Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fritter Frenzy

Elderberry Fritters
5 July 2014

     As children, Miriam and her sister Karen, looked forward with great anticipation at this time of year, to the annual feast in their Mennonite household, of elderberry fritters with maple syrup. 
     A few years ago Karen suggested we revive the custom and we have been doing it ever since. Normally it is a Canada Day treat for us (1 July) but this year the flowers were not quite ready and we delayed it for a few days.
     The first step is to find bushes with large, fully formed flowers which are cut and harvested.

Elderberry flowers
  
Karen about to cut the flowers
       Back at home, the stalks are trimmed while a batter is being made in which the flowers will be dipped.

Karen cutting the stems off
     The flowers are ready for the batter.

      
     And now they are dipped.


     And into the deep fryer of hot oil they go.


     Once they are ready they are brought to the table to be consumed with a liberal helping of delicious Ontario Maple Syrup.

Perfect elderberry fritters



     This is not exactly a low calorie dessert but we throw caution to the wind, do it once a year, and keep alive a wonderful tradition of using local produce to furnish delicious food.
     You can only imagine just how much Miriam is enjoying her portion!


     

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Eastern Kingbird Nest with Young

Eastern Kingbird (Tyran tritri) Tyrannus tyrranus
Nest with three young
Creekside Church Area
Waterloo, ON
5 July 2014


     Most Saturday mornings I visit my favourite deli, do my banking etc. and on the way to run my errands I visit a half dozen local birding spots. Having done this for several years I have a pretty good idea of what to expect at these locations in different seasons.
     There is a large evangelical church (getting bigger all the time and building over my birding plot) which has contained a few surprises from time to time. This morning I was delighted to locate an active nest of Eastern Kingbird there, and could clearly see the young birds, already quite big, being fed by the parents. I had binoculars and scope with me, but no camera, so when I arrived back home Miriam and I returned to Creekside with cameras in hand.
     The nest was hardly in an ideal situation for photography but we managed (Miriam more so than me) to get several shots to illustrate our discovery.

Adult at the nest with young
     I am always a little amused at the scientific name for this species - Tyrannus tyrannus - for it seems such a gentle little bird, hardly deserving of such a menacing moniker. I guess if you were this unfortunate dragonfly you might think that Tyrannus tyrannus was entirely appropriate!


     The adult bird attempted several times to stuff the dragonfly into the mouth of a hungry youngster, but without success. Perhaps the adult finally severed the wings before trying again.

     After feeding their young the adults would generally perch close by for a minute or two before going back out to gather more prey.


     As soon as the parents approached anywhere near the nest the gapes of the nestlings opened wide in anticipation of an insect snack.



     When I first located the nest this morning I observed only two young, but when Miriam and I returned we saw three open mouths very clearly.



     These young birds appear to be close to fledging and we'll check back to see them learning from their parents just how to develop into a true Tyrannus tyrannus!


Nymphs and Satyrs

William T. Foster Woods
Kleinburg, ON
4 July 2014

     We are really getting into the dog days of summer from a birding perspective, with most species already on the nest or feeding young, and vocalization has pretty much ceased. Yesterday at William T. Foster Woods there was virtually no bird song at all, other than for the chattering of the odd American Robin Turdus migratorius, and a lone Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus scolded me as I passed by, probably too close to its nest.
     The meadows were alive with butterflies, however, most flitting around and giving barely a chance to view them well, let alone take pictures.  I did manage a couple of photographs, however.
     Little Wood-Satyr Megisto cymela vied for the title of Most Common Species and it was rarely that three or four of them were not fluttering in front of me. Hardly had they alighted than they would pick up again and move along, tantalizing me to take a picture.


