Sunday, August 30, 2009

Red-headed Woodpeckers

I read this week that Red-headed Woodpeckers had nested a modest distance south of our city and were frequently seen with their young along a country road. I see Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers often, Pileated Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers less frequently but I have never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker in our region. A local bird expert, Neil Taylor told me he used to see them in Homer Watson Park but none had been around for at least five years. They used to be common many years ago and Cornell University lists them as "near threatened" now due to habitat loss.

Adult bird in possible nesting area

I drove to the area where the birds had been reported and fortunately met two birders who had already located them (Thanks!). The weather was cloudy and the birds were never close enough for a good picture although I was happy to have a view through my binoculars. The other birders left and I waited in my vehicle while a rain shower passed over and then watched the birds closely.

Juvenile on possible nesting pole

They preferred a certain pole, and two different dead trees. Red-headed Woodpeckers are supposed to be cavity nesters, but it seemed that they possibly had nested in the top of a hydro pole. I watched an adult bird who seemed to be resting there and then one of the juveniles arrived as well. The juveniles were as large as the adults, but did not have bright plumage yet.

Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker

Between rain showers, there were a few minutes of sunshine and blue skies and I was able to approach the tree where they enjoyed feeding the most. There was lots of calling back and forth between the birds and I got a very good look at the adults. In all, I spent about two hours waiting for them to come close but it was worth the time observing their behaviour and fine appearance. They will be leaving our area soon to spend the winter south of the Great Lakes but you can be sure I will make an effort to look for them again next year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Flowers: Late Summer Garden

Summer did not arrive until August this year and it appears to be merging into autumn already. We did have a few hot days which encouraged some growth, particularly of my tomatoes, and with our frequent rains everything has stayed green and fresh. This summer has not been kind to local farmers who needed hot, drier weather for certain crops to develop. We had several tornadoes in southern Ontario last Thursday and some farming regions were heavily damaged. Apple orchards in the Collingwood area were completely destroyed and it will take years before new trees bear fruit. So I shall not complain about weather related imperfections in my garden.

My second crop of raspberries is developing quickly and should keep me in fruit until the first frost. I have yet to pick my first ripe tomato but will likely get fifteen at once when they finally do redden. Clematis seed heads are so interesting that I do not cut them off. I still have a few unopened buds on the vine of my late blooming variety. The spring arugula went to seed and I saved and dried the pods. Today I planted a fall crop which will give me fresh greens until the ground freezes hard sometime in December

We are finally seeing some insect activity with bumblebees and butterflies making a late appearance. The birds prefer to get water from dishes I set in sheltered areas of the garden instead of coming up to the large bird bath. I was delighted to find three Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed plants which we have allowed to grow near our composter. This is the first time I have found the larvae in the yard and the first I have found this season. They are very small and I hope they will develop soon enough to make the long journey south. They are now living in a protected container on the deck away from predators and with plenty of fresh leaves.

Our yard will never be featured in a magazine or be on the route of a garden tour, but it is a place of beauty, a source of some of our food, and refuge for a diversity of insects, birds and animals. And that makes it quite perfect for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remember Whensday: Sunday Evening Stories

Sunday evening was story time with Dad when we were all quite young. This picture was taken in 1965 when I was ten and my baby brother was five months old. Dad is reading from the book, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes and to this day it is a favourite Bible story book because of my fond memories of these times. The text was very simple but Dad would embellish the stories in a dramatic fashion. We would beg him to "read" one more story and then another. I was so happy to find this slide in my dad's collection of pictures, a photograph my mother must have taken. Mom also read to us at noon hour after we finished lunch. We went through classic books and many favourites from her childhood collection. All five of us are still avid readers.

I read to our girls every night before they went to bed and they have kept several of the books which were their favourites. The Becka could recite every word in Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant's Child even before she understood what the words meant. When our daughters went to bed they were allowed to leave their lights on as long as they wanted if they were reading. We never had a problem with them going to bed and they never had difficulties with reading at school.

Of course they heard the same stories my father read from our copy of the Bible story book I enjoyed as a child. Some things are important to pass down from generation to generation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northern Flickers and More

I have taken many pictures this summer but due to ongoing computer woes, have had difficulty editing them and adding them blog posts. Last week, I finally replaced the laptop with Vista OS, truly the worst OS I have ever worked with, and have a sleek new MacBook. Setting up a new computer is rather like packing and moving, and I have spent time sorting and adding files to the new platform. Blog reading and writing have taken a back seat. As well, I have set up a secure wireless network and replaced our eight year old wireless router. I am no longer supplying the neighbourhood with a free wireless signal. I still have to figure out how to get the little netbook online with Windows XP, and The Becka's iPod Touch, but those are minor details.

