Author Archives: milesghearn

Grey Abbey Park: Scarborough Bluffs

Grey Abbey Park is named after a small village in Northern Ireland.

It is located near the bottom of Morningside Drive and follows the top of the Scarborough Bluffs.

There are obvious signs of erosion here:

which is why we see this sign:

Some views of the lake:

and of the woods:

Despite the overcast sky and light snowfall, there was lots of colour to be seen:

Forsythia buds (Forsythia intermedia)

White Birch (Betula papyifera)

Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Weeping Willow (Salix alba var. tristis)

Mountain-ash (Sorbus)

and a colour I see far too often:

Miles Hearn


Scarborough Bluffs Beach

The beach, at the bottom of Brimley Road, is a very popular spot in summer. Even on this December morning, in breezy 0 degrees, many people were out walking or playing with their dogs.

High above the beach are the “Cathedral Bluffs”:

There are hundreds of Bank Swallow nests in the cliffs and these are very busy in spring and early summer:

the beach:

some pebbles in the beach:

some crustacean shells:

some Buffleheads in the lake:

Bufflehead (male)


the trail, which runs east of the parking lot:

The golden buds of Soapberry (also called Buffalo-berry) , a shrub which is not common in the Toronto area:

Soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis)

Miles Hearn



Birch Cliff Quarrylands

Earlier this year, I led a walk for the Toronto Field Naturalists at the Birch Cliff Quarrylands. On that day, we were looking for weeds and, of course, found many.

In December of 2018, I led another to experience a walk here in winter conditions.

Two days before that walk, I went out and took many photos which I show in this post.

The Quarrylands comprise 49 acres at Victoria Park Avenue and Gerrard Street East.

The area is an interesting mixture of field:



and improvised dump:

Parts of the forest are surprisingly beautiful with mature White and Red Oaks.

The GO trains rush by about every ten minutes:

Some views of the forest:

of the fields:

There is a grassy park area just north of Gerrard Street:

A few birds were about including this Cooper’s Hawk:

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

A Bald-faced Hornet’s nest:

even a shrub in bloom!

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

The graffiti artists are at work here:

Even some trees are “tagged”:

Black Cherry

Red Oak

White Oak

more signs of dumping:

Once this area was a brickworks and then a gravel quarry.

In the 1950’s it became an unregulated dump. Everything from radioactive paint to barrels of solvents lie just below the surface. Locals say that if the gasses brewing below the ground were to ignite, half of Scarborough would go with it.

This fenced-in brick shed contains a flare stack which burns off gasses 24 hours a day.

There are dozens of these bright blue, square vertical boxes scattered about the property:

They are test locations for extracting samples of the toxicity lurking below.

At one time the area was to be used for a Scarborough Expressway which was never built.

There is talk of putting a huge apartment complex here though it is not definite.

We saw a large flock of pigeons en route to the Quarrylands:


Miles Hearn















Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

This bird is very appropriately named. It does indeed wag its tail and is similar in this respect to the North American Spotted Sandpiper. The word “pied” means “having 2 or more different colours”.

Pied Wagtail

After Rooks and Jackdaws, Pied Wagtails were the most common bird that I saw in a 2 week trip to Ireland. It is an almost exclusively British bird with just a few nesting in Northern France and Holland.

Pied Wagtail

People sometimes call them Willy Wagtail or Polly Washdish. Long ago people here washed clothing or pots and pans near streams, a favourite habitat for the wagtail,  and gave the bird this name.

Pied Wagtail

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kent says:

“Spare my grey beard, you wagtail,”

The poet John Clare wrote:

Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain.

And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.

Pied Wagtail

Wagtails are just as happy on mountain tops as in city centres.

Pied Wagtail

Wagtails nest 2 or 3 times during the summer.

Pied Wagtail (immature)

Pied Wagtail (immature)

Although almost exclusively insectivorous, some wagtails show a liking for cake crumbs according to a birder that I met.

Pied Wagtail

Miles Hearn






Doris McCarthy Trail: Scarborough Bluffs

This trail reaches Lake Ontario from the bottom of Bellamy Road and offers spectacular views of the lake and bluffs.

I thought that I might make the first footprints in the snow this morning, but some joggers were ahead of me on this steep trail.

A stream runs beside the trail:

Here are some of the plants along the way:

Autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia)

Cat-tail (Typha)

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Locust (Robinia hispida)

Black Locust (Robinia hispida)

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

I zoomed my camera out as far as possible for this distant Red-tailed Hawk:

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

a view of the sky:

Views of the forest:


Views of the bluffs:

Miles Hearn



Cathedral Bluffs Park

The aptly named Cathedral Bluffs are the highest point of the Scarborough Bluffs and tower 90 metres above Lake Ontario.

The area is bordered to the north by a large, grassy area.

I visited on December 6 and one wildflower was still in bloom in the lawn here:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion must be the most ubiquitous weed on earth. I remember clearing them from explorer Shackleton’s grave on an island just north of Antarctica.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Another object which, sadly, is often found on trails these days:

The “wild” section of the park is located on a spit of land which has trails on the edges of the bluffs and down the centre.

Officially, one is not supposed to walk here (no trespassing signs and a low fence) but it is clear that everyone does it. Here is a quote from the City of Toronto website:

Important: There is no access to the water at this park. Stay behind fences and obey no trespassing signs as the bluffs are unstable. Access the water from Bluffer’s ParkSylvan ParkGuild Park and Gardens, or East Point Park.

From the tip of the spit. there is a large ravine to the west:

To the west you can see the marina:

The view from the top of Cathedral Bluffs:

Miles Hearn










Airplane: Milos Radakovich

Airplanes used to be made of
wood, leather and canvas. Modern
aircraft use lightweight steel,
aluminum and titanium. At this
writing, fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon
fiber composites are increasingly
taking the place of metals in
critical airframe structures.

But don’t count metals out just yet. British scientists at the University
of Liverpool have revealed a process that can significantly
reduce the weight of titanium, stainless steel and other metals.

Unlike conventional solid-metal components, the new parts have
a porous, lattice-like structure, similar to scaffolding, but with
support rods twice the diameter of a human hair, making them
ultra-light. Because loads are channeled along the rods and opposing
surfaces, structural components can comprise up to 70
percent air while remaining strong enough to do the job.

Scientists say that such components could replace solid metal in
integrated circuits, automotive applications and other fields of
engineering. Aircraft parts, for example, could be produced that
are more than 50 percent lighter than conventional alternatives.

The world’s first commercial-scale system for the rapid manufacture
of such new-generation metal components is being developed
by engineers at the University of Liverpool. The new manufacturing
system initially went into commercial use in 2006, but
it may be years before the new materials find their way onto the
production lines.

If these materials can indeed function safely while being mostly
empty space, this could lend a whole new meaning to the term

Milos Radakovich