Monthly Archives: April 2022

The Answers – Peerless Pigeons – Round Two

Dear Readers, we only had one team of players this week, but well done to Rosalind and Mark, who got 10 out of 10. I think I am going to give myself a break from the quizzes for the next week or so, but tomorrow’s post might still be kind of pigeon-y…..

1. Feral Pigeon (or Rock Dove – (Columba livia)These come in all colours, shapes and sizes, but the red eye is diagnostic (unless it’s surrounded by a big halo of red skin, in which case see (5). The ones in the photo are pretty close to the wild type, which has two dark wing bars and a white rump.

2.Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

This rather attractive dove is more common than you might think: you can tell it from the woodpigeon by its soft, dark eyes, and the lack of a white patch on the neck. It’s also smaller, but not so much as you would normally notice. It’s a bird of woodland, and nests in hollow trees: I’ve found it regularly in Coldfall Wood, around the corner from me.

3. Woodpigeon (Calumba palumbus).

The biggest of the pigeons, this bird has a white, slightly manic-looking eye, a white patch on its neck and a very visible white band on its wings in flight. It also has a splendid display flight where it soars into the sky, claps its wings and then zooms down again, as if on an invisible roller coaster.

4.Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Delicately-coloured in shades of taupe and grey, this slender dove has a single line of black edged with white on its neck. The photo shows the splendid tail, which is black at the base but with a fringe of white around two grey feathers in the centre. This bird has increased greatly in numbers over the past twenty years, probably moving into the vacated sites of the fast-disappearing turtle dove (see below)

By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

5.Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

A bird that is gradually being lost: it was a summer visitor who fed at the woodland edge and in hedgerows, and is dependent on weed seeds, particularly those of fumitory, black medick, red and white clover, common vetch and birds foot trefoil. All these plants are being squeezed out of most farmland, and as we know, hedgerows are often replaced with barbed wire fences, which are easier to maintain. Plus, the turtle dove passes over Malta (where migrating birds are still shot). The bird of ‘the Twelve Days of Christmas’ may soon no longer be present in the country where the song originated. The charity ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ is doing its best to conserve the species, and jolly good luck to them too.

And now to the songs. Always tricky, but I have added in a few mnemonics to help.

6. This is a woodpigeon. In my Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, it’s suggested that the call sounds like ‘my TOE BLEEDS Betty’, and it’s certainly a five-syllable call, with lots of emphasis on the second and third syllables. I have one local bird who repeats this pattern three times and then sticks an extra ‘word’ on at the end. The call is particularly fine when heard down a chimney.

7. This is a bunch of feral pigeons. The actual call is, I’m sure, a male doing his little ‘whirligig’ dance to impress a female. I particularly like the wing claps as they all take off.

8. This is a turtle dove. The call is supposed to sound like ‘turrr-turrr’, and the bird is named for its call, rather than any resemblance to a marine reptile. The call reminds me of an old-fashioned ‘ringing’ tone on a telephone, but I bet most of you are Far Too Young to remember such things.

9. This is a stock dove, which has the most unassuming call of all the pigeons, to go along with its generally placid and gentle nature. The call is basically a series of ‘ooo’ sounds, but, as the Crossley guide puts it, it’s ‘a soft sound from the treetops very easily missed in bird chorus’.

10. And this is a collared dove. The first sound is the ‘landing call’, which sounds to me a bit like a kazoo. The normal call is a quite fast three-note cooing: Crossley says that it’s in the rhythm of ‘U-NIII-ted’ and I think that’s just about right. See what you think.

So, that’s pigeons done. Next week I’m going to have a look at the crow family. All those black birds! Let’s see how we get on.

The Sparrow Conundrum

Sparrows in Berczy Park, Toronto

Dear Readers, Toronto is a splendid city but it is not overly blessed with green space – in fact, it has less parks and gardens in the centre of town than practically anywhere I can think of. But somehow, in spite of this, the air resounds with the relentless cheep-cheep-cheep of house sparrows, even in the most unremittingly concrete areas of town. Everywhere I look sparrows are beating one another up (like they do), bathing in dust bowls and hopping around anyone sitting on a bench and eating in an untidy manner.

I saw a poor homeless person today, laying on one of the vents from the subway system, which provides a bit of warmth on a sub-zero day. All around him were pigeons and sparrow, making short work of the crumbs from a sandwich which someone had given him, and which he had crumbled onto the sidewalk for the birds. It moves me so much that when people have next to nothing, they still want to help others. But I doubt that it’s the kindness of strangers alone that means that Toronto has sparrows, and London now has next to none in the centre of town. These little birds, such symbols of urban resilience and a kind of Cockney cheekiness, have disappeared from their inner London range in my lifetime.

