reading the fine print

PHOTO POST

Who knew there was a Green Heron in our neighbourhood?

I’m sure many birders knew, but until this spring I didn’t know there is such a thing as a Green Heron, or that the Green Heron is hardly green at all, or that I had in fact seen and photographed a Green Heron a year ago.

More on herons later, but let’s agree that one can study and admire the fine features of many creatures while being quite unaware of their names.

Wingspan

The dragonflies that buzz around the reeds and lilypads at the edge of the marsh, for example, come in many colours, and might change their looks depending on the angle of the sun – but whatever their species, they are among the most beautiful sights on a steamy summer evening.

Stained Glass

The same can be said of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), whose delicate orange blossom would be as beautiful by any other name.

Jewelweed

But of course the details matter greatly in many ways. While the native Jewelweed is no more or less beautiful than the somewhat similar Himalayan Balsam (see previous post, Before and After Flowers), the latter, recently introduced species is unfortunately far too successful in this environment, with the result that it can quickly crowd out most other plants.

Frogbit One

The same is true of European Frog-bit, whose tiny and delicate white flowers are now popping up around the edges of Bowmanville Marsh. Brought in to an Ottawa area experimental farm in 1932 as a possible decorative plant, it began to colonize many other bodies of water and is now widely established in southern Ontario and some northeast US states. Unfortunately, its miniature “lily pads” soon multiply to great numbers that snuff out many other plants, and which also spread easily when moved by contact with boats or moving water including the wake from boats. (See Ontario government fact sheet on European Frog-bit)

Frogbit Two

 

Shore Lunch

On the other hand, the Turkey Vulture is one of our more majestic indigenous birds, though it has the unglamorous job of cleaning up carrion. (They do not eat fresh meat.) When Turkey Vultures glide on thermals over the beach they are a welcome sight, as that usually means there is a dead fish or waterbird sending a pungent odour heavenward, and the Turkey Vultures have arrived to deal with it.

Sharp Look

One of the inescapable facts of living on the lakeshore is that there are lots of spiders – thousands, millions, gazillions? They make a mess of windows and outdoor walls, and ensure that the first person to walk through a doorway in the morning can expect a spider web across the face. Most of them are too small to successfully photograph with the equipment I have, but this beauty, stationed on the gatepost to our vegetable garden, is an exception.

Garden Guardian

 

Night Heron by Day

A fine heron by any name

And now about those herons. The Great Blue Heron is unmistakable and can be sighted on most paddling excursions in Bowmanville and Westside marshes, but the small herons are more elusive.

Adult Black-Crowned Night Herons are fairly easy to spot, as their white body and black-cap head stand out clearly against the green reeds. The youngsters, though, wear a better camouflage. Though the adult Black-Crown Night Herons and Green Herons don’t look at all alike, their youngsters bear many similarities.

I first became aware of the Green Heron a few months ago, when I spotted one in the still-short fresh green reeds along Soper Creek. Following that sighting I tried many times to spot the bird again, with little luck. But by late July I started to see young small herons, and learned it is easy to confuse the Black-Crowned Night Heron with the Green Heron – they both have predominately brown and white mottled feathers.

The juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron does not have a black cap, I learned, while a Green Heron wears a dark cap as both a juvenile and adult.

Looking at old pictures, I realized that in a post a year ago I had misidentified the bird at right as a Black-Crowned Night Heron, at a time when I wasn’t aware that Green Herons exist or that they might be found in this area.

At Roost

In the past two weeks I believe I have spotted juveniles of both species, though they are far more cautious and skittish than the Great Blue Herons. The youngster above, for example, retreated to a hiding place high in the trees beside Bowmanville Creek. It was only by drifting by very slowly that I found one angle with an almost unobstructed view.

And after many excursions at dawn and at sunset, I think I’ve finally captured a clear view of a Green Heron, below.

I Was Here All Along

Top photo: On An Arc (click here for larger view)

Disclaimer: the foregoing is not to be construed as advice from a certified authority, including but not limited to, ornithologist, entomologist, arachnologist, angelologist, ichthyologist, neuropsychopharmacologist, lepidopterologist, numismatologist, phytologist, dendrologist or other ologist, and is accompanied by no guarantee, either express or implied.

before and after flowers

PHOTO POST

With most summer flowers now fallen away or drying, it is up to butterflies and damselflies, grasses and fruits, to provide flashes of colour. While monarchs are drawn to the late-blooming Silphium, their caterpillars chew through Milkweed leaves.

Perspectives in pink (click images for larger views)

A wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies drift across from the marsh to our gardens – and clearly, for them this is a busy time of year.

Freefloat

 

Stars Came Out

 

Orange arrangement

Some of this season’s lilies are strikingly colourful even as they dry in the sun, and a few are still attracting pollinators.

