Category Archives: Poetry
Oh, what a grey, rainy start to November we have had indeed! For us in Victoria, though not as cold as other parts perhaps, the cool and damp just sink into the bones it seems and makes one wish to crawl under the bed and hibernate for several months! The house is cold, and I go outside to rake leaves just to warm up, exhausting myself in the process. But the fresh air and hearing the birds in the trees restores my spirits to a degree, while picking up chestnuts from four separate Horse chestnut trees most certainly does not! What a relief to put the rake and bucket away and come inside again to carry on, and glancing out the window, to see my little feathered friends.
I recently heard of a sighting of a Western White butterfly in Medicine Hat, Alberta and it nearly made me cry to see the picture of the lovely creature. Ironically, I have not seen a butterfly of any kind here in so long now I can’t recall and ….well …this is Victoria!! We’re supposed to be the “Oasis of Canada”… but it would seem, not for butterflies. And so I turn to my beloved birds to bring me solace now.
I call this blog “Ode to the Nuthatch” because these little birds are such remarkable and resilient little characters and they cheer me up from the foulest of moods when they come to see me at the suet feeder daily outside my kitchen window. Unfortunately, the lighting has been so very poor these rainy days and my time so limited, it is rare that I get what I would call a “good” shot of them so I settle for what is passable and am just grateful I can get any shots at all as these little ones move so very fast, like the bushtits and chickadees.
Having said this, a day later the sun came out and I managed two much better shots with the improved lighting and was able to add them to the blog.
But as it gets cooler, the Nuthatches have been coming more often. I say “they” because there are a pair, a male and female, often coming at the same time, and sometimes I even manage a shot of them both on the feeder. They dart in and out at what appears to be the speed of light. I once was at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and heard a loud knocking on the side of the Nature House only to discover a tiny nuthatch banging away at the wood on the side of the building like a tiny woodpecker, no doubt looking for insects.
The camera I use is not a DSLR, but my same old point-and-shoot 18x optical zoom Lumix from years gone by. At the time it came out, it was the best (in my opinion) camera of its kind on the market and any so-called “improvements” by Panasonic since then have just not been as good. My friend in Saskatchewan and another friend in Alberta ironically both have the identical model of camera and they are both seasoned photographers with far more experience with cameras than I have ever had. How funny to have met them through the Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild and to discover we had this in common.
Below is a poem I was inspired to write in the wee hours on November 2nd after managing to get some decent shots of these little birds. Enjoy and may November show us some more sunshine along with the rainy days.
Ode to the Nuthatch
Oh little character so small,
you entertain me now in Fall,
a comic piece of Nature’s art,
your body streamlined as a dart.
Upright, sideways, upside down,
you acrobatic, tiny clown –
sharp upturned beak and bandit eyes,
each day you come to tantalize
and lift my spirits from the grey
of sadness on a rainy day.
And even strolling through the park,
I catch you clinging to the bark
just out of range on tallest trees,
your “Yank! Yank!” call upon the breeze!
You make me laugh, you make me smile
and savor freedom for a while.
Then back, outside my window’s pane
you join the Juncos once again,
oh little character so small –
Come! Entertain me now in Fall…
© Annie Pang November 3, 2014.
We’ve had a long, hot and very dry spell of it here in Victoria, as I may have mentioned before. As this marks the end of September, I’ve written and enclosed a bit of a poem and some poetographs to go with it. The pics were taken on a few different days in late September, all in Gorge Park.
A typical day in Victoria sees grey skies with rain coming down in buckets in the morning, only to end with a glorious blue sky and radiant if somewhat watered-down sunshine. Or sometimes it happens in reverse. More often than not, I get poured on if I go for a walk, only to have the sun come out shortly afterwards once I’m home hanging up my wet clothes. Only just today, I was scrambling up the step ladder in the morning to fill the empty suet feeder for the birds as the rain started pelting down. Later in the day, the sky was a lovely clear blue and my clothing was still drying out from my earlier walk! Am I repeating myself?
Yep, it’s Fall all right! With all the hibernation instincts kicking in, while the crispy air beckons me to come outside and enjoy a bit of Nature before it gets too unpleasant. Today there were no camera opportunities during my walk so I was able to go at a more brisk pace…until I conked out, returned home soaked and resumed my chores. Am I repeating myself?
Ironically, with the rain, my dying zucchini plants are yielding some “fruit” now, one of which will be ready for the cooking pot very soon! A few others are about pickle-size but I am hoping they will get enough sun to grow larger. The temps, rain and wind have really changed markedly in the last week though, so it’s outside with the rake and buckets for me to pick up horse chestnuts. I hear a lot of birdsong while I’m outside so, aside from a sore back, I kind of enjoy doing the chore on a limited basis. Of course, I don’t stand a chance of managing all of them as there are four very large trees and it’s just too much for one “light-weight” like me!
The pic of Tillicum Bridge is from Rocky Point in Gorge Park.
The blackberries in the park are being picked over by the birds and the wasps are winding down and becoming very temperamental.
With all this sudden moisture after such a long, dry spell, mushrooms are starting to pop up. I was fascinated with the ones I spotted at the park and have learned that they are Coprinopsis atramentaria, more commonly known as “Inky Caps” or “Common Ink Caps”.
Read on and happy Fall!
Where did the summer go?
Where did the summer go?
I honestly don’t know.
New birdsong comes, I listen
as sunny raindrops glisten.
Against the sparkling ocean
a stalk of grass in motion
sways in the nipping breeze,
not willing yet to freeze.
Each day the sun dips lower
and I move somewhat slower.
Where did the summer go?
I honestly don’t know.