Earlier this summer, I pulled into the driveway after work and noticed a different bird amongst the robins who were digging in the lawn for grubs. I went inside to get my camera and the bird remained while I took a number of pictures. It was a Northern Flicker, a bird I have found very difficult to photograph. There were several of them near our camp on Manitoulin Island and we would scare them off the road when we walked by. They were difficult to see before they flew off. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often feed on the ground and like ants and other insects. I was delighted to find one in our yard and it flew into a tree and posed for more shots.

The first bird I saw for my January bird count this year was a Pileated Woodpecker, an unexpected surprise. I see them infrequently but spotted this one on our last morning on Manitoulin Island. As I was taking pictures on the roadside. a car stopped to see what I was looking at. The couple had never seen a Pileated Woodpecker before and were very happy to view this female.

We see Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers frequently in our area, but the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a more elusive bird. I have seen two males this year including this one found at dusk one evening. Like the Red-bellied Woodpecker, this bird is not named for its more prominent features, its yellow belly being almost indistinguishable.

I still want to find the other Ontario woodpeckers, the Three-toed, Black-backed, and Red-head species. The range of the Three-toed and Black-backed is north of us but they are sometimes irruptive in the winter and can be found in the south of the province. Maybe this winter will bring them, not that I am rushing the seasons in my quest to increase my bird list!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Friends and Strangers

There are no such things as strangers,
only friends we haven't met yet.

In a world where people are often suspicious of strangers, it is worthwhile to know that many strangers are wonderful, welcoming people. I have spoken of Cheryl, a birder I met last year on a trail near the river. We have kept in touch and have met, intentionally and unintentionally several times. Cheryl comes from a large family with nine children and she was determined to get me up to visit them some weekend. Her father, who is now a widower with his own health issues, lives in a trailer on the property of one of his daughters and son-in-law.

Beautiful diverse gardens tended by Cheryl's dad and sister

Every weekend he makes a big pot of soup and "everyone" comes for Sunday lunch. The Becka and I drove up at the end of June to the farm which is about an hour away from our home. People were coming and going and the trailer was crowded with family and friends. A place was cleared at the table and we were made welcome among strangers and offered soup and bread. "Opa" was surrounded by his children, grandchildren and whoever else happened to drop in.

A few of the many animals and birds who live here

Cheryl's sister, Harriet, gave us a tour of the beautiful grounds and introduced us to all the pets. What a menagerie! From the llamas, Malcolm and Jacob, to the horses, dogs, peacocks and the pig, Lacy Lou, we met almost as many animals as people. The Becka, who had been a little shy about going in the first place remarked afterward how much she enjoyed the visit. She wished our extended family had a similar tradition of informal weekly gatherings where anyone was welcome.

Lacy Lou

Family members can be as diverse as the animals at Harriet and Vern's farm. Who is the peacock and who is the pig in our family? Yet all the animal here were loved for their unique qualities and had found a welcoming home together.

Cheryl, Harriet and have a wonderful family. Thank you for your kindness and friendship to strangers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember Whensday: Children in the War Years

Mom in the mid-1930's

Sandland brother found some old pictures and books in the bottom of a cedar chest which once belonged to our grandmother. He scanned them and sent them to me this week and I do not recall seeing them before. Digital cameras are so pervasive now that many children have thousands of pictures taken of their growing up years. (I do wonder how they will be preserved half a century or more from now) On the other hand, we have only a handful of photographs to document the childhoods of our parents and grandparents and a very few for all the generations before them. I have the privilege of meeting many older people as part of my job. I am very interested in their stories from the past and they are happy to have a listening ear. One lady, now in her mid-80's, told me about her childhood in Poland.

Mom's Ration Book

"We lived in a village with hills and woods on either side. These woods were good, with many berries which we gathered for food. One day we heard that the Ukrainians were coming and destroying Polish villages. I ran to the woods with my mother, father and other villagers, hiding there for several days. When we came back to the village, everything was burned to the ground, all our livestock was dead and many people had been killed. We were taken to Germany where we lived in a work camp. I made thread in a factory and learned to sew. After work we formed a choir of Polish and Ukrainian people who lived at the camp. We were very good singers. One day I was walking on the road and jeep stopped in front of me. I was very scared when a man got out. Then he told me he had heard there was a good choir in the area and he wanted to hear them sing. I drove with him back to the camp and he spoke to the director who later allowed the choir to go by truck and sing at Christmas Eve Mass. There were Canadian soldiers at the Mass and I talked to one of them after the service. I asked him to write a letter to my aunt in Canada and to tell her where we were. He did that and brought her reply back to me personally. My aunt arranged for us to come to Canada and we came here before the war was over. I worked as a seamstress and had three boys who all went to university and have good jobs. Canada is such a good country..."

