I have simplified my internet life and am down to just this one new, minimalist website that continues to focus on wildlife observations, wildlife gardening and photography. Some days, other subjects might appear. That’s me below. The cat is more of an accompanying ‘shade’ these days rather than friendly fur and claws with an appetite, though we still talk to each other.
Where the Warblers Are
In the past couple of weeks, as readers will know, we have been observing (and videoing when we weren’t glued to binoculars) our garden for the passage of migrating warblers – coming up with a total of 16 species … and a lot of other non-warbler species too.
Mostly migration has now been and gone. The temperature for the next couple of days will be above 30C and it’s an opportunity now for us to take advantage of the shady corner beside the pool where all the activity has been.
A (new) Moth …
Not everything here is about wildlife gardening and birds … if it’s alive – or recently alive – we are interested. This afternoon tucked into a shaded corner of a window, J spotted a grey moth which has been duly photographed and tentatively identified as being a Zale Moth and provisionally a Maple Zale Moth (Zale galbanata) which would be a “lifer” moth were I to keep moth life lists as I do bird lists.
These grey and white moths with zig-zag markings are numerous and sometimes hard to identify with precision in the absence of specialist knowledge and a hand lens at least. Anyway, a new species for the garden which is always desirable.
Well Positioned Flowerpot
Very simple and common flowers, but this morning’s early daylight really showed off J’s recent placement of a pot of Pelargoniums that she placed over the weekend. Not every corner of the garden is devoted to wildlife.
A Gallimaufry of Warblers and Friends
16 Warbler species in the garden – a splendid couple of weeks
It is commonly, and quite erroneously, believed that to see lots of exciting species you have to get your boots on and go out into “nature” somewhere the other end of a long car drive. Not so, not so at all. Manage your garden so that it draws nature to you and allow the birds and bees to arrive, as they will. There is so much biodiversity to be found in our gardens and parks. Replacing that boring lawn with native plants, growing some bushes and installing a moving water feature will all help.
Now that the garden waterfall (our “bird magnet”) is running for its first spring after last year’s reconstruction and now with double the width and twice the flow that it had before, we were naturally keenly hoping it would continue the tradition of its predecessor as THE place migrating and resident birds would stop to cool off as they pass through. It has not let us down.
Much as we love watching visiting birds, even we can’t spend all the daylight hours glued to the binoculars and staring at the water. Which is why we set up a video trail camera to record what arrived between our observation stints. My, oh, my don’t Robins and Song Sparrows like to keep themselves clean!
On the 19th May I made a short video compilation of the species seen at the waterfall in a single 24 hour period – if you have not yet enjoyed the video you can find it on this page:
But day by day more and more birds arrived … so far, from 17 May to the date of this post, we have been blessed by the arrival of the following additions to this year’s garden list. We are impressed and very pleased. In order of their arrival, the following were enjoyed … not including Blue Jays, American Robins, BCChickadees, Cardinals, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and their less frequent friends too of course, but they are full-time residents.
*There are photographs below the list of bird species … scroll down.
- Nashville Warbler
- Black and White Warbler
- Northern Parula
- Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Palm Warbler
- Magnolia Warbler
- Black-throated Blue Warbler
- Tennessee Warbler
- Blackburnian Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat.
- Yellow Warbler
- Blackpoll Warbler
- Bay-breasted Warbler
- Black-throated Green Warbler
- Cape May Warbler
Other cool birds
- Grey Catbird
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Least Flycatcher
- Great-crested Flycatcher
- Warbling Vireo
- Red-eyed Vireo
- Blue-headed Vireo
- Chipping Sparrow
- White-crowned Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Hermit Thrush
- Swainson’s Thrush
- American Redstart (female)
Several years ago, after a lifetime of pretty formal gardening we fell into the rabbit-hole of no-mow wildlife gardening. It works for us, but not for everyone. We know that. Nevertheless over the years quite a number of neighbours and friends have visited (give us a call, if you’d like to do likewise) and asked about the practicalities of doing something similar. We have tried to offer useful tips and this time of year is the best time to make a beginning.
One thing that has been apparent, is that those who are thinking about this transformation are struggling with how to get from the “here” (a traditionally mown monoculture grass lawn) to the “there” (a flowery meadow with bees and birds). They know where they are today and they know where they want to be but there is a lot of worry about the intermediate transition phase – because, of course, it does take time. In particular there is concern about what their gardens will look like in late spring – May for example – before the flowers appear. In a regular garden you just mow and do some weeding and things look under control, but if you leave most of that to nature then “surely” it’s going to look pretty messy. Isn’t it?
