“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” –– George Eliot, in her letter of Oct., 1841
Successive autumns, and never will winter come. What a marvellous thought! Just yesterday, we had our first snow, icy reminder for what’s to come. But the forecast is that we’ll get back to some warmer, seasonal autumn air in the coming week.
I like to dwell on those sunny days of fall. We don’t have many red leaves here, but the rusty and golden hue all around the pond is enticing and fresh.
Many birds have migrated south. So, I was surprised and delighted to see this one still lingering …
A Great Blue Heron in this part of the Pond by late October is rare. Like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea, serendipitous sightings like this can last through many winters as fond memories conjure up during the shut-in, wintry days.
And with this little Proustian teaser, I’m dropping a hint of what’s to come on Ripple Effects in November. Stay tuned.
It was in a nature reserve adjacent to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, that I saw my first Cardinal. A bird that might be common for many of you, but for me, it was my first time. And what a delight!
Early morning in September, a perfect day for birding. Soft sun rays illuminating the boardwalk, mesmerizing:
Saw my first Northern Cardinal in some low bushes. Here’s my first photo. The curiosity is mutual:
And after that, I was looking for reds all the way and had taken many more pictures of the bird with its habitat mainly in the southeastern part of North America. There were other birds and fields of goldenrods but it was red that I sought. I wasn’t disappointed. Had the chance of meeting a few other Cardinals, including the female and the juvenile:
Common, ordinary? Purely relative.
The sun emerged brighter, this time, shedding light to illuminate the mind’s eye, storing fond memories, an indelible reminder for me to return in the future.
My few weeks of hiatus from the Pond led me to the bustling city of Toronto. Just the second weekend of September there were over 80 events planned across the city: festivals, concerts, food fares, cultural celebrations… In the downtown core, road closures, frenzy and chaos. The main attraction with international focus of course is the Toronto International Film Festival. Since this is the first in person TIFF after two years of Covid measures, I chose to avoid the huge gatherings and stay closer to nature, far from the madding crowd… I’ll have to wait to watch the selections hopefully later in the year.
Then came the sad news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, 70 years on the throne, the longest reigning British monarch and the longest female sovereign in history. Politics aside, being born and raised during my formative years in the former British colony of Hong Kong, I much appreciate the freedom to grow up in an environment where East meets West, unlike what Kipling had surmised.
I studied both classical Chinese as well as English literature in school, donning a uniform in cheongsam (do google it if you’re not sure what it is) but wore bell bottom pants when out; grew up watching numerous kung fu movies while following closely all James Bond flicks; savoured home cooked Chinese meals as well as those from international sources; yes, and love the fusion of Hong Kong style western cuisine, street foods and snacks. A prime example is Hong Kong style milk tea with condensed milk, best to pair with a pineapple bun with a piece of ice cold butter in the middle, oh, and egg tarts.
Looking back, it was a period when I was free to explore different world views and thinking. I still remember following a classmate to a secondhand bookstore in an obscure alley after school, looking up books on psychology and philosophy; or one time, catching another classmate secretly reading her own book held under her desk during class. When I asked her later out of curiosity what she was reading, no, it wasn’t a comic book or a teen magazine, but Somerset Maugham’s short stories. That was my intro to the wonderful writer.
My nanny loved Chinese operas. She was a versatile, middle age woman who lived in our home and acted almost as my substitute mother. She read Dream of the Red Chamber at night before she slept, daytime too busy for her. I grew up reading Chinese translations of world literature for children and some Enid Blyton, while also saved up enough pocket money to buy my Mad Magazine. I learned to play the piano and listened to The Beatles and The Monkees. The first LP album in our home was My Fair Lady.
What do all these memories have to do with the Queen? For me, it was a period of growing up experiencing both East and West in a British colony that didn’t require its citizens to sing “God Save the Queen,” or demand The Union Jack be hoisted in schools. I’d enjoyed the freedom to explore despite a rigid home environment. If I were to write a memoir some day, it would likely be in the theme of a growing up where East meets West, where the fusion of the two is exciting and appealing, and where opportunities are plentiful, and I was free to live life in an interesting, borderless fusion of cultures.
So, it was the end of an era when the Queen passed. Now the world seems to have grown polarized, tempers flare when people of opposite views confront, and where the ominous observation by Kipling is becoming all the more acute as autocracy begins to prevail.
