Sunday, August 31, 2008


We visited LaSalle Park in Burlington, Ontario recently and walked a picturesque trail along the shore of Lake Ontario. A marina is located here and the birds and animals have become accustomed to a steady human presence in the area. In particular, chickadees and chipmunks would approach us boldly looking for handouts of nuts and seeds. My husband was delighted to have a chickadee land on his hand and to have several chipmunks approach him for peanuts.

Some people never learn trust. We have an elderly lady on our rehabilitation unit who never leaves the room without tying her important papers, whatever they are, on her body. She will not allow anyone to enter her apartment to bring clothes for her to wear at the hospital. She is suspicious and unhappy.

Other people distrust anything new. I have done internet banking for years, but others I know believe their personal information and money would be too accessible by criminals if they stopped using a teller at the bank. Some parents tend to over protect their children, not allowing them to walk to and from school or forbidding them to explore the neighbourhood on their own. How will they learn to develop and trust their own instincts?

Laura of Somewhere in NJ wrote a beautiful post this weekend and described the instinctive nature of a caterpillar who knows when it is time to become something new. Two of my monarch caterpillars are transforming today into their chrysalis form. What risks are they taking to hang immobile and defenseless for the next couple of weeks as they develop the wings of their beautiful butterfly form?

The tiny chipmunk has learned that people can be trusted. And people are delighted to see the trust that is shown as a vulnerable creature comes to their hand. There is some risk with trust, but no happiness without it.

God is also delighted in our trust. We can develop our God-given instincts and learn to trust his provision as well.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5,6

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Flowers: Found on a Thistle Bloom

Our day in Toronto last weekend was one of the hottest of this summer. Hazy humidity hung over the city and the sun's rays were strong. We spent a few hours on the city streets and then drove over to the Leslie Street Spit. (I wrote about the area before in this post). Tommy Thompson Park is an important birding area. It is located on a man-made peninsula which was created with land fill from excavations for foundations of buildings in the city. It seems improbable that such a lovely nature area could be tucked in near warehouses and docks of the harbour district.

We started along the trail hoping to find a refreshing breeze from Lake Ontario. The spit is about 5 km long and would be a challenge to complete both ways on foot in a couple of hours. A bike is really the best way to explore the area. There was no breeze on this afternoon but the birds and butterflies were so abundant in the first section of the trail that I kept going in spite of the heat.
The favoured flower was the purple Bull Thistle and all I needed to do was stand near one and wait for the visitors. The Monarch butterfly is on the flower of a Burdock plant.

Orange Sulphur Butterflies

Great Spangled Fritillary

Black Swallowtail

Monarch Butterfly

American Goldfinch
(unfortunately, this one had conjunctivitis)

Have a great Labour Day Weekend...the last long weekend of the summer!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Monarch Rescue

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

Schools open here on Tuesday and fields adjacent to sidewalks and schoolyards are being mowed after a summer of growth. Milkweed is abundant and is one of the most common plants being cut down. This is the exclusive food of Monarch butterfly larvae and late summer is the time of year when many are feeding or pupating.

Monarch Butterfly along Lake Ontario

A fellow Canadian blogger, Ann of Nature Tales and Camera Trails, published a post this week about a newly emerged Monarch. She mentioned before that she has seen few Monarch butterflies this summer in her area of the Maritimes.

Another blogger, Rambling Woods, asked the question, "Where are all the Monarch butterflies this year?"

I saw many Monarchs and caterpillars on Manitoulin Island in early July but had not found any larvae around home until this week.

A couple of days ago I looked on the milkweed plants in our neighbourhood and found four caterpillars. They are now in a large container on the deck with a daily supply of fresh milkweed leaves. Hopefully I will see one or more of them emerge sometime in September. At least I know they will not be victims of the city mowers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Art Tour of Toronto: High and Low

I lived in Toronto in the mid to late 1960s and became familiar with the layout of the city in those years. Much has changed since then and the skyline is much higher and the streets much busier. We spent a day in the downtown area last weekend and there was enough to see to keep three people with different interests happy.

