Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Quilt for Lily

        For anyone who knows Miriam, either personally, or via this blog, it will come as no surprise that as soon as we learned that Heather was pregnant, she resolved to make a quilt for the new baby - and we knew it would be a girl.

     A couple of years ago, before she was even married, Heather had brought over an afghan she had been crocheting to ask a little advice of Miriam, and it involved creating a border for a piece made of hexagons, a shape Heather liked. Miriam remembered this and incorporated that shape into the quilt she made for Lily.

     No doubt a charge of bias could be levelled against me, but I think Miriam did a remarkable job, and created a work of great beauty, with precision and attention to detail that is second to none.
     Heather was thrilled. But best of all Lily liked it too!

     We hope that she will enjoy it as much as she appears to be doing here for many years to come.
     The term "Labour of Love" may be a little overworked; this quilt truly was!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lillian (Lily) Joann English

     Regular readers of Travels With Birds have come to know Heather Polan well, first through bird banding at SpruceHaven, and subsequently via the feature on my blog covering her wedding.
     Of all the people in my life, few are more precious to me than Heather, although it is quite possible that she might be about to be eclipsed by Lily! I suspect that even Heather would not mind that!
     Heather and Shane recently became proud and happy parents of a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

     It is infuriating that Covid-19 precautions prevent us from going to see Lily, but the experience will perhaps be all the sweeter when it happens.

     The important thing is that she is doing well and could not have finer parents to guide her journey into the world.

     I am confident that she will receive nothing but the most intense parental love and stimulation, with a whole circle of family and friends to encourage her at every step of her voyage through life.

     Miriam and I are delighted that all has turned out so well for this remarkable young couple. They are bright, intelligent, caring and compassionate. Lily could have no better parents to chart her future.

     I know that each one of you reading this will join Miriam and me in wishing Shane and Heather our most heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for the future. 
     And to Lily, "Welcome to the world. You are precious, special, and we love you."

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Mainly about Young Birds........

     Time spent in the backyard recently has been characterized by visits from a range of birds with their young in tow, begging and pestering as young birds are wont to do.
     I am not surprised they visit us. Food is provided, there is water, lots of shade and cover, and predators are scarce.
     Chief among them have been Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) whose young can set up a racket to induce parental feeding that has to be heard to be believed! And they have soliciting down to a fine art.

     This parent looks like it has just about had enough!

     But who can resist the kind of importuning seen below?

     This young grackle, feeling the heat no doubt, decided a cool bath in the fountain was just the ticket on a hot, humid day.

          As you may see, a full range of services are provided at the spa on Osprey Drive!
     An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) was less accommodating to her two fledged young.

     She fed them a little now and then, but mostly she ignored them and left them to forage for themselves.

     The young birds looked very healthy and seem well prepared to survive all the foibles that life in the wild throws at them.
     A family of four Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) joined the feeding scrum, but the reticent young birds stayed hidden in the foliage relying on a devoted parent to ferry food back to them.

           In addition to the birds, I would like to introduce you to DB (named by Miriam), meaning David's Buddy. This is a friendly Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), who would come to feed next to me if I laid down a little sunflower seed mixed with cracked corn adjacent to my chair. 

     It didn't take long before it would feed right out of my hand and we have become firm friends!

     You will not be surprised that the Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) have maintained their association with us, but it was to Miriam's consternation that an adult with three well-developed youngsters showed up one morning. 

     Recently they do not appear to have attacked her plants greatly, so she is inclined a little more favourably towards them.
     In reality, it is hard not to expect them to become marauders in a garden. We have taken away their natural habitat, and paved over a good deal of it - and continue to do so. In the process we have removed their food and planted a smorgasbord of epicurean delight for them. Who can be surprised that they enjoy a little hosta salad, with a side-order of coneflower?
     American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a regular visitor and is a pugnacious little rodent.

     If you get too close to them, they shake their tail furiously and give you verbal hell - for the sheer pleasure of doing so it seems!
     If I forget to bring in my bird feeders at night, I am likely to find them on the ground in the morning.

     I am not sure whether the culprits are Raccoons (Procyon lotor) or Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginia) - but the end result is the same!
     American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are late breeders, but several of them are a constant feature in our yard.