One reason that the house sparrow might be doing so well in Toronto is the style of the buildings. Sparrows are communal nesters, and it seems to me that the style of many Ontario buildings, with their wooden porches and high roofs, might provide an excellent spot for the birds to nest (and some of the older municipal buildings in central Toronto look quite promising as nest sites). Plus, house sparrows are not native to North America but were introduced, along with Eurasian starlings and feral pigeons, and so some of their predators, such as the sparrowhawk, are absent here.

What a shame that a bird that we are eager to encourage in the UK can be legally culled here in Canada – the feisty house sparrow outcompetes birds such as chickadees and even bluebirds. I suspect that they won’t be in much danger here in Toronto, though, where only some of the boldest birds, such as North American Robins, seem to thrive. And I note that a 2019 study that looked at populations of birds in North America also noted that even common urban birds like house sparrows seemed to be in decline. Let’s hope that the house sparrows of Toronto don’t go the same way as the house sparrows of London.



The Dog Fountain of Berczy Park

Dear Readers, just around the corner from St Lawrence Market in Toronto there’s Berczy Park, a small green oasis in the midst of all the high-rises. With over 2000 canine visitors every day, it’s only fair that they should have their very own fountain, and here it is, designed by Montreal landscape architect Claude Cormier. Although there wasn’t any actual water today, it was still a rather whimsical sight, and I was amused to see several real-life dogs being rather taken aback by all the make-believe canines.

The design of the fountain is based on a studded dog collar, and all the dogs are looking upwards at a golden bone suspended in the centre. At ground level, the larger breeds look up from outside the fountain itself.

Inside the fountain is a circle of pugs, and at the higher levels there are a  variety of small breeds, some of whom are wearing blue and yellow dog coats in support of Ukraine.

Cats haven’t been forgotten either – one of the locals apparently complained that the fountain was very dog-centric, and so there is a single cat, who isn’t taking place in this bone-adoration and is instead looking at some ceramic chickadees perched on a nearby street light. How very feline to be completely aloof from all the doggy shenanigans.

The only cat…and what is she looking at?

This isn’t the only quirky feature in the park either. How about this trompe d’oeil mural? I love that the windows in the middle are real ones.

The mural is by the artist Derek Besant, and it was completed in September 1980 – Besant completed it after winning a competition to design a work of art for the site.


Then there are these hands emerging from the sward. They’re by Toronto artist Luis Jacob, and originally they had a cat’s cradle  of red rope between them, for children to play on. This seems to have disappeared, maybe as a result of the Covid requirement for social distancing. Still, I think that, as they’re right opposite the Centre for the Performing Arts they continue to have resonance, both as a representation of the hands of musicians and dancers, and also with their sense of reaching for the sky. And reaching for the sky is certainly something that Toronto is doing in spades, with more skyscrapers appearing every time we visit.

A Moth Tale

Empty pupae of the Spongy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Dear Readers, on a visit to Creemore in Ontario, Canada, earlier this week, I found these empty chrysalises (chrysali???) on the bark of a maple tree. As you might expect, I was intrigued, and, with the help of the Insects and Arachnids of Ontario Facebook group, discovered that the remains belonged to the Spongy Moth (Lymantria dispar). And herein lies a tale, because the Spongy Moth can be found in both the UK (where it’s known as the Gypsy Moth) and in North America, but its behaviour is very different.

The Latin name ‘Lymantria’ actually means ‘destroyer’, and the moth is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species worldwide. It comes originally from Eurasia, and arrived in North America in 1869 – it was imported by French artist and entomologist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, who intended to crossbreed them with silk moths in order to establish an American silk industry. Alas, the moths escaped from his house in Medford, Massachusetts. In one version of the story, Trouvelot contacted local officials to warn them of the danger, but no one was prepared to hunt down the moths. The larvae of the moth can eat over 100 species of plant, and are particularly fond of the leaves of oak and maple trees, which they can completely defoliate. In 1889 there was the first serious outbreak, with all the trees losing their leaves, and with caterpillars raining down on the local residents. Since then the moth, spreading at a rate of about 13 miles a year, has reached the Pacific North West, and as far north as Ontario.

Photo One by By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Male Spongy Moth (Photo One)

Photo Two by By Opuntia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Spongy Moth (Female) (Photo Two)

How does the moth spread so widely? The caterpillars are tiny and hairy, and, like grass seeds, are transported by the wind – they dangle from silken threads just waiting for a breeze to carry them away, like tiny Mary Poppins.

