Thursday, 28 November 2013

Asphalt Beaches

Asphalt Beaches
Gulls and Parking Lots

    At this time of year, natural beaches frequented by gulls, become covered in deep snow, and are less accessible to various species of gull accustomed to loafing there. Parking lots in shopping plazas seem to have become substitutes for natural areas, and it is rare to visit the parking area of a large shopping plaza and not find gulls. No doubt the unrelieved flatness of the area is attractive and the fact that the asphalt retains heat probably also contributes to its appeal.

    This lone American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus was the sole representative of its species, among the more numerous Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis.


    Many friendly humans stop by to deliver food and no doubt this contributes to the desirability of parking lots also.

Naylon Parkette

Naylon Parkette
Vaughan, ON

    Today I discovered this charming little piece of woodland in an area developed principally for housing. It was a perfect winter's day, minus eight degrees C with little wind and fresh snow. I think I could have walked forever.
    Numerous common birds were present, and I had a fleeting glimpse of what I think was a Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor, a rarity for the area. I will have to try to get back there as soon as I can to try again to see if I can locate this bird.
    Unfortunately, I was unable to get photographs of the species I did see, mostly because they were deep in the trees, and the camera always wanted to focus on intervening branches. The following pictures do show, nevertheless, the delightful nature of this minute segment of nature allowed to remain in the midst of suburban sprawl.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Why I Got Rid Of My Lawn

God on Lawns
Imagine the conversation The Creator might have had with St. Francis on the subject of lawns:
God: Hey St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Midwest? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect "no maintenance" garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.
St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
God: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colourful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
St. Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. The begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it... sometimes twice a week.
God: They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay?
St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
St. Francis: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
St. Francis: Yes, Sir.
God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
St. Francis: You are not going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.
St. Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
God: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?
St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. The haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
God: And where do they get this mulch?
St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
God: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. Sister Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
Sister Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a real stupid movie about.....
God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis
Near Elmira, ON
24 November 2013

    This morning, while driving through Waterloo County near Elmira, on a cold sunny day, Miriam and I spotted these two Red-tailed Hawks perched together in a tree. It is quite unusual to see them in such close proximity at this time of the year. Once breeding has been completed and the young have fledged, the two members of a pair usually go their separate ways, and the larger females can often be quite aggressive towards the smaller males if they get too close before having established a pair bond.
    These two manifest the variability in plumage of this chromatically dimorphic species. One flew away quickly (as they usually do, being very familiar with persecution by humans), but the second bird remarkably stayed at its perch for quite some time, enabling us to take a few pictures, albeit somewhat distant.

Corn Stubble

Corn Stubble
Waterloo County, ON
24 November 2013

    Corn (Maize) is a popular crop for farmers in this part of Ontario, both for cattle feed and for human consumption. After the harvest has been completed fields of stubble are often left until the following spring before being ploughed under. The result is a bounty of feeding opportunities for many species of birds, both large and small.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Gulls Perching on Roofs

Gulls Perching on Roofs of Houses
Cunningham Pond
Maple, ON
21 November 2013

    This relatively small wetland and pond harbours gulls at all seasons of the year, but as low temperatures in late fall and winter become the norm, there is generally a substantial build up of gulls, and when ice forms they loaf on the surface by the hundred. From time to time rarities show up in the winter and this pond is always worthy of checking.
    The pond is in the middle of a residential area and is surrounded by houses and schools. Shopping plazas are not far away, with all the attendant possibilities for food handouts from humans, and waste from restaurants. As can be seen from the pictures below the gulls use the roofs of the houses as convenient perches and I am sure the mess they create must cause great annoyance to the homeowners.

American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus

Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis

    There are several Tamarack Larix laricina trees (sometimes referred to as American Larch) along the shore and the following images show the profusion of cones this year, providing a welcome source of winter nourishment for many birds.

    Here are several views of the pond and some of the bird life present today.

Canada Geese Branta canadensis

Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis

         This Red Osier Dogwood Cornus stolonifera was located in a marshy area.  It is a very attractive shrub and its fiery red colour stands out against the general drabness of other vegetation at this time of the year.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

American Black Duck

American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Long Branch Park
Toronto, ON
20 November 2013

    American Black Ducks are so prone to interbreeding with Mallards Anas platyrynchos that it always a pleasure to see pure individuals of this species. Today at Long Branch Park six were present.

    A little farther out in Lake Ontario many Buffleheads Bucephola albeola were riding the waves.

Diving Ducks on Lake Ontario

Diving Ducks
Colonel Samuel Smith Park, Toronto, ON
20 November 2013

    Each winter many thousands of diving ducks of numerous species take up residence on Lake Ontario. This has always been the case, but since the presence of Zebra Mussels Dreissena polymorpha was first detected, numbers have increased exponentially, due to this plentiful, readily-available food source.
    The following pictures depict a large raft of ducks just offshore at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in the west end of Toronto.
    While the ducks are a little too distant to identify many of them, Redhead Aytha americana and Great Scaup Aytha marila can be clearly noted. The pictures are designed to present the spectacle of large rafts of ducks on Lake Ontario. Numbers will progressively increase as late fall gives way to winter.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Opportunistic Feeders

Opportunistic Feeders
Laurel Creek Conservation Area
Waterloo, ON
19 November 2013

    Every year, in late fall, the Grand River Conservation Area lowers the level of the water at the Laurel Creek Reservoir. Quite why this is done I am not sure, but no doubt there is some sound reason.
   As the depth of water gets lower, more and more aquatic species are left stranded on the mud, especially crayfish and small fish of various species. This provides birds, especially American Crows Corvus brachrynchos and Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis with a bounty of easily available food, and they waste no time descending on the area to gorge at will. At times I have seen them so sated they simply play with the food rather than eating it.
    Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus are spotted from time to time at this location and I have little doubt that they take advantage of this bonanza also. I just never have happened upon them during this period.
    As for mammals, I take it as a given that Racoons Procyon lotor will be found there as soon as they emerge from their day time roost. This species is a common omnivorous feeder during the crepuscular period and right through the night. 

More Winter Food for Birds

More Winter Food for Birds

    The cone crop on all the evergreen trees seems to be prolific this year, providing a readily-available, high energy source of food for many species.
Nuthatches and chickadees will use this cone crop to great advantage as will other northern finches that may irrupt into our area.
   These cones are from a species of spruce, although I am not sure exactly which one.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.