Saturday, 8 August 2020

A Young Naturalist

      Yesterday was an exciting day. 

      Regular readers of my blog will remember Lily, Heather's baby, born seven weeks ago today. Due to COVID restrictions we had been unable to see this precious little girl, and that was about to be rectified. Heather had reached the point where she was comfortable outside so that we could get together, and at the same time she could renew her acquaintance with SpruceHaven which she had not visited this year, the site of many happy hours spent together banding birds. 

     It took a good deal of will not to hug them both, but we had a marvelous visit, all the while making sure to stay suitably apart.

     We had given strict instructions to the Green Herons (Butorides virescens) to present themselves, to give Lily an appropriate welcome to the world of the naturalist, and they responded accordingly!

     Lily had just arrived and was not looking too impressed just yet!

     Mom placed her in her car seat while she put on the child carrier so that she could "wear" Lily as we walked around.

     Are we all agreeing already that this is as adorable a baby as you have ever seen? And check out that hairdo!

     I am happy to report, that in commemoration of Lily's visit, the Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) revealed that they are feeding young in their nest. It was impossible to get a picture of the nestlings, but with binoculars we could clearly see them, mouths agape, waiting for the next food delivery.

     This is a major event for us - our first ever record of Cliff Swallow as a breeding species at SpruceHaven. It was a day to rejoice in youngsters both human and avian!

     With all this excitement Lily needed a nap.

     A male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) made sure not to burst into song and disturb her sleep.

     As we meandered around there was much for Lily to see, in addition to enjoying warm sunshine, a gentle breeze and the comfort of mom's constant care and attention.  

    I wonder if she noticed a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) on a Coneflower (Compositae spp)?


     I have no doubt that she paid careful attention to the hundreds of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) swooping and gliding over the Sanctuary Field feeding on myriad insects, and also perching on the tall vegetation.

     These swallows have evidently massed here from the surrounding area, for their number far exceeded our resident population. Furthermore there were numerous swallows in the barn, many still with second broods in the nest. The pictures above do not reveal the scope of the Barn Swallow occupation of the grassland, but it was an impressive sight. Post-breeding Barn Swallows are known to roost in cattail marshes at night and it begs the question as to whether the Sanctuary Field yields a similar refuge.

     SpruceHaven fledgling swallows are often content to line up along a pipe in the barn waiting for mom and dad to swoop by with food for them.

     Here is the evidence of many hours of perching by a lot of demanding young Barn Swallows!

     But enough of swallows and such. This is all about Lily.....well, Heather too! What a proud and happy mom she is!

     Take another look at Lily. How many facial expressions can one little girl have?

   I am still tired.

     So don't bug me!


     That feels better!

     What does the presence of this little angel tell us about the world she has entered? If the future she will experience, and that of children around the world just like her, is to be welcoming and secure, surely we need no more incentive to mend our ways and become active in an effort to remediate the damage we have caused to the environment. Now is the time to reject plastics, now is the time to evolve towards renewable energy and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture. And perhaps most significantly of all, to stop electing politicians whose very ethic is antithetical to environmental stewardship. We have had more than enough of foul-mouthed misogynists, base ignoramuses, men (they are always men) with no social conscience, truth deniers, warmongers and lap dogs of industry. When we elect our politicians let's think of Lily, her future and her happiness. We owe it to all the Lilies of the world.

     We love you, Lily!

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Raising Butterflies and Other Odds and Ends

