Quebec chronicles – landscapes and signs of humanity: part 1

   

To conclude the series on my springtime bird migration trip to Quebec, I’d like to share some of the scenery we saw during our daily outings to and from nature reserves and birding sites in two blogs.

Our rental house in the municipality of Saint Irénée was located on a quiet street, lined with houses that seemed to be mainly rentals. It was a good birding street, lined with lots of vegetation as the houses were mostly set back from the road.

The variety of plants and trees there and in the forests that we visited was lovely.

 

 

 

A number of home-owners had taken time to make nice signs for their houses, presumably so they would be easy to find by renters.

 

 

 

One house caught everyone’s eye as they walked the road; it sat high on a hill and was a striking construction that seemed to be mostly glass. The views from there must have been wonderful.

 

 

Other houses’ yards were brightened with art work and nice gardening features.

 

 

When we left to reach each day’s destination, our route invariably passed along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which we could see in the distance as we also passed by permanent residents’ homes and churches.

 

The paper birches and quaking aspens were really beautiful trees that we saw almost everywhere.

 

 

 

The piers at Pointe au Pic and Saint-Irénée were charming and we returned there several times.

One day, a couple had brought a picnic to enjoy, even though it was a bit cool.

The piers were interesting. Fellow traveler Chloe posed near an “object of interest”!

To my delight, one pier had a little neighborhood lending library there.

Numerous signs advised visitors on behavior during their walks on the piers.

 

 

At Saint-Irénée, signs with photos related the history of the town and its pier.

We did not only stay around Saint-Irénée and Pointe-au-Pic, however; see the next blog for other sights we saw while driving around.

Costa Rican rambles 1: a flower-laden arrival

Traveling to countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas was a privilege I really enjoyed as part of my work in health care, gender and rights for immigrants and people living in developing countries. That frequent travel came to an end due to the circumstances of my retirement, so it was with enormous pleasure that I just participated in my first post-career trip to Costa Rica, giving me the first stamp in my most recent passport!

    

This was only my second time traveling as part of an organized tour (the first time was in the 1970s on a visit to the Soviet Union). While I would have liked to linger longer in some places, the accommodations and good food arranged by the trip organizer, our birding guide’s wit, our driver’s helpfulness, and my fellow travelers’ good spirits made for lots of laughter, interesting sightings and delicious, companionable meals – and it was relaxed as I didn’t have to worry about how to get somewhere and find a place to stay.

Costa Rica’s natural beauty was a daily delight, and I’d like to share some of what I saw in a series of blogs. Many blogs nowadays are short on text; my blogs will be long with lots of photos, which may be a challenge to some readers in these days of imited time (attention spans) and Internet surfing. But I hope those of you who stick it out will enjoy the descriptions!

Since this was a birding trip, the series will mostly feature avians, but I managed to get some photos of mammals, insects and reptiles, too. But to start, we’ll take a look at the abundant flora in the 10-acre Santo Domingo hotel garden where we spent our first afternoon and next morning. The Hotel Bougainvillea received the Costa Rican National Gardening Association’s award as the best botanical garden in Costa Rica and it was a pleasure to visit.

Not being a botanist and having never studied plants, it took me an inordinate amount of time to identify some of the plants; half-way through my searching, I finally understood that this garden also features tropical plants from other continents. I wasn’t able to ascertain the names of many flowers – if anyone can identify the unnamed ones, please leave a comment!

The bougainvillea were blooming and an African blue butterfly bush (Rotheca myricoides) also caught my eye.

 

The native Heliconia flowers were abundant and varied, appealing not only to humans strolling about the gardens, but also to the birds who sheltered among them, searched for insects there or drank the floral nectar. Some of these plants are also called lobster claws, parrot flowers and wild plantain.

 

 

 

Some of the 40 species of heliconias can grow up to 30 feet high; there are heliconias whose flowers grow upright and others that hang. Their bracts – modified leaves or scales that surround a flower – may be larger and more colorful than the actual flower.

 

 

        

 

I quite enjoyed the bromeliads, like this one (Guzmania lingulata); we saw them in abundance throughout the trip and it made me long for some in my own trees.

There were plants with which I am familiar such as lantanas and lilies.

 

 

      

I’ve seen the Angel’s trumpet in the NC Botanical Garden; all parts of this plant are toxic, as my Costa Rican friend Esmeralda pointed out. All seven Brugmansia species are listed as extinct in the wild. These flowers were either Brugmansia versicolor or insignis.

 

I had also seen the Anthurium and passion flowers (Passiflora coccinea) before.

  

One tree had me stumped; it reminded me of a mimosa but was different. It took more than an hour searching the Internet but I was finally able to identify it as the pink shaving brush tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum)! It became one of my favorites.