     House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are equally reliable.

     I have several times posted pictures on my blog of the Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nest near the Conestogo River in St. Jacobs. 
     A couple of days ago I was out that way on a blistering hot day, and the female was sheltering her chicks from the heat. I often feel there is much to admire in the parental care manifested by birds, and much to emulate in fact.

     An Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) seemed to feast at will on passing insects, sallying forth every couple of minutes to capture a delectable snack.

     We have watched the young Bald Eagles (Haliaaetus leucocephalus) in Cambridge almost from the moment of hatching and they are now big and strong and seem just about ready to launch themselves from the nest.

     I had been reading that several artifacts indicating indigenous settlement had been found in the area, and it appeared that an archaeological dig was underway.

     This region was ancestrally settled by the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples.
      Sadly, and in many respects incredulously, I end this post on a distressing note. 
      Take a look at the natural beauty of the area.

     And take a look at how we treat it.

     I wish I could say that it was rarely that we find trash like this. But, it is all too often.
     Fisherfolk seem to be especially culpable, since often part of the garbage comprises styrofoam bait containers, discarded monofilament line (a death trap for birds and other wildlife) - and what would a pile of junk be without beer cans? I am sure there are responsible fishers but they seem to be in short supply around here. And the general populace seems to show no less disdain for the environment.

     It absolutely sickens me, and it seems incomprehensible that in 2020 we have still not come to grips with the problem of junk despoiling every ecosystem on earth, from your neighbourhood streets to the deepest ocean trenches. 
     If we cannot solve something as simple as this,  so dependent on personal ethics, and so easy to tackle, I have no idea how we can ever come to grips with major issues like climate change.
     We are confronted with our own destruction yet refuse to mend our ways.
     We are a sad, sad species.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Book Review - Europe's Dragonflies - A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies - Princeton University Press

       The Wild Guides series has produced an array of high quality field guides over many years, and this guide to the dragonflies of Europe is no exception. Like all modern guides, it benefits greatly from the advent of digital photography and the consequent availability of many outstanding pictures.
     One would be hard pressed to find two more qualified authors for a work on odenates. Dave Smallshire is a renowned British dragonfly expert, and Andy Swash is a prolific writer who is well qualified to expound on many taxa. The work they have produced sets a high standard for this type of guide, all done without excessive use of technical terms.
     Its primary objective is to act as a field guide for the dragonfly enthusiast to take into the field, and it acts as an indispensable tool for that purpose. It is filled with information about odenates, however, and for anyone wishing to expand beyond mere identification, a wealth of knowledge is provided.
     There are only 140 regularly-occurring species in the order Odenata in Europe, 47 of which are damselflies (Zygoptera) and 93 are dragonflies (Anisoptera). Thus, it is very possible for a disciplined observer, with a travel budget on hand, to observe and correctly identify all of them.
     Detailed distribution maps are a key feature of this guide, and reflect up-to-the-minute knowledge of the locations where different species may be found. 
     Many photographs are used for each species; males and females are covered, and key features are highlighted with arrows and a descriptive note. 
     An excellent glossary is provided.
     As everyone who keenly pursues dragonflies knows, some of the characters need to clinch identification, are only accessible by capturing the insect. Differences in claspers, secondary genitalia, female genital plates and other esoteric details differentiate one species from a virtually identical other. These characters are extremely difficult to detect by pure observation of the organism in the field, although specialized binoculars designed for butterfly and dragonfly viewing have made the task easier in recent years.
     Few observers are willing to capture their quarry (in fact I know of none) since it often involves the demise of the individual, and field observation skills are constantly being honed.
     Notes are provided on conservation and legislation and a wonderful checklist is included at the end of the book.
     The degree of scholarship and the first class presentation of both facts and images combine to make this work a highly desirable addition to the library of every odenate enthusiast.

Europe's Dragonflies: A field guide to the damselflies and dragonflies
Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash
US$29.95 - £25.00 - 9780691168951 - over 1,200 colour photographs - 360 pages - 5.87 in. x 8.25 in.
Publication date: 14 July 2020

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Backyard, Countryside and City

     The Backyard

     Our backyard is always a tiny oasis of calm, comfort and delight for us, and I suspect that its role in that regard has been even greater than usual during the pandemic.

