summer’s flight

PHOTO POST

In the shadowy woods autumn has already arrived, while sunshine on the marsh still reflects summer’s heat.

One More Fruit (click images for full-screen views)

The striped berries of Starry False Solomon’s Seal – if that’s too much of a mouthful, just say Smilacina stellata – make good food for birds, mice, and perhaps for a plump-cheeked chipmunk.

Facing Fall

Migratory birds are already passing through from the far north. Both the Greater and the Lesser Yellowlegs are likely to pass through here, and I can only guess that the bird below is a “yellowlegs, more or less”.

Pointed South

We are right on the edge of year-round habitat for Wood Ducks, so this female could be planning a short flight south or getting ready for winter here.

One Gold Ring

The young ones that were born here this summer are now full-grown. One of them appears to have done fine so far in spite of missing an eye.  

Three birds, two eyes

The Black-Crowned Night Herons are much easier to find lately, now that their young ones are just as big as the adults and no longer so vulnerable.

Great Hair Day

Green Herons are also easier to spot, as they stalk along the marsh edges for a quick meal.

Slowstep

Swift and Swifter

As summer gives way to fall, the damselflies and dragonflies are growing scarce. A damselfly, below, is warmed by the morning light while resting on a hydrangea paniculata leaf.

Balancing Light

The Green Darner, too, moves only slowly in the early morning cool. But unlike most other dragonflies, this species can migrate as far south as the West Indies to prolong summer.

Green Darner on Hosta


Photo at top of page: Trending Orange – a Pearl Crescent butterfly on yellow echinacea flower (click here for full-screen view)

watching the web

PHOTO POST

The onrushing summer engulfs us with new blooms, hot winds, welcome rains, and a procession of insects that each play their role in the march of seasons.

Milkweed leaves, above, may soon be eaten to shreds by monarch caterpillars. Meanwhile a Black & Yellow Mud Dauber Wasp uses the vantage point to look for any unwary spiders who might soon be food for wasp larvae.

Some plants are as beautiful while they bud as when in full bloom. Below, a Bergamot flower begins to open; it will soon attract not only bees but hummingbirds.

Two Story Bergamot (click images for larger views)

For many long days we feared the dry heat was so intense that many plants might falter. Few sights were so precious as raindrops on foliage.

Variegated Rain

One of the minor pleasures of rain, to a photographer, is that a drop of water can serve as a free magnifier lens, highlighting details in leaf structures.

Such trivia aside, you might well ask how the underside of a poppy leaf, below, managed to capture rain drops and reflect the morning sunshine.

Wet Leaf

Fortunately a gentle breeze had turned one floppy leaf down-side-up.

An early morning mist brought out otherworldly colours and shapes of a poppy bud.

Strange Dream

The rains did come when most needed, and many flowers have grown to their showiest. Below, a Red Soldier Beetle (aka Hogweed Bonking Beetle) prepares for launch from a feral Daisy.

Upward Spiral

Evening Primrose flowers and Green Metallic Sweat Bees are spectacular in their own rights and doubly so together.

Double Flash

A Bumblebee sitting on a raspberry leaf looks as prickly as the canes beneath the canopy.

Bramblebee

Many flowers, of course, are working towards the production of seeds. A Chipmunk is enjoying the bounty of a previous year, in the shape of a sunflower seed.

Seedy Side of Town

Few seed heads are quite so intricate as that of the Yellow Salsify, below. Did spiders get the idea to weave their mesmerizingly symmetrical webs from watching the formation of Salsify seeds – or was it the other way around?

Salsify’s Web

And then there are the wings of the Dragonflies. These graceful denizens of the marsh don’t often land in our gardens, but perhaps the hot pink Hollyhock was an irresistible draw.

Patterns on Pink


Photo at top of page: Yellow & Black Mud Dauber on Milkweed (click here for full image)

 

regarding the ways of the marsh

PHOTO POST

A long period of hot dry weather has hastened the fullness of summer in the marsh. Where you and I might see a smelly mess, many creatures are seeing a fertile, fecund, bountiful bouquet of life.

