Monday, August 27, 2012

Garden Visitors

So, we returned from Newfoundland, and, as expected, the wildflowers in my garden truly went wild!  Essex county enjoyed some much-needed rain while we were away, and the plants really went crazy - I love it!  Kory has posted an excellent summary of our Newfoundland backpacking trip over on his blog.

I haven't gotten into butterfly id (yet), but if it lands in my garden, I will try to look it up.  Life has slowed, somewhat, since we returned home and I have been able to spend a bit of time out in our yard.

Perhaps the extra rain convinced some birds that it was springtime.  We came home 2 weeks ago to find a baby mourning dove sitting in a nest that was built (and never used) by robins months ago!

House sparrows must have nested nearby as well, likely in the yard somewhere, as we have tons of them around. Today I was watching an adult feed babies in the garden.  It always surprises me how fast the chicks grow - sometimes they seem larger than the adult!

The previous owners planted a butterfly bush in the yard - and it really does attract butterflies!  Yesterday, I noticed some activity and went out to find this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Nearby, a monarch was feeding.

A large insect buzzed past me and onto the butterfly bush.  A hummingbird moth!
Hummingbird Moth
We actually learned what this crazy insect was when we saw a captioned pic in the photography contest at last years' Harrow Fair. Thanks to that random photographer for introducing us to this guy.  What a cool moth!

Today, at about the same time in the evening, I looked out and again noticed some activity around the butterfly bush.  A Black Swallowtail was busy feeding.
Black Swallowtail
Like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail from yesterday, this butterfly is looking fairly worn.  I wonder how much longer they have to live...

Also flitting around was this Sliver Spotted Skipper.  I am trying to learn these butterflies by photographing them, so it's not the greatest pic, but it did the trick (unless I'm wrong...).
Silver Spotted Skipper

My book1 says this butterfly is around from early June to late July and here we are at the end of August.  I wonder if this is an extra generation given the early spring that we had this year... Or maybe it is common to see them in late August.  I don't know - I'm new to this!

Meanwhile, a Red Admiral was busy over on the Mexican hat plant (I have no idea if that is the real name of this plant - it was a gift from my Mom).  I remember seeing hundreds of these in the spring while we were birding at Point Pelee.
Red Admiral

Lastly, here are 2 small butterflies that I needed some help to identify.  Thanks to Jeremy and Sarah for their timely assistance!  Sitting on my Joe Pye Weed is a Least Skipper.
Least Skipper
Back over on the butterfly bush, I found this Fiery Skipper.  The book1 says that this one is "rare and erratic".

Both yesterday and today, as I was photographing these butterflies, a Ruby Throated Hummingbird flew right by me to use our feeder!  I stood in shock and watched this amazing bird hover and feed.  We have been seeing hummingbirds at our feeder for several evenings now and it's always exciting!  Kory tells me they are territorial and we have seen one bird chase another away.  I think we need another feeder!  Today, the bird was making some sounds as it flew around, sort of a short, squeaky chip!

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
I truly enjoy seeing all these creature use our garden!  I know there is so much more going on out there than I will ever see.  Hopefully over the last few weeks of summer, I will be able to spend more time in my own backyard!

1. Carmichael, I., Vance, A. (2003). Photo field guide to the butterflies of southern Ontario. Ontario. St. Thomas Field Naturalist Club Incorporated

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Couple of Caterpillars

We had my family over for a lovely barbeque last night, and located a few new visitors during the stroll through our garden.

I had to look this one up in my little caterpillar book. This appears to be an American Lady - difficult to photograph.  It was happily chewing away in my planter, eating some plant that overwintered in the pot.
American Lady

Monarch caterpillars have arrived, and are dutifully munching on my common milkweed.  Many gardeners wouldn't understand why I would allow milkweed to grow, but it hasn't been too bothersome... yet!  I like the little red bug next to the caterpillar - no idea what he is though!
Monarch, making good progress on the milkweed

We have had a baby American Robin in the yard, learning to fly under close watch of its parents.  Look at this nest location on my neighbours' house!
With the lovely weather we've been having, I've been sitting out on our deck in the evenings.  Baby robin made it up onto the deck and sat right next to my chair. A parent was out in the garden, chirping. The parent had a worm and seemed to be bribing baby to fly off the deck! Baby robin rather clumsily flew off and joined the parent under my oak tree.

