Archive for June, 2009


When I was returning from Purdon Conservation Area, I stopped in at Kiwi Gardens, where they feature an interesting mix of perennials and garden sculpture. There is a fine selection of potted plants for sale, and you can see mature perennials in the beautiful display gardens.


The sculptures are an added bonus. Kiwi Gardens hosted the Art in the Garden event on June 20-21st, but you can still see a selection of art work on display. If you look in the background of the hillside garden, below, you can spot the first sculpture that caught my eye while still in the parking lot.


At the top of the hill is Shayne Dark’s “Out of the Blue“, which seems to glow with its own blue radiance. The following photos show a closer view of Dark’s work, and a selection of other pieces. If you are in the Perth area, plan on stopping by Kiwi Gardens.


"Out of the Blue" by Shayne Dark


"The Breathing Sculpture" by Wojtek Biezysko


"Architectural Meditation" by Francis Muscat


"Illusive Vigil" by David Pelletier


"Nest Hotel" by Christian Bernard Singer


"Hatching Dragon" (Garden ornament-no tag)

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Gold Digger by Vicki Delany. RendezVous Crime, 2009.

Of all the light mysteries I’ve read lately, this one was the most fun. Set in Dawson in 1898, it features Fiona MacGillivray, a woman with a mysterious past who is now co-owner and manager of the Savoy saloon and dance hall. The action begins in the opening pages of the book. Fiona, returning to the Savoy one Sunday evening, her son Angus in tow, finds a slain body in the dance hall. Angus and his mother recognize the victim as Jack Ireland, a newly-arrived report who has been making enemies in town since stepping down at the docks. The balance of the book retraces events leading up to the murder, and climaxes in Fiona’s abduction as she confronts the killer.

At the end of the book, Delany lists a set of resources for those interested in learning more about the Klondike Gold Rush. I enjoyed her reconstruction of 1898 Dawson, and the rough and tumble cast of characters who peopled the town, both prospectors seeking their fortunes in the gold fields and those seeking their fortune through supplying the prospectors. Delaney includes interesting little details, such as the way the men who handled gold payments kept their nails long, the better to profit from any gold dust that might lodge there. She sends Constable Sterling off into the gold fields at Grand Forks on what seems like a rather unnecessary jaunt, the better to show readers another side of the gold rush.

Fiona and her son are likable and most of the supporting cast is too. I found Constable Richard Sterling a bit of a caricature, rather Dudley Do-Right, or at least Benton Fraser of Due South. He even has a big, white, wolfish dog named Mrs. Miller. Still, as the main potential love interest, he makes a good foil for Fiona’s questionable past and current shady employment. In the end, the mystery is solved and the scene is set for a sequel.

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June Hayfield

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While the Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchids are the star of the show at this time of the year, they are by no means the only feature of interest at Purdon Conservation Area. Twinflowers (Linnaea borealis) were also blooming in the fen. These delicate, moisture-loving flowers are the smallest members of the honeysuckle family. Their upright stalks terminate in a fork, with each side bearing a single pale, pinky-white trumpet-shaped flower.


The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves.


Flowers aren’t the only attraction. I also saw a sampling of wildlife. Here is a Green Frog (Rana Clamitans). Check out the green upper lip on this dude!


Several White Admirals (Limenitis arthemis) floated by. These woodland butterflies are common and widespread. Interestingly, White Admirals and Red-spotted Purple butterflies are different morphs of the same species. Their larval food plants include willows, cottonwoods and poplars.

I disturbed this Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), who had been contentedly sunning itself on the boardwalk until I arrived on the scene, prompting his hasty departure.


The fen lies at the bottom of a hill, where it is fed by water runoff. Climbing the trail to the lookout on top of the ridge offers a view over the pond that borders the fen. The pond was created in the 1960s by introduced beavers, who dammed the small creek that was draining the area. The conservation area thus features 3 kinds of wetland, with marsh and swamp around the edge of the pond complimenting the fen. A fen differs from a bog in that it has a groundwater source. The moving water brings nutrients and reduces the build-up of acidity. A bog has no water source except rainwater and snowmelt. It is therefore nutrient-poor and highly acidic.


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Every June, Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth, becomes a hot spot for nature lovers. Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewartship, the colony of a few dozen orchids, which he discovered on his property in the 1930s, has grown to 16,000 blooms. It is probably the largest display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) in North America.


The orchids bloom for a couple of weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July. I made a trip out to see the orchids on a sunny, hot day this week and was not disappointed. The area is now managed by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority. (That’s right; there’s a Mississippi River in Ontario too.) A boardwalk meanders through the fen and allows visitors to get a good look at the orchids with minimum impact to the fen. The orchids grow amongst trees, nestled in grass and sedges and other wetland lovers.


Information signage along the trail helps in identifying plants and provides interesting information about the fen. The orchids are 1 to 2 feet tall, and as their name indicates, very showy, decked out in white and bright pink. The stems have a hairy appearance and the hairs can cause a skin rash if touched, another reason not to disturb the plant!



The fen is situated at the foot of a steep hill, and runoff of water from the hill helps to feed the fen with nutrients and moisture, providing the habitat the orchids require. The plant has vanished from much of its historical range due to loss of habit as a result of the draining of wetlands.


