Saturday, 24 June 2017

One of our Favourite Summertime Dinners

     Like many people I suspect there are certain meals that we associate with summer, especially when we have those languid evenings on the patio, soaking in warm breezes, entertained by hummingbirds and swallowtails.
     One of these is a chicken pasta salad, which we enjoyed this evening, I highly recommend it; accompanied by a glass of your favourite white it is heavenly!

     Here is the recipe:

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (450g/1 lb.)
3 T. vegetable oil
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. water
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp each pepper and granulated sugar
4 cups fusilli pasta
1 each red (or yellow) and green pepper, chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup red or sweet onion
1/3 cup fresh basil
Grated Romano Pecorino cheese to taste

Place chicken in shallow dish. In small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, water, mustard, onions, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar; remove 2 T. and brush over chicken. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place chicken on greased grill over medium-high heat; close lid and cook, turning once, for 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside. Slice diagonally into thin strips.

In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but firm. Drain and cool under cold water; drain well. In bowl, combine pasta, chicken, red and green peppers, tomatoes, onion and basil. Toss with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Makes 4-6  servings
Bon appétit! 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Columbia Lake, Waterloo, ON

20 June 2017

     In terms of birding, the dog days of summer are upon us. Most species are breeding, and are silent. Birds are consumed with the struggle to raise a family and tend to keep themselves hidden from view.
     On a dull day, (at least when we set out), five of us (Franc, Carol, Jim, Miriam and I) decided to explore the often productive water and woodland of Columbia Lake, on the Environmental Reserve of the University of Waterloo. This is a splendid location not far from home, where we can spend a pleasant three or four hours and still be home for lunch.
     We parked near the sports fields and looked down upon the southern part of the lake.

     We meandered down to the shore and it was not long before we spotted a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia zipping over the water, head down, scanning for fish. Several times it plunged and emerged with a captured fish, quickly swallowed in flight.

     Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis was frequently seen, especially hawking for insects over the water, but these two seemed to be having a particularly enjoyable day.

     Leaving the shore of the lake we wandered inland a little.

     Miriam had us pose for a group shot.

     Even though I have seen him do it many times, I am still impressed by the way that Franc can swing that heavy camera and lens up in an instant, quickly focus on his target, and get great pictures. A male Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula, was seen but briefly and a female not much longer, but Franc managed these two impressive shots.

     I don't know whether it has anything to do with his grip on his camera, but Franc has a bone-crushing handshake. How sweet it would be if only he could grasp the hand of Donald Trump and crush his tiny fingers! Franc would put even Emmanuel Macron to shame!
     How many Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum have I seen? Certainly well into the thousands but it never, ever gets to be old hat. I think it must be like hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - every time there is something else to be learned, a nuance previously unnoticed. So it is with Cedar Waxwing; its perfection strikes you as never before and the beauty is undiminished.

     A male House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus is pretty pleasing to the eye too, and its burbling, cheerful song is a joy to hear.

     Every little patch of habitat, every tree, every riffle in a stream harbours its own secrets.

     A Song Sparrow Melopsiza melodia is content to sit quietly and watch the world go by for a while.

     Of course, birds are not the only taxon to be studied and this fearsome-looking insect was both impressive and interesting. Even Franc's handshake would be a poor defence against that stinger!

     Several species of butterfly were observed but few alighted. A Monarch Danaus plexippus with ragged wings was more cooperative than most.

     Grey Catbird Dumetella carolinensis is a common species, often alerting us to its presence by its jumbled song with its characteristic cat's miaow at the end of it.

     My sister-in-law, Grace, remembers Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea with great fondness from her childhood, where it could be seen and heard in the tree around the home farm. She would have been thrilled to have been with us to see at least three males in all their nuptial glory.

     It seems to me that getting a good shot of a bird that appears all black (although they never are) is especially difficult and I think that all will agree that Franc has done a superlative job with this American Crow Corvus brachyrynchos. 

     We had debated whether we should walk all the way to the end of the main trail, because the woodland there is sometimes particularly bothersome with mosquitoes, but we decided to do so and were rewarded with a pair of Downy Woodepeckers Dryobates pubescens feeding an offspring.

     Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus was common throughout.

     Dragonflies and damselflies are quite abundant by this time of the year; Ebony Jewelwing Calopteryx maculata, probably capturing first place, both female.........

     ........and male.

     A Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus was not doing too much warbling!

     Several families of Mallard Anas platyrynchos were observed in various stages of development; these youngsters are now almost as big as their mother.

     A Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus passed overhead and none of us could really figure out what it was carrying. From certain angles it appeared to be a rodent, but knowing that this species feeds almost exclusively on fish, that didn't seem to ring true. As the picture clearly shows it is nothing but an addition of material to its nest.

     We came across at least one, but more likely two Spotted Sandpipers Actitis macularius with young. Since Spotted Sandpiper is a polyandrous species, the adult birds we saw would have been males, tasked with the duty of taking care of the young in the first stages of their life.

