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Feather Brained

Birds, Bites, Bits and Books

Updated: 2018-03-06T16:29:17.586-05:00


One Long Week...


The last two weeks actually...that began with a tragic, untimely death of a young man who was a friend of my daughter and son. Too soon, too far away, too surreal. The fog descended suddenly while he and a buddy were back country skiing in Japan. As a veil of mist enveloped them, and reduced visibility to virtually nil,  he hit an icy patch and while trying to regain  his balance, slid over a mountain cliff and landed 600 meters below. Somewhere during that fall, breath turned to air. And for the 1000 plus mourners who gathered tens of thousands of miles and eight days later in a little church in rural Ontario, the topic of weather arose frequently. Unpredictable. Capricious. Friend. Enemy. Glorious. Ying. Yang.In Canada, we celebrate our four seasons and welcome each of them with the same exuberance as we say farewell when their time is up. We are cursed and blessed. We have the largest wardrobes on the planet. And, we have the largest wardrobes on the planet.We have special events that are themed around the weather: Winterlude gives over to Spring Fling, which bows out for Summer Sounds, which in turn introduces Harvest Ball, which brings us to Christmas in the Valley, and so the circle begins again. Each season plays host to special activities that are meant to seduce people into the outside. Hockey. Skiing. Nordic Walking. Snowshoeing. Skateboarding. Roller Blading. Mountain Biking. Hiking. Swimming. ATVing. Fishing. Kayaking. Canoeing.  And, of course, Birding year round.It's a full life. We draw our circles large, and invite friends in to share the experiences. And, as I read recently, "If you're not dead, then you're not done. There are lessons still to be learned."I take comfort, personally, in thinking that when someone dies, they have, indeed, come to the place they were meant to be. Have completed their journey, and can now move on to the next, whatever that may entail. When a young person dies suddenly, the silver lining is that they will not be left to languish slowly and alone in a long term care facility, sad, diminished and incapable of caring for themselves. No one gets out of life alive. But some have more pleasant journeys than others.And so I arrived at today.  I walked out the door two hours ago, and was greeted by the actual demise of winter..The quiet blanket of fog had crept into the woods and along the edges of the road. The silence was thick, broken only, and beautifully,  by the sweet jingling of the Juncoes, the tat-a- tat of the Hairy Woodpecker, the yanking of the Nuthatches, and the tinkling little trills of the Redpolls. It was profoundly peaceful. The air smelled warm and rich and earthy. Nature was rolling over and shedding her wintry cloak.This we know to be True. Spring will come.And with it, a new dawn.[...]

Fall and Winter Have Retired.


Who'd a thunk?Not me certainly!When I said " So long, adieu to you and you and you!",  and tore off the shackles that bound me to a career as an Economic Developer I really had no idea what would happen next, where I would go, what I would do, when I would know I had arrived at that magical place where retired people dwell, how I would manage, what would it be like....So I had to just LET IT ALL GO. And the night I decided that that was the best plan, this happened:And nothing was revealed. Well, not quite true. It was a beautiful autumn evening...a Tuesday night. And while we sat around the bonfire enjoying the full  golden moon, the lovely merlot wine, the soft evening breeze it hit me! I didn't have to go to work the next day, and I was accountable to absolutely no-one but me! And so I stayed up past midnight. And the next morning, I slept in past 9. And dreamed of a trip to Cape May, that wouldn't be a vacation at all. I didn't have to take a holiday from anything! I just had to go and enjoy the gorgeous ocean breezes, fabulous seafood, stunning scenery, and the birds. Oh, the birds!And so I did!Getting used to having no schedule whatsoever, other than a self-imposed one, took about 10 minutes. And then it became a huge release from stress, worry, and time constraints! My time had arrived, without me being aware that I had been waiting for it! All of a sudden, I realized that I could do anything I felt like - and I didn't have to wait until the weekend to see friends, go out for dinner, go rambling around, cook, clean or not clean...time had suddenly become my friend!Hello!Hello cooking classes. Hello mid-week birding excursions. Hello I don't think I feel like doing anything today. Hello Netflix binge. Hello  afternoon yoga classes. Hello life!Autumn morphed into winter, and even our white world became something to celebrate. Previously there had always been those moments of frustration - have to clear snow off the car, scrape the windshield, put on coats, mitts, boots, scarves moments - just to simply leave the yard. No more!I can stay in with a book. Or not. I can, and did, go skating and had the most memorable skate of my life one gorgeous sunny day in January when water turned to ice and the magic happened.It wasn't just one day, either. There was the day when we found not one, not two, but THREE Snowy Owls as we were taking a leisurely afternoon drive around the Valley.There was the morning when I looked out the window, and saw deer in the yard, and then later, along the road, in the fields, and into the woods...deer here, deer there, oh deer!There were days of wonder. Days of sleep. Moments of laughter. Time with friends. Time with family. Day dreams. Incredible scenes.And ever so slowly, my world began to shift. It was - and is - a better place to be. And softly, winter dropped her coat, and it became easier to breathe. And signs of Spring coming appeared. The days got longer. And the sun warmed. And Spring arrived.And so did I.[...]

Five Million Meals.