I cannot imagine the horror and hardship of her youth, but she speaks of the positive things in her past which led her to a good place to raise a family in peace and prosperity.

Mom's War Stamps

Those who lived in Canada in the 1930s and 40s were also affected greatly by the war in Europe. Many Canadian troops died and citizens were subject to rationing of food and gas. They were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by buying stamps and bonds. My brother found one of Mom's ration books and her war stamps booklet as well. Mom's experiences growing up during WW II undoubtedly contributed to her present resourcefulness and ability to make a little stretch a long way. She was and is a creative cook and seamstress.

Sometimes I wonder if food and gas rationing and government sponsored savings for children are ideas that would benefit society now?

Mom on the right with a friend and her dog

Click here for more Remember Whensday stories.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer

Summer arrived in August and we have finally experienced the heat and humidity which typically characterizes our Great Lakes summers. It is still raining frequently but between thunderstorms, a haze of moisture and pollution hangs over the city. We spend so much time indoors during our short winter days that I resent having to close the house up and stay indoors during hot weather and bad air days in the summer. But sleeping in an air conditioned house is a luxury I dare not complain about.

Dog Days refer to the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In my opinion, they should always be spent along the shores of large bodies of water. But my summer vacation is over so after work I sit on the deck in a shady corner, sip iced tea and watch the birds in the yard. I generally put food out for the birds only when I am outdoors. Unsupervised, the squirrels and grackles take over and gobble up my offerings very quickly. There is plenty of food available naturally for birds and animals right now.

We have a trio of Blue Jays who visit when they see peanuts. The young one is as large as the parents but is exceptionally noisy, even for a Jay, and quite clumsy. It spreads its wings and squawks like it did when still in the nest and then tries unsuccessfully to balance on the peanut feeder. When the Cardinals hear the Blue Jays, they too will come for a treat. At this time last year they were looking after their young who had not yet fledged from the nest in the lilac tree. They appear to be nesting nearby and the male and female come in turn to grab a nut for themselves and return to the care of their babies.

The Downy Woodpecker can be heard drilling the wood siding of nearby homes, but peanuts are also preferable and he will come by when I am out. The birds and animals always arrive in a particular order as if the presence of one signals to another that food is served and the area is safe. Chickadees always arrive first and their chirps bring the chipmunk out to investigate. The Downy Woodpecker is next and then the Cardinals and Blue Jays, who are the most cautious, compete for what is left.

The weather will cool off soon and it will be pleasant to walk on trails again. Fall migration is well underway and will peak in a few weeks. The dog days of summer will yield to crisp autumn weather in the inevitable procession of time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cheeky Chipmunk

This is my deck...

It was early June this year when I finally convinced a chipmunk in our yard to take peanuts from my hand. We have had three chipmunk regulars, each distinguishable by looks and mannerisms. Chippy Half-a-Tail approaches from the front yard, and Timid Chippy peeks out between the slats of the fence and quickly runs back to the neighbour's yard behind us. Timid was caught in our garage overnight and was paralyzed with fear when I found it under an old paint sheet. No damage was done as there was plenty of bird seed there for food.

...and my picnic table...

Cheeky Chippy is sassy, demanding, ever so cute and knows well that I am wrapped around its little "finger". It has a burrow in the raspberry patch which opens again in another neighbour's yard under the fence. When I am outside, it appears with a bouncy step and confidence that it will be fed. If I don't pay attention, it will tickle my toes or appear at the arm of my chair looking for a treat.

My husband was talking to the neighbour across the fence and heard about a chipmunk who was disturbing the potted flowers of the missus, planting peanuts under her geraniums. Oh my! We were enabling the undesired behaviour. The peanut buffet was not replenished as frequently after that and the other two chipmunks disappeared.

...and my servant!

But Cheeky is incorrigible and I am unable to resist its chipmunk charms. My sister-in-law was sitting out on the deck with me earlier this month and thoroughly enjoyed hand feeding peanuts to our little pet. We have to leave the peanuts in the shell as it can fit far too many shelled nuts in its cheeks. It will not leave until it cannot fit another morsel in its mouth.

