Let’s Talk About DSV

By Ted Farnworth

As a regular of the “Friday morning  group,” I have become accustomed to the routine. We all work for one and half to two hours and then enjoy a coffee break. Actually it should be called a coffee and cookie break as there are always several tins of tempting goodies – both home-made and store bought. The gathering starts with announcements and updates, and then turns to a wide range of garden-related and non-related topics.

This past week, while we were squeezed down to one end of the table, the topic of tools to combat DSV came up. It was obvious that many people had given this subject much thought – DSV being a common preoccupation for just about anyone who helps out at the garden. Tony said that he was mulling over some sort of tool he could make that would cut the roots sufficiently to kill the plant. Lynn mentioned that a friend of hers had found a garden tool that she thought would be useful. Lynn continued and wondered whether a dandelion digger would work.

It was agreed that mincing the roots appeared to be one way of killing the plant, but getting the root crown out was probably most important. Whether a dandelion digger would do this or not was questioned. I wondered out loud if the stem of the emerging plant would be thick enough to allow the digger to pull up the root ball. I offered to bring in our digger next time to see if it worked.

So the next day, I am in the back of my yard after the rain had stopped and saw something that made my heart skip a beat or two. There was my dreaded enemy. Actually quite a large patch of my enemy – DSV! Now that I have taken such an interest in DSV, there was no doubt what it was. How it got there I don’t know. But here was my chance to try out the dandelion digger method on DSV control.

We bought the digger a few years ago at Canadian Tire and it has done wonders on the dandelion population in our yard. It works best after a good rain. If you are lucky, the whole root, sometimes almost half an arm’s length, can be pulled from the ground. The key part of the digger is the movable jaws at the bottom that close in on the dandelion and allow you to pull it out without breaking the root.

digger and pulled DSV

digger and pulled DSV

The question was: would it work on DSV? Here is what I found.

For just about all of the DSV plants I tried it on – small and some a good size, the digger was able to clamp onto the root ball and pull it entirely out. Because the root ball starts out small and is close to the surface, the jaws have enough to pull on to get the entire root ball out. It was quick and easy, and the amount of soil disturbed around the DSV plant was small. Yes the soil was nice and wet so the root came out easily, and yes most of the plants were still small, but it appears that this dandelion digger may be a good weapon to add to our DSV arsenal.

So the mid-morning break can be more than just a time to relax, socialize, chat, and eat cookies.

jaws of digger

jaws of digger

DSV pulled with digger

DSV pulled with digger


Birds and insects in the rain at FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

Dodging the rain showers and gusty winds, I spent several hours walking around the garden looking for birds, plants, insects… Naturally, the latter were scarce and had to be looked for under leaves, huddled against stems and branches, seeking shelter from the rainy weather. I did see a pretty common spring moth in the Backyard Garden (BYG), but it flew off before I could photograph it. If you are interested in seeing this black and white beauty, there is a photo from a few years ago here.

Also in the BYG, one of the impressively large green blister beetles with vivid orange legs. Elsewhere, a few flies, including a syrphus sp., some bumblebees, and a few of the tiny Publilia treehoppers with their attendant ants. In another week, these insects should be more numerous.

One of the benefits of sometimes letting a week go by between visits is that you can be properly astonished by the sheer rate of plant growth, something that is less startling when you visit the site daily. Thus, last week I saw the small comfrey plants sitting a few inches above the ground, and today they were fully grown with flower clusters opening. It was quite a transformation of the land, both along comfrey alley (near the pond) and of course, elsewhere. Where oaks were putting forth tiny soft leaves last week, now they are big and bold, ditto for the black maple leaves, and indeed for most of the others. Bloodroot is long gone, save for the leaves, and the trilliums are on their way out. Mayapples are in flower (look under the leaves for their large white blooms).

In the BYG, there are yellow lady’s-slippers, drifts of blue forget-me-nots, the tiny native dwarf iris just starting to flower, and the two similar Geums, prairie smoke and water avens, both in flower with a few going to seed.

Gray treefrogs are calling from various spots around the garden.

New bird arrivals since my last visit include gray catbirds, least flycatcher in the ravine, great-crested flycatcher in the new woods, common yellowthroat (a warbler), a ruby-throated hummingbird vigorously chasing a tree swallow (!), and a lone male canada warbler foraging for insects on an apple tree. I got a great look at this beauty with its black “necklace.” Canada warbler is considered a species at risk, federally and provincially, having undergone a long-term decline. Very sad.

