Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Flowers: Rhubarb and more

One flowering rhubarb patch after thinning
The weather and events of this month have kept me out of the garden. I took time yesterday between rain showers to walk around our property and see what needs to be done this weekend. My husband dug up the raspberry patch and I have a place to plant vegetables, but other than that clear space, the wet weather has encouraged jungle-like growth of the perennial beds. The rhubarb leaves are so large and sturdy that they could be used for Adam and Eve's wardrobe. The ferns are as thick as any I see in the wet understories of the woods, squeezing the hostas out in this back corner.

Our flowering bushes and plants are not doing well because of the lack of sunshine. Lilac blooms are turning brown before opening and the tulips were crushed by heavy rain. Lily of the Valley have spread wildly with many more leaves than flowers. But the Bleeding Heart is blooming and Forget-me-nots have spread in every open space with their tiny blue faces creating a carpet of colour.

Yesterday our recreation therapist and a group of volunteers helped our patients make rhubarb squares. Several patients had fond memories of rhubarb plants and rhubarb desserts and the activity stimulated interesting conversations. The squares turned out well and were enjoyed in the afternoon by everyone. I made stewed rhubarb and rhubarb coffee cake this week, but still had plenty of cut up stalks in the fridge. So I made the rhubarb squares and posted the recipe in my recipe blog Come Home for Supper. They have only five ingredients and are much like my rhubarb custard pie, only faster and easier to make.

Other than chives and tarragon, there is not much else edible in the garden. I hope to get some vegetables out soon but wonder if they will grow productively. We do have regular rabbit visitors who are particulary fond of new pea and bean shoots and lettuce. The short term weather forecast looks grey and dull but ...

...maybe June will bring the sunshine we have been craving. I hope the weather forecasters are on track this time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Goodbye Dakota...You were the best dog ever!

If you have a dog, you will most likely outlive it; 
to get a dog is to open yourself to profound joy and, 
prospectively, to equally profound sadness.
Marjorie Garber

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Close to Home

Mute Swan nest at Rattray Marsh, Mississauga ON
May is quickly coming to an end and the majority of migrating birds have now moved north of us. Time flies when you are busy. We enjoyed a visit from my brother Philip who came to SIAL, a large international food show in Toronto, to promote his business in Mexico. The Becka and I did our best to assist him in promoting his products and set up a new blog for him called The World of Guava. I also spent two enjoyable days volunteering at the bird banding station at Ruthven Park and was outdoors dodging the rain while looking for birds most other days. After all, May only comes once a year. And now it is time to spend a little more time close to home to catch up on spring time chores like cleaning and gardening.

Purple Martin, Ruthven Park, Cayuga ON
 The birds which have stayed in the area are also close to home making nests, incubating eggs or caring for their young. Here are a few pictures of nesting birds taken in the past 2 weeks.

American Robin, Rattray Marsh

A Kildeer tries to lead me away from its nest

Black-capped Chickadee nest near our home. The hatchlings have already fledged.

Baltimore Oriole building a hanging nest at Ruthven Park

Sandhill Cranes barely visible on their nest at a marsh south of Cambridge ON

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rainy Days and Wednesday Warblers

Nine of the worst bird pictures you will see this spring! Can you ID them?

I am sitting here watching the rain hit the window for the 5th day in a row in an already sopping spring season. Mid-May is the peak of spring migration in southern Ontario and the best time to look for warblers. I tried a little birding in the pouring rain on Saturday while my husband sat in his vehicle. There were lots of birds around but with water on my glasses and binocular lenses I soon quit my search.
Rattray Marsh, Mississauga ON
 On Monday I took my brother to the airport in Toronto (in the pouring rain) and then drove to Rattray Marsh which is along the shore of Lake Ontario in Mississauga. Experienced bird watchers reported seeing 23 species of warblers there the previous day. I cannot even identify half that number with any confidence. I got out of my car and walked a few metres into the trail and was surrounded by warblers of all kinds at eye level. Apparently the wind, rain and fog has forced them down from the treetops in search of food.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
The dull drizzly day was brightened by many colourful, singing warblers, many of them life birds for me. My camera was ready but there was not enough light to get pictures of rapidly moving targets. I finally gave up and just enjoyed the walk with my binoculars.

American Redstart- one of the more photogenic warblers
Closer to home, the local park where I am doing a seasonal bird count is also alive with eye level warblers. I counted seven species yesterday on a stop after work. Rick, the head bander at Ruthven Park wrote in his blog yesterday that the persistent rain and cool temperatures are hurting early nesting birds like Tree Swallows and Bluebirds. There are not enough insects around because of the weather, especially for swallows. And it is forcing other migrating birds to ground level for food.

The long weekend is coming up and I do hope for better weather, not just for me, but for farmers and vacationers. Local sports parks are closed because fields are too wet for baseball and soccer. Everyone would like some sun, especially the birds. I will even wish for a big hatch of flying insects (preferably not mosquitoes) for them.

1. Magnolia Warbler 2. Bay-breasted Warbler 3. Chestnut-sided Warbler 4. Black and White Warbler 5. Yellow Warbler 6. Magnolia Warbler 7. Cedar Waxwings 8. Northern Parula 9. Male and female Blackburnian Warblers (only I know where they are!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come
It rained solid on the weekend and the forecast is for showers all week. This little Common Yellowthroat cheered me as it sang its spring song in the soggy swamp. Life is very busy right now but in a good way. Have a great day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Grandma, Happy Mothers’ Day and a Northern Parula

Grandma Devins was born on this day 115 years ago. It sounds unlikely (to me) that I could have spent 35 years of my life with someone who was born in 1896. I wrote a post on May 10, 2007 about Grandma’s 48th birthday birding party in 1944. She and her friends counted birds at the family farm near Aurora Ontario and her list was quite impressive. I have seen most of the birds she recorded that day, but the Northern Parula has eluded me as not many sightings are reported around here. I was at Ruthven Park this past weekend and Peter Thoem, who doing the census on the grounds that day, took a picture of a Northern Parula near the banks of the Grand River. He gave me directions and I headed off along a creek in search of Grandma’s bird. And I was not disappointed, although my photographs were the worst bird pictures of the year. I watched the bird flit and sing in the canopy for a good ten minutes. (Thanks Peter for allowing me to post your photo)
Happy Northern Parula Birthday Grandma!
My blurry but very meaningful picture of the singing N. Parula
My eldest brother has some of Grandma’s books and this week he sent me a copy of a letter found in one of them. Grandma treated a sick baby and 52 years later the mother sent this thank you note.

May 1986

Dear Dr. Devins,

Just a short note with your card. I often think of you from a long time back and as 
I saw your birthday was coming up and I do want to say “Happy Birthday” to you...
It is fifty two years ago this summer you were so good to us when our baby was so sick. 
I still remember how patient you were with me and he was so sick 
but you knew exactly what to do for him. 
He still has red hair...and has four children. One boy is married with two little girls...
We wish you all the best of health and happiness and thanks again for your kindness in 1934.

Sincerely W. and W. G.

Happy Birthday Grandma! After 115 years you really do live on. We can live on through the deeds we do and the people we love and care for in our life time.

Mothers’ Day is always May 10th in Mexico so I will wish my mom Happy Mothers’ Day again. She continues to invest in the lives of others around her and is enjoying improving health and strength. It was a year ago she had two surgeries for cancer and a course of chemotherapy afterward.

Spring Beauties
This is my most wonderful time of the year. The leaves are opening here and apple trees are beginning to bloom. The world is young and beautiful again and I am out and about as much as possible enjoying the season.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Leaving with a Song

Singing Myrtle Warbler
My husband called me at work yesterday to tell me a friend had reported a fall out of migrating warblers at a park near our home. He encouraged me to go there before coming home saying he would look after getting his own dinner. And as it was a lovely sunny afternoon, I did just that. A variety of warblers darted from the bare tree branches feeding on insects for their long, uncertain journey. The sound of bird song filled the air.

A lady I know finally found out why she has become more muddled in her thinking and coordination. She is recovering from a fracture received because of a previously unexplained fall. A large, rapidly growing tumour has invaded her brain and she will soon be transferred to another hospital for a surgical assessment. She knows that there may be no treatment available for her type of tumour. 

Last week she asked if I could get her a keyboard so she could enjoy some music during these long days. Yesterday she played for me, sitting in her wheelchair while struggling to read the notes in front of her. But she managed to finger out a few tunes with a good sense of rhythm. For some reason, she always missed the last line of notes on the page, perhaps not seeing them due to her condition. 

"It will soon be Christmas", she told me before she played "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful". And she smiled, thanking me for being her audience. 

I am busy and my piano is often neglected for days on end. My friend reminded me to make music every day, to journey in life with a song and a smile.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Twitter and Twitter

The weather has not been the greatest for spending time outdoors after work. Constant spring rains have left the ground saturated, trails muddy and slippery and the atmosphere damp and chilly. The price of gas has also dampened my motivation to travel to my favourite trails in the region. (This week it is $1.39 a litre and a fill up for my Honda CRV is well over $60.00)

There is a lovely pond at a water pumping station near our home. When our daughters were young, we used to bike there in the evenings to see “the ducks and geese”. In those days I did not look for the many other birds which pass through or nest there seasonally. Yesterday I spent time looking for new arrivals around the pond and adjacent bush. The frogs were in chorus and many bird tweets were recognizable. I sat on a bench with my binoculars enjoying the peaceful evening and counted 21 species in a few minutes. And here are my evening twitterers...

Eastern Phoebe
FOY sightings: Eastern Kingbird, Myrtle Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Grey Catbird, Pied-billed Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper

Other sightings: Eastern Phoebe, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, American Robin, Bluejay, Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Canada Geese, Mallard Duck, Red-winged Blackbird, Ring-billed Gull, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, House Finch

Yesterday was also election day in Canada. We voted earlier and the polls did not close until 9:30 PM. This is the first federal election where social networking has been widely used by candidates, news outlets and voters. Elections Canada banned posting or tweeting election results in the east before all the polls closed in the west. But Twitter is ungovernable and thousands of tweets spread news of local results. One user in Australia offered to post information on Twitter sent to him by email from Canada. The hashtag #tweettheresults was used heavily.

I have never had a Twitter account and the thought of posting my every move and thought (or reading the same from other people) was obnoxiously narcissistic in my opinion. But this year it was apparent that social network use was an invaluable tool in organizing the uprising in Egypt. The attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound was reported on Twitter by a user who did not even realize what was going on near his home. Twitter finally tweaked my interest enough that I set up an account in order to monitor the election results.

And I was intrigued by the real time commentary of ordinary people across our nation. The election results varied greatly from what the pre-election polls predicted and I wondered how much influence the tweets had in the end. It was a good night to start using Twitter in order to gain an understanding this network although I did rely heavily on my teacher, the Becka.

I am not looking for followers but I am following a few sites of interest. Already I see that twitterers have the attention span of fruit flies as trending topics around the world today are far removed from the discussions of yesterday. But they are a force for change in our ever-changing world.