Archive for September, 2014

Boxed In


Our local grocery store makes boxes available to customers to carry home their purchases. I always keep an eye out for cat-size containers because nothing pleases a feline like a box. This recent acquisition, which formerly held peppers, was a hit. That’s Capone (left) and his younger brother Arthur, sharing their new favorite box.

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A & W Canada, the second largest burger chain in the country, has been promoting its hamburgers as containing ‘better beef’.

“We were hoping that we’d be able to deliver on the product that most of our customers were asking about, which is beef without any added hormones or steroids,” said Susan Senecal, chief marketing officer of A & W Food Services of Canada.

​Senecal said A & W will also buy from producers who use antibiotics only for therapeutic purposes, and whose animals are free of additives and preservatives.

(source: cbc.ca)

Not surprisingly, this has ranchers up in arms. Rick Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers responds “We don’t think it’s better beef. We think it’s beef from cattle that are raised differently than the vast majority of cattle in Canada and the United States.” (same source)

Regardless of where you stand on this beefy debate, you might be interested in another A & W product that has received less attention: coffee. A & W serves 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, a big, two-thumbs-up winner! The green frog seal of Rainforest Alliance is on every cup and the text reads:

At A & W, we are passionate about quality. That’s why we serve 100% Arabica coffee.
We are also committed to socially and environmentally sustainable practices. That’s why 100% of A & W coffee is sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

So on this, International Coffee Day, here’s a shout-out to A & W. Thanks for offering consumers an environmentally-friendly coffee choice! For more information about the Rainforest Alliance, follow this link.


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In honour of International Coffee Day, September 29th, I am reposting an entry from three years ago. Shade the coffee, shelter the birds!

Love Coffee? Save a Bird With Every Cup.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Photo: Seabrooke Leckie)

It’s the time of year when many of the birds we have enjoyed all summer, ‘our’ birds, make their long, perilous journey south, completing one of the most amazing feats of the natural world. Many of those birds will spend their winter on coffee plantations.

A native of Ethiopia, coffee was introduced to Brazil by the mid-1700s, and coffee plantations today cover an estimated 7 million acres in the northern Neotropics from Columbia and Brazil to Mexico. Traditionally, coffee has thrived in shaded woodlands, but in order to produce crops more quickly, sun-tolerant coffee plants were developed.

Full-sun farming requires the removal of the forest and replaces it with a virtual biological desert. Without the forest birds to eat insects, and decaying materials to feed the plants, sun-grown coffee requires the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. At least half of the coffee grown in the Neotropics has been converted to full sun.


Buying shade-grown coffee is probably the most important thing you can do to help save the rainforest and protect migratory birds. These days, shade-grown coffee is widely available in supermarkets and specialty stores. Sometimes you have to read the label carefully to verify that the coffee is shade-grown.


Too expensive? Don’t drink that much coffee? Here’s an easy alternative: Look for Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee. Nabob is a product of Kraft Foods, one of a few corporate giants that control 40 to 60% of the coffee market. According to the label, Nabob is currently more than 60% Rainforest Alliance Certified and working towards 100% certification.


Look for the Rainforest Alliance Frog

Still drinking instant??? Most instant coffee is made from the poorest, sun-grown beans. If you purchase an inexpensive one-cup or small-pot coffeemaker, brewing the real thing is very fast. You can enjoy a better cup of coffee and help the birds with a minimum effort. Wake up and smell the coffee! The birds will thank you.

For more information about shade-grown coffee, see my Shade the Coffee, Shelter the Birds post. For plenty of information on many aspects of coffee and habitat, visit the site linked here: Coffee and Conservation.


Ovenbird (Photo: Seabrooke Leckie)

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Cornfield Rainbow

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When I was driving into town recently, I did a double take as I passed a field of foraging geese and noticed two tall birds accompanying the flock. Canada Geese are common migrants at this time of year, but this pair represents my first sighting of Sandhill Cranes! What a cool sight!

Sandhill cranes are more commonly associated with the prairies, but there is also an eastern population. In Ontario, they mostly breed far north in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and south to Sudbury through Sault Ste. Marie and Manitoulin Island, with a sprinkling of pairs across the rest of Ontario. In autumn, Sandhill cranes come together into flocks, or stage before heading to Florida and other southern locations for the winter.

