23 December 2014

It's winter

Variety of large Larus gulls on the beach seawall
There's at least one Great Black-backed Gull on the beach seawall along Sir Casimir Gzowski Park.

The adults are pretty easy; the immatures produce a certain amount of "check the feet!" as a response; when the obviously smaller gulls have the pink legs and feet of herring gulls, well.  That reduces the options for what the larger and generally pretty dark immature gull could be.

Apologies for the terrible focus; manual focus with no tripod is not my best skill.  (I thought the lens was having cold issues; it looks more like the camera body is having ring-focusing-motor drive issues.)

Intractable Swans

So when I first reported L07 and J06, the nice people who work on the trumpeter swan re-introduction emailed me back and asked if the third swan, the one with no wing tag, had a leg band.  I didn't think so, but I hadn't taken a picture, so I couldn't be sure.
L07 Trumpeter Swan Cob, asleep on the beach
Unknown trumpeter swan asleep on the beach
And I am no more sure today, after remembering to take a picture.  ("Let's go wake the swans up", aside from being less than ethical, also isn't safe.  So we don't do that.)

J06 was further down the beach, honking malignantly at a bunch of seven mute swans.  The mutes were looking baffled and uneasy; it can't be the sort of thing they're used to.  And even trumpeter swans aren't that territorial in the winter.  It might get a bit more exciting come springtime, when the trumpeter cobs spend so much time striving to remember how their distant, distant ancestors grew rending teeth.

21 December 2014

Inherently elegant creatures, swans

Preening cob trumpeter swan J06
There's a group of trumpeter swans on the Toronto Waterfront this winter; mute swans are regular, but it's nice to see Trumpeters getting re-established enough to be present.  (Trumpeters are, after all, the native swan species.)  And I do suppose winter makes taking one's preening very seriously an important thing to do.

22 November 2014

Photographic failure

So far this month, there's been a Merlin in a tree, Red-bellied Woodpecker, two, side-by-each, Red-tailed Hawks -- it's a very popular tree -- and, in a different tree, the winter's first Northern Shrike.  There's been some impressive leaves, too, back at the start of the month.  Swans have gone over, way high up; so have Sandhill cranes, not quite so far up.

Flying by there have been Red-Tails, including a kettle of five so pale the belly-band "Charlie Brown sweater" markings were almost invisible and the dark patagium didn't show, so only the black primary tips and the red rectrices showed as colour on the bird.  I sometimes joke that some of our passing red-tails are so pale you suspect there's some snowy owl ancestry somewhere, but this bunch looked absolutely spectral.

There have been Red-Shouldered Hawks, the occasional harrier, ghosting through with a flight style a bit like a gangly peregrine got drunk, the occasional eagle, these last few late-season days of bad wind rowing through like some disreputable god granted the essence of sulk feathers and hunger for a shape.  Most of the accipiters and falcons are gone; they eat birds, and most of the birds are gone.  Yesterday there were a surprising number -- seven! -- of Rough-Legged Hawks, which is a really good day for Toronto.

There was even a probable Swainson's Hawk, presumptively working its way back from where this relentless wind put it after having failed to blow it clean to Iceland.  (If one could somehow withstand the temperatures and avoid the polar bears, I suspect there are a lot of confused migrants to be seen along the coast of Labrador this week.)

I have, alas, failed to get decent pictures of anything; you can, for example, tell it's a shrike or a merlin or that, yeah, the red-tail on the left is the juvenile, but between holding up a wee pocket camera in cold hands, branches swaying in the wind, and the poor auto-focus' less than complete understanding of the bird, drat it, not the slightly nearer branch, has not been kind to the eventual results.

So no pictures, and few postings in consequence.

27 October 2014

"And Thick on Severn Snow the Leaves"

It's early fall.  There are still green leaves, but not very many, and people keep guessing wrong about how much jacket they need.

South towards Lake Ontario's condo tower fringe
There are ducks in this picture.  Only two, and mallards, so you're not missing much if you can't find them.  Neither the bufflehead nor the widgeon nor the shovellers turned out well, picture-wise, and all three are partially white things moving on a moving mirror so I suppose the camera can be forgiven.  Certainly the shovellers are a fall thing; they don't stop for long.  The bufflehead are a winter thing, when the lake doesn't freeze, and the widgeon were just a surprise.
Hawk Hill in High Park, looking north
We were totally skunked at the hawk watch Wednesday, despite some north-west winds and what should have been good conditions, which is why I took a walk and saw ducks.
Freshly moulted pair of wood ducks
Wood ducks just aren't chromatically plausible.  Lots, though, and a bunch in immature alternate plumage, though it's probably basic if the researchers ever stop tearing their hair and sort out which way around duck moults go, the implausible creatures.  The extra-shiny, we can fly, aren't we pretty? plumage, in any case.  So -- to undigress -- it looks like the High Park wood ducks had a good breeding year this year.

06 October 2014

A peregrine in a tree

The peregrine was on the Toronto Islands, and a surprise; one does not often see them perched in trees.  The angle of the light was nearly straight up-sun but you can at least identify the bird.

Adult Peregrine Falcon perched in a tree
And since peregrines were sometimes known as "duck hawks", have some ducks from the Toronto waterfront off Sir Casimir Gzowski park.
Pair of Gadwall preening

20 September 2014

Flocking might be too strong

Adult Great Blue Heron
There were five in the marsh at the mouth of the Rouge; two adults and three immature.  Definite sign that the summer is coming to an end, beyond silly things like the temperature shift and the earlier and earlier hours of evening as the equinox creeps up.

18 September 2014

The End of the Summer

Flowering purple plant along Chesterton Shores
There are maple trees starting to turn, sheltered ones down by the lake.  There's a lot of flowers flowering away, and a few bees, and a few more butterflies, and clouds of some kind of insect, but the mallards are practising having their wings working again and the Canada Geese do have their wings working again.  It's not actually even cool yet but we've hit that magical point where more than half the populace you see outside has a jacket, because it's going to be and who knows the day?

I don't know what the plant is; it's growing in a great deal of river-cobble dumped there are part of constructing the walkway and some artificial breakwaters as part of a really necessary conservation area and quite lovely walking path, because this pushes the lake a good fifty slow-eroding metres from some quite soft bluffs that were getting disturbingly close to the rail line.  Most of the colonists of the cobbles are goldenrod, but some of it's this quite lovely purple stuff.

14 September 2014

Accidental birds

Northern Shoveller drake in eclipse plumage
Not much along Chesterton Shores; gulls, Canada geese, turkey vulture.  The swallows are all flown, the blue jays ruckusing somewhere else, and the clouds were coming in.

The marsh attending on the mouth of the Rouge, though; Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Blue-winged Teal, the inevitable Mallards mallarding about, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Northern Shoveller, late Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Gadwall, Wood Duck, at least one and maybe two duck species too far from the platform to identify with binoculars, and grumpy bittern noises like a large bullfrog expiring in wrath.

That's five minutes as a break on a bike ride; must get back there with a scope sometime soonish.

"Dull pink in all plummages"

Adult Herring Gull still in alternate plumage with two late cormorants
Dunno about you, but I'm having trouble with the "dull" modifying the "pink" when it comes to those feet.

Also, that's a pretty good illustration that Herring Gulls are honking big; it looks larger than the double-crested cormorant.  (They're not; Herring Gulls mass 800-1200 grammes, where Double-crested Cormorant masses 1200-2500 grammes.  Posture and glowing white plumage affect perception.)

11 September 2014

Anybody recognize this bird?

The Windermere Basin in Hamilton is not a place I usually get.  But I am extremely fortunate in my birding friends.
I was not fortunate in the weather; the wind was blowing straight at us above 50 kph, so using a scope without one's eyes watering unto uselessness was challenging.  So was attempting to digiscope by holding a camera up to the eyepiece, but I almost managed.
100 percent crop of the next image
70x scope view via baffled camera autofocus
camera still baffled, perhaps better profile on bird
So, what is it?

