Monday, 27 December 2021

One of the Greatest Biologists of All Time

     The Valley of the Giants is impoverished today.


Edward O. Wilson 10 June 1929 - 26 December 2021

Friday, 24 December 2021

Book Review - Turtles of the World - Princeton University Press

"“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible god and destroys a visible nature, unaware that this nature he's destroying is this god he's worshipping.”
Hubert Reeves

    The introduction to the book sets the stage with a gloomy backdrop, "More than half the world's turtles require some form of conservation action to protect them - the proportion of turtles in trouble eclipses virtually all other major invertebrate groups except primates. They survived the extinction of dinosaurs, "drifting" continents and numerous ice ages punctuated by rising sea levels. Whether they will survive humans remains to be seen."

 It's a sombre statement, isn't it? Sadly, it applies to many other organisms too. Degraded habitat for turtles is equally catastrophic for the other creatures that share their habitat.
     The anatomy and physiology of turtles renders them especially susceptible to environmental irresponsibility, and over-exploitation by humans is common in many parts of the world.

     This book is, therefore, both a wonderful guide to the turtles of the world, gloriously illustrated, yet at the same time almost certainly a requiem for some species already living on the brink of extinction.

     The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is one of the most colourful of all turtles, yet it is endangered wherever it occurs.  It is relentlessly hunted for its carapace to make trinkets and jewelry.
    What is wrong with us? Are we really willing to drive a creature to extinction for bling? The answer appears to be yes.
     In numerous jurisdictions around the world there are strong laws to protect turtles, but enforcement seldom accompanies legislation, and poaching and black market transactions occur in many areas, frequently with complicit officials who turn a blind eye to the activity and/or profit from it. 
     Many species are removed from the wild for the pet trade, with dire consequences for local populations. Furthermore, when pet owners become tired of them they are often released into local waterways, where native species are out-competed and the possibility of diseases being introduced into aquatic systems is always a threat.
     It is probably safe to conclude that there is not a person on earth who is not aware of the debased state of the oceans due to plastic pollution. Floating plastic bags are but one of the problems we have created, and they are a particular threat to Leatherback Sea Turtles who mistake them for jellyfish, the mainstay of their diet, and ingest them. There have been lots of platitudes about banning single-use plastics, but little action has resulted, and consumers seem unwilling to abandon bad habits.
     I cannot heap too much praise on this book. It brings turtles to us so vividly and in such a compelling manner, but it has been a difficult book to review. One is confronted with the calamitous probability that some of these exquisite creatures are facing imminent extinction, with little will to save them. For several species, the book will soon serve to remind us of what we once had, and squandered, and let slip away into the abyss of extinction. And we did nothing.
     How utterly, utterly sad.

Turtles of the World, A Guide to Every Family
Authors: Jeffrey E. Lovich, Whit Gibbons
Hardcover - US$29.95 - ISBN 9780691223223
240 pages - 250+ colour photographs
6 3/4 x 9 3/8 inches (16.875 x 23.44 cm)
Publication date: 7 December 2021   

Monday, 20 December 2021

A Waterloo Region Nature Winter Outing

     It has been highly therapeutic for Miriam and me, and no doubt for the participants on our outings, to have been able to undertake a whole series of nature walks as an antidote to COVID-19 and all its malevolent variants.

19 December 2021

       On a bright sunny day, a quintessentially beautiful Ontario winter's day in fact, a group of eager naturalists gathered to enjoy a fine day of birding and friendship. When we all met as a group to head to our first destination it was minus seven degrees and minus one by mid-afternoon when we broke up, with bright sun most of the time and no wind to speak of. It really doesn't get much better.

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Lisa Den Besten, Victoria Ho, Lucas Liu, Greg Michalenko, Marcel O'Gorman, Roger Suffling, Selwyn Tomkun, Kathy Waybrant

Guests: Rapunzel Clary-Lemon, Tina Den Besten, Annie Li, Mark Waybrant
Greg, Mark, Kathy, Rog, Victoria, Lisa, Tina, Selwyn, David, Jennifer, Marcel, Rapunzel, Annie, Lucas
     It was a good-sized group and it was very encouraging to see three young people out with us. Up until almost the last moment we had seven others registered for the walk; two cancelled due to Omicron concerns, two fearing poor driving conditions, and three went to help a family member who had slipped on ice and broken an ankle.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Odds and Ends

      Winter has been a strange affair so far, with snow and relatively cold temperatures one day, followed by above freezing conditions day after day thereafter, with precipitation in the form of rain. The regular species  have been active at the feeders, including a very welcome Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). 

