A Tree of Heaven and a Glaucous Gull/ Bluffs; January 18, 2019

There are about a dozen young Tree of Heaven growing in a meadow of the upper Scarborough Bluffs. This weedy species from the Philippines has a habit of growing in the least favourable places in urban areas. At this time of year, the leaf scars have a very distinct shape:

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

In January, 2016, I wrote this article about an imaginary discussion in tree heaven:

So where does the name originate? Here’s my theory:

In whatever part of the universe that decisions are made about what plants will live in which environments, a call was put out to all tree species.

“We need some species to move into an impossibly grim slum in an impossibly grim town on earth. How about you guys? (no response from the pines). And over there? (the maples take a step back). Oaks! What about it? (a door slams).”

Finally, in desperation: “What about you Ailanthii? Everyone complains about your smell. Maybe no-one will notice there.”

The residents of the impossibly grim slum in the impossibly grim town were so delighted with their new tree, they called it the Tree of Heaven.

Tree-of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Today’s walk was sunny at first with a temperature of -1 degrees.

There is lots of evidence of beaver near the lake:

We did find some birds above the bluffs:

Black-capped Chickadee and American Goldfinch
House Sparrows
Black-capped Chickadee

as well as some cuddling squirrels:

Canada Geese

At the feeding rocks below the bluffs there were dozens of Mourning Doves:

and in the trees:

The duck pond area, as usual, was full of life:

Canada Geese
Ring-billed Gull
Trumpeter Swan
Bufflehead (male)
Rock Pigeons
Mallard cleaning itself
Hybrid “Bib” Duck
American Black Duck (yellowish-green bill indicates male)

Here we see the difference between Black Duck (darker) and female mallard:

Black Duck (top) and female Mallard

There are always more gull species around in winter and identification, especially with juveniles, is a challenge. We had 4 gull species this morning and 2 were in juvenile plumage.

foreground: juvenile Glaucous Gull with adult Herring furthest behind
juvenile Great Black-backed Gull towering over Ring-billed Gulls
Glaucous Gull to the left, Ring-billed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gull to the right

Complete bird list: trumpeter swan, Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, bufflehead, glaucous gull, great black-backed gull, herring gull,  ring-billed gull, mourning dove, rock pigeon, downy woodpecker, common raven, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, European starling, house sparrow, northern cardinal, house sparrow, American goldfinch, American tree sparrow.  (21 species)


Heart-warm against the stormy white,
The Rose of Joy burns warmer yet.                

  – Thomas Gold Appleton (1812–84)

Miles Hearn

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