Friday, January 30, 2009

Passage of Time

Ruth (in foreground) aged 5 or 6 in Durban South Africa

Today I celebrate yet another year of living, not a special birthday, just another birthday. I have never thought of myself as old even though I am undeniably middle aged, and sometimes feel no different than I did when I was thirty. The women of my family have lived to good old ages and I have excellent role models for the future. Working with older people also keeps me feeling young although some of my coworkers are the age of my children. I have seen young 90 year olds and 50 year olds who seem twice their age.

What is it that keeps some people eternally young?

It is not a cosmetic cream, a face lift, a hair colour, a shape or a style of clothing.

Here is what I have noticed about people who remain youthful all their days.

Ruth (23) Mom (45) Grandma (81) and Grandma's friend
Waiting for a very overdue flight in a Mexican airport

They are interested in trying new things and never stop learning.

They are able to accept change gracefully and without complaint. They are comfortable with themselves.

They are sincerely interested in other people and are good listeners. Nothing ages a person more than rambling on and on about the good old days.

They have a positive attitude about the future even if the present is troubled. They do not talk about how bad the world is getting which discourages and alienates those in younger generations. They are not overly critical of children, teenagers and young adults and are accepting of youthful ways, even if they do things differently. They mix well with all age groups.

Four generations: Grandma, Mom, me and our three daughters

They can be trusted to keep a confidence and share the wisdom that comes with experience without judgement or a superior attitude.

They do not put unrealistic expectations on others or feel they are owed service or affection from those closest to them. They do not put others on guilt trips or play family members against each other.

Even if their physical bodies break down, they focus on what they can do rather than what they cannot do.

Their faces wrinkle in smile lines, not frown lines. They never forget how to laugh or love.
If you want to know what The Becka thinks about my advancing years check this out...My Reckless Mother

She starts by saying, "As I get..."older", I've noticed how lately I've been monitoring my parents more and if they were children.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sky Watch at 1630 h

January 9, 2009 at 1630 h

I drive by this hill every day at 1630 h on the way home from work. This old landfill site, locally known as Mount Trashmore has been graded and fixed up as a sledding hill. It is the highest point of land, albeit man-made, at our end of the city and has been a reference for the position of the sun at this time of day.

January 13, 2009 at 1630 h

Our days are gradually lengthening and sunset has moved from 1652 h to 1725 h over the month of January, a gain of 33 minutes at the end of the day. Each day is a little brighter on my journey home. Even though the air temperatures have remained very cold, the sun is stronger and warmer.

January 26, 2009 at 1630 h
Sun dog and high clouds

These three pictures show the progression of light over the past three weeks with all photos taken at the same time of day over Mount Trashmore.

Spring is on a slow march, coming our way!

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big January Wrap Up...Three!

A young student at the Nature Centre feeders

I have visited these feeders at Guelph Ontario twice in the past week and stayed until my feet and fingers were numb with cold. There was plenty of action both times, from the seed eating birds and their predators. This area in the country and is surrounded with farms. There were at least three feral cats prowling around. What a perilous place for the many smaller birds hanging out in the area.

I studied the placement of the feeders and the plantings around them. If you look at the picture above and to the left, you can see heavy brush as well as a stand of cedars adjacent to the feeder. Other than the Chickadees, most of the birds rested in the thickets and darted back and forth to the feeders. I did not see a single House Sparrow or Starling in the area.

The first day I was there, a young Sharp-shinned Hawk made three passes at the feeders in an effort to get a meal. While it looks much like a Coopers Hawk, especially when mature, this hawk is smaller, about the size of a dove. In fact, I wondered why a dove was flying so quickly toward the feeders until I realized it really was a hawk.

Young Sharp-shinned Hawk, bird #60

I felt sorry for this young bird as it needed a meal too, but was hoping it did not target the lone Eastern Towhee or the Red-bellied Woodpecker. However, the Towhee never came out of the brush and has likely survived this far into the winter because of its caution. The placement of feeders and plantings around them do need to be carefully considered to provide safety for the birds. I think we often put feeders out for our enjoyment and viewing rather than considering what is best for the birds.

White-crowned Sparrow, bird #61

I went back yesterday hoping to get a better view of the Towhee. There were about 50 students visiting from a local school who were involved in outdoor winter activities. They were trying to find items on a list and had been assigned little binoculars. I loved watching them interact with nature. One 6th grade girl shouted, "Look at the red bird!!" She didn't even recognize a Northern Cardinal but will remember that now. Other children seemed to have a better knowledge of the environment around them. They had an outdoor campfire lunch of hot dogs, hot chocolate and marshmallows in the minus 10C temperatures.

I was happy to find my 61st bird in spite of the activity. There was one White-crowned Sparrow and a couple of White-throated Sparrows, birds I usually don't see until May.

Another local birder, a college student named Josh, has counted 89 birds in Ontario this month. He is a avid and skilled naturalist and a contributor to our local birding forum. I know he will have more birds by the end of the month. He has scouted the Niagara River for gulls and water birds and also found more owls and raptors than I did. So I will have to set my goal higher for January 2010 and maybe brave the Niagara area. We will see!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big January Wrap Up...Two...

I looked hard for my 59th bird this month. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are not rare around here, but are not seen commonly like Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. South-western Ontario is the extreme northern range for these birds that make their home in the Carolinian forest. I have seen Pileated Woodpeckers more often and at a closer range than the Red-bellied variety. I have never been close enough to get a picture and have seen them only three times in treetops.

I was delighted to see this woodpecker on a tree at the Guelph Lake Nature Centre as it ate snow from a branch. I took several shots and watched it fly away. A few minutes later it landed on the feeder right in front of me and was not spooked at all as I took several pictures of it.

In fact it seemed to be posing for me from every angle. It was worth 23 days of searching to find this particular show-off bird!

Number 60 coming up soon, plus a bonus #61!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Big January Wrap Up...One...

Earlier this month I set myself a goal of finding 60 bird species in January. I found a list of sightings of winter birds in Ontario on this web site*, excluded rare or occasional finds, and concluded that there are about 160 birds species in the province in an average winter. Not all are found in my area though and I would have to travel to winter birding hot spots such as the Niagara River to see large numbers of winter migrants. Anyone who goes birding near the falls in the winter must be impervious to very damp chills and icy surfaces. (not me!) I decided that finding 60 of these birds would be a good start for one winter month.

At the end of last week I made the twenty minute trip from the hospital to Guelph Lake Conservation Area. Guelph Lake is created by a dam on the Speed River and was built to control flooding along the Grand River watershed. It has naturalized beautifully and the conservation area is a favourite haunt for birders. The area is closed to cars for the winter but it is possible to snowshoe or ski on the snow covered trails. I noticed a bus load of school children at the Nature Centre and stopped in for a look. I liked the sign that said, "An experience is worth a thousand pictures."

The students were just finishing up their outdoor winter activities as I looked around at the winter camping site with tents and a snow house. Bird feeders were set up in a wooded area and many birds were in the trees and brush. In thirty minutes I was able to count the last few birds needed to reach my goal.

I knew Cedar Waxwings are found in small groups throughout the winter and had seen a flock in mid-December. About 15 of them flew in from the lake and rested in the trees near the feeders. The feeders attracted large numbers of Chickadees, Tree Sparrows, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, House and Goldfinches, Juncos, as well as the birds I will describe in this and two other posts.

I have only seen one Eastern Towhee and found it this summer near our home. They are not common in any season here. A lone Towhee is wintering at Guelph Lake near these feeders and I had a few glimpses of it as is hopped on the ground in some brush. A number of factors which I will describe in a later post kept it from coming out into the open.

And so I counted birds # 57 and #58, unexpected additions, especially the Eastern Towhee.

More to come...

*this web site also lists winter birds found in all Canadian provinces

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dinner in Eritrea

International flags represent students at a local school

Canada has the highest per capital immigration rate in the world and is known as a diverse and multicultural nation. The last census showed that approximately 1 in 5 Canadians were born in another country (including me). Some will argue that this a bad thing, but immigration is nothing new. My husband's family immigrated here in 1800 and my father's family came from Holland and England in the 1920's. Many came from Eastern and Western Europe after the World Wars and we welcomed the "boat people" from Vietnam in the 1970's. Our city has a German/Mennonite heritage but we also have neighbourhoods with people from Central America, Africa, the Philippines, China, India and a host of other nations. Even when immigrants try to maintain their culture in a new land, their children quickly become integrated as they learn English and go to public schools. Locally, the Old Order Mennonites are the main group who have resisted this integration and have held to their traditions in work, family life, religion and education.

A.M. Africa, formerly Rockway Fish and Chips

For those who are unable to travel around the world, immigration has given an opportunity to experience other cultures in our own back yard so to speak. I can visit Chinatown and Greek Town in Toronto and can participate a number of cultural events throughout the year such as Chinese New Year festivities this past weekend. We particularly enjoy the variety of ethnic restaurants in our area.

When my husband was growing up it was a Friday family tradition to go grocery shopping in the afternoon and then head to Rockway Fish and Chips for supper. This small diner, open for many years, was locally famous for its large portions of fish and fries and its unchanged 1950's decor. It closed in early 2008 when the owner retired and recently reopened as A.M. Africa with new owners from Eritrea in East Africa. They kept the fish and chip menu and have added a new menu of authentic African dishes.

