Thursday, September 30, 2010

Name that Bird!

Female Black Poll Warbler, Young Red-eyed Vireo
Young Wood Peewee, Blue headed Vireo

It is often difficult to identify a bird seen briefly in a leafy bush or treetop. This is especially true in the fall when many adult birds are molting and juveniles are seen in greater numbers. The set of pictures above shows four birds with similar colouring, but when seen up close, their differences are apparent. I am not skilled enough to differentiate many fall birds and I can name these only because I took notes at the banding station.

Male Magnolia Warbler, Gray Cheeked Thrush
Nashville Warbler, Female Magnolia Warbler (I think!!)

Other birds were more distinctive but are not commonly seen due to their secretive nature. Once again, these birds were new to me but they are appearing regularly at Ruthven Park during fall migration. They are also hiding in my region which is just an hour or so to the north.

It was nice to hold an unmistakeably familiar bird in my hand and this Slate-coloured Junco was calm and poised as I took its picture. They are just starting to arrive for their winter stay and will be at our feeders until spring.

I saw a fairly small snapping turtle near the river. Ruthven Park also had a hibernaculum which is a large pit, 3 metres deep, which extends below the frost line. It is filled with discarded construction concrete and is designed to attract snakes during the winter. I actually tiptoed up to the edge of it sincerely hoping there were no snakes lolling around.

Much as I enjoy my job, I would prefer to spend September and October volunteering at this banding station. Fall really is my favourite time of year and spending each morning outdoors would be very appealing, especially when there is so much to see and learn.

New birds seen on September 24 and 27:

Gray-cheeked Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler

A total of 33 different species were banded.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banding at Ruthven Park

Ruthven Park is situated along the Grand River near Cayuga, Ontario. It was a 19th century estate developed in 1840 by David Thompson and tours of the mansion and outbuildings are available. There are marked trails in various habitats including riverside, meadow and woodland areas. The perennial gardens around the house and scattered feeding stations attract birds as well.

Birds are collected in mist nets or in ground cages. I believe there were about ten nets around the park and two sets of cages near the house. The trapped birds are removed, placed in individual cloth bags and are carried to the banding station. Each bird is inspected carefully, banded and the released as quickly as possible. The sex, age, weight, wing length, fat storage and muscle development details are recorded as well as information about the time, date, and location of the banding.

Rick Ludkin is the master bander and his skill in handling birds and quickly assessing them is admirable. He also keeps an excellent blog detailing daily happenings which you can follow here. I met Nancy and Liz who help out on a regular basis at the station. Nancy is able to operate the station on her own and is very knowledgeable as well. I visited for a second time today, recorded data on a spreadsheet and helped take down the nets when it started raining. I was dismally uncoordinated with the nets and was challenged with removing the dried leaves which had blown in. I am definitely not ready to take down captured birds. Both days I was able to handle and release a number of birds which was a real pleasure.

Students are introduced to a Northern Flicker

A busload of elementary school children arrived and there were enough birds caught that each child could hold and release one bird. I do love children of this age group and they were most interested in the variety of birds and the banding process. Rick is a natural educator and was very patient with the groups. The morning went by very quickly. In the end, 84 birds were banded and 21 birds were re-trapped with a total of 105 birds handled. Rick has a list of the species captured today here.

I am organizing the bird pictures I did take and will post more this week. I have some of my better pictures in this album on Flickr.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wind and Wings

+Myrtle Warbler in net

The closest bird banding station is 90 minutes south of us and the nets go up in predawn darkness. In April and May, it means arriving very early but during fall migration, dawn arrives around 7 AM rather than 5:30 AM. If the weather is very rainy or windy, banding is off, so setting a date in advance for a visit can be tricky. I have been checking the long term weather forecasts, which seem to be about 50% accurate three or four days ahead of time, and made a decision to visit the station yesterday.

Part of the "net route"

It was muggy and hot, close to 30C, which is not typical late September weather. The winds were relatively calm early on but a cold front approached by mid-morning bringing strong, gusty winds. The nets had a few interesting birds the first couple of times we checked them, but by the third and fourth round, they contained more leaves than birds. This was good for me because the master bander, Rick Ludkin, had time to explain things and I had more time to look at the birds which were captured, examined and released. On a busy day he told me there is no time for chit-chat.

