Food for birds and other wildlife at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

I thought it might be interesting to compile a list of all the natural food sources around the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, used by wildlife. I include only plants on which I have actually seen birds or other wildlife feed.

Many are obvious, of course, the crabapples, mountain ash, wild grape, sumac, and cones of various conifers. What I find interesting, and hope you do too, is the number of weedy plants that are used by wildlife, mostly birds, and mostly sparrows, finches and chickadees. Plants such as lamb’s quarters, cow vetch, brome grass, and so on, many with tiny seeds. Unfortunately, while I have many photos of birds and squirrels feeding on the big stuff… the cones and tree fruits, for example, it has been difficult to photograph birds on the weedy plants. They fly away the moment I come withing photographic distance.

The list given below can surely be added to, and surely I have forgotten some plants too! Please let me know if you have seen wildlife feeding on a species not listed below. By leaving the weedy plants standing over the winter, we are providing a wide and varied food source for our local wildlife.

The asterisk * indicates a non-native species.

*Amaranthus (Amaranthus sp.)
*Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense)
*Amur maple (Acer ginnala)
Ash seeds (Fraxinus)
Birch catkins (Betula)
*Brome grass (Bromus inermis)
*Buckthorn, both species (Rhamnus cathartica, R. frangula)
*Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
Canada elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
*Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)
*Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
*Common burdock (Arctium minus)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
*Common plantain (Plantago major)
*Cow vetch (Vicia cracca)
*Crabapples (Malus spp.)
Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
*Curly dock (Rumex crispus)
*Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Juniper (Juniperus)
*Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)
*Mallow (Malva moschata)
*Manitoba maple (Acer negundo)
*Mullein (Verbascum thapsis)
New england aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
*Peppergrass (Lepidium densiflorum)
Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
*Red clover (Trifolium pretense)
Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
*Sow thistle (Sonchus)
Speckled alder (Alnus incana)
*Spotted lady-thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
Spruce spp. (Picea)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima)
*Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
*Timothy (Phleum pratense)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea)
*White clover (Trifolium repens)
*White sweet clover (Melilotus alba)
Wild grape (Vitis riparia)
Wild lettuce, Canada and prickly (Lactuca canadensis, L. scariola)
Wild raspberry (Rubus strigosus)

 

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Early December at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

hairy woodpecker work on ash trees

hairy woodpecker work on ash trees

by Christine Hanrahan

December 4, a mild day, with the merest hints of snow. A day to visit the FWG and look for blog subjects. Apart from the many squirrels, it was pretty quiet. A small flock of house finches in the Backyard Garden (BYG), several cardinals, a couple of crows flying over, several juncos also in the BYG, and of course, black-capped chickadees all over the place.

Although I saw no hairy woodpeckers, their presence at the garden is very discernible. Just take a look at the poor old ash trees, which once again show the very distinct signs of hairy woodpecker feeding (photo at right). The woodpeckers, of course, are looking for the emerald ash borer larvae. The birds are not killing the trees, as is sometimes thought; the trees are on their way out, killed by the very pretty emerald green Buprestid beetle (a.k.a. Emerald Ash Borer).

Grey squirrels were especially busy refurbishing their treetop nests, ferrying big clusters of leaves, by mouth, up to their various nests. A few small piles of rabbit scat here and there, and fresh fox tracks across the pond, were the only other signs of mammals.

Wandering around, you’ll notice that under many manitoba maples, the snow is littered with remnants of keys, evidence of much feeding by squirrels. All of the most favoured wild food is vanishing fast now, and what is left is either the inedible or the stuff that is used as a last resort. Many crabapples still have luscious looking clusters of fruit. Some will eventually be eaten, but others never will be. Some of these cultivars are purposely “designed” to make the fruit unappealing (inedible) for wildlife, thus allowing the trees to retain their colourful fruit throughout the winter.

More info and photos on the blog here:
http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_dec_2013

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

Mid-August at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

Mid-afternoon at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, August 14th. A sunny and pleasant afternoon to be looking for things to photograph for the PBase Blog. My first sighting was of the Sphex ichneumoneus, the great golden digger as it is sometimes called, nectaring on swamp milkweed. Its counterpart, the great black digger, S. pensylvanicus, is often more numerous, but both are large and impressive.

Other insects found include numerous Acutalis treehoppers, one of our smallest treehoppers, tiny little green and black insects, usually found on the stems of plants such as goldenrod. The large (for a planthopper), Acanalonia bivittata, with its distinctive shape, is easily recognized. It is bright green, with reddish eyes and a dark stripe down its back. It also comes in a vivid pink form, something I’m still hoping to see. The large swathe of Monarda fistulosa, our beautiful lilac-coloured native species, in the butterfly meadow, is alive with bees and other nectaring insects, including a hummingbird moth and a very tattered silver-spotted skipper. The big Bicyrtes sand wasp, smaller mud daubing wasps, sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ragweed beetles, goldenrod leaf beetles, the predatory larvae of green lacewings sometimes called aphid lions because of their propensity for feasting on aphids, pennsylvania leatherwings (soldier beetles), tiny ragweed fruit flies, and a host of other insects can be found on the abundant flowering plants around the site.

In addition to the skipper, lots of cabbage whites, a few white admirals, and several newly emerged ringlets, the second generation in our area, were also seen.

Birds are vocal and active, with broods of young following the adults, calling and begging for food. House wrens are especially vocal these days, as are catbirds and song sparrows. Robins, baltimore orioles, chipping sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, cedar waxwings, and many other birds are very noticeable right now. While our tree swallows have long gone, barn swallows can still be found swooping over the garden. Shrubs such as elderberry and tartarian honeysuckle are providing much food for birds. Diane and I watched a cedar waxwing guzzling down the fruit of the honeysuckle as if he couldn’t get enough!

It is fascinating to see how the vegetation changes from year to year. New plants appear in odd spots, others vanish. All the annuals found last year in the old field’s rototilled section, have gone, but in their place scores of the biennial evening primrose (native plant), some big scotch (or bull) thistles, much beloved by insects, especially bees, and a variety of other species. The native wild cucumber plant is sending its sprays of creamy white flowers up in various spots including in the old field area.

There are lots of photos on the August 2013 Blog here:
http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_aug_2013

Be sure to visit so you can also see the great photos submitted by Diane and France, who photographed a gorgeous giant swallowtail at the garden on August 15.

FWG in early July 2013

by Christine Hanrahan

Despite coolish temperatures and gray skies, there was much to see at the garden today.

House wrens busy feeding young

House wrens busy feeding young

Birds are VERY active feeding their young. I watched a pair of house wrens constantly carrying food to their nest. Meanwhile, a male common yellowthroat sounded the alert when I inadvertently walked past his nest site. He was joined by catbirds, a red-eyed vireo, one of the house wrens, song sparrows (one carrying food), all agitated by my presence and scolding loudly. The kestrel pair were flying above the new woods, calling and swooping as if deeply alarmed. I walked over to their nest box, but could see nothing around that site, so not sure what they were upset about. The great crested flycatchers continue to hang around near the pond.

Butterflies were, not surprisingly, few on such a day, but I did see half a dozen european skippers, a few cabbage whites, and the first hairstreak of the year (at least for me) – a banded hairstreak.

Chrysomelid beetle case made of poop

Chrysomelid beetle case made of poop

I made it my mission to go on a poop patrol today. No, not for doggie scat, but for insects who use their excrement in one way or another. Larvae of Chrysomelid beetles in the Cryptocephalinae subfamily make their larval cases of their own poop, and as they keep adding to it, it gets bigger and bigger. Still with Chrysomelid beetles, many larvae in this family pile their frass (poop) on their backs, perhaps to protect them from predators, perhaps to provide cover, or both. And I was successful… you can see shots of both of these on the July photo blog.

Also found: many asian ladybeetles ready to chow down on the aphids on so many plants. A tiny bronze Buprestid beetle, lots of juvenile grasshoppers, syrphid flies, bald-faced hornets nectaring on figwort (which they seem to especially like), and so on and so on…

The June photo blog has a wealth of recently added photos from Diane and Barry. Some stunning shots in there, so please check it out.

