In the Garden

Morning Glory and Scarlet Runner Bean

It wasn’t long after we bought our first house that I started birding, so when I decided to plant a garden in our backyard I immediately decided to grow flowers that would attract different species of birds to my garden. Since my main visitors were finches and sparrows, I planted Cosmos and Bachelor’s Buttons for the seeds they produced in the fall. The following year I spotted a hummingbird feeding on my Cosmos plants in October, so I began adding flowers which would provide nectar for both hummingbirds and butterflies, many of which I started from seed. These include Scarlet Sage (Salvia sp.), Scarlet Runner Beans, Lantana, Verbena, Morning Glories, Four O’Clocks, Columbine, and even parsley, a host plant for the Black Swallowtail.

As our backyard is quite small, it’s hard to create a real wildlife garden; however, we’ve had some interesting creatures visit our yard since we moved in in 2003. With a fair number of trees in the neighbourhood, a surprising number of songbirds stop by during migration – Ruby-crowned Kinglets are almost annual in my yard. A crabapple tree across the street usually attracts Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks in winters when they are present, and both Merlins and Cooper’s Hawks nest close enough to my house that I see them several times a year. To this day I’m not sure which species on my yard list surprises me the most: the Northern Shrike, the Orange-crowned Warbler, or the Field Sparrow!


  1. Canada Goose (flying over)
  2. Mallard (flying over)
  3. Rock Pigeon
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Common Nighthawk (flying over)
  6. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  7. Killdeer (flying over)
  8. Ring-billed Gull (flying over)
  9. Herring Gull (flying over)
  10. Double-crested Cormorant (flying over)
  11. Great Blue Heron (flying over)
  12. Great Egret (flying over)
  13. Black-crowned Night Heron (2 flying over)
  14. Turkey Vulture (flying over)
  15. Osprey (flying over)
  16. Cooper’s Hawk
  17. Red-tailed Hawk (flying over)
  18. Downy Woodpecker (front tree)
  19. Northern Flicker (neighbour’s tree)
  20. American Kestrel (neighbour’s antenna)
  21. Merlin (on roof)
  22. Eastern Phoebe (heard out back)
  23. Blue-headed Vireo (neighbour’s yard)
  24. Red-eyed Vireo (front tree)
  25. Northern Shrike (neighbour’s tree)
  26. Blue Jay
  27. American Crow
  28. Common Raven (landed on Jeep!)
  29. Tree Swallow (flying over)
  30. Black-capped Chickadee
  31. Golden-crowned Kinglet (neighbour’s tree)
  32. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  33. Red-breasted Nuthatch (neighbour’s tree)
  34. White-breasted Nuthatch
  35. Brown Creeper (across the street)
  36. European Starling
  37. American Robin
  1. Bohemian Waxwing (neighbour’s tree)
  2. Cedar Waxwing (neighbour’s tree)
  3. House Sparrow
  4. American Pipit (flying over)
  5. Pine Grosbeak (neighbour’s tree)
  6. House Finch
  7. Purple Finch
  8. Common Redpoll
  9. White-winged Crossbill (neighbour’s tree)
  10. Pine Siskin
  11. American Goldfinch
  12. Snow Bunting (flying over)
  13. Chipping Sparrow
  14. Field Sparrow (back lawn!)
  15. American Tree Sparrow
  16. Dark-eyed Junco
  17. White-crowned Sparrow
  18. White-throated Sparrow
  19. Song Sparrow
  20. Baltimore Oriole (front tree)
  21. Red-winged Blackbird
  22. Brown-headed Cowbird
  23. Common Grackle
  24. Tennessee Warbler (singing out back)
  25. Orange-crowned Warbler (front tree)
  26. Nashville Warbler
  27. Cape May Warbler (Viburnum bush!)
  28. Yellow Warbler (front tree)
  29. Blackpoll Warbler (neighbour’s tree)
  30. Black-throated Blue Warbler (singing out back)
  31. Pine Warbler (front tree)
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler (front tree)
  33. Black-throated Green Warbler (neighbour’s yard)
  34. Wilson’s Warbler (front tree)
  35. Northern Cardinal
  36. Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Mammals and One Amphibian

Mamma skunk and six babies

Seven Striped Skunks making merry on my lawn!

Having feeders, of course, attracts wildlife of the four-legged variety. Two years in a row (in 2008 and 2009) I had a shrew visit my yard in the fall. He would emerge from the grass, steal a seed from the patio stones beneath the feeder, then disappear back into the grass, only to come back a minute or two later. As he never stayed out in the open for very long, it took a while until I got a decent enough photo of him to identify him.