As I was wandering the lakeshore in Toronto, I caught sight of some lively monarch butterflies. It was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn’t expecting seeing them in such an urban environ. From one Monarch to another, may these monarchs be free and lively as they migrate thousands of miles south, following the instinct endowed by their Creator’s design.
From afar I saw it. At first not paying much attention, for it looked like some kind of black bird but then I saw the long legs. Umm… maybe some sort of sandpiper? No, it’s not spotted or light brown but dark. And the most prominent feature was the long, down-curved bill.
Stepping closer quietly, I saw its deep maroon, multi-coloured plumage. Magnificent, maybe even magical. I haven’t seen this bird before.
Many of you might be able to ID it, but I had to do a lot of digging into Google search to discover what I’d just seen was a GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus). From Wikipedia, here’s the origin of the name: The scientific name derives from Ancient Greek plegados and Latin, falcis, both meaning “sickle” and referring to the distinctive shape of the bill.
And why am I so excited about seeing it? Look at this distribution map:
And where am I? In Alberta, Canada. From the map above, the second province from the west coast of Canada. Why is this glossy ibis here? A stray? Off course during migration? Or, just needs some cooler and crisper air up here?
I just couldn’t help but moved another step closer and that was it for my short discovery. It flew away but in a circle, coming right back at me, as if saying farewell, then disappeared into the distant sky:
I sure hope it will find its way back to where it belongs… But fine too, if it feels the Pond is a safe, new home, however temporal. You’re welcome to stay!
As I look through my photos taken in the past few weeks, I find that the prominent colours are yellow and green. We don’t have bright red birds like the cardinal, so, I’ve long settled for yellow, green and blue as my summer colours.
Two goldfinches made my day, vibrant golden yellow. They seemed not to be bothered by my presence as they were too busy with their breakfast:
well except this one with attitude:
Another sort of yellow, unintended, for I was aiming at the wren. Only when I uploaded the photo did I notice the lichen on the stump:
Sometimes, an accidental shot needs not be deleted. Why, this looks like an impressionist painting to me:
This one most symbolic, for the colours yellow and blue remind me of a war-torn country with millions of her people fleeing from their homeland. May this tiny yellow warbler, always so full of life and song, be a symbol of resilience for the ravaged country of Ukraine:
A few days ago, I happened to catch sight of a jolly yellow warbler bathing (or playing) in the water. He plunged right into the shallow stream, splashed around, after that flew up on a branch preening, singing, then splashed right back into the water and do it all over again just for the fun of it.
I’d like to tell you it was a bright, sunny day, inviting a cooling summer splash. But I can’t because it wasn’t. The day was grey, overcast, chilly even and with a thunder storm in the forecast.
This tiny warbler’s joie de vivre defies the gloominess of the day or any imminent storm… a mighty hard lesson to learn from a three inch creature.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This year, there’s only one owlet at the Great Horned Owl household. Since the coming-out party, the family’s debutante is poised to become the star of the woods. Birding paparazzi converge and they’re not disappointed.
But first, a Where’s Waldo quiz for you. Can you spot mama and owlet on this tree:
Ok, blame it on my blurry pic. Mama’s on the top of the picture, baby at the bottom. Can’t see clearly? Here are some close-ups:
Mama is always nearby… the lower right of the photo gallery.
And this little one is a natural talent for the movie screen. Here are some photos for the audition portfolio:
High Park is a natural oasis in the hustle and bustle of Toronto. Almost 400 acres, it’s the largest park entirely within the city proper. The Grenadier Pond on the western boundary of the park spans 35 acres and a key resource for the teeming variety of wildlife.
Its urban setting reminds me of Central Park in NYC which is twice as large. Unlike the entirely manmade Central Park, however, High Park is the remaining sandy soil of retreated glaciers with a long natural history dating back to 12,800 years ago.
Here’s a lookout from Grenadier Pond:
About three weeks ago I visited High Park for the first time. It was early spring. Leaves had just started budding on trees and paths were still wet from winter, but I was able to capture some of the vibes:
Can you ID them all? I’m most curious to know what kind of tree buds are those on the upper right corner above. They look velvety and utterly exquisite.