The berries left for birds
call out with silent words,
but mushrooms do not talk,
as into Fall… I walk…
© Annie Pang September 30, 2014.
How disheartened I was when my custom-made feeder came apart this summer! I had no idea whom I could even call on to fix it (I had not made it) and had neither the tools nor strength to do it myself. Everyone around here is always busy, busy, busy with their own daily tasks and affairs and so I decided it would just have to be left to fall apart for now. Last winter it worked reasonably well, although the suet feeder had to be hung too low so I could refill it from ground level and, as a result, many of the shots I was able to get from the kitchen window were rather distorted. Still I was able to get many good shots and I could reach the feeder to refill it.
As the seasons have been changing, I became more and more concerned about how Andrea and I would keep swapping pictures. Andrea is my best friend, but unfortunately, for me she lives in Saskatchewan. However, she is a determined soul and was not about to let distance stand between her wish to see my pictures of birds they don’t get there, over what she saw as a mere technicality. She made the necessary arrangements and, much to my surprise, I came home from an appointment one day and found the perch repaired with the suet feeder hanging higher up for good measure. This is a much better angle for picture taking!
I was so very touched and pleased, and apparently so were the birds as they seem to have wasted no time in returning. A small foot ladder from Home Hardware solved the problem of accessing the higher placement of the suet feeder and I now look forward to seeing my feathered friends on a daily basis again. I have not been disappointed!
On Tuesday September 16th I was able to get these bird shots. This time the tiny bushtit (that many of you like so much) is a female. The male bushtit has brown eyes while the female has yellow-gold eyes with tiny black pupils. At least this is what I’ve been told by birders. These little critters move very fast, so it is always a neat challenge to get pictures. I hope I don’t bore you with any number of them this coming fall and winter, but they are such cute little characters!
A pair of Downy Woodpeckers have also been coming along which I included in the poem that follows along with some pictures. The male has a brilliant red tuft of feathers on the back of his head. He fed after the female and then, much to my surprise, parked himself on the trunk of the feeder stand and ….had a nap!
There is also a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches but as yet no good shots. And as always, there are the House Sparrows, House Finches and Starlings that are starting to show up now that they’ve found an easy food source. I am not as enthused about these birds since they were introduced and do their best to pester and crowd out other indigenous species.
The last of the moths are also still making the odd appearance at night, so I did manage to keep two overnight and get some shots of them during the day before they took to the air.
The first one in the poem (and poetograph) is a Brown-lined Looper. I’ve had quite a few of them these last few weeks.
The second one is from Europe, known as the Lesser Yellow Underwing, so-called because when it spreads its wings there is a brilliant yellow underneath. Unfortunately for me, this time it took off after sitting on my hand without spreading its wings, however I did see it flashing yellow in flight and was lucky enough to get a close up shot of its sweet little face. It is a remarkable sensation to feel their tiny feet on my hand when they do decide to stay there long enough for me to take pictures. Then…all too soon they are off to live out their short lives and carry on until their days are over.
On top of a fair amount of yard work, indoor work and grocery shopping, I took time out of a busy day to take these pictures of the moths….always a tricky business at best. On a lucky day, like today, they hang around long enough, but sometimes they are off as soon as I remove the lid from their overnight “guest chambers”.
The frustrating part for me in the kitchen, where I see the birds, is that it is usually when I’m up to my elbows in rubber gloves and dishes or juicing veggies or other messy activities (it is a kitchen after all!) that the best photo ops occur! But isn’t that the way of all things?
I hope you enjoy this little tale, poem, and poetographs, and on a hope and a prayer, my suet feeder stand will stay up for some time to come. As it is made from an old tree trunk and branches, I know its days are numbered, but hopefully it will see me through for a while.
My very best to you and yours as the days get shorter and the tell tale nip of fall becomes evident in the air. We’ve been fortunate to have all this sunshine and it comes as a shock when the skies turn grey. I am grateful to Andrea for insuring my birds come to keep me company, as well as the generous help from the kind fellow who repaired the feeder.
Read on, have a look at the poetographs and pics after the poem and keep in touch. It is always good to keep in contact. For someone as “low-tech” as I am, it is nice to hear from people….and to see my birds and have Nature in my life.
In the early days of fall
In the morning come to call
in the early days of fall
there’s a lady at my perch
on a greedy eating search.
Eyes of yellow-gold has she
but she pays no heed to me.
With her flock she’ll feast on food
in her rather thankless mood.
Messy Downys in a pair
never waiting for their share.
She eats first, off in a flap;
he eats next – then has a nap!
Looking like a carpet cloth
you may say “it’s just a moth!”
but then it dances through the air
more brilliantly than Fred Astaire!
Here is one more in my palm
tiny feet a soothing balm.
Sweet of face and large of eye
off it flies to live and die…
Soon the moths will all be gone
and birds I will depend upon
to keep away the darkest thought
is all I’ve got…
© Annie Pang September 16, 2014.
Well, this spring has been one to end all springs! I have no pictures that go with this particular story or poem, but let’s just say that I’ve taken quite the beating of late. It never occurred to me to take pictures of any of the mice I’ve had to trap over the last months (since March!!) as they ended up dead, except for the ones in my suet feeder.
It looks like I won’t be feeding the birds this winter as a result since I do not have my cats to keep the mice away from the inside of the house.
One of the ladies who comes to help me with housework happened to point out a wasps’ nest a few weeks ago and yet I decided to just live and let live……until…..
Well, I walked into the large back room that used to have the cats hanging out in it and was cleaning up when I heard a very odd sound coming from the walls. Oh Lordie. I could hear the chewing from a meter away! It was carpenter ants!!!
