Mid-September at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

Where DOES the time go? Here it is, past the mid-way point in September, on the downslide to October. That autumn feeling is really seeping in with the colour changes in the leaves, the business of birds fuelling up for journeys south, and bees nectaring like mad on the dwindling supply of flowers.

Having been away for a week, I stopped in at the garden to see what was what this week. Many of the goldenrods are fluffy with seeds now, but the various asters are in bloom still. Those goldenrods still in flower were very busy with locust borers (long-horned beetles), bumble bees, honey bees, sweat bees, etc. However, it is apparent that insect numbers are dwindling and for those of us who are addicted to looking for them, we will soon be in the midst of withdrawal, waiting until spring for the first few to appear again. Except for those few critters that can sometimes be seen in winter, such as winter fireflies, winter craneflies, and a few more hardy insects.

Twenty-spotted lady beetle

Twenty-spotted lady beetle

A new insect for our list is the twenty-spotted lady beetle, very tiny at around 1.5 to 3 mm. It is unusual in being a fungus and mildew feeder. In my own garden, I have found a large number of these lady beetles in all stages, larva, pupa, and adult, on mildewed leaves of sunflowers. At first glance they look like very tiny versions of the fourteen-spotted lady beetle. They are common, but so tiny and with a habit of hiding under leaves, that they can be tough to find. I bet they’ve been at the FWG for years but we’ve just not noticed them before.

Dogwood calligraphic beetles are still present, as they have been all summer. These belong to the Chrysomelid family, a group that contains some of the most beautifully coloured and intricately patterned beetles. As their name suggests, they are closely affiliated with dogwoods, in particular red-osier dogwoods. There are many species within the Ottawa region, but at the FWG we’ve found only two.

While on the topic of dogwoods, they are a good shrub for attracting many insects, not necessarily in the destructive sense. Many creatures seem to like hiding amongst the flowers, and now the fruit, or on or under the leaves. If you look carefully, you can sometimes find tiny clusters of stinkbug eggs, probably those of the Banasa stinkbug which is so commonly found amidst the fruit. Nannyberries too are good shrubs to explore for insects, and alders are even better!

I watched a large mixed group of chipping sparrows and american goldfinches having a grand time eating the seeds of coneflowers in the butterfly meadow. Elsewhere they were picking off thistle seeds and the seeds of lamb’s-quarters. Speaking of food… does it seem to you that there are fewer walnuts on the black walnut trees this year? Which can mean a tougher time for the squirrels who depend on them.

A red-tailed hawk is once again at the garden. Every autumn for years we’ve seen this species appear and hang around the general vicinity of the garden all winter long. The farm fields provide good hunting, and the trees, shelter. White-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, robins, catbirds, an eastern phoebe, mallards, and crows were some of the other birds encountered in my short visit.

The September blog is here: http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_sept_2013, and contains four pages of photos thus far, including some lovely shots by Diane and Sandy. Please check it out.

Early September at the Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

How time flies. Here it is, early September, with all the signs of approaching autumn now firmly in place. The old field is full of asters and goldenrods, the latter already losing their bloom. Fruit is heavy on the vine and tree, some of the sumacs are turning vivid red, and of course, birds are migrating through the area, as they have been and will be, for some time.

I made it my mission to look for the very neat little green tortoise beetle. This pretty creature feeds on thistles and so I checked dozens of thistles for the characteristic signs of feeding tortoise beetles. I saw only a few such signs, but they could have been made by other insects too, and sadly, no beetles. I did, however, find a striped garden caterpillar, a member of the huge Noctuidae family.

On the black maple north of the ash woods, a cicada exuviae was about seven feet up on a twig. These shed nymphal skins look almost alive at first. Watching a cicada emerge from them is quite amazing. They come out backwards and hang suspended in a horizontal position for some little while before finally climbing out and clinging either to the skin or the tree. Their wings are little nubs at first, and their bodies look terribly soft and vulnerable. But quicker than seems possible, their wings elongate and soon they are full size, but pale green. Before much longer, the wings dry, turn translucent, the body hardens, and voila, the cicada is ready to fly. Its sole purpose now is to mate. Diane photographed a beautiful adult perched on an obedient plant and this can be seen in the September Blog.

Two hummingbirds were nectaring on the monarda fistulosa in the butterfly meadow and when not doing that, were zipping around all over the place. They have to be THE most enchanting little birds to watch, and feisty for their size! Small flocks of robins, big flocks of american goldfinches (now that nesting is over, they are congregating, adults and young) feeding on thistle and other seeds, and smaller numbers of cardinals, chickadees, song and chipping sparrows were also seen.

One of the impressively large giant swallowtail butterflies floated out of the open area north of the ash woods and into the ravine. Other butterflies included an eastern tailed blue, a couple of ringlets, and about 4 each of cabbage whites and clouded sulphurs.

Bumble bees are out in force now, gathering great quantities of pollen from goldenrods. The plants are alive with their wonderful buzzing, redolent of summer days, even as fall approaches. With the first frost, all these worker bumble bees will be killed, only the mated queens surviving to hibernate over the winter, ready to begin a fresh colony in spring.

It is intriguing how the landscape of the garden changes from year to year. Not usually in dramatic ways, unless trees have been removed either by nature or by us, but in small ways, probably not perceptible to those who don’t focus on the place the way we volunteers do. I mentioned changes in other notes, and yesterday I was struck by the huge patch of jewelweed or impatiens, growing up through the flowering raspberry on the edge of the old field. First time that has happened there.

Speaking of plants, those later summer-early autumn reliables, the goldenrods and asters, and the white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), as well as obedient plant (Physostegia) and sneezeweed (Helenium) are absolutely gorgeous right now. In the ash woods, white snakeroot and zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) are lighting up the dark places, and it always surprises me that these plants, both of which do well in garden settings, are not more widely planted for late summer colour in shady spots.

More photos on the September Blog, including a beautiful set by Diane, as well as the impressive ‘bee condo’ created by Sandy south side of the ash woods.

http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_sept_2013

Christine’s Walks: Insects found in the 3rd week of October at FWG

The end of summer signals also the end of insect life – or does it?

While summer is the peak season for insect activity, warmish days in late October can be surprisingly good for finding a variety of bugs, bees, beetles, flies and other creatures, including spiders. Over a period of two days I spent a few hours seeing what I might find at two locations, one being the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (20 October), the second (22 October) a much larger site near the Ottawa River in the east end of Ottawa. During this second foray, I was with two friends and three pairs of eyes made searching even better.

Not all insects nectar on flowers, but many do, so I always make a beeline, so to speak, for any clump of still blooming flowers. While at first glance it may seem there is nothing feeding, it is quite surprising what eventually reveals itself the more one looks. I also check under leaves, particularly if the temperature is cool, and I look amongst leaf litter, on rocks, the sides of buildings, wooden fence posts, and a variety of other places, all of which can, with patience, yield various insects and spiders at this time of year.

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