My notes say:

  • lighter brown head
  • brown shoulders, mantle
  • darkens caudally
  • black chin patch
  • yellow strong bill as long as head and hooked
  • dark legs (could be black)
  • gull-shaped; heavy herringish
I was not at the time sure that the eye was yellow, or if the thing showing yellow was a nictitating membrane of some kind, but every single photo where the eye is visible has the yellow eye.  So probably.

It's a large bird; there's a photo (not shown) with a Greater Yellowlegs for scale, and this bird is much, much larger, roughly mallard-sized.  (Larger than the Caspian Terns on the other end of the little island.)

"Some sort of jaeger" is the obvious conclusion, but dark morph jaegers are supposed to have black bills.  And while I have some good gull references, jaegers are not gulls and not in them.

Anybody recognize this bird?

31 August 2014

Complicated Sky

Horizontal rainbows
It's not often I see these, but the 24th was a very complicated sky.


So I've been going out to the Bird Studies Canada High Park Nighthawk count (18h00 - 20h30, nightly, until 6 September 2014 on Hawk Hill in High Park in Toronto).  Nighthawk numbers have been variable, but one gets reliable as distinguishing the distant nighthawk from the distant chimney swift and the sneaking ring-billed gull.

I have neither the skill nor the equipment to get good pictures of flying nighthawks; if there's light, they're high, and if they're low it's nearly dark, and they're always moving fast.

Nighthawk kettle.  All those dots
Centre of the nighthawk kettle
Single nighthawk in silhouette 
It wasn't that dark, quite, for that last shot but I have a weakness for those shades of blue.  It's difficult to make myself give them up when that's what the processor gives me by default.

Camera mass

It gets you something.

Pocket camera
Next day, DSLR, macro lens
I don't always -- don't usually -- have room for it, but it matters sometimes.  Not going to stop carrying the pocket camera, sad there won't be another one in that line of descent (Fuji seems to have abandoned the F-series) but yeah.  The third of a kilo of glass and expertise does get me something.

29 August 2014


 So, on 13 August, I was out cycling and was hit by a car.  I was crossing Logan on the Martin Goodman trail; the driver was turning off of Lakeshore on to Logan in the apparent (and false!) expectation they had the right-of-way.  The Hypothesis' fork and front wheel didn't survive; the wheel looks fine but when a dynamo hub shocks you through the wheel rim, something has gone wrong.  (Also, when the mechanic has to cut the front skewer to get the wheel off the fork, you start to suspect how the hum hub may have gone wrong... [Though the hum has definitely gone wrong, too.])

I'm fine; there was some minor bruising, the kind that doesn't hurt when you move, never mind make moving harder, and it's faded. The driver's insurance company has been remarkably easy to deal with and the final release has been mailed off, so I'm expecting the comfortable price of a replacement fork and wheel to arrive next week.

Immediately post-collision, with the rando bag off
This is an ex-fork
The former fork's off at True North for paint-matching purposes against the new fork.  I'm trying not to wince at the prices for the rack struts, riding the Experiment, and generally developing a desire for a much more distinct bicycle infrastructure with the kind of barriers that would stop a full articulated cement truck at 100kph.

07 August 2014

Book Reviews

The March North

People have been saying nice things!

Brad DeLong recommended it.  The Three-Toed Sloth is overtly pro-sequels.  Andrew wrote a detailed review that's also up on Goodreads.  Brad quoted the leaves want whose review is almost a review of my writing objectives.  (leaves does get to read the rough drafts, which might be considered an advantage.)

Please excuse me while I go make faint squeaky noises of authorial delight.

31 July 2014

Not a honeybee

I believe it to be some sort of bee
Some sort of halictid, sweat-bee, since green and metallic and quite small would fit with that clade.  There was this one, and maybe another, and a bumble bee, on a stretch of flowers four meters long.

30 July 2014

Traditional roses

Five-petal roses, pink and white
The showy roses are very pretty, but I have a decided fondness for these.

20 July 2014

Hail the fence

White and magenta flowers
It's so very helpful to have a fence to rest one's elbows on.  There were a lot of these, all very striking.

19 July 2014

Implausible Blue

Unknown blue flowers
I have a strong suspicion that these are benefiting from some sort of refractive effects, as well as pigment.

Can't say "they really are that blue" because of course I don't know anything about your monitor but what I'm seeing matches what I recall about what I saw, if that follows.

14 July 2014

Another front yard flower

Pink, eight-petalled flower.
These sometimes look like the gardener must sneak out in the night and dye them.  It really was pretty much that shade of pink.

10 July 2014

Purple and delicate and viewed over the fence

flowering plants with purple flowers
Also, roses all over the fence to the right, which made choices of angle somewhat restrained.

08 July 2014

I'm going to say "Cooper's"

I went for a photo walk this morning; there's a lot of flowers in people's front gardens this time of year, and the weather (severe thunderstorms expected after noon) didn't seem sensible for a bike ride.

So I got to have this flash of avian motion go by in the corner of my eye, and the slow "that's not a robin" thought, and then the glimpse of strongly barred tail that connected to "it can't be a hoopoe" which is at least evidence that the most recent bird image I happened to have looked at stuck.

There were four obviously juvenile accipters; I presume a successful clutch.  (The tree is in a small park adjacent to a primary school; it looks very wild but I was standing on asphalt and there were half-a-dozen children and parents on their way to school looking up around me.)  I only got pictures of one; I'm rather pleased with myself that I managed to get the macro lens swapped off for the long zoom in an expeditious fashion, since there was a fair bit of in-the-trees movement going on.

At the time, I thought they were Sharp-shinned; they didn't seem much larger than robins.  Then I got home and looked at the better pictures.

juvenile Cooper's Hawk in a conifer
I'm chewing my way through Peter Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion which makes the point that Sharp-shinned hawks can't turn their heads like this.  (They have to drop a shoulder.)  I recall a discussion at a TOC meeting where Mark Peck of the ROM pointed out that Sharp-Shinned has much larger and distinct "raindrop" streaking on the breast.  (Which makes me doubt about this one.)
On the other hand
same juvenile Cooper's Hawk, same conifer, less obscuring foliage
Those are neither especially spindly legs nor a narrow white terminal tail band, and there's russet on the head and nape.  So I'm going to say it's Cooper's.

06 July 2014


Preparations to string new cables on Dupont St.
Those are big reels of what I want to call nylon cable, only I don't think it's technically cable despite not being rope and it might not be nylon, could be Aramid or similar these days.  The drilling for new post holes is done, and the view the other direction -- hopelessly up-sun for the camera -- has pulleys slung on the new poles, ready to start pulling the actual cables along.

I presume that happens Monday.  I also presume that Monday is a good day to avoid the area, traffic-wise.

There have been a few more bike rides, several successful episodes of wheel truing subsequent to the bike rides, and a general attempt to say away from the parts of town where the World Cup is a thing.  Also some writing; Commonweal #3 is harder to write than #1 or #2 were, but it seems to be moving a bit at long last.

27 June 2014

Succumbing to Optimism

It was a really nice day today, after a couple days of, respectively, threatened toad-strangling rain and actual toad-strangling (or at least "divided highway and subway station flooding") rain.  So I was dithering between riding up the Humber and riding along the Waterfront trail going west (World Pride is on, in a downtown still with much ongoing construction; staying the pluperfect out of downtown is a Good Plan until after Canada Day.)  Turns out my feet wanted to go up the Humber.

The end of the West Humber trail just short of Steeles Ave.
 The last, oh, it's just barely an entire kilometre, of the trail is rather varied in composition; large gravel, stone dust, water-sorted gravel, and it's got noticeable up to it, so it's a small ring and caution stretch.  It's also one of my very favourite trail sections anywhere in Toronto because hardly anyone uses it and the forest has flashes of feeling actually wild.
Reality lacks a road
I had the clever idea of actually emerging on to Steeles, something one does not necessarily ever want to do with a bicycle.  (Reasonably nimble armoured vehicle is more the thing for Steeles.)  I was going to try to drop down at an angle once across Kipling and try for the other branch of the West Humber, which would get me back to the main part of the Humber via at least different tree-shaded paths.

