Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Swallows (Hirondelles)

     The colours of fall are starting to manifest themselves more each passing day, and glorious though they are, they presage the winter ahead.




     Our swallows have all departed now, winging their way south to insect-laden areas of Central and South America, where they will remain until their migratory urges impel them to head north again next spring.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopterix serripennis

American Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Purple Martin Progne subis

Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor

     The following poem, which I remember from the distant days of my childhood studying English literature, evokes the spirit of migration, but we remain secure in the knowledge that the swallows will return just as surely as spring will awaken from winter's icy grip. May we live to see them again.

The Last Swallow

The robin whistles again. Day's arches narrow.
Tender and quiet skies lighten the withering flowers.
The dark of winter must come.....But that tiny arrow,
Circuiting high in the blue - the year's last swallow
Knows where the coast of far mysterious sun-wild Africa lours.
                                                                          WALTER DE LA MER

Monday, 21 September 2015

Western Osprey (Balbuzard pêcheur)

     There is a robust population of breeding Western Ospreys Pandion haliaetus in this area, many of whom have now left for their southern wintering haunts. Some juveniles, still dependent on their parents to provide food, still remain however, with at least one dutiful parent staying to make sure its offspring is provisioned.
     I have been watching this young bird for several days and when I see it in the early morning it calls incessantly, begging for food.



     The adult (I believe it is a male) perches on a distant snag, usually with a fish in its talons, quite visible I am sure to the agitated and hungry youngster.
    This morning there was a strange twist to the usual sequence of events. A Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura glided in and seemed to buzz the osprey. The deliberate intent of the vulture became clear as it repeated the action, and the osprey became extremely agitated and screamed and flapped vigorously, food forgotten for the moment it seemed. The Turkey Vulture kept up its harassment until the osprey had had enough and launched itself into the air and attacked the vulture. No longer able to crest on thermals the vulture had to resort to flapping flight and was clearly no match for the aerial agility of the osprey. It was soon seen off.



     It was a great show to watch, but I was left puzzled by it, since neither bird represented any threat to the other.
    Perhaps the adult was pleased with its offspring for minutes later it delivered a fish.



     Soon the parent will leave and head south, leaving the young bird to start to catch its own food and migrate alone. The most difficult part of its young life is about to begin.
     In the river a Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus was drying its wings; as the weather gets colder this species too will leave our area.



     There is always a nice variety of species in the various wetlands around here and this scene looks especially tranquil with a number of species taking advantage of the rich source of food the wetland provides.



     On 19 August I took this picture of Common Cattail Typha latifola.



     Now, the flower head is popping open and fluffy seeds are dispersed by the wind, or carried by water, to new locations.



     Numerous Viceroys Limenitis archippus were flitting about in the meadow, mainly patronizing Goldenrod as this picture shows.



     Viceroys mimic the similarly marked Monarch Danaus plexippus as an anti-predator strategy. Monarchs are toxic to birds and are therefore left alone. Viceroys benefit from looking enough like a Monarch that birds pass them by too.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Northern Flicker (Pic flamboyant)

     Each time I go out now I see more and more evidence that Northern Flickers Colaptes auratus are preparing for migration. They are starting to be seen in small groups of five or six birds, often feeding together on the ground, but sometimes high in the trees too.



     Preening, always an obligatory chore, perhaps assumes even greater importance than usual, since feathers need to be in prime condition for the rigours of the migratory journey ahead.





     Northern Flicker is the second largest North American picid.



     This species is divided into two distinct morphs, the yellow-shafted variant found in the east and the red-shafted form in the western part of the continent.
Not surprisingly, flickers are being caught in bird banders' nets, and these adult males clearly shows their yellow-shafted characters.






     This pair of Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura was seen in the same tree as a couple of flickers.



     Here are a few of the other species recently banded in Cambridge, ON.


Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Grey Catbird looking at its image on Erin's tee shirt

Juvenile Blue Jay

Juvenile Blue Jay
     Interestingly, this Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa was patrolling the nets, no doubt looking for prey.



     And this Annual Cicada (aka Dog Days Ciciada) Tibicen canicularis seemed quite content to rest on Ross' finger.
     



     It's always a great time to be a naturalist but spring and fall are perhaps the best times of all.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Pickled Beets and Apple Sauce

     At this time of year our thoughts turn to canning and preserving. I went to the local farmers'market the other day and picked up beets and apples to begin to make our winter store of pickled beets and apple sauce. 


     As it happens we had apples left over from the first batch of apple sauce, and since I had the oven on for something else, Miriam decided to make some of her mouth-wateringly delicious apple strudel muffins. You see the result below and I am sure that you are salivating just looking at the pictures.



     There are many reasons why being married to Miriam is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Her muffins rank highly in this assessment!
     We both love pickled beets, and so do the kids, since a jar or two can go out the door with them when they visit, and we prefer the little beets which we pickle whole. They are really succulent and never tough or fibrous which can sometimes be the case with full size beets.



     Once they have had a couple of weeks to age satisfactorily they are delicious beyond reason and a sandwich without a couple on the side of the plate just wouldn't be right.
     The local farmers'market is a joy to visit any time but in the fall when all the fruits and vegetables are being harvested it holds a special appeal not found at other times of the year. Even if I don't need to buy anything I enjoy a couple of hours at the market just to revel in the colours. There is a huge variety of fresh produce, all mouth-wateringly good and freshly picked.
     The following pictures speak for themselves and need no further comment from me. Rest assured, however, that we will be taking full advantage of this bounty, and there are many more jars to be filled before we are through. Pickles and baby corn may be the next candidates, in addition to a couple more batches of beets. It involves a little work, obviously, but Miriam and I do it together, chatting away all the time as we work in the kitchen, and before you know it another batch is ready for storage. I am sure that one day we will be unable to do this but we intend to carry on with this tradition for as long as our bodies permit. The results are more than worth the effort we put in to it.