Built in the 1950's,  the Smith Falls Rideau Regional Centre (Ontario Hospital School)  once accommodated 2600  special needs children with cognitive and physical disabilities. The kids could be placed there by their parents or guardians, and they were cared for by approximately 2400 staff. This included a hospital with operating theatres and a morgue, full service kitchens, laundry facilities, a school complete with a gymnasium, swimming pool, theatre, and of course, rooms. Lots of rooms. So, on any given day, in its heyday, 5000 meals would be prepared three times a day. Times 365 days a year. Times almost 20 years. Good God! 109,500,000 plates of nutritional sustenance served up.That's a shitload of food. Literally and otherwise.And that doesn't include seconds, or popcorn, on the occasional movie night!Everyone was cheery on cherry pie Fridays.The Centre slowly closed its doors over a period of  years, phasing out some services, outsourcing others, and eventually, turning out the lights and sending the last of the residents back from whence they came about 15 years ago. About that same time, the homeless population in Ontario began to swell noticeably, schools began to change their curriculae to be more welcoming, diversified, and inclusive, and Special Education became a commonly accepted term. Just as "mentally retarded" and "crippled" became politically and socially incorrect descriptors of human beings with special needs.It was all well and good.Making approximately 600 pies and 500 loaves of bread daily required some mighty heavy duty batter beaters.Except that the massive school cum hospital that was once a force to be reckoned with, and a major economic driver in Eastern Ontario in its own right, sat languishing while unemployed caregivers, social workers, teachers, medical professionals, custodians, cooks and cleaners all went shopping for new jobs. The services required to run such a massive institution were no longer required, so add plumbers, electricians, carpenters, gardeners, and food growers to the list, as well as wholesalers of bedding, linens, shirts, shoes and toothbrushes...pretty much anyone who provided any service or product that might be needed by a village of some 5000 people on a daily basis.My, oh my. What a fun time that must not have been!I had no idea Mercedes made hot dog cookers?Fast forward to 2015. ...what do you do with a vacant village?Among the many thousands of ideas, that includes everything from condos to private business, high tech secure research campus, cute little shops, emergency evacuation centre, old parrot rehab and palliative care centre (yes), theatre school, fitness training centre, and hair salon, the idea I like the best is one of the ones that is actually working.All that stainless steel cooking equipment has become the focal point of a local food hub.Now it's artisan loaves of crusty baguettes, slathered with hot blueberry jamand served with a side of vichyssoise.  Take that gruel and grog!A new venture in collaboration between farmers and foodies, chefs and personal support services, the (now) gleaming kitchen that once fed hordes is once again cooking with gas.  Meals on Wheels uses the kitchen to prepare its delivery dinners, market gardeners rent the prep space, coolers and ovens to process their crops of berries, garlic scapes, tomatoes and all things delicious.It's a menu for success that creatively re-uses, re-invents, re-purposes,  and re-minds us, that:To everything there is a season,a time for every purpose under the sun.A time to be born and a time to die;a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;a time to kill and a time to heal ...a time to weep and a time to laugh;a time to mourn and a time to dance ...a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;a time to lose and a time to seek;a time to rend and a time to sew;a time to keep silent and a time to speak;a time to love and a time to hate; a t[...]

Where Have You Been?


Hello, it's me.It's been one year, and fifty weeks since I last felt compelled to share my thoughts with you. My last post was on my Mother's birthday in 2013. I wrote about letting the light in. And then I went dark.As an inveterate writer, communicator, viewer, sharer, and introvert, this method of being part of a group was an absolute blessing, allowing me to be me - from a distance, with complete control.I am not really sure why I stopped...why my muse was no longer amused... But I just felt like I  had nothing more to say.I did start writing a weekly column for Bird Canada  and I enjoyed being part of the greater birding community. However, I have never reacted well to having to submit something on a weekly basis,whether I felt like it or not. So I fulfilled the promise I made to myself to do it for one year, and then I stopped that too.And then I wasn't writing anything.The funny thing, or not so funny thing, is that when I stopped writing, I began to feel  angry and negative. I think I had unwittingly shut off the vent to my feelings, and I  found myself exploding inside. So here I am.I certainly didn't think I would get this urge to call on my old friends in the blogosphere this evening, but  I did, and I think I will just roll with it.Hello!I have a new camera, and many shots to share ... So I think I will just post a few to provide some context and texture  to what I have seen in the past while. If you're out there, and seeing this, welcome back!As "they" say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's a short little 43,000 word book.Out on a LimbLong BeachSea Lions in Tofino, BCRoses in Victoria, BCWhite Crowned PigeonAntiquaSigh.Bird thoughts.The LandingMaine is awesome.Birds' Eye ViewI won a free copy of Richard Crossley's book with this!Reading Market in PhiladelphiaSistersThe Two-rodded FishermanRoatanMorning storytelling.RoatanOur new neighbour.Haloomi and Tomatoes. If you haven't you should.Homemade goodness.It's never too cold for a Caesar.First we feast with our eyes.A huge flock of Snow buntings - REAL snowbirdsIt's been almost two years, and during that time I have travelled throughout Canada, the States, the Caribbean and Honduras. I always keep my camera with me, and I took great pleasure in taking a good, long, look around at the things I enjoy most...a bird in song, a captured sigh, the wind in the water, food so good that you feast with your eyes, friends and family and all the little bits in between that make us who we are.[...]

Light at the End of the Day


Busy is more than a state of being, it is an oft' used excuse to not do anything. A bit of a conundrum whereby we can't get to it to do it, and so we often don't get it done. Like me. Writing this blog! The picture taking part is easy, and I carry my camera with me at all times. As well as my phone, which has a camera, and my iPad which also has a camera. So lots of pictures get taken. Almost every day in fact. They even get downloaded, sorted, and filed into a generic sorting system I've developed based on seasons, and then within the seasons, special events or  trips or whatever strikes my fancy. I'm pretty good at doing that much.Where the whole system begins to drive me absolutely insane deteriorate is when I then have to go through all the photos I've taken on a whim and whisper of some wonderful idea, and I actually have to then crop, manipulate, resize, name, discard -all the tedious shit  time consuming, but important, background work that is crucial, before actually sharing any of the shots I've taken in order to illustrate a thought, rant, or point of view!I have started writing for Bird Canada ( on  the 16th day of every month, not just to help shine a light on birds of the Ottawa Valley in eastern Ontario. It's  also an exercise in stick-to-it-tive-ness, it's a way for me to keep writing, even though I have been too busy to do so lately. (See opening statement.)ALL THAT BEING SAID!! as I sorted through a whole bunch more shots  today, I thought that I should do something with them...and remembered (insert winking smiley face here) that I have this blog I've been neglecting lately.This one. The one that you, Gentle Patient Kindly Reader, are now reading.As the light here at home on the shores of the Ottawa River begins to fade, let me show you some of the pictures I've taken over the last little while. Pictures that I HAD to take, because the light was incredible -and unbearable, with apologies to Milan Kundara. He wrote that "when the mind speaks, the heart finds it indecent to object" in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I agree. And here are the photos I just had to take to someday share with you. In each of these shots it was the light that commanded my attention.I have dozens, no, tens of dozens more photos. But, I think that's enough shedding of the light for one night.I am a lover of light. My home has no curtains. And to quote Leonard Cohen, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."[...]