The dropping water levels have exposed squishy mudflats – great dining areas for pipers including the Killdeer.

Killdeer Goes to Dinner (click images for full-screen view)

Turtles both Painted and Snapper can frequently be seen floating near the surface with just their heads sticking up.

I’ve Got Time

Flies, mosquitos, water boatmen, and many other insects are flying just over the water or propelling themselves across the surface. They help feed hungry frogs, birds, fish, turtles – and larger insects such as dragonflies.

On a hot summer evening, the dragonflies are also busy laying their eggs just below the surface.

Dragonfly Arch

When a dragonfly pauses its rapid zig-zag flights an emerging water lily also makes a good perch.

Observation Post

The White Water Lily is one of the showiest plants in the marsh. But in full sun its white is so blinding that you may choose to see this flower through dark glasses.

Shadow Play

Another beautiful flowering plant, alas, contributes little but colour to the marsh. The Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), introduced from Eurasia more than 150 years ago, is poisonous to almost every local animal. With nothing to keep it in check it has spread widely throughout the Great Lakes area, and has become the dominant vegetation in sizable sections of Bowmanville Marsh.

Bitter Nightshade

For the time being, though, there is enough other tasty foliage to feed a thriving population of muskrats.

Reflections in Green

On a warm evening this beaver couldn’t be bothered to take supper home to the lodge.

Finger Food

One of the Great Blue Herons, perched at the edge of the reeds, caught sight of a Mudcat in striking distance.

Mudcat Special

Early in the spring I had two sightings of the gaudily spectacular male Wood Duck – but then concluded that this bird had just carried on in its migration. To my surprise, though, I spotted this Wood Duck hen and duckling swimming to cover in the reeds just before sunset earlier this week.

Swimming to Shelter

There is more to know in the marsh than can be learned in a few years, or even in a few human lifetimes. After six summers here there are still birds I’ve rarely or never glimpsed. The Virginia Rail has a reputation for being heard much more than seen, as it moves slowly and carefully through the shadows where the reeds meet the water. With patience and luck you may get your first sighting – and with extra luck I hope to get a second sighting some day soon.

Virginia Rail

There are few marsh dwellers as beautiful as this Green Frog1 – especially as frogs are known as Marsh Canaries, who are so sensitive to pollutants that they provide a warning system of unhealthy conditions. Frogs have been scarce in this marsh, but in recent years they seem to have made a bit of a comeback. May the bright yellow flash and the deep twangy call of the Green Frog be seen and heard through the coming days and eons.

Five O’clock Frog


Photo at top of page: Close-Up, Five O’clock Frog (click here for full-screen view)


1This helpful name distinguishes true Green Frogs from mere green frogs. The website naturewatch.ca explains that a Green Frog may also be bronze or brown, with a white belly, and the males have a bright yellow throat.

 

pairings

PHOTO POST

If you want to see some scary exotic creatures on the hunt, you could buy yourself a camera with a lens as long as its price tag, then book an even more expensive safari to the far side of the world.

Or, you could pick up a half-decent magnifying glass, lie down in your backyard or in a weedy vacant lot, and take a close look at the passing pageant of insects.

For this post I ventured no further than my yard, at most about 30 meters from the house.

The great thing about looking closely for small insects is that you will also see more of the beautiful detail in leaves, grasses and flowers.

Red and Green (click images for larger views)

Above, the tiny leaves of a new shrub willow catch the morning sun. Below, one of many varieties of grass now going to seed.

Seeds of Grass

While I studied grass seed a bright beetle came in for a landing.

Pinnacle

The same creature landed on an Alfalfa plant a few minutes later.

Eye Spy

Since I’m not sure what kind of beetle this is (perhaps a Longhorn Beetle?), I can’t be sure if it was chewing the holes in the leaves, or waiting to chew on the bug who was chewing on the leaves.

