Thursday, August 4, 2016

In April 2016, we arrived at our new home near the village of Prospect, Nova Scotia, after 19 long hrs on the road. It was 10:30 pm and the night was clear with a dark sky full of stars. A Northern Saw-Whet owl's calls greeted us and a Great-horned owl call was heard soon after. To me, these owl calls were an omen of good things to come, that this was indeed a very special place.

This has proven to be true, it is a magical location, 4 acres of maritime coastal forest with a small spruce bog and a barrens area, fronting on a small freshwater lake joined by a creek to the ocean. The ocean is a 5-minute walk away along a wooded trail. I am thankful that the lake is too small for motorized watercraft and only 4 houses are on it's shore. 
Barachois Lake 

The lakefront has been left natural with only a deer trail giving us access to swim or kayak. The songs of the White-throated Sparrow and Hermit Thrush are heard at dawn and these are the last bird songs we hear at nightfall. 
Creek flowing to ocean

Ocean front

As I write this, a Bald Eagle in 3rd year plumage has landed on a nearby tree and is being harassed by a pair of Ospreys. A raft of 11 Black Ducks are voicing their displeasure but the Eagle is ignoring them. Instead he hops into the shallows and proceeds to bathe. I've observed a daily ritual of bathing by dozens of Double-crested Cormorants and a few Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. They fly in, land on the water then proceed to bathe, shaking off, then flying out. Being next to the ocean, this is a handy place to get the salt off their feathers. 

An adult Bald Eagle and a Herring Gull have also arrived and a pair of Ravens are circling overhead. High up a female Northern Harrier is rising on the thermals. The woods around the house are full of young birds, mostly Yellow-rumpled Warblers, Palm warblers, Purple Finches, Blue Jays, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. These species likely nested here or nearby as the adults sang or were seen here since spring. Two young crows are following their parents while begging for food. 

It has been so exciting to learn about this beautiful province and see the progression of the seasons and the various species of flowering plants, mosses and trees. There is something new to discover every day. I hope to share these on my blog so you can learn along with me.

Enjoy the warm summer days.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Giant Swallowtails

Something exciting happened in our yard this summer. In late August, as I sat, contemplating the garden and enjoying a sunny afternoon, I watched 2 Giant Swallowtail butterlies lay their eggs on our 3 small Hop Trees. We planted these trees the previous summer in the hopes of attracting this magnificent butterfly. Last summer we had a visit from an older worn Giant Swallowtail, our first in the garden!

This is the largest butterfly species in Ontario and it is expanding it’s range northward. The host plants for the larva in the northern part of its range are Hop Trees, Meadow Rue and Gas Plant. In the south it loves citrus trees.

I checked the Hop Trees and found the tiny eggs scattered about on the upper side of the Hop Tree leaves. They are around 2 mm in diameter and orange coloured.

After approx. 1 week the eggs turned dark, likely transluscent and showing the dark larva within.
One morning I noted that tiny 2-3 mm long dark brown and cream caterpillars had hatched. The first thing they do is eat the egg casing for nourishment, then they begin eating the leaves.
I watched them go through several instars, shedding their skin then turning around to systematically eat it. Again nothing wasted. They rested frequently for long periods in the daytime, immobile on a leaf, preferring to eat at night. The first instars look very convincingly like fresh shiny bird droppings, a deterrent to predation. 
The last instars looked rather like the head of a small snake. Most were approx. 5 cms long.

At one point after 2 weeks I noticed that 2 of the largest caterpillars (the first ones to hatch out) were gone, they likely left in the night to find a place to pupate. They will pupate on tree branches as a chrysalis.  We have 1.4 acres with many trees so it was impossible to find them. I found out that since these butterflies are at the northern limit of their range, it is not clear if they can survive overwintering in the pupal stage, without some protection from the elements. 

With that in mind I decided to collect them before they all left. Out of 8 adult caterpillars I  managed to collect 5 caterpillars before they left. The fate of the 3 who went off in the yard is unknown. Perhaps they will survive and hatch out in the spring.

Of the five caterpillars I rescued, 4 are now in the pupal stage on small branches in special wooden boxes with a mesh door. Sadly one died after feeding for 2 weeks on a daily diet of fresh Hop leaves, until the leaves turned yellow and dropped. It was in the last instar, but one morning it was dead.
Chrysalis looking like a broken bran

The 4 surviving pupae are in an outdoor shed, protected from the bitter winds, precipitation and rodents. Exposure to freezing temperatures will initiate diapause and they will hopefully overwinter in the chrysalis stage till spring when they should hatch out as butterflies!

More on that come spring. 
Amazing the wonders you come across when you just sit watching nature...

Enjoy the small pleasures.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Northern Saw-whet Owl story ends badly

Today, I heard from my friend Audrey that someone had dropped off an injured Saw-whet Owl that was seen being harassed by crows.  She thought the owl had a head injury, possibly from a collision. There was no bleeding or obvious trauma to the head except an abnormal skewed head position. The wings were fine and it was able to fly a few feet but was somewhat thin. At the advice of the Owl Foundation she only gave the owl water until transport to their facility. 

I was called by the Foundation to help in transporting the owl as my spouse and I have volunteered to help out as drivers. There was quite a snowfall last night so it was agreed that we would bring the owl to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, which is closer, saving us a few hours on the road. I prepared a box for transport.

Northern Saw-whet owl so tiny he fits in one hand
Sadly when we arrived to pick up the owl, Audrey announced that it had just died. She held the still soft body for us to see. It is not often that we get to see these wee owls up close. It was heart wrenching to see this sad little body, a life cut short. Most people don't even know these tiny magnificent creatures exist. Saw-whet owls are 18-23 cm tall with a wingspan of 43-55 cm. They are small but mighty hunters taking whatever they can,  be it a bird, a vole, a mouse etc.. Hard to believe it had survived the harsh winter up to now.

The Saw-whet sadly didn't survive
Normally injured owls are taken to the Owl Foundation in Vineland but on occasion the Foundation will arrange to have the owl taken to the Toronto Wildlife Centre where it can receive emergency care. If an owl requires specialized care or a longer rehab it is then transferred to the Owl Foundation. Injured wildlife should always be cared for in a licensed rehabilitation centre.

Both these agencies operate on donations and with the help of many volunteers; the staff are caring and well trained,  so it you have a soft spot for injured owls or any other wildlife please support these wonderful agencies by visiting their websites and making a donation.

 During winter when food is scarce, Owls often perch on fenceposts or top of hydro poles during the daytime, near roadsides scanning for prey. This makes them vulnerable to collisions with cars. If you do see an owl, admire it from a distance, do not disturb it as trying to find food in winter conditions is difficult enough without us interfering. Many fail to find enough food to survive. Enjoy it’s magnificence from a distance.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Orchid love
Two posts in one day…well, when the mood strikes…
Cattleya Sun Mei Gold

The orchids have been growing buds for several weeks and now the first blooms are opening, bringing summer colours to a winter palette.

Cattleya Shinfong Little Sun

Oncidium Shari Baby
They love the east facing windows, soaking in the morning sun when it appears, blooming for weeks. 

Last year some of the flowers lasted till May and into June. A visual feast for the eyes. 
As more start blooming, I will post photos.

Every season has it’s beauty

The deep freeze is upon us; chilly winds, snow squalls and endless snowdrifts. All this on top of the ice storm that left at least one inch of hard ice under the snow. I pity the owls, hawks, foxes, deer…really all wildlife trying to find food in these hostile conditions. For humans, it’s business as usual, just open the fridge…imagine our ancestors and how difficult it was to stay alive.

An icy coating on everything

It is comforting to know that in 6 or so weeks, Redwing Blackbirds will be returning from their southern digs, red epaulettes flashing against the blue sky, singing their raucous greetings. 

.In the meantime admire the changing scenery; snow sculpted by the wind, elongated purple shadows on white, iridescent sunrises, crimson sunsets…there is beauty everywhere!
Who said snow was white....

Late afternoon shadows

Winter Sunrise

Winter Sunset

Morning Sun halo
 Look beyond the salty sidewalks and you will see clouds dotting cerulean skies, sun halos and dark night skies with a generous sprinkling of diamond stars. 
 Sun halo, preceding a storm

Take a moment to breathe in the fresh crisp air and listen to the snow crunching underfoot. Dress for it and you will enjoy these moments. Each day is a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. Open it carefully, for it is special ...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Underwing Moths

It was hot and muggy today, warmer than usual for September, the evening is humid with a clear sky and a sliver of moon. It will soon be time for the Sweetheart Underwing Catocala amatrix moths that spent the day hiding in plain view on the north side of our brown brick house, to set aloft in the darkness. 

Every year I have been delighted to find one or more species of the large beautiful Underwing moths in our yard. The attraction for the Sweetheart must be a row of Cottonwoods on the north side of the property, they are a host plant. These large moths, that look remarkably like the bark of their host trees, hide colourful underwings, visible only in flight. When under attack, it is thought that this colourful display startles potential attackers momentarily, allowing the moths to escape predation. The eggs overwinter in crevices under the bark of host trees.

Here are photos of the moth at rest and with wings open showing part of the underwings:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An ocean of plastic

It has been a long time since I posted.  Last January I was diagnosed with breast cancer and so a new journey began. It was made easier with the love of friends and family and I am very grateful for all their caring.

 More strongly than ever, I believe in protecting what is left of our natural world. We are biological beings that need the soil, air and water our planet provides. Sadly we are slowly destroying that which sustains us.  

I was sent a link to a film that shows us how profoundly plastic pollution is affecting our oceans. We are not immune, for one, our bodies are full of chemicals from plastics. That's not all, plastic pollution is everywhere and it kills! 

If you care for the planet, take a moment to view this short film and please share this link with others.