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Monday, 20 May 2019

Capybara (The World's Biggest Rodent)

A Capybara Sits On The Grass.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address:  2000 Meadowvale Road
Date: May 2019
Website: www.torontozoo.com

  Some people may be surprised to learn that the world's biggest rodent is not a rat found in the New York subway system.  The title belongs to South America's capybara which weighs up to 65 kg, stands almost 2 feet tall and can grow up to 4 feet long.  We have come across capybara at several zoos, but had a real close encounter at the Toronto Zoo.


  Diego the capybara lives at the Toronto Zoo.  The zoo just recently started some Wild Encounter programs.  We were able to learn more about him as well as feed him a treat of some fresh lettuce.  Capybara are herbivores and eat only plants.  In fact the name capybara translates roughly to "master of the grasses".  All rodents have teeth that constantly grow and must gnaw on things to wear the teeth down.  As we fed the lettuce we had to make sure not to get near those teeth.

Capybara's Webbed Feet.

  Capybara are semi-aquatic and spend most of their time in the water.  They have webbed feet which helps make them great swimmers.  Their nostrils and eyes are high on their face so they can breathe and see above the water, but if they have to, a capybara can stay under water for up to 5 minutes.

The Behind Of A Capybara.

  Capybara have a high rounded back.  Diego looks kind of like a coconut with legs in the photo above.

Capybara And A Waterfall.

  The other capybara at the Toronto Zoo can be found near the waterfall in the Americas section.  Diego prefers to keep by himself and lives in the Kid's Zoo not that far from his relative the guinea pig.

Capybara eating in the water.

  The keepers said that Diego was about 6 years old.   We think that the photo above may have been taken while Diego, his brother and parents enjoyed a family dinner together.

High Park Capybara Family.

  In Toronto there are also capybara at the High Park Zoo.  Two of the High Park capybara are famous for escaping.  One of them wasn't found for almost a month before being returned to the zoo.  In the photos and video above you can see the runaways with their babies.  Baby capybara are called pups.

A Capybara During Feeding Time.

  Feeding the capybara was fun and Diego was friends with whoever had a piece of lettuce.  Once all the lettuce was gone he went off to the other side of his enclosure to be by himself again.  It was great to see and learn about this amazing rodent up close.   Next time we are in New York City though, we would still like the rats to keep to themselves.


Click here to take a virtual tour and see our collection of Toronto Zoo animal photos.

Map of Our World
Toronto Zoo (Kids Zoo) , High Park Zoo

Post # 251

Friday, 10 May 2019

Westfield Heritage Museum (1775 to 1825)

A Stone Commemorates the Opening of Westfeild Village

Location: Rockton, Ontario, Canada
Address: 1049 Kirkwall Road
Date: May 2019
Website:  westfieldheritage.ca

  In October 1960 two Brantford area high school teachers started Westfield Village in order to educate children and adults on how life was lived in 19th century Ontario.  They started the process of moving heritage buildings to a thirty acre property that they had purchased.  Today that property has over 40 buildings and is known as Westfield Heritage Museum.  During Doors Open Hamilton we visted the museum and learned a thing or two about how life used to be.

Hill House From 1911 and Westbrook House from 1810

    We started our tour in the area representing the years 1775 up to 1825.  The first houses we came across were Hill House (pictured above on the right) and Westbrook House (white house in distance).  Hill House was built in 1911 on the Six Nations Reserve in Brantford but was built in a similar style to homes built in the early 1800s.  Westbrook House came from Brant County and was a much fancier home.  It originally overlooked the "Battle of Malcolm's Mills" in 1814 which was the last land battle on Canadian soil.

Westfield Village Oldest Log Chapel in Ontario.

  Across the road from Hill House stood a log chapel.  This was built in 1814 and is believed to be the oldest log chapel in all of Ontario.

Queen's Rangers' Cabin At Westfield Heritage Museum.
Bamberger House Built 1810 At Westfeild Heritage Museum.

  Two other buildings in this area are the Queen's Rangers' cabin built in 1792 and the Bamberger House (the one with four windows on the left) built in 1810.  Bamberger House was the oldest home in Hamilton before being moved to Westfield.  The Queen's Ranger's cabin is one of the oldest log cabins in Ontario.  If you want old homes made of logs, then Westfield is your place.