 

Another favorite, which I would love to have in my garden, is the torch ginger (Etlingera elatior). Near it were some attractive golden shrimp plants (Pachystachys lutea).

 

A few plants had handy name signs by them, like this mateares cactus (Pereskia lychnidiflora), which is almost extinct in Costa Rica (but abundant in other parts of Central America). It was right next to what looked like a type of prickly pear cactus.

Some of the non-Central American plants were really lovely. The bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) is endemic to Mauritius. The fan palm may have been a native though.

 

The blue-green jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), which looked like someone had dyed it, comes from the Philippines, while the bright orange flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) is a Mexican plant.

  

    

The lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) is native to Uganda and Kenya.

The balloonplant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), native to southeast Africa, didn’t look like a type of milkweed to me!

There were some lovely orchids, like a purple one that could be Guarianthe skinneri or perhaps Guaria morada (the national flower) and a yellow one, which I thought was Oncidium sphacelatum.

 

This type of lady slipper orchid had a name tag but unfortunately I forgot to write down the name!

    

And then there were the ones I couldn’t figure out.

  

  

 

 

The garden also featured a couple tables with examples of geological specimens for the mineral and rock collecting enthusiasts.

 

 

One part had what I think was petrified wood.

If you visit San José, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the hotel garden. Next up –  wildlife in the garden!

  

A walk in the woods with a bit of local history

Ken Moore IMG_6384© Maria de Bruyn resOn a sunny afternoon in mid-April, volunteers at the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG) had the chance to learn about Bill Hunt, a horticultural expert who donated hundreds of acres of land for environmental conservation to the University of North Carolina. Hunt’s work laid the foundations for the expansion of the Garden with the Hunt Arboretum and the Piedmont Nature Trails in woods behind the cultivated gardens. The trails were “re-dedicated” during a walk to commemorate the Garden’s first public offering, which was originally dedicated on 10 April 1966. A walk in the woods was quite a nice way to help celebrate the NCBG’s 50th birthday.

Ken Moore IMG_6398© Maria de Bruyn resWe learned about how the Nature Trails were created and maintained from Ken Moore, retired assistant director of the NCBG and the Garden’s first employee.

Moore was accompanied by other Garden staff who offered other interesting tidbits of information. For example, Johnny Randall, NCBG Director of Conservation, told us about how Mr. Hunt visited his rhododendron bushes along Morgan Creek and invited friends to swim at Elephant Rock and to forest picnics at his personal grill located creekside, all the while wearing a suit and tie in his beloved woods.

elephant rock IMG_6443© Maria de Bruyn resHunt barbecue IMG_6436© Maria de Bruyn res

Staff pointed out some of the lovely native plants seen in the springtime woods, including plants that were rescued from other sites such as the trilliums.

Sweet Betsy IMG_6405© Maria de Bruyn res Virginia pennywort IMG_6411© Maria de Bruyn res

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)                 Virginia pennywort (Obolaria virginica)

The woodsorrels have three-lobed, clover-like leaves.

Common yellow woodsorrelIMG_6429© Maria de Bruyn   Violet woodsorrel IMG_6423© Maria de Bruyn res

.Common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)   Violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea)

Indian plantain IMG_6439© Maria de Bruyn res         Spotted wintergreen IMG_6434© Maria de Bruyn res

Indian plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum)   Spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

We also heard about the non-native and invasive plants that were planted along the Nature Trails before conservationists were aware of how they out-competed native plants for space and nutrients. They pointed out that we should remove such vegetation during our volunteer hours and from our own gardens at home, such as Oriental false hawksbeard (Youngia japonica (L.)), which I realized is nestling in in my yard, too.

Special attention was given to the plant with the delightful name of Italian lords-and-ladies (Arum italicum). There were many clumps of these large-leaved flowers and numerous specimens were blooming. While Ken told us how to identify male and female plants so we could eradicate them, other staff demonstrated how to uproot them with gusto.

Italian lords-and-ladies IMG_6481© Maria de Bruyn res          Italian lords-and-ladies IMG_6494© Maria de Bruyn res

Listening IMG_6499© Maria de Bruyn res

As we climbed out of the woods after a couple hours, some last words were said about invasive plants and then Ken sped ahead to greet everyone as we re-entered the demonstration gardens. He kindly offered participants a small booklet about Bill Hunt’s life, a nice gift to commemorate 50 years of the Garden. It will be interesting to think about what the next 50 years might bring.

