Sunday, December 29, 2013

Snowy December

There has been a winter's worth of snow this December. Above is a photo of a spruce seedling I planted 5 summers ago. I took the picture on the 23rd of November. Below is an image from approximately the same location taken on the 28th of December. All you can see of the spruce seedling is one twig poking out of the snow.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

First Snow and Crows

We had our first proper snow yesterday and the flock of crows was visiting the berm area. In recent years every fall and winter a flock of crows forms in Ottawa. Each evening they pass Manordale in a long steady stream heading back to their roost on the Rideau river. They don't clump together and often you only see a few flying by at a time but it is a steady stream that mounts to hundreds passing over head in just a few minutes. Yesterday a part of the flock settled in the trees along the berm. Their tracks were all over the place in the fresh snow. They seem to be very mindful of what the passing human is doing; as soon as I stopped to take out my camera, a large portion of the flock flew off.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall 2013

Five summers after being planted, the trees have grown. Many of them have outgrown their white plastic trunk protectors. I've taken quite a few off that were tight and we'll see how the trees do without them. Below is an image of the trunk of one maple tree that got attacked by the field mice last winter. The ant is crossing the new growth that has partially filled in the wound. The tree had a plastic trunk protector on but it didn't stop the rodent. I'm going on the theory that at a certain point, the bark gets so thick that rodents no longer find the older trees very tasty. When the spirals are removed though, the trunk that was protected looks younger than the parts of the trunk that had been exposed to the weather so I am a bit worried that the field mice will attack the trees that have been newly uncovered.

Cornfield ant (Lasius neoniger?)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 planting

A few weeks ago I was walking through the tall grass along the berm west of the 2011 planting area and I noticed that the boy scouts had planted quite a few seedlings in the area. The tall grass hadn't been cut all year and I wondered if that meant the city had given the boy scouts permission to plant there and that it was to be an expansion of the naturalization area. Unfortunately it was not to be, for only a few day later the mower came along and cut down the long grass and the couple of dozen seedlings that had survived the summer there. There are about a couple of dozen other seedlings still surviving in the 2011 planting area. The seedlings were quite small and the vetch grew very quickly, so many of them got crowded out. The boy scouts planted a lot of white pine and a few deciduous trees I had a hard time identifying. I'm fairly confident that I have the two new tree species identified now (see pictures below).

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)

Blue Beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

I noticed on my walk a single dog-strangling vine about 75m from the west end of the 2011 planting area. It is spreading from the infestation that is further west along the berm. I attacked that patch this spring while the young vines were still easy to pull out. That measure seemed to be effective as the plants didn't come back but there were more of them in the shade of the trees that I didn't get to so it was really just a delaying tactic. I read in the paper that scientists in Ottawa are releasing a biological control agent that is specific for dog strangling vine. I hope it is effective; I wouldn't want all the wild places of Ottawa to turn into the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

A Cluster Fly (Genus Pollenia) resting on a highbush cranberry.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Red-legged Grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum)

Going for a walk in the long grass yesterday, every step I took, a couple of these fellows jumped out of my way. Usually they are quite hard to photograph but this lady obliged me while she was sunning herself on a log. You can tell she is female by the tapered abdomen and the tips of her ovipositor. A male has a rounded tail. Perhaps she didn't mind me taking her picture because she was partially blind. Her left compound eye looks quite deformed.

When reviewing the photographs at home, I was amazed at how completely covered in fine hairs she is. These insect hairs are called setae. Even her well armoured head and thorax are covered in fine hairs. These setae provide the sense of touch to the insect even though she is covered in a chitinous exoskeleton.

I find the mouthes of insects to be their strangest parts. I rarely am able to get a good look at what is going on down there. The antenna like palps around the mouth of this grasshopper have the greatest "ick factor" for me. I'm used to antennas; they sort of make sense as great big external nostrils, but four extra external tongues for tasting and manipulating food is four too many.