     More often than not a male has graced us with his presence, so we were especially happy to see this female.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Book Review - Crabs - Princeton University Press


     I first got interested in crabs, I suppose, when as a very young boy I visited the seashore a couple of times, and was immediately fascinated by probing in tide pools, always being astonished at the myriad life forms I found there. On occasion the most visible, and the most active organisms, were crabs. They walked funny, had pincers and looked prehistoric!

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Waterloo Region Nature Outings, Columbia Lake, Waterloo, ON

     The latest in the series of outings I have been conducting for WRN recently saw us visit Columbia Lake. As always, there was a mid week venture for people who do not have the daily grind of a job to occupy their time, and a weekend jaunt for the benighted souls who do.

 08 December 2021

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Lynn Conway, Pauline Copleston, Lisa Den Besten, Bob Fraser, Beth Hobson, Graham Macdonald, Marg Macdonald, Geoff Moore, Rog Suffling, Judy Watson, Kathy Waybrant

Lynn, Graham, Lisa, Geoff, Marg, Rog, Pauline, Bob, Beth, Judy, Kathy

      It was a crisp minus seven degrees as our hardy group of winter warriors set out to see what birds wished to join us on our snowy promenade.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Bald Eagle (Pygargue à tête blanche)


     The history of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) across North America is an odd mixture of disinterest, abuse and tragedy. Until relatively recently Bald Eagles had a bounty on their heads, and hunters received financial reward for killing them. There is a level of unfathomable irony in the United States that the Bald Eagle was adopted as its national symbol, displayed in every manner imaginable to incite sentiments of strength, power and patriotism, yet its extermination was a sanctioned goal.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

I know you're ready for more of Lily!

11 November 2021
Bechtel Park, Waterloo, ON

     My mom always confers with David and Miriam about where we should go for a walk, and I was glad that they chose Bechtel Park. That's where you can see an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) and that is very special.

     It occurs to me that I may have seen a screech owl more times than anyone my age.

     My Mom always tells me the correct name - no baby talk - and David says that he is going to make sure I learn the scientific name too!

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Introduction to a local artist - Adrienne Zoe

      One of the great pleasures of leading bird walks is that I get to meet new people. It was not so long ago, on an outing to Lake Ontario, that I first had the pleasure of getting to know Adrienne Zoe, an accomplished local photographer.

     Adrienne is passionate about her art, much of it involves nature, although she is always eager to explore other subjects and experiment with new techniques, to enhance her work and her enjoyment of it.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Hillside Park with Waterloo Region Nature

     There are few things I enjoy more in life than leading a bird walk, and when I can do it under the auspices of my favourite naturalists club the pleasure is magnified.
     A group of enthusiastic participants took part in my two latest outings to Hillside Park in Waterloo. In the first contingent the youngest participant was seventeen months old and the oldest a mature eighty-three years. Birding does have its allure!

24 November 2021

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Lynn Conway, Pauline Copleston, Lisa Den Besten, Beth Hobson, Jen Leat, Graham Macdonald, Marg Macdonald, Karl Malhotra, Geoff Moore, Heather Polan (with Lily), Pauline Richards, Rog Suffling, Kathy Waybrant, Andrew Wesolowski. 

Jen, Kathy, Karl, Lisa, Geoff, Beth, Pauline C, Marg, Rog. Graham, Pauline R, Lynn, Andrew, David

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Book Review - Europe's Birds - WILDGuides - Princeton University Press


     One develops an expectation that WILDGuides will produce consistently high quality field guides, and in keeping with that tradition Europe's Birds does not disappoint.

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Highlights From Here and There

      This post represents a few highlights from recent walks, and events at home, with no theme other than nature is on display!
     The Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) which provided such a stunning burst of colour when in bloom, has gone to seed, but is no less spectacular.