Ken Moore Ed Harrison IMG_6524© Maria de Bruyn resrue anemone windflower IMG_6450© Maria de Bruyn res                       IMG_6466© Maria de Bruyn res

IMG_6468© Maria de Bruyn res                   IMG_6458© Maria de Bruyn res Wild comfrey (right, Cynoglossum virginianum)

Maintaining culture through plants

Burmese farmer IMG_5217© Maria de Bruyn resChapel Hill’s largest refugee community comprises three ethnic groups who fled the country of Myanmar (Burma); a number of them lived in refugee camps in Thailand before they came to the USA. Some 30 of these families have been receiving assistance since 2010 at the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, through which they are able to grow many of the plants on which they relied as farmers in their home country. The gardens they maintain not only help feed members of their families and community, but also enable them to maintain some of their original culture through dietary customs. The farm also helps the families earn an income through the crops they sell via farmers’ markets and a community supported agricultural (CSA) project wherein customers commit to buying a box of vegetables from them every week.

IMG_5230© Maria de BruynThis evening, the Community offered the general public a chance to tour their gardens and sample some of their traditional dishes, a delightful experience to be sure. When I arrived for the event, I first toured one of the plots with shared vegetable gardens. What first struck me was the large number of birds that were in the garden, including American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina), ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) and great-crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) among others.

American goldfinch IMG_5117© Maria de Bruyn res

chipping sparrow IMG_5063© Maria de Bruyn res flycatcher IMG_5075© Maria de Bruyn res

ruby-throated hummingbird IMG_5088© Maria de BruynThe air was alive with bird calls and song and as dusk fell, you could see the birds flitting from ground to plant to plant. Butterflies, like this red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), were also flying about the garden, which had a mix of full-grown vegetables and blossoms promising more crops to come.

Paper wasps (Polistes) and other insects were also plentiful.

red-spotted purple IMG_5151© Maria de Bruyn res Paper wasp IMG_5182© Maria de Bruyn res

squash IMG_5095© Maria de Bruyn res vegetable blossom IMG_5065© Maria de Bruyn res

The event was co-sponsored by The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Orange County Partnership for Young Children, and Triangle Land Conservancy, which provided the Community Farm with space in its Irvin Nature Preserve. Representatives of the organizations said a few words about their work and then we were led on a guided tour of a newer part of the Community Farm by Kelly Owensby, the Project Director, and one of the Karen teenagers participating in the project, Joe.

IMG_5194© Maria de Bruyn

We had some tasty beer, provided by a donor, and were given a bit of the Farm’s history as we walked along the path to the new section.  The 5-acre Farm is on land in the rural outskirts of Chapel Hill and, while it is a wonderful site on this 269-acre Preserve, it is not served by public transportation, a circumstance that has made it impossible for some refugee families to participate in the project. The 30 families that have managed to get there daily, in addition to their regular jobs, have made over $125,000 over the past three years with their produce sales.

pumpkin IMG_5070© Maria de Bruyn resKaren plant IMG_5139© Maria de Bruyn res

Joe told us about a Karen holiday that are celebrated by these ethnic families here in North Carolina. The wrist-tying ceremony recalls how the Karen people fled through Mongolia a long time ago; elders bind the wrists of young people by winding white thread around them three times wound three times with white string, which wards off misfortune and evil.

Papaya IMG_5176© Maria de BruynThe farmers grow some 40 plants native to Burma. These plants need to be re-planted from seeds each year since the North Carolina climate is too cold in winter for them to survive as perennials. The papayas don’t bear fruit but the Burmese refugees use their leaves in various dishes. Some of the native plants include gourds, turmeric, bitter melons, ginger, taro root, medicinal herbs and lemongrass. Plain green gourds could be seen hanging near spotted water gourds.

taro IMG_5201© Maria de Bruyn respepper IMG_5115© Maria de Bruyn res

gourd IMG_5211© Maria de Bruyn res water gourd IMG_5204© Maria de Bruyn res

Sesame IMG_5187© Maria de Bruyn resOne female farmer had begun growing sesame seed, a crop she had had in her native country and which she was very glad to be growing here. The bamboo trellises are commonly used to suspend gourds and provide shade for crops that need protection from constant sun such as ginger and turmeric.

 

 

The farmers are also growing plants native to North Carolina, such as okra.

okra IMG_5199© Maria de Bruyn res

IMG_5231© Maria de Bruyn

 

Burmese vegetables IMG_5219© Maria de Bruyn resBurmese meal IMG_5229© Maria de Bruyn res

The okra featured alongside water gourd and ridge gourd as part of our meal appetizer of vegetable tempura. We were also treated to a delicious soup incorporating okra along with lemon grass and shitake mushrooms, a delicious and slightly spicy pumpkin curry and a salad with some bitter elements that went well with the other dishes.

gourd IMG_5113© Maria de Bruyn res Karen plant IMG_5156© Maria de Bruyn res

I had told four people about this opportunity to sample Karen and other Burmese cuisine but none of them came; they missed a really delicious meal! I hope many more people attend the evening next year.