Windy, Wet, and Worth It.


The temperature is hovering around 5C+ and there's a stiff breeze off the Ottawa River. My hands are numb, and my feet are wet, as I completely forgot to pack gloves and rubber boots for this annual field trip. Clearly wasn't thinking clearly! We've trampled around the public marina, and seen a few birds, but because Spring has been late this year, there aren't many about this morning. In fact, there's more people than birds! But, the people are happy. Everyone is smiling, chatting cheerfully, and there's a low thrum of anticipation. Because you just never know what might appear out of the blue, and take your breath away. We are the watchers and the waiters, and  after a long, cold Canadian winter, the wait is almost over!The Pembroke and Area Field Naturalists  club hosts a number of guided field trips throughout the year, and each one is unique in that there is always something thrilling that sets the tone for the event, whether it be a record number of owls spotted at the Owl Prowl in March, or spotting a Kingfisher during a recent Christmas Bird Count, or, as was the case yesterday, coming upon two Sandhill Cranes engaged in their courtship dance!(forgive the quality of these two shots, my 20x optical zoom wasn't quite enough to capture the magic! )We stood and watched from the top of a small knoll, looking down at the two cranes, as they swooped and pirouetted  displaying their feathers to one another oblivious to their captive audience of 20 people! This is a memory that will last for many who were there to witness it. You can't buy an event like this, you can't create it at will, you just have to show up and be hopeful that your persistence will pay off. The wait is over. Spring has arrived, and every morning for the past week, I've watched a feathered flotilla drift by my kitchen window. It make me perpetually late for just about everything, but gives me renewed strength, calm and sense of purpose. This year, the parade has been awesome!And the best part? It's not over yet...still waiting for warblers, and the thrill they bring to a simple walk in the woods. I don't  know of any other activity that can engage all of my senses so quickly and so completely than a simple scan of the yard, binoculars ready, camera too. My collection of bird books, bird apps, binoculars, and bird art continues to expand and so does my curiosity. And perhaps that's why I'm a birder. It feeds my soul.[...]

Bin There. Done That.


The holiday season is approaching, and unless you live totally off the grid in Upper Lower Vacantville, you know that plans are afoot. People are walking the "I have a purpose" walk, carrying lists, checking them twice, looking slightly distracted, and not sure whether  they're actually enjoying themselves but finding that, more often than not, they are.Christmas is nigh, near a store near you, and no matter what your Faith, you know that if ever there was a time to be nice to one another, this is most likely it. And so you smile at strangers, hold doors open for parcel laden people, and stand patiently in line behind the lady at the ATM who is updating her account book for the first time in a decade..and you smile at her too. The hype, the syrupy music, the moments brought to you by Hallmark, the Griswolds, and the Grinches have become a winter rite of passage that few in the western world can avoid.I, for one, don't wish to. Because over the years, Christmas has become the one time of the year that I can unabashedly wear my heart on my sleeve. Be sentimental, openly thankful for all that is good in my life, and give to others less, or more, fortunate simply because I want to. I know that I could do this any day of the year, but having Christmas ensures that it happens at least once.And then there's the boxes in the basement. Every year I swear to edit and delete the growing Bin Nation in the storage room. But I don't. Because each time I open a bin a memory flies out, captures my heart, and suddenly transports me to a moment I hadn't thought about in years.The years of Christmas past are held in those bins. The year I fell in love with wire ribbon. Apple year. Pink year. Berry year. And every year's a bird year. And it is all there in the bins.This year, the pieces that are drawing me in are red. So that's the starting point.First up is to put Frosty on the porch.I love him because he was my smoking buddy for several years, when I still smoked. We've had many long discussions about this or that, and he is forever cheerful, no matter what I  tell him. He was very happy when I quit smoking, but I  don't see him as often as I used to, as I don't have to hang about on the porch in -40 weather, puffing away. But it is a Christmas essential that he be there in the porch, greeting me, and friends with a welcome smile.Then there's the old ornaments that I inherited from my parents.Fragile glass that over the years has not withstood the test of time. The few that remain are treasures. Bussie's Bell, a blue little bell given to my Mom by her bridge club in the 1950's. Not all that special really, except that she loved it, held it, and treated it with care. And now I do so for her.There's the china angel given to me by Clare and Peggy Ross, long gone friends of my parents. The  little cupie doll faced angel says "Obey Your Mother and Father" and I always felt like I was being admonished.It's like Peggy knew I wasn't all that obedient a child, and thought I should be reminded. It made me feel guilty,  but I have cherished it since the day I received it when I was  7 years old. It broke once, and now there's a glue stain where I fixed it. Oddly, I like it more now that it's less perfect!Other ornaments are more whimsical. The Three Blind Mice are just plain cute and the birds? Well,  they're here year round, and this Christmas, they get  the red berry treatment.As I unpack the bins, a process of elimination begins...what to take out, what to leave in. It becomes a mood indicator, a barometer measuring how the past year has gone. Some years, barely anything has made it out of the bins. Big, bold, in a hurry, don't think a lot, just do, years. Other years, it's a far more thoughtful, subtle unpacking. Finding little gifts from friends who have slipped beyond, and wanting to put them in places where I can see them,[...]