I went weak at the knees and was glad I didn’t own a GUN!!! “Enough already!” I screamed inside! Then I had to call a pest control company.
Well, today all but the mice were taken care of. A very kind friend had been clearing away all the rotted wood from beneath and beside my old, dilapidated sundeck along with old plastic pots, junk, vinyl siding…..oh, the list was endless as was the junk left behind! It was good timing that he finished the day before I had scheduled the pest control treatment because although I was only planning on having the back wall drilled into and treated for the ant invasion, the pest control guy ended up spraying underneath the cleared out ant haven under the deck, and even suited up to get rid of that wasps’ nest.
Of course this meant that the three entrances to my house that I use were all off limits because of chemicals or angry wasps, so I ended up doing a very odd thing indeed. I had to use the front door which I never do!
So I wrote a poem that I hope makes you laugh. It was a tough day, but I did get a pic of a Western Tiger Swallowtail outside my home on some phlox once I made my exit to go over to someone else’s house for a few hours (the friend who had kindly done all the clearing and hauling away of junk). Sometimes you just have to get the heck away! We ended up having a really great talk about my favourite subject too. Butterflies!
Then I went for a walk in the park where I managed a shot of a Robin with what I thought was a freshly plucked worm in its beak, and a bumblebee which I have yet to identify. I have since had an email from Cris Guppy who states “I believe the “worm” in the robin’s beak is a pupa of a cranefly – the cranefly larvae eat the roots of your lawn. So yet another pest, although you can ignore it unless your grass starts to die.”
During my walk, I met up with an older gentleman, and he was very interested in learning about insects, from carpenter ants to butterflies! Yes, it was definitely GOOD to get away from the house and out into Nature…just for a nice and healing break and to feel useful again.
A special thanks to Gabe for all his help today, for the lovely cup of tea and conversations about the future of the Gorge Park Community Garden and what part I may end up playing in all this, and to my good friends Andrea and Charley who kind of coerced me into doing this blog in their gentle and kind way.
If I manage to wade through my challenges, I think I may find that life has its rewards. It always seems to come back to how we relate to ourselves and Nature. Having said that, I will add that I do wish some aspects of Nature would stay out of my house!!!
Enjoy the poem and hey, as you can see I have even included some pictures after all, taken after my pesky ordeal for you to enjoy. Please excuse any typos as it is late (again) and I’m not quite as sharp as I’d like.
All the very best to you and yours,
The Pesky Pest Promenade
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me
the pests have left me very weak at knee.
The humble ant, a common summer feature,
was chewing up my wall, the nasty creature!
All trembling as I’m no procrastinator
I called the local pest exterminator.
He came out to investigate things here
but couldn’t with his rather deafened ear
pick up the noise of all those ants a’munching
within my walls, while I could hear them crunching
a meter from the wall; but he agreed
to stop the critters’ too-destructive feed.
A few days later, just around the bend,
the man returned, my misery to end.
But then refused to please remove his shoes
so now I’ve got the dirty carpet blues!
The ants, I hope are in a better place,
than chewing up my walls right to my face.
And as my sanity was not the best,
it didn’t help to find a waspy nest
outside next to my favourite exit door;
I didn’t think I could take any more!
My hopes in being free of pesky raid
had really long ago begun to fade,
but the exterminator took his spray
and got ’em too, their nest he took away.
Of course, all good things always come in thrice
and so I still have darling, pesky mice!!!!
Now too smart to go after baited traps,
they like my underwear drawers for their naps.
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me!
Sometimes I wish that I’d been born a tree
or else a butterfly now flying free,
though they all have their troubles as do I
they live their lives until the day they die…
© Annie Pang May 31st 2014
It may well be a year since I last wrote a blog so I thought it was high time I did. So much has changed on this planet, just in the passed year. It boggles the mind. Almost everyone I meet has gone so hi-tech that I feel like a fish out of water. So getting out in nature is all the more grounding and important, even if my walks are brief these days.
Here in Victoria it is hot and the sun feels scorching. Many friends and people I meet when I am out have told me how different the sun is feeling and I also feel it more and more myself. A harshness that seems to grow with each passing season. It is troubling.
Former sun worshippers I know are seeking shade, although many younger folks don’t seem to realize the dangers of our thinning ozone layer. I admit I have very low tolerance for heat…a strange thing for someone born and raised in Toronto. But I haven’t lived in Toronto for 35 years now and I have witnessed such changes in Victoria’s climate, especially in the last 15 years, that I find it truly alarming.
These days, I must go out completely covered prior to 4pm to protect myself (doctor’s orders!) no matter how hot it is. Not great for looking for butterflies, but the sun on my skin doesn’t feel pleasant this time of year the way it used to and after this past year I know only too well how deadly the sun’s rays can be.
This last week I have seen five different species of butterflies in Gorge Park but they were not landing until I walked into the territory of a Mourning Cloak this afternoon and got lucky. Happily, the companion I was with at the time was happy to wait with me while I tried a few “tricks” to get this lovely butterfly to land so I could get a few shots. And few they were indeed! This butterfly is probably one of our longest local living butterflies, sometimes living for up to 11 months. It is a hibernator, and over winters even in the prairies.
I had seen it a few days prior but it was illusive and I was short of time and never saw it except in passing. Today I had a bit more time and it definitely had a territory to defend, and my hat seemed to be attracting it. Its wings are tattered as one would expect in an old butterfly. It will mate and die and then in the fall or maybe sooner, it’s offspring will emerge. I have never had the luck of finding a fresh, young Mourning Cloak though, so all my pictures are of older ones.