Well, it could. No denying that. If you think all you have to do is to stop mowing and magic will happen then it certainly will look scruffy quite quickly.
No, you still have to manage your garden now it is transforming into a mini-meadow – it will transform anyway given a decade or so while waiting for seeds to arrive naturally on the wind and birds feet, but you want results a little faster than that. We certainly did. What you do is to speed things along by sowing native plant seeds and planting rooted seedlings. The result being, that this in-between season will look somewhat like the first photograph … this is a part of our wildlife garden in the latter part of May this year. All those clumps of greenery are rapidly growing flowering plants such as Golden Rod, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Pearly Everlasting, flowering Thistles, several species of native Asters and suchlike that will soon be flowering. Not quite so easy to see in this image perhaps, are multiple solid clumps of low-growing white and purple Violets. Once established all you have to worry about is that these plants get the food and water any plant needs … but even then, native plants are usually more drought tolerant than non-natives and much less hungry. Meanwhile, in May the garden does look green and is bursting with life and potential. The bees and other pollinating species will be here when the warmer weather settles in and resident and passing birds will stop by to be admired too.
It’s nothing like as hard as some fear – give it a go in at least a corner of your present garden. The longest journey starts with the first step and all that. It’s so well worthwhile. Also – nobody is compelling you to only have native plants. The small areas of blue in this picture are Forget-me-nots and Ajuga for example … definitely non-native but providing some seasonal colour. Equally, those lilies in the summer photographs below are most certainly not Canadian in origin, but we like them.
The pictures beneath show more or less the same area during high summer – something to dream about, perhaps and remarkably simple to achieve. No smelly gas-mowers to maintain either. And, please note, ours is not a massive riverfront garden, just the same regular sized plot that almost everyone in town enjoys.
Want to know more? Feel free to ask. Help and advice is free.
As Rudyard Kipling once wrote:
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!
Footnote: I came across this comment in an article about the effects of too many urban European Honey Bees on our native wild bees …
HOW TO ENCOURAGE WILD BEE POPULATIONS
If you want to help wild bees flourish, one big step is to say goodbye to the manicured lawn — or at least carve out a space where natural wildflowers grow and the lawn mower isn’t constantly chugging through. Most wild bee species nest in the ground or within cavities such as stems, tree trunks or rotting wood.
“It’s easy to be a wild beekeeper if you just leave more nature in its place in your yard or neighbourhood,” Roberts said. “We can all be wild beekeepers, we just keep more native wildflowers and shrubs and trees things flowering through throughout the seasons.”
It ought to be frustrating to find so many non-native plant species in our wildlife garden … but when they are as attractive as this tiny plant that’s far from the case. Thyme-leaves Speedwell is another naturalized import from Europe/Asia that we found this morning growing in a grassy path. Too nice to overlook and my soul is saved by the fact that native insects happily exploit the flowers.
It really is tiny, those flowers are a bare 6mm across. The plant grows in full sunlight, tolerates partial shade, and thrives in a moist environment during the spring.
The Wizard’s Tree – Rowan
Also known as Mountain Ash, the Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) )is a long-standing favourite. Quite apart from the fact that it, to me, the quintessential tree of the Scottish Highlands it looks fine in all seasons, bears beautiful late spring blossom and later in the year groans under the weight of red berry clusters that wildlife adore.
Our particular specimen was a finding, less than a foot tall, in our first gardening season here. It was lurking at the back of a border and probably “planted” by a bird or a squirrel. We repositioned it closer to the front boundary of the garden and it has never look back. A splendid specimen indeed.
Why “Rowan”? Well … this name derives from rowan-tree, rountree (1540s), rawntre (late 15c.), northern English and Scottish, from a Scandinavian source (compare Old Norse reynir, Swedish Ronn “the rowan”), said in Watkins to be ultimately from PIE root reudh- “red, ruddy,” in reference to the berries.
I have always enjoyed the belief that a staff made from Rowan wood will ward off evil spirits and that the Druids would carry such … or any Wizard perhaps. Was Gandalf’s staff made of this wood? Quote: “There were those in this neighbourhood, long after the beginning of the present century, who believed that a slip of rowan tree carried on their person dispelled glamour, and rendered nugatory all the powers of sorcery and witchcraft.”
The rowan features in Norse mythology – it saved the life of the god Thor by bending over a fast flowing river in the Underworld in which he was being swept away. Thor managed to grab the tree and get back to the shore. In Scandinavia, rowans growing out of some inaccessible cleft in a rock, or crevices in other trees possessed an even more powerful magic – they were known as ‘flying rowan’. Rowan was also the wood on which runes would be inscribed for divination. Each berry has a tiny five pointed star or pentagram opposite its stalk, the pentagram being an ancient protective symbol.
