Monday, November 10, 2014

Ptr. Walter Messervey, Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1916

June 24, 1916
Dear Mother,

Just a postal to let you know that we are leaving for France tonight at 9:30 PM.  I am still well hoping this will find you the same at home. This is some photos I had so I send them home. It was no use to take them with me. The other one is pay day at the Race Course, Ayr. I can’t tell you where I am amongst them because he took us and we did not know he was taking us. Give my love to all my bro. (brothers) and little sister. Also my love to yourself and Father.  Don’t  worry  mother, I will try to look out for myself. So, bye bye for this time, Mother.

From your loving son.
Pte. W. Messervey

On the back of two post cards, I found the above letter from Pte. Walter Messervey to his mother. He was 22 years old in 1916 and was fortunate, indeed, to have  survived the Great War.  After the war Walter returned to Sandy Point and lived out his life there until his death on December 7, 1967. 

Please remember the courage and sacrifice of these men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment -"we must not forget".

As a aside, I do not know which of the two soldiers is Pte. Walter Messervey.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Trout River - Fishing Stores

Trout River is small town steeped in Newfoundland tradition. Snuggled in a sheltered cove on the west coast of the island, the town is a good jumping off point to explore exposed ancient tablelands, deep valleys and land lock fjords. Here you can take time to chat with the local fisherman,  have a Newfoundand scoff, find home knit mitts and socks and explore heritage properties . Gros Morne National Park is just around the corner !

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp shinned hawks can be found over most of North America, including Mexico. In South America they are found from Venezuela to Northern Argentina. Most of the North American population migrates south in the winter. They are forest birds living in fir, spruce, and pine forests but they are also common in suburban spaces where they  tend to hunt at backyard feeders. In Newfoundland most birds migrate but a small population remains to prey on feeder birds.

While searching an abandoned soccer field for fleeting glimpses of a rare eastern meadow lark, I chanced upon this sharpie awaiting its opportunity to seize a hapless bird.
Sharp-shinned hawks can be found throughout much of North America, including Mexico. In South America, they are found from Venezuela to northern Argentina. Most of the North American populations migrate to the southern parts of their range in winter.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Meadow Lark ID Photos

The rarities keep coming this Autumn as passerines veer off course during migration. This wary meadow lark was photographed in an overgrown abandoned soccer field in urban St. John's. There are questions as to whether it is an Eastern Meadow Lark or a Western Meadow Lark.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Black Capped Chickadee

The black capped chickadee is a friendly and curious bird that is a joy to see as it fills the forest with a cherry "chick-a-dee-dee-dee which is oft repeated. It is the acrobat of birdland. When feeding in low trees and bushes, it hangs upside down and makes fancy maneuvers in dogged determination to find an insect or egg hidden in the crevices of bark and twigs. 

This bird:

  • can remember where it hid food for at least 28 days after putting it in its hiding place
  • drops its body temperature at night by 10 to 12°C below daytime body temperature, to conserve energy
  • depletes much of its energy by feeding nestlings from six to 14 times an hour
  • has a very established hierarchy, or “pecking order”

Its latin name is Parus atricapillus bartletti - named after a well known Arctic explorer and Newfoundlander, Captain R.A. Bartlett.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Wild Horses of Sable

Sable Island, 300 km south-east of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is renowned for its wild horses and shipwrecks. The island has a fascinating geology and natural history that reflect the challenge of surviving wind, waves and isolation. On a summer's day in 2013 I had the privilege  of sharing this island with these gentle creatures if only for a little while.

That day, I watched this small family of horses standing  amid  the marram  grass attending a tired pony. I was touched by the serenity of the scene contrasting with the harsh reality of living in an unforgiving environment. These wild horses were quick to accept me into their world and I was able to discover and capture a gentleness in their noble character.

Although not strictly a Newfoundland theme - wind waves, island and a resemblance to the Newfoundland pony begs a certain recognition.

Dark Eyed Junco - A Bird Watcher's Delight

Now that the autumn days are relinquishing their colorful tapestries to the the colder colors of  November, all the songbirds except an occasional malingerer have left for warmer climes. The boreal forest still resonates with avian life - the dark eyed junco continues to entertain us in sheltering conifers and backyard feeders as they snatch up seeds that are knocked to the ground by other birds such as jays and sparrows

Dark-eyed juncos play important ecosystem roles by helping with seed dispersal and controlling insect populations. They also bring great joy to birdwatchers. In fact, dark-eyed juncos are often regarded as one of the most common feeder birds in Canada

Most juncos are a slate gray color, but females and juveniles show a brown coloration that I find most interesting. There appears to be an abundance of "brown" juncos at this time of the year. I have not noticed this before, but perhaps I'm just more observant of nature's design this year ! 

Did you know that the junco is the original "Snow Bird" that Anne Murray sang about in the 1970's ?

Newfoundland Pine Marten

The Newfoundland pine marten (Martes americana atrata) is a genetically distinct subspecies of the American marten (Martes americana) found only on the island of Newfoundland; it is sometimes referred to as the American marten (Newfoundland population) and is one of only 14 species of land mammals native to the island. 

Canada has banned marten trapping since 1934,. However, trappers are still allowed to set traps for other fur-bearing animals and many martens get caught or killed accidentally.  The Newfoundland Pine Marten was listed as threatened in 1986. There were about 800 animals left that year. Today there are only 300-600 remaining in the wild.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Canvasback Duck at Kenny's Pond

Canvasback ducks breed from Alaska through the Yukon and western edge of the Northwest Territories to the parklands and mixed prairie of central North America so it was quite a surprise to find this lost soul in our urban waters.

A large diving duck, the Canvasback is an accomplished athlete.  In the air, they are fast, clocking speeds of more than 100 km/hr, and in the water, they can dive to depths exceeding 30 feet, although they mostly feed in shallower water .

Interestingly, the canvasback’s latin name Aythya valisineria is derived from the Latin for wild celery, one of their favourite foods in the eastern portion of their range.

This duck has  been hanging out with the other diving ducks - scaups and tufted ducks - for the past few weeks and if food is available may stay for the winter.

A Canvasback duck was last reported in Newfoundland  41 years ago in 1973 !

White Eyed Vireo - A Newfounfland Rarity

This rare vagrant was recently fleetingly seen  by two passionate birders, and, of course, I wanted to see this life bird also. I had already spent several hours scouring the bush in the hopes of finding it and, the following day, I was back for a another round near the town of Blackhead.  Saturday brought with it many birders all eager to catch a glimpse. You would expect that the crowd of people mulling about would decrease the chance of success but not so. The experienced birders quickly placed eyes on the vireo and I was able to capture probably the first photo of a White-eyed Vireo in Newfoundland.

Although not endowed with a particularly colored plumage, this rarity was indeed beautiful with its olive greens and yellows not to mention the uniquely splendid white iris. White Eyed Vireos are reported as single birds about once a year in Newfoundland and are even more rarely photographed.

It's a small song bird that breeds in the southeastern United States from New Jersey west to northern Missouri south to Texas and Florida, and also in eastern Mexico  and northern Central America, Cuba and the Bahamas

Populations on the US Gulf Coast  and further south are resident, but most North American  birds migrate south in winter.  It is fascinating to theorize how this solo traveler found its way to our fair Island !

Red Fox - Codroy Valley

The Red Fox is the only native insular canid occurring in Newfoundland from the extinction of the wolf in the 1930s to the recent arrival of coyotes. They are excellent hunters, preying on birds, rabbits and other small mammals. Foxes, both red and the less common silver fox, are spotted frequently during treks into the Newfoundland back country. On a recent trip to the Codroy Valley, I learned of an active den in the area and I was able to study the behaviour and photograph the kits. 

Newfoundland's Red Fox comes in a range of colours- red, black, silver, yellowish, and a mixture of colours called a patch phase. This particular litter consisted of two silver foxes and a red phase fox.