Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thanks Reg

I have written many times about people in my life from my teaching experience. My fellow students were also important to me. Last week I lost one of my classmates.

I knew Reg before I went to school with him . He would work for my Dad on the farm when Dad would hire him and some other kids to pick stones off the fields. Dad always wanted Reg because he was a good worker.

I spent my high school years in Reg's class. If you remember from a previous post it was a one room high school. The teacher would give a brief lesson and tell us what he wanted done. Then, we were on our own. Many times we needed help. Reg was our "go to guy". Reg was always the top of the class and was able to understand the material from the teacher's explanation and textbook information. Since Reg was the leader, he set the bar and the rest of the class were moved to do better.

Reg was a quiet kid, but you always wanted him on your side for baseball or football.

After high school we both left the area. The last time I saw him he was doing his engineering assignment in a taxi he was driving so that he could make money to pay for his university fees and living. I never met him after that.

I did contact him by email when it was our 50th year after finishing high school. His reply was warm and supportive. We contacted each other yearly after that.

So even though we did not share a close life, it was still sad to hear that we lost him. People influence us for the better during our whole life even though we do not have contact.

Thanks Reg, for the challenge and support you gave my life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Bird Migration

In my last post I covered the antics of robins in Central Alberta as they migrate south. I should have first written about bird migration in general.

Migrating birds can be divided into large groups . There are water birds, boreal birds and grassland birds. In each group there are a large number of species and a wide variety of migration habits. To complicate matters many birds, particularly the males, look different than their spring plumage. In the fall I keep the Sibley's bird book nearby as the spring and fall plumage are covered as well as juveniles. Identifying birds in the fall is challenging as you see a bird hat looks familiar, but you can't quite place them. This is because the fall plumage is different.

Some of these birds leave us by the end of August. Others spend more time here as there is abundant food. Much has to be learned about migration, but birds seem to move in a narrow time line each year no matter what the conditions are . I keep a yard bird list . Each year the birds return at about the same time .

Boreal birds, such as warblers , busily work their way south by feeding in trees, brush and plants. They feed in the daytime and fly at night . Many times they crash into tall buildings and are found the next day at the bottom of the building. While they are in our yards they are interesting to watch. In my yard the most common warbler is the yellow rump. They feed on aphids on the back of leaves.

Water bird migrations are spectacular as we see the flocks of geese in their familiar vee formation. Ducks are in loose flocks and tend to fly rapidly. These birds feed for weeks in central Alberta grain fields.

Once again these birds are consuming huge amounts of high energy foods . They are also conditioning themselves for major flight. As a result the birds are energetic and we see all kinds of antics which attract our attention.

My childhood was spent in central Saskatchewan where there are main flyways for ducks and geese. When the wetlands were full of water it was perfect habitat for these birds. Sad to say many of these wetlands have been cleared and plowed for farmland.

A migration that most people try to ignore is the flight of crows. All through September we have massive numbers of crows which fly out to fields each day to feed on seeds and insects. In the evening they fly back to a common roosting area.

Several places on the edge of the Rocky Mountains provide perfect places to watch the migration of eagles . If you sit in the one spot you can count many eagles in one day.

So folks get out and enjoy the fall migration. These birds will soon leave us and we will be left with the few hardy species of winter birds.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where have All the Robins Come From?

Somebody has just asked Hiawatha House about the abundance of robins wheeling around their yard . I can tell you about your robins and many other things about robins that you haven't been thinking about.

Every year at this time in Red Deer , Alberta, Canada people ask me about all the crazy robins zooming around their yards . What is going on with these crazy birds? They don't act crazy at other times of the year.

To answer these questions you have to back up a bit . I like to back pack above he tree line in the Rocky Mountains. What's the most common bird you see? You guessed it . The robin. For three years I lived on the Mackenzie Delta, which is above the arctic circle. Robins nested there. Now with global warming, robins nest at Sachs Harbor on Banks Island which is 450km further north than the Mackenzie Delta. We are used to thinking of the robin as a garden variety urban bird, which it is, but it is also very widely distributed. We usually think of it nesting in trees ,but they very readily nest on the ground. I have found robins' nests on the ground in Red Deer where there are many trees.

So two things happen at this time of year. First, robins are migrating south. Second, the population is greatly expanded by all the young produced during the summer. These birds usually nest twice in the summer so there is a tremendous population of birds of the year. They are feeding on ripe fruit which has a high sugar content so they are full of energy. Robins are also quiet feisty and aggressive so they chase each other around . This is when they crash into your windows and is commonly why people ask about the dizzy robins.

The birds from the north and the mountains gather here because of an abundant food supply. They slowly work there way south . Some go far south for the winter and some not so far south if they can find a good food supply . Some robins stay at Red Deer all winter. Most years we have robins included in our winter bird count. I have seen robins in early Feb. when it's minus 30C .They feed on Saskatoons and rose hips. They seem to be big birds as their feathers are fluffed up to keep them warm.

At this time of year there are many other smaller birds in the trees and bushes and they are overlooked because of the antics of the robins. They are warblers and sparrows and will soon leave the area . More about them later. Let's just keep this one to robins.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reflections on Hiawatha House

      I started Hiawatha House on Aug. 27 ,08. For my first blog I put down some of my hopes and expectations as to what I wanted to achieve with Hiawatha house. I reread the first piece to see how much of what I wanted to do was accomplished. It was interesting. Some topics have not been dealt with while other things popped up unexpectedly.

Mostly the experience involved a tremendous and steep learning curve. The beginning challenges were with the mechanics of the blog. I am still finding new devices. It took me a long time to discover how to put pictures in the blog as I was too proud to ask. Now I have to improve on my photography game instead of borrowing pictures from my friends. The discovery of color was astounding! Examining my writing was eye opening. I will work on some areas to try and make things clearer.

      The topics to write on conveniently arose at the right time. Things happened or ideas that were rolling around in my head became ready for writing. Most things are pretty well in my head by the time I want to write. Interesting events seem to occur from time to time andI look forward to sharing them with you. The rabbit events really did happens.

       The audience is still mainly a mystery! When you write, you usually have some sense of who your audience is. Until I get more feedback, the audience is mainly a guessing game. I do appreciate my readers even though they are quite anonymous. I have bugged my friends and relatives to read Hiawatha House and so have some response . My brother had a good laugh recalling our "rhubarb fights". His wife had a chuckle over the line of some little fellow usually ended up crying.

   I know the past and what happened. I have some ideas of what I'd like to do next. I will try to push myself to deal with some of the topics which I wrote very little about . They will take some research. Looking back next year at this time will probably provide some more discovery.
"You can read the future,
Like a fairy tale."
From one of ABBA's songs

Sunday, September 13, 2009

1000km Cycling Goal Met Tonight

       Each year I set a goal to ride a minimum of 1000 km . Tonight I achieved my goal and I still have good riding weather left so that I can add to the total. Last year I rode until Dec. 1 but most years cycling ends at the end of October.

Riding through Bower Woods

     All of my riding is done on paved trails set up through out the city. In the picture I am riding through Bower Woods. I usually ride by myself as I find it safer. Two people tend to pay less attention as to what is around them. I also find it much more convenient as I don't have to phone someone and wait until they are ready. Now it's not that I'm antisocial. If I meet someone I know, I will stop and visit. In this way I find it easier to achieve my goal. Riding an average of 20 km per hour means that it only takes 50 hours to ride 1000 km . So 50 hours is only a small part of the summer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fall Thinking

     For many people fall is the favorite season of the year . The official start of fall is still 10 days away but where I live changes are beginning to occur. Fall varies in different climatic zones. However, where I live fall can be brilliant. Many changes take place. These changes can be slow but nevertheless brilliant.

Same shot taken a few days earlier

      We have a large variety of trees and shrubs in the natural areas. Each has it's own particular color and schedule while preparing for winter. Aspens can be bright yellow while some of shrubs can be quite red. This combination along with the spruce makes for great contrasts.

      Planted trees and shrubs in the urban areas have their own color variations. Some turn very early and drop their leaves while others hang on for awhile.

     The change to fall weather gradually creeps upon us. At times it changes quickly and brings early cold and snow. Fall weather when cooler is invigorating as we are able to work outside in pleasant temperatures.

       Fall bird migrations catch our attention. This morning a flock of geese flew over as they were looking for a feeding area. Song birds are in abundance as they are feeding heavily for their migration south.

       Taken altogether fall is a very interesting season as we watch the changes.
linden tree

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Special

     I have always been keenly aware of the significance of Labor Day. We were taught well in school and the media does a good job in the promotion of Labor Day.

However, for most of my life Labor Day had another influence which sticks in my head. Most often school started the day after Labor Day. As a country student the beginning of school meant that we were back with our friends again. I wrote a previous blog describing my education in a one room country school. In the summer we saw each other at Sunday school and odd other times. Our summers were somewhat isolated . Summers meant a large amount of farm labor even though you were a little kid. We weeded gardens and helped put up hay. All the other daily chores throughout the year remained. So it was really exciting to go back to school were you could play with friends again.

     As a teacher who taught 37 years , Labor Day was quite often spent putting the finishing touches on all the organization necessary to get your classroom and classes ready for the year.  By Labor Day you had the class lists and were busily going over who was who. The more familiar you were with the students the easier it was to learn names. Learning names was important in so many ways. The first day of school is one with many duties which have to be completed to get the year off to a good start.

So my experience as a student and teacher has given me a little different slant on Labor Day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Health Care Blues

      I live in Alberta and we are very fortunate or should be very fortunate from an economic stand point. We have an abundance of oil and gas resources which enrich our economy.

    However, our government chooses to plead poverty when it comes to financing health care. Recently they have changed a seniors drug benefit plan so that most seniors pay a hefty insurance. They have put a maximum on hip replacements. They have eliminated sex change procedures. They closed 6 helipads and later opened them. They have chosen to give previous administrators large bonuses and to give a new super board a large salary. There are other little nickel and dime cuts which make it difficult for patients and staff.

      Now, when the Alberta government is pleading extreme poverty and claiming that the health care level is "unsustainable" there are many plus economic situations which they choose to ignore. Alberta has no sales tax, no capital taxes, no payroll tax and the lowest fuel tax and the lowest general corporate tax rate in the country and the lowest royalties on it's resources of any where in the world. Now to plead poverty in this situation is ludicrous . Our health spending as a percentage of GDP is the lowest in Canada. What are these guys crying about? Do they have an ulterior motive?

      We have a great health care system. A few things could be improved . No doubt some efficiencies could be achieved . However , we must speak up and let them know that we favor the system we presently have and are willing to support it with our resources.