A Man Sits Outside ATrading Post At Westfiled Heritage Museum.

  The most interesting building in this section of Westfield was the 19th Century Trading Post.  As we walked by, the man out front said "Before you head into the future let me tell you a few things about life in the early 1800s."  We followed him into the building.

Inside The Trading Post.

  Now some of what the man told us is true and some of it is just tall tales.  All of it was entertaining.  First he explained different levels of poor.  The expression "dirt poor" is someone who could not afford to have wooden floors put in their house so the ground level was just dirt.  The building we were in had wooden floors.  He also stated that horses were also kept on the ground floor so they would stand in the dirt and the family would live upstairs.  The expression "mad as a hatter" came from the hat makers who used mercury to make hats out of animal skins like beavers.  The hatmaker and sometimes the frequent hat wearer would suffer from mercury posioning and often become delirious and live a shortened life from prolonged exposure.  A beaver hat in the early 1800s could cost up to $500 dollars.  Only the very well-to-do could afford such a luxury.  A building such as the trading post itself would cost only $100 dollars.  Madness!

Furs dry on a fence at Westfiled Village.

  Another level of poor is "piss poor".  In order to tan the hides of animals, urine was used in the process.  A very poor family could fill a bucket and take it to the Trading Post in exchange for some money.  Unfortunately, some people didn't even have a pot to piss in. The man also went on to explain the origin of a threshold in the home and "throwing the baby out with the bath water". 
  We left the Trading Post and headed deeper into the Westfield Heritage Village.  We were headed towards the 1900s. All the tales we had just heard are passed on through the years much like the information about the old homes at Westfield.  Thankfully someone is around to preserve them.

Map of Our World
Westfield Heritage Museum

Post # 250

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Courtship Display of the American Woodcock

Sun Setting At The Leslie Spit Toronto

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address: 1 Lesle Street
Date: April 2019
Website:  www.torontobirding.ca

   Spring is in the air.  As the sun is setting, the courtship dance of the American woodcock is about to begin.  We joined an enthusiastic group of birders on Toronto's Leslie Spit to see this strange little bird in action.

A Taxidermied American Woodcock

   The American woodcock is a weird looking creature that has a round body, short legs, and a long bill.  Woodcocks also have their eyes up high on the sides of their head.  This lets them see 360 degrees.  They use their long bills to pull worms from the soil.  They can actually open and close just the tip of their beak to grab a worm underground as if using a small set of tweezers.  In Ontario, breeding woodcocks arrive in mid-April and courtships can last until the end of May.

Power Plant On Unwin Avenue Toronto

  Our group had come to the Spit just before sunset specifically to view the courtship display.  After some discussion from our group leader explaining what we would be seeing, we drove to a bend in Unwin Avenue and pulled over to the edge of the road.  Woodcocks like to breed in pastures, small forest openings or along a roadside.  A male will mate with as many females as it can and has no involvement in the nesting or caring for the chicks.  It is however, up to the females to decide if they are impressed with a male woodcock's performance and agree to mate.

Let the dance begin!

  It wasn't long after we parked that the woodcocks began to perform.  There were about three males competing in the area surrounding us.  Tonight they would have to attract a female by making their presence known over the occasional traffic noise and a group of about 15 noisy humans.  You can hear the sounds the woodcocks make if you listen carefully to the video below.


   First the woodcock makes what is called a "Peent" sound.  It will do this several times as it turns in place.  Next it will suddenly fly up into the air and do several large circular passes.  Its primary wing feathers create a twittering sound as the wings flap through the air.  After making the larger circles it heads back down to the ground much like a stunt plane at an air show.  It returns in small tight spirals to land almost exactly where it started from.  If no female approaches then it starts the whole process over again.  A male woodcock will do this courtship display every night during the breeding season.

CN Tower As Viewed From Leslie Spit

    As darkness took over, the performances continued.  We decided that standing on a poorly lit street staring up at the sky while traffic came around a sharp bend in the road behind us was not where we wanted to be.  We wished the woodcocks the best of luck and headed home.  Once again, the beauty and complexity of nature had amazed us.

Map of Our World
Tommy Thompson Park (Baselands)

Post # 249