I believe the Mourning Cloak is so-named because it’s wings are dark and trimmed with a creamy-lacy fringe on the dorsal sides of the wings, resembling a long, dark cloak. I wanted to share this with you and hope you get out and look for butterflies this spring and summer. With the climate changing so quickly and society speeding up faster than I feel I can keep up, my time in Nature becomes more and more precious to me.
It is something we just can’t afford to take for granted any longer and there are no easy answers any longer. My only answer is to keep writing when I can, and try to raise awareness where I can.
Be well and I do hope you enjoy this latest tale, poem and two poetographs. If I happen on other wildlife including butterflies, I hope to write about them again.
The Mourning Cloak
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
while walking a path in the middle of May
inhaling the pollen ’til I thought I might choke
I happened upon an old Mourning Cloak!
Over wintered, now flying so wild and free,
it flew dizzying circles all about me.
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
it flirted and skirted in territorial play
gliding upwards and downwards and this way and that
never landing until …well, I took off my hat!
I then set it down on a branch in a tree
and prayed that the butterfly’d come look and see.
For so few butterflies have I had time to find
too chained to the drudgery of the daily grind.
I asked once again, “please dear creature please land,
I’m weary and almost too tired to stand”.
It came! It returned and it landed right there
and then opened it’s wings up both tattered and fair.
I’m old, said those wings, but there’s still time to fly
and I got in these shots before it flew to the sky.
How grateful I was with my spirit renewed
that this creature of God had so altered my mood.
Oh yes, I was stifled and terribly hot
but for this moment in time, all my troubles forgot
I was dancing with Nature like an old Garry oak,
a bit old and tattered like the old Mourning Cloak.
It was time to go home and get out of the heat
and leave the dear soul to return or retreat
and be wild and free with the time that it had;
I walked up the path then, both happy and sad…
The full moon has risen and the heat carries on;
it is night as I write in the hours of pre-dawn.
Tomorrow will come far too soon it would seem
leaving this day behind in a hot, hazy dream…
© Annie Pang May 14, 2014
This blog is a bit late in coming but I’d like to post it for you to enjoy. It is short and sweet! Enjoy.
On May 26th, my confinement to the house had become unbearable so, at the first hint of sunlight, I decided that I must try very hard to get to Christmas Hill. The last time I’d gone had been by myself and it held many sad memories for me. Still, I was driven to face my demons and to embrace the hill again. I was convinced there might be some Western Elfins there but the weather had been damp and cool. Even though the sun was out at the house, when I finally arrived at the hill it was quite overcast. But I was determined to pass the time in the healing of nature, and so I climbed the hill once again.
What a daunting task it was and what made it more so was finding nothing at all other than some bumblebees, and not even very many of those. Not a single butterfly could be found. Yet I didn’t feel it was a waste of time or energy because I felt better this time. I was alone, weak, dizzy and light-headed, but I was doing it. I noticed things – really saw them. I didn’t take any pictures of the vegetation but the Yarrow was out and most of the Camas was spent and going to seed. How much I had missed!!
I did make it to the summit and only found a family of parents with their two children at the top. It was cool and breezy and, finding nothing, I decided I’d better head back down. On the other side of the hill I checked for Western Elfins. Each dwarfed Garry Oak was examined but there were no butterflies. I was so discouraged but soldiered on and decided it was time to throw in the towel.
Near the bottom of the pathway, however, a surprised awaited me. A hummingbird whipped around my head in the shaded light beneath the Arbutus and Douglas fir trees. A shot seemed hopeless but when I saw it was nectaring on Western Trumpet Honeysuckle I managed to get a silhouette shot. I thought “Better than nothing” and kept watching and listening. Then, to my astonishment, the wee bird landed on a branch very close by and it allowed me the opportunity to get a few shots. I knew that at least one of them had turned out and suddenly the world became a different place altogether. Gone was my weakness, my pains, all thought of worry. I was elated!
Such is the healing power of nature and my delight was complete when I came home and saw that indeed one shot had turned out perfectly and the silhouette leant itself to being lightened up with a bit of software as you can see.
I was inspired to write this poem, half of which was written in my car on the spot and the rest just now. Today I am exhausted from my exertions, but I have no regrets and I wanted to share this special moment of healing in nature with you with these pictures and this poem. Like many, I do not know what lies ahead for me in life, but for an instant in time, it didn’t matter because Nature had given me the present of Now. And Now is all we ever have. I think hummingbirds and all of wildlife know this and they make the most of the time they have. I could learn a lot from them. Two poetographs follow the poem.
A Hummer Hummed…
I searched the hill for butterflies in flight,
but to my disappointment I found none.
Then, waiting for me in the forest light,
a hummer hummed “Your life is just begun.”
She flew about my head with buzzing wings
and nectared on some honeysuckle sweet.
This miracle of nature’s wondrous things
seemed destined that the two of us should meet.
What joy! Upon a branch she chose to land
and quietly I moved in for a shot,
my camera slightly shaking in my hand –
yet luck allowed her likeness to be caught.
I climbed to find a dream upon a hill,
but something waited on the way down
that was better still…
© Annie Pang May 27, 2013.
Perhaps this is a strange title for a blog, but it centers around my garden, a friend’s garden, as well as the few shots I got along the Gorge which I have been walking regularly up until my garden called.
But I must include a picture I managed to get of a lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow right from my kitchen window. It posed so beautifully on the suet feeder and considering these birds are ground feeders, I felt I must include this shot first.
