Saturday, November 3, 2018

Capricious Cuttters

Sometimes the grass cutters aren't great respecters of the naturalization areas. In the above picture they mowed a swath through the naturalization area, ignoring the "do not mow" sign.

And sometimes a minor obstruction diverts the path of the mowers and effectively expands the area left to the care of mother nature. This spring I placed a log (picture below) on the edge of the 2010 naturalization area to protect a spruce tree that had been damaged by the mowers. However, it seemed like every time I passed by, this log had moved a short distance away onto the short grass between the spruce tree and a crabapple tree. I would return it to the original spot only to find it had moved once again the next time I came by. Eventually I gave up and there it stayed, in the mower's path for the rest of the summer. That seemed to be enough of an excuse for the mowers, and they just gave up mowing the upper part of the berm. The grass grew unruly, the sumac encroached, and poplar suckers sprung up.

It was a bit of a mystery who kept on moving the log back until one day I happened upon a couple who were using the log as a private place to sit and be together.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Giant Puffball

This Giant Puffball is a particularly nice specimen. It is about 8inches in diameter, and can easily fool you that someone has lost their volleyball. Giant Puffballs are supposed to be edible as long as the flesh inside is still creamy white. This one has been there for a few weeks so I imagine it is no longer worth harvesting.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A decade after mowing ceased: still grass

I first approached Manordale Public School for help planting trees along the roadside berm in the fall of 2008. The city provided the trees and the kids, parents and teachers came out one Saturday morning the next spring to enthusiastically if not expertly plant several hundred trees. I was surprised how easily it all came together.

The main location that the city had permitted for the initial planting was a 40m by 40m plot of weedy grass that had been regularly mowed but was otherwise entirely neglected since the dirt had been piled up to make the berm around 1995. Natural selection (primarily by the field mice) was pretty rough in the first few years. Many of the trees were girdled, others struggled to rise above the thick blanket of tufted vetch and birds-foot trefoil that covered the area for the first couple of years after the mowing ceased. The result is that there continues to be plenty of areas where the grass still dominates. This year, however, with the trees growing larger and the sumac spreading I have started to view them as a bunch of connected grassy glades amongst the trees as opposed to vice versa, a bunch of young trees amongst the tall grass. It only took a decade.

The grass is hanging in tough though, only in the deepest of shaded areas has it become patchy enough that bare ground is starting to be visible. The grass will even tolerate a dense thicket of young poplar saplings. Sumac alone does not provide enough shade to suppress grass, however in a few spots the combination of a tree growing up through the sumac does suppress the grass. The spreading Red-Osier Dogwood bushes and some of the spruce trees also provide enough shade to out-compete the grass.

Some clumps of perennial plants such as goldenrod will also out-compete the grass once they are established, but what has surprised me is the relative lack of these sorts of tall wildflowers in the area. I would have expected many more of the tall roadside weedy plants to invade once the grass cutting stopped. There is some Canada Thistle that is starting to spread, and some milkweed but it is a slow multiyear process. Some wildflowers such as Clover, Yarrow and the Birds-Foot Trefoil have even declined. The only places where Bull Thistles thrive are locations where I have removed the grass in order to plant more trees.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tornado 2018

Last Friday a tornado swept through Craig Henry just north of Manordale knocking down trees and damaging many roofs. Yesterday I went over to the Bruce Pit to check out the damage to the forest there. The tornado took out the heart of the forest south of the pit there, about 30 acres of mature forest all told. As you can see in the above picture many trees were snapped off, and many more were uprooted. I find it amazing how localized the damage is. The path of destruction is only about 200 to 300 meters wide. Here in Manordale, about 500 meters south of the tornado's path, I watched the storm pass while standing at the front door. There were a couple of good severe gusts but the rainstorm was quite brief and not exceptionally heavy. I was a bit surprised that the power cut out and I only really became aware of the extent of the damage in Craig Henry and Arlington Woods on Monday.

As for the roadside berm area, I only noticed one large poplar tree knocked down close to Ben Franklin Park. I feel the roadside area got off quite lightly considering the wind gusts I saw from my house. The hybrid cottonwood poplar trees grow extremely quickly but seem to have a weak grasp on the ground.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Monarch Caterpillars

The milkweed is slowly expanding in the 2009 planting area. Whenever I pass the milkweed I am on the look out for these guys but I haven't spotted any in years. Yesterday I saw two.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tamaracks and Larches

Last week was a heat wave like we haven't had in quite a few years, and it is now threatening to turn into a proper drought. The grass in many exposed roadside areas has turned yellow from heat and lack of rain. Even these tamaracks on the sheltered north side of the berm are having a hard time in this heat. Some of their needles are turning yellow. I often call tamaracks larches which is their genus name, however, there is also a European larch that has been naturalized to eastern North America. European larches are more tolerant of warmer drier conditions than the native tamaracks that are a more boreal forest species.

Ben Franklin Park happens to have native tamaracks and European larches planted a few feet from each other so it is convenient to compare the two species there. The easiest differentiator are the cones. Tamaracks usually have an abundance of tiny cones hanging on to their branches (see below), while the European Larch has fewer larger cones (see bottom). Both larches are of course deciduous, but the European larch's needles are stubbier and thicker than the feathery soft needles of the tamarack. The bark of the tamarack is dark and very rough while the european larch's bark is a bit more scaly.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Canada Anemone

I came across a little bunch of Canada Anemone in a wet rut on the north side of the berm. A couple of years ago a hydro truck came along to clear branches from the hydro lines. It must have been quite wet as it left deep ruts that are still present to this day. The anemone are not far from a new patch of Dog Strangling Vine I found. The first plant of this new patch got established under a bush about 30m east of the patch at the end of Newhaven. I've attacked the Newhaven DSV patch a couple of times this year already. It is still as strong as when I first noticed it, but I don't think the patch has expanded noticeably except to this new satellite patch.

This spring I've noticed a lot of tent caterpillars like this one that I found hanging out on a young bur oak in the 2013 planting area. They are quite pretty when viewed singly but have the annoying habit at this time of year of hanging from a thread at head height. I was biking through a forest south of Calabogie a couple of weeks ago and they kept on landing on my baseball cap.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Guerrilla Gardening and Escapees

There is a fine line between guerrilla gardening and escapees. I think this pulmonaria is probably an escapee from the neighbour's garden but I don't know how the lone daffodil below got there. Yesterday I checked out the bloodroot and trilliums I guerrilla gardened. The bloodroot is slowly establishing itself but the trilliums are not having a good year. It seems like someone (looking at you Rabbit) is eating the flower buds. There were only two trilliums in flower yesterday while I recall seeing seven flower buds earlier this spring.

The other day I was checking out a bit of raspberry that I had planted back in 2009 on the north side of the berm. It had never amounted to much as it never overcame the grass in that area, but I was surprised to notice right by the rasperry plant some yellow trout-lily leaves poking through the grass. There isn't any yellow trout-lily on the berm east of Ben-Franklin Park but these guys must have come along for the ride when I took the raspberries from a ditch south of Barrhaven.

I was attacking the patch of dog-strangling vine today, when I happened to notice a Baltimore Oriole feeding in the poplars above me. The patch of dog-strangling vine at the end of Newhaven seems to be surviving my regular attacks on it. I don't believe I have let it set seed since I noticed it a couple of years ago yet the patch is surviving just fine either from the seed bank or from growing back from the roots.

Another rare visitor to the berm I saw last week was a little raccoon. We both froze when we spotted each other and had a bit of a stare-off until he decided that I wasn't going to get out of his way and meandered off into the trees.

In flower

  • Dandelion
  • Daffodil
  • Pulmonaria
  • Bloodroot
  • Trillium
  • Violets
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Yellow Rocket

Monday, April 30, 2018

Black Birds Back Alright!

And so it's spring. We had one last burst of winter and now a full week of warm weather has everything greening up. The first flowers on the berm in bloom are some scilla escapees from a neighbour's garden.

I think the blackbird in the foreground of this picture is a male rusty blackbird. Usually I class all blackbirds that have yellow eyes as grackles, but because this guy is hanging out with the male and female brown-headed cowbirds in the background, it is easy to tell he is a bit small for a grackle. His beak is also a bit delicate for a grackle. Rusty blackbirds breed in the northern boreal forest so it would make sense for them to be hanging out in Ottawa waiting for the snow and ice to the north to clear away.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Poplar Canker

This March never had a serious return of winter weather, with many days hovering around freezing. Now the ground is bare on the south side of the berm, while soggy snow remains on the north side. The red-wing black birds and robins have been hanging around for a while now. Spring is in the air, the chickadees are flitting around in pairs, a bright red cardinal announces his territory high up in the poplars, and geese make a racket as they fly overhead.

I can remember back in the late 80s cardinals were a rarity in Ottawa but by around 1995 they were pretty common. I found one reference (pdf) that indicates the lower Hudson valley was the northern limit of their range in 1945. So in about 50 years cardinals have extended their range by about 400km!

The big poplars on top of the berm are susceptible to cankers on their trunk that cause them to weaken, die and break. The picture above is of a canker on a yet still living tree. The broken tops of trees sometimes remain suspended as in the picture below making the forest look very messy.

This March I pulled down some of the smaller suspended tree tops like the one below. It was very satisfying exercise.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Winter Rabbits

I don't know how rabbits get enough energy from bark to keep going all winter, but somehow they do. You can see from the amount of droppings in the photo above that they tend to sit around in one spot a lot. Here one has been chomping on the big poplar that fell last fall. I've cut off its limbs so that the rabbit can reach more of them. I think it is only one rabbit that is around there. I see one fairly regularly in that area and they seemed to be quite sedentary in winter, sticking to their favorite spots.

I heard a robin and some redwing blackbirds up in the trees today. This warm spell has got them thinking it's spring.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Run for your life little squirrel

There was a bit of a thaw today so I went out for a walk along the berm to enjoy the warmth. The warmth had also got some squirrels in the mood for a game of tag. Perhaps just a warm-up game before the serious business gets underway later in the winter. They better watch out though. as almost every winter I come across the remains of a critter (see below) that didn't make it when attempting to cross this open ground between the fence line and the berm.