31 December 2010

New Year's

Well, I've got all the emergency lights charged up, which is a normal end-of-month thing.

I thought "hey, I haven't used the camp cookware at all this year; I should make sure nothing has gone wrong in there", and, well, about 100 L of water later, I have the remnants of the Sea Suds out of the dry bag that holds the camp cookware, and am considering what to do with the rest of said soap, since sitting in Sea Suds seems to have pitted the aluminium pot.  Somewhere in there the dry bag fell over in the sink and managed to inundate the counter top and the floor and generally make Aoife go hide, but, hey, the kitchen floor could well have used that mopping.

I have at least some employment next year; I got into the home bike mechanic's course I wanted to take in February, there's an actual frame with my name on it and I sent in my final decision on paint colour today.   My computer died the death (that very distinctive motherboard capacitor pop) on the 22nd of December, and I was -- not without some budget flailing, but I was -- able to replace its innards with parts that weren't 4.5 years old.  It's fast again.

I'm warm, I have food, I have work, I'm not bored, and this seems overwhelmingly likely to continue for the foreseeable, so things are pretty good.

Didn't get anything like as much birding done this fall as I would have liked; that work-life balance thing wasn't, and I need to get better at that.  But I did get in some, and have seen my first California Gull, Tufted Titmouse, and Northern Pintail Duck.  And the new-this-year big scope works a treat for distant roosting gulls.

Photography, also not so much.  Part of that is the interesting plateau after "this is cool" where one realizes one completely sucks at this.  In this particular case I have no idea how to stop sucking at it -- aside from heaps of undirected practice -- so there has been less.  One tentative New Year's plan is to try to fix that by buying a K5, which is irrational but might work anyway.

Really quiet week off; pretty much caught up on sleep.    (see also, balance, work, life, not, above.)  Few but very welcome social interactions.

Much better year than 2009.

27 December 2010

In the spirit of the season

One of the zoo's prairie dogs, sound asleep in its food dish. (Obviously breathing, and didn't budge between going past one way and coming back the other, ten or so minutes later.)

12 December 2010

Completely Sane

You have to look at the full size image to get the mad yellow eyes.
Arctic fox at the metro zoo; I'm pleased with getting detail out of the fur and the rock in the this one, and while I wish from a visual perspective that fence wasn't there I should never had taken the picture without it, because a wild arctic fox would never let me half that close.  So, heh, everything is trade-offs.


Well, no, probably not; it's some sort of toucan, possibly an aracari, but which aracari is beyond my ken.

I presume it's a temporary visitor to the Americans pavillion free-flight bird room (familiar to parents as the place to go play "spot the mot-mot") because it's not on the sign.

07 November 2010


I have no idea what some component of the Governor General's Horse Guards, what looked like all of  a Legion branch, an Army cadet unit, and some guys in dazzle cammo uniforms with the officers carrying dress swords were doing out today; Thursday, Nov 11, yes, that would be unsurprising in the extreme, but there was a small parade, complete with brass band, wreath bearers, and horse cavalry, proceeding down Jarvis Street today.
I have to admit that my first response to the cavalry was to think "the Queen's not in town?", but then I noticed the wreath.
I still find horse cavalry in the present tense highly surreal.

Feral Mathematicians

Well, or it could be feral engineers; I can't tell.
From a more-or-less waist level lintel of a window on McCaul Street; saw it yesterday, and was able to arrange to be riding by with a camera today.

24 October 2010

Corner Pond

I'm not best pleased with this one; the sky is quite blown and I don't seem to be able to recover it, raw file or no raw file.
On the plus side, hey, I took a picture with intent—something I have not been good about doing these last several-six months—and it doesn't cause bleeding from the eyes.  Since it started to rain roughly a second and a half after I took this picture, I also don't feel too bad about not getting another shot with better metering. (The K20D is weather sealed; the DA35 is not.)

"Birds" take because there is a great blue heron in the picture; I know where it is, so maybe I'm wrong that it's identifiable even in the quarter scale jpg.

03 October 2010

TOC—Toronto Islands, late migrants and raptors

After a September plagued by poor timing, a bit of bronchitis, and badly-labeled ice-cream substitute (label claimed no soy; distraught innards asserted that, yes, yes there was soy in there), I finally got out on a Fall Migration walk.

With, as is perhaps obvious, the brand-new Delorme PN-60 GPS I got primarily because cycling in strange places is a whole lot more fun when I feel like I know where I am.  (Downtown Niagara Falls in the dark, on a bicycle, looking for the motel?  Not fun.  Though next time I will remember that a GO train is not a point and we could be getting off said train already past the street we were expecting to turn down when leaving the station.)

Anyway -- having obtained the interesting bit of tech, I am also curious about how long a bird walk is; I can readily enough figure out how long the point-to-point distance would be, but this is so very rarely how it gets walked.  So now I know for this one, how long, how fast, and what portion of the time spent moving.  Plus, courtesy of gpx-viewer and Open Street Map, a spiffy map.

The best bird of the day  was unquestionably a Le Conte's Sparrow; I missed it.  (At the back, heading up slowly to the cluster staring at it on the airport fence; it flew about a tenth of second before I got it in focus.)  Also, the day went from a spectacular sunrise in a sky with mixed cloud to clouds like a lid to drizzle to steady rain, which is not a source of great joy, no matter how carefully one has dressed for the possibility.  (Which explains the early end and the departure from Center Island; usually, this walk leaves from Ward's.)