Sandhill cranes were extirpated from southwestern Ontario in the 1920s. Today, their numbers are thought to be stable or increasing slightly. Bird Studies Canada estimates their numbers at 40,000 to 80,000 birds.

Googling for information about cranes in Ontario brought up sites suggesting a hunting season should be considered. While I was thrilled to be able to photograph this pair, such sightings make trigger fingers itch for a multitude of hunters. Crane numbers are still infinitesimal when compared to the human population. In 2011, the population of the Greater Toronto Area exceeded 6 million. That’s a lot of people. It’s pretty obvious which species is excessively represented, and it’s not cranes.


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We’re back from our cross-Canada odyssey. Well, halfway across Canada. We left Union Station in Toronto on Thursday evening, September 11th and rolled into Vancouver on Monday morning, the 15th. Here’s RailGuy, seated in the Via lounge in Union Station as we await the 10:00 PM boarding call.


Since the train leaves late in the evening, the bunks are already made up for sleeping when you arrive. We had an upper and lower berth. The beds were very comfortable and dressed with fresh white linens and a warm comforter. The berths open onto the public aisle and are draped with heavy curtains closed with snaps. Quite cozy.


Here’s RailGuy getting settled in.


In the morning, usually when you go for breakfast, your steward comes by and folds the beds away so that you have a seating area for the day. Several berths share washrooms and a shower.


Cabins are also available. This is the double cabin with the beds folded up. The beds are actually a bit smaller, but the cabin offers a little more privacy and its own washroom.


Here’s the hallway that runs along the side of the cabins. A few times a day, we walked up the train to the Skyline Dome car where coffee and tea and snacks are available, though our own windows offered a good view, and to the dining car.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served at tables for four in the dining car. It takes 3 sittings for each meal to serve all the passengers. The food services staff start early in the morning and work hard all day. The meals were all delicious. A menu is presented for each sitting and you can choose from 4 main entrees. Salad or soup is served with lunch and dinner and the desserts were yummy. I gained 3 pounds on the trip.


Of course, the highlight of the trip is the scenery. Travelling by train certainly gives you a grasp of how very big our country is. As you leave Toronto at 10:00 PM, when you get up in the morning you are in Northern Ontario.


You can often see the front or rear of the train as it weaves through the landscape.


We stopped briefly in Hornpayne and were able to stretch our legs on the platform.


The derelict Hornpayne station is a sad reminder of the bygone days when rail travel was more commonplace.


Once we were into the prairies, I was surprised by the number of little wetlands and pools, sloughs or slews, that dotted the railside. Most featured a pair of ducks or more.


When we arrived in Winnipeg, the train stopped for several hours and we had the option of taking a bus tour of Winnipeg, which we enjoyed. Here’s the new Museum of Human Rights as seen from the bus. We visited Assiniboine Park, saw the legislative buildings, drove past one of Canada’s most famous intersections, Portage and Main, and visited St. Boniface cathedral. Louis Riel rests in the churchyard.


I was surprised by how rolling the land is on the northern plains. Much of the rail line is limited to one set of rails. Freight trains have the right of way, so we were often delayed as we waited on a siding for a freight train to pass.


Here’s a potash facility in Saskatchewan. It certainly stands out in the otherwise agrarian landscape.


In Edmonton, we stopped briefly to pick up an observation car, which offers an enhanced view.


Before long, we were heading into the mountains.


We made another short stop in Jasper, just long enough to check out the gift shops along the main street across from the train station.


The train travels through the mountains overnight, but there was still plenty of time to view the rugged landscape as the train crisscrossed the Fraser River as it flows out to Vancouver.


More mountains.


Here’s the train pulling into Vancouver. We arrived about 10:30 on Monday morning. It was a great trip, fun to do, excellent service, great scenery. I have hundreds of photographs of the latter, but this sampling gives you an idea of the trip. If you’re looking for a different sort of holiday, I can recommend the VIA Canadian journey.


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Sunday Snapshot: Autumn Wildflower Meadow


Asters and goldenrod

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Prairie Morning


Prairie Evening

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Sunday Snapshot: Autumn Is Coming


Immature meadowhawk on New England Aster

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