This is complicated by the presence of railroads, divided highways, twisty old subdivision road layouts, and my own rather lamentable tendency to optimism; I wound up well north of Steels on Martin Grove Road (we call this "turning the wrong way"), and started trying to figure out how to pick up some westing without, preferably, having to travel on Steeles or Highway 7, since I didn't have that reasonably nimble armoured vehicle.  The GPS showed a bike-path scale road that might just make it between Martin Grove and Highway 27, and 27 would at least get me south again. (So would have turning around; that would have been much more sensible.)  Said bike-path is actually not, it's a full two lanes and paved and in gorgeous shape, because it's the access road for the Claireville Transformer Station.  Which, alas, has a fence; a large, alarmed, multi-layer, extra barbed wire, fence. Which I crept around, on the little gravel fringe, in the hope of road continuing on the other side.

So, pluses; I can slog through three hundred metres of tall grass, thistles, and whatnot in the new cycling shoes; I can get around the fence on the little gravel border without too many thistles or raspberries, and I even found the actual gate gap in the far fence, the one that picture is looking back from, rather than trying to lift the Hypothesis over full-up pagewire fence.  I should still have turned around.

But I did get back over the 407 intact, despite the best efforts of a concealed ~15cm rise where a sidewalk started at a crossing light (nearly took the rear wheel off!), and was able to mostly follow the plan, so far as getting home goes.  And (so far) my legs haven't fallen off.  (And average cycling speed's up a bit, which the transformer station slog makes less than obvious in the available track stats.)

It's easier when they're not flying

Unquestionably the commonest gull around Toronto, which has (at the tip of the Leslie St. Spit/Tommy Thompson Park) one of the largest ring-billed gull breeding colonies in the world.

Adult ring-billed gull in breeding plumage
It's rare to get a view that makes it obvious how fluffy they really are; all that wing is made out of complex layers of feathers.
Adult ring-billed gull in breeding plumage and looking wroth
The red spot on the bill (not actually a gonydeal spot) might well indicate breeding success, as might the continued red eye ring and gape, but it's hard to say this one looks at all happy.

25 June 2014

It's easier than the swallows

ring-billed gull in flight

another ring-billed gull in flight
There's something about flying bird photography that causes me to go a little mad.   It certainly doesn't always work, and why not isn't always obvious.  Nice when it works, or even approximates working, though.

I will say for the gulls that it's much easier than the swallows.  (Greater diligence in processing may recover semi-presentable swallow images, the rather zoomy wretches.)

24 June 2014

Tiny lurker

white and purple flowers with bonus tiny arachnid
I'd feel better if I were seeing more bees; this stuff isn't clover, but there were big patches of bee-less clover, too.  Still, not doing too badly in this long damp spring.

Another from the roadside

Roadside plant, flowering away
I never see the spiders until I've got the picture to look at.  (I suppose it would help if the spiders were a vivid shade of purple.)

As usual, no idea what it is, but I think it's pretty.  The picture itself is a good explanation for why, compact, fast-focusing, and light though it is, the F900 doesn't entirely suffice as a camera.

22 June 2014

Big Move -- Strachan Overpass

South section of the Strachan Overpass lowered track west of Strachan 
Strachan Overpass associated lowered track construction
In order to be able to electrify the line up to Georgetown[1], Strachan Avenue had to rise up a couple metres, and the tracks had to go down a couple metres.  The resulting work is difficult to get a single picture of without some kind of aerial platform; there's two sunken four rail corridors between high sheer concrete walls and great big steel truss elements across the top, to distribute the force across the top of the pilings.  Looks very sturdy; it certainly has scale. I only hope that sufficient propitiation has been paid to the three chief gods of civil engineering.  (Drainage, Drainage, and Drainage, who are mighty gods, and ill to offend.)

[1] that is, the airport express rail link, much desired prior to the 2015 Pan Am games.

Yellow flower with bokeh

Someone else's front yard.

