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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Fragile Forktail: The Most Elegant of Damselflies

Feature image for the Forktail post.

All damselflies—the tiny, slimmed-down cousins of dragonflies in the order Odonata—are elegant creatures, but the Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) is in a class by itself. Is it the name alone that makes me think so? Fragility can make anything—whether it’s a bug or a piece of furniture—seem more graceful and refined; and the Fragile Forktail’s … Read more

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Spring Flowers: Bloodroot, a Native Knockout

Feature photo for Bloodroot post.

When I’m outside in early spring, I find myself not so much longing for the sight of something green as lusting after the color yellow. The rich yellow on a Meadowlark’s breast, the goldshine of Dutch Master daffodils, the chalky yellow of Forsythia flowers—these slake something so strong that it feels like a physical need, … Read more

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Green Is the Color of Hope: Stalking the Black-legged Meadow Katydid

Feature photo for Katydid post.

I.              The photo This all started at the end of September 2019, when a friend emailed me a photo she’d taken of a Black-legged Meadow Katydid. My friend and I are birders, and we share a subsidiary interest in butterflies and dragonflies. But katydids? I’d never seen one, so had never felt the urge to … Read more

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One Woodpecker: A Photo Essay

Feature photo for Woodpecker post.

Most birders I know have a weakness for woodpeckers. It’s partly the drumming that seduces us: that monotone hammering woodpeckers make every spring to claim a territory and find a mate. But it’s also their shape and color. Shape because every part of a woodpecker’s anatomy—bill, skull, ribcage, tail feathers, and feet—has been adapted to … Read more

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Butterflies of the Carden Alvar: Part Two, the Commas

Feature image for Commas post.

My problem with Commas is one of disappointment. Three species of Comma—the Eastern, the Gray, and the Green—appear in Southern Ontario; but in Toronto, where I do most of my butterflying, I’ve only ever seen the Eastern. Each time I find another Comma, I hope it’s something different. But when I come home and examine … Read more

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The Coronavirus Conundrum: You want I should hibernate in spring?

Featured image for Coronavirus post.

Two weeks ago, I biked down to the allotment garden in Toronto where my wife and I have been tending a plot for the better part of twenty years. On the gate where I usually enter, I found a sign stating that the allotments were closed indefinitely, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s possible to … Read more

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Winter Birding: A photo essay from Algonquin Park

Feature photo for Algonquin post.

Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the finest places in North America to see winter birds, those boreal species that rarely come down to more southerly locations. Situated in central Ontario, the park is a three-hour drive north of Toronto and about the same distance west from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I spent two days … Read more

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Cold-weather Camouflage: How do birds conceal themselves in winter?

A Purple Sandpiper on a rocky shoreline.

To put it as simply as possible: birds display two types of camouflage: color and shape. Both of these techniques help them to perform the magical act of disappearing, of blending into their surroundings, sometimes to the point of invisibility. In the spring, birds put themselves on display in hopes of finding a mate. During … Read more

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Derive or Drift: The Art of Exploring the City on Foot, Part One

Urban street scene

In its root sense, the French word derive is a nautical term that comes from the Latin rivus or river. It means “drift,” as a canoe drifts down the river or a ship drifts out on the ocean. In the second half of the 20th century, certain French writers appropriated the term as the name … Read more

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