Photo Three by By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Spongy Moth caterpillar (Photo Three)

It’s all the more important that the caterpillars can travel, because the adult females cannot – although they have fully-formed wings, they don’t fly. When they emerge, they start to produce a pheromone that calls in males from far and wide. The females cannot feed, and live for about a week, but the potency of the pheromone is such that nearly all females will reproduce. They will then lay their eggs on any plant material in the vicinity, and  then die.

The egg-masses look like sponges, hence the North American common name of Spongy Moth. It was considered that calling these invasive nuisance insects ‘Gypsy Moths’ was derogatory to the Romani people, and so the common name was changed. In the UK the species is still known as the Gypsy Moth, but as it is a very rare migrant here (it’s hard for even the most intrepid air-borne caterpillar to cross the Channel), no one seems to have considered it necessary to change the name.

Photo Four from

Spongy Moth egg-masses (Photo Four)

Now, it’s true that the Spongy Moth is a nuisance (and worse) across most of its native range, but it doesn’t seem to have reached the plague proportions that it sometimes does in the countries to which it’s been introduced. There are the usual reasons for this. Firstly, a great number of parasitic wasps favour laying their eggs on the caterpillars, which is great, but when one species of wasp was introduced to North America in the hope that it would reduce the Spongy Moth population, it was found to be rather more wide-ranging in its tastes, and many other butterfly and moth species also suffered. A wide variety of mice, chipmunks and birds will also consume all life stages of the moth, but the animals in North American are probably not quite as attuned to the habits of the insect as the Eurasian ones are.

The Spongy Moths are also incredibly hardy – their native range includes not only North Africa (nice and warm) but Northern Russia (which is a bit on the chilly side) and so they happily survived everything that the North American climate could throw at them. Like many species, they are probably also benefitting from climate change, which means that they can move even further north.

Alas, the European Spongy Moth (Lysmantria dispar dispar) is increasingly being joined by the Asian Spongy Moth (Lysmantria dispar asiatica), which arrives as egg masses on crates etc imported from Asia, and is a particular pest in Washington State, USA. The downside to the Asian Spongy Moth is that the females can fly up to twenty miles. Furthermore, the caterpillars are even less fussy about what they eat, with up to 500 species of plant recorded as having been munched upon, including coniferous trees which are largely left alone by the European Spongy moth. In our globalised world it’s all too easy for insects, plants and fungi to be spread about the planet randomly, and for them to have a devastating effect on local ecosystems. So far, most Asian Spongy Moth populations have been spotted and eradicated, usually with shedloads of toxic chemicals which will also kill off all manner of other species. Eventually, most ecosystems will adjust to new members, but often it takes hundreds of years and may involve the extinction of some existing species, so there is often no choice. We need to be much more careful about the biological security of habitats, so that we can notice and nip these uninvited visitors in the bud. Sadly, I don’t see much sign of it happening any time soon.

Photo Credits

Photo One By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Photo Two By Opuntia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Three  By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Photo Four from

Toronto after Covid – First Impressions

Pusateri’s Food Hall in Saks Fifth Avenue, Toronto, in pre-Covid times (Photo by Alexander Vu from

Dear Readers, one of my first treats when I arrive in Toronto is to follow the underground PATH system from our hotel to Pusateri’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, which used to be the food hall to end all food halls. Fancy a salad, made up before your very eyes? Or Icelandic Skyr yoghurt with raspberries and melted chocolate? Or fresh bread, straight from the oven? Admittedly, you needed deep pockets to shop regularly at Pusateri’s, but as an occasional treat, you couldn’t beat it.

Today, the only outlets open in the whole food hall were one selling pizza (admittedly delicious), and one selling the most ornate eclairs you’ve ever seen. Everything else was silent and fenced off. Black boxes with the word ‘Pusateri’s’ were on all the shelves instead of artisanal pasta and fancy chocolate. An occasional member of staff drifted past to clear up the detritus from someone’s pizza meal. Before the pandemic, you could queue for twenty minutes for your salad. Today, there is no salad at all.

Pusateri’s didn’t cover itself in glory early in the pandemic, when it was charging $30 for a tin of hand wipes, and was called out for price-gouging by the Ontario premier Doug Ford. But I suspect that the problem with Pusateri’s is much more to do with the way that many workers have voted to stay at home rather than coming back into the office. And of course, this is what’s happened all over the world. People are working from home (me included) because it feels safer, less stressful and more efficient, but the sandwich shops, the shoe repairers, the greeting card shops and the purveyors of office clothing are all going to the dogs. It’s been a massive shake up of our urban ecology, and I suspect that, much as Jacob Rees-Mogg might leave little passive-aggressive notes on the desks of civil servants who aren’t in the office, working from home, at least for some of the time, is here to stay.

