Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Ibis and the Sparrow

Just a short post for tonight. I have just been swamped with work but figured I would put one last posting in for October (or Hawktober?).
Vesper Sparrow

This past Sunday, I was at HBMO (Holiday Beach) and noted to Jeremy Bensette that the bird (the Ibis) had been seen earlier in the morning. Jeremy noted that he missed his target sparrow earlier that morning at Hillman Marsh, but did observe lots of Vesper Sparrows (among others). We both realized where we had to be at opposite locations - him at HBMO and I at Hillman. This Vesper Sparrow was not easy to find. I basically found it by walking along the edge of the shorebird cell which basically looks like a dry field right now. On occasion one or two sparrows would get flushed and on one or two occasions, I was lucky enough to get looks at their distinguishing features: Huge white eye rings, buffy cheek patches, rufous shoulder patches and white outer tail feathers (seen in flight).

Look at those huge eye rings.

Glossy Ibis vs White Faced Ibis

I was once again reminded about how cautious birders are in identifying rarities again last week (a good thing!). I had seen both White faced and Glossy Ibis in the past, but needed to be reminded about their differentiating features. My first look at the bittern this past Friday had an obvious blue-ish face (tapering behind the eyes) which was good enough for me but in hindsight, I should have noted eye colour, leg colour as well.

 White-faced Ibis - Shows a white feather border completely surrounding the face during breeding season, has a red face and eyes, reddish legs or red around leg joints.

Glossy Ibis - Shows an incomplete white (blueish) border around the face during breeding season that is broken at the back, has dark eyes and face, and black legs.


These reflections on observation will/are hopefully making me a better birder.

Good birding!

Lifer Summary:
Vesper Sparrow - 338

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Taking Solace in Nature During Difficult Times

Eastern Bluebird - Female
Its been a rough couple of weeks for me. My mom, who I am very close to, recently passed away after a four year battle with cancer. This is the first time I have lost someone very close to me. That is why I have not been posting too much this month. Beyond the funeral and grieving process, I have had night school and work obligations piling up. But no matter how busy, how stressed I get, I still make time to get out and witness the beauty of nature.

Ojibway Park - Titcombe Pathway along the Provincial Tall grass Prairie Reserve
During the earlier part of October, while visiting my mom, I would hear Carolina Wrens calling in my mom and dads back yard. I went for a quick walk into their 5-acre field to see some pretty amazing birds. All the typical migrants were present: Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, a Yellow bellied Sapsucker. I walked back into the scrubby area behind a regenerating forest to find a small coniferous plantation growing, with nice Juniper trees, crab-apple and dogwood berry thickets. White-throated Sparrows, Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Blue Jays and Accipiters abound. Its nice to see that my mom and dads field is attracting migrants with its beautifully developing habitat. I'm convinced there are resident Carolina Wrens now, and I also noted Indigo Buntings were breeding there as well during the summer.

Yesterday, after work I was reading Todd Pepper's Ontbird posting that an Ibis Species was at Holiday Beach. I figured I would continue my autumn tradition of going to HBMO after work on Friday and that turned out to be a great decision. The Glossy Ibis was resting and preening 50m west of the hawk tower, giving nice looks through Todd Pepper's scope. The blueish skin around its face hints that its a Glossy Ibis, as opposed to the pinkish skin seen on a White-faced Ibis. Low flying kettles of TV's flew overhead with a few Buteo species mixed in. At one point, Todd called out an eagle which came over the treeline to the east and was flying right by the tower, a little higher than eye level, perhaps 15-20ft away. It slowly dawned on me as I was looking at it through my binoculars that this was not a juvenile Bald Eagle, it was a majestic Juvenile Golden Eagle, complete with white windows under its wings, copper coloured head feathers, and a white band across its upper tail feathers.

A few Rusty Blackbirds flew by the tower as we relished in the great birding we had been experiencing. Jeremy Bensette arrived later and pointed out a Wilson's Snipe hiding along the southern edge of Big Creek. To my amazement, my camera had a catestrophic SD Card Error so I was unable to post any of my own photos from this outing. This is the second time in the last month or so I have lost images. I don't know if its my camera or the memory cards that have become faulty but I had to ask another HBMO member (thanks Larry Ludwicki) to use his photos to document the Ibis as I was unable to recover my images from my faulty card.

