Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Birding Year

When we set out on January 1 2013 to record all species of birds we saw in Ontario this year we had no idea how many we might see and while we jokingly referred to the year as a "Big Year" we had no intentions of making a run at the record of 345. We like birds and we like the challenge and the "high" when we see a bird and then are able to identify it, especially one we have not seen before. We were also happy to get back out on trails and hikes and re-connect with the nature around us.  It was the reason we set the goal in the first place. We met some great birding people on hikes and birding outings put on by the Hamilton Naturalists Club and the Ontario Field Ornithologists and have enjoyed being on numerous birding lists to hear what others are finding and seeing.  We did not chase many of the rarities unless we were already in the area - so no 2 hour drive to Fort Erie to see the Brown Booby or the Elegant Tern, no 4 hour drive to Kingston to see the Murre.  But we were lucky enough to see some great birds just being in the right place at the right time: the Worm-eating Warbler at Point Pelee, re-finding the Western Kingbird in Hamilton, the Burlington Fish Crow hours before it was killed by crows, the Lark Sparrow in Fort Erie just because we were down for the OFO Gull Trip where we saw the beautiful Black-legged Kittiwake as well.  So here we are at year end and we have managed to see 210 species this year with 81 being "lifers".  I imagine that the number is probably what most dedicated birders see in any given year.  We were not out daily, nor did we leave Southern Ontario to bird, still to consider the small geographic area we visited, 210 birds is pretty good.  Our goal was 200 and when we surpassed that by 10 we were more than satisfied but...it is Dec 31 and tomorrow is 2014 and we just might be found tomorrow along Lake Ontario starting next year's list - we have a few trips planned in North America so we may just be seeing how many we can put on a North American list....Happy New Year and Good Birding!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Close Encounter with a Hawk

Yesterday, we were at friends in North Burlington at a cottage at a summer camp property.  There was a beautiful juvenile Red-tailed Hawk eating a squirrel frozen into the ground. He was not leaving that food just because we were there and tolerated three of us standing around it within a few feet and talking and taking pics.  It is the closest we have ever been to a wild hawk.  Here are the pics - all copyright Jerry Horak

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Western Kingbird

On Friday someone sighted a Western Kingbird in Hamilton.  It was not found on Saturday but we took a chance and headed to the area today.  We were not really expecting to see it, we had just spent 4 hours on a Shorebird trip and had seen some good birds with a couple of lifers thrown in.  It had been a good birding day and it was warm and about 1:00.  Jerry had just commented that it was a "bad time of day" to see anything.  Suddenly to my right I saw a flash of yellow and a large bird fly into a tree - with the bins I knew it was not the Kingbird - tufted head, quite grey/olive, almost the size of a robin, wing pattern of a flycatcher, dark beak, yellow belly.  We both got good looks at it and watched it fly away.  We confirmed it as a Great Crested Flycatcher!  Not a lifer for us but a first in Ontario and one needed for the list this year.  Jerry realized that he had once again come out of the car without the camera so he went back to get it.  We walked a bit farther down and again another bird caught my eye - yellow again, grey head, I got Jerry to start taking pics, then realized it was with an Eastern Kingbird and it definitely looked like the Western Kingbird!  Not a lifer for us as we saw them out West, in Alberta, where they belong but a very nice bird for our list this year.  Pics are below... The Western Kingbird I think is pretty rare for Ontario - there was one in Downsview a few weeks back.  I have posted directions to the bird on Hamilton Birds, Brant Birds and Ontario Birds.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

DIY Car Wallet Tutorial

I am a little Pinterest obsessed, like many I am sure.  There are lots of great ideas that inspire others to create even better ideas and this is what makes it so exciting for me.  I love finding an idea and then building on it, changing it, to make it my own.  I am in awe of the people (mostly women) who somehow find the time to not only make something but also take pictures while they are doing it and post tutorials on blogs or websites. Judging by my Pins Complete board I have benefited from quite a few great ideas so I decided that it was only fair that I post a tutorial myself in the hopes that others out there will be inspired by my little creation and then make it their own.  My inspiration for this car wallet came from these pins and blogs: http://pinterest.com/pin/195343702556818254/ 
 http://crazylittleprojects.com/2012/12/kids-car-carrier-tutorial.html.  All very cute but I wanted to add a track as part of the wallet so I took a bit from all of these and came up with this.

Here is what you need:  Cotton fabric - one piece 15 1/2" x 9", one piece 4 1/2 x 9 and one piece 6" x 12 1/2".  One piece of green felt 11 1/2 x 9 and one piece of black felt 11 1/2 x 9.  
One piece of interface 4 1/2 x 9 and small piece of velcro.

All seam allowances were 1/4" serged seams so add more to your pieces if you want to use 5/8" seams.

1. Take the 6" x 12 1/2" piece and fold right sides together so you have a 3" x 12 1/2" piece. Sew 1/4" seam on two sides and leave an end open. Turn, Press, and turn in the open end.  You could topstitch this piece - I didn't.

2. Take the green felt piece and the 4 1/2" piece and join these right sides together with a 1/4"seam.  Iron on interfacing just below seam line.

3.Cut out a track from the black felt piece.  I folded mine into quarters, cut the curve, then made an oval from paper using the same " folding into quarters" technique and cut out the middle of the track.  Place over green felt.  Applique curves, bottom edge and center.  Applique white lines. 

4. Figure out where you want the velcro pieces - I wanted this wallet to wrap tightly so it folds three times. I put the smooth piece 1/2 below the top of the wallet on the black felt track.  The rough velcro piece went onto the right side of the 15 1/2 x 9 piece of cotton 5 1/2 " up from the bottom.  It probably could have been down a bit more - maybe at 5".  Sew around the velcro a couple of times.

5. Put right sides together and sew around the entire wallet with a 1/4" seam leaving an opening along the bottom of the wallet.  Turn right side out, poke out corners, press with hands.  Then topstitch very close to the edge all the way around catching in the opening at the bottom.  

6. Add the pockets:  Use the 3" strip.  Attach the strip along the sides of the wallet, just in from the topstitching.  Using 4 cars, pin the fabric evenly in three spots between each car.  Sew that line of stitching  at those three spots.  Then form some pleats along the bottom and pin and sew the pocket to the bottom of the wallet  (See http://crazylittleprojects.com/2012/12/kids-car-carrier-tutorial.html for pics).

7. Wrap up and go!  In hindsight I maybe would have just added two ribbons at the top or webbing with velcro on the ends that could be wrapped and tied.  The rough side of the velcro is sticking to the felt if it is pulled tighter.  So it is up to the next person to make this better!  Enjoy!

Monday, May 20, 2013

175 Species of Birds!

We have just spent the better part of the last week birding.  Two days in Point Pelee, 1 day in Rondeau Park, a family wedding on the weekend forced us to bird in Burlington (see the Fish Crow post below) and today we spent at Long Point.  We only had 117 species before Point Pelee and we are now at 175 for the year. The highlights from Point Pelee have to include seeing the rare Worm-Eating Warbler (no pic unfortunately) and witnessing the crazy courtship dance of the American Woodcock. It happens just after dusk or before dawn.  First you hear a low-pitched nasal beeping call while it is still on the ground.  Then the bird hurls itself into the air like a football, spiraling upwards 200 feet or more.  The performance concludes with the woodcock falling back to earth, often in a zig-zag, banking display to pitch down where it started.  Then another will do the same thing.  Amazing to see!

Another highlight was the one American Golden Plover among all the Black-bellied Plovers on the very tip of Point Pelee, the most Southern point in Ontario. It was in with this gathering of shorebirds as well as Willets and the Greater Backed Black Gull.

Everyone comes to Point Pelee for the warblers and we were not disappointed.  We had seen 7 warbler species before heading to Pelee and then saw another 12 at Pelee and another 3 at Rondeau, 1 in Burlington and another 3 at Long Point giving us 26 of the 43 species in Ontario.  Not easy to get pics of them.

Our 150th bird  - Ovenbird

Blackburnian Warbler
  A few more pics from the trips:
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Orchard Oriole
Eastern Kingbird

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Rose -breasted Grosbeak

Migration is winding down and with 175 species thus far it will start to get  harder  to add to the numbers.  We will need to start concentrating on specific habitat and nesting grounds now.  Next milestone will be bird 200!

Fish Crow in Burlington

A first confirmed nesting in Ontario of Fish Crows was discovered a few weeks ago in Burlington across from Burloak Waterfront Park.  We saw both the male and female on a drive-by on Saturday May 18 but wanted to really have a good look at them so went back on Sunday morning.  Both were again present on the lampost beside the nest when we got there but were then being bothered by what we assume was a regular crow.  All three birds scattered and were landing on posts and the tops of the apartment building close by.  It was when this was going on that we heard the Fish Crows distinctive call.  The other crow left them and then they headed back to the nest.  We went on to walk the Lakeshore and both birds were absent when we returned about 1/2 hour later.
Today the report on Ontario birds suggests that the nest is empty and a small crow was found dead in the park.  It is being checked by the ROM to see if it is the Fish Crow.  Very sad if that is the case.
Some of our pics below.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

100th Bird!

Birding is all about timing - this morning we had decided to do some local trails and at the last minute decided we better have some breakfast first.  I looked out the window while waiting for my toast and saw a warbler, we grabbed books and binoculars and quickly realized there were two different types of warblers right out our window.  We got a few pics and identified both as a Western Palm Warbler and a possible Pine Warbler (which was confirmed by a fellow birder).
Western Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler

Both of these birds are lifers for us so we were pretty excited and had a good laugh that we had decided to make toast.  Instead of heading out to the trail we decided to walk through a landlocked conservation area across the field from our home.  As we headed out we saw another warbler - this time the Yellow-rumped Warbler which we have seen before but still counts as a bird on our 2013 list.
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Our list for 2013 - recording all species we see was now at 98 birds - we quickly saw a Green Heron taking us to 99.  We walked a bit through what is a planted pine forest and stopped at a large pond and our 100th bird appeared - the Pilated Woodpecker!  It flew across the pond and we managed to get a very fuzzy pic of it a bit later.
Pileated Woodpecker
Shortly after we saw some more warblers and we both identified one as the Black-throated Green Warbler bringing our list for 2013 to 101 birds.  Our life list is now at 214, our backyard list is 82 and we have found 26 lifers since January 1 2013.  
Last week we spent a day down at Long Point adding 16 birds to our list and had another lesson is the role timing plays.  We had stopped at the Bird Studies Canada building around 8:30 but decided rather than get out and walk the trail we would head to Long Point and do that on our way home.  Around 9 another birder saw the American Avocet at the edge of the lake.  It is not a lifer for us - we have seen it in Myrtle Beach but it would have been a nice bird for our year list.  Of course, had we made that stop we might not have seen these highlights - the Blue-winged Teal which we had been "chasing" since January and always seemed to miss.  

 the usually elusive, secretive American Woodcock preening beside a wetland 

and we finished the day spotting this Horned Grebe in almost breeding plumage.

Happy Birding!

Friday, February 8, 2013


 When we built our home 7 years ago it was always with the intention of tiling behind our wood stove but tile is pricey and we just never got around to doing it. Then Pinterest arrived in my life (Yeah!Pinterest) and I saw a floor done with penny tile last summer and I knew that I had to have a penny wall. We used their technique to do our wall.  You can see their post at: (http://big-design.blogspot.ca/2011/01/penny-saved-is-tile-floor.html ).  Canada had announced their intent to phase out the penny so it was perfect timing to make a monument to the penny.  Let me say that this is not a weekend DIY or one for the faint of heart at least not on the scale we did it, but it is one of the cheapest ways to tile a wall – it costs pennies!  There was a major investment of time and in our case, muscle power (more of that later).   We started collecting pennies last summer by inviting our friends and family to bring their pennies to us for cash but instead they all donated almost 9,000 pennies to the wall! Thank you to all of you! We bought another 10,000 and we had a few thousand of our own.  We decided on not doing the entire wall but instead, doing a 6’wide strip behind the stove and taking it up 16’ to the roof line – yep I said 16’. We found a tile place where we could buy a roll of 1’wide fibreglass mesh and then we had to decide on glue.  Glues to attach metal were expensive and reviews suggested the smell lingered forever so we opted for using silicone – the kind you use in your bathroom or kitchen - to attach the pennies to the mesh.  I tried to research if silicone would stick with the tile thin -set and could not find anything concrete so we went ahead hopeful that it would all work out.

 In October I went on the computer and found http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/circle/ to print circles the size of pennies on paper.   I used 2cm (the size of pennies) for the grid size and a radius of .9 to give the spacing for the grout.   I printed quite a few sheets and cut and joined sheets together to make 4 one square foot templates (so we could make 4 tiles at a time).  We put the templates on a table with a sheet of plexi-glass from an old picture frame over them. Then we put down a piece of plastic wrap to keep the silicone off the plexi-glass and to keep the tiles from sticking together as we piled them up. Finally, the square foot of mesh was put down and we lined up corners and started attaching pennies. Jerry did all of the tiles starting in October, doing one or two a night and having about 9’ of tile ready by the end of December. He wore a spot in the floor he spent so much time doing those tiles!  Each tile took 224 pennies and we chose to do things completely random, heads, tails, US, Canadian, old, new, even damaged and painted. Our oldest penny that we could see a date on is from 1920.

New Years Eve Day we attached 9’of tile – we had been waiting for a day that would be sunny enough not to have the wood stove on (our main source of heat).  The actual tiling was pretty easy.  Only a very thin coat of thin set was possible as the pennies are so thin and we needed to leave room for grouting.  Each foot of tile required us to attach pennies one at a time to fill in the “half-row” at the top of the tile.
The silicone did not seem to present a problem and only a few pennies fell off the mesh while we were attaching them to the wall.  It was pretty easy to re-attach any with a bit of thin-set on the penny and then stick it to the wall.  Next morning they were all still there on the wall.  We were thrilled it had worked.  Jerry went back to making tiles and we had the next 7’ ready to go a few weeks later.  Our roof line is sloped behind the stove so the last tiles had to be made up as we tiled once we could measure and cut the mesh on the angle to fit.  The wall took approx 19,500 pennies - we spent only $100 on pennies, $75 on the mesh, and about $70 on the grout and thin-set - we used the standard stuff from Home Depot. Add the costs of trim, plastic wrap and silicone and we spent approximately $300 to tile a 16'x 6' area.

We painted and attached a thin trim down each side and across the top and we were ready to grout.  We knew that the grouting would be challenging, grouting regular tile is hard work and pennies are not smooth.  It was apparent very quickly that Jerry was not able to pull a lot of the grout back off the pennies because it caught in the minuscule edges of the pennies.  I tried taking the grout off with sponges and lots of water as you would normally do but then I was losing the grout in between and there was not much of that because the pennies are pretty thin.  It would have taken huge amounts of water that we could not put down the septic system and it all seemed terribly wasteful.  So we made the decision to let it all dry for a day which meant that we then had to remove the dry grout from more than 50% of the pennies with damp cloths and screwdrivers, paint scrapers one penny at a time and most of the work while we were on ladders 16' up! 

The first day we cleared a couple of square feet and I was pretty discouraged.  I avoided looking at the rest of the wall.  But a new day dawns and you find your groove with cleaning, some areas were easier than others, we had the tunes blasting and there were two of us working on it.  After about 40 hours of scraping the wall over two weeks it was finally done. All told we figure it took about 100 hours of work for the whole job.  

It was soooo worth all the work!  I love the glow of the coppery colour, the variation of the tones in the wall. I love the way the light makes it sparkle in some areas.  The pics do not do it justice - really it looks so much better than these pics!

Thanks again to all our friends and family - can't wait for you all to come and see your pennies!