On the plus side, the traditional oodles of white-crowned sparrows were present; I got a good look at a pine warbler, and a very nice look at a black-throated green, which, to me, and especially in the misting rain, look like they were assembled by elvish jeweler's out of malachite and beryls; I may now understand how to differentiate the ruby-crowned and yellow-crowned kinglet in the fall (the ruby doesn't show any crest in the fall, the yellow-crowned does); the belted kingfisher on one of the inter-island waterways was still there and did a display flight, apparently just for us; a very plausible Cooper's hawk, several sharpies, a rousing argument about distinguishing Cooper's and Sharp-shinned, and a Northern Harrier; Dunlin, Sanderling, and Black-bellied Plover on the beach; and rusty blackbird and pied-billed grebe on the same small pond.

And, hey, not only did the GPS work, the available software for viewing GPX track files is uncomplicated and effective, which is a good thing to find out.

08 September 2010

I live near three streetcar lines...

that are just starting to get unconfused.  Things have been very confused the last couple weeks and they still have the whole road-replacement step to go on Roncy, but there has been definite progress.

05 September 2010

Rose of Sharon

At least, I think it's Rose of Sharon.

From down at the bottom of Roncy, after mostly taking pictures of streetcar track construction.  The light was getting fairly dim by then but I think this still serves as a decent example of why I think the DA35 does a good job of flower purples.

04 September 2010


Opportunistic sunflower, opportunistic bee.

It was something of a pity what happened to the -- remarkably vigorous, and growing in a corner between two garages in a back lane -- sunflower as a whole, since various people appear to have hacked blossoms off it and hit it with cars, but there were two shining days back in August when it was a glory.

29 August 2010


22 August 2010


I believe this handsome fellow rejoices in the name of Ginger.
That wall is an internal divider in a barn, and the bokeh is courtesy of needing to shoot at f1.8 because it wasn't at all bright in there.
The whole thing seems very cat-like to me somehow.

15 August 2010


My sister intends to keep sheep; where you have sheep, you soon enough have coyotes.  Llamas have a dubious view of coyotes, and are marginally more tractable than mules, so she has llamas.  The llamas look, more or less inescapably, like they know they were really drawn by Dr. Seus, and are just daring one to say anything about it.

An unusual view

The streetcar track up Roncesvalles Ave. is being replaced—very fast, a block every 2 days or so—after a substantial period of time of not being there at all, due to the impossibility of maintaining the tracks and fixing the water mains.  The water mains being done, the tracks are being replaced, and after that the lane of road to each side will presumably get rendered non-sinusoidal.  (Very much in favour of the fixing of the water mains.  The result doesn't improve the cycleability of the city streets, though.)

The trivial result of all this being that, after work stops of an evening, I can go get a view like this.

08 August 2010

What a marvelous bird ...

is the pelican.

This particular American White Pelican has been at Second Marsh in Oshawa for the last month and a half, and while they nest in Ontario this is generally in remote lakes between Thunder Bay and Manitoba.  So having one in Oshawa is a cool thing and I've been meaning to go see it for awhile.  Indeed, I have been trying to go see it on available Saturdays, with the general plan being to cycle to the Exhibition GO station, take the train to Oshawa, and cycle from the Oshawa station to the marsh.

I finally managed this, and the bird co-operated in terms of being highly visible, but not so much in terms of distance.  This is probably the least-bad photo; I need to work on my focus technique for using 1500 mm focal length telescopes as lenses, and it would really really help if the viewing platform wasn't wood and inclined to vibrate if anyone on it shifts their weight.

The first such attempt to see the pelican involved realizing that I could not, no way, no how, get the scope bag, the tripod, the eyepieces and the bins bag into any combination of two panniers I actually had, the second such involved a ping noise from my bicycle, which was the sprung seatpost electing to come unsprung; the third attempt involved at slightly separated times the front handlebar rotating forward under the weight of the bar bag so that I could no longer quite reach the brakes and the right rear rack mount—a bit of bent aluminium to get around the lack of an attachment point that didn't conflict with the disc brakes—electing to make its very own little ping noise.  Given that there were about 30 pounds of stuff on the rack, this resulted in an unpleasant shimmy and a longish walk home from almost to the Exhibition GO station.

The fourth attempt, the fourth attempt worked, by dint of getting a new frame, which is very nearly actually long enough—height is not the hard part, it's seat tube length; this one is 63cm in the catalogue, though I don't know where they measure—and some Arkel shopping bag panniers, which will just take the whole scope bag in one and everything else in the other, and by getting a new solid seat tube.  The drop bars and bar end shifters are in the way of spending a little now to ensure  that the eventual touring bike is not spending a lot of on something that won't work for me.
This photo was taken while waiting for the train at the Exhibition GO station on the way out. (On the way back, there were beer festival and soccer fans by the several hundred.)
I'm quite pleased with the whole thing; there's a tendency to shimmy at high speeds when loaded like this(the shopping panniers are square like cinder blocks, so I should not be surprised) and the bike is similarly not as entirely directionally stable at low speeds loaded as I would best prefer but I think a fair bit of that is my lack of familiarity with drop bars.  The bar-end shifters are fine, though I find myself wanting the SRAM R2Cs for the touring bike because while I can certainly use a friction front dérailleur shifter I find that I want indexed if I can get it.

05 August 2010

Trying to get back into the habit

They're replacing the streetcar tracks on Roncesvalles.  This is, well, not a view one can expect to have often.

04 July 2010


In the visible case, mostly of the camera flash.  In the general case, I am obviously a bad monkey who has broken the thermostat and should put it back, now if not sooner.  (I should also stop Going Out.  Aoife does not at all approve of me going out, and explanations that at least some Going Out is required for food to continue to arrive have so far proved unconvincing.)

24 June 2010

So far, no frogs

So, the landlord sold the place; the folks busy renovating the restaurant on the ground floor have, over the last three weeks, managed to shut off—at, thankfully, different times—the hot water, the electricity, the gas, and my internet connection.  My front door has had total lock failure, and I have just tonight discovered that not only are the washer, dryer, fridge, printer, microwave, and computer on the same nominally 15 amp circuit (not for lack of trying to distribute the plugs, and indeed for reasons that are not immediately obvious in terms of wall socket geometry), I'm quite bad at spotting the blown fuse.

The new landlord asserts that he's going to be updating everybody's electrical service as a side effect of giving the individual apartments their own meters.  I am looking forward to that.

Also looking forward to Aoife calming down; yesterday's earthquake seems to have offended her sense of propriety and she's been moderately obstreperous since.

23 May 2010

A thing like a day

I have long harboured an ambition to go see the bit of lake shore path by the Rouge Hill GO Station.  ("GO" = "Government of Ontario"; it's a regional transit system, in this case commuter trains.)  Today I finally did so, in company with a friend, and could wish I'd done so earlier.

The initial start was not entirely auspicious, though I know now I can change an bicycle inner tube expeditiously (thank you, Park Tools how-to site) and that I really need a new floor pump; that's the second time I've had a valve stem come off the tube when trying to detach the pump connection.  (Various persons may wish to point out that I needn't get all panicked at the hissing and pull so darn hard.  While they have a point, the idea is to pull in a graduated way only hard enough to get the pump connection to come off the value, after properly flipping the lever and doing the right sort of wiggling, and as far as I can tell—it was challenging to get the severed tube stem out of the pump connection—something inside the connector seems to be sticking, and I suspect it's just one of those worn-ABS problems.)

I did make it Rouge Hill, and the weather was exactly as predicted, which meant it was warm and sunny but the still-cold lake was misting vigorously and blowing a cool breeze on shore.  Fog is not good for either bicycling or looking at birds, but, well.  The first thing I saw from the (outdoor) train platform was a flock of seven swans, flying east in the mist.  One does not get that every day.

The total (to the train station at this end, home from a different one after, a very pleasant shore-and-mostly-park loop returning to the Rouge Hill Station) cycled distance was perhaps 30 km.

Especially nice birds were a faded second winter Great Black Backed Gull (I am very pleased with myself about getting the age right, at least per subsequent consultation of references, and I'd like to thank the adult male Herring Gull standing right next to it and providing a size comparison); belted kingfisher—spotting a flying kingfisher starting from the shadow on the water is especially nice—and repeated tribes of Baltimore orioles, apparently still passing through.  I could wish I'd got a better look at the presumed small gnatcatcher and the bird that looked like an immature tree swallow with a black cap, hawking from a bush, but there's a limit to what one can do from a bicycle.  (And a limit to how much random stopping even patient friends are likely to tolerate.)

All in all, a most entire success; a nice bike ride, I need to go back there with a scope (and a chair!) to spend more time looking at the gulls, and possibly bother the TOC outings committee about the possibility of a formal walk through the lower Highland Creek Park, which has an interesting combination of mature trees, water, and well-positioned path.

18 May 2010

Sullen with Springtime

I suspect it's mostly that they're trying desperately to really warm up, but the turtles all seemed a bit hung-over and grumpy at the Pelee marsh.

17 May 2010

Pelee Weekend

There are more pictures, but not more time to process them.

Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I got down to Point Pelee this weekend.  From a birding perspective, it was a definite success; two lifers (black tern, Wilson's Warbler), an immature-or-female Summer Tanager, a possible snowy plover (didn't get close enough to be definitive about this, but much smaller than a killdeer (since some were conveniently present for scale), extremely pale, dark bill, and non-yellow legs), and managing to find a Great Horned Owl.

The owl above is a not-quite-out-of-the-nest Great Horned Owl; the park staff had very kindly marked off the road next to the nest tree (which is well back from the road) with caution tape, and there was a convenient spot to set a scope up.  (The picture is courtesy of the X90's ridiculous zoom, not the scope.  Digiscoping may come, but not yet.)  So there was an excellent view of the not-quite-fledgling; all soft, downy fluff, orange feathers around the mad staring eyes, and large rending beak, the perfect picture of "when I learn how to fly, I'm going to eat your face".

A little further down the road, a small group of birders had managed to pick one of the adult owls out of a wretched thicket of tall maples on the border of the beach, and getting the scope on it was (as seems to be customary with Great Horned Owls) necessary to be sure it really was an owl, and not a tree.

While various people were borrowing the scope to look at that owl, I heard a Great Horned Owl begging call -- stuffing all those bird songs into my music player might be helping after all -- and looked at where the noise was coming from, and there, looking like a badly maintained squirrel nest, was the second and just fledged (reported as having flown the previous day) nestling.  It was even a better scope target; I was very pleased with myself, because so far, my experience of spotting owls is that the people who are good at it seem to be using mystic arts.

That was the Syncra scope's first outing; I am not completely satisfied with the visual back (why is it so completely threaded on the inside?  Is the erecting prism really going in there as co-axial as it ought?) but the performance was splendid.  I could get individual feather detail in the red breast streaks of a yellow warbler at 75x off the top of the marsh observation tower, and have an entirely serviceable (though not usable on top of a timber tower people are running up and down) 107x.  So I'm very pleased about it.

05 May 2010

TOC bird walk: Spring Migration

Rather than giving the (fairly lengthy) list of birds for the May 1st TOC bird walk in High Park, I'm going to note highlights.

Which for birds observed was definitely the cerulean warbler; all 40+ people on the walk managed to see it, too, despite its best efforts involving not holding still and occupying the upper parts of the canopy of large oak trees.  (The cerulean warbler is small, scarce, very pretty, and even when it is there and you can hear it calling, it's 20m up in a tree, so actually seeing one is something of a treat.  It was a life bird for a number of people.)