Rick checks the nets for birds but finds many leaves instead

Highway 54 is a scenic route which follows the Grand River’s banks closely and as I travelled north in the afternoon, I came across a recovery operation at the scene of the crash of a small plane in the river. I felt sick as I watched the rafts in the river and saw the underside of the submerged airplane in the water. The plane had crashed shortly after take off when one of the strong wind gusts caused a down draft. It seemed a sad ending to my perfect morning.

Submerged aircraft

But...listening to the news a few hours later, I learned that the pilot and his passenger were rescued unharmed in the river and the recovery operation I witnessed was to locate pieces of the airplane.

Winds can buffet and hinder, or they can be favourable and push in the right direction. Winds hindered airborne operations today for birds and planes but all was not lost. I will share some pictures from the bird banding station in the next few days.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cultures Apart?

My father and Jeremiah- South Africa 1955

Canada 2010

An unfortunate miscalculation led to the accident which left him paralyzed. Whenever I went into his room his eyes were closed and any questions were answered with a barely intelligible mumble. About my age, he is the father of children who are now finding their place as adults in their new chosen country. He had a good job here and was proud of his home and independence. It was frustrating to watch him try to open plastic clothes pins with his weak, numb fingers, so to divert attention from his task I asked where he came from.

“Sudan”, he replied, “but I went to university in Cairo and lived there for many years."

"I was one of 18 children. My father had three wives...that was the way in our country. My wife’s father had five wives and 25 children. Our family was a village.”

I looked at him and wondered how he and his siblings could afford their university educations. How does a father support such a large family?

I had seen a Bible in his room.

“What is your religion?” I asked.

“I was Catholic, but now I am Born Again,” he said emphatically.

Then the words poured out as he spoke of his family, his country, Africa and his life as an immigrant to Canada. I was surprised by his passion for justice, for integrity in government and his knowledge of world affairs.

The clothes pin exercise was never finished but it was a real person, not a patient who left the therapy area in the wheelchair. Maybe next time we will work on turning the pages of a book or newspaper and see if he can once again find hope, purpose for his future and a place in this global village.

I am the baby with my mother- South Africa 1955

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumn Equinox

The full harvest moon rose as the sun set on the eve of the autumn equinox. We climbed to the top of a nearby hill and five stitched photos taken on a 180 degree arc show the sun to the west and the moon to the east at about 7 PM. And when it was darker, Jupiter shone bright and clear below the moon.

Equal day and night...a pivotal point as we move toward the darkness of winter solstice.


Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Carl Sandburg

Follow this link the the NASA website which gives more information on tonight's super harvest moon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010



Nature has its hoarders and one of them takes daily advantage of my generosity. I nicknamed this particular bold chipmunk “Redpants” as his hindquarters are exceptionally gingery. As long as there is food on our deck, he is there stuffing his cheeks and then running away to store it in his home. I have watched him empty a bird feeder filled with sunflower seeds with singular purpose and surprising speed.

I visited several homes over the years where hoarding was a significant mental health issue. The worst place I visited was piled ceiling-high with boxes, newspapers and magazines and there was only one narrow pathway through the mess in the entire apartment. There was no place to sit, cook or take a bath. The smell was atrocious and the rooms were infested with vermin. The lady had been sent home from hospital after breaking her hip and I was the first Home Care worker to visit her. It was impossible to provide care for her in that environment and I had to report her to the local fire and health department. Unfortunately, I had a new employee with me that day for orientation and she was so distressed by the visit that she quit her new job.

I have seen patients from Europe who were displaced and survived concentration camps during World War 2. Another lady, who lived alone, had two freezers full of food and enough bottled water around for at least half a year. She had never thrown out any clothing for decades and while her place was clean and organized, she was very anxious about her possessions and the possibility of having nothing again.

Local Flea Market

At this point of my life I have accumulated more things than I can keep track of. We have household items from our parents and grandparents which have sentimental value but are seldom used. I doubt I could make a list of half the things in our home and would not miss them if they were gone. Melissa of Empress of Dirt has been doing a series on “simplicity” and describes her successful efforts to organize her life. Her fifth post was very inspiring and has me thinking of ways to make some needed changes.

No, I have not watched Hoarders on A&E and I don't want to look at a mess I didn’t create. If I had time, I could buy a table at a flea market and peddle my discards to other hoarders for a few dollars. But writing this post is strengthening my resolve to put aside sentimentality and "what if I need it" thinking and simplify my life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Visit to a Mosque

For several years at the start of my career I worked under a physiotherapy director who was a Pakistani Moslem. I never paid much attention to his religious observances and he shared little about his faith. We took turns bringing in treats for coworkers’ birthdays and he always checked to make sure they were not made with lard. At another workplace our clinical secretary read the Quran during her lunch hour and coworkers brought her chocolates at the end of Ramadan. I visited the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem and all I remember was the pile of shoes at the entrance and the large rock in the centre of the mosque. My knowledge of Islam is limited at best.