A Few Words


The time has come in my life when I no longer think the thoughts I used to think. Driving along the road to and from work,The bridge I cross every day.  And sometimes I stop. I have slowly slipped away from the tepid questions: “Who am I meeting with today? How best to handle the meeting? How to deal with the political fallout? What to do for lunch?  Strike the last one, I still think about that. And I now I think about more burning questions. Like how the meaning of a word changes with the addition of a simple preposition. This is far more interesting than the meeting agenda.Today’s rumination came when I watched a Cooper’s Hawk settle on a branch. Not in. On. Sandhill Crane Settles in the MeadowAnd so it began. I settled in to think about that. How one time I settled for less than I should have.  When I settled up my tab at the restaurant at noon, I knew I needed to let my food settle.  Walking into the mall, I heard a mom telling her brattish brood to settle down.This is a shot of Tasty Crab Bites. On the other hand, what we taste when we bite is a crab. Last night, to pass the time at a Committee meeting while waiting my turn at the table, I leafed through a book on the settlement of our area. There was a list of the first fifty settlers, and dry commentary about  the fact that many of the scribes never learned to spell properly.  Thus we have  settled on assumed spellings by  the semi-literate to shape our past.When "they" dig up all our stuff several centuries from now, they will unearth in the  casual diner dregs one of my pet peeves that I still haven't figured out how to amend. The almost always misspelled restaurant item: Caesar Salad. I now check every restaurant's menu for the way they spell this overrated, watery, salty, sad version of a potentially exceptional dish. If it's Ceasar, or Ceaser, or Caeser I know that the Chef has no connection with the menu, and I prepare to be disappointed. Sadly, I usually am.THAT is another big thought.  Think about how literate the scribes of yore were, (or conversely, your scribes were) who ultimately have become the arbiters of our collective pasts, based on their interpretation of the spoken words of leaders with great authority, pomp, pump and sir-come-stance.Any dummy can play music. What constitutes great? eh?My second choice of a major, when selecting such things eons ago at university, was Linguistics. The fact that I settled on Sociology and Fine Art for my first degree is not being questioned, but it may be time to settle a score or two  with my inner artist, and tell her to mind her words[...]

Fifty Shades of Green


Of course, by now, if you haven't heard about Fifty Shades of Grey, you either: a) live under a rock, b) are deaf and blind, or c) vacationing on Mars.I am none of the above, however, I haven't read it, and in all likelihood won't bother anytime soon.  I did read one review of the series by a gynecologist who bemoaned the possibility of contracting genital herpes just from reading it, and another review by a 50-something woman who said she had dislocated her jaw while yawning through all  rolling, repetitive orgasms.But, wanting to be both timely and topical, this post is about shades too. Please enjoy the organic, rollicking, pastoral nature of the colour green. It can define what's lost, or locate what is found. It can be soft and subtle, or loud and aggressive. It can overtake, it can help to relocate. It's a colour that by nature is calming. but by nature, can signify alarming circumstance. It can invoke moans and groans, laughter, and tears. It is the sum of many, or all, or none. It is envy, greed, and jealousy, brought on by a lack of love, lust or lore. It is the banner of environmentalists, and the signature of caring. Could it possibly be better than sex?It is the flag of opportunity for if the light is green, you know what to do!In each of these images, green defines the story...hunger, death, pain, life, love...whatever is unfolding between the lines or the is there.Green stands out in a crowd, and it can be the life of the party. It is also the most common colour used in hospitals. It is the colour of containment, contentment, and calm.Fifty shades? More like millions.Please note that all images are copyrighted.[...]

What's for Dinner?


" You  are what you eat." I first heard that as a student at University of Guelph eons ago. And I clearly remember thinking, "Uh, no. I am not. I am much more than that horrible slop just served up in the cafeteria, or the Thursday night draft beer, or the limp green leaves that pass for salad around here. I am possibly that rich and creamy strawberry parfait however."Several years later,  as I watch friend after friend battle cancer (self included), diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments too numerous to mention, I now absolutely agree. "You are what you eat."While not able to do much about the vast amounts of microscopic particles of plastic that we eat, drink and breathe on a daily basis, I am able to control the food I put in my body. In the past few years, we have started growing our own food, as well as purchasing it from local farmers who believe that the closer the food is to the farm, the better it is for you. They also believe that there are healthier alternatives to pest control than pesticides and chemicals. Rainbow Heritage Garden is a local organic market garden that we have bought shares in...Community Shared Agriculture or every other week for six months of the year, we receive  a huge basket of vegetables and fruit that is lovely to look at, delicious to eat and good for us! Win, win and win. This is Zack, the farmer who grows our food, and he takes  our food safety very seriously. You can trust a farmer who eats the same food he sells to you, and  who gives tours of his farm so you can see the techniques that are used to grow such amazing crops.Its's much more than a pretty place. There's a ton of work to be done, and lists to abide by to make sure that  all the details of crop production are noted, and attended to. This year's crop of garlic is going to be a good one. And the peas, carrots, kale, and  potatoes are also growing beautifully. Our  garden crops are flourishing.The suspension means the tomatoes will be filling me. :-)The peppers and tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, which means far fewer pests, protection from adverse weather, in particular hail, and a delicious crop of fruit!You will likely never see a suit at a Shareholder's Meeting and friendly smiles abound.And when share's are split, they look like this:Who's your Farmer, and what's  he growing in your garden?[...]

