When most people think of milkweeds and the insects that are associated with them, they think of the iconic Monarch butterfly, which subsists solely on these plants in its larval stage. Others may recall the beautiful Red Milkweed Beetle, the black and orange Small and Large Milkweed Bugs, or the fuzzy Tussock Milkweed Moth caterpillars that sometimes gather together in groups of a dozen or more. However, milkweeds are an abundant source of nectar and pollen for many types of insects, and these in turn attract predators searching for easy prey. If you spend some time examining these plants at the height of their flowering season, an amazing secret world opens up, as all kinds of colourful creatures can be found on their flowers and leaves. Here are a few of the colourful and intriguing creatures I photographed in early to mid-July while looking for the more common butterflies and dragonflies.
On May 14, 2017 I received two interesting visitors to my yard. The first was a Nashville Warbler flitting around in the tree outside my computer room – I only got a brief glimpse of the yellow bird with the gray head and white eye-ring before it disappeared, but it was enough to add it to my yard list as bird species no. 66. The second visitor wasn’t a bird, but a mammal; when I saw the small red squirrel poking around the feeder area, I immediately ran for my camera as this was only the second red squirrel I’ve seen in my yard. Although I’m not too far from Stony Swamp where numerous red squirrels make their home, I am just deep enough inside the Emerald Meadows subdivision with its maze of roads and large, open lawns to make travelling a hazard, especially given how open the subdivision is – there are no tree-lined streets and no canopy of interlacing branches for the squirrels to travel along safely above the ground.
After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.
This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.
May is here, which means we’ve entered the peak of spring migration! I usually see more bird species in May than in any other month (except perhaps September), though this month has been off to a slow start. Not only did May 1st fall on a Monday this year, but the weather has been terrible – it’s been cloudy and rainy for most of the week, with some mornings still cold enough to require gloves. As such, I’ve been doing most of my birding around home, but even so I’ve managed to pick up a few good birds.
I haven’t been blogging as much this winter for a simple reason: I haven’t been going out as much. It’s been a strange winter since January ended, with warm rainy spells interspersed with snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures. The weather on the weekends hasn’t been conducive for getting out; this is the second weekend in a row that morning temperatures have started in the double negative digits with a windchill bringing the temperature below -20°C. I am so sick and tired of the winter that I just can’t do the cold any more. And if it isn’t the cold, it’s the snow, or else I haven’t been feeling well.
The temperature dropped this weekend. With the sun rising on temperatures as low as -10°C, I didn’t feel like rushing out at daybreak to go birding. It usually takes some time for me to adjust to the cold, and after last week’s milder weather I wasn’t quite ready to bundle up in five or six layers. On Saturday I did some shopping but spent most of the day watching the birds at my feeder. During the work week, it’s dark when I leave in the morning, and dark when I get home, so I have no idea what goes on in my backyard during the day. On Saturday I was happy to have four or five Blue Jays descend upon my feeder and threw some peanuts onto the patio to keep them happy. Although they visit my yard regularly during the fall to fatten up on the peanuts I give them, they usually become scarce once the snow arrives. I also had five on November 12th, so it appears a family group is visiting together. Two juncos, five chickadees, four House Sparrows, a goldfinch, and two Mourning Doves were also in my yard or visible in the neighbour’s.
Sometimes it amazes me that even my own backyard can host an incredible variety of wildlife. I live in a townhouse with a tiny yard, and have very little in the way of shelter for birds or bugs – there is a large tree-like shrub on my front lawn which is as tall as the house and produces little helicopter seeds in the fall that the squirrels love (one of these years I’ll get around to asking my botanist friends to identify it for me) and a six-foot tall Arrowwood Viburnum in the backyard. A couple of small Weigela shrubs are still doing well in the backyard despite their location in a shady part of the garden, and that’s it other than the annuals and perennials chosen to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. My yard is just too small and does not get enough sun to plant the kind of butterfly and pollinator garden I would really like. Further, our back lawn hosts a lot of different weeds as we aren’t exactly diligent about removing them. I hate applying any kind of chemical herbicide or pesticide, and while I go crazy a couple of times each summer trying to remove them by hand, they just keep coming back. Our neighbours probably don’t like us very much.