The Becka and I went there on a very cold evening last week. We were warmed with pots of hot African and Chai tea while we waited for our food to be prepared with fresh ingredients. I have copied the following from the restaurant's web site.

"Africa's dishes are based on vegetables and meats subtly or robustly seasoned with a rich variety of native herbs and peppers to bring out natural flavours. Careful and skillful food preparation and service enhance your dining pleasure. These hearty dishes are distinctive for their use of berbere, a favourite seasoning based on red peppers.

Berbere is combined with either kebbeh (herb butter and onions), or other spices, to give these dishes an unforgettable flavour. Diners eat using fingers and pieces of the traditional bread injera to wrap morsels of food for consumption. The breaking of bread together takes on a strong social significance. It is essential to building and maintaining friendships."

We ordered the vegetarian platter which came with roasted lentils, cooked cabbage, mixed vegetables and salad, all wonderfully seasoned and served in mounds on two large rounds of injera. This crepe-like bread is made with teff, a tiny gluten free grain that is ground and allowed to ferment with yeast, much like our sourdough bread is made. Its spongy texture was perfect for picking up the stewed and roasted vegetables.

This was a large platter, not a dinner plate and we could not finish all the food as it was very filling. We both decided this is a place where a new family tradition could be started, perhaps not every week but maybe once a month. This is not a fast food outlet and time is required to go through the menu, wait for the freshly made food and eat it at a leisurely pace.

Isn't that the way dinner is supposed to be?

Follow this link for more My World posts from around the globe.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Flowers: Tamarack Larch

Tamarack in April

There are a few stands of Tamarack trees in our region. This native tree, also called the American Larch is a deciduous coniferous tree. Its needles turn yellow and drop each autumn and in the spring, fresh new needles and flowers appear. I took the above picture at the end of April about a week before our other deciduous trees came into leaf.

On the same tree, fully opened cones from the previous season remained on the branches, their seeds fallen or about to be dispersed by the wind. The cones are small and average in size between one to two centimetres in length.

Riverside Park, Cambridge Ontario

This has been one of the best winter birding trails I have discovered this year. It has been easy to walk and is within the city limits. A well maintained boardwalk goes through a swampy area and over Riverside Creek which empties into the Speed River. Along the way are signs which list trees, plants, birds, animals and amphibians found in the area. Tamarack Green Alder trees are plentiful in this swampy ground and are easily identified by the hundreds of tiny cones on the bare branches. (I am correcting this in May 2009 as the leaves are coming out proving that the trees on the boardwalk are not Tamaracks)

Common Redpolls extracting seeds from Alders

A huge flock of mixed winter finches arrived while I watched. Common Redpolls, Goldfinches, House Finches, and White-winged Crossbills descended noisily on the cones and worked to extract the tiny seeds. The sky was heavy and grey and not great for pictures, but the view with binoculars was very interesting.

Here are some Alder "cones" and seeds beside a Canadian quarter for scale. (The Canadian quarter is the same size as the American quarter!) The cones seem to be very plentiful this year, but I have never been here until recently to make a true comparative observation.

The Alder trees are not large in height or diameter and grow alongside birch, dogwood, highbush cranberry, grasses and rushes. I am really looking forward to exploring this area in the spring.

American Robin, January 22, 2009

I came here looking for a few more birds to add to my January list. I had in mind a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, a Horned Lark and perhaps a Pine Grosbeak or owl, all of which have eluded me this month. Instead I found two White-throated Sparrows, a Winter Wren and a group of American Robins. I have never seen these birds in the winter before.

My January list stands at 55 birds and my goal is still 60. We will see what this last week of the month will bring my way.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Colour My Skies Beautiful

I was enjoying a cup of hot tea on a cold but sunny afternoon last week. The sun shone through the window behind me and was refracted through a light fixture before it landed on my mug. My own personal rainbow had arrived. I took the above picture as the colours were so warm and beautiful on a white January day.

I have never met anyone who is not delighted to see a rainbow. We had a wet summer with frequent afternoon rain storms. It seemed that every week we were treated to a full rainbow. I took many pictures but was never able to get them completely in one photo as I do not have a wide angle lens. The rainbow above was over a gravel pit just outside the city, the same place where I now see Snow Buntings flying over frozen fields.

A recent blast of Arctic air has brought very cold temperatures to our region. Ice rainbows or sun dogs are seen frequently in these conditions. I took this picture of a sun dog over the Grand River on my way into work last Friday just after the sun had risen. There was a second sun dog on the other side of the sun, but again I could not get them both in the picture.

This picture over the same river was taken a few minutes before sunrise this week. There is a water treatment plant downstream and the water that is discharged into the river is relatively warm creating the steam seen in the distance. It was about -20C but the colour of the sky was brilliantly reflected in the water making the river look like a golden ribbon.