Winged Wonders and Other Mysteries


Butterflies. I've heard that this is the next phase of addiction to all things winged. When the birds are hiding among the leaves, hard to see,  and taking flight just when you raise the binoculars, along comes a wee butterfly, and lands on your foot so you can take a good, long look. How accommodating! How cute. I love you and I don't even know your name. Haven't a clue...yet. But the fact that I was out in the yard, trying to catch a glimpse of the Palm Warbler who had been singing non-stop for about half an hour from an impossibly high branch somewhere in the neck hurts stratosphere, made this little guy  absolutely lovable. " Look at me! Here I am, right here, attached to your foot, a living tattoo!"So I told the Palm Warbler that I was no longer interested in playing hide'n'seek, and walked over to the lilac bush...awash with flutters. Albeit, a very windy day didn't help with the posing, however, these little winged jewels are absolutely beautiful.The wind was blustery, and they were having a tough time hanging on to the flowers -just as I was having a tough time trying to focus.  It's a terrible shot, but I've included it to show the colours of the black butterfly, with the blue spots. He's distinctly different from the first one with the yellow spots. Both to be identified.  If you can identify any of these, please feel free. Also! Still trying to figure out what the heck this fleshy, marble sized fruit ball is... Totally flummoxed here. No one seems to know. So here's what  I do know:it's about the size of a large marble, round, firm but pliant, with a stem and small leaf attached. We have oak trees, birch, poplar, and a few varieties of pine in our yard. Nothing exotic, no fruit trees. This just appeared in the garden. There was another, smaller one a few yards away. I've googled it but  haven't found an answer yet, so the mystery remains for you, gentle reader, to solve! I look forward to hearing from you.[...]

Fox on the Run


One of the greatest things about being a birder is all the other wildlife you get to see, and today was no exception. It was however, exceptional! As I came around a bend in the road, about a kilometre from home, I saw something in the field to my right. I  haven't seen an Eastern Red Fox on our road for over a year, so this was a great moment! I pulled over, and hoped that I wouldn't frighten him into the bush when I rolled down the window and stuck a camera out of it. He was too intent on nabbing a little lunch to worry about me.Head down, he was very obviously on the scent of some small rodent, weaving back and forth and following its every movement.Then came the moment, a sharp turn to the right, a perky little jump, and a light landing -right on top of the animal to hold it between his paws 'til he could grab it with his teeth.This rapid movement took all of about  10 seconds! As he lifted his head, I saw a small brown something living its last moment before becominga tasty snack for the quick and clever hunter. One last swallow, then back to work. Head down, and nose to the meadow.Watching him work brought to mind a tune that was popular in the Ottawa Valley years ago, and sung by The Good Brothers in many a tavern. Enjoy!Fox on the Run[...]

Spring Soulstice


Solstice. Soulstice. That's what this time of year is for me. And therefore why it takes me twice as long to get anywhere if I'm driving. And why I carry binoculars and a camera with me everywhere I go. Because it's spring, birds are returning, the land is waking up, and so am I.Perhaps if Canada were equatorial I'd feel differently, but it's not. It has four distinct seasons and each one evokes strong emotions, and requires a special commitment from the people who live here. It is not an easy place to live, particularly in winter, and especially if you haven't prepared yourself properly. It's not as simple as going out and buying mittens, boots, hats, warm coats and a snow shovel. Our forefathers not only had to  grow their own food, they had to preserve and store it as well, they had to think about warmth, and plan their sources of heat for long, cold winter nights. They had to be prepared, and they had to survive. Of course it's easier today, but I think that the challenges our great grandparents faced are part of who we are today, and when we make it through another winter, we celebrate. We go outside, touch the earth, smell the deep, wet, woodsy forest, and welcome back the songs of spring.Everywhere I go I see signs. Vast skeins of geese heralding their arrival, honking overhead. Turtles emerging from their muddy beds to bask once more in sunshine. Pairs of ducks locked in their ritual dances. Nest building, song singing, bawdy, raucous Spring! Welcome! And linger.[...]

12/3/4 Winter's Still Outside the Door


In March I begin to tire of winter whites, and the vast expanse of it directly outside my window as I look at my frozen river. To  say nothing of the snow deer in the yard, hoping to be untethered soon:These are the days when cabin fever can strike, and the urge to get outside sends me roaming around the countryside hoping to find signs of life. Maybe a bird or two. It doesn't really matter what I see, I just want relief from the frigid crystals that bind us....however beautifully winter arranges itself  along the roadside...over the fields... and upon the rocks...The moodiness of March is a force to be reckoned with!  Around the Ottawa Valley all manner of life is coping with winter's last gasp. Cows and horses out of the barn for the first time in monthsMourning doves wait patiently...The Raven tires of endlessly surfing snowdrifts...  Wild turkeys roosting. Do they dream of fresh green sprouts? Oh for the day when we can go for a walk without hats, mitts,scarves, boots, coats!                           The road is long to spring, but there are signs.The harbingers of spring are there, like little rewards for being so patient.And as I drive down the icy road, a final magnificent present! Do you see what I see??Look closely...a tiny oval speck...white to blend with the the middle  of the shot YES!!!!!!!A gift from winter. Posing quietly while I grabbed the camera, got out of the car, walked across the road to the edge of the field...and sighed hello.A perfect ending. Just perfect.[...]

Awaiting Moderation


ever seeking.always peeking around cornersand behind pictures.trying to understand the naysayers, soothsayers, guitar's a complicated world. and only the honest resonate with me.they arefew and far between.and you know who you do I.These photos define and delight me. I took them and hope thatyou willenjoy's not what you're  looking's that you're'll know when you've found it.(and  if you wish to borrow one of these photos,please ask.tx)[...]