There was no such ambiguity in another scene of combat.

Candy Stripe Cobweb Weaver

Some wasps eat spiders and some spiders eat wasps, but in this case a Candy Stripe Cobweb Weaver was methodically wrapping up what appeared to be a Blackjacket Wasp, who soon gave up struggling.

The wild Yellow Salsify flowers attract early-rising pollinators – but they gradually close up when the sun gets hot in mid-morning.

Salsification

Daisy Fleabane, on the other hand, takes a few hours to unfurl in the morning and its purple-pink petals gradually take on a bleached appearance by mid-afternoon. Like the Salsify it makes a great photo backdrop for many insects, in this case the beautiful Musca Domestica.

Wings of Pink

The Calligrapha beetle is named for the distinctive patterns on its shiny shell. The Calligrapha Amator, below, is popularly known as the Ontario Calligrapha though it is also reported in Quebec.

Calligrapha Amator

Perhaps the flashiest bug in our yard is the Green Metallic Sweat Bee, here photographed on a chive bloom.

All That Glitters Is Green

But this unidentified spider, spotted on the same alium, is awfully photogenic too.

Pink and Gold

bloomin’ weeds

PHOTO POST

Full disclosure: not all the plants pictured here are wildflowers strictly speaking. Some have been introduced to the area, have escaped from gardens, and now roam the countryside, feral.

The Wood Anemone at the top of the post grows across North America, including local meadows and at the edges of some marshes.

A beautiful Flowering Cherry, on the other hand, may well have been brought in by a long-gone nearby nursery.

Flowering Cherry

Another flowering shrub, which I believe is a Nannyberry (a type of viburnum), also grows near the former nursery.

Nannyberry

The Barberry is much closer to home, having taken a post in our yard. Though most people grow it for its foliage its flowers are spectacular too – though at just a few millimeters in diameter you need to get really close to appreciate them.

Barberry in Flower

The beautiful Speedwell is just a wee bit bigger. If you google it you may learn as I did that this flower thrives in some lawns, giving fits to those determined to eliminate botanical diversity from their expanses of grass.

Speed Thee Well

And let us not forget the noble Dandelion, here looking resplendent after a morning dew.

Tall Dandelion Syndrome

On our marshes, a very different bloom often happens – an algal bloom. According to NOAA, the vast majority of algal blooms do not produce toxins. This patch of vivid green appeared at one end of Bowmanville Marsh and disappeared just as quickly a few days later. It may or may not be a reflection of ecosystem health, but it did not appear to concern the muskrats.

Muskrat Quest

Very few other aquatic blooms have appeared so far this summer, but these grasses and water catch the evening light as beautifully as any flower.

Spectrum

In wet woodlands beside the marsh, the Starry False Solomon’s Seal is widespread. (It should hire a spin doctor – surely it deserves a name of its own rather than being named by what it is not.)

What’s Solomon Got To Do With It?

At sunset in a meadow, you can savour the delicate colours of the Wood Anemone, which will soon be submerged in waist-high vegetation.

Wood Anemone Two


Photo at top of page: Wood Anemone One (click here for larger image)

hiding in plain sight

PHOTO POST

Depending on your life style, there are times you might stand out a little more than is good for you. But the creatures of our marshes and woodlands generally know how to stay out of sight when that’s important.

The Osprey may seem to have nothing to worry about – beyond the challenge of bringing home enough fish to feed rapidly growing chicks. Yet Osprey eggs and chicks would be welcome meals for foxes, skunks and raccoons. Building their nests at the top of dead trees or on human-constructed platforms helps protect Ospreys, especially when the trees or poles are surrounded by water.

X Marks the Osprey (click images for larger views)

Mute swans, too, are big enough to take on most potential enemies other than malicious or stupid humans. Newly hatched cygnets quickly begin to roam the open waters of the marsh – with the advantage that when they get tired, they can climb aboard and rest.