Of course, this is a massive opportunity for local shops and businesses. People who work from home still need a break, and maybe they will pop out to a local newsagent for a magazine, go to the neighbourhood coffee shop and get their groceries from the place around the corner. What a good thing that could be! In many communities there was a coming-together during the pandemic, and there’s plenty of scope for that to continue. Many of us fail to see the appeal of getting up at 5.30 in the morning to be in the office for 7.30 so that they can leave by 4.30 and miss the worst of the rush hour, especially when compared with the 30 second commute from the bedroom to the office that many of us currently have.

I wonder what happened to all the staff who used to work here, chopping and packaging, taking cash, adding toppings to yoghurt and dressings to salad? There are other Pusateri’s outlets in the city, so I’d like to think that some people have moved to them, but nonetheless I wonder about the bulk of the employees. Canada had a pretty generous furlough scheme, but even so, jobs must have been lost here. It might be that the food hall will be reopened gradually, but I wonder if it will ever have as much custom as it did before the pandemic.

I have only been in Toronto for a couple of hours, so no doubt there are lots of other changes, some for the good, some not. But my initial feeling is that the centre of the city has been somehow hollowed out by the pandemic and its aftermath. I wonder if I will still feel the same at the end of the holiday? Let’s see.

Pusateri’s eclairs

Return to Collingwood

Dear Readers, it has been over two years since I’ve been on a plane, and three years since I saw some of my very favourite people in Canada, but here I am, staring out across Lake Huron with the usual chilly wind whistling around my ears, and the sound of red-winged blackbirds bubbling up from every tree. For me, their call is the epitome of spring-time Ontario. and it makes my heart glad that I’m here to hear it, at last.


The water in the bay is very low this year, as a result of flood controls on the main lake apparently. It’s certainly much less boggy than it used to be, and the receding waters have displayed all  sorts of long-buried items.

But the mute swans are still here (though no trumpeter swans so far), and the red-winged blackbirds like this spot too.

Every year I keep my fingers crossed that I’ll see a turtle, but for every visit I’m here at the wrong time – this year the spring has been very late, and we are even promised snow later this week. Still, there’s always the giant turtle  statue to admire.

There are signs of spring, though. Some of the houses in Collingwood are elegant Victorian mansions, and some of the gardens are carpeted with naturalised squill, which are the most intense blue.

In some places there are violets too, and coltsfoot is coming out in the sunny places. Back home, the grackles are on the bird feeder as usual, and very fine they are too. They always seem to be considering their next move.

On one of the trails very close to the middle of town, there’s this sign.

How exciting! But no coyotes today, and in truth in all of my visits I have never seen so much as a hair – probably the animals come into town when the weather is bad and they have no prey in the wilder areas. Few animals are as maligned as the coyote, and yet they are normally shy and retiring animals, heard much more often than seen. Like so many creatures, they are forced into contact with humans as our range extends, and I’m sure they’d much rather keep to themselves. Still, the advice in the sign is good, and I shall practice making myself loud and aggressive just in case, though actually I suspect that I’d be much too excited to do anything other than stand slack-jawed with amazement.

The Sunday Quiz – Peerless Pigeons – Round Two!

Dear Readers, this quiz foxed a lot of you two years ago, so let’s see how we get on this time.  How good are we at identifying the various pigeon and dove species that you can find in the UK, not only by sight but also (gasp!) by sound.  So, without further ado, tell me what species of pigeon we’re looking at, and then have a listen to the calls and see if you can match the call to the pigeon.

Answers in the comments by 5 p.m. UK time on Friday 29th April please, and the answers will be posted on Saturday 30th April.

Have fun!





By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


And now for the tricky bit. Below are the calls of the five species shown above. Can you match the call to the bird?

6. This is a very ardent individual, but which pigeon is it?

7. How about this little lot?

8. This is an amazing sound, but have you ever heard it?

9. And who is this?

10. And finally, who is this?



The Sunday Quiz – Bunnies, Chicks and Lambs – The Answers

Spring lamb – photo by Tim Pokorny at

Dear Readers, the redoubtable Fran and Bobby Freelove were the only players this week, but they got 15 out of 15, so congratulations and well done! As you might have seen from my post on Friday, I am now in Canada, so tomorrow I’m going to run one of my old quizzes, mainly because last time around nobody got it perfectly right :-). Let’s see how we get on this time….