Owl Prowl


It was a brilliant, sunny Saturday  morning in 1980, and I was driving along a snow-covered country road in the   Ottawa Valley. My mood didn't match the passing scenery. Lost in thought about this's and that's and what to do about them all, I barely noticed it at first. A large white football with wings? Oh dear God, an owl! Not just any owl, a Snowy Owl. Practically floating just inches above the hood of my car, its wings steadily beating, and going the exact same speed as me! I have no idea where he came from, but I immediately felt connected and comforted.Deep inside a childhood memory awoke of my Mother reciting, "A wise old owl sat in an oak/The more he saw the less he spoke/The less he spoke the more he heard/Now wasn't he a wise old bird?" That little nursery rhyme has stayed with me forever, and the wise old owl has been my "spark bird".  My Mom had died  the previous year, and I  believed immediately that this stunning owl, pacing me all the way down the road was a message from her. There were no words. Just peace. That road is about 3 km long, and that bird stayed above the right front part of the car the entire way 'til I had to slow and make a turn, at which point it drifted off across the field and over the horizon. I pulled over and wept.The next siting was several years later. I had moved away, and then moved back again. And in the meantime, had discovered birding. It was another wintry day scouting out the fields and forests along winding country roads by myself. I often bird alone. It's my time to just be. This day was no different as I pulled over to take a look along an old fence line hoping to see a white oval in the distance. I rolled down the window, reached over for the binoculars on the seat beside me and turned to look at the field. And there he was! Landing on a fence post not 2 metres away! Feet first, little bit of  a shuffle and arranging his wings just so, perfect perch, and then he turned his head and met me face on. Staring, not moving. Considering. We looked at each other for about 2 minutes, me barely breathing, but breathing it all in. Then a big shrug and off he flew, directly north of me, across the field. I put the bins up to follow then, and watched in utter astonishment as he landed mid-way across the stubble, pounced on something, alit, and flew right back to the same fence post where I was parked. Now absolutely astonished, I sat and watched in wonder as he proceeded to eat the mouse he'd just caught for lunch. Slowly, surely, holding it in his claws, delicately pecking and pulling, and finally all done! Again, he turned to look at me, while I still stared. I whispered a quiet "thank-you".He flew off then, and I drove away having just been given a gift  that I would cherish always.[...]

It's all Hieroglyphics to Me


Hieroglyphics:  "Hieroglyphic symbols, unlike letters in our alphabet , are used to describe what we would use a group of letters to- such as an idea or thought in a picture form. Like to describe the sun for example  they would have a picture similar to the sun, or to describe a crocodile you would see a picture similar to a crocodile. While some of their symbols are easy to understand it took years and help from many artifacts for scientists to decode these symbols." So saith  Like they're basically saying that uh hieroglyphics are like word pictures to convey an idea. Remember the ancient Egyptians?  They  etched their thoughts, mournful, mundane, murderous and otherwise all over the pyramids which are arguably the penultimate burial vaults on earth. In doing so, they unwittingly made Harrison Ford  and a deck of Hollywood movie moguls multi-billionaires many suns and moons later as they were inspired to create moving picture shows about lost arcs, sun gods, grocery lists and golden treasure in order to entertain us. IN THE MEANTIME, back to reality. Nature also leaves hieroglyphics  all over the earth. Within the  power of every creature is the ability to communicate, at times with intent. At times, not. Winter in Canada provides many opportunities to read the stories being told by fox, wolf, squirrel, mouse, ferret, raccoon, deer, mink, fisher, coyote...they are all out and about, roaming the forests, fields and farms. While they forage they write their tales of life and death  and now it is for you to decipher...Great Grey Owl lands suddenly. Kills quickly. Leaves.What hops along and lands on its little bum every time? (I don't know)Squirrel? but what's the long deep cut made by? and what's the plunge on the right?Steps in its own trace, drags tail. Nope. No clue here unless it's a fox? Ghost owl. Likely Eastern Screech. Dropping in for take out dinner.Ah! This one I know. Winter s'quitter. Running around in loud, noisy circles.Humans. Creating hieroglyphics.[...]

These are a Few of My Favourite Things


I would love to soar above the earth, free to follow the breezes. Untethered. Accountable only to myself, or my baser instincts. But Free. As a bird.I don't know why I feel this way, only that I do. And that one of my greatest life pleasures is being outdoors, watching birds. This hobby passion has taken me all over North America and parts of the Caribbean, and now is the primary reason we travel. To see new birds. Yes to see new places and meet new people and have new experiences, too. But, those of you who share this addiction know. It gets in your blood. I have over 25 bird guides/books, 50+ bird sculptures and miscellaneous pieces of bird art, four pairs of binoculars, 10 feeders, an account at the local feed store (!)...well, you can see that it is a pretty major part of my life.Over the past few years, since starting this blog, I carry a camera with me (as well as binoculars) and I now have several hundreds or thousands of photos. Which I have decided to start culling and organizing a little...starting today.So here are my favourite bird shots of particular commentary, just that each and every photo is a memory of a small, feathered thrill that left me smiling. Funny. As I age, I can't remember what I had for breakfast, or what we did on the weekend -but I can remember  taking every single one of these photos!2011 was a wonderful year, birding mainly along the routes and rivers of the Ottawa Valley, and along the eastern seaboard, from Connecticut to Long Island, Delmarva, Cape May, South Carolina and all parts in between enjoying many flights of pure fancy![...]

It's a Small World After All


For the past week or so, I have been ruminating. Looking around, thinking about this and that, bits, bites, books and birds. Wondering what's new, and what's hot. Newsworthy, or not.And with the exception of a few small things, I find that the more things change, the more they remain the same.Friends and family and just plain folk -we all continue to struggle with:LOVEHow to find it, court it and keep it.HEALTHHow to be stronger, faster, thinner, smarter, harder, softer, better.HAPPINESSHow to nurture, share, savour and care.Besides love, health, and happiness -what else is it that the human spirit searches for? The degree to which we are successful in our quest can move mountains, molehills and armies of men.The more things change, the more they remain the same.This is the lesson I have learned in the past year or several.And it's not that it's good or bad. It just is. While visiting Montreal over Christmas, I came across this amazing scene in the windows of a little Italian restaurant in NDG. Like all things small and intricately wrought, it drew me in..and I spent a lot of time just looking at this amazing vignette. Wondering how it got started. Who started it? Who keeps it up? Who creates it? Who protects it? Is it a village effort? Who's hands have made the tiny tools? Who's mind has decided what's needed next?Who sets it up? Who takes it down?And within it all, there are a hundred stories being told. Each one set up to let you linger, to question, and to enjoy.Which I did. And which you can too.Happy New Year. May your life be as full as this one![...]