Juneteenth, historic Stagville and wildlife at Horton Grove

volunteer IMG_3788© Maria de Bruyn resSeveral weeks ago, in honor of Juneteenth, the local Triangle Land Conservancy partnered with the Stagville Foundation to inform people about the remnants of a former plantation and its surrounding meadows and forest. I attended and was indeed educated and enlightened about the local history and excited by the local wildlife.

Juneteenth (June 19th) is the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. “Historic Stagville” was once the largest plantation in the state of North Carolina. The almost 30,000 acres were tended by some 900 slaves, most of whom lived in family groups as the plantation owner families tended not to sell the laborers they “owned”.

Stagville IMG_3824© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3747© Maria de Bruyn res

Local volunteers were dressed in period costume and demonstrated Southern cooking as they prepared a one-pot (non-vegetarian) meal for visitors and a more sumptuous traditional dinner to be served to all the volunteers at the end of the festivities.

Stagville IMG_3813© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3810© Maria de Bruyn res

Stagville DK7A4791© Maria de Bruyn resThey cooked over open fires and explained which local vegetables they were using to prepare the dishes.

Meanwhile, other volunteers gave us some history about Stagville as we visited the Great Barn, one of the multifamily houses built for slaves and another home constructed by freed slaves who became sharecroppers after the US Civil War ended. The structures were produced by the slaves, who included a number of skilled craftsmen.

great barn IMG_3759© Maria de Bruyn resThe 3-story Great Barn was the largest structure of its kind when it was built in the space of five months in 1860, housing some farming tools and equipment but primarily serving as an enclosure for 75 mules.

 

 

Great barn IMG_3721© Maria de Bruyn resGreat barn IMG_3728© Maria de Bruyn res Great barn  IMG_3720© Maria de Bruyn res

slave house IMG_3791© Maria de Bruyn resThe houses for the slave families were well built with wooden floors and fireplaces. This was not benevolence on the part of the plantation owners but done from an economic perspective – it would cost less to have the workers housed a bit decently rather than to have to pay medical bills to keep them healthy enough for labor.

Slave house IMG_3750© Maria de Bruyn res sharecropper house IMG_3752© Maria de Bruyn res

A couple slaves were freed before emancipation and a very few escaped. In North Carolina, some slaves were taught to read and write and letters written by two individuals who left Stagville provide some written history about the conditions there. Today, some descendants of freed Stagville slaves still live in this area.

slave house IMG_3771© Maria de Bruyn res quilt IMG_3779© Maria de Bruyn resquilt IMG_3780© Maria de  res

deer skull IMG_3770© Maria de Bruyn resAfter the tour of the remaining buildings and seeing two quilts on display in the sharecropper home open to the public, I joined a few others for a walk through the surrounding forest. We came across the skull of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with an odd shape – the Conservancy tour guide explained that the top of the deer’s head had been sawed off so a hunter could take home its antlers.

Indigo bunting DK7A4816© Maria de BruynAfter the walk, I went on to the Horton Grove Nature Preserve, up the road from Stagville. The walking and hiking trails are all named after slave families that lived on the plantation.  For example, the Justice trail commemorates a family that included a man who was interviewed for a slave narrative project in 1937. I saw some indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), who sang loudly, a couple red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) who were collecting nest materials, and a male common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) who was having a meal.

red-eyed vireo DK7A4922© Maria de BruynCommon yellowthroat DK7A5611© Maria de Bruyn

Some great spangled fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele) were very busy feeding in a part of the meadow that was crowded with common milkweed flowers (Asclepias syriaca) in full bloom.

great spangled fritillary DK7A5377© Maria de Bruyn res great spangled fritillary DK7A5350© Maria de Bruyn res

 

great spangled fritillary DK7A5011© Maria de Bruyn resGreat spangled fritillary DK7A5052© Maria de Bruyn res

The dogbane beetles (Chrysochus auratus) were numerous and looking for mates as they trundled around on the dogbane plants (Apoynum cannabinum).

dogbane beetle DK7A5209© Maria de Bruyn resdogbane beetle DK7A5441© Maria de Bruyn

summer tanager DK7A5572© Maria de Bruyn

 

The morning ended with a brief glimpse of a male summer tanager (Piranga rubra) in the distance, a bright note to end the outing.

 

volunteer IMG_3782© Maria de Bruyn resUnfortunately, recent events in Charleston have emphasized once again that the racism underlying the system that created Stagville still exists and still leads to violence against non-Caucasian people. This blog does not intend to imply that the Stagville plantation and its heritage contribute to making my world more beautiful – what IS beautiful is the way in which the Stagville Foundation volunteers work to inform and educate others about the history that affects our current society.

We must all continue to address the aberrations of hatred and discrimination based on race (and other culturally assigned characteristics such as gender and ethnicity) and work to educate ourselves, our fellow adults and young people on the need to simply treat everyone as we personally wish to be treated — we are all part of the human race and no other “races” (should) matter.