     This was the best shot I managed, and it's too bad there is a stem in front of it. When you are photographing in nature a little bit of nature sometimes gets in the way!
      The second most populous species was Common Wood-Nymph Cercyonis pegala - at least this is what I believe it to be. I couldn't find a picture in my reference books that matches it precisely, but it is described as highly variable, and given the time of the year, its abundance and the location, I am pretty sure this is what it is.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Momma, Poppa and the Kids

Red-necked Grebe (Grèbe jougris) Podiceps grisegena
Mississauga, ON
2 July 2014

    There is an area in Mississauga called Lakeshore Promenade which is comprised of a series of headlands, parks and boating clubs, basically all inter-connected along the shore of Lake Ontario. This location is a productive birding area, especially in the winter when large congregations of waterfowl of different species are present.
     Today I was fortunate to see a family of Red-necked Grebes living contentedly in a small lagoon which is a sort of offshoot of Douglas Kennedy Headland. Fish are abundant in the near shore of the lake and I am sure the living is easy! These youngster look sleek and well fed.






    One of the adults delivered fish and the young quickly swam over as soon as it approached. I think that the parent birds are now starting to teach the young how to fish for themselves, for the adult would offer the fish and then drop it in the water just before the chick grabbed on to it, so that it would have to retrieve it from the water itself.



     A male Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus seemed to watch the whole sequence with rapt attention.


    A little farther along the peninsula, at A. E. Crookes Park,  a sub-adult American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus and a sub-adult Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis were feeding on a dead carp at the water's edge, the odour from which would have made me gag had I approached any closer. I fully expected a Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura or two to join in the feast but none did and the gulls had the tenderized fish all to themselves. 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Back to Birds. Whew!

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
1 July 2014

    This is the third year in a row that I am aware of that Peregrine Falcons have successfully nested and fledged young in downtown Waterloo. You are not about to nominate me to the Photographic Hall of Fame for these images, but it's good to record the presence of these magnificent hunters, even though the picture quality is not great. In my own defence, they are taken from a considerable distance.
    In this picture you see one of the adults (the female I believe) near the nest box which was constructed for the birds after they placed their nest on the bare surface of the building when they first bred there. 


    It's a fine home don't you think?

    The nest box is situated at the top of the Sun Life Financial building and as you will see below it is a long way up and hardly conducive to close-up photography.


     It is appropriate to extend a sincere vote of appreciation to Sun Life Financial for their gracious co-operation in enabling the community of naturalists to facilitate the successful venture that urban Peregrine Falcons have become part of.
     Finally, here is a picture of one of the young fledglings, and you can clearly see the band on its leg. Right after I took this picture it took off from the building and swooped, soared and glided, already showing its mastery of flight. May it have a long and productive life and bring joy to countless untold falcon devotees still unknown.


   

Steel-blue Cricket Hunter

Steel-blue Cricket Hunter Chlorion aerarium
29 June 2014

    This is my third post in a row not devoted to birds. What is happening to me!
    In any event, we were sitting out on the patio having lunch when we detected this insect and neither of us could remember having seen it before. As far as I can tell from checking the reference material I have, it is a Steel-blue Cricket Hunter. If anyone can either confirm or refute this, I would be grateful if they would leave a comment below.
    The one aspect of its observed behaviour that does not seem to jibe with the identification I have made, is that it was paying great attention to a couple of spider webs. If it is a species of spider wasp, I have been unable to locate anything in my books resembling it.
    Regardless, it was an interesting insect to watch.



Sunday, June 29, 2014

Taylor Lake Trees

Taylor Lake Trees
22 June 2014

    The variety of trees and shrubs on our walk around Taylor Lake, described in the previous post, provided great enjoyment for everyone, and in some instances tested our identification skills.
    One of the easiest of all trunks to recognize, thereby facilitating identification of the tree, is that of a mature Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata, with its characteristic long curling strips of very shaggy bark. 


    This fine specimen has graced the woodland for many years.

    Less familiar to most of us was Poison-sumac Toxicodendron vernix and I am sure that most of us would not have recognized it had Larry not pointed it out. In fact, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that some of  us might have handled it in the way one does, to examine the structure of the leaves and stem more closely. Thank goodness we did not, since this plant rivals poison ivy (it is in the same genus) in its ability to deliver serious skin irritation and painful blisters.