Rowan wood is strong and makes excellent walking sticks as well as being well-suited for carving. It was often used for tool handles, spindles and spinning wheels. Druids used the bark and berries to dye the garments worn during lunar ceremonies the colour black. The bark was also used in leather tanning.
I think we should be safe from trouble with our tree by the front door …
Alexander Laing, “Lindores Abbey and the Burgh of Newburgh,” Edinburgh, 1876
Readers may have gathered that a couple of my websites are nearing the end of their long lives and this is my web-home going forward. There are a small number of posts on the old site that I wanted to rescue for posterity and perhaps share with you … with apologies if some have seen them before. So – this is about studying and learning about and enjoying nature close to where we happen to live.
I enjoy wildlifing on my “patch”, which is to say I like to go out regularly and meet the furry and feathered neighbours in the garden and down the road within walking or cycling distance more than I do travelling the world in search of rarities … though that’s fun too, maybe once a year. Depth rather than breadth.
Seems I am not alone. This piece that I happened across in a book I was reading about wildlife in Somerset. It was written by a Donald S Murray, originally from Lewis but living in Shetland, who views these matters much as I do.
“There are two ways of acquiring wisdom.
One – they say – is travelling far and wide.
The other is to stay in a location,
focusing ears and thought and eyes on all that surrounds you in the one place
in which you choose (or are forced) to bide,
noting how the seasons slide
into each other,
the rise and fall of wind or cloud or tide
taking account of changes
and allowing them to guide
the path on which you step and stride.
Someday, though my friends would all deny it
(indeed, it would be to their great surprise),
I’ll have circled all the tracks around this township
and discover I am well and truly wise.– From The Man Who Talks to Birds (Saraband, 2020)
… and then, and somewhat coincidentally:
As we emerged from the travel restrictions imposed by covid-19 it was apparent that others had been compelled, by choice or otherwise, to limit their wildlife adventuring to a local patch anyway. Stephen Moss, a writer who is also a professional leader of worldwide birding trips for deeply committed birders with deep pockets recently wrote in a very enjoyable book (“Skylarks with Rosie: A Somerset Spring”) the following:
“All these (birds on a marshland I used to visit but can no longer) made my garden sightings feel somehow less significant in comparison. Yet as it dawned on me that my garden and the moor behind my home were now the boundaries of my life for the foreseeable future, I again realised what I have always known: that birding isn’t about the rare and unusual – exciting though they are – but the reassuringly regular and commonplace. In any case, this was what I would be seeing and hearing during this particular spring, and so, I decided, I had better start to enjoy it.”
Canada is the only place on earth, it doesn’t even happen in Britain, that there is a public holiday to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. In this republican household we mark the day by gardening as is only right and proper as in Quebec QV is certainly not celebrated, here it is La journée national des patriotes but whatever you call it, we get a holiday.
Morning Sun on Vickie’s birthday – a corner of no-mow paradise with flowers to come, a creeping weed setting up home on a mossy branch half in the pond and the last Narcissus of the year, a miniature variety less than an inch across.
Waterfall Birds #1 (video)
We are now in the early to middle stages of northwards-bound spring bird migration and as much as anything their arrival is one of the main reasons that we have a waterfall feeding our garden pond. It is an efficient bird magnet. but, of course, we can’t be watching all day from dawn to dusk so this week I installed a video “trail camera”. The video below is a short – ten minute – compilation of some of the highlights of the avian visitors over approximately a 24 hour period covering the 18th and 19 May.
Pour yourself a cup of tea and relax with our birds – they are all identified for you.
Some practical notes:
I had long wanted a video trail camera and had quizzed some of my professional birding friends from McGill about what to get. Either they cost more than I wanted to spend at the time or, in the case of one, were withdrawn from the market. The Ottawa Field Naturalists have a Facebook group that I follow and a chap there who had been sharing excellent videos put me onto a Chinese device that cost a bare $100 so I got it. The field of view is a bit wide for what I am using it for but it’s otherwise excellent value for performance – Amazon will put you right.
Then we come to the question of how to process and edit the videos – there were a lot more than the ten minutes I got it down to. I have always struggled with Apple’s iMovie and after I had spent several hours compiling a film it junked it for me. I was not happy. Anyway, long story short – after a couple of other failed experiments with other editors I discovered “DaVinci Resolve” which is free and a dream to work with. If you have videos of birds or the kids then I recommend this tool. You can get it from https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve/