January 5 is National Bird Day!

Today is National Bird Day. Did you know? And, if not, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Why is there a day to celebrate birds?

National Bird Day seeks to raise awareness about birds. It is that simple. It began fourteen years ago in the United States and spread. So today, Canadians, too, are shouting out the love for our feathered friends. Everyone is joining together to find ways to enrich the lives of these, the closest living relative to the dinosaurs, better. And why should we care? Well, there are lots of reasons but let me begin with the fact that we have over fished the oceans, made the waters toxic and decreased the amount of fish that was present at the end of the nineteenth century by 80%. We have populated the world and allowed cities to sprawl, taking away the normal territory of the birds to hunt prey and survive. We spray our lawns so they are green, use toxic pesticides, construct buildings with gorgeous winds that are not strike proof (they could easily be), while driving fast and well, quite honestly, some people go out of their way to do harm. The coffee we drink, for 94% of that grown, comes from crops grown in direct sunlight. Yes, drinking coffee causes deforestation! So part of today is to examine how we can deal with these issues and offer protection and survival to our feathered friends. Did you know that 12% of the 10,000 bird species are in danger of extinction? There is a doctor from Studio City, California traveling the world to try and photograph every species of hummingbird before they are gone. Her name is Carole and she runs Hummingbird Spot, a bird cam and chat on youtube to raise awareness.

Kakapo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So what can you do to help? You might think about bird adoption. I am particularly fond of the work that the Kakapo Recovery do to help the only remaining 208 kakapo. Have you ever heard of the kakapo?

The kakapo is also called the ‘owl parrot’. The forage around on the ground of the forests in specific areas of New Zealand. They do not fly! And they are extremely endangered. Every Christmas the Kakapo Recovery issues certificates for adoption. You get a photo of your kakapo and a plushie along with other swag. The purpose of the adoption is to help fund the Kakapo Recovery. Cost of adoption ranges from $100 to $500 NZD. The birds wear transmitters that require annual or semi-annual changing of batteries. Those transmitters allow the researchers on the islands to find the birds and check their health. Today, there are only 207 Kakapo. Their existence was compromised due to habitat destruction. Today, they are threatened by disease and intruders. Don’t want to adopt a kakapo? why not buy a great beanie that comes with a really beautiful Kakapo pin?

If you have been one of the millions enjoying watching wildlife make their nests, lay their eggs, and raise their young, you can donate to the wildlife cams that make this happy. You can donate just as much as you can afford. Cornell University runs a multitude of bird cams partnering with others around the world. They monitor the lives of Osprey, Royal Albatross, Red Tail Hawks (my favourite), along with countless other species living in manmade cliffs in Bermuda to fruit eating birds of Panama. Check them out! The bird cams are free! In 2020, during the pandemic, millions watched and discovered great empathy with these beautiful feathered creatures. They also learned many things. Did you know that the parents of the Royal Albatross chicks being incubated talk to their young before they hatch? Did you know that a damp nest can cause disease killing the young? If you have ever watched any of these birds feeding their young, you will marvel at how those big beaks can get such tiny pieces of food into the nestlings mouth! You will marvel at how they grow and you will come to imagine that humans might want to be so focused at the dining table. One of my favourite falconers, Laura Cully, thinks that every human should have to watch hawks raise their eyases before the humans commit to having children. Bird cams are wonderful but along with the joy there is also sadness. The norm is that only 1 out of 3 juvenile birds will live to see its first birthday. Those watching the camera of the pair of Red Tail Hawks, Big Red and Arthur, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York were thrown in despair this past summer when the big beautiful female, who had recently delighted everyone with her baths in puddles, was killed when she flew into the window of a building. And those who watched the two White Bellied sea eaglets growing in the nest in Sydney Olympic Park, WBSE 25 and 26, learned what determination was. SE26 had its leg broken shortly after hatch. For over a month it could not stand. It would scoot on its ankles. But, the eaglet persevered and forced itself to walk despite the pain. It branched, learned to feet itself, and fledged. SE 26 returned to the nest six days later much to the delight of everyone who thought they would never see her again.

Last photo of WBSE 26 I took off the screen.

