Thursday, November 13, 2014

Completing Some Circles

Labour Day Weekend 2014...good weather, and a long trip from Arnprior to Guelph, Ontario where daughter Ilana attends university.

When she first started, 3 years ago,  we drove her down "the long way". we took a more pleasant but circuitous route to avoid the traffic gridlock of Toronto, which is now worse than Los Angeles. Down highway 7 to Peterborough, and then via Newmarket and Orangeville.  My mother and her 8 siblings grew up in a foster home in Orangeville after my Grandmother died in the 1920's.

The family had been together where my grandfather has a farm (rented) at Acton, Ontario.  My mother was born in Acton in 1912 and spent her first years there.

The route we took went through Orangeville and then Acton, just before Guelph.  My mother was so pleased to hear that Ilana had seen her home town. Though the town and the surroundings have changed very much.

We met Ilana on Friday afternoon, and she gave us a tour of Guelph, a tour she does for prospective students and their parents. The highlight for me was the Arboretum, one of Canada's finest, which contains, among many other interesting southern trees, several Bald Cypress; large and healthy and more than 1000 miles from their northern range limit! I asked, via email, the arborist how this was accomplished.  I am still awaiting a response. I enjoyed seeing Tulip Trees, and Black Walnuts and so many more.

We then had supper and went to our friends' home where we stayed. They have one of the largest Black Walnuts I have seen growing right out of their deck.

Another circle: Martha and Jan lived together in Ottawa back in the early 1980's. She, and her spouse, Daniel, both got jobs at U. Guelph, giving us yet another reason to visit.

One other circle we need to close...Jan's cousin Bob Davis had founded back in the mid 1960's the first alternative school in Canada: Everdale.  We had wanted to see it with Bob. Tragically, Bob died a few years ago. Yet, we wanted to see this magical place, which didn't last long as an alternative school, and has now gone on to other great things. Daniel, Martha, Ilana, Peter, Jan and I drove northeast of Guelph to Hillsburgh, where the school, much changed, has been converted to a community farm, provided Harvest Share, training and education about sustainable agriculture.  Bob was quite proud of this changed role for Everdale, as the people who founded the farm were long-time friends.

Helena and Wally greeted us warmly and gave us a tour. He also explained the growth of the Harvest Share endeavor, and that they also operate a large farm at Black creek just North of Toronto.  So if you live in the area, do check them out.

I suggest you learn about Everdale and the Harvest Share concept at their Website:

Daniel, Martha, Jan, Ilana at Everdale

Wally explains how Everdale works to Jan

Plaque dedicated to Cousin Bob Davis

Scenic view of Everdale. Helena and Wally get to enjoy this view!

The next day, Peter, Ilana, Jan and I went to the Elora Gorge.  When I went to school at University of Waterloo, I visited this spectacular Grand River gorge several times. The town of Elora (near Guelph) grew as a mill town, taking advantage of the tremendous water power supplied by a narrow limestone cut.  On a Sunday afternoon, people come from all over to wade in the shallow water, fish or just observe the view. Elora is not far from St. Jacobs, heart of a local thriving Mennonite community.  You can see two very dapper Mennonite gentlemen amongst the visitors below.

Many silly people, who obviously do not share my terror of heights, enjoy (!?) this strange activity called "zip-lining" across the Gorge. This looks like ET is enjoying (?!) the trip.

Girls enjoy a wade.  Note the bridge crossing the Gorge.  That's one of the streets in the "touristy" town of Elora. Nice, huh?

Closer look at bridge.  High, isn't it? Shudders....

No, really? This is something people PAY to do?  I don't comprehend.

View from bridge.  The Grand River Conservation Authority does a decent job of keeping the local parks in a semi-natural state.  Given the development pressures, this is a vitally important organization.

Back home via the long lovely Highway 7 route,  then to High Lonesome in our next shared experience.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Journey 'cross the Fundy and the Evangeline Trail to Little Harbour

Thursday AM August 21. Another lovely sunny summery day, little wind. Perfect for crossing the Bay of Fundy on the Ferry.

Bow of the ferry as we leave St. John

We leave the New Brunswick shore behind

Ship awaits in St. John

Peaceful St. John, New Brunswick

A lighthouse guards the harbor

I had left my binoculars in the car in the hold of the ship and, of course, I found a fellow birder, Alain, from Montreal who was seeing some very interesting Pelagic birds.  Jan volunteered to go down to the hold to retrieve my binoculars while I stayed with Alain in the bow of the ship. We noticed frenzied activities off the starboard side as dolphins and seabirds had found a large school of fish.  Amongst the birds were Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, a lot of Gannets to add to the Black Guillemots and Razorbills we had already seen in the water. It was spectacular viewing and great to meet a new friend! The 3 hour crossing flew by.

We landed in Digby and took off towards Little Harbour (Shelburne), Nova Scotia where our friends summer.  We enjoyed the drive past the French Shore, Yarmouth and the many places called Pubnico along routes 103 and 101. We arrived in time for supper at Little Harbor (tucked in at the mouth of the Sable River) delivered by local fishers to Bob and Kathy's front door.  Aside from the warm welcome, the accommodation was stunning. Since our last visit, Bob had worked with a local handyman to finish Dad's Fish House, which is a fully functional modern home now.

The call of the ocean is hard to miss, as the house is yards from the dunes and shore, with crashing waves pushed by winds originating in West Africa.  The cold water is rich with sea life, and the shore abounds, in late August , with a bounty of wild berries, including Service Berries, Raspberries, Blackberries and,  still unripened Cranberries massed in the wetlands at Hemeon Head.


Walking along the beach, or in Bob and Kathy's splendid seaside gardens, there are plenty of local, and even alien, species colouring the landscape or creating constant movement and interest.

One of these was causing local concern. Our most common Satyr Butterfly, a denizen of local woodlands throughout our continent, is the Common Wood Nymph.  Hundreds of these handsome insects were visiting Kathy's flowering herb garden, partaking of nectar of Oregano.  This turned out to be a good example for those who garden: know your friends and enemies well. These quick moving butterflies can be mistaken for moths and may appear to be a pest.  They are 100% benign and essential pollinators. Once identified, my hosts were pleased to know that their visitors meant only pleasant views and no harm.

Scurrying all through the beach sands and around the array of coastal flowers, if one looks closely:

Tiger Beetles abound throughout North America, especially in sandy locations. These predatory insects race and fly incessantly. Get close to them, and they are colourful, irridescent fierce-looking creatures, and among my favourite living things!

This is a common one, the Bronzed Tiger Beetle, Cincindela repanda repanda.

And some of the flowers found:
Common Sow Thistle, one of several "Dandelion" like flowers which abound in our region. most are alien, mostly from Europe. Roadsides, open area, paths often are covered by alien species like these.

Most of the Mustard family plants are alien to Canada. They adapt well to roadsides...but I was astonished to see this one growing on beach sand, battered by salt and winds. It was blooming prolifically, though it and its neighbours were growing horizontally rather than the normal vertical form. This Wild Mustard appears to be Sinapsis arvensis, determined by the leaf shape and the shorter beak on the seed pods.

This stunner also occurs in our area. I have never seen a more eye-pleasing individual plant: Meadowsweet, a Rose Family plant, one of the many Spiraeas, Spiraea alba Du Roi varlatifolia

Several Asters were on the beach. This one is found widely through North America, the Calico Aster, Aster lateriflorus

A real salt marsh plant, colouring the seagrass...Lavender Thrift, Limonium carolinianum. These striking flowers colour the seashore all along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

The above plant, Seaside Goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens is found along coastal dunes. The Latin name is more descriptive.  It flowers well into Autumn (always alive!). In October, as you will see in a soon-to-be-published edition of this blog, it was blooming all over the Assateague, Virginia,  National Seashore.

A further treat...looking closely feeding on the nectar of this lovely Goldenrod is a moth which , I am sure, many of you have seen (it is day-flying) and have believed it to be a wasp:  the Ctenucha virginica (pronounced ten-OOCH-ah) and, sorry to tell you, the only common name I could find is Virginia Ctenucha!

This unassuming shiny-leaved vine looks to be one of the briers (Smilax spp), Greenbrier,  Smilax rotundifolia, The Greenbrier (or Catbrier) is our only woody monocot vine in Nova Scotia. If any of the botanists reading this could confirm, I would appreciate it.  The leaves of this plant do not match the photos of S. rotundifolia well.

As previously mentioned, Bob treated me to a trip out to Hemeon Head:

where, while Bob enjoyed the surf, I quickly snapped photos of some of the many millions of Arctic shorebirds which migrate through here on their way to South America.  In October (more later), I saw more shoreburds further down in the coast in Chincoteague, Virginia.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris pusilla . I have seen thousands of these birds in the Bay of Fundy.  Many go through Hemeon Head too. Notwithstanding their numbers, this species is decreasing rapidly, and is of concern to biologists. (See IUCN red list):

This flock of Ruddy Turnstones, Arenaria interpres, was resting on rocks, whiling away the afternoon. Recall another Turnstone back in Shediac, NB. I often see these with Sanderlings plying the Florida surf and beaches, skipping by sunbathers who rarely give them notice. They, like the Sanderlings, run in and out of the surf feeding on tiny organisms, mainly crustaceans.

Willet, Tringa semipalmata . This is likely a WESTERN Willet which breeds in the North American Prairies.  The Eastern Willets are rarer, smaller and more banded, especially on their tails.

If you like puzzles, you may assess the evidence and agree or disagree that this is a Western Willet:

We ended our trip to the east coast by driving to Kamouraska, Quebec the next day.  My next installment will have more cultural elements, as it documents a visit to Everdale at Hillsburgh, Ontario and the Elora Gorge. Everdale was created by Cousin Bob Davis as an alternative school back in the 60's.  With our daughter at Guelph, this was a good opportunity to catch up with her and to visit some interesting local (Guelph) sites.  Look for this new installment in the next week.