Other birds noted include barn swallows, tree swallows, chickadees, nest-building cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, grackles, robins, a couple of ravens who flew over to Carleton U, where they must be nesting, crows, mourning doves, goldfinches, phoebes still on nest (good), yellow warblers, starlings, baltimore orioles singing from every corner of the garden, and a roof full of rock pigeons (red barn). No sign of either kestrels or green herons today. A mockingbird was seen by others in recent days, but not by me, alas. These birds turn up at FWG and the adjacent Arboretum every few years.

On a more sombre note, the small rototilled area in the old field is thickly carpeted with garlic mustard seedlings. Seedlings of other plants are there too, but the mustard dominates. Also making an unwelcome reappearance is lamium. This common garden plant spreads rapidly and is very hard to get rid of once established. It has been at that location for about 12 to 14 years, another legacy of the temporary leaf dump, which also gave us celandine, though the latter is not a problem here. The lamium, I confess to having in my own garden, because its silver and green foliage lights up shady sites, and it grows where a lot of other things do not. It also has very pretty yellow flowers in spring. However, let it escape into a natural site and it can become a nuisance. Indeed, I expect there are gardeners who wish they’d never let it into their gardens!

Lots more photos on the May Blog

Mid-May 2013 at the FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

It was a blustery, coolish day at the garden, but as always, there was much to see.

Starting with birds, the kestrels were flying around the barn, a green heron flew to the pond, red-winged blackbirds, tree swallows, chickadees, yellow warblers, song sparrows, one lone white-crowned sparrow, both hairy and downy woodpeckers were all found. Robins were bathing in the Backyard Garden pond (they love the dripping water between the top and bottom ponds); goldfinches, cardinals, a lone raven, and crows were also around. South of the ash woods, a couple of barn swallows were swooping low across the field.

New arrivals since my last visit are baltimore orioles, whose song and calls could be heard across the garden and the Arboretum, and warbling vireos. The phoebe continues with nesting duties, but I didn’t see or hear the red-breasted nuthatches and hope that their second nesting attempt is successful.

The garden is awash with blossoms at the moment, from the creamy perfection of hawthorn, wild plum and choke cherry, to the pink and white of apple blossoms and the soft hues of lilacs. Too bad these are all so ephemeral because it is quite the sight to see.

nomada bee

nomada bee

Naturally, these blossoms attract insects, particularly bees and flies. Also attractive to insects are the dandelions, that much-hated plant (although not by me and I’m sure not by anyone who appreciates the little creatures that so widely use it as a nectar source). A tiny Nomada bee was so still on a dandelion that I finally got a few photos (at left). Normally, these bees fly fast, non-stop just above the surface of the land, seeking the nests of Andrenid bees on which they are parasitic. They are often called cuckoo bees for this reason.

Also on dandelions were Andrenids, a few hover flies and the vividly coloured little native lady beetle, Coleomagilla maculata. Despite their small size and prettiness, these beetles are fierce predators. I’ve seen them tearing open spider sacs to get at the spiderlings, and I’ve also seen them walking behind the Galerucella beetles (used for biocontrol of purple loosestrife), eating their freshly laid eggs! And of course, they eat a variety of other critters. Their larvae are predatory on aphids, as so many lady beetle larvae are.

The cold weather of recent days brought frost one night and the tender tops of the dog-strangling vine were all damaged, at least those in the open were. But, sadly, this does nothing to stop their rapid growth.

More photos on the FWG PBase galleries, in the May blog

Growing Like Weeds

By Ted Farnworth

023 (2)“They grow up so fast.” I’ve heard that said several times in the past couple of weeks after the arrival of my first grandson, Benjamin Edward. Yes, “our Ben” has been putting on steady weight since his premature arrival, but his growth pales in comparison with the dog-strangling vine (DSV) growing in the ravine at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Just last week there were a few cute green shoots peeking up from the soil (see Delicate green monster). This week, the few have become many, and the green shoots are now taking on the characteristic DSV appearance.  They are growing fast as this photo (right) will illustrate.

Once they get started, the root system explodes, and it is no wonder the plant takes off so quickly.

