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Cedar Waxwings on Twenty Seventh Street

Cedar waxwings tend to hang out in groups and I never know when I’m going to see them. This morning, Tuffy P left for work, got as far as the car and came right back. “Red alert – cedar waxwings!” They were in our locust and in the crab apple next door, and they were flying over a few at a time to grab some rose hips from the wild rose bush beside the driveway. I grabbed the camera and went out in my slippers, no jacket, to snap a few shots.

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Would you send some company your DNA?

I know quite a few people who have happily sent the most personal information they have, their DNA, to some company in return for a report telling them their ancestry by percentages. My feeling about this has been, go to town, have fun with it, but don’t expect me to do the same. Same deal with those step-counting devices which send data back to the company. No way would I ever do that. It never occurred to me though, that the report you get from the DNA company might not have some kind of scientific accuracy.

CBC’s Marketplace has looked into this. They sent the DNA of a pair of identical twins to 5 of these companies. Since identical twins have nearly identical DNA (the article says 99.6% the same raw data, statistically identical), it’s reasonable to expect that each sister would have the same DNA profile results – but that isn’t what they received. Check out the article about this on the CBC website.

Are the results for one of the twins or both of them correct, or both of them way off base? Who knows. Is one company more accurate than the others? Who knows? It may be that the companies are doing their best to provide accurate results and they may offer reasons for the discrepancies. That hardly matters, though if you can’t trust the results, does it? The CBC says there is no government or professional oversight to this industry. The CBC’s little experiment suggests to me that these DNA profiles provide some entertainment value, but best not get too hung up on them.

I think it’s best just not to give them your data. I’m no privacy freak. I don’t live off the grid. I use a cell phone. I have a Facebook account. I use the internet. I use a debit card and occasionally a credit card. I even have a grocery store points card. I draw the line at the step counters. Not happening. Sending anyone my DNA? No way.

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Cold Frosty Morning – in Sam Smith Park

Naturalist Miles Hearn was leading a walk this morning just down the street at Sam Smith Park. It’s not my usual day (I’m on the Wednesday schedule), but since it was so close, I decided to tag along.

Winter is starting to really set in around here. The small cove to the west of the yacht club is starting to freeze up and the yacht club basin is frozen over, except where they keep the water aerated so two or three boats can stay in the water for winter, all covered in plastic. In exposed areas, waves crash up against the rocks and make beautiful ice formations.

There were plenty of Canada geese around as well as some mute swans and many winter ducks of various species.

Red-breasted mergansers

I love the red-breasted merganzers with their devil-may-care crests. We also saw a single American wigeon hanging out with gadwall pals.

American wigeon (left) with gadwalls

The wigeon stood out by the white stripe on its head.

Gadwall and American wigeon

Someone has set up a feeder near the south parking lot, which has attracted quite a bit of bird activity.

Female cardinal and downy woodpecker
house finch
Mourning doves

On our summer walks, I recall seeing quite a lot of a yellow flower known as tansy. Here’s what it looks like in winter.

Tansy
Alder
Oriental bittersweet

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Winter Walks

I’ve been going on Miles Hearn’s nature walks (through the Toronto District School Board) since early spring of 2018. Today is the first of a series of winter walks. I’m excited about this since after these walks I’ll have experiences the various GTA locations through all the seasons. Today’s walk was at a Toronto treasure, High Park.

This hairy woodpecker showed no fear of us today and went about his business

There are a number of invasive species of plants in High Park. One of them is the winged euonymus.

winged euonymus

Another is a tall grass called phragmites.

phragmites

The folks who manage High Park try to reduce the invasive plants in the park and right now there is a 3-5 year program in place to control phragmites. Perhaps in a few years other species such as cat tail will take over at the top of the pond.

Phragmites at Grenadier Pond

Another invasive species in the Park is buckthorn. One good thing about this plant is that the birds enjoy the berries. Best us humans avoid those berries. Let me just point out the scientific name for common buckthorn is Rhamnus cathartica. Catharthis of course means purging. Need we say more.

When Grenadier Pond freezes, the winter ducks find open water where they can. There was an army of mallards up at the top of the pond in one open water stretch.

mallard army

Mallards are very trusting of people and when our group came by, a platoon left the water and walked towards us, hoping for a handout.

High Park is home to a number of hawks and we saw this red-tailed hawk on the wing toward the end of our walk.

There are a number of dawn redwoods in the Park. This distinctive tree, the shortest of the redwoods, is a native of China. We have them in Canada as a result of gifts of these trees from the Chinese government after the Second World War.

There are also Douglas firs in High Park. Here is a Douglas fir cone.

It’s great to be back doing these walks again. I enjoy them tremendously. Here’s Miles at work.

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Bonaparte’s March

How many old time tunes have Bonaparte in the title? There’s Bonaparte’s Retreat, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, this one, which is Bonaparte’s March and maybe more. I love this tune; I love its relentlessness, its inevitability.

This is Jack Antler – Ted Myerscough on guitar and me playing clawhammer banjo.

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Savoury bread pudding – is that a thing?

Savoury bread pudding in a cast iron pan

I keep a sourdough starter at home, but these days I don’t eat nearly the amount of bread I used to, so I don’t bake it nearly as often either. Once in a while, though, I can’t resist a treat. The other day I baked a loaf and wondered if I could integrate my sourdough into a meal. I thought of bread pudding but I didn’t want something sweet. Is savoury bread pudding a thing? Well I guess turkey stuffing is really nothing if not just that. Could it be a meal on its own?

I searched the interwebs for savoury bread pudding and a squillion recipes came up – aha, it is a thing. I closed my browser. Let’s see if I can make a good one without looking at a recipe. That’s always more fun.

My first decision was to make it start to finish in a cast iron pan. How many good meals start by sauteing onion? Lots. Let’s start there, I thought. While the onions were doing their thing, I chopped up some jalapenos, a sweet red pepper and loads of cremini mushrooms and tossed them in. I also tossed in some cut up farmer’s sausage and African sausage I bought at Starsky. I bet smoked sausage would be yummy in this too, but that’s for another time. I added some salt and pepper and a generous amount of herbes de provence. After all this cooked up for 5 minutes or so I shut off the burner.

While the onions and their friends cooled down a bit, I chopped up lots of my sourdough, including crust. Next I grated a generous amount of cheese. I used caciocavallo and some grana padano, but I would not hesitate to use other cheeses instead. I tossed the bread into the pan, then added some milk. I didn’t know how much to add so I just did it by instinct. I suppose some people would use heavy cream and make this super rich but I was betting it would be fine with the 1% in the fridge. After all, it had cheese, which I added last.

I wanted to add some zucchini and a poblano but I just didn’t have room in the pan. Oh well. I mixed all this up together right in the cast iron pan. No point dirtying a bowl, right? It seemed to me that I should let all the liquid soak into the bread, but for how long? I made an impatient executive decision on that and waited maybe 20 minutes. After that it seemed like the bread was wet enough, but I admit I was guessing.

I put the pan in a 350F oven and let it cook for close to an hour, until it looked all brown and wonderful. Very yummy.

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A tune with a few names

Here’s another tune from our practice session yesterday, this one with a special guest appearance towards the end from our Newfoundland dog George.

I know this tune as Rachel, but it’s apparently also known in some places as the Texas Quickstep, the St. Louis Quickstep, Gypsies in the Wood, and Little Rock.