As I walked along I saw a couple of grasshoppers almost fall prey to a banded argiope. Unfortunately for the spider I spooked him and he broke off wrapping up his meal and went back to guard the center of his web. This allowed the grasshoppers time to disentangle themselves and make their escape. Below are a couple of other predators of grasshoppers: the only black and yellow garden spider I've seen all year and a great black wasp. The light reflecting off the wings of the great-black wasp was much bluer in person.

Black and Yellow Garden Spider(Argiope Aurantia)

Great Black Wasp(Sphex pensylvanicus)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On the Basswood

Red-banded Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea)

These pretty red and green plant bugs are only about 5mm long so they often go unnoticed even though they aren't terribly shy or uncommon.

Jagged-Ambush Bug (Genus Phymata)

I wish all my insect pictures were in focus like this. Jagged ambush bugs are cooperative subjects.

Japanese Beetle(Popillia japonica)

I didn't notice this guy had some friends with him when I took the picture

Banded Argiope(Argiope trifasciata)

There are very few orb-weaver spiders about. A couple of seasons ago the tall grass was full of them; this is only the second I've noticed this August. I wonder what has changed, or if it just goes in cycles.

I find the structure of this spider's web quite interesting; not only does it have the zig-zagged stabilimentum below it like the black-and-yellow garden spider, it also covers the central area of the web in a very fine, almost transparent, film of silk.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sand Cherries

There were about a dozen sand cherry bushes planted in 2009. They are poorly chosen for the location as Sand Cherries prefer a sandy or rocky location. They suffer from browsing on by the meadow voles and because they are a low bush, they have a hard time competing against the grasses and vetches. the plants have survived but have not prospered. This is the first year with a significant berry crop. The berries are actually not that bad; they are juicy and sweet, although a bit tart. There are recipes on-line for sand cherry jelly.

The Japanese beetles are pretty bad this year. They particularly like to attack basswood and grape vines where they skeletonize the leaves. The above picture is the first time I've noticed them attacking sand cherries.

On the Wild Carrot

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)

Jagged Ambush Bug (Genus Phymata)

Clouded Plant Bug (Neurocolpus nubilus)

Greenbottle Fly (Genus Lucilia)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Song sparrow on the sumac

This song sparrow was keeping an eye on me and calling out to his mate as I was walking along past this clump of sumac yesterday. His mate was answering but I couldn't locate her.

This has been a very good year for the trees with plenty of rain. A couple of sumacs in the 2009 area are sending out root suckers that can shoot up six feet while your back is turned. This clump the sparrow is sitting on is threatening to overwhelm a basswood and a couple of small spruce trees. It gives a hint of what the area will be like in a couple of years when the trees fill in the canopy. A couple of maple trees planted in 2009 have branches touching but for the most part it is the poplar and sumac suckers that are filling in the gaps.

White Admiral

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)

I haven't seen too many large butterflies this year. I haven't seen one Monarch. Lately though, I've noticed a few White Admirals like this one which is warming itself on a lilac leaf.

Monday, July 22, 2013

St. John's Wort

St. John's wort is becoming more prominent in the 2009 planting square. In a one year old uncut area this mass of yellow would be bird's-foot trefoil, but in the fifth year after cutting, trefoil is rare and the perennial St. John's wort is common. I just learned from the wikipeadia article that this invasive plant is considered poisonous to livestock.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mid July Insects

A Long Horned Beetle (Clytus ruricola)

Canada Thistle Bud Weevil(Larinus planus)

A Syrphid (Toxomerus marginatus)

A Flesh Fly on Canada Thistle (Family Sarcophagidae)

There is only one large clump of Canada Thistles in the 2009 planting area. It has been growing in size over the past couple of years and is now large enough to dissuade me from attempting to pass through it. It is interesting how slowly the area is changing from year to year. I can identify the goldenrod and aster clumps coming back that I photographed last fall even though they don't yet have flowers on them. Even the different patches of grass are relatively static from year to year. Things can change quickly, like the disappearance of birds-foot trefoil between the first and second year, but more often the change occurs by the growth or decline of an existing patch of plants.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Red-winged Blackbird Nest

For the past couple of weeks a male red-winged blackbird has been harassing me as I visited the berm area. We discovered his mate has a nest in a small bush in the middle of the 2009 planting area.