        When I mentioned raising butterflies indoors in my last post several of you left comments expressing an interest  in knowing more about the process. I do not have pictures of the entire sequence, but I can explain what you need to know without them, and I think the narrative will be sufficient. After this post if you still have questions feel free to get in touch with me.
     The first thing to determine of course is the species you wish to raise and to ensure that you have their preferred plant either in your garden or close at hand.
     We have usually raised three species (and I must add that Miriam pretty much does this without a whole lot of help from me), Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus).
     The swallowtails are known to seek out Rue (Ruta graveolens) to lay their eggs, so we have it growing in our backyard. At the appropriate time just keep an eye on the plant and you will not fail to notice the females depositing eggs. For Monarchs, a species of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is necessary and we have Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), both containing a poisonous, bitter-tasting chemical which remains in the tissue of the adult butterflies and gives Monarchs immunity from predators. Dill (Anethum graveolens) is also accepted by swallowtails but milkweeds are essential for Monarchs.
     Bring stems of the plant indoors with lots of leaves for the caterpillars to munch on when they hatch, keeping them green and fresh by standing them in water, and then watch the process unfold. When the caterpillars first emerge from the eggs you will be astounded at how tiny they are, yet you will be even more amazed at their rate of growth and the sheer volume of frass that accumulates at the bottom of the cage. You can't believe how much poop one little caterpillar can produce! We line the bottom of the cage with newspaper and change it regularly, and provide new food constantly.
     If you are fortunate and are able to catch the moment when the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, or the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, you will be moved by the experience in a way that little else in life has moved you. It all takes place very quickly, however, so you have to keep checking!
     When the butterfly emerges from the cocoon it hangs for a while inflating its wings and letting them dry; after which it is good to go on its journey as an adult butterfly.

Black Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

     We are finished with swallowtails for this year but have several Monarch caterpillars at various stages of development in the house now, so we have much pleasure and excitement to look forward to.

Other Odds and Ends

     After four months of not getting together our Tuesday Rambles with David resumed, and we were careful to practice socially-distanced birding.

     From left to right above - John Pries, Carol Gorenc, Jim Huffman, Judy Wyatt, David Gascoigne, Franc Gorenc, Mary Voisin.

     Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) appear to have had a very successful breeding season and we have seen several newly-fledged families of these delightful flycatchers.

     The local creeks, swamps and wetlands harbour good populations of Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata) which can often be seen sunning themselves on a convenient log.

         The young Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at RiverSong have now left the nest and this lone adult was perhaps more than a tad relieved to be free of parental duties.

     We have had a decent amount of rain of late, much needed and very welcomed by various species that gather in low spots in fields flooded by rainfall. This Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) was taking full advantage of the conditions.

     Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) is quite common around the shoreline of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, but it was unusual to find one just taking a rest.

     We continue to get out every day and we are almost giddy with the full flush of nature at this time of the year. Life like this really is the way life was intended to be.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Butterflies, Bunnies and Birds

     We, (well, Miriam really) have had another successful year raising Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) and Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) indoors and it has been fascinating, as always, to watch the development of these wonders of nature from tiny egg to resplendent butterfly. There are some things that never get old and this is one of them.

     When you look at the exuvia above it is hard to believe that this huge Giant Swallowtail (83 - 133 mm) emerged from it.

     It has been a very successful breeding season for Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) but they have not ravaged Miriam's garden too drastically and have even permitted the coneflowers (Asteraceae compositae) out front to prosper, so I think that her antagonism towards them has moderated significantly.

     The breeding season has ended for the Green Herons (Butorides virescens) at SpruceHaven but the adults find rich feeding on the pond.

     This time of year is notable for the number of recently fledged birds beginning the difficult task of making their own way in life, no longer able to count on parents to provide food, shelter and protection. This young Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) seems to have made a good start.

     A family of recently fledged Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) were still flocking together; perhaps it's a good thing to have your siblings watch out for you.

     On our nightly walks at Hillside Park we have been seeing Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) with great regularity, and have been keeping an eye on several likely breeding locations.

     The snag on the left above attracted our attention several times, and often we saw flickers in the area.  Finally we noticed movement and you can see a young bird poking up from the hole.
     We watched a male perch atop the snag.....

     .....and it was not long before we witnessed nestlings being fed.

     From what we could observe from our position on the ground far below the nest, it was apparent that these young woodpeckers were close to fledging.

     What a pleasure to watch all this activity!

     A couple of nights later the nest was silent, but just before leaving to make our way home, we saw the entire family perched together on another dead tree - father, mother and three healthy children.
     All is well with the world!