Cygnet Trio

Cygnet Rides

Things are a little trickier for ducks. Adult Mallards can escape predators with their explosive speed – they go from watery hideaways to full flight in a split second. The young ones don’t have this skill. But they do have both the colouring and the instinct to hide. As they feed near marsh edge or creek bank, they can disappear into the reeds or the shadows from overhanging trees within a few seconds.

Make For The Shadows

Another recent sighting comes from away – and they won’t have their young until they reach the coastlines of the central arctic. Kayaking on the lake one morning, I spotted a clump of geese that were acting strangely – Canada Geese don’t usually hang out in groups like this at this time of year. Approaching slowly for a closer look, I could see they were Brants, a smaller (and to my eye more elegant) cousin of the Canada Goose.

Brants On a Stopover

Going down the size scale a step farther, the Sora does nest in this marsh. Its flexible wide feet enable it to walk on floating reeds where it feeds on insects, snails, and aquatic seeds. Sora usual stay out of sight but the low rays of the setting sun sometimes cast a spotlight.

Feat of Flotation

One of the brightest birds in local woods and at marsh edge is the Yellow Warbler. Though it typically darts from branch to branch in dense thickets, on this evening it was singing from the top of a tall wild apple tree.

Yellow Warbler, Warbling

Slightly smaller still – but with a large voice – is the Marsh Wren. The songs of dozens of Marsh Wrens echo through each reedy section of our marshes. But they are much harder to see than to hear, and getting a clear and unobstructed view takes patience and/or luck. (In my case, many attempts over several years.)

Marsh Wren

On a quiet note, we’ll soon be blessed with multitudes of wild flowers. One of the earliest and most splendid is the Red Trillium, scattered among the far more numerous White Trilliums and Mayapples.

Red Trillium

Along the Waterfront Trail in early summer, one is treated to a feast of perfumes as whole thickets burst into blossom. The earliest of these flowers have arrived.

Sunset in the Thicket

The Mossy Stonecrop Sedum has yet to flower but it is fantastically colourful nonetheless. Yet it is seldom noticed, growing as it does in scrubby patches of grass. To really appreciate its forms and colours, you need to get right down on the ground and gaze nose-to-nose at this sedum, which at full growth is only a few centimeters high.

Stonecrop Sparkles


Photo at top of page: Party of Seven (click here for larger view) 

brushes with light

PHOTO POST

A chilly month of April has slowed the appearance of most green leaves and flowers – but the blooming that has begun seems all the more colourful for its scarcity.

On savannah and at forest’s edge, trees and shrubs were budding out even on frosty mornings.

Red Elbow

Dogwood, Early Morning, Early Spring

Specklebranch

Muddy creek banks took longer to warm but small trees soon sent out leaves.

Curlicue

In the deep forest Mayapples were ready with their parasol-leaves fully formed underground, poking up and unfurling to catch the sun before the tree canopy envelopes them in shadow.

Mayapple Shadow

On a creek bank a showy willow bursts into flower before forming its first leaves.

Willow Light One

Willow Light Two

A fresh willow twig is beautiful, yes … but tasty? The beavers think so, and it’s not hard to find clusters of willow with each stem neatly chewed off. Here our Castor canadensis is coming home with groceries.

Long Lunch

The Muskrat, too, enjoys fresh salad in the spring. Though the marsh vegetation still looks dry and lifeless, beneath the waterline the cattails are sending up new shoots. You’ve got to wonder – how does someone who forages in the mud at the bottom of a swamp keep such beautifully clean nails?

Dainty Eater

The Mute Swans who have moved into the marsh also spend a lot of time pulling vegetation from beneath the water. But this time of year they’re busy sorting out nesting sites and territories. During the daytime there are frequent bursts of thunder as determined swans chase others away, huge feet slapping the water and the whoosh of wings audible for hundreds of meters.

Full Tilt

Before sunset peace returns, while nesting pairs circle one another in their slow spin dance.