Glossy Ibis & Great Egret - Photo © Larry Ludwicki - Used with permission
So even during the most stressful, saddest times of life, its good to know nature is there to enjoy and to take solace in. Whether it be a beautiful sunset that you stop for a few moments and take in, a glance at a fluttering butterfly on a patch of Aster Flowers, an unexpected call of a Caronlina Wren or viewing the plumage details on the majestic Golden Eagle at close range... Nature continues to amaze me. Its the greatest show on earth!

Good birding,

Bonus Photo from Nov 2010 - Yesterday's view was better than this... if you can believe that. This photo is actually featured on Cornell's Allaboutbirds website. 

Some Nature Quotes:

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.
Helen Keller

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
William Shakespeare

He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
Dale Carnegie

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.


“Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard's Egg Source:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Long Staying Palm Warbler & Battle of Moraviantown Anniversary

Long-staying Palm Warbler?
I noticed this Palm Warbler in my backyard a few weeks ago, and grabbed my camera to document it. Then, for the last two nights in a row, I had a Palm Warbler in the same tree so it has me wondering,... Has this Palm Warbler been hanging out in my backyard for the last two or three weeks?

Not a bad bird to see in your backyard while |BBQ'ing!

My attempts at birding have been pretty lackluster over the last week. I drove out to Comber which had the famous flooded field two years ago. This week, I found it pretty good, but not great. Not what it was two years ago when you would have 20 Hudsonian Godwits hanging out. This week, I had seen Dunlin, Pectoral, Solitary, Semipalmated, Least Sandpipers. Golden (2) and Killdeer (80) Plovers as well.

Killdeer, Dunlin, Least, and Solitary Sandpiper Shorebirds from left to right respectively. 

Today, I stopped by Holiday Beach with my family. There were very few raptors. Two Accipiters and two Turkey Vultures in the course of an hour. Some passerine birds included Eastern Phoebe, Yellow rumped Warblers, White throated Sparrows, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Flickers, and Downy Woodpeckers. The best bird being a generously perched Brown Thrasher.

Battle of the Thames at Moraviantown (Oct 5th, 1813)

I've taken an interest in history lately, and couldn't help but notice recent newspaper articles about historical reenactments taking place regarding the "Battle of the Thames" which took place on Oct 5th, 1813 (exactly 200 years ago today!). Oddly enough, three years ago as I was driving home after going to "Skunks Misery", I found myself in a cool area with some native american cultural influences. I did not realize at the time, but I think I had accidentally driven through Moraviantown!

It turns out that during the war of 1812 (1813 in this case of this event), the British had lost the battle of Lake Erie, and (due to the lack of supplies) were retreating up the Thames River. American army troops followed up the Thames River, and the Natives took arms at Moraviantown to stop the Americans from going further north. Chief Tecumseh, a hero in Canadian History was killed in this battle, and many historians consider his death a major blow to the native peoples chance of fighting the west moving frontier of american settlers across the US.

More on the Battle of Moraviantown:

There is a two-hour historical documentary tonight on TVO (TV Ontario) tonight (Saturday Oct 5th, 2013) at 9pm. It might be something worth watching if you are reading this in Ontario today. A media write-up is pasted below this google map of Moraviantown. I will surely be watching this between 9-11 pm tonight!

Good birding,

View Larger Map

TVO film brings 'real' War of 1812 to life
Jim Hagarty, Postmedia News | Sep 28, 2013

A remarkable two-hour film about the War of 1812 and its effects on the people and communities of southwestern Ontario is scheduled for TVO. A Desert Between Us And Them: Raiders, Traitors and Refugees in the War of 1812 will be aired by Ontario's education channel on Saturday Oct. 5 at 9 p.m., the 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Thames.

The grandly titled documentary is certainly educational but beyond that, it is much more than a passive two hours of TV watching. It's a cinematic experience for not only the brain (fitting right in with TVO's slogan "makes you think") but also the senses.

From the terrific graphics, illustrations, artwork and maps to the stunning photography and the skilful, authoritative narration by R.H. Thomson, this movie is well worth the time in front of the tube. The period costumes are interesting and colourful and the settings historically realistic. The musical score itself is a marvel.

As the title suggests, A Desert Between Us and Them is about the people involved on the ground in the two-year war between the U.S. and Canada, either as combatants or as collateral damage. There is no focus here on aspects of the war which are more widely (if vaguely) known by the average Ontarian. No mention at all, for example, of the burning of the White House in Washington by a daring band of Canadians. Laura Secord gets one shout out but her contribution to the war effort is not described.

In fact, it is a safe assertion that most of the stories and information in Desert will be new to the average viewer including this writer who wonders how he graduated with a couple of degrees from a university located practically in the middle of all this action without knowing these basics about the event.

This film does not overdramatize the horrors of this war but it also does not spare them. And what it goes out of its way to do is refuse to glorify any aspect of it.

In fact, there is basically no declaration of who actually won the war except for a brief mention near the end by one of the historians that the Americans came and left and the Canadians were still here. And while there is an attempt to lighten the terror and gloom with the telling of a few humorous tales, it's clear that for every lighthearted moment there would have been many more that were filled with a million tears.

The historians and other commentators in this production are excellent. Some of them are descendants of those involved in the war including two whose ancestors were among a group hung by the British as traitors. The pain in their faces is still evident after all this time.

The man whose name is front and centre on this fascinating documentary is Zach Melnick, director of the Ontario Visual Heritage Project. And there is some irony in the fact that he led what was practically an army of his own into this battle to unravel the truth of how the war affected the people who fought it and those unlucky enough to be in its path.

In total, about 450 people were involved in the making of A Desert Between Us and Them including 350 war reenactors and regular folks who responded to an audition call. The makers of this film definitely did not phone it in. In fact, the making of Desert is almost as interesting as the documentary itself beginning with the fact that from conception to completion, the project took twice as long as the war itself.

It was based on information from a number of books, but the sources relied on the most are the Moravian Diaries by the Champlain Society (edited and translated by Dr. Linda Sabathy Judd); Profits, Plunder and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 by Dr. George Sheppard, and The Civil War of 1812 by Dr. Alan Taylor. The research and scriptwriting lasted about a year.

Filming of the re-enactments took place mostly in 2012 although a few additional scenes were shot in early 2013. The producers shot 150 scenes over 35 days all throughout southwestern Ontario in the very heart of all the action and viewers no doubt will recognize some of them: Backus Heritage Conservation Area, Norfolk County; Backus-Page House Museum, Elgin County; Ceilidh Stables, Norfolk County; Duff-Baby Interpretation Centre, Windsor; Fanshawe Pioneer Village, London; Haldimand County Museum, Cayuga; The Hoover Cabin, Selkirk; John E. Pearce Provincial Park, Elgin County; Longwoods Road Conservation Area; Maidstone Woods, Essex Region Conservation Authority; Myrtleville House Museum, Brantford; Selkirk Provincial Park; Otterville Mill, Oxford; The Park House Museum, Amherstburg and the Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton. These would all be good places to visit to follow up if the film inspires viewers to want to learn more.

This is an independent project of the Living History Multimedia Association, a small

non-profit association based out of Brantford that Melnick and colleagues started more than 10 years ago to create tools that teachers can use to teach history - natural or cultural - in the classroom. Funding in the form of grants and scholarships came from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Department of Canadian Heritage (War of 1812 Commemoration Fund), the Sand Plains Development Fund, TVO, The Western Corridor War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance, and most of the major municipalities from Burlington to Windsor.

This fall, 900 copies along with course guides will go to schools in Southwestern Ontario. The film is actually three 50-minute segments but the slightly condensed two-hour version is the one being aired Oct. 5. TVO will show the complete series next spring.

Jim Hagarty is a freelance journalist in Stratford.



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