I know this is a wild animal who can bite and carry disease, but in spite of its rascally ways, Cheeky is gentle, mannerly and always leaves a smile on my face.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Flowers: Bird Seed

Chickadees and Goldfinches love the seeds of Purple Coneflowers
which bloom in abundance in our garden in August.
I don't cut the fading blooms as they are
the ones the birds choose to feed on.
Have a great weekend and
take time to enjoy the beauty around you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Remember Whensday: Ocean Travel

Mom, Nathan and I leaving Canada on the Thorshope

I have started scanning some of my father’s thousands of colour slides which document our family’s history from the early 1950s and onward for about 30 years. Dad has meticulously labelled them with dates and names of people and has organized them in steel boxes under various categories. Many of the pictures are of events I do not remember at all. It seems that my retained memory begins around the age of five years old. Of course, stories have been told over the years and I am aware of them in a second hand way.

My parents travelled to South Africa in 1954 where they worked as lay missionaries. They returned to Canada a few years later with two children. Our family lived in the Pembrook and Lansdowne areas of Ontario and also spent time north of Toronto where both extended families lived. We journeyed again to South Africa in the late 1950’s and then returned to Canada for good in the 1960’s. Travel was always by ocean liner and each trip took about a month. I have crossed the Atlantic three times this way but remember only one journey. My parents packed furniture and other household belongings, including a car, and these came with us in the hold of the ship. The picture on the right is of our car being lowered into the cargo area. These were not luxurious cruise boats. Two trips were made on ships owned by a Scandinavian company, Christensen Canadian African Lines. The boat we took back to Canada the last time was a freighter and we were the only passengers. We were fed well and I do remember falling into a pool on deck, but that is where the perks ended.

Returning to Montreal, Canada a few years later. Mom and I
are wearing matching dresses and she is holding my brother Philip

When we arrived in Montreal my mother’s family was there to meet us. I remember my uncle arriving at the ship in a small boat to see Mom the day before we disembarked. There was a new toddler to introduce and my third brother was on the way.

Space Commanders

As children we travelled and moved many times. My brothers were my playmates and companions. The brother closest in age was Nathan and we were best friends in spite of occasional spats. I was shy and he was gregarious and I depended on him in social situations. The family’s love of travel has passed down through subsequent generations and we are currently scattered over the globe. We travel by air to visit, as days of ocean travel like this are a thing of the past.

Gaelyn introduced the Remember Whensday meme to me through her blog. She is travelling to South Africa in March 2010. It would be fun to go again and see this country which has seen many political and social changes in the past 50 years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where are the Butterflies and Bees?

Northern Pearly Eye

We are continuing to experience unusual summer weather this year. July was cold and wet and while the temperatures have warmed up in the past few days, we have been drenched by frequent heavy rains. Our lawn is thick and green and needs cutting twice a week. The garden is butterfly and bird friendly with plenty of flowers, milkweed, parsley and water.

My August Garden

In normal year we do not need to cut our grass in July and August as the lawns generally burn out and become dormant. My garden is lush and the tomato plants are over a metre and a half tall. But I have very few tomatoes developing even though the plants have plenty of blooms. My grape tomatoes have not yielded a single ripe fruit this month. It seems this weather has discouraged or destroyed many of our pollinators. Butterflies, bees and other flying insects are scarce.

Lots of meadow flowers but few butterflies

We went for a walk in a natural area close to home last week. The meadows and ponds attract many butterflies and dragonflies and I took pictures of a variety of species here last year. In an hour we saw one Monarch butterfly, two Yellow Swallowtails, half a dozen Cabbage Whites and a few grasshoppers and dragonflies. We did not encounter a single mosquito. The Northern Pearly Eye in the first photograph is the only butterfly I have encountered at close range this year.

I did find an active wasp nest high in a tree along a trail. I destroyed one last year which was being built under our picnic table but no wasps have even approached my hummingbird feeder this season. I seen hummingbirds only twice this summer and have heard other people comment that they are not around much.

I have added a link below to an article on the CBC website about the unfortunate state of Monarch Butterflies this year. Hopefully they will make a comeback in the future.

Will it really be a summer without butterflies?

Will it really be a summer without butterflies?

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Judging by Appearance

Passing judgment- Photo courtesy of The Becka

Donna, of KGMom Mumblings wrote an interesting post this week called The Language of Faith. One sentence in particular has been going through my mind, the truth of which is undeniable yet troubling.

"Sunday morning service has been described as the most segregated hour in our nation."

Not being an American, I had not heard or had not taken notice of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote before.

"We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing that Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation."

Racism exists in Canada, but in different ways and on a different scale than in parts of America. Yet segregation according to appearance is present in all cultures. From the youngest age we learn that our looks, skin colour, clothes and hair style can bring instant judgment from others. It starts with our mothers who send us back to our room to put on something that "matches". By middle school, children who look different are often targeted by bullies and are ostracized by their classmates. We label people by appearance all the time according to the norms of our society.