Firedust

 

Listening Post

But sometimes you want to escape the heat. This rabbit relaxes on the beach in a cool morning breeze, having earned a break after a long night of pillaging gardens throughout the neighbourhood.

Coming-of-Age Story

On Westside Marsh, a trio of Mute Swan cygnets now look almost grown up, though their grey bills and mottled grey feathers still set them apart from their parents.

Under the Canopy

The flowers that are just now coming into bloom tend to be very tall. At two metres or more, the Himalayan Balsam is a good bit taller than its native cousin the orange-blossomed Jewelweed, which blooms a bit earlier. (The crushed stems of both species yield a clear juice that sooths the burn from Poison Ivy.)

Himalayan Balsam’s hollow but sturdy stalks are beautiful in their own right, though they are usually hidden deep in the understory. A tenacious competitor, it can quickly take over an area and produce a thick stand that leaves no room for other plants. Those who have had the experience of struggling to control a well-established stand realize this plant’s magnificence comes at great expense.

Jewelweed One

Its pink flowers are succeeded by an equally elaborate exploding seed pod that can distribute hundreds of seeds several metres in every direction. If you see a few of these flowers you might want to enjoy their beauty now – and then pull up the plants before they can seed next summer’s forest.

Jewelweed Sundown

 

Top photo: Monarchs’ Realm

 

house of orange

PHOTO POST

The star that burns most brightly in our garden recently is the Butterfly Weed (aka Pleurisy Root, Butterfly Milkweed). This not-so-common member of the milkweed family is said to attract Monarch butterflies.

Panorama in Orange (click images for larger view)

So far this year the Monarchs haven’t paid much attention, but other insects have certainly noticed these blooms. The Musca domestica (housefly) looks its resplendent best against a backdrop of Butterfly weed.

Transparency

Even where the flowers have little colour, it’s not hard to spot some flashes of orange. This dragonfly has flown across the road from the marsh to check out the arugula flowers, while bronze and brassy damselflies also flit around the garden.

Transparency II

 

Sunshadow

Intense summer sun plus a small but very welcome shower sped this sunflower toward maturity. Just two days separates these photos, as yellow-green quickly turns to orange.

Count To Three

The dry heat of recent weeks had many things switching to the hues of fall. With lawns drying up and many flowers withered, some days it looked more like September than July. The burnt ochre of the garden ornaments below – fragmented memories of someone else’s long-ago Mexican vacation – fit right in.

Repose

Some flowers, of course, still ring out in defiantly different tones.

Coiled Blue

Borage (above) and white water lily (below) look cool even when the sun is directly overhead in a cloudless sky.

Deep Light

Yet the palette in our corner of the world is trending toward yellow, gold, and orange, as rudbeckia, sylphium, and a flaming lily, below, come into their glory.

Orange Flows

Top photo: Buzz buzz (click here for larger view)

season finale

On a chilly late August morning you may feel that your best-before date has come and gone, your colours have faded and your once-splendid wings are tattered. But by the warmth of the noon-day sun, when you’re sipping nectar from a silphium flower eight feet in the air, you can still make the most of the summer’s glories.

Ragged Red Admiral (click images for larger view)

Once-bright petals are curling and falling to the ground, but a new round of flowers is taking over in meadows and gardens.

Light-Emitting Dandelion

 

Aster

 

Meanwhile the marsh is alive with a profusion of dragonflies and damselflies.

Dark Dragon

 

Dragonfly Sky

 

Whether in the marsh, harbour or along the breakwater, the ducks are no longer skittish – they continue feeding while a kayaker drifts within a few feet.

Duck Diner 1

Duck Diner 2

An adult Black Crowned Night Heron is not a flashy bird, but this nearly full-grown juvenile shows real sartorial flare. (Correction, Aug 13 2018: after further study I’m convinced this is not a young Black Crowned Night Heron, but rather a Green Heron. See “Reading the Fine Print”, Aug 14, 2018)

One Fine Heron

Several Great Blue Herons can often be seen in one small part of Bowmanville Marsh.

Wingspan

Along this coast there is another distinct sign of summer’s end: salmon are approaching the mouths of creeks, and that means fishing charters linger near shore while hopeful anglers line the breakwater.

Observation

 

Illustration at top of page: Red Dragon and Blue Dragon

Festival of Wings

The gardens are filled with beating wings this month – wings of butterflies, bees, moths, damselflies, beetles and wasps. Many of them don’t like to sit still long, so trying to photograph them can be a great way to while away the hours.

Red admiral on white coneflower (click images for larger views)

There have been an encouraging number of monarchs along the north shore of Lake Ontario recently, and they are particularly attracted to the flowers of the Silphium perfoliatum, aka cup plant, carpenter’s weed, squareweed, compass plant. One of the monarchs I photographed had been tagged by Monarch Watch, and I hope to hear how far it has travelled so far and whether it makes it all the way to Mexico before winter.