Men's Prayer Area

Our region hosted a Doors Open event this weekend. Buildings of architectural, historic, cultural and social significance opened their doors free of admission to the public. I looked through the extensive list of participants and selected a few I could visit in half a day. One of them was an Islamic school, community centre and mosque a few kilometers from our house.

I parked on the street and walked through the open gate which had a sign which read “No Trespassing.” Members were celebrating Eid with outdoor games and food and I felt very out of place as I walked up to the main door. Other caucasian, non-Moslems were inside waiting for a tour and I joined a group led by a young woman who taught at the school. She was dressed conservatively with a head covering and clothes which covered her wrists and ankles. She grew up in the area attending high school and university locally.

We toured the school and the mosque and she shared openly about her beliefs and her place as a woman in her culture. The people in our group were very interested in what she had to say and asked many questions which were answered articulately. We were all impressed with the presentation and the gracious, friendly reception which included refreshments at the end of the tour. The members of the mosque obviously wanted to reach out to their neighbours and promote an understanding of their faith.

Women's prayer area on upper level

I was born into a Christian family and have embraced the faith I was raised in. I am not interested in becoming a Moslem.

The young woman we met was born into a Moslem family and has embraced the faith she was raised in. She is not interested in becoming a Christian.

I was impressed by the fact that the Moslems at this Sunni Moslem centre did not all look the same. Some women wore jeans and t-shirts and others wore burkas. We asked about this and were told that the core beliefs of Islam are the same for all believers and details such as dress are a matter of personal choice. There are two main groups of Moslems but Islam is not fragmented into multiple denominations in the way Christianity is divided.

Eid Celebration

I tried to imagine a Christian centre in the area where Christians of all types would meet daily or weekly and worship together without arguing about doctrine, worship styles and outward observances.

We were offered an English translation of the Quran and I took one out of respect for their scriptures. How could I ask a Moslem to read my Bible if I would not look at their holy book? And I realized I need to make an effort to become friends with people of this faith.

Religious extremists exist in every belief system and unfortunately they get the most media attention. I am tired of receiving hate-filled email forwards about Moslems, many of them coming from so-called Christians. Earlier in the week I met a Moslem lady who left her abusive husband and was living at a women’s shelter in town. But that same shelter houses abused women from many other backgrounds.

I visited two other Christian churches which participated in Doors Open this weekend. Visitors were not welcomed as warmly and nothing was shared other than a hello and a view of the architecture. It left me with a lot to think about.

...worship Christ as Lord of your life.
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear.
Then if people speak against you,
they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live
because you belong to Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 b, 16

Postscript: My brother and nephew, who live in the Middle East, pointed out in the comments that Islam is fragmented into many sects, just like Christianity. I am referring to Islam in our community when I say that relatively conservative and liberal Muslims meet together at the same mosque. There are other factors, historical, political and economic, which influence the beliefs and actions of Muslims around the world. The people in our area are well educated and comparatively affluent.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Kids are Running me Ragged!

Who's the boss here?

This bedraggled male Northern Cardinal is the same bird who calls at my kitchen window in the morning begging for peanuts. He is molting and has lost his elegant crest for the time being. He and his Missus brought their noisy youngsters to our deck last evening to feast on sunflower seeds. (As usual, they came at dusk when the light was poor for pictures.) The parents worked diligently breaking open seeds and placing the kernels in the young birds' beaks. It seemed to me that the youngsters were larger and more finely feathered than their parents. No wonder the adult cardinals come so readily for an easy meal at our window. It is a brief respite from the busy work of parenthood.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Flowers: For Birds and Butterflies

Three Goldfinches blend in with the flowers

I was admiring the flowers in a local butterfly garden and noticed an adult American Goldfinch feeding Echinacea seeds to four youngsters who noisily demanded her attention. Goldfinches nest late in the summer and I have never seen them with their fledglings before.

It was easier to see the Red Admiral butterfly taking nectar from this bloom and newly released Monarch Butterflies from the adjacent Butterfly Conservatory were resting before starting their long journey south.

I am going to add more bird and butterfly friendly flowers to my garden next year. I already have quite a few of the following plants. Do you have any other suggestions?