Sun and glass, sun and rain, sun and ice,
sun approaching the horizon...
all create an explosion of colour and unique beauty.

Follow this link to view more skies from around the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day

Dawn breaks over the Grand River, January 20, 2009

"So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: "Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

Collage of pictures taken with my camera while watching CNN

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Excerpt from President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address January 20, 2009

Early morning walk by the river

I went for a pre-dawn walk along the river this morning in bitterly cold temperatures and watched the sun rise over the winter landscape. As the sun rose in the sky, the clean white snow on the trees and ground was illuminated creating a pristine image of the brand new day.

Thawing out in front of the fireplace at home I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama and was moved to tears by the words spoken, the prayers, the music and the response of the millions of people watching the ceremony. It reminded me of the clean snow and bright sunlight I had seen earlier in the day.

America is presented with a new day, a clean slate, fresh hope and a challenge for the future. The trail I walked will become muddy in the spring as the seasons transition. America will continue to face its problems in the weeks and months ahead. I pray for the green of spring, the fruitfulness of summer and the abundance of autumn for our friends and neighbours in United States.

God Bless America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Snow Angels

We have had a lot of new snow this month. Only one storm brought excellent packing snow which is heavy to shovel but is necessary for building snowmen and snow forts. With very cold temperatures, the snow becomes lighter and blows around easily in the wind. This is the kind of snow that prompts some people to throw themselves backwards on the ground and move their arms and legs to make a snow angel.

I don't know what prompted the first person to make a snow angel but wonder if mammals have some inborn biological urge to roll around in the snow. We were out in Old Order Mennonite country on the weekend looking for the Snowy Owl and came across this farm where several big horses were in a field near the road.

On a side note, I found the house itself very interesting as three very different structures were attached together making a large, likely multi-generational family residence. There was no electricity to the houses or the barn.

All five horses were romping in the fresh snow and one by one they dropped down to roll in the icy flakes. It was very comical to see these big animals on their backs kicking their legs in the air for the apparent fun of it. Soon they were all covered in white except for their eyes as they continued to run around and play.

Our dog acts the same way. He loves fresh snow and rolls in it over and over again. The Becka took this 15 second video clip of Dakota in the snow on the deck. He left his imprint all over the place and whether it looks like a dog angel or not is up to the imagination. All I know for sure is that snow makes this old dog act like a young pup.

Do you know why animals act this way?

Thank you for stopping by to read about some animals in My World. Follow this link for more posts from around the globe.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More Winter Birding

American Tree Sparrow

We are now well into the last half of January. My bird count is at 52 species and I hope to find 60 by the end of the month. Larry set the challenge and Kathie has listed the people who are participating in this recent post. I may not have started if I had known how much snow and cold weather was coming.

Chickadees are always welcome

My visits to Lake Ontario were very helpful in increasing the numbers of birds seen, but I thought I would feature a few birds found closer to home. My husband is trying hard to help me and asked if chickens and turkeys would count as he could take me to the farm where he gets our eggs. No, I am counting wild, not domesticated birds.

European Starlings

Some birds walk the line between wild and domestic in my view. These starlings near Breslau were all over an apple tree that was covered in frozen fruit. And some Chickadees are so accustomed to humans that they will dive-bomb trail walkers hoping for hand outs. I never tire of their antics and cheerful call. With the recent cold weather I have found that even shyer birds like Juncos are coming closer to people for food.

House Sparrows continue to be a nuisance at my feeders, but these handsome American Tree Sparrows are always fun to watch. This one followed me as I dropped seeds behind me in the snow.

Large flocks of Snow Buntings are hard to miss as they fly about from field to field in the country.

Snow Buntings

They are hard to approach and it takes a lot of quiet and patient waiting before they will come near a parked car.

One of my husband's coworkers told us about a Snowy Owl that was hanging around his father's farm just north of the city. A number of our friends have driven out to see it and have posted excellent pictures of the bird. (see here and here)

Snowy Owl on top of the silo

Our Christmas Bird Count included 11 Snowy Owls in this area. On Saturday my husband drove me to the farm and sure enough the young female was sitting on top of the silo and had no intention of coming closer. A snow storm was moving in and it was very cold so we did not stay for long.

Young Female Snowy Owl

Here is a picture of the same heavily barred bird taken by a friend who was lucky to see it near the road. It looks quite black from a distance but was easy to identify with binoculars.

Twenty-three of my January birds visit only in the winter and will return to the far north in the spring to breed. So I am glad for the challenge to look for them in the brief time they are here. Tuesday evening an Owl Prowl is being held at a local conservation area. I may have to go to reach my goal.