontario for many summers in the 1940's. She was sharing some of her experiences with me and mentioned that each Sunday morning the campers recited a portion of the above poem, written by Canadian poet Virna Sheard. Their chapel was not a man-made cathedral but was surrounded by splendor and beauty of the Creator's making.

We do attend church regularly, but I find that spending time enjoying nature enriches my spirit and leaves me feeling refreshed and renewed.

(The photos are mine with the exception of the beautiful moon shot that was taken by our friend Andre.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Flowers: An Old Fashioned Garden

In an older section of town small brick apartments and triplexes look out on the street across large lawns. Fifty years ago city lots were divided generously, not like the tightly squeezed lots with rows and rows of Monopoly houses which make the new suburbs so ugly. I walked past this garden planted along the driveway to a rear parking lot and stopped to admire the summer flowers. Most everything here could have been planted by seed:- the sunflowers, nasturtiums, cosmos, daisies and portulaca. Perhaps it was the landlord's hobby or maybe some tenant was happy to have some soil to work in.

Communities in Bloom is a national program designed to increase environmental awareness and to encourage the beautification of Canadian communities. Our city participates and our mail carriers nominate homes and business on their routes that have exceptional grounds and gardens. Judges narrow the field to one winner per ward and residents are encouraged to admire the work of the owners. My friends Joyce and Ed have been nominated in their area this year. One of my patients was a winner for several years. Even into his 80s and after joint replacement surgery, he kept a spectacular garden on a nearby street.

My husband just completed a fine stone border for our back yard garden. I have edges to fill with some new plantings and have other perennial clumps to move and thin out. A garden is always a work in progress but the efforts are so rewarding.

I have been playing with my pictures on a website called Picnik. Lots of fun! I believe it was Laura from NJ who introduced the site to her readers. (The black and white and red pictures were taken using a camera setting , not Picnik)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Black and White and Red all Over

I asked the Becka if she knew any "black and white and red all over" jokes and she just looked at me strangely. I remember plenty of "knock-knock" jokes and black and white and red riddles from my childhood, probably when I was in that wonderful seven to eleven year old age group.

What is black and white and red all over?

A newspaper, or
An embarrassed penguin, or
A zebra with a rash, or
A sunburned skunk, or...

I could go on and on but you get the general idea.

We had a couple of dull days on Manitoulin Island as the weather changed frequently. On this particular day a cold front approached from the west creating drizzle, fog and lots of chilly air. We drove to South Baymouth where the ferry from Tobermory docks several times a day in the summer. The Chi-cheemaun was arriving and we watched vehicles and people disembark from the boat after the ninety minute crossing. Colour pictures were so dull as to be completely uninspiring so I chose red on the colour select setting of my camera for some bright accents. (I had used yellow in New York City on another dull day)

The summer I was seventeen, Grandma and I drove from her home north of Toronto up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory. She wanted to take me on the ferry to the Island but it was not to be. We waited two days as strong winds across Lake Huron delayed any crossings. Now we drive around the lake to Sudbury and then south through Espanola, crossing the only bridge to Manitoulin at Little Current. Perhaps we will take the ferry sometime, but I do not care for rough or foggy waters.

We walked around the docks and the breakwater at South Baymouth up to the lighthouse which flashed across the foggy bay. When we came back to the little town, the streets were empty. Over the next four hours, bikes and cars and trucks would trickle in to wait for the next ferry.

The weather kept us indoors that evening and we watched The Scarlet and the Black on the little TV and portable DVD player we had packed. It is one of my favourite Gregory Peck movies and is a very inspiring story based on J.P.Gallagher's book, "The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican".

The black and white and red theme of the day continued.

The skies finally cleared and the moon shone on the water. Black and white, but not red all over this time.

Beautiful nevertheless!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Art of Fishing

She took a box of books.
He took a box of fishing tackle.

She took a camera and binoculars.
He took a fish finder and several fishing rods.

She could walk the trails for hours.
He could fish for hours and hours and hours.

She took extra food, just in case, but
He caught enough fish for the week.

Fishing is a most particular sport, especially for those fishers who are after game species. The children at the camp caught the same catfish twice from the dock with a worm he put on the hook for them. But he wanted trout, pickerel, and bass...

He put in folding chair on the floor of the fishing boat for her comfort. When the wind was up, he hugged the shore avoiding the whitecaps on the open water. A large hatch of mayflies flew in the air and their short-lived bodies covered the surface of the water. That was a good excuse if the fish didn't bite.

The fish finder showed him where schools of bass and perch swam in the water. It also showed the depth and warned of rocks hidden below the surface. That made her feel safer.

He drove the boat close to the terns, loons and ducks.
She netted a few fish.

He was happy and she was happy.
Give a little, take a little. Two is better than one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Name that Tune

Summertime birding can be a challenge. Small song birds prefer the safety of thick hedgerows, cedars and hawthorn trees and finding them turns into an exercise of extreme patience. Some birds prefer swampy habitats where mosquitoes breed and walking is treacherous or impossible. Treetop birds bring on a stiff neck from excessive upward gazing. But most birds do sing or squawk or chirp and recognizing their unique sound is the key to positive identification.

Black-billed Cuckoo

Manitoulin Island provided a veritable symphony of bird song. The Sandhill Crane's unmistakable rattle frequently filled the air. I learned the call of the Black-billed Cuckoo who nested near our cabin. Any visitor to a northern lake would recognize the call of the Loon over the water.

The road to the camp was about 2 kilometers long and each little section had its own bird groups. We stayed in the Warbler woods.

Up the road toward the big swamp was Woodpecker way where the Downies, Flickers and Sapsuckers hammered on dead wood. I didn't know the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made a cat-like noise? But it is different from the Grey Catbird's meowing call.

Downy Woodpecker

Next came the Indigo Buntings and these lovely blue jewels flew back and forth from treetop to treetop along the roadway.

The cedar trees near the swamp were home to a variety of Thrushes. I was drawn here daily to listen to the haunting song of the Veery. The complex song was the most beautiful I have ever heard. (listen to their songs here)

Going the other direction led to the field of the Bobolinks. These hyperactive birds had a wild raspy song that went on and on like a long jamming session. The males perched on the hydro wires and on tree tops while the females in their modest plumage stayed quietly in the bushes.

Male Bobolink

The woods near the waterfront hid a loud but invisible Whip-poor-will. And the lane way was the stage for many enthusiastic Vireos.

I recorded sounds of birds I could not see with my camera in hopes of learning their songs. Here is a compilation of some of them. The visual quality is not great and my hand held efforts, along with the wind and grey skies may make you queasy as you watch. If so, just close your eyes and listen. What do you hear?

Postscript ~ I posted the video link on our local birding forum and one of our local experienced birders added this analysis of the bird song...

"... aside from those you already mention in your post, I hear: House Wren (really singing up a storm in the early part), Black-billed Cuckoo (in the background of the House Wren; cu-cu, cu-cu-cu, cu-cu, etc.), Yellow Warbler (underneath the wren - there's a Redstart singing in the background too, makes it a bit confusing), American Crow, Eastern Towhee (these are in the same segment, way in the background) Gray Catbird (mewing a bunch toward the middle), Song Sparrow (in behind the Catbird), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (during the shot of the trees after the bit showing the House Wren), and Chipping Sparrow (singing under the yellowthroat).

There's also an interesting call at the end, underlying the Common Yellowthroat - a single, long, hollow sort of note, which is another Veery vocalization. (I think it may be a warning call of some kind - they seem to make it whenever they spot me, anyway).

"Sounds" like it was a very good area to visit, anyway - very diverse!"