We dropped The Becka off at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where she attended Fan Expo 2008. She wrote about it in her blog. The CN tower is adjacent to the centre and I snapped a photo out the driver's window of the car.

I have attended a number of conferences in this facility but have never been to the back entrance before. I was intrigued by a giant sculpture that consisted of a steel pipe cut off to look like a tree stump and two very large birds; a Pileated Woodpecker and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

I found this information in a publication called City of Toronto Art Walk: Toronto's Outdoor Art Gallery.

"Woodpecker Column
Fastwürms, 1997

Dominating the south entrance to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is Woodpecker Column by artists Dai Skuse and Kim Kozzi working collaboratively under the name Fastwürms. This 30-metre tall column rises from the concrete in unexpectedly stark but delightful contrast to the geometric regularity of the building, appearing to be pecked by a pileated woodpecker and yellow-bellied sapsucker. References to nature frequently occur in the art of Fastwürms and in this case it is specific to the site’s history as a swamp where waterlogged and decaying trees would have attracted indigenous woodpeckers."

I have bookmarked the Art Walk guide which features 22 outdoor sculptures in the downtown core. Most of them are more abstract or are people related. I thought this tribute to the natural history of the area was most interesting.

Front and back of the Flatiron Building

The Gooderham Building was erected in 1892. It is Toronto's Flatiron Building, not on the scale of the one in New York City, but interesting nonetheless. This past week we noticed it was undergoing repairs and scaffolding was up against the side. The back of the building featured a mural called Trompe d'oeil which was created by Canadian artist Derek Besant. I noticed that it had been removed recently, perhaps to facilitate the outside work being done.

This artist was sitting as low as the CN Tower is high. She was participating in a weekend Busker Festival and was drawing her perception of the city on a canvas of pavement. Her work will be washed away in a few days and her art forgotten. I am sure she will be compelled to draw again on the ground for a few donations.

Let me ask you something, what is not art?
~Author Unknown

Monday, August 25, 2008

Life Isn't Fair!

Female Cowbird

We are born with an innate sense of fairness and as children perceive unfairness very strongly. There were five children in our family and Mom had to cut a pie into seven very even pieces. Complaints were sure to be voiced if one of us felt we were short-changed by even a sliver of dessert.

Somewhere along the way we learn that life is not dished out in fair, even slices and are much happier if we accept this fact. We are acquainted with immature people who have difficulty with hard things that come their way. No one is guaranteed an easy life and our struggles should make us stronger, more resilient and empathetic.

Feed me! Chipping Sparrow and large juvenile Cowbird*

I am not a fan of Cowbirds and had to look hard in my archives to find a picture of one. I took the picture of the female Cowbird this spring thinking it was a different bird. This native bird is a parasite and lays its eggs in the nest of other birds, often those of small warblers and sparrows. The Cowbird chick is large and demanding and may crowd out the host bird's own babies.

How unfair is that?!

Recently I was out birding with a friend from work when we came across a little Chipping Sparrow who was working furiously to feed a very loud and demanding juvenile Cowbird. The youngster was much larger than the surrogate parent. The Cowbird sat in the grass as the sparrow flew up, down, left and right catching insects which it placed in the Cowbird's beak. I approached to get a closer shot and the Cowbird flew most capably to the top of a nearby tree.

What a lazy adolescent!

Silhouette of Sparrow (left) feeding Cowbird (right)*

The Chipping Sparrow demonstrated acceptance of its misfortune and cared for the demanding intruder capably. I was the one who felt indignant as I observed the unfairness of it all.

What can I learn from nature?

* photos taken by my friend, Deb

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Great Egret Encounters

Great Egrets are passing through our area on their migration south. "Passing through" is a relative term as they have been hanging around for a few weeks now. They do not breed in this area and are rarely seen in the spring. I was driving by a farm field that had about a hundred Canada geese, a few horses and one Great Egret. It was hunting in a very small creek that trickled through the grass.

A few days later I saw a pair of Egrets fishing in a storm pond in a new subdivision. New houses are being built all around the area as the city sprawls outwards. Small fish were plentiful in the pond and it was interesting to watch them stalk through the shallow water.