Many who watch the bird cams contend with their own physical issues and it was very easy to identify with SE26. Everyone hoped that when she had overcome everything to fly that she would be able to be a real sea eagle living in the wild. The day after this photograph, WBSE 26 was found on the balcony of a condo, 22 stories up. She was taken into care. It was determined that she was in a lot of pain, there was scar tissue on her feet, injuries to both from overcompensating only using the left leg, and the break had not healed properly. She was euthanized. It broke everyone’s heart. If anyone were to suggest that the life of a bird is one of fun and freedom, I would have them watch a bird cam for awhile.

What else can you do in your own area? You can donate money or items to your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. The one near Winnipeg is Wildlife Haven. Check their website for what they need. Take a drive out and see their resident Bald Eagle who was found in NW Ontario and who now is one of their ambassador birds. You can attract birds to your back garden. You can add feeders and bowls of water. They will thank you immensely. Crows and Blue Jays love grapes, dog kibble, hard-boiled eggs which are good for them. Avoid feeding birds bread. It is like Junk food to them. They love it and will fill up on it but will ultimately die of starvation. If you see plastic mesh bags or the plastic tops that hold cans, cut them and put them in the garbage. Avoid the use of balloons at all cost. Birds die from getting tangled in them. And last, three ideas. Coffee. Do you drink it? Do you know where those coffee beans come from? 94% of the world’s coffee is grown in the sun with only 6% grown in the shade. Coffee grown in the shade does not destroy the habitat of birds and animals. In Canada, you can order ‘bird safe’ coffee from birdsandbeans.ca It is not any more expensive than some of the other leading brands and if you order $45 worth, the shipping is free. It is also delicious, organic, and fair trade.

Only one of the signature blends at BirdsandBeans.

If you live in the United States, you can order directly from the Smithsonian who certifies the coffees that are grown in the shade.

And if you really want to get into the politics of wildlife, then go and read the website of the Albatross Task Force. You might never eat factory fish again! Lobby your government to make these fishing trawlers comply with standards so that there is no bycatch. What do I mean by bycatch? Sea birds are attracted to the fish used as bait and they get caught on the industrial hooks if they are not protected. A Wandering Albatross is decapitated every five minutes. The goal of the Albatross Task Force is to get every industrial trawler to use bird scaring lines, fish at night, and add weight to the long lines. These are inexpensive remedies meant to save 80% of the bycatch and protect the growing number of endangered sea birds.

Get a friend to join you! Have your children enter many of the bird contests. Join in on Bird counting days. Read about birds and nature. We need to protect the birds and their habitat so that they can help protect us.

The hampers all began with Tricki Woo…

It all began with Tricki Woo and the pandemic this year. Do you know who Tricki Woo is? Have you watched All Creatures Great and Small? James Herriott was a vet in a rural area of North Yorkshire from the late 1930s through the 1950s. Those books formed the basis of the television series that lasted seven seasons. One of Herriott’s clients, the very wealthy widow Mrs Pumphrey, had a long haired Pekinese named Tricki Woo who loved ‘Uncle Harriet’. In gratitude, Tricki often sent Uncle Harriet hampers filled with exotic treats from Fortnum & Masons, Piccadilly, London. Tricki was not the first to be unable to resist those hampers. Fortnum & Mason had been preparing baskets full of exotic treats since the 18th century. They began as traveller’s or hunter’s baskets. These woven containers full of delicacies made their way across the world by ship, to the top of Mount Everest, and with the archaeologists first exploring Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. Pretty impressive! They advertise them as “The Original and the Best”.

During the pandemic, we watched every episode of the seven seasons of All Creatures Great and Small. Then exhausted by the news of hospitals filling up and people dying of the Covid-Sars 19 since the beginning of the year, the big question on what could possibly make the holidays special became a central focus. In order to not fall into the ‘oh, pity me’ stage of doom and gloom during lockdown, I decided to do something different. The Herriott’s had just received a hamper from Fortnum & Masons on the episode I was watching and the thought breezed through my head that if they could supply hampers during times of rationing then surely in an age of on line buying and international shipping, Fortnum & Mason could get a hamper to Canada. Of course, they had been able to do this for years but it never occurred to me til I saw the delight on the faces of James and Helen just how happy one of those hampers might make someone.

When we lived in England, the holidays meant getting on the early train from Grantham to London to see the windows of Fortnum & Mason. There are eight main windows on Piccadilly and by the end of October or the beginning of November the paper is removed to reveal the magical scenes. They were different every year and for three years we got to enjoy this incredible tradition that the British have delighted in for eons.

Fortnum’s has been decorating their windows for 313 years, since 1707. For these Canadians, the only windows decorated in our City were those of the Hudson Bay Company and really, they were not decorated at all if a comparison were made. We had not seen anything like the wonders that filled all of those spaces from mechanical drummers and angels to glitter and magic and all the treats that the store had on their shelves. Everything was larger than life. The beauty of the painting, the sculptures, the lights and even the feathers of birds was magical. It was almost as if you you could step inside and become part of the festivities.

Fortnum and Mason’s holiday windows from 2016. Courtesy of Fortnum & Masons, Wikimedia Commons (above and below).

To try and create some of the magic that we had experienced so long ago, I checked on the possibility of a hamper coming to Canada in time for the holidays. It was only after I began exploring the options that I discovered that there are several well known shops in London supplying hampers. Another was Harrod’s, the iconic department store in Knightsbridge. In the end, I decided to order a similar priced hamper from both major shops and compare them.

Both companies used international shippers (for a charge on top of the price of the hamper) and both estimated the time of arrival at my door as being four business days. Both hampers were ordered on the same day in mid-November. The Fornum & Mason hamper arrived promptly on the sixth day after ordering by DHL. The hamper from Harrod’s, also handled by DHL, required that I either hired my own broker or allowed DHL to act on my behalf. The parcel was caught up in Canadian customs for three weeks. After 10 days, I contacted Harrod’s Customer Service. Both the customer service agent and myself assumed that the proper commercial invoice had simply not been attached and they provided me with another one immediately. They also gave me a 25% refund. That still did not help me with the parcel. I contacted DHL Customer Service, gave them a copy of the commercial invoice noting that it specifically stated that all customs duties and taxes were included in the price that I had paid. It all seemed very ridiculous. In the end, the hamper was released and duly delivered by DHL on December 12. Ironically, the commercial invoice was right on the box in a plastic envelope that had never been opened. Who could be faulted for the delay? and why did the parcel from Fortnum & Mason not have a problem? It is difficult to say. If you are going to order a hamper for international shipment, I urge you to do so early. They will not ship perishable items outside of the country so you could order yours and have it without the stress of worry even in October. And note that taxes and duties are already included in the price. You should not have to pay anything extra.

Each hamper was opened on the morning of the 25th with some excitement. While similar in price, there were a few differences. nImmediately the shape of the hampers and their construction was quite different. The one from Fortnum & Mason was a traditional picnic hamper with the double flap and handle at the top tied by a turquoise ribbon with the F & M name and logo in gold lettering. The hinges were real leather and I could imagine myself using it in the summer for a small picnic. In their enclosed brochure, F & M states that the baskets are “handmade Wicker wonders” woven with wicker that’s “grown in sustainable wetlands”. The hamper from Harrod’s is a flat rectangular basket rather like a suitcase. As you can see from the photo above, there are buckles on the side. These are not leather, something that would make my Vegan granddaughter very happy. Sadly, the hardware on one of the buckles was broken on arrival. With the thousands of hampers ordered, I felt that Harrod’s can do a better job sourcing the hardware so that the hamper could definitely be reused. F & Mason’s basket contained a printed brochure in their traditional turquoise with gold letter that stated the contents and the history. It was a lovely treat to find inside, well designed and full colour.

The contents from the F & M basket were: three 25 gram tins of flavoured tea including their famous Christmas spice blend (plus Christmas Green tea and Plum, Apple, and Cinnamon Infusion), a St James Christmas Pudding, a tin of Christmas Fruit and Spice Biscuits, a small jar of Strawberry preserves, and a box of chocolate Reindeer Noses. The hamper from Harrod’s had a pound of ground coffee, a large tin of English Breakfast teabags (50), a tin of Belgium fudge (both blond and chocolate), a chocolate bar, a large jar of Raspberry preserves, and a large tin of ginger biscuits. By quantity and weight, the Harrod’s Christmas hamper would immediately win out. But what about the quality?

I will begin with the tea. If you are fond of flavoured teas, then the F & M basket is for you. The tea leaves are a very high quality and stand out from the very run of the mill English breakfast tea bags from Harrod’s. But both are actually problematic. The Christmas Green Tea is so infused with licorice that if you do not like it, you will find yourself gifting it to someone who does. One of my British friends dislikes flavoured teas so much that they would run for the rather generic tea bags of Harrod’s. I would personally recommend that F & M offer an option or include a larger tin of the finest hand rolled black tea along with a small container of their Special Christmas blend. Harrod’s should definitely make theirs a fine quality hand rolled tea leaf as well. Ditch the teabags concealing the tail end of the tea that is processed!