Still don't know what the flower is, but there's a lot to be said for doing one's flower photography in full sunlight.
Yellow flowers in full sunlight.

Leaning over the fence

Someone's front garden flowers with diligent bee
Didn't see the bee when I took the picture.  Don't know what the flowers are.  Think they're pretty anyway.

21 June 2014

More inappropriate lens choices

 I have no idea what these are; they're nigh-certainly escaped from cultivation, and are presently growing in the grassy lakeward margin of a parking lot, which is why the inappropriate lens choice; this was as close as I could get without leaping over barriers and trampling vegetation, the which I should rather other people don't do, so strive to avoid doing myself.

Unknown purple flower
Three unknown purple flowers past their best
They really are about that purple; I haven't done anything to make them more vivid or futz with the colour balance in processing.  I presume the full bright sunlight helps, and I hope that there were appropriate numbers of pollinators at some point in time.

Experimenting with the Experiment

The idea  of having the Hypothesis and the Experiment was that I could keep the Experiment -- the actual touring bike -- in relatively stable shape while trying out new things on the Hypothesis.  (Despite the Experiment coming first, and this affecting the names, since you perform an experiment and then form a hypothesis...)
So, this has in part come true; the Experiment just got STI shifters on a Salsa Cowbell 2 bar because I tried those on the Hypothesis and really liked them.[1] (I miss the flats on the FSA wing bar but will accept the trade for the greater width of the 46cm Salsa bar.) The R2C bar end shifters I had been using on the Experiment were mechanically excellent but not intended for actual bar ends and as such prone to demanding blood sacrifice any time the handlebars dipped, as they will certainly do while stopped on bicycles with front bags.
Where it hasn't come true is the chain ring; the Wik Werks chain rings presently on the Hypothesis haven't rendered themselves non-serviceable yet, so I elected to leave them there and try the Surly 50t/110BCD stainless chain ring on the Experiment.  (Since, after all, the Experiment is both where a bent chain ring would be worse and where I'm going to be hauling loaded panniers.)

So far, it's working; somewhere around the 50km total distance mark, the annoying noise from the chain being just a little too tight on the teeth of the chainring went away.  (Which would be about 10km into this ride.)  Since there's a companion annoying squeak from the peddle cleats (which aren't latching quite so snugly as one would best prefer) it's not entirely easy to tell.

Shifting, well, it happens.  Shifting the front ring from large to small happens reliably and briskly, which is after all the more important direction (save on those rare occasions where one is being chased uphill by bears and feeling unusually inspired) pretty much irrespective of the cassette position.  Shifting from small to large happens not at all if the chain is in the lower half (by which I mean, lower gear, not, as still seems more natural to me, closer to the axle) of the cassette; in the upper half of the cassette shifting happens with a bit of clanking but quite reliably.  It'll do.

(Rear shifting, via the X9 rear dérailleur, continues to be a reliable delight.  There's something to be said for the huge range of a 12-36 cassette, too.)

It feels like it improves power transmission, too; not just getting sturdier shoes but getting whatever hypothetical wobble out of the front ring.  (This might be an illusion of increased fitness, hard to say.)

The Experiment in current trim
Up against the fence at the current Downsview Station.  (The station is going to be renamed Sheppard West when the line extension goes in to service and the next station northbound becomes Downsview.)  Kinda backlit, but still blue.
Today's route; still mostly downhill despite unplanned excursion
This is a surprisingly nice ride; parts of McNicoll are difficult, but cheating by getting north of the 401 on the subway is a very considerable help.  Didn't plan to go up to Steeles; that's me missing a turn to stay on Old Finch.  It was plenty scenic, though, and novel even to Zingerella, which isn't easy to do in Toronto.  I still want better signage and a better degree of continuousness from the hydro corridor paths; the ones the exist are lovely things, but they're woefully discontinuous.

[1] I've had all the parts, finally, there were troubles involving the computer having a delusive notion of the product code at the supplier all my local bike shops talk to for Salsa, for a month and a bit now.  Last week I had an attack of spoons sufficient to consider changing only the front half of cable splitters, and got the new bars on.