A few new plants are blooming in the garden this week. This is Elderberry. I planted it as a small shrub last year and it has really taken off!  Birds (and humans) enjoy the berries.
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis

Gray dogwood is growing well in the other corner of the yard.  It also produces berries that songbirds are supposed to like.  The Native Plants and Trees website tells me that it is also the host plant for the larvae of the Spring Azure butterfly, though I haven't seen any of those around.
Gray Dogwood Cornus racemosa

The Carolina or Pasture rose also seems to be doing well.  It is a native species that should produce rose hips that creatures enjoy eating later in the year.
Rosa carolina

Finally, my Tall Coreopsis is living up to its name - already the height of my fence! Should be a great summer :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Our Garden

So, May was crazy - in a good way.  My husband and I started birding about a year ago, and this May marked our first spring migration as *real birders*.  Bird watching happened after work, all weekend, and even before work!  Sleep, housework and yardwork were all neglected.  I don't have a single picture of a bird to share, as I have enough trouble finding them with my binoculars (let alone a camera)! My husband, who happens to be a much better birder and photographer, may eventually share some photos on his blog.

Anyway, May long weekend arrived, and I decided to abandon Point Pelee to do some much-needed gardening.  We moved to this house, with its suburban-sized backyard, about 1.5 years ago.  Since learning about native plants and wildflowers in university, I have wanted to have them in my yard.  Originally, I just wanted native wildflowers, but then we got interested in birding, and so the gardening evolved to include plants that birds are supposed to like... butterflies too.  Here's what has bloomed so far this year!

Canada Anemone
My idea for this plant is that it eventually forms a ground cover around the front of my garden. One patch is doing really well - the other 2 get full sun and are slow-growing. This has been blooming for several weeks now!
Canada Anemone Anemone canadensis

I can never remember the common name for this shrub.  It is a viburnum - Viburnum dentatum, so named for the finely toothed leaves.  Birds are supposed to like the berries that it should produce later in the year. We shall see!

This lovely Nannyberry was very kindly given to us by a gardener that we met through the Naturalized Habitat Network.  It bloomed earlier in the month and I didn't get a picture. It is another viburnum that should produce berries for the local birds.
Nannyberry Viburnum lentago

This small tree continues to amaze me!  My mom gave me a chunk of creeping jenny ground cover to plant last year.  It was full of maple keys from her yard, and one took hold.  This tree has grown 5 feet tall in less than one year!!  This is supposed to be my sunny wildflower garden, and I don't really want a maple tree here, but it is doing so amazingly well that I don't have the heart to move it!  Besides, I love Silver Maples, and it will be many years before it produces any real shade (and I will have long since moved on).
Silver Maple Acer saccharinum

Here is my beautiful wild columbine.  I'm still waiting for it to attract some hummingbirds... I would probably need a much larger crop!  To date, I've seen one ruby throated hummingbird in our yard this year.  He ignored the hummingbird feeder, tried to drink from the oriole feeder, got spooked by a house sparrow and flew away :(
Columbine Aquilegia canadensis

My newest edition to the garden - wild ginger and its sexy little flower!  I have very little shade in my yard, so I'm not sure how it will do.  Hopefully, it will make a nice ground cover under the weird fancy willow-type tree that the previous homeowners planted.  Hmm, pollinated by ants or flies,  I think - I don't know too much about this one.  I believe that it is edible as a ginger substitute!
Wild Ginger Asarum canadense

Another favourite of mine - the pretty little flowers of the blue-eyed grass!  Seems to be doing well so far!
Sisyrinchium augustifolium

And finally, one that I'm not even sure is native - my evening primrose.  This is from my mother's garden, so I'm not sure if it's the native variety, but I like it anyway.
Evening Primrose ?Oenothera biennis

All in all, it looks like my garden should do well this year!  I lost track of how many native wildflowers I planted last year, but it was many!  If (when) we move, wildflowers will surely take over the yard if the new owner is not a diligent gardener, hehehe! 

For anyone interested in birds, bees, butterflies or gardening, I highly recommend planting some native plants.  Look into what plants do well in your environment and give them a try!  My prairie wildflowers are largely drought tolerant and will bloom well into the fall!

Most of my plants came from 2 awesome local businesses - Native Plants and Trees and Wheatley Woods.  Both websites have great pics and info about plants native to my area (Southwestern Ontario).

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Devonwood part 2

Devonwood Conservation Area in Windsor was hard-hit by the Emerald Ash borer.  The conservation authority cut down the dead ash trees to prevent them from falling on people.  The cut wood remains, hopefully providing habitat for some insects and small creatures.  I have never been to Devonwood in the spring, so I'm not sure what wildflowers are present there, but perhaps they will benefit from the increased sunlight.

Signs of spring were everywhere on this walk.  This long, thin bud is that of a nannyberry shrub (Vibernum lentago).  I planted one of these in my garden last year - we'll see how it does.  I'm hoping the fruits attract some birds, although humans can eat them too!  The single tree I have in my yard isn't likely to yield enough berries to make jam...

These are the male catkins of a hazel (Corylus species).  This shrub produces edible hazelnuts.

Butterflies were active in the warm subshine.  I saw 1 Mourning cloak and 2 Eastern Comma.  The 2 Eastern comma were flying around together, and both species seemed to be fighting for the best place to sun themselves on this fallen log. 

Mourning Cloak

Eastern Comma
Both of these lovelies would have spent the winter in the area as adult butterflies.  They might have found shelter in a tree cavity or behind some loose bark.  The Mourning Cloak is looking a bit worn - but I think it's amazing that they can survive the winter.

Finally, here is a very bad picture of what I'm fairly certain is a sharp shinned hawk. I counted 2 of them flying around the woods.  Sharpies and Cooper's hawks always amaze me with the way they can zip through a dense forest.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Oaks at Devonwood Conservation Area

Yesterday, I went for a walk with the Naturalized Habitat Network to Devonwood Conservation Area in Windsor.  It was a beautiful, sunny day with above normal temperatures.  Windsor hit 16 degrees Celcius!  Devonwood is a small conservation area surrounded by development.  It is home to 8 species of oaks (red, white, black, swamp white, chinquapin, pin, shumard and burr), including some very large Shumard oaks.

Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) is a member of the red oak group, preferring low, wet, poorly drained clay sites.  It often has buttressed roots and may grow to 30m in Ontario 1.  The bark is grey-brown, and appeared smoother than other oaks. 
Shumard oak bark

The Pin oak (Quercus palustris) also prefers wet soil.  Pin oak is recognizable by the tendency for lower branches arch downwards.  These branches die and eventually fall off, leaving "pins" attached to the trunk 1
Pin Oak

This next picture shows the pale grey, fissured bark of a mature white oak, one of my favourite trees.  White oak (Quercus alba) prefers drier sites where the soil has better drainage.  This tree at Devonwood is located on an area of slightly higher ground just next to the trail.
 White oak can be identified by the massive branches spreading from a short trunk. 
White oak wood is very strong and resistant to rot.  It was used in barn construction, and for the mast of tall ships (similar to white pine) 1, 2.  Rum, whisky, and Louisiana Tabasco sauce are aged in white oak barrels 2! This beautiful tree species can live for 500-600 years 1.

Finally, Burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa) can also tolerate the seasonal flooding that is so common in the woods of Essex County.  The bark is deeply furrowed.

I definitely want to go back to Devonwood once the trees start to flower! 

1. Waldron, G. (2003). Trees of the carolinian forest: a guide to species, their ecology and uses. Ontario. Boston Mills Press.


2. Blouin, G. (2001). An eclectic guide to trees east of the rockies. Ontario. Boston Mills Press.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rondeau and Erieau

On the family day holiday, my husband and I drove over to Rondeau Provincial Park. What a beautiful, sunny day!

We headed to Tulip Tree trail with hopes of seeing a pileated woodpecker.  The pileated stayed hidden, but we did see tufted titmouse, white breasted nuthatch, black capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, and red bellied woodpecker.  The titmice were very vocal, both calling and singing! The Essential Field Guide Companion (1) tells me that titmice sing year-round. They search tree trunks for insect larvae, and are able to open seeds and acorns by holding them with their feet and whacking them with their bill! I just bought this book (Essential Field Guide Companion by Pete Dunne) and it is great to learn more about the birds we're seeing.

Tulip Tree trail is short (1.4km) and much of it on boardwalks over a low-lying forest. Perhaps this will be a good place for prothonotary warblers in a few months?

tulip tree samaras

We saw several tulip trees (Liliodendron tulipifera) both from the visitor centre parking lot and along the (appropriately named) Tulip Tree trail. These tulip-shaped structures remaining on the tree are the fruit, known as samaras.  The tree will flower in June, but the flowers can be difficult to see because the tree is so tall. It is the tallest of the Carolinian tree species found in our area (2).

This red-bellied woodpecker appeared to be foraging around on the ground.  We just started birdwatching in May, and this behaviour was new to us.  

Red-bellied woodpecker
We took a walk through the campground area where we heard a blue jay that seemed to be quietly singing a finch's song!  We also happened upon several dark eyed juncos and 3 yellow-rumped warblers.
Rondeau campground
After leaving Rondeau, we drove over to Erieau and scanned the marina where we saw hundreds of American Coots.  I find them fun to watch with their laughing call and their distinctive white bills!

American Coots
A wonderful day!


(1) Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: a comprehensive resource for identifying North American birds. New York. Houghton Mifflin.

(2) Waldron, G. (2003). Trees of the carolinian forest: a guide to species, their ecology and uses. Ontario. Boston Mills Press.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Petite Cote Conservation Area

This conservation area is indeed, "petite" (at least the part of it available for exploration)!  There is a nice, new boardwalk and an observation tour.  The area appears to be a monoculture of phragmites.

This downy woodpecker was busy making his way through the phragmites. He would work his way up the stem, around, and back down before flying off to a new stem.  I love the way woodpeckers use their tail for stabilization as they feed!

Kory and I had a great day exploring the county.  We saw 10 great blue herons and a great egret in River Canard, house finches were singing, and song sparrow flew into the phragmites. Even though we haven't had much of a winter, it feels to me like spring is just around the corner!