Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Tuesday Rambles with David - RIM Park, Waterloo, ON

16 July 2019

     By 08h:00 it was already quite hot, and the forecast was for a scorcher of a day, with thunderstorms in the afternoon. But the morning was great for a walk, and Miriam and I were joined by Franc and Carol, and Jim and Francine.
     A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was standing at the water's edge in the strangest pose, and initially we wondered whether it was injured.

     Soon enough, however, it folded its wings back into their normal position, and looked like any Great Blue Heron you are likely to encounter.

     As if to prove the point that all was well, it began stalking for prey, in that slow, deliberate manner of herons.

     In the parking lot at RIM Park there are two active nests of Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), quite close together actually, atop the tall light standards that illuminate the parking areas at night.

     At least one nest had young and periodically they would stretch above the rim of the nest, but we were never quick enough to get a picture.
     It is interesting to note that these pairs tolerate each other and we have never witnessed any hostility between them. I suppose it speaks to the fact that the biomass of fish in the Grand River is adequate for both pairs to secure food without conflict. 
     Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) is a species that appears to have extended its range in recent years, and we encountered both males and females carrying food, and one fledged juvenile.

     The grassland areas were lush and full of insect prey, and the orioles and other species were taking advantage of a ready source of food. A female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was carrying food to hungry mouths.

     A newly fledged Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) waited patiently for dedicated adults to bring food.

     Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are noted for their fierce defence of territory and no doubt this individual had no intention of letting rivals enter his space.

     The City of Waterloo has located a number of nest boxes throughout the area and House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) appear to have had a banner nesting season, for we witnessed evidence of breeding in three different boxes.

     This recently fledged youngster had found it convenient to occupy the roof of the nest box and wait for devoted parents to bring food.

     In addition to the birds we so eagerly sought, the park was alive with wildflowers of many hues. 
     Tiger Lilies (Lilium lancifolium) nodded in the wind in extravagant splendour.

     This species was introduced from Asia as a garden plant but quickly became established in the wild. In fact several similar species are commonly referred to as Tiger Lily and are ubiquitous through many regions of the province.
     We saw a few Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) but always back-lit, or in deep shade. 

     This frugivorous species, which nests quite late, is now busy with the serious business of nest construction and egg-laying, and the breeding season will command each pair's attention for several weeks yet.
     As we left to return home an Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) was singing lustily from an overhead wire. We are not sure whether it was a fond goodbye or a cry of good riddance!

     It was a very pleasant morning, and weather permitting we will do it again next week.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

     Unless you are a Rip Van Winkle who has slept for a hundred years,  you are certainly aware of the global issue of plastic pollution.

     There is not a corner of the earth, or of the oceans, that is immune from it. From the trendiest beaches, favoured by sun worshippers and hedonists, to the remotest stretches of unoccupied Arctic coastline, plastic is ubiquitous. It is a hazard to human health and an ever-present danger to wildlife.

     How tragic is it to see the stomach of the young albatross below filled with plastic, fed to it by unwitting parents?

     What are we doing to this planet, this blue dot, the only place we have to live? 
     It often seems to me that despite our knowledge, despite the fact that we are confronted with this issue every day, there is little will on the part of the average citizen to tackle it. I still see shoppers, many in fact, at the grocery store putting one tomato in a plastic bag, one avocado in another plastic bag, a couple of onions in another, and so on, and then getting a couple more plastic bags at the checkout to carry it home. It is ridiculous, excessive, unconscionable and unnecessary. 
     Yet we can all do something about it. 
     First it is important to advocate to store owners that they should make it easy for people to bring their own containers. We can refuse to use plastic straws and suggest to restaurant owners that they discontinue their use. It is easy to take one's own thermal mug to your favourite coffee chain and have them fill it rather than taking a plastic lined paper cup, a plastic lid and, often, a paper sleeve to safeguard against holding a hot cup. When I buy olives I put them in my own container. The list goes on. I am sure you can think of countless instances yourself. Simply refuse to patronize an establishment if they resist becoming a little more enlightened.
     For our part, we have eliminated the use of plastic, especially single use plastic, almost completely. And we have now extended this to paper also.
     We never shop without taking our own shopping bags. Never! Doesn't matter what we are buying. And they are all made by Miriam from recycled materials.

          We always have a good supply in the car, and Miriam has even made bags that fold up into a little pouch and we make sure that we have those in the glove compartment too.