Rabbits (and hares 🙂 )

Photo One by By D. Gordon E. Robertson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

1) C) Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)

Photo Two by By Shah Jahan - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

2) E) Cape Hare (Lepus capensis)

Photo Three by By JJ Harrison ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

3) B) European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Photo Four by By United States Bureau of Land Management - [1], [2] (Archived link - [3]), Public Domain,

4) A) Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis)

Photo Five by By Jean-Jacques Boujot from Paris, France - Lièvre brun / Brown Hare, CC BY-SA 2.0,

5) D) European Hare (Lepus europaeus)


Photo Six is public domain

6) H) Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Photo Seven by Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

7) I) Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Photo Eight is public domain

8) J) Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Photo Nine By Artemy Voikhansky - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

9) G) Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Photo Ten by nottsexminer, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

10) F) Woodpigeon (Calumba palumbus)


Photo Eleven by By Philipp Haupt from Zug, Switzerland - Bighorn Lamb, CC BY 2.0,

11) N) Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Photo Twelve by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard from

12) M) Mouflon (Ovis gmelini)

Photo Thirteen from

13) L) Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra)

Photo 14 from

14) K) Rocky Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)

Photo Fifteen is Public Domain

15) O) Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex)

Photo Credits

Photo One  By D. Gordon E. Robertson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two By Shah Jahan – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Photo Three By JJ Harrison ( – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Four By United States Bureau of Land Management – [1], [2] (Archived link – [3]), Public Domain,

Photo Five by By Jean-Jacques Boujot from Paris, France – , CC BY-SA 2.0,

Photo Six is public domain

Photo Seven by Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Eight is public domain

Photo Nine By Artemy Voikhansky – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Photo Ten by nottsexminer, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Eleven by By Philipp Haupt from Zug, Switzerland – , CC BY 2.0,

Photo Twelve by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard from

Photo Thirteen from

Photo 14 from

Photo Fifteen is Public Domain

A Canadian Adventure

Toronto Skyline (Photo by Aaron Davis)

Dear Readers, after two years in the UK, with nothing more exciting than occasional visits to Dorset and Somerset, we are off on an adventure for the next couple of weeks, to catch up with some people that we love, and haven’t seen since 2019.

I must admit that it’s a bit daunting – my travel muscles, which used to be up for any destination, seem to have atrophied, and the new covid regulations are an extra layer of anxiety-provoking paperwork. However, I think that we have all our ducks in a row, and we will be going first to Collingwood to see my two favourite aunties, and then on to Toronto to spend time with family and friends. I am hoping to get some walking in as well, and there are a few things that I especially want to share with you, including a dog fountain and a dawn redwood, so let’s see how we get on.

So, for the next few weeks there will be a mixture of new posts and old favourites, depending on a) my energy levels, b) what’s going on, c) how well the technology is working and d) how inspired I feel. Also the time zone change might throw things a bit out of whack, so if you don’t see a post when you expect to, it will just be the gremlins.

I’m looking forward to sharing this amazing country with you all, so I’ll see you on the other side of the Atlantic!

Trumpeter at Wye Marsh in Ontario, March 2019

The Return of the Duckweed….

Dear Readers, last year there wasn’t a single leaf of duckweed on the pond. This year, however, it’s back with a vengeance. Where does it go, I wonder? And why is it so much more all-encompassing during some years? At any rate, today my husband set to getting as much of it out as possible, because we are shortly off on an adventure (of which more tomorrow), and we rather fancy not having it all over the pond when we get back.

It’s tricky to remove without catching up the new tadpoles, but we inspected it carefully as it came up. Unfortunately, most of the figwort came up as well, so then I spent some time throwing that back, and very popular with the tadpoles it is too. There must be thousands of the little wrigglers in the pond this year.

So, after much sweeping and pulling and rather a lot of bad language, we managed to clear at least some of the pond surface. I am under no illusion that we’ll get rid of all of it, but some light needs to get through to the oxygenating plants under the surface, and  hopefully this will give them at least some respite before the blooming duckweed gets going again.

In other news, green alkanet is everywhere this year: it’s easy to forget that, although it’s a weed, it is very popular with pollinators, as this honeybee would attest if it could talk.

And the flowering currant has just about reached its peak. It is such a splendid plant, and the hairy-footed flowerbees are all over it. At the moment it seems to be just the black females, though I did see a male on my geraniums. They come and go, these lesser-known bees, and are often unremarked, or described as ‘black bumblebees’. These are actually solitary bees, and very splendid they are too.