Friday, December 29, 2017

December Crows 2017

The crows are back this December. I counted hundreds flying overhead each evening before the snow got thick on the ground. Now that the snow is thicker I see small groups hanging around looking for food but I don't notice the long streams of them flying east each evening. It could be that I'm just not spending as much time out in the bitterly cold weather.

We had a beautiful fluffy snow fall over Christmas and now we are enduring a proper cold spell of -25oC nights and -15oC days. The above picture is a meadow vole's breathing hole. You can see the ice crystals that have formed at the edge of the hole where the warmer air from their nest hits the colder air above the snow. The snow is very fluffy, and it is evident from the lack of tracks that they have just poked their head above the snow to keep the hole clear but haven't left the safety of their tunnel. According to this paper I read, 2 to 3 meadow voles huddle together in a nest for warmth with several nests forming a cluster. I noticed several holes in the vicinity of this hole; I wander if each of these holes is associated with a single nest chamber.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Last Leaves

Red Oaks seem to be the last trees to let go of their leaves. This oak tree is getting to be a really handsome tree.

We got our first snow and first proper freeze-up last week. I put the seven bitternut hickory nuts I found along the beaver trail in the ground just in time. I hope I have better success with these nuts than I did with acorns last year. I suspect the acorns I planted might have been eaten by squirrels so I hope planting these hickory nuts just before the ground froze gives them a chance.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Comings and goings

I went for a walk on the berm last Thursday and found a new tree seedling I hadn't noticed before. It superficially looks like a small sumac but I believe, after consulting my tree ID book, that this is actually a Black Walnut sapling. Where the nut came from is a bit of a mystery as the closest walnut tree I know of is at the corner of Cox and Majestic. I did recently find a new walnut nut in the long grass of the 2009 planting area so they get there one way or another. Perhaps a squirrel relay team was involved. I acted the squirrel and properly buried the nut I found.

The heart shape leaf scar and fuzzy bud in the above picture along with the long pinnately compound leaves lead me to identify this as a black walnut however when I compared the leaflet to a leaflet from the black walnut on Majestic the sapling's leaflet is significantly larger.

Coming back along the berm I noticed one of the large cottonwood poplars planted on the top of the berm in 1995 has recently fallen down. It is quite an impressively large tree for just 22 years of growth. It was 85 feet high. Its trunk lies completely across the width of the 1995 planting area with the canopy lying in the 2009 planting area. Its fall took out a couple of understory trees in the 1995 area but most of the damage in the 2009 area is on the sumac which will recover.

Milkweed Tussock Moths

Milkweed Tussock Moth

This story begins by my house earlier this summer when I noticed a bunch of tiny fuzy caterpillars munching away on the leaves of a milkweed growing under the lilac. Every once in a while I checked how they were doing and eventually they completely consumed the first plant and started on its neighbour. By then they were big enough to be identifiable as Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars and I started worrying that they were going to consume the entire milkweed patch. One day in late August I noticed there were only three left on the last leaf of the milkweed patch. I decided to make an intervention and took the three out to the roadside berm area where I new there was another milkweed patch. The next day I noticed a couple more caterpillars wandering around looking for food so I decided to take them over to their brothers on the berm. To my horror when I got to the milkweed patch one of their brothers that I had left there the day before was being consumed by three shield bugs and more shield bugs were on the prowl around the milkweed. I couldn't leave my new charges there so I was the new not-so-willing owner of two Milkweed Tussock caterpillars. I stuffed fresh milkweed leaves in the box and in a few hours the pair had consumed half a leaf. Over the next few days I stuffed fresh leaves in to be turned into caterpillar poop but eventually noticed the new leaves weren't being touched so I checked for my charges and found one had already formed a fuzy little cocoon. I took the contents of the box and left it where the milkweed patch was under the lilac in hopes that maybe a moth or two will emerge next spring.

I had never noticed these caterpillars before and had previously always assumed that only Monarch caterpillars ate milkweed leaves. I don't think I've ever spotted a Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed but I keep on looking in hopes of spotting one one day. This was a relatively good year for monarch butterflies I think. I saw way more this year than I had in the previous two years. This might have been a good year for Milkweed Tussock Moths as well, as I've spotted a couple more caterpillars on different milkweed patches along the berm.

Last Thursday I visited the berm and noticed that the milkweed pods were opened and spreading their seeds in the wind. I never noticed before what time of year the pods opened.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bumble Bees and Lady Bugs

Back in mid-September I passed by the Japanese Knotweed as it was in flower and noticed an incredible number of bees attracted to the flowers. The bush was just covered in a swarm of insects. I never knew it was so incredibly popular.