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It’s baby bird season. Throughout the nature blogosphere, posts on baby birds are popping up. Here’s a great post over at The Marvelous in Nature about chickadee fledglings. And how about these cuties? Baby field sparrows. Over at A Passion for Nature, Winterwoman is showing off little house wrens. Not being as intrepid a birder as Seabrooke or Jennifer, I let the baby bird find me. When I walked into the kitchen, there was a young robin sitting on the windowsill. It was probably newly out of the nest, and still being cared for by its parents. My windowsill wasn’t the best place for it to be sitting. I was concerned about a parent running into the window. However, I did enjoy getting a good look at the youngster. I love the speckled breasts of baby robins. It’s when the species looks its most thrush-like, I think. I wasn’t the only one who found the baby of interest. Moey, left, and Tonka were quick to notice the new arrival. I shooed them away from the window, and when I came back a little later, the little robin was gone. I hope he found a better spot to perch.

Speaking of baby birds, here’s the latest on the boreal forest bird nursery. The Save Our Boreal Birds petition, with 60,000 signatures, was presented to the federal government on June 15th by MP Linda Duncan. May it help to preserve a future for many more baby birds.


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When walking out to Iroquois Point to see the Musical Ride on Tuesday, it was impossible not to notice the white fluff that was lending a snowy look to certain patches of ground. A woman walking near me observed to her partner “Look at all the dandelion fluff!”


The fluff did look like dandelion seeds. However, it was courser, and had drifted into clumps and windrows here and there. It was also problematic that there was not a dandelion to be seen on the neatly-mown lawns. The clue to the riddle of the fluff was lying on the ground under a big tree.


The fluff was coming from a tree, an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). You can see the triangular, toothed leaves of the cottonwood on this little branch that had fallen to the ground. Cottonwoods aren’t all that common in southern Ontario. They are associated with moist sites and can be found along stream banks and ponds. There are a few in the park. The specimen that was snowing down fluff onto the road where we were passing by was a large, attractive tree. Now it’s clear where the name “Cottonwood” comes from!


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Last weekend, the University of Guelph Kemptville campus was the site of the Ontario Reining Horse Association’s June show. I attended for a couple of hours on Sunday. When I was a young rider, reining was one of the classes regularly included in horse shows for western riders. Since those days, reining has grown in popularity and now has specialized shows.


Reining began on working cattle farms, where a cowboy needed a quick and agile horse to gather and move cattle. Casual competitions amongst cowboys, proud of the performance of their horses, developed into a structured equestrian event. Today, reining competitions show off the conditioning and training of horses as they perform maneuvers in a prescribed pattern.


Each horse entered in a class performs the same pattern and the quality of his performance is assigned a mark by a judge to determine the class winner. Important elements included in the pattern include controlled changes of speed, from a slow canter to a hand gallop, and smooth transitions in gait, such as from a walk to a canter. Between movements, the horse must stand quietly, calm and alert.


Circles are performed at a designated speed and size. Figure eights require the horse to change leads at the precise centre of the figure. Spins require the horse to turn 360° , rotating around his inside hind foot, which stays in one spot. In a rollback, the horse gallops to a stop, spins 180°, and departs at a canter, performed as one continuous movement. When backing up, the horse must move straight back on command.


In a sliding stop, the rider cues the horse to stop from a gallop. The horse sets his hind feet and slides with his hind quarters lowered. I happened to catch the ‘green’ and ‘novice’ classes, and enjoyed seeing these horses perform.


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On June 23rd, Iroquois recognized the 50th anniversary of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The headline event of the celebration, held at the Iroquois Point park beside the seaway lock, was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride. The weather was perfect, a bright sunny day set off by a brilliant blue sky. It was fun to see the horse vans parked in the shade at the west end of the park, and the troop of horses being prepared for their show. Above, the ride assembles amongst the park trees in readiness for their entry into the ring.


Here they come! There was a large and enthusiastic audience seated in bleachers and chairs around the ring. There was a bit of a delay in starting because the shuttle buses, bringing people from the parking lot at the shopping centre, were in big demand, with long lineups of people waiting for a ride. Those who arrived earliest seemed content to enjoy the warmth of the sun as they anticipated the beginning of the ride.


The ride members line up for the introduction and salute. The performance takes about half an hour. The ride is set to music and the 24 horses and riders perform a set of intricately structured figures. The display is best observed from a height so that the designs created by the horses can be appreciated. Still photos can’t capture the flow of the ride, but hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of what it’s like.




Every imaginable variation on intersecting lines is included. Crossing in single file, in pairs, in foursomes, at the trot, at the canter, it’s all there.


In “The Cartwheel”, horses at the centre of the wheel revolve slowly, while those in the ‘spokes’ and on the outside rim, must move at a trot or canter.


“The Dome” was featured on the Canadian $50 bill.


The ‘Grand Finale” of the ride is the charge, a real crowd-pleaser. After the ride is finished, the riders fan out and position their mounts around the perimeter of the ring so that the audience can come up and admire the horses at close range and ask questions. Below, the mare Visty and her happy, beaming rider are admired by fans. The Musical Ride made a great centerpiece for the celebration.


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Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) are small, round-winged orange and black butterflies of the Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterfly family. Brush-footed refers to the fact that the front pair of legs of adults are greatly shortened and covered with tiny hairs, so that they look like little bottle-brushes. These front legs are difficult to see, so the butterfly appears to have four legs instead of six. Crescents get their name from a crescent-shaped mark on the lower side of the hind wing. The Pearl Crescent is a common butterfly, often seen in gardens or at meadow and roadside flowers. Males patrol areas near larval food plants, aster species, in search of females.


The Pearl Crescent range overlaps here with that of a couple of other crescent species, the Northern (Phyciodes cocyta) and the Tawny (Phyciodes batesii), making the identification of crescent species difficult. The crescents in the first and last photos may be Pearls, while the middle photo may show a Northern. They fly from flower to flower, close to the ground, alternating a series of flaps with flat-winged glides. Once the first crescents appear, they suddenly seem to be abundant.


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