     In the same area a Northern Leopard Frog Lithobates pipiens did its best to remain camouflaged - not entirely successfully we concluded.

     By the time we left Columbia Lake the sun had broken through and it was warm and pleasant. You truly do not have to stray far from home in this area to immerse yourself in nature. Thanks for dropping by and stay tuned to see what discoveries we make next week.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Wye Marsh, Midland, ON

13 June 2017

     Carol and Judy could not join us for this outing but Franc, Jim, Francine, Mary, Miriam and I left home at 06:00 for the roughly two-and-a-half hour drive to Midland. This was a first visit to Wye Marsh for all of us and we were eagerly looking forward to it. The Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator we love to visit at LaSalle Park and Marina in the winter have their principal breeding area at Wye Marsh and we were anxious to connect with them at this stage of their life cycle.
     The marsh itself is a large area with many interesting trails to explore. Here are a few random shots of the areas that we traversed.

     I had intended to inquire at the Visitor Centre whether the canoes could be rented, but I forgot to do so. I suspect they can be. We will check next time we visit and hire a couple for a few hours. 

     This would be an ideal way to glide through the channels to get to places that cannot be reached on foot.

       It was not long before we spotted our first Trumpeter Swan, although as it turned out we did not see many. The birds are doubtless spread out over a wide area and probably have their nests in secluded areas. We are all wondering whether we will see J23 in Burlington this winter.

     Some swans were spotted in flight and it is a rare treat  to see them cruising over the marsh to splash down and disappear from view.

     It was raining on and off for the early part of our visit, hence visibility was not great, and the light conditions for photographs less than desirable. A Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon teased us a little but finally perched for a picture.

     A few Mallards Anas platyrynchos were hanging around with the lone Trumpeter Swan; all males. It is very likely that females are tending young but we never came across them.

     The range of herpetofauna we encountered was pretty impressive, with American Bullfrogs Lithobates catesbeianus being especially common. Frequently we had several in view at a time and the mats of floating vegetation and the broad leaves of Yellow Pond Lilies Nuphar variegatum provided excellent resting places. This adult male shows the characteristic bright yellow throat.

     It was great to see many groups of children on field trips and to observe their spontaneous enthusiasm as they dipped their nets into the water and retrieved treasures for all to study.

     I am sure that they too were fascinated by the sound and sight of so many Bullfrogs.

     I think it was Francine who first spotted a family group of Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe and this youngster was learning to flycatch independently, although food delivered by a parent was eagerly accepted.

     Franc wandered off by himself for a while, responding only to the dictates of his quest for birds, and was able to capture delightful images of a female Wood Duck Aix sponsa with a couple of ducklings.

     Towards the end of the day we detoured by the area where he had seen them and everyone was able to get a good look.
     We came across the shells of these Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina eggs and there was a discussion among us as to whether the eggs had hatched or whether a predator such as a Raccoon Procyon lotor had unearthed them and consumed the highly nutritious contents. Given the fact that eggs are laid May to July and hatching occurs fifty to one hundred days later, it seems very unlikely that this clutch could have been successful.

     Snapping Turtles were frequently observed either seeking sites to lay their eggs or were in the process of so doing.

     Miriam got down close to the ground and was able to get some interesting pictures.

     We also discovered Midland Painted Turtles Chrysemys picta marginata but always in the water. None were encountered laying eggs.

     Wherever we found turtles we found even more bullfrogs.

     But who can resist a few more pictures? Not me...........

     And obviously not Miriam.

     This insect looks like it is placing itself in serious jeopardy.

     We saw and heard numerous Common Yellowthroats Geothlypis trichas, a true denizen of the marshes.

     Several Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum kept us company. This is a species that never becomes ordinary - a truly beautiful creature.

     As might be expected in a wetland with so many food resources Great Blue Herons Ardea herodias were anxious to exploit the bounty.

    As we meandered along odenates were also observed including a Black Saddelbags Tramea lacerata......

       ........and Eastern Forktail Ischnura verticalis.

     Several species of fern were to be seen, including dense stands of Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris.

     A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius was initially seen and then just as quickly disappeared. After a little searching, and a patient wait, it popped its head out of its nesting cavity in a tree.

     Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens was quite common, including this female.

     The habitat was nigh on perfect for Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus, with abundant prey, and as might be expected they were observed throughout.

     Several hirundines glided and swooped and we watched their incredible mastery of flight with a sense of awe. These birds are notoriously difficult to photograph as they are gone before the camera even has time to focus. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica was the only species captured through the lens.

     Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia were considerably easier.

     We were quite delighted to discover a couple of Swamp Sparrows Melospiza georgiana, one quite open and Franc succeeded in getting this picture.

     Miriam heard the distinctive song of Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum and it too posed nicely.

     By mid afternoon we decided to head for the exit and begin our journey home, wandering through very pleasant habitat.

     It had been a great day with diversity enough to keep any naturalist happy. We know that we have barely scratched the surface of what Wye Marsh has to offer and we look forward to a return visit next year.