     Mother Nature weaves her magic tapestry in many different ways.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Book Review - Loon Lessons - James D. Paruk - University of Minnesota Press

     My normal practice is to review books sent to me by Princeton University Press, but having read this volume I could hardly wait to give you my verdict. I was just so taken with it.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Outing for Waterloo Region Nature to Linear Trail and Riverside Park, Cambridge, ON

The latest in the series of outings conducted for Waterloo Region Nature saw us visit two local birding hotspots in Cambridge, ON

10 November 2021
Linear Trail, Cambridge, ON

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Lynn Conway, Lisa DenBesten, Bob Fraser, Karl Malhotra, Curtiss MacDonald

Lynn, Miriam, Bob, Curtiss, Lisa, Karl

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Once more with Lily

      There are lots of pictures to go through - more than enough for a blog post, but I am a little pressed for time, so here is a guaranteed popular feature - LILY!!

28 October 2021
The Mill Race Trail, St. Jacobs, ON

     I was very happy when David and Miriam made arrangements to meet my mom at the Mill Race Trail. That's one of my favourite spots because we get to feed the chickadees.
     Look there's one over there!

     It is so much fun when the birds come to visit.

     It was not a really cold day, but my mom had me bundled up so that I would be toasty and warm.
     Put your hand close, David, so that I can see the bird when it comes to take some seed.

     I was hungry too, and my mom always brings lots of good snacks.

     Now I will really get a good view when the birds arrive since they have two hands to choose from, and I don't even have to stop eating.

     The chickadees are great, but I really like Mallards too, especially when they go "Quack, quack, quack."

     Look at my mom; she even has a White-breasted Nuthatch feeding from her hand.

     This is all so much fun, and all I have to do is sit in my stroller.

     We walked the whole length of the trail and even stopped in St. Jacobs where the adults had a coffee. 
     Soon it was time to say goodbye, but I know we will do it again next week.

     Growing up is so much fun!

04 November 2021
Hillside Park, Waterloo, ON

     The adults were all saying, "I can't believe it's November already." I am not quite sure what that means, but it seemed to get them excited!
     A beautiful cat came to visit. In fact it walked with us most of the way. It was very friendly and David picked it up so that I could pet it.

     That was so much fun!

     It would be great to have a cat at home, but we already have two dogs, so that's enough! They might not get along anyway.
     Mom brought breakfast for me, of course, and a squirrel was having breakfast too. 

     Squirrels are really cute and I enjoy seeing them, especially when they come close.
     It seemed like we had barely met and yet it was two and a quarter hours later and time to part company for another week.

     Bye Miriam and David. See you again soon.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

There are books, and then there are books..........

      It is probably close to fifty years ago that I first met Murray Speirs. I remember it well. It was a very cold winter's day at Frenchman's Bay in Pickering, ON and it was hard not to notice a dapperly dressed fellow, in winter coat, scarf around his neck, gloves on his hands, and wearing a shirt and tie. On his head he wore a beret.

     I don't remember whether I had been drawn to Frenchman's Bay by the report of some rarity, or whether I was in the area that day; probably the latter.
     It didn't take long to strike up a conversation with one of the most charming and engaging people I have ever met, and it was apparent from the get-go that he was possessed of a formidable storehouse of knowledge.
     Murray Speirs was born in 1909 and lived a long life, dying in 2001. He had a distinguished career in the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto. Many of Canada's pre-eminent ornithologists, and artist-naturalists, blossomed under Murray's tutelage, and without exception all laud their wonderful mentor. 
     Murray's partner in life, both domestically and professionally, was his wife, Doris, a brilliant ornithologist in her own right.
     One of Murray's most significant achievements was the two volume work Birds of Ontario. 

     I owned Volume II, but had never been able to get my hands on Volume I. And I wanted it! These two books are such an integral part of the ornithological record of Ontario.
     Miriam has always been a very keen supporter of my passion (some might use a stronger term!) for books, and whenever she is out searching for fabric in thrift stores and the like, always visits the book section, and calls me if she sees anything interesting, and to check that I don't already have it. Over the years she has been responsible for finding some real treasures.
     Two days ago, while shopping with friends in the MCC Store in New Hamburg, she called me to say that she found Volume I in near pristine condition, for the princely sum of $4.00. I will leave it to you to imagine my elation!

     I am at a loss for words to adequately describe my pleasure at completing the set. 
     It is made extra special by recalling the various chats I had with Murray over the years - and he always wore his beret, I might add.
     He was one of those people you don't forget. As I read the accounts in the books I am thrilled to know that Murray knew these birds so well and wrote about them so eloquently. 
     I only wish I had known him better.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Two Outings to RIM Park for Waterloo Regional Nature

      COVID, while still a spectre hanging over our heads, seems to influence our daily activities less than it has done since the very beginning of the pandemic and I was happy to be able to offer a couple of outings to RIM Park, Waterloo, for keen members and friends.