I avoided going into the 2009 planting area but last Sunday I decided to check to see if the eggs had hatched. She was well camouflaged but flew off with a cry when I was a couple of paces away. I saw that she had at least one very young chick at the bottom of her nest. I quickly took a couple of snaps and then departed to let her come back to the nest.

Last Thursday the male was still quick to come and harass me as I passed by, but today I knew something was different when he didn't come and harass me even when I entered the 2009 planting area. It turns out the bush branches around the nest have been disturbed since last Sunday and the nest is now empty. I don't know if that means the chicks have fledged or if some predator has come and got them all.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Couple of Fungal Diseases

Plum Pockets on Canada Plum (caused by Taphrina Communis)

The Canada Plum bushes in the North-east corner of the berm area are infected with a fungal disease that causes their fruit to fail. The fungal infection causes their fruit to grow much larger than normal with a large hollow space where the seed should be. These hollow deformed plums that soon shrivel up are called plum pockets.

I don't know how this particular clump of trees got started as I have never seen them produce a viable plum and they seem to grow from suckers of the older trees. The clump may have been here a very long time; according to old aerial photographs hanging in the community center, the farmer whose land became Manordale had let a small clump of trees grow where Kimdale St. is located. At least one holdover from this woodlet is still there; between Ilkley Crescent and Kimdale Street there is a huge tree in a backyard that towers over the houses and the other trees. This clump of Canada Plums may have likewise grown back from the roots of a tree that had been in this woodlet some 50+ years ago. Once the field it is growing in became part of the Experimental Farm, this corner would have been left undisturbed, except by cows, for decades. Then in 1995 they created the West Hunt Club Road and the associated berm. The storm drain that is under the clump of Canada Plums was probably put in when they altered the natural drainage of the area with the berm.

Oat Crown Rust on Common Buckthorn(Puccinia coronata)

This bright orange growth that is deforming this buckthorn twig is actually a significant disease of oats, barley and other grasses. This oat crown rust fungal infection needs buckthorn in spring to complete its life cycle but then goes on to infect the alternate host which is a cereal or grass. The spots from this infection are quite commonly seen on the leaves of buckthorn but evidently doesn't do too much harm to the plant as buckthorn is a serious invasive problem for our forests.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Wild Grapes

I was familiar with the variety of grapes that grow wild over fence lines in southern Ontario but I wasn't aware until last year that there are wild grapes growing in Ottawa as well. The wild grapes that grow in Ottawa have smaller berries and looser bunches.

Once I could identify the leaves I was seeing the vines all over the place. Many of the plants do not seem to bear fruit. One such plant drapes itself over a glossy buckthorn growing by a telephone pole at the end of Kimdale.

The above plant doesn't produce any grapes because it is a male. Below is a closeup of its flowers with prominent stamens but lacking developed pistils. It has quite a pleasant scent.

Below is a small beetle I spotted on a grape leaf as I was inspecting the flowers. It turns out it feeds on grape vines so it was right at home.

Grape Flea Beetle (Altica chalybea)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Red-wing Blackbird

This red-wing blackbird followed me for a while as I walked along the berm, every once in a while flying down before veering off to land on another branch from which he could keep an eye on me. I guess I was passing through his territory and he was making sure everyone knew it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bushes in bloom

The bushes in the 95 planting area are in bloom. The lilac and honeysuckle above are quite pretty. The one-seed hawthorn (below) is also very showy. In the picture at bottom a bee and a flesh fly are visiting the much less showy european buckthorn.