Other interesting birds (for me, anyway); blue-headed vireo, black-throated blue warbler, barn swallows, and chimney swifts; it's always a relief to me when I feel I can identify swifts and swallows in flight, and male black-throated blue are very pretty.

Otherwise, well --

The cormorant, for reasons I do not profess to comprehend, is the PDML's totem bird. So here's a double-crested in excellent breeding plumage.

Canada geese are successful because they're not fussy; they'll eat almost anything and they're not over-particular about where they nest. This is the first case of cavity-nesting geese I've ever seen, though.

The X90 has its limits, but it can get good feather detail from a red-winged black bird, which is doing fairly well.

On the other hand, a male wood duck appears to completely defeat the X90's colour balancing algorithm; this is why one wants a camera that takes raw images.

It was a good walk and the rain even held off until we were more or less done.

Next Saturday is supposed to be cold, wet, and windy, so if the forecast holds I will not be taking the camera on that one.  Since Lambton woods is supposed to be mostly warblers in any case, my odds of getting a useful picture would be poor.

29 April 2010

On my way to fetch a book...

Killdeer seem to be just fine with parking lots, it's the people they can't stand:

Blossoms by the side of the road:

The book arrived courtesy of Canpar; I must say that getting zero brokerage charges (coming from the UK, as opposed to coming from the States), finding the package waiting at the security gate guard house, rather than having to wait 15 minutes (after waiting 2 hours to get to the front of the line), and the less-distant distant warehouse make me much more pleased with Canpar as a shipper than I am ever likely to be with UPS. (UPS is in the "if shipped only by UPS, do not buy" category by now.)

The book itself is Gulls of Europe, Asia, and North America by Klaus Malling Olson, out of print (as Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia) from Princeton University Press but still in print in the UK as a Helm Field Guide.  This is the book on holoarctic gulls, and I can see that it will take me some time to absorb.

25 April 2010

Jaws that catch

More ROM shelves; I remember the darker skull from the old dinosaur hall but could be quite mistaken.  (Telling theropod skulls apart reliably is a bit beyond me.)  And I liked the little purple guy with the spikes.

No birding today; I woke with a thick head and a scratchy throat and elected to believe that a day spent being a slug would do this more good than a walk in the rain.

24 April 2010

TOC bird walk: Little Gulls and other migrants

The official start time, at the observation platform for Oshawa Second Marsh, was 09h00. Tyler Hoar, the walk leader, had suggested that reliable presence of little gulls could not be guaranteed past about 08h00 due to the presence of a peregrine falcon. So I got there, courtesy of a fellow TOC member with a kind streak and a car, by a little after 07h00.

Tyler, a dedicated soul, had been at the observation platform since dawn.

We had an amazing day; sunny, warm (for April; 16 C eventually), and almost completely still. Large portions of the marsh were so flat they looked like ice, and the reflections of flying birds rose up from the depths to meet them at the surface of the water.

Little Gulls are the world's smallest gull, and were unknown in North America prior to 1962, in which year they made a nesting attempt in Oshawa's Second Marsh. There is now a small population—the largest, wildly optimistic estimate for which is 400 individuals—in in North America, and while it doesn't breed in the marsh, the migration route continues to include the marsh. (I am sure this is interesting to people studying migration route formation.) Getting to see a group of them, especially in company with Bonaparte's Gulls (another black-headed "small gull"), and to observe both courting flights and hawking flights (there's a major midge-hatching event going on in Lake Ontario right now) was a very welcome experience. Little Gulls have a dark underwing, varying from charcoal to jet black in colour, but with a white trailing edge to the wing. This is very distinctive, and I have some hope of recognizing a Little Gull should I see one again. (I also now know in a way that is attached to mental images how the difference in wing length effects how the sitting bird looks; Little Gulls have wings to short to cross when folded, so the black wing tips of Bonaparte's gulls show over their backs when folded and the wing tips of Little Gulls aren't long enough to do that.)

Aside from the 34 Little Gulls, there were the obligatory red-winged black birds, including an anomalous pied individual with a blush-orange throat; something more than 1200 Bonaparte's Gulls; common merganser, wood duck, common grackles, a single Caspian turn bob-preening in the midst of the sitting Little Gulls; it's quite a mental shock to see a tern larger than the gulls around it), shoveller ducks, gadwall, greenwing teal, piebilled grebe (lurking just past the edge of the dead reeds and often completely obscured by them), a small flock of bluejays flying north, a pair of overflying meadowlarks in breeding plumage leaving behind them an impression of a remarkable intensity of yellow, a single second year great-blacked-backed gull in with the herring gulls, overflying common loons, a yellowlegs of indeterminate size (since it circled at great speed and vanished downward behind us; very hard to detect the fine distinctions between Greater and Lesser under those circumstances), mute swan, trumpeter swan, chickadee, and tree swallows.

After climbing off the platform to look for the yellowlegs, I concluded that the platform was pretty full now and I'd make a try for pictures of the tree swallows; I have a sneaking visual fondness for them, and this one was co-operating by sitting somewhere with a complete lack of confusing background objects. (There's a way to get the X90 to use only the centre focus spot and I need to read the manual again and find out what it is.)

Once it was actually nine o'clock and everyone had arrived—something very much like 30 people, a good turnout even on a lovely day—we set out to walk around the marsh. This is a fair hike, and goes along Lake Ontario beach for about a third of its length before coming back through trails and paved road through the conservation area.

The walk was sparser than the platform; early spring or not (many trees are in full leaf, if not quite fully deployed leaf) the migrants are not all in early. (Those coming from the Souther US are noticing the warmer weather and leaving early; those coming from the Southern Hemisphere have no bird postal system to tell them NorAm's having an early and warm spring, and don't know they could leave early, is how I have heard this explained. This is probably bad in terms of bug availability for feeding nestlings, but I hope not.)

Despite my complaints of sparser, I did see ruby-crowned kinglet, with the red crest feathers actively displayed; yellow-rumped warbler, brown-headed cowbird, goldfinch, palm warbler, darkeyed junco, and a phoebe in the wooded portion of the walk, and redheaded duck, ruddy duck, hermit thrush, a yellow-shafted northern flicker, greater scaup, lesser scaup, common loon, gadwall, red-throated merganser, long-tailed duck, and common merganser on the lake, a cooper's hawk, American crow, and killdeer on the beach-and-marsh-edge portions of the walk.

Coming back towards the parking lot (and crossing a long stretch of what is plausibly lawn, behind the GM Canada headquarters), I was pleased to see a song sparrow acting like a female red-winged black bird in a reed-filled ditch.

I gave up around 12h45, which felt a lot later than that. Tomorrow is a walk for early migrants out Tommy Thompson Park, and while that is much easier to get to, the forecast weather can be summarized neatly as "rain, with wind". I can hope this will lead to many migrants huddled sullenly on trees and readily observed, but I'm not sure that's really the way to bet.

23 April 2010

Small surprises

This is the skull end view of the Maiasaurus hatchling that was in the old ROM dinosaur gallery for a number of years, in a glass box that made getting a good shot really really hard.

This is on the storage shelf; it's dim under there, and it was a fairly quick tour, but I'm still happy with the result.

20 April 2010

They're all a little mad

I think it's the yellow eye in the purple head and monkey prejudices, but all grackles look at least a little mad.
The X90 appears to really like bright daylight; it's a trick to hold at full zoom, and the (useful in cases of bright sunlight) EVF has visible lag, but I can't complain about the feather detail here at all.
Took this walking across one side of Nathan Phillips Square.

11 April 2010

A note about politics and complex systems

"We don't defend Canon Space; we destroy Canon's enemies.  It's different."

That's a quote from Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps, an interesting and much-neglected and recently back in print space opera.  (And the Guard Ships do destroy Canon's enemies.)

If you want a complex social structure that allows lots of individual exercise of choice, you need to enact and defend a bunch of complex ideas like the rule of law and the rights of man.

If you want to break that, destroying your enemies—which is simple and straightforward to do, comparatively speaking—will do just fine.

I note this because it gave me an "aha!" moment about my sense that the progressive and conservative political movements in Anglo-NorAm weren't playing the same game.

07 April 2010

An argument against jaywalking

I wound up walking home in the rain this evening, since the streetcars were stopped and the buses were detouring. This was why.  (Well, this, and the consequent four police cars, paramedic vehicles, etc.; no sign of an ambulance, which I hope means the pedestrian was already well on their way to hospital.)

I suppose this is also why I think carrying a camera all the time is a good idea; pictures present themselves, and if one does not have the camera, that's it, there's no taking them.  Even if one would prefer that it not be there to take.

It's a pity the waterproof cameras have no zoom to speak of; trying to take a picture while holding an umbrella with my chin is not my best skill.

Upholding tradition

Taken with the Pentax Optio X90.

This was acquired on the grounds that I can't take the K20D everywhere, and would really like both a take-everywhere camera and a some-hope-of-enough-zoom-for-birds camera.  I'm still making friends with it, but I think it did a quite respectable job of managing Aoife's fur, here, admittedly at the expense of a great deal of white cardboard.  (Aoife is very fond of those boxes.  I am clearly going to have to build a lurking space right there for her.  Possibly in parallel with the stairwell bicycle hoist lumber purchases, since I do want to eventually unpack those boxes.)

04 April 2010

Bird walk: Toronto Lakeshore between Roncesvalles and Ellis Ave

Sunday, 4 April 2010; starting 07h00 (right around true dawn; late for the dawn chorus) at Queen and Roncesvalles, crossing via the pedestrian bridge to the beach.  Still air, about 8 C, and light scattered cloud; mostly sunny.

Ended getting on the Lakeshore streetcar at Ellis Avenue at 08h30.

In between, I was walking mostly west, with some north to head up Colborne Lodge drive to walk along the park edge of Grenadier Pond.

The rock dove (the standard city pigeon) and mourning dove (the darker, slimmer, smaller, pigeon-type birds with the large wedge-shaped, white edged tails in flight) were not surprising.  Neither were the starlings.

That the red-winged blackbirds were everywhere and twitter-pated out of their tiny maniraptoranan minds is a spring thing; not quite what I expect for the first week of April, but is is a very early spring.  (The willows around Grenadier pond are in actual leaf.  They weren't two days ago.)  The presence of Canada geese is similarly unsurprising, though the pair that came in for landing around either side of my head, close enough that I could feel the displaced air and the honking Dopplered, that was a bit of a surprise.

Mallards and ring-billed gull are completely unsurprising.  The song sparrows (at least two pair, the males singing away) were surprising for location (but the lake shore area is empty and quite lovely around dawn, rather than full of people trotting along) and season (I would think about a month early, though my grasp of expected migration times is shaky.)

Long-tailed duck are unsurprising in Lake Ontario in winter, and last year I was still seeing them in June, so the group of three wasn't surprising.  They were in almost complete summer plumage, and looking very shiny.

Hooded merganser are not what I expect to see with long-tailed duck, even inshore inside the breakwater; they tend to be a shallow-water species, and that water isn't all that shallow, but presumably both fish and shellfish are suitable there.  There may have been some male hooded merganser as well as the two females I'm sure of; there were also at least six pair of bufflehead, and it's easy to miss male hoodies in with bufflehead.

The pair of gadwall, hugging the breakwater and being remarkably hard to see against the shadowy side of the concrete (gadwall are a grey duck; very pretty in good light but not detailed at a distance) were not so much a surprise (I think at least one pair tries to nest somewhere along there) as a pleasure, since I managed to pick them out of the shadow and get a good look through the scope.

Mute swan certainly live along that stretch of lake shore, so their presence was no surprise whatsoever.  Seeing one out past the breakwater was something of a surprise, since they're usually inshore, but the water is quite calm today despite last night's wind storm. Watching a pair launching gave me the first good side look at launching swan feet I've ever had, and it looks like they kick both feet together, rather than running on the water, in at least the later stages of the launch.

House sparrow, rooting through the wood chips around the base of the equipment at the base of one of the exercise stations, wasn't surprising, though it always takes me a second to identify the females.  Common grackle isn't surprising, either, though I think also somewhat early.

The first robin of the day was along the lake shore path; the next three were by the overflow pond south of the Gardiner.  I counted six displaying males and was able to see one female red-winged black bird among the reeds.  (I am quite sure there are more females in there; they just tend to hide in the reeds to a degree that makes seeing one surprising, in the traditional "is that some sort of large sparrow?" way.)  There were an awful lot of red-winged blackbirds just everywhere along the path; not necessarily even close to the water.  Perching on the wires over the railway tracks is not a habitat I normally associated with this species.

Grenadier pond itself had a snoozing mallard, a cob mute swan, and more bufflehead, being very very shiny.  It also had a pair of American Tree Swallow at the big birdhouse near the south-west corner of the park, being unmistakably shiny white and iridescent green.  I'm pretty darn sure they're early, and I hope they find enough bugs to eat.

02 April 2010

First Bike Ride of the Season

It wasn't as sunny as predicted, but it was 23℃ and otherwise quite lovely.  If things had leafed out, I should have found it impossible to convince my brain it wasn't June.  (And I don't think I entirely succeeded; it kept seeming later than it was.)

I am most pleased with the current bike setup (I am now convinced that the persistent and troubling squeak that I'd blamed on the front disk brake had in fact been the front hub; wheel replacement has solved that problem, huzzah!), and even more pleased to discover I live quite close to one entrance to the West Toronto Rail Path which is new (so the pavement is excellent) and interesting; I need to go back there with a camera.  It's also oriented the right way, so that the generally downhill direction is the direction that gets me closer to home.

Along the West Toronto Rail Path, I saw four northern mockingbirds; two singing vigorously at one another at the start of the rail path, one very visible on a power line along the rail path (spotted after I did a mental double take at why there would be a killdeer calling there, at that time), and one moving quickly through truncated scrub at the edge of the active rail right-of-way.  There were also a number of sparrows, robins, and red-winged blackbirds singing; I was surprised to hear the red-winged black birds but the path does pass some marshy areas of the long-established ditch variety.

Proceeding west, over and down through various streets to High Park, and then through High Park, I saw little—the park was very busy and full of traffic, and I wanted to live—but heading along the Martin Goodman trail to the west I saw a variety of gulls (I'm still very solidly in the "gulls take a scope and time and references" category; from a  moving bicycle, "most of them were ring bills" is the best I can do), some mute swans, and overhead three (presumptively double-crested) cormorants.  (Canada geese and rock doves should be considered a given, but I did also see a mourning dove, and hear a goodly deal of what I took to be small passerine singing going through the park.)

Stopping at the gazebo north of Humber Bay Park East to actually look at birds, I saw a small group of six or seven bufflehead; about 20 moulting long tailed ducks with their backs in close to summer plumage but their heads remained solid white, and this in combination with clear shallow water allowed them to be seen while diving and swimming under water; various gulls; two Canada geese coming over for bread; and one duck I could not identify.

This duck was swimming and possessed an intensely and uniformly iridescent green head, save  yellow-green spots on each side of the head in similar positions to the white spots on female harlequin ducks; a dark, very mallard-y stern with somewhat longer tail feathers and no curled centre tail feathers,  and very blue bill perhaps smaller and narrower than the typical mallard bill with the effect of dark edging due to black bill edges and laminae.  (This is what I get from not having either notebook or camera with me; I have to try to remember these details precisely.)  The duck had a light chestnut front and pale flanks feeding into the dark stern.  My best guess is that it's a mallard-pintail hybrid; the duck I saw was very similar to the one pictured but had a bluer bill and a uniformly bright green head.

Coming back there were still four gadwall in the corner pond at the south-east corner of High Park, along with a pair of nesting mute swans and some hopeful photographers.

As a bike ride it's a nice loop and I look forward to repeating it.

30 March 2010

No longer winter birding

Generally speaking, pictures of birds that get out in the world are good pictures of birds.
The problem with this is that it greatly misleads; sparrows actually look like the top image, thus:

Images like the two below, the rough equivalent of 12 power binoculars, are what you get after throwing out the even worse ones, post processing, and tossing—even with the x12 effect—almost all the pixels as not containing bird.

It's good enough tell that it's a song sparrow, and it was singing in a territorial way on the 27th of March.  So were the red-winged black birds, but I could not find an angle through the thicket such that there was more bird than stick in the image. 

When I was a kid, living on a farm under a section of St. Lawrence flyway, spring was great skeins of Canada geese honking their way across the sky.  That doesn't work so well in a time when the Canada geese are happily urbanizing and don't all migrate.

Hearing sparrows going territorial, and even more so the red-winged black birds, does mean spring, though.  I wouldn't normally expect this of late March, but the natural world has clearly made up its mind on the point.

21 February 2010

A day to go a-wandering

It was sunny, and warm—high of 5℃— as forecast, so I took me, my contact lenses, and my new attempt at a birding bag out to Tommy Thompson park to see what I could see.

The attempt at a birding bag is the Think Tank Change Up which has the considerable virtue of being deep enough for my binoculars, large enough to contain something like lunch as well as the binoculars, and not so large my tendencies toward bringing spare plumbing for the kitchen sink can get out of hand.  Oh, and it has what is essentially a book pocket, very important in a birding bag.

I'm going to redact my notes, rather than giving a species summary; I think that does a better job of conveying what the walk was like.

I saw, perched in a tree,  a juvenile red-tail before actually getting to the park.  Because juvenile red-tails have a fawn-and-black barred tail, rather than the red tail, and because it was facing dead away from me, I got quite excited that I'd managed to see an unusual raptor for a moment, and then the white scapular V registered.  It was still a good close view.

Getting to the park, I headed back out again along the eastern edge that leads into Ashbridges Bay, because I was trying to get a good enough look to tell what the substantial flock of ducks off in the distance in that direction were.
(This whole "what is that" impluse seems to get more pronounced with time.)

That turned out to be a well-distributed flock of at least 70 long tailed ducks; five bufflehead, three males displaying to two females; one surf scooter, a pair of Barrow's goldeneye (woot!), about five common goldeneye, about 20 gadwall, 12 mallards, at least 70 common merganser, and about 3 red-breasted merganser in amongst the commons.

About a km further out, there were antoher 10 red-breasted merganser, and an uncountable number of long-tailed ducks; widely distributed actively diving ducks take video equipment to get a decent count.  A certainly saw at least 20 surfaced at one time.

The first tiercel kestrel in a tree was a surprise; the second was somewhat astonishing. (Can't have been the same bird; the first flew while the second was in view, though not yet identified.)

The ice is still mostly in on the western, harbour-side tern platform cove/inlet, but not completely; there were 10 mallard and 2 bufflehead feeding in the patch of open water.

The ice is still there but not completely in front of the cormorant colony; there were 2 common goldeneye, about 35 scaup (I will claim greater scaup), 3 long-tail ducks, a dozen mallard and one possible black duck roosting on the ice, and five mallard in the water.

Cell 3—I think it's Cell 3, across the floating bridge from the cormorant colony—had more open water, and from the shape of the ice edges it's an honest-to-Tiwaz sound. (Presumably wind, rather than current, generated.)

There I observed one great black-backed gull, 9 herring gull, and a single ring-billed gull, all standing on the ice in tones of sullen disapproval; at least 30 long-tailed duck; at least 30 common golden-eye; at least 20 common merganser, at least 16 greater scaup, and at least 120 red-headed duck.

At which point I noticed that my hands were cold and that my gloves were missing, so I headed back.  It's amazing how effective walking quickly while angry with one's own stupidity is at keeping one's hands warm.

No luck with owls, despite looking (it might be too clement for owls on the spit, or it might be a bad year for bunnies, or, most probably, I might not know the first thing about finding roosting owls); I saw what I would have identified as black bear scat anywhere else, and have to suppose either a very large dog as ought not to be there (I did see one seeing-eye dog, but generally dogs are not permitted in the park) or that a coyote has been into the castor oil.

It felt far more like late March than mid-ish February; the ground isn't actually frozen and there is only remnant snow in locations the wind might have piled it two or more meters thick.  Buds are showing on pussywillow stems and willow trees generally; the beaver colony is clearly reproducing (and gnawing merrily on anything tasty); from the tracks, either there are blessed large coyotes or someone is bringing their dog into the park quite a bit and it's a big dog. (100 lb or so.)  I'd be delighted at the prospect of actual wolves in Toronto but I'm funny that way and wonder very much what even an 80 lb wild canid would be eating. (or maybe this is why there's a shortage of bunnies in the park this year...)  The water is very low; almost a metre below normal levels.  I shall have to hope the runoff from parts well north is good and the lakes pick up in the spring.

Displaying bufflehead drakes are amusing; displaying common golden-eye are comical, once one recognizes that, no, that duck is not being electrocuted. (Golden-eye have dark heads, white necks, and much fluffier heads than necks; they stretch their neck out as far as it will go backwards over their tail, and gape (and possibly quack; too far away to hear, and besides there were long-tailed ducks murpling away amongst themselves so making anything else difficult to pick out) while swinging their head forward into lunging position while bouncing up and down in the water.

While my spotting-scope continues to be much more useful with contacts than glasses, I am increasingly of the opinion that what I want is more reach. Preferably lots more reach.  The trick is remembering I'm going to have to carry any attempts at producing greater reach for distances of not less than 10 km from time to time. (Yes, I've been seriously thinking about using a Celestron C8 for terrestrial observation, but thankfully so far I've always then suffered a rush of sense to the head.)

14 February 2010

Valentine's Day Bird Walk

Having no other plans for the day, I went down to the western section of the Toronto lake front, starting at the mouth of the Humber and proceeding generally eastwards, and looked at birds.  I saw 18 species in two hours, before I decided I was cold enough (major drawback of aluminium tripods, or at least carrying same, in the winter: one gets a very cold hand) to call it a day.

American crow
black duck
bufflehead duck
Canada goose
common goldeneye
common merganser
European starling
greater scaup
herring gull
hooded merganser
lesser black-backed gull
long-tailed duck
mallard duck
mute swan
red-breasted merganser
ringbilled gull
rock dove

This is a fairly dull list, but being able to proceed at a measured pace and really look at things was good practice.  (I found the first bunch of gadwall that way; what's that one non-mallard?  Then it turned out there were four lurking under the shore edge and another dozen down the beach a ways.)  I have also found out that contact lenses make my spotting scope work a whole lot better; it doesn't really have, especially at greater factors of magnification, enough eye relief for glasses wearers.

The crows—five in a bunch, which would have been nothing before West Nile came through—were courtesy of a dead ground hog on the CN tracks just west of Parkside Drive.  There was a juvenile herring gull using the same "shake the claws off before swallowing" technique on a crayfish that this month's TOC meeting's speaker showed video of whimbrel using on fiddler crabs.  No trumpeters, but more than 20 mute swans.  I was especially pleased at getting examples of all three mergansers, including juveniles; I'm getting better at telling the females apart but benefit from practice.

The steady onshore wind was generating respectable swell, and the broken ice was chiming together like dull distant bells.  A much more spring-like sound than I would normally associate with the middle of February, but it goes well with flocks of swans.

07 February 2010

"And whistled and roared in the winter alone"


I'm referring to a Coleridge poem with the title.

It's processed more than I usually do, too, but I'm happy with it.

06 February 2010

The streetcar doesn't always stop where you want

I would have prefered just that little bit further forward, but at least the window opened.  (shooting through the window glass in streetcars in winter is... rarely effective.)

05 February 2010


I rather like this one.  It's an outside wall decoration higher than my head, and I didn't get exactly the angle I wanted, but I still like the way the wood looks.

04 February 2010


Troll's Eye View

02 February 2010

Rock doves are ubiquitous for a reason

All the bird-feeder books have a page or so on "birds need water".  And, sure, they need water, but it's not immediately obvious just how much until one seems something like this.

If I had noticed the bird while taking this shot, I would have recomposed.  But I didn't.  (Not sure how I would have recomposed; lots of ugly concrete just past the far end of the waterfall.)

Birdless waterfall, perhaps looking that little bit more glassy.

Moving water would be a wretched thing to get photographically obsessed with, really it would.

Cool, even if it was a Canon

My quite splendid optometrist has acquired a device that takes pictures of your retina.  This is good for them because they get a bunch of filters that let them see things they couldn't see before, they get a larger viewing area than with the little hand-held light-and-viewer widgets traditionally used, and they get a lasting record of what things looked like last time.

My eyes are apparently healthy and I'm still able to focus effectively, so no bifocals quite yet.  New lenses because I'm slightly less short-sighted with age.  Also, contacts, so I can have less annoyance (I hope) staring through optical devices at birds.

31 January 2010

TOC Bird Walk–Winter Birds

Birding as a hobby has given me lots of opportunities to say "it warmed up a lot once the sun came up"; today was another such opportunity.  (Sunrise happened while I was waiting for the GO train to Pickering.)

I think we reached the forecast high of -3 ℃.  Despite that, I did not adequately allow for the persistent, clawing wind and under-dressed a bit.  Thankfully not drastically so, but I was right glad of both Timmies' stops to thaw. (Well, OK, technically one of them involved lunch as well as thawing.)  And I never did see any of the snow geese (there are, thanks to the dedication of various birders, known to be 8 white and 1 blue snow geese wintering along with the approximately 6,000 Canada geese in Whitby Harbour.  Despite several attempts, I, and most of the group, didn't see any of them.)

Aside from that, it was a great day—cardinals, blue jay, chickadees, dark-eyed junco, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, brown creeper, tree sparrow, goldfinch, Canada geese (by the long shedload), bufflehead, common goldeneye, greater scaup, mallard, black duck, gadwall, common merganser, trumpeter swan, mute swan, ring-billed gull, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, great black-backed gull, glaucous gull, saw-whet owl, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk (more than five), merlin, and northern harrier.

Personal highlights were watching  a great black-backed gull klepto-parasitize a 2nd year herring gull, the saw-whet owl tucked into conifers by the side of the road not very far over my head height (that I would never, ever, have seen on my own!) and being overflown by calling trumpeter swans.

27 January 2010

change of quarters

Somewhere in this town is a 800+ square foot apartment with bare floors, high(ish) ceilings, reasonably modern appliances, and washer-dryer hookups that permits cats and has reasonable options for bicycle storage.

The trick now is to find it....

Suggestions are welcome!

UPDATE - have found place.  Am feeling fortunate.  Moving for 1 March.  Moving Aoife slightly thereafter.  No balcony, but lots of windows, so hopefully she will not be too offended.

24 January 2010

TOC Bird Walks–Gulls and Waterfowl

It was 8 C today.  This is remarkably warm for January, even for Toronto.  It was also windy and it rained with vigour and variety.  Sometimes it tried its very best to sleet, presumably on the assumption that rain is seasonally inappropriate and should be replaced with some other form of precipitation.

The notable bird was a horned grebe, bobbing and swirling in what was very nearly surf.  Also seen were gadwal, bufflehead, redhead, mallard, common merganser, red-throated merganser, common goldeneye, scaup in the several hundreds, long tail, black, and American widgeon ducks.  Trumpter and mute swans, Canada geese, ring-billed, herring, and one Icelandic gull rounded out the list.  (Greater Black-backed gull was reported but I did not see it.)

I had cold hands; the gloves I wore are ok for 20 minutes in the rain, but it turns out not a couple hours holding on to things.  The liners work as warmth retention even when wet so this was not too bad, but I'll use a different outer glove layer next time rain is forecast.  Everything else worked splendidly; MEC Truant jacket and wind pants, the silane poncho, and the muck boots all performed as advertised and I stayed warm and dry despite wandering around in wind and rain for four hours.  So I'm feeling fairly good about that.

I may be starting to develop an appreciation for the term "dedicated birder".  Hopefully this shall not prove it a bad thing!

23 January 2010


I was quite surprised to see them do this.  I am quite surprised they can do this.
Would have liked a landing shot but felt fortunate to get this; they were both very skittish about the person with the camera.

16 January 2010

Hanging in there

Aoife is fine, I'm fine, I'll be much happier should I actually get paid (insisting on mailing cheques, two instances; going to be a pain about getting my SIN number without any legal basis, one probable instance.)

And yes, I ought to blog more but I don't seem to be finding the spoons.