27 October 2021
RIM Park, Waterloo, ON

Leader: David Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Lynn Conway, Lisa DenBesten, Anna Harper, Karl Malhotra, Mary Ann Vanden Elzen, Curtiss MacDonald, Zach Summerhayes.

Guest: Lucille Bordman

Zach, Lynn, Mary Ann, Karl, Curtiss, David. Lisa, Anna, Lucille

     It was a very pleasant late October day, and while the birds were a little sparse, it was quite wonderful to be outside together, enjoying each other's company, with nary a mask in sight!

     Miriam was unable to take many pictures, so I will draw from my archives for some of them, making sure as far as possible that they are from RIM Park at the same time of year.
     There were large numbers of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) gorging on buckthorn berries; some migratory, but many no doubt part of the contingent that elects to stay here all winter, in ever greater numbers it seems.

     Flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were also travelling through the area, but like the robins, more of them are toughing out the winters and eschewing migration.

     It was a distinct pleasure to see a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) fly over, and only a couple of weeks earlier we had photographed this species at RIM Park.

     Fungi, for the most part, have passed their prime, often being little more than squishy masses by now, but a couple of interesting types were still pristine.

     This stash of cones was a bit of a puzzle.

     It is obviously not random and we wondered who might be responsible for it. Perhaps it is the work of American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus); from The Mammals of Canada, A.W.F. Banfield (1987) - "The squirrel may cut anywhere from ten to a hundred cones, before it descends to carry the cones to its cache."
     As might be expected, a few Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) joined us from time to time.

     All of the Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) we saw, to the best of my recollection, were females.

     There were remarkably few sparrows. We had a fleeting glimpse at a Song Sparrow (Melopsiza melodia) and a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) zoomed into the undergrowth, flashing their white outer tail feathers.

     In times past, Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) has not been shy in the undergrowth seen below, but today there was nary a one.

     Thanks to everyone who joined me on this walk. I thought that Curtiss put it well, "Every bird is a bonus, but simply to be out enjoying the fresh air with like-minded people is satisfaction enough."

31 October 2021
RIM Park, Waterloo, ON and Bechtel Park, Waterloo, ON

Leader: David Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Lyndsey Butcher, Victoria Ho, Jenny Lorette, Tara Natter, Tracey Rainer, Selwyn Tomkun

Guests: André Bastel, Elaine Gallant

Jenny, Tracey, Victoria, Selwyn, Elaine, David, Lindsey, Tara, André

     It is always a delight to welcome guests on our walks, but there is added satisfaction when it is someone from out-of-province. Elaine Gallant from New Brunswick is visiting her daughter, Lindsey; she is a keen and proficient birder and made a great addition to our group.
     Victoria always cuts a striking figure, but when she brings out her Halloween spider for its annual encounter with the world, the result is stunning.

     Autumn leaves were the order of the day.

     If anything, birds were even harder to find than on the 27th, but we did have a few pockets of activity.
     This Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinensis) kept returning to the same area, obviously finding food there, and flying off to add to its winter cache.

     Several Blue Jays, alert to the same source of food, alternated with each other and with the woodpecker in adding to their stash.

     Tracey was especially thrilled when a Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) deigned to boldly flash its colours.

     Some kinglets migrate but, incredibly, many of these tiny birds, barely bigger than a hummingbird, will spend the winter here.
     Does a tree in fall not look splendid?

Bechtel Park, Waterloo, ON

     Tracey mentioned that she had searched long and hard in Bechtel Park to find an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) but without sucess.
     Since we were not far away, Miriam and I offered to accompany them over there to show them where we had located "our" owl.
     Selwyn and Victoria indicated that they wished to come too; then Lindsey said to her mom, "Do you want to go?", so other than Tara and André, we all went to Bechtel woods.

Success was our reward!

     This diminutive little owl was at the lip of its hole for all to see.
     Elaine was especially ecstatic, and Tracey and Jenny no less, since it was a lifer for all of them. I am not quite sure whether it was a first for Selwyn and Victoria, but they were thrilled in any event.
     A couple of Hairy Woodpeckers (Leuconotopicus villosus) plied their trade, but it's hard to compete with an owl, and I think they were paid scant attention!

     Another great outing with wonderful people came to a close.
     In a couple of weeks time we'll do it all again.     

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.