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

Mowing strips and garden beds

by Sandy Garland / FWG

Brick mowing stripRegular visitors to our Backyard Garden may be wondering what we are doing along the edge of some of the flower beds. Until recently, most beds were edged with a double row of bricks. This “mowing strip” allowed the lawn mower to run along with one wheel on the brick path and trim the grass right to the edge. Nice and easy for the volunteers who mow.

BUT, the volunteers who maintain these beds complained that it was very difficult to weed between the bricks – in fact impossible, and weeds kept growing back as fast as they were pulled out. Others added that the bricks did not create a very “natural” look in a wildlife garden.

dirt stripSo, out they came! To help the mowers, we are trying to replace the bricks with a packed strip of soil around each bed. Time will tell whether this solution works for everyone.