There is just one bunch of invasive Japanese Knotweed in the area; it is along the fence line and the mower that comes by each fall keeps it in check. In terms of invasives, it isn't the worst out there as it rarely produces viable seeds and the most common way for a knew bush to get started is through a piece of root being moved either by humans or by some other natural agency. Dog Strangling Vine is the worst, I had just as much of it to clear this year from the patch at the end of Newhaven as I had in the previous two years, and noticed another patch about 20 meters further along the forest border.

The bird house I put up last fall wasn't a great success this year. I saw a woodpecker check it out and she increased the size of the hole, but she didn't stick around. This fall I made a couple of modifications in hopes that it is more successful next year. I gave the inside of the house a flatter floor, previously I thought it was a good idea to have a sloping floor so that there would be good drainage but perhaps birds want a flat floor for their nests. I also put a new piece of wood over the hole to reestablish the old smaller hole size and added a perch in front. Birds might not need a perch but I figure it might give the house a bit of "curb appeal".

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More from the test plots

Cross Orb-weaver on lamb's quarters

This cross orb-weaver hanging out in the test plots is a pretty guy. Let nature take over a small plot for a year and that is where you will find all sorts of fantastic beasts like this.

A katydid on ragweed

Lamb's Quarters and Ragweed are two more really common roadside weeds that I haven't mentioned in this blog before because they just don't show up much unless you have a disturbed site like the test plots where the ground is bare. One interesting fact I learned about lamb's quarters is that it was one of the foundations of eastern north america's prehistoric agricultural revolution and is still commonly cultivated in some areas of India.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Small pink flowers found in the testplots

Pennsylvania Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum)

Northern willow herb(Epilobium ciliatum)

The testplot area by the road is really helping me extend my knowledge of roadside plants. Getting rid of the grass allowed all sorts of disturbed site weeds to thrive which don't usually grow along here because of the competition from the grass. I find Pennsylvania Smartweed growing sometimes in the crack between the curb and the pavement along my street, but I haven't until now taken the time to identify it. I hadn't noticed Northern Willow Herb before. The plant in the testplot area was small and low to the ground but I later saw another one down by the Manotick Locks that was 4 feet tall and holding its own amongst the wild parsnip and goldenrod.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Prickly Lettuce

Prickly lettuce flowers

The Prickly lettuce plant looks quite similar to a sow-thistle before the flower heads start to appear, the big difference at that point is the row of spines down the midrib of each leaf. Once the flowers start to emerge it looks quite different, as instead of a few upright dandelion-like flowers they have several nodding pannicles of buds that once they flower stand upright in a wide spray of flowers and seed heads(see picture at bottom). The flowers close-up shop early in the day so when I usually come by in the later afternoon they are all closed up. I had to go out to the test-plot area at midday on purpose to see the actual blooms.

Prickly lettuce leaf with spines down the rib

According to the wikipedia article, this is the closest wild relative of our cultivated lettuce although it doesn't look very similar. It is supposed to be edible, but has a milky white sap that is quite bitter. I wouldn't put it in my salad.

A couple more july flowers


Narrow-leaf plantain

Monday, July 31, 2017

A few native wildflowers

Most roadside wildflowers aren't native to North America so it makes a nice change of pace to point out a few that are actually natives

Canada Fleabane(Conyza canadensis)

Spreading Dogbane(Apocynum androsaemifolium)

Milkweed(Asclepias syriaca)

Some Pink and Purple July Flowers

Himalayan Balsam(Impatiens glandulifera) likes moist areas like the banks of Pinecrest creek

Deptford Pink(Dianthus_armeria) is a delicate little flower

Bitter-sweet Nightshade(Solanum dulcamara) is quite poisonous

Lady Bells(Campanula rapunculoides) are pretty but very hard to manage

Burdock(Arctium minus) have pretty flowers but are better known for their very large leaves

Chicory(Cichorium intybus)

Thursday, July 27, 2017



Gray catbird

These guys make quite a racket when you go by.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Three Clovers

There are three common clovers along the average roadside. White clover is the common clover in mowed grass with white flowers and a white chevron on the leaflets. Red clover which to my eyes really has purple flowers is much larger and grows in unmowed areas and verges. the leaflets of red clover is more diamond shape and a more irregular blotch in place of the clear chevron of white clover. The third clover is called Alsike clover, but I think of it just as pink clover as its flowers are pink. It also grows best in unmowed areas but it isn't as large as red clover. Its leaflets do not have a white mark on them

White Clover(Trifolium repens)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Alsike Clover(Trifolium hybridum)

The roadside test-plots look to be testing Alsike clover as a roadside ground cover. Currently the area is left unmowed and many of the test-plots are rather weedy. The plots really look like a bit of a mess with a load of weedy flowers growing up to man height and some of the clover is turning brown. Perhaps some of the particulary weedy plots are control test plots. The nicest bit of the test plots are along the edge of the test-plots where the unmowed yarrow is blooming and smells like honey. In the picture below the honey bee is really appreciating the banquet the test plot is providing.

Honey Bee on Alsike Clover in test plot area

Friday, July 21, 2017


I've been meaning to find out the identity of these tall dandelion like flowers for years. They are a very common road-side flower and on the way up to the Laurentians last week the roadside was covered in them. The one in the above photo is growing in the experimental area beside Hunt-club, but there has been a patch of them by the 2011 planting area for years. They don't seem to spread easily into established grass or meadows as they haven't expanded into the 2011 planting area since the mowing stopped

Flowers of Smooth Perennial Sow-thistle(Sonchus arvensis) with Sow-thistle Aphids

Lower leaves of the perennial sow-thistle

As can be seen in the top photo they grow quite tall. There is another shorter spiny annual sow-thistle species that is less than a meter tall and has smaller flowers. A whole bunch of it is growing in one section of the experimental area but it has already finished flowering so I didn't get a picture. A picture of the leaves is below.

Leaves of the Spiny annual sow-thistle(Sonchus asper)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Misidentified flowers

This blog is really a journal of my progress learning about the natural world around me. Sometimes I make basic errors, thinking I know more than I actually do. Looking at the above picture I would have said I could identify all the flowers there, as I see them all the time. They are the common mix for god's roadside garden in July: Queen-Anne's Lace, purple vetch, birds-foot trefoil,philadelphia fleabane, and yarrow. But I wasn't quite right on at least two of those IDs. My field guide is sometimes quite stingy with pictures and the main page on fleabanes highlights the philadelphia fleabane not the Annual fleabane(Erigeron Annuus) which is a better match for the common flower around here. As for purple vetch, well that is what I've always called that since I was a young lad, which is a perfectly good descriptive name, unfortunately that name is taken by another species of vetch and the common vetch we have around here is called Tufted vetch(Vicia cracca). I've still got lots to learn.

Annual fleabane(Erigeron Annuus)

A bumble bee on Tufted vetch(Vicia cracca)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Black Medic

I've never been exactly confident on my identification of this common lawn plant as Black Medic(Medicago lupulina) since my guide book doesn't give a good sense of its size and there is another common flower that is very similar but with flowers that are 2 to 3 times larger. So in the above photo notice the tiny syrphid fly; those little guys are a bit smaller than mosquitoes. Around here, this is a "weed" in lawns that thrives where the grass doesn't do well, like by the sidewalk in my lawn. As it's green and can be mown, it is welcome in my lawn any time.

I finally took the time to go through and figure out what it was using the web. There are 3 species of hop clover that are very similar to black medic. Since it isn't the right time of year to see the seedpods the identifying feature that nailed it for me was the tiny spike at the end of each leaflet on Black Medic. A couple of websites pointed this out as a way to distinguish black medic from its look-alikes. The look-alike I find around here (that really doesn't look very similar when you compare the real thing side by side) is Hop Clover(Trifolium aureum). Below are close-ups of the two flowers

Black Medic (Medicago lupulina)

Hop Clover (Trifolium aureum)

Friday, July 7, 2017

More rain

I visited the north side of the berm today for the first time in a few weeks and got caught in a sudden thunderstorm while wandering around checking out all the new growth. This has been a very wet spring and for about a week at the end of June there wasn't a day without a good rain. I'm sure the trees aren't complaining but I'm ready for a dry spell. In one particularly damp, mosquitoey area there is a bumper crop of buttercups flowering.

Buttercups as far as the eye can see

The timothy grass was in bloom and it was attracting some sort of fly. About half the grass stalks had their own fly hanging out on them, presumably feeding. In previous years I've noticed that this grass is very popular with the two-spotted plant bugs (one is out of focus at bottom of photo) , but I hadn't noticed these flies before.

A fly on timothy grass

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil(Sulfur Cinquefoil)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Trip Down Pinecrest Creek

Manordale and Huntclub Road is at the southern edge of the Pinecrest Creek Watershed, so a drop of rain that falls here has a fair chance of eventually getting into the creek. It is a highly urbanized creek and it only emerges from the storm sewers north of Baseline road. Last weekend I went for a bike ride down the creek to the Ottawa River and snapped the above picture. My real agenda for writing this blog post however are the white flowers in the foreground. I can never remember what they are called, they superficially look like Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot but on closer inspection turn out to be Cow Parsley, also called Wild Chervil. A couple of closeup pictures with my new camera below: