Sunday, December 9, 2012

Snowy December

Today is the earliest sunset of the year. Hopefully yesterday's snowfall stays around to brighten up the rest of the winter. I only learned last year that the length of the solar day varies over the course of a year due to the earth's axial tilt to the celestial equator. The solar apparent noon varies by as much as 16 minutes from noon over a semiannual cycle. In Ottawa, in November the solar noon is about a quarter of an hour before noon while in February it is about a quarter of an hour after noon. At the equator where there is always about 12 hours of sunlight, the earliest sunset occurs in early November, but because our hours of sunlight, this far north, are still shortening in November sunset continues to get earlier and earlier even as solar noon moves back towards the clock noon.

In the foreground of the above picture you can see several clumps of poplars that have sprung up on the north slope of the berm. These suckers have grown about 20 feet over the past four summers since the mower was banished from the slope. They are already starting to shade the trees planted on the slope in 2009. The planted trees may have to put up with some shade for a couple of decades, but that is the way of natural succession. The sugar maples will still be relatively spindly in 20 years time. The ones planted in 1995 still look like they could be toppled by a couple of blows with a good sharp ax. Poplars are very fast growing but short lived trees. you can see in the background of the above picture one of the parent poplars, planted in 1995, had already grown into a large substantial tree before it was blown down by a wind storm this summer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Midges in November

The first snowfall of the season fell yesterday. Late November, before the snow flies, is a pretty dreary season and the insect photography opportunities are quite limited. The one bug I have been seeing lately are mosquito like insects hovering around small trees and bushes. As late as last Thursday I saw one hovering around this basswood. More often there are a whole bunch of them bobbing up and down in a little cloud. From what I've read on the internet what I was likely seeing were male midges trying to find a mate.

Midges are a new insect for me. I had always thought that midge was just a generic term for small annoying flying insects, now, thanks to the internet, I have learned they are a family of insects (Chironomidae) that resemble mosquitoes but don't bite. They are very common; large swarms of males are often seen hovering over or just to one side of a bush or tree limb. They spend most of their life as aquatic larvae; the adults don't eat but only live long enough to mate and lay eggs. Finding midges in November isn't surprising as many midges species are cold tolerant; some will even appear in winter to mate. That is an amazing strategy to avoid predators; just appear once the predators have all either died off or have gone into hibernation. It also probably makes it easier to find a mate in the brief time they have before they die.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Last fly of the year

Flesh Fly (Family Sarcophagidae)

It was a nice cool sunny November day today when I visited the roadside berm. This fly, here sunning himself on a buckthorn leaf, was the only bug I saw. I expect he'll be the last fly I'll see this year.

The leaves are mostly off all the trees revealing the under-story of european buckthorn that keep their leaves much later than most other trees or bushes. In the above picture you can see the modest little thorn bracketed by the two terminal buds of the buckthorn twig. Next year the buds will branch out leaving a small thorn at the crotch of the branch. In the picture to the right you can see the small thorn at the crotch plus a couple of the juicy black berries that are an easy way to identify the bush. Not every bush will have berries, so the thorns at the end of twigs are a better winter marker for this invasive bush. In the summer the upsweeping veins on the leaves are an easy identifying feature. The only other tree I know that has similar leaves is an apple tree. In the 2009 area there are a couple of volunteer seedlings that look a bit like european buckthorn. One is indeed european buckthorn (see below) but the other is an apple seedling.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin Harvest

It seems a bit late to be harvesting pumpkins for Halloween, but the farmers across the road were busy today bringing in their pumpkin harvest. I only mention it because of the curious sounds coming from across the road this fall. I have been hearing what, to my inexperienced ear, sounds like a shotgun coming from the fields of the experimental farm. I don't think it is an actual gun as it happens too regularly each evening and I don't believe guns are allowed inside the greenbelt. My speculation is that there is some sort of noise maker on a timer set up to scare off the geese from the field of pumpkins.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ground Crab Spider

Ground Crab Spider(Xysticus luctans?)

I went out for a walk one sunny day last week to see if there were still any insects to photograph about. I found this guy hanging out at the top of a dry grass stalk. It is quite a challenge to identify a small beige spider from the bug guide as not too many amateurs bother to submit photographs of modest little critters like this. This guy however has a bit of yellow on the abdomen and some markings that are quite distinct so I hoped I could make an ID.

The way she held her long fore legs together reminded me of a crab spider so I just browsed through the page after page of crab spiders in the bugguide website hoping to get lucky. I was lucky, someone has already submitted photographs of a spider that has almost identical markings to this guy. It was identified as a Xysticus luctans ground crab spider but as a recent ESC blog entry reminds me, it often takes a specialist and close inspection of the genitalia to properly identify down to the species level. The big problem I have with this ID though is that I found her at the top of the grass spinning some thread. That's not what I expect from a spider called a ground crab spider!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Green Grass and Fall Colours

After four summers the 2009 trees actually have a few leaves this year to contribute to the fall colours. Perhaps in a couple of more years they will be more than just a few blobs of colour in a field of long green grass.

I've been pulling back the grass from the base of the trees again this fall but I haven't seen much evidence of voles. I don't really know if pulling the grass back from the trees is doing any good; perhaps there just aren't as many voles for some reason or perhaps the earth around the tree roots has compacted so much that it isn't a particularly desirable place for voles to make their home anymore( at least compared to the root balls of first year transplants).

I've noticed that the grass this year is easier to pull away from the trees than it has been in previous years. It seems less dense with fewer grass plants per square inch. Where in previous years I could grab so much grass in a handful that it would be physically hard to pull up, this year I can tear a handful out pretty easily. That is unless it is a fescue. A fescue is a course grass with wide rough-edged leaves that forms clumps. I'll invariably pull up a sod of earth if I grab a handful of fescue. I'm not sure which type of fescue it is but it looks pretty much like meadow fescue according to this linked identification guide. The other common grass I'm pulling away from the base of the trees is kentucky bluegrass. I can tell it is a bluegrass from the boat prow shaped tip of the grass blade. Kentucky bluegrass grows quickly in cool weather, and is one of the first grasses to develop seed heads in spring. It has a second growth spurt in the fall long after the seed heads have disappeared. The lush green grass in the above photograph is primarily due to the renewed growth of the bluegrass.

The third most common grass in the field is quack grass. It is a perennial and is forming several large patches. The fourth most common grass in the area also forms patches that persist from year to year. It is an as yet unidentified 7 foot tall perennial grass that looks a bit like a fescue. To round out the list of common grasses I've noticed, Timothy is quite common but doesn't form large clumps. I've also identified some meadow brome and orchard grass growing in the area but they don't seem to be very common.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ashes before the invasion

A White Ash (the yellow tree)

I went to a meeting about the Emerald Ash Borer (pdf) last week. It seems like this is the year that this nasty bug went from being a small infestation to a general epidemic for the Ottawa area. It was first found in eastern Ottawa in 2008. There have been predictions that it will wipe out all the ashes but for a few years if you weren't in the affected areas it didn't seem to be spreading very quickly. Now, this fall, the report is that it has spread to all parts of the city including the rural areas. The prediction now is that if you want to save your ash trees you should start giving them the expensive TreeAzin biannual injections next year.

So far the Manordale-CraigHenry area has been lucky but according to this map the first cases have been found in this neighbourhood. Ashes weren't planted along Hunt Club Road in the 2009 to 2011 tree plantings as we knew the ash borers were coming but ashes make up a significant portion of the trees planted in 1995. I went out the other day to inspect a few of the ashes to see if I could find any of those D shaped holes that the adult Emerald Ash Borers bore out in order to escape from the tree. I didn't find any holes but I didn't really expect to as I don't think they have reached here in significant numbers yet. I'll keep a look out next summer for the adults.

The ash trees in the 1995 planting area are about 6inches in diameter and are just starting to get their distinctive deeply furrowed bark. They aren't the largest most vigorous trees and tend to be out-competed for sunlight by the silver maples and the poplars. Some of them have died off already. I inspected under the bark of one of the dead ones but I didn't find any tracks indicating it was a victim of the ash borer. In the above photo you can see the yellow ash tree only gets enough light because it is at the edge of the wood, otherwise, it would be thoroughly dominated by the still green maple tree. I'm not sure that competition is the entire story though, one ash tree in a good open location along the forest edge died two years ago for no apparent reason. That is the one I searched without success for evidence under the bark of the ash borer.

Although the ash trees in the 1995 area are likely goners due to the emerald ash borer's eventual arrival, they have already cast their seeds and there are a multitude of seedlings growing up on the north side of the berm. I am more hopeful of their survival. First, they will hopefully be still too small when the height of the infestation hits the area. Second, I hope the parasitoid wasps will come in time to save the day for these small seedlings. US scientists have introduced three different types of wasps that are the natural predators of the emerald ash borer and that are able to naturally control their population in northern Asia. One of the panelists at last week's meeting said he hoped to see some balance brought back to the EAB population in five to ten years time. That would be too late for today's trees but it gives hope that today's seedlings might still have a chance.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Under the old oak tree

As you can see in the above picture, the grass grows very poorly under the oak tree. The red oak has created a semi-circle of bare earth where nothing much seems to grow. The problem isn't uniform; it is mostly on the south side of the tree, which also happens to be the downhill side of the tree. Even though this lawn area has full sun for much of the year, moss grows on the bare patches of earth. Most mosses like acidic soil so the tree is most likely somehow making the soil acidic. It is striking that it is only on one side of the tree. The mower prevents leaf litter from accumulating below the tree and what acorn, leaf and twig litter that does fall from the tree should equally impact the lawn on the north side of the tree where the grass looks healthy. Therefore I don't feel it is the organic matter added by the tree that is causing the soil to be acidic.

The bare earth semicircle is most pronounced around the drip line of the tree where the tree roots would be sucking the most moisture from the soil. An alternative theory is that it is a lack of moisture that is preventing the grass from growing on the sunnier side of the tree. A third theory is that the acidity comes from the rain dripping off the leaves and branches and running down the hill. The bare patch close to the trunk might also be explained by this theory since the rain water hitting the west side of the trunk would tend to leach into the soil right where the bare patch is: down-slope from the west side of the base of the trunk. Perhaps both theories are contributing factors and it is a combination of acidity and dryness that prevents the grass from growing on the south side of the tree.

Brown roll-rim (Paxillus involutus)

On the north east side of the oak tree where the grass is greener there is a whole bed of large brown mushrooms poking out of the grass. They grow to about 4-5 inches wide. They initially are paler than in the above photograph and have a pronounced rolled rim. I don't know much about mushrooms but after looking at various guides and searching on the web I'm fairly confident I've correctly identified these mushrooms as the common generalist fungi: Paxillus involutus. This is a deadly mushroom that was considered edible until a German mycologist ate one too many plates of them. It seems that after multiple exposures these mushrooms can trigger an immune response that causes your body to attack its own red blood cells.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Green Darner

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

I spotted this guy sunning himself yesterday. What a nondescript name for such a colourful fellow.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

Fall has arrived. The nights are cool; the leaves are changing; and all the photogenic insects are hiding. There are still some sluggish grasshoppers and wasps about, and a cloud of gnats appeared around my head, but nothing particularly caught my eye. I think I'll have to go after the warm blooded now.

I noticed a couple of little birds foraging among the branches of the above pine tree. I was too far away to see them clearly and at first thought they might be sparrows. They seemed to be hunting for insects; flitting from branch to branch; sometimes even hovering to catch something out of mid-air. It turns out that they were Yellow-rumped warblers in their fall plumage. They still have a bit of yellow on them but I was too far away from them to get a good picture. It's nice to see birds like this taking advantage of the new habitat in the naturalization area. These warblers particularly like coniferous trees in the north but in their winter range they specialize in the waxy berries of the myrtle bush.

Hopefully these birds don't run foul of this guy:

Sunday, September 23, 2012


White-Faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum)

I took these pictures back in the middle of August. The White-faced Meadowhawk is one of several similar species of red meadowhawks that are thought to be all possibly one species.

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)

The Autumn Meadowhawk which matures later than the other meadowhawks is identifiable by its yellow legs. This one sitting in among the yarrow is still orange but will turn redder in the fall.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An orbweaver with dinner

Banded Argiope (Argiope trifasciata)

A few weeks ago I realized that I hadn't seen any orbweaver spiders in the tall grass this year. In previous years you had to be careful where you walked in case you bumped into a Black-and-yellow garden spider's web but this year I haven't seen a single one. I have finally found a few other orbweavers though. I've notice 4 Banded Argiopes in the 2010 bushy area. Above is a picture of one of them making a meal out of a grasshopper.

The white flowers in the picture are Hoary Alyssum. It is quite common this year as it does well in dry conditions. It has 4 petals (like all other plants in the mustard family) but they are so deeply notched they seem like 8 petals. It is an invasive weed from Europe. For the longest time I didn't know what it was called and couldn't find it in my Wildflowers of Ontario guide or online, but today I finally identified it (thank-you Google Images).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pelecinid Wasp

Pelecinid Wasp (Pelecinus polyturator)

This large wasp was an easy guy to photograph. He sat on this manitoba maple for a couple minutes as I snapped away. According to the bugguide, these guys are parasitoids of junebug grubs.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One ant's final minutes

Dwarf Spider (Subfamily Erigoninae)

The other day I decided to watch an ant to see what it was up to. It seemed to be just wandering around: it would go up one grass stem, cross over to an intersecting blade; go down the new blade only to go back up another blade. I suppose it was looking for food to take back to the nest but it only spent part of its time at ground level in the debris. What was it looking for when travelling the grassy high road above the ground level? I think the answer might be: "safety", for only a couple of minutes later when travelling along a twig at ground level the little guy was caught by a small dwarf spider.

It happened so quickly, I didn't realize what I had just seen before the poor guy was a goner. He got caught on a strand of sticky spider silk and quick as a flash the tiny spider ran out from its hiding spot and administered its poison. The spider and ant were evenly matched, but the ant while retreating from the advancing spider had got further tangled up in the spider's web. After the first brief battle the spider retreated and let the poison take effect. Every minute or so it would come back out from hiding to see how much fight was left in the poor fellow and then go back to its shelter to let the poison do its job. About 5 minutes after the initial battle the little ant had ceased to struggle. The spider came back out, used its silk to bind up the ant and then slowly dragged it back to its lair.

As a size reference I later measured the snail shell at the bottom of the above picture to be 7mm wide.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Four-humped Stink Bug

Four-humped Stink Bug (Brochymena quadripustulata)

I went for a short walk in the rain this evening. It's the first day of school and autumn is in the air. The leaves have started turning on the poplars and the grass was sprinkled with freshly fallen yellow leaves.

I found this large bug slowly climbing up the trunk of an ash tree. There are many different bugs that have the basic body type of a shield bug, but this is the largest one I have ever encountered. I would estimate this guy was about 3/4 of an inch long. The lighting was quite poor for this picture but there is a much better picture of one of these fellows in the link to

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dog Strangling Vine on the Border

milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii)

Earlier this summer I went for a walk at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden where they have a serious Dog Strangling Vine (DSV) problem. In some places all you could see was Dog Strangling Vine; it shocked and saddened me. Previously, I hadn't worried too much about this new invasive species as I figured it would eventually find its place along with all the other non-native species in the roadside environment. Now I'm concerned that it may invade and come to dominate the naturalization areas.

There is a small patch of the very invasive Dog Strangling Vine about 200m west of the 2011 planting area. Earlier this summer I tried pulling out as much of the DSV as I could find. You can't kill it just by pulling off the stem but you knock it back enough that it is unlikely to produce seed this year. The seed pods on the plants I missed are now opening and releasing the fluffy seeds so it is too late to do anything more this season.

I thought it was interesting to see the milkweed bug feeding on this Dog Strangling Vine plant. Dog Strangling Vine is related to Milkweed and is so similar that monarch butterflies may place their eggs on DSV instead of milkweed. Unfortunately the monarch caterpillars cannot survive on the DSV so it is yet one more threat to the monarchs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A sod webworm moth

Lesser Vagabond Sod Webworm (Agriphila ruricolella)

This is one of the common little moths that flutter up as you walk through the long grass. It's common name refers to the caterpillar stage that lives in amongst the thatch feeding on grass at night (pdf). It is one of the few native bugs that seems to do well in the mostly foreign roadside environment.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yellow jackets coming in for a landing

Eastern Yellow Jacket (Vespula maculifrons)

A busy yellow jacket nest. Wasps were continuously coming and going.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Monarch on a Honeysuckle

Monarch Butterfly(Danaus plexippus)

I finally got a picture of a monarch from closer than 20 feet away. I think this is the first picture of a honeysuckle bush I've taken. This invasive species is all over the place in the 1995 planting area. It is absent only in the darkest areas where little light reaches the forest floor. It doesn't seem to be aggressively invading the new planting areas though. Neither honeysuckle or buckthorn, the other common invasive bush, is present in the 2009 planting area.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Annual Cicada

Annual Cicada(Genus Tibicen)

I've been listening to these guys make their loud electical buzzing sound for a while now. There has been at least one up in a tree somewhere in the backyard for the past few days. The one in the picture above is the first one I've spotted in the flesh. They're huge! At first I thought he was a dried up leaf. He was hanging on to a dried up maple tree in the 2011 planting area.

The 2011 planting area was hit hard by the drought in July. The drought is now over as it has cooled off and we have had rain on and off for the past week but the month long heat wave had already killed off many of the trees that had been attempting to comeback from last year. Some trees survived the drought better than others. The white pines were the most successful conifers. The hackberry, basswood, serviceberry and redbud did quite well, as did the suckering poplars. The maples and oaks in particular seemed to take the drought hard this year. This is the second difficult year for these trees and I'm not sure if they have enough viable buds to make another comeback next year. Maybe some of them will regenerate from the roots.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grasshoppers galore but where are the Orb Weavers?

Red Legged Grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum)

In August, every step you take through the long grass causes a wave of grasshoppers to hop away from you. Grasshoppers are just everywhere and in the late summer they are one of the most prominent animals around. The other animal I expect to encounter about this time of year are the Orb Weavers, particularly the Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia). There should be dozens sitting prominently in the middle of large webs spanning gaps in the vegetation, but this year I haven't seen a single one. Where have all the Orb Weavers gone?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Crossing paths at the Goldenrod

Common Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens)

The goldenrod is in flower and their panicles are full of activity. The Bumble Bee above just ignored the nearby mating goldenrod soldier beetles.

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle(Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)

This large orange Goldenrod Soldier Beetle isn't much of a threat to these mating Jagged Ambush Bugs. Its face is covered in what it is interested in: goldenrod pollen.

Jagged Ambush Bug (Genus Phymata)

Jagged Ambush Bugs look a bit like chameleons; they have horns on their stubby noses and their eyes look a bit googly like a chameleon's. They hardly move and blend in very well with the goldenrod flowers. Even when I know they are there, it is hard to make out the true shape of their bodies.

Northern Paper Wasp(Polistes fuscatus)

This Northern Paper Wasp seems like a giant compared to the little Jagged Ambush Bug resting below it. Even if the wasp wasn't such an out-sized challenge for the little predator, the wasp would have little to fear from the Ambush Bug: it has already got its arms full with a little fly.

Flesh Fly(Family Sarcophagidae)

Here is another common visitor to the goldenrod: A little flesh fly. Flesh flies deposit their eggs such that the larvae may feed on some insect or dead animal but the adults themselves are vegetarians.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Painted Ladies

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

There were two painted ladies flitting about this Viper's bugloss. To the right is a picture of the other one where you can see the underside of the hind wing and the 5 eye-spots that identify this butterfly as a Painted Lady and not the very similar American Lady which has only 2 eye spots. These butterflies have multiple generations a year. They cannot survive the winter and must have traveled here over the course of the summer from areas to the south that do not have severe frosts.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)

The overflow from the packed house at the goldenrods came over here to this neighbouring patch of birds-foot trefoil. These guys especially like feeding on goldenrod and I suspect this fellow wouldn't usually be found on trefoil except that this bunch happened to be right beside some goldenrod (Where there were many more of his mates having a high old time.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Citrus Flatid Planthopper(Metcalfa pruinosa)

I saw these large planthoppers hanging out on the parsnip a couple of weeks ago; despite their name they are not too picky about their food. It is quite cute how they like to feed together in small groups all on the same stem. They were a bit camera shy and scuttled around the stem to avoid their picture being taken, but they didn't hop away and eventually let me take their pictures.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eastern Tailed Blue

Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas)

You can't see the tail very clearly in this picture unless you click to enlarge it, but one thought I had is that the tail might be a form of camouflage so that predators would not know which way the butterfly was facing. With the large black spot right by the tail being the false eye, and the tail being a false proboscis, the area behind the orange patch forms a crude head. Well, perhaps not a very good likeness, but then it isn't trying to fool Sherlock Holmes.

Mating Milkweed Bugs

Whenever I pass milkweeds I look to see if there is a monarch caterpillar on them. No such luck as yet, but today I did spot these busy milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii) on a milkweed. They were a bit camera shy and didn't have any trouble coordinating their movements to scuttle away from the camera.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Down by the parsnip

There is only one patch of wild parsnip in any of the naturalization areas. Three, 6ft tall plants are in the 2010 planting area by the raspberries. In one respect it is a bit like the Mara river on the Serengeti: it is a very convenient spot to photograph the wildlife.

Typocerus velitinus (Banded longhorn)

Orthops scutellatus (Carrot Plant Bug)

Brachiacantha ursina (Orange-spotted Lady Beetle)

Depressaria pastinacella (Parsnip Webworm Moth)

Podisus nymph (Spined Soldier Bug)

Polistes fuscatus (Northern Paper Wasp)

Cosmopepla lintneriana (Twice-Stabbed Stink Bug)

Eupithecia miserulata (An Inchworm)

Misumena vatia (Goldenrod Crab Spider)

A mystery caterpillar

This last caterpillar is a bit of a mystery. It is all over the wild parsnips and behaves much like a parsnip webworm. Even though it has quite distinctive markings I wasn't able to find it in the bug guide or elsewhere on the web. It is probably the caterpillar for some small, nondescript moth.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bird's-foot trefoil and wasps

The bird's-foot trefoil is flowering all over the 2011 planting area. As I've noted in the other planting areas, the trefoil forms large tangled mats the second year after the lawn is left uncut. It can crowd out other plants for a year but it doesn't maintain its ascendancy for more than a year. The grasses come back in the third year and other plant's that can't withstand cutting start establishing themselves.

The wasp queen's nest I visited in May is somewhere in the middle background of the above photograph. She now has about a half dozen daughter's helping her take care of the hive. I'm sure they appreciate the bountiful supply of nectar flowering all around them.

Appropriately for the end of June, there have been plenty of June bugs flying around at dusk. They like to hover and fly around the tree branches. I'm not sure why they do it, but presumably it has something to do with attracting a mate. I imagine the bats that come out when it is darker pick off many of the June bugs as they slowly fly around.