025 (2)
Hence, the thinking behind the shovel method of control. If the growth of the roots is supporting the rapid growth of the plant, mincing up the roots around the stem with a shovel could hopefully kill the plant. That’s the theory anyway. We will see how well this approach works in the coming weeks.

So, it looks like I will have my hands full just trying to keep a small plot in the ravine DSV-free.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher and more at the FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

I arrived at the FWG at 5:30 this morning, a major effort for someone like me, normally a night owl. I’d hoped to hear a dawn chorus of migrants – warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and so on. That didn’t happen. Until the sun came up fully, the only birds singing were robins and a few song sparrows, joined by some calling crows and one lone tree swallow twittering over the pond.

A green heron arrived just about on schedule. This one was calling from various locations - breeding season is here and he wonders where the female is.

A green heron arrived just about on schedule. This one was calling from various locations – breeding season is here and he wonders where the female is.

However, once the sun peeked over the treetops, activity picked up. Female red-winged blackbirds busy with their nest-making, tree swallows swooping and calling across the garden, song sparrows all over the place. Recent arrivals include several singing yellow warblers and a very vocal green heron. The heron flew into the big walnut tree by the pond, on top of which the male kestrel was perched, and commenced calling. He then flew off to the ravine, the woods, and the slope overlooking the canal, calling constantly.

The phoebe’s nest is now just about complete, and the birds were heard in the ravine and Backyard Garden. As mentioned before, they are a new nesting species for the FWG. Another new nesting species, red-breasted nuthatches, had started a nest in a most unsuitable location, but soon vanished from that site. We thought they’d left the garden, but not so. They are now nesting in a more sensible site, a cavity about 20 feet up in the ash woods.

In addition to many more common birds singing and flying around the garden, I saw a very neat bird, a new addition to our list: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. As I stood eating an orange, thinking how nice it was before the heat of the day took over, I became aware of an unusual call. It took a few seconds before I realized, “holy smoke, gnatcatcher.” I saw it for about 3 minutes as it flew after insects and moved from tree to tree, eventually vanishing in a westerly direction. Although I looked for quite awhile, I didn’t see or hear it again. I did manage to get a pathetic photo which I’ll put on the blog.

One green frog was in the BYG pond early this morning, but there may well have been more as the day warmed up. I forgot to go back and check. I hoped to hear American toads trilling, as they were doing last week, but neither they nor gray treefrogs were calling while I was there.

Two mourning cloaks and two spring azures were flitting around near the ash woods, and nomada bees, small carpenter bees, honey bees, bumble bees, andrenids, and so on, were nectaring on the wild plums. Even a snail was oozing its way up the plum tree. We have considerable thickets of this Prunus species, and at this time of year they are a magnet for insects. In the past, I’ve found butterflies also visiting them.

A red squirrel was exhausted by all the activity taking place in his home. Or at least, that is how I anthropomorphically interpreted his pose. A few minutes before, he’d been sitting hunched up, as above him four male cowbirds were carrying on – screeching and fluttering and making a to-do. Eventually they left, and he ventured out along a branch, when in came a yellow-rumped warbler, almost landed on him, and began hopping along a branch just over his head. The squirrel sank down in an exhausted pose, nose to the branch, as if to say, “I give up!”

Everything is leafing out and, in some cases, flowering has just about finished (already). The unusually warm weather has hurried everything along at top speed, as if making up for lost time.

Lots of photos in the May photo gallery here:

Delicate Green Monster

by Ted Farnworth

So it looks like winter has finally given up and there are signs of spring all around. We are starting to see birds, small animals, and plants at the Fletcher Garden that we haven’t seen since winter descended on us last fall.

DSV spring 2013A quick survey of the ravine showed that some plants are starting to wake up. I then took the time to look a bit closer and saw this (photo).

It looked so green, fresh, and delicate. This is what spring in the woods is all about. As I cast my eyes around, I started to realize that this small sprout was actually not alone; I could see quite a few green heads poking up through the dry soil. And then it hit me. Unless I was mistaken, I was looking at the early stage of our dreaded enemy Dog Strangling Vine (DSV). At this stage it looks so weak, fragile, and vulnerable. How deceiving!!

Since I had “volunteered” to start a small test plot to determine whether the technique of cutting around the base of DSV to kill the roots would help battle this vicious invasive species, I will be starting to patrol this part of the ravine more regularly. The technique of cutting the roots appears to have worked at another site in the garden, although it is very labour intensive and may be only a short-term solution.

So, fresh, delicate, green or not, I’m about to start striking back. My DSV program is about to start. DSV get ready for my DSV – Deadly Shoveling Venture!

Look but Don’t Disturb

by Ted Farnworth

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is a place to find insects, plants, animals, and birds in a natural setting, in the middle of the city. Sometimes it takes a sharp eye to see some of the critters that visit the garden, and sometimes they pop up where you don’t expect them.

Regular visitors to the Interpretation Centre will remember the mother robin who last year decided to make a nest on the hydro box under the arbour at the entrance to the IC. She was very quiet and didn’t move too much once she had set her eggs, and so many people passed right by without seeing her.  Robins aren’t the only bird that often make nests under awning, or eve troughs or other sheltered areas, even when this means that they are in clear sight, once someone spots them. You have to wonder why they do it.

And of course that presents the dilemma. If you see a nest in a high traffic area, what should you do? I know last year many people in the volunteer groups knew she was there.  I also know that by the end of the plant sale, she was gone. Did she have her babies? Did we scare her off?  Not sure. It’s now May and I haven’t seen her yet.

But again this year there has been a lot of activity around the IC – this time it is a pair of Pheobes. Again they have chosen a spot to their liking, not necessarily the best in terms of human traffic going by. On the south facing wall of the IC there is a security light that appears to be the future site of a phoebe nest.

My main purpose in posting this note is to caution people. The fear is always that the publicity will attract people. Let’s hope that we can find a way of enjoying the birds in the garden without scaring them away. Successful nesting of robins, phoebes and other birds prove that we all understand and practice the policy of “look but don’t disturb.”

FWG on May 1, 2013

by Christine Hanrahan

It was our first real scorcher of a day at 25 degrees C (anything above 15 C is a heat wave to me). I was expecting to see butterflies, even perhaps a few spring azures, as I’ve seen them elsewhere recently, but no butterflies showed themselves to me. However, bees were abundant! Bumble bees, nomada bees, various andrenid bees, sweat bees, scores of all of them. They were nectaring on magnolias, scilla, daffodils, and the few willow catkins still with pollen.

Many of the birds that were present in good numbers last week have left to carry on their migration. Still present are a few white-throated sparrows and juncos. I also saw many song sparrows, goldfinches, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, a male kestrel with a meadow vole, a sharp-shinned hawk flying above our interpretive centre, many tree swallows, one pursuing the kestrel! White-breasted nuthatches, but the red-breasted nuthatches seem to have given up on nesting in the snag. Not a bad idea, as it was a terrible location.

However, exciting news: a pair of eastern phoebes are building a nest above one of the security lights on the side of the building. I watched for some time as they went back and forth with tiny bits of moss and other plant matter, carefully placing each bit on top of the light, fussily moving the pieces around until just so. Such laborious and lengthy work – quite impressive. Whether they actually nest remains to be seen, but so far, so good. Last week, they were exploring the nest site the robins used in 2012, on the front of the building. Fortunately for them, they thought better of it. If they do nest, it will be the first nesting record for phoebe at the garden.

Speaking of nesting, red squirrels have been using some of the bird nest boxes for years. Typically, they take over ones that birds no longer use, usually because trees have grown up around them making them difficult for swallows to access, but perfect for squirrels. We have many bird boxes up and I reason that, if we leave the old ones hidden by trees for the squirrels, they’ll leave the other ones alone. So far this has worked well, and everyone is happy.

Bloodroot - These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

Bloodroot – These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

In the woods, bloodroot is in full bloom. Each year new clumps grow up, thanks to ants who help transport the seeds. Red trilliums are about to burst open at any moment. Other flowers can’t be far behind. I mentioned magnolias – the two magnolias in the garden are in bloom and beautiful to see.

Photos were added to the April blog over the last week, including some beautiful bird photos by Diane. I added a shot of a red squirrel feeding on a mouse. Not particularly pleasant to see, and I admit I felt a bit queasy taking the photos. I posted the least offensive one! Of course, reds are omnivores, and while vegetable matter makes up a good proportion of their diet, they will eat birds and other small mammals that they catch. They are also scavengers, eating dead critters when times are tough.

April blog

More photos on the new May blog