While on some of the walks along the Gorge I took very few pictures. On one walk, even though I had my camera, I was unable to get photos of two of the three butterflies I did see there. It was quite hot and so they were not landing. The first one I saw was a Mourning Cloak and what a surprise that was! I hadn’t seen one along there before. Then suddenly it was chased off by a Satyr Comma, which landed so briefly I could not get a shot of it either, but could see it clearly.
On another walk, I was able to get a rather poor picture of a Cabbage White butterfly which I will include below. It was such a long shot and I was lucky it landed at all, frankly. It had become so hot in Victoria so quickly that it made anything I saw impossible to photograph at the time.
But it was interesting to see an Arbutus tree growing out of the rock wall!! How resilient are our native species. If man vanished from this planet suddenly, is this not proof of how Nature would just take over and soon cover any evidence of our prior existence? It is a humbling thought indeed, and also a comforting one from an ecological point of view.
Arbutus growing out of the rock wall
The day the garden called was the day that three generous people from the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers group volunteered to come over and help me start getting my garden ready for planting. The task was far too overwhelming for me to undertake in my present state of health, and so my friends put out a call for help. Although everyone else in the group was busy, my friends, Kendell, Laurie and Brad showed up on a Saturday and I ventured out to try to do what I could which wasn’t too much.
That was when a little miracle happened. In all the years I’ve had my gardens, I’ve seen only three butterfly species; Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger Swallowtails (not out yet) and Lorquin’s Admirals. But this year was very different and it transformed me completely at the time. Brad and I were digging compost and later, Laurie and I found a shady spot to sit and weed….and when I saw a Cabbage White appear I went to grab my camera. When I returned, I was very surprised at what happened next. Every time the Cabbage White tried to land, something very dark swooped in and chased it off. And then it landed – a Mourning Cloak. I couldn’t believe this. I’d always gone searching for them when I’d had more aid for field trips, and often never found one, yet here was one in my backyard?? Well of course I took pictures.
It took off and returned many times. It even landed on Laurie’s jeans.
Mourning Cloak on Laurie’s jeans
Then it landed on my head! I knew it was attracted to my hat so I removed it and stuck it on a pole in the garden, and sure enough, the Cloak landed there many times.
Mourning Cloak on my hat
Several times it landed on some Yarrow seed heads. Yarrow, when in bloom is a very good butterfly nectaring source and if I keep the faded blossoms dead-headed it will flower throughout the summer.
Mourning Cloak on Yarrow
Here is a sideview of the Mourning Cloak.
Sideview of Mourning Cloak
The gardens were being prepared for both human and wildlife consumption, especially hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The Red-flowering Currant is quite a favourite of the hummingbird although mine hasn’t gotten big enough to be of interest as yet. Once we have the plants in the ground I imagine they will grow rapidly.
We were all very happy to have such a visitor to watch us at our labours, as if to bless the garden. Kendell was good enough to bring along organic snacks for all to sample and so, with a Mourning Cloak in my garden, I had my very first tea party of sorts after our hard work.
Brad, Kendell and Laurie
GTUF, short for Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, is a group dedicated to producing our own food on the land we have. Being on my own now, that task is overwhelming as I mentioned, but I do hope, with enough helping hands, that many will benefit from my gardens this year. I just want to see the land used and my gardens there to welcome the butterflies and other insects.
Later that day, Laurie emailed me a picture of two butterflies for identification. They were two more Mourning Cloaks and it appeared that they were mating on the side of her Mason Bee box.
Mourning Cloaks, photo by Laurie
The next day I was invited over there to see what I could find in their garden. There was a fair bit of activity but my camera was only able to get this honey bee and a Paper wasp, or Thread waisted wasp, Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, as well as a Bumble Bee.
Laurie also had a different Bleeding Heart than my cultivar, and she felt it was probably the indigenous one.
Bleeding Heart flowers
Meanwhile, here at home, there was activity at night as well for awhile. I turned on my porch light and this attracted two different moth species. The first was a good sized one and although it decided to plaster itself on a window far above the ground, I was still able to get a serviceable shot. This moth is known as the Crucialis Woodling Moth (Egira crucialis) and it was a welcome sight indeed.
Crucialis Woodling Moth
The other moth I have found a few times is a “micro moth”, Alucita montana, or Montana Six-plume Moth and I have even found it in my office tonight as well as outside. Here is my best picture taken as I write this now in my office. The little guy let me get really close! Originally I was going to show this moth taken outside, but this picture turned out better.
Montana Six-plume Moth
Although I was certain I saw a Green Lacewing outside, I couldn’t get it to land so there were no shots to be had until a later date, but I did manage to find this male Cranefly at the time (family: Tipulidae).
Here is the Green Lacewing I got at a later date, again, at night. It was another long shot, but better than none.
So while I am still here in my home I am trying to enjoy as much of the wildlife as I can find. The Mourning Cloak returned briefly the next day, but then was off. They are mating now and I suspect, worn as they are looking, they will live longer still before they depart this world.
In closing, I will leave you with my best wishes, as well as a poem and one last picture of my Bleeding Heart cultivar. It is the food source for my favourite butterfly, the Clodius Parnassian, that I doubt I will see again since I cannot go back to the hills where they are found. But one never knows….one never knows.
I did once find one in a very unusual place that was not too far away….but then that is another story I may tell sometime….
The Garden of my dreams
What soothing balm does Nature bring
what wonders in the garden
with butterflies and birds that sing
with trees that fence my yard in.
I wander in my solitude
along the Gorge at times;
a Cloak of Mourning greets me there
and speaks to me in rhymes.
But there are times that come along,
and suddenly there’s life
for Nature sings her special song
and sings away my strife.
And in the Garden of my dreams
outside my very door
an ocean full of sunlit beams
now calls me to its shore.
The honey bee is buzzing and
the moths might come at night
for life is always all about
and flying to the Light.
May people join their hands to help,
to save my bit of land.
May kindness shown stay with me now
and help me understand
that Bleeding Hearts have beauty too
and Nature always heals.
May faded blossoms bloom again,
through cracks in concrete seals.
Though hardship faces all of us
in Nature must I trust,
to have this Phoenix rise again
from ashes and from dust.
Bleeding Heart cultivar
© Annie Pang May 9, 2013.
Hello again. It has been quite a while since I have posted anything so thanks again to my blog partner, Terry, for his entertaining and informative blogs…and the great poetry he writes!
Well, back here in Victoria, it has been an unseasonably mild, but moody and grey winter. On the occasional sunny days I have tried to get out to the Gorge with my camera, but most times I’ve been there it has not been sunny. So this blog covers early to mid-March including what has been going on here at my home bird feeder and just a few things along the Gorge Waterway as well.
The snowdrops had been out for some time so here is a picture I took in GorgePark. As they are white, I find it difficult with this camera to get well-defined shots, but here is one.
At the beginning of March, I was so pleased and surprised when, after no sightings of my beloved Goldfinches since last spring, I saw a pair flutter in to feed briefly. The male was only just beginning to show a bit of his spring plumage with a few black and yellow markings on top of his head. This is the picture I got of him.
The female was evident as she had no such changes occurring. These were the only two that I saw.
As the day was sunny, I headed out to the Gorge Waterway where I was pleased to find my old friend, the Great Blue Heron, had returned to his favourite feeding spot. The light was bright enough and the tide was low, so I was able to get this shot.
Although I saw a small raft of American Wigeons up feeding on grass, no diving ducks were evident and I found this troubling since the numbers I’d seen were fairly diminished this last season.
There was one exception however, a raft of Goldeneyes and there was a surprising number of Goldeneye males…seven actually, and only two females. How many fellows does a gal need…or even want? I wonder what happened to the rest of the females. A good birder friend in Saskatchewan has told me how brutal the mating rituals of the male ducks can be, practically or literally drowning the female during the act of mating with several males pursuing one female at one time. This may account for the diminished numbers. Apparently when the male ducks run out of females to mate with due to fatality or flight, they will engage in mating with each other and also remain companions for the entire season. As we don’t really witness diving ducks mating here in Victoria I guess I’ll have to take her word on this one as there seems to be no other explanation for the diminishing numbers of female Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, etc. in the last number of years when they overwinter here. In any case, I was lucky to get this shot of the most Goldeneyes I have ever seen here and hope you enjoy it.
There was also a lovely pink rhododendron in bloom along the Gorge Waterway and I was cheered by the promise of spring. This plant has sometimes started flowering as early as January so I was surprised that it was coming out this late.
As Saskatchewan is seeing probably one of the longest and most brutal winters in about 20 years, I felt compelled to send my friend a cheerful picture of some ornamental Japanese plum blossoms that were just coming out in early March. These were taken at my home.
She was very pleased to see flowers, something she tells me she won’t be seeing for another couple of months as things stand.
Time passed…in actuality only two weeks or so, when I got a very pleasant surprise; a few actually. The first one was when a male Northern Flicker showed up at my kitchen window feeder. What was remarkable and exciting was that this was a male Hybrid between the Red and the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The underfeathers were yellow and there was the tell-tale red-crescent on the back of the neck, however his “mustache”, normally black on a Yellow-shafted was red, which was from the Red-shafted “parent”or ”grandparent”of this bird. What a pretty sight I thought to myself.
A few days later, I heard what sounded like a jack-hammer on my roof, and it took a while to realize that, as I’d seen both Red-shafted and Hybrid Flickers, one of these was looking for food on my roof!! At least that’s what I thought it was doing but again, I found out that this “drumming” ritual was more of a territorial behaviour at this beginning of mating season. I’m not so sure I’m crazy about that, but it didn’t last too long and only for a couple of days. Maybe my roof didn’t taste that great. One can only hope I suppose.
The last and most lovely surprise, after a two week absence, was another appearance of the male and female Goldfinch. The male was dramatically altered and had a complete black cap now and mostly bright yellow feathers. I was fortunate to have someone there to point him out to me so I grabbed my camera and took as many shots as I could. At the end of this narrative, you will see my altered Goldfinch friend as well as another parting poetograph at the end.
So…now other than those pesky Starlings and House Sparrows as well as the House Finches, who are looking a bit worse for wear, this narrative has been my excitement here in Victoria. My outings have diminished for now, but I remain hopeful to be able to find the time and strength to venture out into nature again with my camera and some warm sunshine.
I may even find a butterfly but for now, I will leave you with this poem of reflection that echoes my concerns and moods about our ever changing environment and bird population which, as always, I find parallels my own inner being. I still hold onto hope that things will improve, because one must believe or hope dies.
In the Spring Sunlight
So many weeks ago since the Goldfinch had been
with his promise of spring not yet to be seen.
I left my home to find the ducks
and I found a life raft of Golden-eyed luck.
The water glistened as I walked along
and carefully listened for sweet birdsong
but all was quiet except for some crows
clawing and cawing their aggressive woes.
The water glistened in the springtime sun
with the blossoms smiling with new life begun
and I walked along in my melancholy mood
looking for the love for my spiritual food.
But none did I find outside of the sun
and the blossoms and life I saw had begun.
So I dove within for inner sight
and found myself in the spring sunlight.
Then the Goldfinch returned to show me his gold
and suddenly I didn’t feel so old…
© Annie Pang March 15, 2013.
The days are getting noticeably longer and even though we are not getting much sun, average daytime highs are gradually creeping up there. We are beginning the long, slow, crawl towards spring. As the earth warms up, roots begin taking up more water, combining it with carbon dioxide, and with the sun’s increased energy, converting them to carbohydrates with oxygen released as a waste product. This is, of course, photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some other organisms to produce their own food, and it has been the source of energy for almost all life on Earth for the last 3.5 billion years.
In northern climates most plants largely shut down during the winter months, some simply slowing down food production, some losing all their leaves, some dying right back to the roots and some dying completely, relying on their seeds for the next generation. But by February this trend is beginning to reverse itself and a walk around the pond with the local botany group early in the month revealed new buds forming on the red huckleberry, and catkins on both the alder and the willows.
Red huckleberry buds
There is a bald eagle nest just off the southwest corner of the park and right beside the road that has been active for a number of years now. On another walk early in the month I met a young couple who mentioned that they had seen the eagle on the nest just the day before. Bald eagles typically start working on the nest by early February, either starting on a new one if they are first time nesters or the old one has been destroyed, or adding to and repairing the old one. Egg-laying usually starts towards the end of February. By the end of this month I still had not seen any activity in this nest, but I often heard the eagles calling from the woods just west of the pond. Perhaps the birds have relocated because the nest was too close to the road for comfort
Bald eagle nest
The same day I talked with the young couple about the eagle I observed three beavers in the east pond, swimming round and round and occasionally slapping their tails. Normally a tail slap indicates the presence of danger, but in this case I really think it was an indication of annoyance or frustration. I was not the only one who was watching this event as about 11 other people were at various places around the pond watching the beaver. Normally beavers are not active during the day, but rather are nocturnal. The only time they become active during the day is when the dam needs to be repaired or they have a need to gather more food. As there is no dam associated with these beavers they must have needed more food. With so many people around the edge of the pond, they could not even find a safe place to exit the pond to do their search. Finally, after more than half an hour, they gave up and disappeared into the lodge.
Beavers live in extended families, comprised of two adults and young up to two years of age. They have 1 to 9 young every year, with pups being born in April to June, so potentially an extended family can be quite large. Obviously at least one of the three I saw that day had to be a young beaver, but all three were quite large so it was difficult to determine which ones were adults and which were pups. There was one that seemed to be a bit smaller, but it was obvious that any young had to be from the litter born almost two years ago.
I explored the small woods at the northeast corner of the pond three times this month. I doubt that this woods is even as much as an acre in extent, so biodiversity is rather poor here. The dominant tree is Douglas-fir, although there are a few grand firs and shore pines as well. After a careful search I found some branch tips with the short, light green needles that indicate new spring growth. Douglas-firs have quite distinctive seed cones with bracts that are three forked and often remind people of the back ends of little mice hiding in the cones.
Douglas-fir seed cone
Ground cover here is mostly salal with scattered sword ferns. I did find the leaves of some rattlesnake plantains in one spot. This is a very common orchid in coniferous forests on the island, and is our only orchid that retains its leaves all winter long. The leaves are quite distinctive with a white stripe down the middle and generally with fairly strong mottling or striping, although this can vary considerably from plant to plant.
The area between this wood and the pond, and extending along most of the north side of the pond is a brushy area of mostly alder with some willow. Many of these bushes have lichens in the genus Ramalina growing on them, and in some places this lichen is thick. Lichens are a composite organism formed by a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and either a green algae or a cyanobacterium. Because the fungus is generally the dominant organism and is always present, lichens are classified in with fungi. This means that they are no longer considered plants as the fungi are now in their own kingdom.
On my walks around the pond I was regularly hearing the Red Crossbills jip-jipping as they flew from tree top to tree top looking for cone seeds. There were a few other birds as well, including Pacific wren, Bewick’s wren, ruby-crowned kinglet and song sparrow. The song sparrow was often heard singing, even from the other side of the pond.
On one of my trips I saw a male hooded merganser on the west pond. I had seen and photographed the female here earlier this month, but this was the first time this year that the male was present. I grabbed my camera and folding stool and went down to the shore hoping to get a photo. The bird simply swam across to the other side of the pond to get away from me, Patience is a virtue in cases like this and an hour of waiting finally resulted in the bird coming quite close and my getting some great shots. This is a strikingly handsome duck and one that I have been trying to get good photographs of for a long time. The male hooded merganser can depress its crest so that the white is a fairly thin line or erect it fully so that it looks like it is wearing a huge, black and white helmet. The fully raised crest is part of the courtship display. In this case, in the absence of a female, the bird kept its crest in a partly raised position the whole time.
Hooded merganser male
Hooded merganser female
Four days later I returned to the pond and found both the male and female hooded mergansers swimming together and a single male common merganser with three females. By now most mergansers have formed a pair bond, so I am not sure why this particular male had three females in tow. I did observe some interaction between two of the females on more than one occasion, so perhaps it was a mated pair and two additional females hoping to steal the male from the mated female. Although the hooded mergansers never came close enough for more photos, the male and two of the female commons eventually came close enough for some good shots.
Common mergansers, male and two females
So spring has started, slowly, but the signs are showing. Overnight lows are now consistently above freezing. The last couple of trips out to the pond I was seeing good numbers of midges and the song sparrows were singing more often. Hopefully we will start to get a few more sunny days.
Now as the soil begins to warm
and roots begin to stir,
first signs of spring are showing now
on willow, alder, fir.
And in the air the midges fly,
their numbers growing strong.
While ‘cross the pond the song sparrow bursts
into loud, joyous song.
The ducks are found in mated pairs,
The eagles build their nest.
And beavers swim around the pond
as for fresh food they quest.
Its early days, there’s so much more
that spring has yet to give.
But still the promise is now there,
to stir, to wake, to live
There is nothing quite as therapeutic as a lovely walk along the Gorge Waterway in the sunshine. For those of you who do not live here however, I should mention that Victoria weather at best is very unpredictable and, usually at this time of year, very gloomy and damp. The low light can make it rather camera unfriendly but I always take the camera along just in case.
In late January and early February, I was fortunate enough to get out and make the best of a few sunny days and see what was new, what was old, and what was expected or unexpected, all the while hoping to get a few good shots to record as much as I could. Some days I lucked out and of the many shots I took usually a few were usable, sometimes more if the lighting was right and my reflexes weren’t too tardy.
On a particularly lovely day I managed to capture some rare images of ducks that I have found very hard to photograph, one being the female Bufflehead and the other, the Common Goldeneye. In the case of the Common Goldeneye male, it usually swims too far out for my camera to be able to get a decent image but this one time it was just close enough. It was also challenging because it was diving for fish and spent very little time above water. The image I got when it surfaced was very dark but as I knew I had captured the eye (very hard for me) I managed to lighten it up sufficiently to get a sharp enough image, the first I have ever been able to get of this species of duck. I was exhilarated that I had managed to get a shot that was not extremely blurry for a change!!
Along the waterway, especially on the weekends, there are always people walking their dogs, jogging, pushing babies in carriages, boaters out in kayaks or, far more irritating, motor boats zipping by causing all the ducks I am trying to photograph to flock off in all directions. This is a very frustrating experience especially when the perfect shot may present itself. People like to stop and socialize, compare dog breeds and generally just enjoy the lovely scenery of the waterway. And on these sunny days when I am out, the green grass and blue sky make it feel more like March than January or early February. But I have to wonder how many of the passersby know anything about the various ducks on the waterway or just take them for granted as part of the scenery.
During the time this blog covers we took our two little dogs walking with us but as soon as an opportunity presented itself for a photograph I would quickly passed my dog leash to my partner and clicked away as fast as this slow camera allowed. Over several days I was able to get a variety of species. In my previous blog I included a photograph of a male Bufflehead, and in this one I offer a fairly decent pic of a female. The trick in getting a photograph of her while she was fishing was to follow the bubbles as she was underwater and which gave me a fair idea where she would surface. It worked well this time!
We have two species of Mergansers here on the waterway as well, one being the Hooded Merganser. I got this image of three males in one shot, perhaps not as clear as I would like but the winter ducks are usually a fair ways out as I’ve mentioned. I have observed only one female so far, and was unable to get a shot of her. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have such odds for us human gals. We’d certainly be much more “sought after” because of our scarceness. I certainly wouldn’t mind having three males vying for MY attention. But I digress. Here is the picture of the three males.
The other species of merganser we get here is the Common Merganser. I managed some far off shots of both a male and a female merganser. They are quite unique in appearance.
Male Common Merganser
Female Common Merganser
I would say that the most common and easy to photograph winter ducks we get along here are American Wigeons. Like Mallards, these are not diving ducks as are the others I have or will be showing in this blog, but are “dunking” ducks. Now in past years, I have often found one pair of Eurasian Wigeons in a raft (a group of ducks is referred to as a “raft” as opposed to a “flock”), but not this year. Since I didn’t get any exceptional shots of Wigeons so far this year I have included a couple of shots from a previous year that do include the Eurasian Wigeon and its mate. As you will see, the Eurasian has a beautiful red head and even its mate, though not very colourful, differs in appearance to the female American Wigeon in that she has darker, almost chestnut feathers around the head and body. They do make a handsome pair. I am fond of Wigeons as they have such friendly and pretty faces and the males have what looks to be green mascara running down the back of the eyes and neck. Lovely!
Mixed flock of American and Eurasian Wigeons
Male and female Eurasian Wigeons
These shots are rare for me, but I wanted to share them with you as I observed the number of birds become fewer and fewer. So far I have seen no other species, but if I do, I will keep you updated.
The swans were far off on the far side of the waterway, sunning or foraging and the Great Blue Heron has not been seen since that day in January when it magically flew up and landed for some fishing. I miss the numbers of birds I am accustomed to seeing but am grateful I have at least been able to share some with you.
Back at home, I have had a rare and sweet visitor for many weeks now. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet has become a regular at my suet feeder, although the little mite is so quick and never still, I can’t tell you how many tries it took before I finally managed to get this shot. I wanted to end this blog with a poem (yes, another sonnet) and one last picture of this sweet little bird who comforts me when I am unable to get out and enjoy my walks along the lovely Gorge Waterway. I still feel so fortunate to be living so close to such a lovely marriage of man and wildlife (although I do wish that dogs were not allowed to chase the ducks on the beach by the old schoolhouse!). The last poetograph is one more of the waterway and follows this sonnet and picture of the Kinglet. Thank you for joining me on this little part of my life with Nature and people.
Come little Kinglet
Come little Kinglet, come and visit me
and lift my spirits with a lovely view,
pretending I’m not here that you don’t see
the shots I try in vain to take of you.
The outside world awaits me but for now
the sight of you sustains me for a while,
so like a hummingbird in flight somehow
your antics to grab suet make me smile.
Though when the sunshine calls I’m off and gone
to see what ducks are on the waterway,
when I come back it’s you I’m counting on
to give the time at home a sunny ray.
Along the Gorge I walk to find a duck,
then I return to you, my prayer for luck…
© Annie Pang February 7, 2013.