Monarch on silphium perfoliatum

 

Earlier in the summer the bumblebees proved very difficult to photograph, but recently they’ve been slowing down to linger on the flowers of catnip.

Bumblebee on catnip flowers

 

Bumblebee on catnip 2

One bumblebee was carrying so much pollen that its pollen baskets swayed from side to side as it crawled over the flowers.

Bumblebee on catnip 3

How much of this pollen came from catnip? That’s hard to say, since the bees were also working over the silphium flowers the same afternoon.

Bumblebee on silphium flower

 

The beautiful swallowtail butterflies also tend to flash around the garden without settling long. But I learned that when a pair of them land in the same flower patch they are far more interested in each other, and it’s possible to get close enough for a good photograph.

Swallowtail coming in for a landing

 

Swallowtail on white coneflower

Not to be outdone, the northern flickers have also been feeding in the yard recently, and this one seems to say “Never mind about those little wings – have a look at this tail!”

Northern flash

gems of the garden

When you coax a wide variety of flowers and herbs into your garden you also attract a wide variety of insects. Although not all these inhabitants are a welcome sight, most are not only beneficial but also remarkably beautiful.

For instance, there’s this cute little caterpillar with the unwieldy name Eupithecia miserulata. Not only does it stand out sharply against the burgundy and gold of a rudbeckia blossom, but it grows up to be a striking gray-brown moth.

Eupithecia. (click photos for larger images)

 

Then there are the mud dauber wasps. Two different types have been visiting our fennel flowers recently.

Black mud dauber wasp

Black and yellow mud dauber wasp

Though they look fierce they seldom sting people. But the mud dauber wasps do prey on spiders, which are more than abundant in our lakeshore location, so we are very happy to have them.

 

A more common but no less striking visitor has also been attracted to the herb garden – musca domestica, aka housefly.

Musca domestica on fennel flower

Musca domestica on coriander flower

The red soldier beetle was introduced from Europe and is relatively new to Ontario. Its British common name, Hogweed Bonking Beetle, sounds simultaneously ominous and comical, and in fact it is a pollinator of the toxic plants cow parsnip and giant hogweed. However it also preys on aphids, slugs and snails.

Red soldier beetle on grass

Red soldier beetles on Hydrangea paniculata

Damselflies are a wetland insect, but our garden is just across the road from a marsh and so these glittery creatures have been alighting on the leaves of beans, tomatoes and dogwood.

Eastern forktail damselfly, female

Eastern forktail damselfly, male

Finally, we are fortunate to see many honey bees locally, including this one visiting a purple/blue borage flower.

Honey bee on borage

Pollination Nation

There are many beautiful flowers in the meadows and marshes this month, and the insects that visit the plants are photogenic in their own right.

For today’s post we venture to some of the farthest reaches of greater metropolitan Port Darlington – from the east end of West Beach Road out to the meadow beyond Westside Marsh.

The beautiful plant below is sometimes called Blueweed, sometimes Echium vulgare, but I think Viper’s Bugloss is more suitably dramatic. Whatever the name, it attracts a variety of bees in addition to the Virginia Ctenucha moth.

Virginia Ctenucha moth on Viper’s Bugloss. (click images for larger view)

 

Yellow flash.

These flowers also attract lots of honeybees and bumblebees.

Bee on Viper’s Bugloss.

Just across the road from the stand of Viper’s Bugloss is a wetland meadow. Here the often-loathed Canada Thistles are showing just how tough they are. Even though they’ve been standing in at least 15 centimeters of water for the past six weeks, they are still coming into bloom.

Thistle in flooded meadow.

Four little flyers, ranging from about 1 centimeter to perhaps 2 millimeters in length, are attracted to this single thistle blossom.

Quartet.

Wading through head-high grass and flowers beyond the Westside Marsh, I saw a flash of orange which I mistook for a moth. After tracking it through the thicket and waiting for it to settle long enough to be photographed, I learned it was not a moth but a butterfly; just a frayed Freija Fritillary I’m afraid.

Freija fritillary.

 

Among the profusion of flowers here were yellow salsify, pink wild roses, white daisies, and lots of marsh marigold, below.

Goldbug.

As far as I know damselflies are not pollinators, but the beautiful specimen below was a thrill to spot nevertheless. The Tule Bluet frequents marshes across much of Ontario, and this one was just a stone’s throw from the waters of Westside Marsh.

Tule Bluet.

 

Top photo: Redhead click here for larger view.  This unidentified pollinator was spotted visiting American Bittersweet flowers. If you know the identity of this insect please drop me a note using the Contact page.