The setting sun was very bright. It is always a challenge for me to photograph white birds and white flowers in strong light. One of the Egrets seemed to have an injured leg and was limping on the land. I could not see any obvious injury or entanglement. This short video clip demonstrates how the bird moved. I have not seen the pair since, only a single bird in the same area.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Flowers: What is a Weed?

Wild Cucumber in Bloom

A weed is a plant considered undesirable,
unattractive, or troublesome,

especially one growing where it is not wanted...

Giant Ragweed

Giant ragweed is beginning to bloom along the banks of the river and it has reached gargantuan heights this wet summer. Pollen billows through the air when the plants are bumped making a sensitive person sneeze.

Ragweed in bloom

Goldenrod is also starting to bloom and because it shares a flowering season with ragweed, it is wrongly accused of causing fall allergies. Goldenrod has heavy, sticky pollen unlike the lightweight, wind-carried pollen of ragweed and is an important source of nectar for butterflies and insects. It is available in nurseries as a garden flower.


I enjoy wild flowers just as much as cultivated ones. Nature's arrangements can be unexpectedly beautiful. But some non-native plants, while attractive, can be invasive and choke out native vegetation.

Himalayan Balsam

I wrote about Himalayan Balsam last year in this post. This plant is in the same family as Impatiens and Jewelweed but is not native to North America. It grows along river banks and the flower pods disperse large numbers of seeds. The roots are shallow and it is easy to pull out of the ground.

Purple Loosestrife

I remember admiring fields of Purple Loosestrife in the past before I learned what an invasive problem this plant is in wetlands. This European native had no natural controls in this continent and four insects, two beetles and two weevils, have been approved for release to control the plant. This has been effective, but this year I have noticed more loosestrife around. It must be time to release another batch of bugs.

Flowering Rush

I had featured this pretty plant a few weeks ago in a Friday Flowers post. When we were on Manitoulin Island in July, I picked up a brochure called "Aquatic Invasive Species: A guide for water gardeners and aquarium owners. " It lists the Flowering Rush, (butomus umbellatus) as a potentially invasive species from Europe and Asia. I only saw one single plant growing at the water's edge.

A. A. Milne said, "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

Invasive plants are a problem and are truly weeds, and ragweed causes many to feel miserable in the late summer and fall. But natural native plantings are becoming more popular, so I am not the only one taking a second look at the definition of a weed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Generation to Generation

Ruth (not me) Eveline and Lois

This is a picture of my paternal grandmother and two of my aunts taken sometime around 1947. We celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of the girl on the right this past weekend and it was great fun to reconnect with family members we had not seen for years. My aunt has a number of old photographs in her living room, pictures I have never seen before. She has chronicled much of our family history and has worked to keep us in contact with each other. My young niece, Jaspenelle, whose son is the clan's second youngest member, is interested in family stories from the past, just like me. For some reason, we did not hear a lot of them when we were growing up or did not pay close attention to the ones that were shared. Family connections are important and technology has made it easier to stay in touch than ever before. But we are often too busy and family gatherings often happen infrequently.

Sam, Cassy and Ruth with Max the dog

The third youngest member of our extended family, 11 week old Cassy is in the arms of her grandmother, the girl on the left in the first picture. She is getting acquainted with Samuel's dog Max. Cassy is blessed with an immediate and extended family who love her and who will participate together in raising her. Another cousin in this family is raising a young child who has been in several foster homes and has had no family connection or security. It is taking time for him to develop trust and the ability to relate to others. She and her husband are special people indeed!
I think it is unfortunate that children and adults are segregated so often according to age, in schools, churches, retirement homes and recreational facilities. There is benefit in a social mix of various generations. Samuel and I are great buddies in spite of our age difference. And I am grateful for the other family members of all ages who keep in touch with me on a regular basis.

It takes a whole village to raise a child.
African Proverb

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Morning walk

The days are shortening and the mornings have a fall-like chill in the air. An early morning walk can happen at 7AM rather than 5:30 AM...much more to my liking. Huron Natural Area is close to home. Finally the mosquitoes are past their peak and are not bothersome at all early in the day. It is possible to walk the wooded trails and along the beaver pond in comfort.