Half Baked


They are half baked you know...the beans that are simmering in the oven, and have been doing so since about 10:00 am this morning. I rarely make baked beans, but yesterday I passed the little white rocks in the baking section at the grocery store, and's time.The recipe I'm using is a combination of what's on the back of the Thompson Pea Bean package for Old Fashioned Baked Beans, and my mom's recipe in her book, the The Northern Cookbook. Her's calls for stewed tomato as well as ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard etc. Thompon's omits the tomato and uses less salt, less sugar, less everything really.So used  the lesser bits of Thompson's recipe, and added the stewed (home made!) tomato as well.I put all the ingredients together into a traditional bean pot and stuck it in the oven hoping to be able to eat it for dinner. That will work.Then I went Christmas shopping, gathering up the last gifts I need to make family and friends feel appreciated. It's so un -Christmassy here this snow, mild temperatures, rain sometimes...just plain weird. The Ottawa River is still wide open and it's December 18th! While  family is spread across Canada and the U.S.,  some of us will be getting together while others will be dearly missed. So, must say, I'm not feelling the Christmas spirit so much.The older I get, and the further away from the day to day involvement in my kids lives, the harder it is to find those little moments that say, "Ahhh, so this is Christmas." But I do find it it eventually. Found some of it today in fact, when I was driving to town to shop and listening to CBC Radio and the Vinyl Cafe. Today it was  Dave Cooks a Turkey story day read by Stuart McLean. And it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers after finally taking off the ungodly high-heeled boots that always scrunch my toes!Dave got me to thinking about other Christmas traditions that I have -and carry just for me in my heart. Another one also involves CBC Radio, and Alan Maitland's reading of The Shepherd every Christmas Eve. Makes me cry every time I hear it, but they're happy little tears.Another tradition I have is to read the Letter from  My Grandfather to his children during the World War II. It's a poignant, heartfelt letter from a father that I can't read without a kleenex at hand. I'm so proud of his talent and literary genius, and prouder yet to be a part of his legacy. My kids always used to roll their eyes and silently smirk the smirk of kids being uncomfortable with love expressed publicly...but they listened, and they each "get it" now. The love of family that defines who we are every day, not just Christmas day.So the beans...back to what started this whole thought process. I finished my shopping, and drove home. I arrived to a quiet house, with a fire softly glowing and the whole place smelling like home made bread and baked beans. It was like walking in to a warm, gentle hug from my Mom. The feeling was immediate and comforting. Mom died in January, 1979 and I haven't felt her prescence in a long, long time 'though I do think of her often. This was different. This felt like home, a hug and Christmas.And so I think I'll have to add home made  baked beans to the list of where Christmas lives traditions.[...]

Sentinels Around Us


In any place, at any time, there are sentinels.  Whether we notice them or not, they are there. Watching, waiting, willing. Some are creations of nature. Some of man. All have their purpose and their place in time.The solitary wolf seeks the shoreline and safety. A sanctuary where he can rest after the hunt.Ever wary.The stallion poses in perpetual victory. Under the mighty steed's watchful eye we witness Wolfe's triumph.For a moment frozen in time, he lives. Now tethered to the land, she guides her journeymen and sailors salers over a concrete sea.The sentinel wall of the armoury ensures that the enemy will be spotted well in advance.Military foresight, man before machine.True. North. Strong. Not Free.They stand on guard.What if these wall could talk?They still watch and listen.The silent sentinels speak volumes.ABC Wednesday[...]



Like a moth to flame, I am drawn. I sense it and seek it. First light, a welcome sigh of being. Of relief. I am.Uplifting, strengthening. Fulfilling. Healing.It pulls me in, beckoning, luring. Promising.It sends me off in different directions. Pausing for thought. Guiding me.Reflecting me. A moment in time.Even in darkness, I seek the light. I want the light.I find no comfort in darkness. I have no curtains in my home.[...]

Bits, Bites, Books, and Birds


Dear Readers, This bloggy thing has been bothering me for awhile. Have I said everything I've had to say? I don't think so. And people who have heard me rant on occasion would likely agree.Has my muse left? Maybe. At least She appears to have been taking a leisurely walk about my mind, scratching here, sniffing there. Looking under rocks, poking her nose in places she shouldn't, and generally being absent from the frontal lobes.Though recently, in the past week or so, she's  come knocking. Gently tapping me awake in the middle of the night. Presenting ridiculous things to think about, that once I fall back to sleep, I immediately forget. I awake to a wisp.I've been circling the computer lately. Looking at it. Bringing up the blog. Checking for visitors or comments. None recent. I miss them both.But unless you put it out there, there is no there for people to come and visit.So where has my there to put out gone? Or perhaps, the better question is not where it has gone, but why has it gone?There are times I can't shut my mind off. It's firing on 8 cylinders, rocking and rolling over the events of the day, a bit of a book I've read, a bird I've just seen, a bite I've just taken -and I want to talk about it all.But I can't. At least, I have been telling myself I can't because my LABEL is not inclusive enough.Good god. I can't believe I just wrote that! My marketing gene is trying to make a pitch in the middle of a presentation to my publicMY point is, that having called this blog "Featherbrained" I have defined it as a blog primarily about nature. And as a result I have met all of these amazing naturalists. And I am not sure if they want to hear about things like The Day I Stuck Out My Thumb in Banff , or  Biffy Buffing is Not For Old People or Aunt Ethel Made Amazing Jam Buns or A Child's Version of Old Mother Hubbard, or My Favourite Meal Ever This Week, or....See what I mean? Not a thing about birds, or birding, or nature.After researching many blogs on line, looking for a template that would allow me to be more multi-dimensional I came up empty, unless I choose to go the website route. No, I don't.So, gentle reader. Here's the deal.I'm going to change this blog up a bit. Mix up the storyline. And write about whatever I feel like. I'll still call it Featherbrained..but perhaps on the non nature days, I'll provide a spoiler alert,so if you're not so inclined to read about The Lesson of Bertha Archer or whatever I choose to share, well, then you can just click on over to something or someone else. I won't mind, and I'll no longer feel guilty! When you see a feather, it's about nature. When you don't? It's not.                                                                    Hope you  choose to linger a little longer,                                                            [...]

Hey, Look Me Over!


Three weeks of travel along the back roads and shorelines of the eastern seaboard, and I now have a raft of pictures to wade through.It’s amazing what we feel we need to share with others. And while it could be argued that that includes this blog, a blog is different. People must actually seek it out and choose to be engaged by reading it. The stuff of dreams and nightmares that has been erected along our North American highways and byways is something else entirely! What started this train of thought was this nightmarish rendition of a duck found nesting on eastern Long Island. If I was a little kid, in the back of Daddy’s car, and saw this thing rolling by, I’d be having bad dreams for a month!  The Big White Duck is actually a little museum that can hold about 4 people at a time. Once you’re laid out the back door, another person can slide in through the front. You’ll be greeted by a lonely woman who loves to cluck about the reason the duck exists (built by a duck farmer as a place from which to sell eggs in the 1930’s). It’s all slightly quaint and no doubt, gives people something to crow about during hunting season.Not far from The Duck is Popeye. He stands beside a little red tractor, pipe tightly clenched as he beckons people to come in and visit the fresh market stall which, from time to time, features spinach.  He’s the hardest working employee in the place –stands there all day, never takes a break, always smiling…kind of makes you want to kick’im. (And I believe several people do take shots at, and of, him). Didn’t see Olive, but likely she was in the back, cooking cobs of corn and canning spinach.Now THIS little home is remarkable, because it is actually a lighthouse offshore from Groton, Connecticut. It was built in the empire style, using red brick and white trim so that it would match the stately homes along the shoreline. It didn’t occur to the design committee of the day that it just looks plain odd sitting out there all by itself in the harbour, waiting for a wave. My first thought when I saw it was that it would be good place for a quarantine unit, or insane asylum, or perhaps both. It was occupied until the late 1980’s when the nutter who worked there died of an incurable disease. Okay, that last part’s not true –but it was automated in 1987.As we travelled further south, we passed giant ears of corn, peaches, tomatoes, apples –just about every kind of fruit, vegetable and nut imaginable! And they weren’t all real!  And that’s when it occurred to me in this land of plenty,  that most of  these attractions were about food. Which is why this little porker is particularly apt. Piggly Wiggly, as  it turns out, was the first self serve grocery store in the United States  and launched a tsunami of change when it opened its doors. The packaging industry took off, as did canning and food preservation, labelling, marketing and advertising. No longer did you have to go and wait in line while the missus who served you and packaged your goods talked to  the chatterbox in front of you who got there first. Nope, you could stroll around the shop, pick out what you wanted, bring it to the cash register, and be on your way. Done, done and done. This little Pig is your friend who will help you bring home the bacon easily![...]

Come What May


There’s something to be said about Cape May, New Jersey. In fact, there is a LOT to be said about this geographic funnel that gathers up all the birds along the eastern seaboard of North America, and spits them out near the beach in Cape May. No matter where you look, there are birds, and lots of happy looking people dressed in khaki, wearing bins and carrying tripods with huge scopes attached to them. It is renowned as one of “The Last Great Places” where the forces of nature are still in control, and both residents and visitors recognize that it is truly special. Once you go, you know.This is my third trip here, and this time it was to be for one night...but, with the flick of a cape, one night turned into four...and just like that another great birding vacation unfoldedCape May is unlike any place I’ve ever been before. People stand on the side of the curb, with binoculars up and butts sticking out into the road, and cars slow down so the driver can ask, “Got anything good?” and if the answer is interesting enough, he’ll pull over, grab the binoculars off the front seat, and get out of the car to see what’s up. (This has happened to me here. Seriously.)There’s a sign hanging from the balcony of the motel that reads “Birders Welcome”. And we are. But it doesn’t start with the friendly people who GET how important conservancy is to the total well being of the continent, nay, planet. It’s about the birds that are here in abundance. That you can’t help but see, and in seeing them, become engaged by them and watch in awe as they show us how to fly – figuratively speaking for the most part.Did you know that there is a reason that mosquitoes are put on earth?  My friend the nuclear physicist tells me it’s to pollinate plants like blueberries. That’s one of the reasons, but yesterday I watched dragonflies zoom across the pond at the Cape May Observatory, hovering ever so briefly to nab a mosquito, then another, then another. Until, from behind, while the dragonfly was chowing down, a kestrel came zooming across the pond, grabbed it, and proceeded to eat lunch on the fly, so to speak. A short time later we were driving along Sunset Blvd. and noticed a scuffle above the car. Slowing down and with heads stuck out the windows, we saw a Bald Eagle attack and harass an Osprey who was simply bringing home lunch- a nice little catch of the day to enjoy on the perch. The B. E. really didn’t care why or where the Osprey was headed.  He simply saw an opportunity to take something, rather than go fetch his own. And so he did because he can. He plunged at the Osprey, scaring the fish out of him, and with a few artful dodges, he had the Osprey on the defence. The big O dropped his fresh catch of the day in order to avoid a serious collision with a big flying bastard who could care less about how it might affect O’s welcome home tonight. B.E. caught the (truly) flying fish in his talon, and lumbered off. Big O headed back to the waters to begin all over again.These lessons are brought to you by the birds:Pay attention to details.  Stay alert. Cover all of your assets. If you want to feather your nest, keep it well hidden from the neighbours. Always have an escape plan. Corporate raiders don’t care. Some days you get lunch, some days you are lunch.[...]