Early November, 2013, at the garden

by Christine Hanrahan

The FWG’s November blog is up and running now (http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_november_2013). It was kick-started by some excellent photos from Robert Berry. I’ve added a few more, and there’ll be more to come as the month progresses.

Incipient winter is felt in the decreasing numbers of birds and the almost entire lack of insects at the garden now. However, one hardy clouded sulphur was still fluttering around on the edge of the Old Field, and several flies were clustered high up on the sunny walls of the interpretive centre. A small brown moth flew up from the grass near the butterfly meadow and vanished before I could get a good look. Diane says it could be either bruce’s spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) or the autumn moth (Epirrita autumnata). There will still be a few insects and spiders, but hard to find.

As for birds, a big flock each of robins and starlings made for a cacophonous din. Smaller numbers of house finches, chickadees, cardinals, cedar waxwings, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, and white-breasted nuthatches were also found. Overhead, ring-billed gulls and flocks of canada geese. We should start to see tree sparrows and other late autumn visitors soon. I’ve found the tree sparrows elsewhere around Ottawa, and I’ve heard reports of snow buntings in the area. They sometimes appear on the farm, and in the big (recently cut) crop field by the red barn.

Black-capped chickadee nest cavity in birch tree

Black-capped chickadee nest cavity in birch tree

While walking past the Ash Woods, I saw that one of the birch snags (standing dead tree), containing an old cavity nest site, had fallen and smashed into several pieces. A few years ago in winter, a downy woodpecker began to work on this birch snag looking for food. In the spring of the following year, a pair of black-capped chickadees spent a considerable time excavating the cavity as a nest site. They worked endlessly on it, ferrying mouthful after mouthful of excavated material away from the site. But after much work, they abandoned the site. When I picked up the bit with the hole (cavity) in it, it fell apart in my hands, revealing the interior where the chickadees had worked. Pretty impressive work for two small birds!

Red squirrels are very noticeable now, and chipmunks are particularly busy stocking their underground larders before hibernating for the winter (well, they are not true hibernators, but that’s another story).

***I’ve created a new gallery to show the work of participants in Barry Cottam’s photography workshop held in early autumn at the FWG. The photos are gorgeous! I really encourage you to take a look. The three best shots of each photographer’s work, selected by themselves, is posted here: http://www.pbase.com/fwg/photo_workshop_2013

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Earth Day 2013 at FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

Happy Earth Day! It was a great day to be at the FWG, sunny, not too warm, not too cool, just right to bring out all sorts of wildlife.

I saw four mourning cloaks today, three around the ash woods, one by the butterfly meadow.

Wood frogs were still calling from the pond, not in any great numbers, but it is encouraging that they are there and seemingly more frequent than in 2012.

No spring ephemerals yet in the woods, but by the end of the week, I bet they’ll be in bloom. This means that for the moment, there isn’t much nectar for insects, so the lone willow tree, covered with pollen-drenched catkins, is very important, and ditto for the few clumps of crocuses and scilla. There were many andrenid bees on the willow and in their several usual nesting spots. Honey bees were gathering pollen and buzzing around the tree were many of the bee mimicking hover fly, Eristalis.

Birds were numerous as well. A female red-winged blackbird was in the Backyard Garden; soon there will be a lot more and nest-making will commence around the pond. Also new (to me, this year) was a pair of brown-headed cowbirds. A great blue heron flew toward Dow’s Lake, and a turkey vulture circled over the red barn. The kestrel pair was very much in evidence. Anouk reported barn swallows near the locks, while tree swallows were swooping and calling constantly.

Many ruby-crowned kinglets were melodiously singing. Song sparrows were numerous. One was by the pond collecting cattail fluff for its nest. Speaking of nests, a black-capped chickadee pair was excavating a nest hole in a birch snag.

And speaking of snags, Diane found a red-breasted nuthatch excavating a hole in another snag (not birch). If this pair nests, it will be a first for the FWG and, in a way, unusual for this species, which typically nests in coniferous woods. At any rate, doesn’t this show the importance of standing dead trees, AKA snags?

I also saw a pair of red-breasted nuthatches today. One was busy excavating a cavity in a snag (this is surely the same one seen by Diane). I watched from a distance and was interested in how industrious the bird was. I could hear the quick tapping as it chipped away inside the dead tree. Every few minutes its head would peek out and wood chips would be deposited outside. Sometimes the nuthatch came out and sat on the snag, as if resting.

Let’s see, what else was seen or heard today? Dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, common redpolls still around, lots of white-throated sparrows, a few crows, house finches, american goldfinches, american robins, cardinals, starlings, hairy and downy woodpeckers, northern flicker, and a mallard in the stream running through the ravine.

Diane has some excellent bird photos on the blog. Please check them out, because they are wonderful, especially the one of the golden-crowned kinglet (she saw 5 on Sunday). She also reports seeing a belted kingfisher fly across the garden that day, as well as a pine warbler.

At this time of year, every day brings new sightings, so get out there and look! Spring doesn’t last long in our part of the world, and soon it will be sweltering summer.

More photos on the April blog