Squirrel eating maple keys

The silver maples in the 95 planting area are producing a heavy crop of seeds. This black squirrel was very busy gorging on the silver maple keys.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

and suddenly Summer

The trilliums seem to be holding their own against the garlic mustard. There are seven trilliums flowering in the patch rescued back in 2010. The hot and dry weather over the past week has compressed spring. The trees are leafing out already. The crabapples are blooming as are the wild plum back in the corner and the serviceberry. In addition to the trilliums and garlic mustard pictured above, there are dandelions, yellow rocket, forget-me-nots, violets and wild strawberry blooming.

Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata)

Last year I don't think I saw one of these traditional looking lady bugs; this is the second one I spotted this year. Last year about this time I saw loads of the twelve-spotted lady bugs that aren't so hemispherical and are a paler shade of red. I haven't seen any of those yet this year.

A troop of scouts have planted a bunch of pine seedlings in the 2011 area. The place needed it as many of the evergreen trees had not survived the past two summers of drought. I'm not sure how well the new trees will do. The scouts seem to have just sliced the sod with a spade and then dropped the seedling into the groove without much thought of trying to match the soil depth or using loose soil to pack in the root ball and avoid air pockets.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crocuses and garlic mustard

Spring has arrived and in three weeks it has gone from snow to shorts weather. Someone planted a few crocuses along the fence by Newhaven. They popped up within a week of the last snowfall.

Crocuses are foreigners but they aren't exactly invasive. Not invasive like the garlic mustard below. That stuff carpets parts of the 1995 forest. The Fletcher Wildlife Garden blog has a good article about this invasive plant. You can't really do much about it unless you're willing to commit yourself long term to the eradication. I'm not so inclined, the more I learn about the environment the more I realize that almost everything I see around me is a newcomer. The garlic mustard is going to elbow its way in just as the dandelion, the plantain, the wild parsnip, the buckthorn, the honeysuckle and the wild carrot did before it. Even the rabbits and cardinals are newcomers to this area. Hopefully the garlic mustard will reach a balance and leave room for the other spring ephemerals.

This evening it was warm and pleasant when I went out at dusk to the berm area. I saw bats flying overhead catching insects on the wing. Every year I go out at dusk on a warm spring evening to see the bats. They move so quickly in the gloom just above the tree tops of the newly planted trees, it gives a bit of a thrill to spot them. They, at least, are one native that appreciate the naturalization area we planted. Then I stood still just inside the edge of the 1995 forest. Earthworms were all about, rustling the leaves from previous years. Everything is springing back to life and while this roadside patch of ground might be filled with foreigners and invasives like crocuses and garlic mustard, it is still exciting after a long winter to feel the pulse of life quicken around you.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Snow Mold

This snow mold seems to be actually growing from the snow. Or perhaps, as is more likely, the mycelium was growing in the melt water between the ice crystals and as the snow melted away it draped the web of mycelium fibers on top of the grass. In the spring time great mats of the stuff are revealed on the grass as the snow melts away. The threads are even more delicate than a spider's web and only remain visible for a day or two after the snow melts away.

Snow mold is a fungus that feeds on grass in cold wet weather. It doesn't necessarily need snow and is a problem for golf courses and other turf grower even where it does not normally snow. There are several different types of snow mold; the two most common being the grey snow mold and the pink snow mold. I believe the above image is of the grey snow mold as the reddish-brown sclerotia are visible embedded in the grass leaves. In the image below you can more clearly see one of the sclerotia after the thatch has dried a bit and the mycelium has disappeared. The sclerotia is the dormant form of the fungus that stays in the thatch through the hot and dry weather of the summer. The fungus starts growing again in the fall when the necessary cool and wet conditions are present.

The pinkish hue on the lower portion of the grass leaf in the above picture is a bit of a mystery. There are patches of this faint pink on the dead thatch all over the grass. I thought it might be from the spores of pink snow mold but I am no longer sure. I couldn't find any good close-ups of what pink snow mold is supposed to look like. All the pictures I found on the web were only useful for identifying the circular patches of dead grass it creates in lawns and golf courses.