As a birder, of course I was on the lookout for avian sightings, especially those I couldn’t find here at my own small Pond. But it was the trees that stood out for me that day. First the budding willows by the south end of Grenadier Pond:
I also came by a grove of cherry trees that were yet to bloom. And as I walked to the Nature Centre in the north side, I found this glorious oak tree. Still bare without leaves, its form was magnificent… I’ve read that the predominant oak in the savannah of High Park is the black oak. I think this is one of them. Not sure if it would look better with fully bloomed foliage. Because, right now, it looks magical:
Here’s an image from the webpage The Oaks of High Park, the illustration taken from the book Who Goes to the Park by Warab´é Aska, 1984:
I can imagine this spreading oak being a character in an animated movie just from this picture… and I can see how versatile it can be.
I need to specify early spring because we do have four seasons distinctly. And with each passing day, there are nuanced changes, if not the obvious. Last week we still had snow on the ground but yesterday it went up to 18C (64F), very warm for us at this time.
The Pond had melted, but for some reasons I didn’t see any ducks yesterday afternoon. A walk in the forest made up for it. The woods were teeming with life, birds chirping and Canada geese honking to mark their territory. Here are some of my sightings. Can you ID them all?
What is that in the lower right? Yes, you guessed it… a porcupine up on a tree. This is not the first time I see a ball of a porcupine high on a tree branch. A natural ‘Do Not Disturb’ notice… as if saying, ‘just let me sleep it off.’
But here’s the highlight. I was walking in the woods when a few geese flew by flapping wildly and then I saw something not exactly like a Canada goose but… an owl, a Great Horned Owl, landing on the familiar owl’s nest high up on an old tree cavity, that same spot where generations of owls had nested to breed but had been abandoned in the past few years:
The air b&b is being occupied once again! Papa Owl checking to see the home is secure for Mama and her babies. Then he noticed me, and quickly gave me a nasty stare: ‘Whatcha looking at?’
And then he flew right at me. In a split second, I decided to just stand there and watch instead of raising my camera to capture the owl in flight coming directly at me. I wouldn’t have time to frame and adjust my camera anyway. I was too stunned and didn’t want to lose the chance of seeing a Great Horned Owl heading straight at me wing spreading 4 feet wide.
So, no photo for what could have been a marvellous shot if I’d the time and the autofocus of my camera had worked fast enough. No visual to share, but the picture in my mind is indelible.
Good that Papa Owl wasn’t aggressive. He glided past me, yes, brushed past, just flew by a couple of feet beside me and then up a tree. From there he stayed on a branch to watch his home… as he always has, a loyal sentinel.
Anything can happen during a walk in the woods. This time it’s bringing me back to the very basic of seeing, just with my naked eye, and store the solitary experience in a personal vault devoid of any digital or hard copy… so, no need to declutter in the future.
Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. 2021 marks a significant turn as we’re slowly coming out of a pandemic, albeit still riding through bumps and waves, currently the fourth one for us. Amidst the collective chaos and discontent, I still have much to be thankful for, learning to count my blessings despite what we’ve gone through.
However, I admit I’m in a nostalgic mode. I check back to my previous posts and revisit some experiences of my Thanksgiving Past.
I just came back from New York City attending the NYFF. While the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center was the venue, I’d the chance of visiting many places that were unforgettable for me. Like, Central Park:
Monet’s Water Lilies at MoMA:
And Luke’s lobster roll by Brooklyn Bridge:
The end of a 5-day escapade to London where I’d bagged loads of fond memories. While the streets of Cambridge were like a ready movie set,
this one was the actual setting… a dejected William (Hugh Grant) walking through the four seasons in Notting Hill’s Portobello Market, to the sad tune of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine when She’s Gone’:
and the blue door where his fame-crazed flatmate Spike (Rhys Ifans) opens to a crowd of paparazzi, in his just-out-of-bed attire:
Around that time I was driving through New England where many indelible images had lodged in my mind. Along the country roads of New Hampshire, it was a bit early to see red. The primary colour appeared to be orange:
As I scrolled through past photos, it’s this orange that seized and brought me back to Thanksgiving Present. On Thanksgiving Day, 2012, I was at Iona Beach, Richmond, B.C. These lines and image are from my post then:
And finally, I saw the sun slide down the distant sky. What a sight to wrap up Thanksgiving. If anything’s common… it’s Common Grace:
To all my Canadian readers, Happy Thanksgiving!
To my neighbours to the south, early Thanksgiving greetings!