Harrod’s contained a reusable pound tin of good ground coffee. F & M did not.

Each had a preserves. Both are excellent. F & M included Strawberry and Harrod’s Rasperry. Harrod’s was twice the size.

Each had a tin of biscuits. F & M were a subtle fruit and spice blend and Harrod’s was an amazing buttery ginger. Both are great for dunking but the taste of Harrod’s captured me. They were also slightly larger.

Both had decent chocolate – F & M’s in the form of Reindeer Nosettes and Harrod’s in a standard chocolate bar.

Harrod’s had a tin of Belgian fudge with about a dozen pieces of both standard chocolate and the blond brown sugary fudge. Divine.

I have not tried the St James Pudding at the time of this writing.

Clearly, the Harrod’s basket gives you more bang for your buck, so to speak but the quality of the tea was simply average, not outstanding. I have not tried the coffee yet. If you prefer PG Tips then you will like the English Breakfast Blend they include. And if you do not like flavoured teas, then the F & M basket would simply not suit you. I have to admit that the fudge contained in the Harrod’s basket was something you can dream about. You could taste the real butter and the squares simply melted in your mouth. I will think about it often long after the tin is empty. It was just stunningly delicious. Both tins of biscuits were equally good but I did like the heat of the ginger ones particularly from Harrod’s.

In the end, both of the baskets have been a delight and it would be difficult to choose between them. I wish that Harrod’s would use real leather and make strong buckles so that the basket could ultimately be used over and over again for picnics. I might well try to fix all of that myself so it can be used. Will I order a hamper again? Absolutely. Maybe a larger one from each shop next year just for fun! And anyone with a sense of creativity could make their own which isn’t such a bad idea. Surely the arrival of such a treasure would put a smile on receiver’s face, just like it did the Harriets when Tricki Woo sent them their Fortnum & Mason’s hamper!

Protecting birds by simple changes in our lives can make a huge difference.

For the past week I have been posting information on how we can all join in and make our environment friendlier to birds. The tips and the ongoing discussion with my chatters on the Cornell RTH FB page have been enriching. Those posts were a way of remembering J1, the eldest chick of Big Red and Arthur, who died a week ago today after what is believed to be a window strike at Weill Hall. J1 was a super large very maternal bird who could be hawk-fierce when required or a gentle goof pulling the tail feathers of her brothers if they sat on a bar above her. She loved playing soccer with pinecones and taking baths in the puddles after a hot day in Ithaca. Her birth brought joy to all and as she grew most recognized that she would be a gentle but firm mother like Big Red. Because of COVID-19 and the escalating deaths and subsequent civil unrest, her death sparked a deep sense of loss not only within her hawk family but also with the BOGs in Ithaca and those who love this family around the world. Big Red and Arthur led the two remaining chicks away from Tower Road and the business of the campus near Bradfield and Weill out to Holey Cow. Just looking it appears that the distance is around a mile but I could be all wrong. The area is rural farmyard territory as opposed to urban with its buildings, streets, and cars. And the parents have kept them near the barns with the cows and sheep and the fields where Big Red’s mate, Ezra, used to hunt. One evening all four took part in a team hunting event. Big Red from one side of the pine tree and Arthur on the other would fly into the tree chasing a squirrel down for the two juveniles to hunt it. The move has caused the chicks to slow way down and stop random flying stunts between buildings. You say, “Did Big Red and Arthur know that J1 had died?” My answer to you is “Of course, they knew.” Would they have wished that Cornell University would have earlier installed window reflective glass on their buildings? Absolutely. And so, that is why I am writing to you tonight. To introduce you to ways that you can help birds in your own neighborhood.

Most of you will know some of these points but you might have forgotten or maybe you didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know all of them and tonight I find that I am still learning. So here goes:

  1. Make all of your windows bird friendly by installing strips on the outside so there is no bird strike. Check your local wildlife or nature centre. They often have this available in their shop.
  2. Speaking of windows. Governments in Australia have announced that all buildings will now be required to use reflective glass. It is estimated that 1 million birds die from window strikes annually. Supporters of the new reflective glass windows believe that they can save 90% of the birds with this new measure. Write to anyone in your community who will listen!
  3. Bird-friendly coffee. Almost everyone reading this blog will drink some kind of coffee a day. But, as I have learned recently, not all coffee is the same. There are now many organic beans and blends as well as fair trade coffees but if you want to be the most environmentally friendly with your cup of java, then you must find bird friendly coffee. And this is not easy! The Smithsonian must certify the coffee to be grown under shade so that the forests are not cleared to qualify beyond being organic and fair trade. So look for the labelling and ask your local roaster to get beans brought in for you or you can order on line.
  4. Water. The summers are getting warmer. The heat impacts all of us. One simple way to help the birds is to put out bowls of water so that they have a fresh drink and a place to have a bath and cool off. You don’t need to go down and buy a fancy bird bath. Readers of my postings have suggested checking your local thrift store for bowls or even bird baths. Many use the dishes that go under pots. One even suggested the plastic liners for paint trays (new, of course). Since I work with clay, we have an array of shallow bowls outside and every day around 4pm the little song birds line up for a drink and a splash. One day the largest of our local Grackle community decided to have a bath. It was sweet.
  5. Cats. Cats are one of the most prominent dangers to birds. Where I live it is illegal to let your cats outside. But in many parts of the world this is not the case.
  6. Herbicides and pesticides. One major birdseed company in the US (who also supplied herbicides and pesticides for gardens and lawns) was discovered to have poison seed in their product several years ago. Make sure you know where your birdseed comes from BUT also let your garden be natural. All of the treatments for lawns are very dangerous to animals.
  7. Mouse and rat poison. Rodenticide. Do not use poisons to trap mice and rats. They mice and rats eat the poison, get sluggish, and are easy for the raptors to catch. Then they die. It has been clearly proven that raptors are much better at keeping down the rat population than poisons. Tell anyone you know not to use these products that stop the blood from coagulating. In fact, cats can also die if they eat a poisoned mouse or rat.
  8. Plant a tree. During this very chaotic spring, people have been seeking calm. Trees and gardens offer places for peaceful contemplation. They also help the biosphere. So instead of paving your patio, consider creating a rustic treed space that is bird friendly instead.
  9. Slow down. When you drive slow down. It will cause less deaths from window strike.
  10. You might want to keep gear in your vehicle to help with injured birds. This can include but is not limited to gloves, a secure cage, and soft blanket. Know the contact numbers for your local wildlife rehabilitation centre.

These are not the only ways but they are a beginning. You might want to think about ordering the book that was recommended to me today. It is Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard.

Chaeban is much more than delicious handmade ice cream….

Today it isn’t about the lovely plates that Terry Hildebrand makes but what is on them.  It was damp and grey in Winnipeg, -4 or so.  One of those days when you feel a little colder close to the bone than the temperature outside would make you think.  In fact, it reminded me of when we moved to England so I could do my PhD.  We almost came back to Canada!  You simply could not get warm.  But…I had promised a long time friend that we would go for ice cream and the day we decided on, weeks ago, was today.  I can hear the moans already … what was she thinking?  Ice cream in Winnipeg in November!  But you see, die-hard ice cream fans can enjoy Chaeban any day of the week unless you are watching the calories, which I am, so this treat is once every several months.

But today we were in for a surprise.  There sitting next to the brand new coffee machines was a small tray of handmade sweets.  The baklava, if you look close, is bursting with nuts but it is the other date coconut and pistachio roll that takes the word ‘treat’ to a whole different level.  The flavours are fresh and what could have been overpowered by the strong flavour of dates, wasn’t.  They complimented the coconut perfectly.  The pistachios were held together ever so slightly with what I think is local honey…again, not too sweet.

So, if you aren’t in the mood for ice cream but you are looking for a beautiful spot to have coffee with a friend and a sweet treat, check out Chaeban.  They are located at 690 S Osborne in Winnipeg.  If you try the date coconut roll and like it as much as I did, tell them – and then smile and tell someone else. As a neighborhood, we are so happy to have Chaeban with us.

And next week, I plan to check out another new hangout just down the street, the new coffee shop at the corner of Morley and Osborne in the old BMO building.  There are people drinking coffee and working on their laptops in the morning and even more in the evening.  Looks inviting.

It also looks like there will be two other shops opening up soon…well done, South Osborne.  And no…I didn’t get paid to say these things…but I will be going back for more date, coconut and pistachio rolls…yummy.