Raccoons visit me from time to time, knocking my feeder onto the ground and then cleaning out the seeds. These brazen thieves don’t even flinch when we open the back door and shine a flashlight on them. Our best raccoon experience was when three babies came up onto the back deck one night and peered in at us through the glass! Skunks are also attracted to the seed beneath our feeder, although they don’t visit the backyard often. Our best skunk encounter occurred when a skunk gave birth to a litter of six or seven babies beneath our front step one summer. The kits would play in my garden after dark before going hunting with mom; often they would turn their backs on one another and raise their tail, as if threatening to spray each other! One morning while leaving for work I saw the whole group returning to the hole beneath my step.

Oddly enough, American Red Squirrels are quite rare in the subdivision despite being abundant in the woods nearby – I’ve only seen about four or five in the entire times we’ve lived here. They usually find their way to my feeder, and sometimes my back door!

The toad gets a special mention as the only amphibian I am every likely to see in my yard: I saw a huge adult hop out of the grass and onto the back patio one day in July 2014. Our house is in the middle of Emerald Meadows, surrounded by several roads before you hit the green space of the storm water ponds, the farm fields south of Hope Side Road, or the woods of Stony Swamp, so how this adult lived long enough to avoid all the traffic to reach my yard is a mystery. We only saw it the one day, though I would have been perfectly happy for him to stay!

  • Eastern Grey Squirrel
  • American Red Squirrel
  • Eastern Chipmunk
  • White-footed/Deer Mouse
  • Eastern Cottontail rabbit
  • Striped Skunk
  • Raccoon
  • Northern Short-tailed Shrew
  • American Toad (July 2014)
Raccoon, 2019


Despite planting numerous butterfly and pollinator-friendly flowers over the years, I have seen very few butterfly species in my yard, most of which have been single sightings (except for the ubiquitous and non-native Cabbage White).

  1. Black Swallowtail (caterpillar found on some parsley)
  2. Giant Swallowtail (a fly-through across my front yard)
  3. Clouded Sulphur
  4. Cabbage White
  5. Striped Hairstreak (2020)
  6. Spring Azure
  7. Silvery Blue (2020)
  8. Eastern Tailed Blue (2020)
  9. Eastern Comma
  10. Grey Comma
  11. White Admiral
  12. Red Admiral
  13. Common Ringlet
  14. Monarch
Eastern Tailed Blue, 2020

Although the Eagleson storm water ponds are close enough to my house to see herons, geese, Killdeer and ducks flying over frequently, smaller winged creatures such as dragonflies and damselflies generally do not stray far from the shallow water and open fields where food is abundant. Therefore, every one that turns up in my yard is a surprise, and I’ve had a few species that surprised even me (hint: everything that is not a skimmer)! Occasionally late in the summer I’ll see darners patrolling between the treetops of my street, but never close enough to identify. Only one darner has ever landed in my yard; what makes it even more bizarre is that it’s not one of the common species I see on this side of the river!

Fragile Forktail
  1. Fragile Forktail
  2. Eastern Forktail
  3. Black-tipped Darner
  4. Ebony Boghaunter
  5. Beaverpond Baskettail (2020)
  6. White-faced Meadowhawk
  7. Band-winged Meadowhawk
  8. Autumn Meadowhawk
  9. Common Whitetail

My garden also gets a pretty good variety of arachnids, moths, bees and other insects; I haven’t created any formal lists, but if you’re interested, please check out my photo gallery on Pbase to see some of the more interesting creatures that have stopped by!

Updated February 2021


9 thoughts on “In the Garden

  1. Pingback: Painted Ladies! | The Pathless Wood

  2. You have an impressive list of visitors here. Thank you for following my blog, I look forward to following you and learning more about the wildlife in your area. By the way, your photos are beautiful! ~ Marsha

    • Thanks Marsha! My dream is to own a home with at least an acre of land, preferably backing onto a forest or other green space; in the meantime, I plan to keep recording what I see in my postage stamp-sized yard and reading about other bloggers’ gardens for inspiration!

  3. you might consider keeping lists on “ebird” from cornell university. you can maintain a life list, year lists, and ‘patch’ lists-for your own backyard. it’s handy, and the info you post is used for research.

    • I already do use eBird, Doug; I think it’s fantastic! I enter checklists almost every day and keep my “formal” yard, life and year lists on eBird; this is a more informal list, mostly for non-avian species such as the butterflies and odes that visit my yard. I have written about eBird in the past; here are a few blog posts exploring eBird’s features and how it can be used by birders. eBird is actually the reason I stopped maintaining a year list on my blog – it’s just so much easier!

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