Light and Lighter


Photo at top of page: Brush With Light (click here for larger view)

the forest beneath the forest

PHOTO POST

A southern Ontario forest in early April might seem a bleak habitation, especially on a grey day. Few birds sing their songs, few green shoots have poked out of the ground, and only a few trees have begun to bud out.

Blanket (click images for larger views)

Yet the floor of the forest can be colourful on a damp day and riotously so on a sunny day.

Craquelure

Turning to Gold

The mosses and lichens shine out in their profuse diversity – sometimes illuminated with the memory of a passing bird.

Mixed Media

Gathering

Forest for the Trees

Though the mosses are the first “flowers” of spring, they are quickly followed by other woodland natives eager to catch a growth spurt before the leafing trees above can capture the sunlight.

Under the G

Purple Greens

At the edge of the forest, dogwoods provide a reliable splash of colour right through the winter.

Red Thickets

And by mid-April, young Red maples at forest’s edge steal the show with their flowering.

Mapleflower

 

Photo at top of page: Circular Triangle (click here for full-size view)

 

If the insects go, we all go

An illustrated review of Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects

Also published at Resilience.org

Buzz, Sting, Bite is a breezy read with a sobering message: insects are so deeply woven into the web of life that the worldwide drop in insect populations threatens every other species. (Buzz, Sting, Bite is published by Simon & Schuster, July 2019)

Author Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is a Norwegian ecologist who specializes in the interactions of the thousands of species that live in dead wood in Scandinavia. But here she writes for non-specialists, with the goal of inspiring more people with fascination, respect, awe and concern for insects.

So she’s happy to sprinkle the text with anthropomorphic metaphors, to showcase strange tales of insect sexual practices, and to regale us with ghoulish examples of insects who devour other insects in bizarre and inventive fashion. She explains why, in scientific terms, insects, spiders and centipedes belong to different phyla, while bugs are a specific order of insects – but she doesn’t let those formal distinctions get in the way of a good story.


Damselflies in Summer Meadow. Sverdrup-Thygeson writes: “Have you ever seen damselflies … perching or flying around in pairs? … The sole purpose of this tandem position is that it allows the male to keep watch over the female and make sure she doesn’t mate with any rivals until she has laid (what he hopes are) their jointly fertilized eggs on a suitable aquatic plant.” (page 34)


Though the book is illustrated only with a few eloquent black-and-white illustrations, Sverdrup-Thygeson’s story-telling is vivid. In just over two hundred pages the reader will absorb much fundamental biological understanding, along with compelling anecdotes about species from all over the world.

She concedes that a small number of insect species cause us harm, from annoying but temporarily itchy bites, to sudden crop failures, to epidemics of deadly diseases. Her focus, however, is on the other side of the ledger – the far more numerous species whose activities are indispensable to the biosphere that supports us.


Red Wasp on Hydrangea Paniculata. “Insects’ visits to flowers contribute to seed production in more than 80 percent of the world’s wild plants, and insect pollination improves fruit or seed quality in a large proportion of our global food crops …. A study of forty different crops across the planet showed that visits from wild insects increased crop yields in all systems.” (Buzz, Sting, Bite, page 85)

Green Metallic Sweat Bee on Echinacea.


At the end of the book she quotes Harvard professor E.O. Wilson: “The truth is that we need invertebrates but they don’t need us. If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go on with little change …. But if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could live more than a few months.” And by the end of the book, Sverdrup-Thygeson has helped us to understand why Wilson was so right.

Insects evolved hundreds of millions of years earlier than larger species did, and as a result our ecosystem is built on a foundation of insect biodiversity. More than half of all bird species, for example, eat insects, as do most freshwater fish. For about 80 per cent of wild plants, as well as most of the plants that we eat, visits from a variety of insects are either essential or measurably beneficial.