Lupine- Milkweed- Lavender
Showy Stonecrop- Zinnia*- Blue Salvia*
Black-eyed Susan- Goldenrod* - Blue Marine Heliotrope*
Columbine* - Joe Pye Weed* - Asters
Bee Balm - Butterfly Bush* - Hollyhocks*

(*need to get)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yarn Bombing

Main Street Bridge, Cambridge ON, September 12, 2010

I never heard of yarn bombing or guerilla knitting until this summer when odd pieces of knitting appeared on lamp posts and fences in our city. There is a blog from western Canada called Yarn Bombing and the authors recently published a book on the topic. It is a world wide phenomena and the blog shows some pretty unusual and sometimes amusing pieces of yarn art.

The textile industry was very important to the City of Cambridge in years gone by. The textile factories are now closed but fibre artist Sue Sturdy came up with the idea of commemorating this history by covering one of the bridges which crosses the Grand River with knitting. Knitters from the region have contributed to the project over the past several months. I don't know who did the final fitting, but the finished project in "grand" in scale. All four arches of the bridge as well as all the posts are completely covered in knitting. The work will be dismantled at the end of the month and the pieces are going to be stitched together to create blankets and scarves for needy people.

If I was inclined to do any knitting, it would not be for a bridge or lamp post. But I saw several proud contributors having their photos taken while standing next to their bridge work. Young girls to great-grandmothers (and maybe some men) took part in this community project.

Ruthie J of Nature Knitter identifies herself as a knitting addict. Her work is not found on a bridge or parking meter, but is available for very reasonable prices on Etsy. I have ordered a few items for gifts and I know she is a very reliable seller. She has shared some patterns with me, but knitting is not a relaxing past time for me at this stage in my life. So I will be content to wear something of Ruthie's and to admire the colourful bridge for a couple of weeks. And who knows where the next yarn bomb will be?

(I posted a few more pictures of the bridge on my other blog.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Small Quotient of Happiness

I helped her get from the wheelchair to the edge of the bed and my assistant lifted her legs as we boosted her frail body into a comfortable position. She asked for a pain pill while I adjusted the oxygen flow on her bedside unit. We had just met with her husband who wanted her moved to a rehab unit where she would have more intensive therapy so she could walk on her own again. She had been quiet during the discussion and now that we were alone I asked her where she would like to be.

“Home,” she said without hesitation.

So I wasn’t the only person who knew she did not have the potential for independence.

“Why didn’t you say that when everyone was here?” I asked.

“I have been happily married for 10 years,” she said.

I looked with surprise at her aged face and asked how long she had been married.

“Fifty-seven years,” she said flatly. “We only celebrated three anniversaries together in our marriage. He was always busy and our lives were very separate. Now he has to care for me all the time and it is very wearing for both of us. He is pushing me to be independent so he can resume his own life. He doesn’t want to spend the money for the extra care I need.”

“Do you have any children?” I asked.

“Two,” she said, “and they are almost perfect.”

I didn’t want to know what she meant by that.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Harvest or Seedtime?

An anticipated cold front moved into our area around 4 AM this morning. I was awakened by the bedroom door banging as cold air rushed through the open windows. After several humid days with temperatures above 30C, a sudden drop to 12C was rather shocking. Canadians are used to weather extremes. If the thermometer rose to 12C in January, some people would go coat-less and a few attention seekers would wear shorts. But this is late summer and many people walked outdoors wearing yesterday's clothes which offered little protection from the cold north-west winds and driving drizzle which hollered "Autumn!"

This morning we went to a downtown farmer's market in the next town before it started to rain in earnest. There was an abundant selection of local food and people shivered in shorts and flip flops as they shopped. Outdoor vendors hugged mugs of hot coffee and tea. It is a nice change to sit in the house wearing a sweater and socks. I have had enough of the heat and look forward to a few weeks without a furnace or air conditioner running. One of my Facebook friends posted this quote by American naturalist Edwin Way Teale.

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together.
For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.

The saying is wise and true. Man will plant seed again in the spring but nature has already completed its work for the next year. So it is with life. Those of us in the late summer and autumn of our days can choose to hoard the harvest of our labours or we can scatter it abroad where it will grow again and produce seed in places we may never imagine. I need to follow the example of nature.

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop.
But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.
You must each decide in your heart how much to give.
And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.
For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.
And God will generously provide all you need.
Then you will always have everything you need
and plenty left over to share with others.
As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat.
In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources
and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10 (NLT)