Wasps Are Wonderful! Especially the Flower-visiting Kind

Photo of a Bramble Mason Wasp.

Over the past summer, I became fascinated by flower-visiting wasps, especially the solitary kind that build individual nests, either by burrowing into the ground or by fashioning small mud-nests that they attach to plants or artificial constructions. For one thing, these wasps are plentiful where I live in Toronto, Ontario. Throughout the summer and into … Read more

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Tennessee Coneflower: An Honored Guest in My Garden

Feature photo for the coneflower post.

I first read about Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) in the catalogue I get every year from Salt Spring Seeds on Vancouver Island. The notice described it as a rare and uncommonly attractive wildflower that was thought to be extinct until 1968, when researchers discovered a surviving pocket in a cedar glade in central Tennessee. Tennessee … Read more

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Hawk Drama at High Park

Feature photo for Red-tailed Hawk post.

On June 13, I went to High Park in Toronto’s west end for what I thought would be a day of butterflies and dragonflies. The park is vast (161 hectares, or 400 acres) and contains a variety of habitats, including wetlands and one of the last dry-oak savannahs in the Greater Toronto Area. More than … Read more

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Early Blue Cohosh: Another Native Knockout

Early Blue Cohosh feature photo.

I like every element of the popular name: Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum). Early means the flowers appear when I most long for them—in April, when winter has just released its grip, and the soil, if not frozen, is still clammy and cold. Blue signifies a color I don’t see much of so early in … Read more

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Toronto Dragonflies: A Study in Diversity and Beauty

Photo of a 12-spotted Skimmer.

Recently, I was asked to compile a checklist of the dragonflies and damselflies that frequent the Leslie Street Spit, the so-called “urban wilderness” and parkland that extends into Lake Ontario from Toronto’s east end. One thing that intrigued me about this project was the contrast between the old and new that it illustrates. On the … Read more

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Caterpillars Are Cool! Especially those that turn into moths

Feature photo of a Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar.

To paraphrase Thoreau, I wish to speak a word for caterpillars, if only because so few defend or find them beautiful. Maybe their unpopularity, at least in North America, stems from the ravages of the LD Moth, Lymantia dispar (formerly known as the Gypsy Moth), whose larvae appear in their millions year after year to … Read more

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An Odd Duck: But a strangely beautiful hybrid

This is the Featured Image for the Hybrid Duck post.

For the second year in a row, a rare hybrid duck has decided to spend the winter at Ashbridges Bay on Toronto’s waterfront. Last year, this male duck, or drake, was still a juvenile and had a juvenile’s dull-colored plumage. This year, it has acquired its adult breeding plumage, and, as the photo above shows, … Read more

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A Word to My Readers

Author photo.

When I started this blog three-and-a-half years ago, my goal was simple and not terribly ambitious. I wanted to contribute a new entry once a month, every month. It didn’t matter to me whether the entries were long or short; it didn’t even matter whether their quality was first-rate or simply mediocre. I thought the … Read more

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Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part Two

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

I spent a year at the University of Toronto reading the epic poem Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The prof for that class was Laurence K. Shook, a Basilian priest who had a special interest in the riddles contained in an Old English manuscript called the Exeter Book. These riddles all take the form of … Read more

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Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part One

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

When she stops him on the Rue Royale, she’s wearing a dark veil that makes it impossible to see her face. Even so, he can tell she is “a femelle of a fine form.” She speaks to him in French because she knows it’s his native tongue. Is he the man who draws the birds … Read more

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