Thursday, March 29, 2012

Catkins on the Aspens

Catkins on trembling aspen

The weather turned seasonally cool this past week after an unprecedented March heatwave the week before where temperatures reached the high 20s for several days. The warm weather gave all the trees a tremendous head start on spring. Above is a picture of a trembling aspen covered in catkins taken last Sunday.

There are a couple of dozen small Aspen saplings sprouting up in the 2010 naturalization area on the west side of the crab apples. They sprout up from the roots of the neighbouring trees and can grow 4 feet in a season. The saplings that made a start in 2010 are already about 8 feet high. They will soon provide some shade for the maples planted there. Aspens are a natural pioneer tree species that grow quickly but do not tolerate shade. They help other more shade tolerant trees get established though by creating the forest ecosystem conditions that allow other species to thrive. The sunny meadow-like conditions of the naturalization areas is an ideal setting for aspens but not so ideal for many of the species such as the maples we planted there. The maples would have preferred a forest soil of thick rotting humus with partial shade where they didn't have to compete with grasses and vetches and where there weren't quite so many hungry voles looking for a nice snack to carry them through the winter.

Below is a picture of one of the trunks of the aspen saplings where some galls have formed. These galls are likely due to the poplar twiggal fly The galls don't seem to hurt the tree and I don't want to damage the tree by cutting into one of the galls. Aspens are susceptible to a number of cankers that may get their start where a tree is wounded.

galls on twig of trembling aspen

Friday, March 23, 2012

Starbellied orbweaver catches a ladybug

starbellied orbweaver

Here is a close up of a starbellied orbweaver eating a spotted lady beetle. The starbellied orbweaver has a uniquely bumpy abdomen. Below you can see the buff coloured abdomen with its spikes. It looks a bit like the end of a stick, which I suspect is a bit of defensive camouflage as when it noticed me it stayed at the branch tip and tucked its thorax and legs down so all you see is its wood coloured abdomen. This species creates a regular web however the one I spotted only had a few web fragments left.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thin legged wolf spiders

Thin Legged Wolf Spider
Here is a closeup of one of the common small brown spiders scurrying over the grass. I believe it is a type of wolf spider of the genus pardosa, pardosa moesta being the most likely in the These little guys, are about 6mm long and according to the info are spiders who do not spin nets. Instead they hunt for food through the long grass. Female wolf spiders carry their egg sack as they hunt and when the eggs hatch they let their offspring ride the back of their abdomen until they are old enough to fend for themselves(See Spiders of Ontario).

One mystery is where all these small spiders spend the winter that they are so ready at the first warm day in spring to go out hunting.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meadow vole droppings

Meadow vole droppings
The snow has disappeared from the south side of the berm revealing the meadow vole runways and the damage they did to the trees. The damage in general doesn't look too bad, the most damage was in the bushy area. Several bushes, particularly serviceberry bushes were attacked. The meadow voles evidently spend a significant amount of time at their feeding because they leave a considerable pile of droppings below every bush that is damaged (see above).

I planted groups of 4 serviceberry bushes last year instead of planting them separately. This was in hopes that the meadow voles would either spread the damage between the plants or that the voles would be satisfied with only some of the canes and leave the others. That is sort of a herd strategy where the plants find safety in numbers. Voles are said to be territorial, therefore planting the bushes in a group means that only one group of voles would attack the bushes whereas if each plant was planted separately each one would be in a separate group's territory and, since serviceberry is a favorite food, likely heavily damaged by the voles of that territory. I also was careful to wrap the plastic spirals around the best branches, although as the first year proved that isn't always effective since voles will dig down and attack the roots. It looks like we may have some of the bushes survive, but it is too early to tell how much damage was done to their roots.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Squirrel tracks in snow

It is really starting to look like spring out there, at least on the south side of the berm. I even saw some small spiders crawling over the grass yesterday. I've been meaning to make a post on squirrel tracks in snow similar to the rabbit tracks post but I held off in hopes of getting a picture of a squirrel actually visiting the berm area. Frustratingly the squirrels haven't obliged. So before spring gets much further here is a picture I took earlier this winter of a squirrel's track he left as he hopped through a fresh dusting of snow.

Rabbit and Squirrel tracks in snow Here is a photo I took last week of the north side of the berm. It is still winter on the north side and you can see the tracks of a dog, a squirrel and a rabbit running up and down the berm. You can clearly see the tracks the rabbit made as it ran up the hill (on the right). It puts its front paws one after another. The middle tracks are from the squirrel as it hopped through the fresh snow. The squirrel planted its front feet beside each other as it bounded over the snow. The tracks of the back feet are almost on top of the front feet prints leaving a much more compact set of tracks.

There haven't been that many squirrel tracks on the berm behind Kelvin this winter. There isn't much to eat except a few crabapples and I suspect the squirrels are mostly hanging out in backyards getting a free lunch at a bird feeder. I've been on the lookout for a squirrel or squirrel tracks along the berm for over a month, ever since I found squirrel remains where some predator caught himself a meal. There haven't been any squirrel sightings and few tracks. I've concluded that squirrels have been only infrequent visitors to the berm area. Rabbits have visited even less frequently, the above tracks being the first I've noticed heading towards the top of the berm in a long while.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A redwing in the poplars

Today was the first really warm day in over a week and the snow was melting fast. Walking along I was on the look out for a redwing blackbird. I heard this fellow before I spotted him high up at the top of a poplar. It isn't the best picture because he was so high up. The eastern cottonwood poplar trees from the 1995 planting are amazingly tall trees now just 17 years after they were planted. Last summer a wind storm knocked a few of them down, and the year before a dead trunk fell down into the 2009 planting area. Perhaps in another 17 years the current giants will no longer be here. They don't seem to be a very vigorous suckering plant. There is one sucker growing in the 2009 planting square, and another in the 2010 west side area. There are loads more suckers of the other species of poplar invading the 2010 and 2011 planting areas. I believe those poplars are trembling aspens. On the 2010 west side and in the 2011 planting area past Newhaven, the aspens are sprouting up so quickly and densely that they are liable to crowd out the new maples if I am not careful. These aspens sucker vigorously but the parent trees in the 1995 planting area are only half as big as the Eastern Cottonwoods growing beside them.

Actually, I'm not certain that the larger poplars are true eastern cottonwood poplars. I suspect they are a hybrid commercial variety that has been selected for its vigorous growth. Eastern cottonwoods are not native this far north being more a tree of the Carolinian forest.(Poplar identification, pdf with more details). The trees do carpet the ground beneath them with masses of cottony fluff when they disperse their seeds in summertime though, so I will continue calling them cottonwoods.