Red Admiral Butterfly on Coriander. “Most insect species on the planet undergo complete metamorphosis. This includes the dominant insect groups, such as beetles, wasps, butterflies, flies, and mosquitoes. The ingenious part of it is that they can exploit two totally different diets and habitats as child and adult ….” (page 5)

Green-Eyed Dragon. “The dragonfly excels as a lethal hunter, succeeding in more than 95 percent of its attempts. … Their vision makes a significant contribution to their success …. Almost their entire head consists of eyes. In fact, each eye is made up of 30,000 small eyes, which can see both ultraviolet and polarized light as well as colors. And since the eyes are like balls, the dragonfly can see most of what is happening on all sides of its body.” (page 16-17)

Disappearing Damselflies. “Freshwater fish live largely off insects because some insects take infant swimming so seriously that they keep their young permanently submerged until they reach the age of reason: mosquitos, mayflies, and dragonflies, to name but a few.” (page 101)


And then there’s decomposition, AKA composting and recycling. All over the globe there are sophisticated teams of bugs, bacteria and fungi which transform rotting animal flesh, fruit, leaves, trees, and dung into nutrients that then feed other species.


Ants in Tree-House. “Once fungi and insects, mosses and lichens, and bacteria have moved in, there are more living cells in the dead tree than there were when it was alive. So ironically enough, dead trees are actually among the most living things you can find in the forest.” (page 113)


There are many reasons for a rapid decline in insect numbers in many countries, including habitat loss, widespread pesticide use, and climate change. Typically, the rare and most specialized species are the first to go, Sverdrup-Thygeson says. And though extinction is a frightening (and increasingly frequent) outcome, she warns that:

“It’s too late to worry when a species is on the brink of extinction. Species cease to function in the ecosystem long before the last individual dies out. That is why it is so vital not to focus exclusively on species extinction but to turn the spotlight on the decline in the number of individuals.” (Buzz, Sting, Bite, page 178)

Buzz, Bite, Sting is an easy read for a summer day – but the book is meant to spur important action and change:

“We have everything to gain by caring a bit more about insects. I believe in knowledge, positive talk, and enthusiasm. Be curious about bugs, take the time to look and learn. Teach children about all the strange and useful things insects do. Talk nicely about bugs. Make your garden a better place for flower visitors. Let’s get insects onto the agenda in land-use plans and official reports, agriculture regulations and state budgets. … My hope is that this book will open more people’s eyes to the weird and wonderful world of insects and the extraordinary lives they live alongside us on this planet we share.”


Photographs taken by Bart Hawkins Kreps in Port Darlington, Ontario. Photo at top of post: Meadow Sunset Dragonfly (click here for full-size version)

 

the view from up here

PHOTO POST

A chorus of squeaks and squawks comes from on high as birds scout out good feeding territories, warn of possible predators, or call out “bring me another worm!”

 

Bright Shade (click images for larger views)

A Purple Finch is interested in tasty seeds – and likes to wait between snacks in the cool shade of lower branches.

On The Fence

A Chipmunk often watches from near the top of a wood fence until it seems safe to grab seeds on the ground.

Eastern Comma

Bright butterflies are now flashing around the yard as well. Above, the Eastern Comma Butterfly, and below, a Monarch on a favourite flower which has dibs on the grand title “Butterfly Weed”.

Butterfly Weed

For more than two weeks, Bergamot blooms have attracted the Hummingbirds.

Hummingbird & Bergamot

Hummingbird & Bergamot II

A strange creature landed in the garden recently and I tried to find its name. I learned that the Crane Fly, with its astonishingly long and delicate legs, often breaks at least one – which is probably why the insect below has only five legs. That apparently doesn’t matter a lot – once this fly graduates from maggot stage, I read, it is not known to eat anything and needs to survive just long enough to reproduce.

Crane Fly & Hydrangea Paniculata

Damselflies are typically active predators but on a calm cloudy evening they were busy pairing up, landing on a marsh surface where couples were reproduced in reflection.

Damselflies & Dusk, Bowmanville Marsh

The water was soon rippled with raindrops and a rainbow rose over the lake at sunset.

It’s Mostly Sky

Photo at top: Flicker & Birch (full-size version here)