Partial Solar Eclipse

Even a partial solar eclipse is a pretty unique experience; we got a reasonably good view in Oakville too – the cloudy weather chose just the right time to break.

The timing was especially good in another respect as well: right at the moment the Sun has the most spectacular sunspot too, rejoicing in the poetic name Region 2192 (doesn’t it just sing?!) – this monster utterly dwarfs the earth! It’s the big splotch that’s clearly visible in the middle of the Sun.

This shot was taken from on top of the building I work in, with the assistance of a variable ND filter (which, combined with a stopped-down aperture, made it possible to view the sun directly without burning a hole in my retina) stuck on the end of a long lens.


Gorilla gorilla, Gorilla

Visiting Toronto Zoo during the Thanksgiving weekend was perhaps not the brightest idea I’ve ever had – the place was uncomfortably busy, with rather a preponderance of morons banging on the glass to try and get the animals to do something (what kind of idiot does that anyway?).

However, in amongst all this was the rather touching sight of a mother gorilla with her recently arrived baby; this was one of a few shots through the glass that came out okay.

I feel that scenes such as this do reinforce the notion that the great apes are people too.

(Incidentally, I was very well-behaved and resisted the urge to throttle people referring to these things as ‘monkeys’)

Bloody Taxonomists!

I was reminded earlier today that it was twenty-five years ago that I started my university degree; a whole quarter of a century ago!

Back then, the science of taxonomy was pretty well established and one got the impression that the times of great swathes of change were largely over; needless to say, this impression turned out to be spectacularly wrong!

Around the time I was studying, a selection of weapons-grade brains around the world were really getting the hang of gene-sequencing; this absolutely revolutionised biology as it made it an awful lot easier to discern which organisms were related to which other ones and how closely.

This is all terribly exciting and one of the coolest things in science at the moment; the only snag is that, since I graduated, it sometimes seems as if almost everything I learned in terms of classification is now wrong!

This is rather a long-winded way of getting to the point that the taxonomists have been at it again: the toads here (North America) are no longer Bufo; rather, they are now Anaxyrus. So, the splendid fellow in this image is now Anaxyrus americanus and not Bufo americanus, as previous toads in my blog have been labelled!

Now, I just have to remember to get it right in future (and switch back to Bufo when back at home, where the classification remains the same for the European species)…

Fool Hen

Spruce Grouse
Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

I had no idea Canada had things like this; I’m more used to the idea of grouse living in the highlands of Scotland or similar, being shot at by inbred members of the aristocracy…

This splendid chap is a Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis); according to my bird book, it is also known as the Fool Hen, due to its habit of allowing people to get extremely close before it beats a retreat.

I can vouch for the accuracy of the book, although I didn’t get *too* close, to avoid distressing the fellow…

Alces alces. The Moose.

Moose, Alces alces, Alces

Male moose, with early-growth antlers.

Alces alces, the moose, is the largest of the deer family (that hasn’t gone extinct). Seeing a wild one was very high on my list of things to do in Canada; after two and a half years, I was still failing miserably.

This all changed on a visit to Algonquin Park, as the winter snow was in the process of melting; the main road through the park has an awful lot of salt put on it during the winter, to help keep it open and in the spring, the salty water around the roads attracts moose – short of sodium after the long winter.

Having failed to see a single moose in two and a half years, we almost got into double figures in two days – a thoroughly memorable couple of days!

Moose are really rather splendid creatures, although ours were looking a bit scruffy, having just survived a really rather horrible winter.

Apparently, moose are unusual in that their noses can close when submerged, making them the only deer that can feed under water.







Niagara Falls – not blasé yet

Niagara Falls, Niagara, waterfall

When one lives about an hour’s drive from Niagara Falls, one tends to end up visiting the place quite a lot, with extra visits whenever one has guests from out of town.

The first time I saw the falls with adult eyes, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed: as has been frequently observed by others, the world’s greatest wonders are prone to appear so frequently in books and films etc that it is easy to expect them to be bigger and more impressive than they really are. Despite all that, Niagara Falls is still jaw-droppingly impressive and remains so, no matter how many times I visit.

This shot of the American Falls was taken from the US side of the river, whilst taking a day trip out of the country as part of getting PR. Despite it being May, there was still some snow on the ground – in indication of how fierce the winter had been.



I think groundhogs (Marmota monax) are brilliant! If you’re from North America, these things are relatively unremarkable, apart from their alleged weather-predicting abilities (!); not having anything like this back home, they’re rather more impressive to a Brit.

Groundhogs are essentially enormous squirrels (Sciuridae); Europeans will be familiar with their more extreme relations that live up mountains – the marmots. Groundhogs prefer to live in less harsh conditions (although the winter isn’t exactly balmy in Canada)…

This particular individual was part of a pair that live in amongst the big rocks that make up the lake-shore about half a kilometre east of Oakville Harbour.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, Vulture

Turkey Vulture Preening

The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a frequent sight over Ontario in the warmer months; soaring with their characteristic tipping motion as they look for lunch.

Whilst not exactly beautiful birds, in a conventional sense, they are still impressive: their olfactory sense especially, which is primarily how they find food. According to my bird book, gas companies take advantage of this, by putting attractive-(to vultures)-smelling chemicals in the gas and detecting leaks by looking where the vultures gather.

These are New World vultures (Cathartidae) and are not closely related to the Old World vultures that we all know from David Attenborough documentaries; the similarities are due to convergent evolution. Precisely where these things belong in taxonomic terms in relation to other birds is apparently still uncertain.

Toronto Skyline At Night

Toronto, Skyline, Night
Raccoon at night

Raccoon at night

This was taken from Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands, utilising an ND filter to allow a longer exposure; Toronto at night is almost verging on pretty…

Unfortunately, I’d missed that last ferry back from this end of the islands and had to walk back to Centre Island to catch a later ferry, with a scavenging raccoon (who seemed especially keen on pizza) to keep me company whilst I waited.



The Toronto Islands are a short ferry ride from downtown Toronto and are usually a pleasure to visit – the little cafe at the eastern end of the islands is a fine spot for a bite to eat or a drink. On this occasion, I was on the islands with a view to getting some after dark shots of the Toronto skyline.

Arriving in the early evening, I had time to have a pleasant stroll around first and encountered this splendid little chap fishing: it’s an American Mink (Neovison vison) and it’s where it’s supposed to be – they’re not uncommon in the UK, but they’re introduced there and viewed as a damaging invasive species.

This one seemed to be having a splendid time splashing about in the lake and eventually managed to catch tea, apparently unconcerned by the small crowd of over-evolved simians that were watching.

Mink, American Mink

Mink with fish for tea