     It was here that Miriam "broke" the isolation curse by inviting three good friends over for lunch last week.
     A Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) was there to welcome everyone.

     Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are a part of urban life in Canada and for people who feed birds they can be a cause of substantial irritation, and a challenge too. They are in fact charming little creatures and as long as they stay off my bird feeders we get along well together.

     The black morph of this animal is only found in the northern part of its range, principally in Canada, leading to speculation that the black colour gene carries some unknown adaptation. 

     It is equally welcome, however, free of discrimination, and with no knee on the throat, figurative or otherwise.
     An Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) could easily be the poster child for the oft used expression "cute as a bunny." 

     Miriam might be reluctant to agree with that assessment, however! It is the bane of her garden and seems to chew off whatever plant looks best. It is not only a catholic diner, it seems to enjoy sampling flowers not to its taste, nibbling them down to the ground and leaving them uneaten.

     It does well to hide from her wrath!

     This squirrel was seen chewing on the stump of a branch that was broken off, for what purpose we are not quite sure. Perhaps sweet sap oozes into the wound on the tree; whatever the inducement it attracted the attention of the squirrel for several minutes.

     Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilocus colubris) has been a visitor to the garden this year, but nowhere near as frequently as in previous years. Miriam was lucky to photograph this female perched on a branch.

     One of our most predictable visitors, flashy, gaudy in the best possible way, bold and determined, and a sonorous musician is Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). One was singing this morning to enliven first light, a maestro of sostenuto.

     And this is the object of his ardour.

The City

     Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) have become permanent residents in the City of Kitchener, and this year again four young have been fledged from their urban nest.
     When I visited them recently the male had just delivered food and you can see the female tearing it apart in the picture below, with one of the fledged young perched out on a spar of the tower where the nest is located.

The Countryside
     England has long been identified as a "green and pleasant land" and I tried to find a source for the expression, without success. It seems to have been used as far back as antiquity, and justifiably so.
    I would contend, however, that the Great Lakes country of southern Ontario could lay equal claim to such an appellation. The area close to our home is evidence of this.


     Surely you must agree! 
     A female Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) ambled along the side of a country road, seemingly without a care in the world.

     Perhaps she too contemplated her green and pleasant home, where cows rested contentedly.

     I have introduced you before to the Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) that nests alongside the Conestogo River on the way to Hawkesville, and I have no doubt that I will be featuring more pictures of this accessible nest. Here the female is feeding on a fish delivered earlier by the male.

     Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) is a familiar grassland species from spring through fall and an ardent male may often be seen singing from atop a fence post.

     And, just another example of our green and pleasant land!

     At SpruceHaven our success continues apace, and of the six next boxes that I check weekly on behalf of WRN Teens, five are occupied, and having cleaned out the sixth a couple of days ago, who knows what surprises might be in store next week?
     Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) young are growing strong, due to the diligence of devoted parents who spend most of their waking hours feeding them.

         A pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) has claimed possession of another box and if you look carefully you can see the female staring out at me from inside the nest box.

     A quick check inside revealed six eggs.

     On the way home I saw three different male Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) all in full voice.

     The first cut of hay is exceptionally early in recent years and this portends the end of any possibility of a successful breeding season for ground-nesting species.

     I do not have statistics on the impact on species such as Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius), Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), and others, but it must be substantial.
     Classic products of our area are Maple Syrup and Apple Butter, and signs are frequently posted at the end of the driveway to a farm - in this case rendered as one word in each instance!

     I can attest that both products are delicious!
     Quite frequently one sees signs extolling the virtues of Canadian milk, which is purer and contains less chemical additives than imported milk.

     And I can't resist one more shot of the Osprey on the nest.

Back at home

     We started off in the backyard so let's finish off there. 
     This young American Robin (Turdus migratorius), recently out of the nest and quite capable of taking care of itself, nevertheless continued to beg from its parents. 

     A free meal is always a good thing I suppose.
     And finally, this morning we found eggs of Giant Swallowtail on our Common Rue (Ruta graveolens). We located two eggs but I suspect there are more.


     We will keep an eye out for the first caterpillars and perhaps bring them inside to raise them indoors free from the threat of predation.
     We will see!

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.