     When I visit my favourite bakery I take my own cloth bags - one for a loaf of bread, another for buns/bagels/rolls. No plastic or paper is taken from the store.

     And it catches on. Other people have remarked that they too should start doing that.
     Miriam and I often talk about the issues and devise ways to eliminate waste. She is the one who comes up with the products and makes them. 
     She has for many years made a whole range of items from recycled materials, and now scours thrift stores and charity shops for old lace curtains and the like, from which she makes produce bags.

     They weigh next to nothing and are see-through, so when you get to the store checkout counter the contents are easily visible. I am quite certain that this type of bag weighs no more that the plastic bag others (hopefully fewer and fewer) choose for their fruit and vegetables.
     Instead of using plastic wrap at home Miriam makes beeswax food wraps which can be wiped off after each use and used over and over again. I can barely remember not using these!

     Another product we have substantially eliminated is paper towel. What we use now is often referred to as unpaper towel. It can even be stored on the same holder, vertical or horizontal, as paper towel, and washed and reused over and over again. Not only is it effective, we save money by greatly reducing our purchase of paper towel.

     Little cloth hankies in a pouch replace paper tissues.

     They can also be used as napkins for a summer picnic.
     Larger ones are more suitable for men, perhaps.

     It is very important of course to make sure that the plastic you cannot avoid acquiring  is recycled correctly. In this area we have highly efficient recycling plants, but in many parts of the world there are no such facilities, and even here only about 8% of all the plastic we put out for recycling is ever actually recycled. There is simply not the capacity at present to do more.
    So, you can't change the world overnight but you can make a difference. You can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Just imagine the reduction in plastic waste if everyone could curtail their use of this virtually indestructible substance by 50% by the end of the year. 
     The time for excuses is past. The time for action is now.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Wayne Simkin - Two-time World Champion Wood Carver

     It has once again been my great pleasure to interview a Canadian world champion wood carver. Having now interviewed three carvers, I am struck by the difference in their personalities, but their passion for their chosen art  resonates equally. Make no mistake, these are artists of the finest order, united by a desire for excellence and a love of the subjects they carve.
     I would like you all to meet Wayne Simkin.

     Wayne welcomed me into his home near Waverley, ON, not far from the historic regions of Midland and Penetanguishene, where early French Canadian martyrs met their fate, and evidence of Huron occupancy abounds.
     It is fitting in a way for Wayne to reside in such an area, for he spent part of his earlier life living in the northern settlement of Moosonee, among the James Bay Cree and for several years organized caribou hunts and fishing expeditions for lake trout in northern Québec, ably assisted by the indigenous people of that territory. In fact there were remote regions where Wayne may well have been the first white man to visit.
     Wayne's introduction to carving occurred in the mid nineteen-seventies when he was still a boy of twelve or thirteen. He started to produce working decoys with his father, and quickly displayed a rare talent for creativity and an appreciation of form and function. His moment of epiphany came when he entered some of his work into the annual Sportsmen's Show in Toronto and won thirteen ribbons for twelve birds, a remarkable achievement. This validated his oeuvre and convinced him that he had what it took to pursue carving in a serious way.
     And speaking of ribbons, and plaques, and awards, this is just part of Wayne's "wall of honour."

     How few of us will ever be able to display a ribbon that says World Champion?

        Here is a White-winged Scoter, exquisitely rendered, for which Wayne was awarded Best in Show at the Canadian National Championship in 2015.

     Just ponder for a moment that this gob-smacking work of art started out as a block of wood, a hunk of tupelo from a bottomland swamp in the southern United States. The lifelike qualities are stunning; the nuance, the shading, the angle of the head, the detail on the feathers, the elegance of the painting are all the unmistakable hallmarks of a maestro. 
     Wayne went on to enter this piece in the Master Class at the World Championships where it won second place.
     In 2017 this delicate rendition of a Canada Goose at the nest garnered Best in Show for Wayne in the 2017 Canadian National Championship; ironically exactly twenty-five years after he had first won such an award.

     Wayne told me that he was mentored in his early years by Al Glassford, a renowned figure in the world of Canadian carvers, and was always encouraged to develop his own style and not follow that of others. Al promoted individuality. Wayne feels that this was perhaps the most important piece of advice he received, and he has always striven to interpret a bird in the way that he sees it, and not to emulate the successful renditions of others.  While his style may not be instantly recognizable to the casual observer, Wayne knows that it is identifiable at a glance to other carvers.
     In 2010 Wayne was world champion with a pair of Steller's Eiders and in 2013 with a pair of Canvasbacks. Both works were sold before the end of the show so I have no pictures to show you!
     Wayne does most of his work with power tools but still has a set of knives and chisels which he uses also.

     Some time ago Wayne and his wife attended a presentation on the wildlife of Antarctica and his wife fell in love with penguins. I suspect that when you have a husband who can produce what your heart desires, a one of a kind carving is not too much to ask for. And this is what Wayne is working on now - a Rockhopper Penguin if I am not mistaken.

     When I saw this Cackling Goose on the mantle I fell in love with it, but apparently Wayne's wife did too, and this is another piece that will not be for sale!

     We took the birds outside for a little better light and you can see from my very poor picture why I generally leave the photography to Miriam! I did not do well in the bright sunlight and I should have photographed from other angles too. I apologize to Wayne for not displaying his work in a better way.
     This carving was entered into competition and was featured on the front cover of an important trade magazine, and was the subject of an article inside.

     It is ironic that Wayne had no idea that his work was being covered in this way, and was alerted to it by friends who casually advised him to "check the latest issue." Needless to say, Wayne was very pleased with this honour.
     The pair of Ruddy Ducks featured below were scintillating in their lifelike appearance and I regret that once again my photographs do not do them justice.

     For many years Wayne used acrylic paints but has switched to oil. He feels he obtains a much softer look with oil and the delicacy of the plumage is enhanced.
     Although Wayne devotes most of his time to decorative art these days, his roots in working decoys are still a part of his life and he and his father enjoy time in the outdoors together.

     As many of you will recall a world championship ring is one of the rewards of winning at the highest level.

     You will see at the left where a diamond has been added to mark Wayne's second world championship and I asked whether another diamond would be added if he wins again. With a wry smile and an instant riposte, Wayne said, "It is not "if," it is "when," David." And I am sure that no truer statement could be made.
     Thank you Wayne for permitting me to enjoy your company and learn a little more about the wonderful art you portray so well. I will look forward to seeing you at next year's Canadian championships. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Everyone Say Hello to Lorraine Please

     I wish to introduce to everyone the newest member of our swallow monitoring team, Lorraine Wesolowski.

     Lorraine's retirement as a public health nurse has been a bonus for all  involved with our two colonies of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica). She has proven herself to be a dedicated and hard-working addition to our team, always cheerful, always prompt and never shirking any chore that needs to be done. I am already starting to wonder what we did without her!
     She is a true bird lover, an all-encompassing devotee of nature in fact, and she took these two photographs with her phone in the barn at Blaze Farm yesterday.

     I think she has already earned the right to call these birds "her" swallows!
     Welcome, Lorraine! May we have many years of working together.

Friday, 5 July 2019


     Usually I stay away from (mostly!) politics, but while searching for something else this morning I came across the following from the United States Holocaust Memorial.

Early Warning Signs of Fascism

Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

Disdain for Human Rights

Identification of Enemies as a Unifying Cause

Supremacy of the Military

Rampant Sexism

Controlled Mass Media

Obsession with National Security

Religion and Government Intertwined

Labour Power Suppressed

Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

Obsession with Crime and Punishment

Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

Fraudulent Elections

     It made my blood run cold.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Indigo Bunting (Passerin indigo)

     Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) is a very attractive bird, and I often see a male singing from the top of a snag on my way over to SpruceHaven several times a week. This morning he was not there, his place having been taken by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), no doubt willing to defend a territory and do battle with all comers, including the Indigo Bunting should it return.
     Each year for the past few years a male Indigo Bunting seems to visit our backyard for about two days in the spring, and then it is gone, and we don't see it again - and more's the pity.

     It is an attractive little bird and there is a bit of added significance when we see it, for it brings to mind Miriam's sister, Grace, who has fond memories of this bird from her childhood.

     Grace has not seen one in many years, but remembers well the burst of colour in the trees around their farmhouse and the leisurely well-spaced notes of the male with its flourishing diminuendo.

     How one could remain immune to the charms of an Indigo Bunting is quite beyond me.

     The young male below has pretty much completed the transition from juvenile to adult, with barely a hint of immature plumage remaining.

     Perhaps we can advocate to have the name of the species changed to Grace's Bunting; after all there is already a Grace's Warbler. I think its scientific name should be Passerina gracia. 
     What do you think? The world would get used to it in a hurry!