Also one night late in June, Barry, Diane and I went mothing at the garden. Not many moths, but some interesting other insects. Photos of some of these are on the PBase gallery, and moth photos taken by Diane will be posted to our moth gallery over the coming week.

By the way, we have passed the ONE MILLION mark, our FWG site having been viewed 1,015,801 times as of today.

June 4, 2013 at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

Tuesday afternoon at the garden, June 4th, and a lovely day to be wandering through the FWG.

Mating pair of silvery blue butterflies

Mating pair of silvery blue butterflies

Silvery blue butterflies were fluttering around in many locations, including this mating pair near the new woods. Common ringlets were indeed common that day but hard to photograph as they land low down in the vegetation much of the time. One posed briefly, however. Cabbage whites and a couple of hobomok skippers completed the butterflies I saw.

Still on insects, bumble bees were busy around the lupines, as were a few honey bees. I think the red squirrel, resident in one of the big roosting boxes, depleted the honey bee population over the winter. They made the mistake of deciding to make a hive in the box, and this spring when Barry and I checked it, the honeycomb was largely eaten and the bees were absent, likely also eaten by the red squirrel (these mammals will eat just about anything).

Mason bees are using the AAFC bee boxes, and a number of other bee species (Halictids, Andrenids, etc.) were actively feeding. Spittle bugs are mostly noted by the presence of their “spittle” on plants. These are actually protective coverings for the nymphs, keeping them moist, as well as hiding them from predators. There can be anywhere from one to four or more little nymphs inside these damp cases. Eventually the cases harden (they are a mix of fluid and a waxy secretion from the nymphs) and the nymphs have to create new ones.

Dame’s rocket is abundant. Yes it is not native, yes it can be invasive, but for the moment, the beauty of the flowers when seen en masse is stunning. This member of the mustard family is a common garden plant in Europe and is well liked here by pollinators. Claudia notes that she recalls it being planted in the BYG long ago to attract butterflies, but it was then weeded out, probably because it produces so many seeds. She thinks that may be where the plants we now see all over the garden, originally came from.

Various flies, including syrphids (hover flies), tachinids, root maggot flies, and so on, were found throughout. Not only are many syrphids excellent and important pollinators, but their larvae are formidable predators of aphids. A bit later in the season, carefully check out colonies of aphids and look for the flat larvae of syrphids working their way through them.

Green lacewing

Green lacewing

Also found, a couple of green lacewings. These beautiful insects in the order Neuroptera (Nerve-winged insects) are almost ethereal in appearance, with their golden eyes and see-through lacy wings, which of course, give rise to the common name. But their larvae are fierce predators of aphids, sawfly larvae and other insects. I have seen a single green lacewing larva work its way quickly through a colony of rose sawfly larvae, which are twice or three times its size!

All the usual birds are busy breeding now: yellow warblers, chickadees, cardinals, robins, house finches, etc. The phoebe is doing well, and I was happy to find a house wren nest. A lone cedar waxwing was near the birch grove, while a turkey vulture circled the garden overhead. The kestrels are still in their usual spot, so all is right with the world.

Isabelle (far left) and Renate (far right) showing members of the Ottawa Horticultural Society around the Backyard Garden

Isabelle (left) showing members of the Ottawa Horticultural Society around the Backyard Garden

On Tuesday evening, members of the Ottawa Horticultural Society came to the garden for a walk. There were two tours, ably led by Sandy (the first one) and Renate (the second one). Backyard Garden (BYG) habitat manager, Isabelle, gave Renate’s group a good intro to the BYG. Isabelle and I then hung around the BYG, keeping the centre open, and directing any stragglers onward to the tour.

Just as I was about to send this email, I rec’d one from Diane with some excellent photos which I will post to the blog very soon. There is a great shot of the pretty California calligrapha beetle and a golden image of the lovely syrphid Spaerophoria, a small, elongate fly, which is not at all easy to photograph. I’ve tried in other areas of Ottawa recently, but none of my photos comes close to the one you’ll see from Diane. There is also a very neat photo of a little scentless plant bug, new for our list of insects.

See more photos on the June Blog

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

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:
www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_may_2013

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