There is a Moslem, a Mennonite, a rich person, a poor person,
a good person, a bad person, a person like me, a person not like me.

Society has always been that way and will continue to be so. There will always be people who will stand out from the crowd to make their own statement, or a statement along with a group they belong to.

It was not hard to tell who was a member of the church I grew up in as all the women looked the same, as did the men to a lesser degree. Those who did not fit in would be welcomed at first but the expectation was that they would conform to the denomination's rules sooner rather than later.

A few years ago, a couple of transvestite men entered the church we now attend. The ushers were trained to greet all visitors with a handshake and welcoming smile, but there was far more congregational conversation about the men than with them. They never came back.

I remember another young man who attended our church for a while. He has epilepsy and on more than one occasion had seizures during the worship service. His social and physical deficiencies were not welcomed by many people in the congregation. I am not being particularly critical of this church as I know he would have difficulty fitting into a spiritual home anywhere.

The Christian Church is segregated on more than racial lines. It is fractured by wealth, dogma, doctrine, physical and mental health and social position. We may not be able to choose who we work with, but we sure want to choose those we worship with. The Church is not called to follow the norms of society but is called to love and minister to the unfortunate and outcasts. We are to love people as they are and it is not our job to make them "look right" in conforming to our personal standard. There are many fine Christians who do live out their faith in this way, but many more who look only for a comfortable pew and a judgmental pulpit.

And I am speaking to myself...

My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith.

If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world's down-and-out as the kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.

James 2:1-5
The Message

1 Corinthians 1:11-13

John 17:20-21

Thursday, August 06, 2009

What's for Dinner? (2009 version)

Juvenile Robin eating Mountain Ash berries

On August 6, 2008 I published a post entitled What's for Dinner? where I bemoaned my struggles in coming up with another good idea for the supper meal. Well nothing has changed in the past year and some days I stare into the freezer or refrigerator trying to come up with a creative way to combine ingredients I have on hand. I would be happy with a plate of vegetables, a salad or a bowl of cereal, but there are some serious meat lovers in the family.

Our Mountain Ash tree is covered in orange berries and American Robins and House Finches are spending a lot of time in the branches eating their fill every day. I know robins eat grubs and worms, but for now I identify with their fruit loving tendencies.

The American Kestrel is my favourite raptor as I love its graceful lines and beautiful colours. I usually see them perched high on overhead wires but came across one tonight who was so intent on eating its meal, that it disregarded my careful approach. It was in a field near our home and the light of the evening sun was perfect for picture taking.

The Becka was not impressed with the meal presentation but the Kestrel was not concerned. Here is another serious meat lover.

There were several American Goldfinches in the same tree protesting the presence of the falcon. Finally they managed to drive it away, pursuing it until it rested far away on a hydro tower.

I wonder if it got back to finish its meal?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


This "summer" is over half gone and the busyness of it has made time pass very quickly.

My childhood summers seemed to last forever...

When our children were school aged, I was able to take a leave of absence from work every summer. We spent many lazy days at the park, biking on city trails and playing in the yard. Time went a little faster.

Now I wonder if a visit from adult children is considered having "company"? They stay in our newly created guest room but this is still their home in many ways. One daughter just bought her first house in July, a big milestone in life. This week she is the nurse at a summer camp and is spending her days caring for children with scrapes, splinters, tummy aches and homesickness.

Her sister returned yesterday to her life in Mexico where she will be preparing to teach English at the university in a few weeks.

Time hurtles by and transitions happen quickly as if the slide show of my life is now being shown at warp speed. My children give me advice, sometimes unsolicited, and make big decisions on their own. The tables are turning.

A few years ago I met a very interesting man who had returned to university after his retirement in 1986. He completed his bachelor and masters degrees while caring for his wife who later died. He also volunteered at our hospital. This fall, at the age of 88, he will be receiving his doctorate in geography and environmental studies. I used to visit his home after his hip surgery and loved to hear him share his research about our local geological history and environment. I think about him often as I explore areas of our region and look at the hills and streams with his eyes. In a recent newspaper article he is quoted as saying,

"Doing nothing is like practicing for death."

His research involved a lot of physical exertion. Pain and fatigue were inevitable but he said,

"You take your time and when you get tired, you sit on a rock and listen to the birds."

Transitions are part of life, but we have a lot of control over how they affect our attitudes and subsequent actions.

Photo: Crows on Manitoulin Island