The vegetation is thick on the forest floor and it is difficult to detect any creatures other than the odd bold chipmunk or squirrel. Walking toward the meadow and into the rising sun, I start to hear the twitter of birds in the many hawthorn bushes and pine trees at the edge of the clearing.

The Chickadee sits on a branch preening its feathers and looking into the light. I seldom see these birds resting quietly. When I downloaded the picture I noticed an Indigo Bunting roosting in the branch in the upper right corner.

Dozens of Kingbirds are in a tree, some eating berries and others starting their aerial swoops for flying insects. At least four Northern Flickers are in the same area. These larger than average groupings of birds do show that fall is just around the corner.

By 8AM the chatter and activity is increasing noticeably. A pair of wrens flit in the branches and sparrows, warblers and various flycatchers start their daily search for food. And food is plentiful after the wet summer.

It is hard to go on to work on mornings like this. I love this time of year!

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Corner of the Swamp

Great Blue Heron Glare

The swamp has an increasing number of birds now that fall migration is well under way. Various shorebirds are passing through and soon we will see ducks who have been breeding in the north stopping by for a rest on their way south for the winter. It is not unusual to see ten Great Blue Herons at one time. Last week a local birder reported seeing six juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons in the middle of the afternoon.

I detour past this area frequently and in just a few minutes always see something interesting or amusing. The Great Blue Herons are found in predictable areas and one familiar bird is found in the back corner every time I visit. It stands on a stump and displays postures that vary from intimidating to just plain silly.

Does this pose scare you?

The Belted Kingfishers seem to have experienced a local population explosion. I watched the bird below try and grab a fish from the mouth of another female who was manipulating her catch to swallow it head first. The two birds sat on stumps opposite each other and would dive simultaneously in nearly the same spot, perhaps aiming for the same minnow. That would trigger a rapid pursuit across the surface of the water as they battled for the best fishing ground.

The Green Herons are less dramatic and can be hard to spot as they watch the water from the shore or a log. This one caught a White-tailed dragonfly and gulped it down but I was not fast enough to capture it with the camera.

Most of these birds will have a long journey ahead in the next few weeks. A few Kingfishers do stay near open water on the river throughout the winter. They must compete to survive and the skills they are practicing in late summer may mean the difference between life and death before they breed again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Spiritual Comfort

Have you ever pasted a happy smile on your face and donned a make-believe “everything is wonderful” attitude for the world to see? We all fake it sometimes, but hidden emotion eats at the heart and soul and destroys the body. Yet no one enjoys being around someone who repeatedly uses other people as a dump for their angry and hurt feelings.

The Bible has many examples of people who expressed their honest, heartfelt emotions to God. Some were despondent to the point of giving up on their lives. There are expressions of anger, grief, sadness and hopelessness in the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and in the lives of people like Moses, Paul, Hannah, David, Jonah, Jesus and others.

Jesus said in Matthew 5,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul says,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this
all–surpassing power is from God and not from us.

We are hard pressed on every side,
but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;

persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

The Psalms are described as Israel’s songbook. Psalm 88 is likely the darkest song ever written with no seeming resolution to the psalmist’s depression. Sing with me…

…my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you…

Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

Psalm 42 beautifully describes feelings of sorrow, longing and faith. There is no indication that the problems described vanished, but our spiritual comfort is from God alone.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”

My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Excerpts from Psalm 42

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Flowers: August Blues

This week I took special notice of any blue flowers found in fields and gardens. I don't have anything but pink in my yard right now. Of the many pictures taken on my walks, my favourite is of the wild blue Chicory growing along side the Queen Anne's Lace in a meadow near my workplace.

I pass these municipal gardens each day. The grounds are maintained largely by volunteers and there are all kinds of flowers I cannot name. It is a lovely peaceful place to stop for a few minutes. Here are some flowers that were blooming this week... beautiful blues.

May flowers always line your path and sunshine light your day.

May songbirds serenade you every step along the way.

May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that's always blue.

And may happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through.

Irish Blessing