SONSI members recently had the opportunity to repeat two of last year’s events.
The first event to be repeated was the autumn walk in the Royal Botanical Garden’s Arboretum. The group assembled for a Sunday hike along the trails to take in the fall colour and scenery. After heavy wind and rain for the preceding few days there were concerns for the day of the walk, but in the same fashion as last year, the weather was perfect. A wonderful consequence of walking in the same area year to year is that the changes not only from season to season, but the change in each season from year to year become apparent. A highlight of the walk last year was the ambrosial Katsura tree with it’s burnt sugar smell detectable over 100 feet away, this year the smell was unavoidable and the leaves a much deeper shade of gold. Indeed, many of the trees displayed much deeper fall colours, some leaves were so opulently coloured that they couldn’t resist being picked up along the way. Due to the abundance of precipitation there was a fresh display of multi-coloured fungi throughout the area and a surprising amount of plant life. There were the predictable but delightful chickadees, along with a pair of downy woodpeckers, and a couple of (braver than usual) white-breasted nuthatches, all of which members hand fed. Everyone has the same facial expression when there is a wild bird selecting a seed from their hand. Walking with SONSI members is somewhat like walking with talking field guide books or having an extra twenty eyes, this walk was no exception as during the after walk lunch on a bench in the lilac dell, a flock of passing bluebirds was spotted.
The second repeat was the recent SONSI event at the Royal Ontario Museum. Members met at the museum on the Sunday of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, just as the year before, and Members were treated again, to a day worthy of a gift from the jolly man himself. The day began with a trip to the parts of the museum that every explorer and curious naturalist dream of, the storage and collection rooms. These rooms are exactly how you would like them to look; there are rows and rows of storage cupboards with taxonomical labels, the odd relegated museum display, taxidermied specimens, curiously animated articulated skeletons, desks piled with books and boxes, shelves of books and furniture that is handsome because of its provenience. Led by Mark K. Peck, quite an apt name for someone who’s business card reads “Natural History Department – Ornithology” members were shown a few of the drawers full of bird specimens, or skins, from the most exotic, almost unbelievable birds of paradise and hummingbirds, to the more humble American robin and Barn owl. The collection not only includes the birds themselves, but also some specimens of spread wings, bird nests, skeletons and eggs. In a bottom drawer sits an intact elephant bird egg, large enough to fit a newborn human inside, and in a drawer above is the thimble sized nest of a hummingbird. These specimens are used for a great variety of reasons, but on this day members were shown how to use them as reference for an illustration. Barry K. MacKay, fine artist and scientific illustrator, who has a wonderful website and an interview on this site, organized and created this event and also made the demonstration, a rare and privileged opportunity for anyone familiar with his work. The demonstration was a fantastic lesson in working from specimens, but also in technique and media. Following this members sat for lunch and made a start at absorbing the morning’s event and then either headed out or continued to explore other parts of the museum’s galleries. Thanks should of course go to Mark K. Peck and Barry K. McKay, whose depth of knowledge and passion are truly inspiring, and who kindly gave their time to SONSI members for an outstanding day.