We have had such a warm October — likely thanks to climate change — that I continuing to spend time in the garden observing birds and insects, collecting native plant seeds to give away, and completing jobs that I normally never get around to doing. Looks like this crazy weather will continue into November here in Ottawa.
Northern Flicker visits the stream (October 15, 2022)
We rarely see woodpeckers of any sort visiting the stream. When they do, they only stop by for a drink. Today, the Northern Flicker that has been hanging around the neighbourhood came by for a drink. It was quite shy, and spent a long time sitting in the nearby lilacs before it finally hopped down.
White-crowned Sparrow at the feeder (October 15, 2022)
This is the first White-crowned Sparrow we’ve seen in the yard this fall. It frequented the stream and the feeder. This sparrow is definitely bigger than any of the other sparrow species in the yard.
Hermit Thrushes (October 22, 2022)
With the lovely weather, I’ve been out back watching birds again. Two Hermit Thrushes visited the stream yesterday.
I find thrushes really difficult to ID, but I eventually concluded that these were Hermit Thrushes, instead of the Swainson’s Thrushes that visited earlier in October. The rusty tail (last photo) was the give-away. Also, Hermit Thrushes are more cold-tolerant, so they migrate later than Swainson’s.
Swainson’s Thrush (September 17, 2022)
For comparison, here are photos of a Swainson’s Thrush in poses similar to the Hermit Thrush in the last post. This bird visited the stream in late September and early October.
Swainson’s Thrushes are more olive-coloured than brown, and don’t have a reddish tail like the Hermit Thrush. The Swainson’s also seems to have a more distinct eye ring. The differences are very subtle though.
Woolly Bear caterpillar (October 14, 2022)
This furry caterpillar travelled across the river rock gravel path. Perhaps it had used the nearby birch tree or asters as a host plant. They also eat birches, asters, clover, maples, sunflowers, and a few other plants. It’s the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth.
There’s a common myth that this caterpillar’s colour bands can predict how severe winter weather will be. In reality, according to butterfliesandmoths.org, “colors change as they molt to successive instars, becoming less black and more reddish as they age.”
White Spruce: adding conifers to my yard (October 24, 2022)
Recently while walking the dog, my son spotted Golden-crowned Kinglets and Chickadees in a medium-sized conifer. I’ve never seen a Golden-crowned Kinglet in our yard, but they obviously pass through the neighbourhood during migration. Why don’t they visit our yard?
After some research, I learned that Golden-crowned Kinglets like to eat insects in coniferous trees, like spruce and fir. While I’ve added lots of native shrubs, deciduous trees and herbaceous plants to our yard over the past 5 years, I’ve only added one conifer — this little White Spruce.
I plan to add a few more conifers to the yard next spring. They provide shelter for birds, their seeds are food for wildlife, and they add structure in garden design. Now I have an additional incentive — I might attract Golden-crowned Kinglet too.
Still going strong (October 24, 2022)
I used to think that the garden was finished by September. Here’s proof that there’s still lots going on in the garden at the end of October, especially when you grow native plants. Mind you, we’ve had a mild autumn so far.
Mystery of the missing leaves (late October, 2022)
I’ve been leaving the leaves in our garden, instead of raking and removing them, for the past few years. It’s odd that the soil is quite bare and dried out by the end of each summer. The soil doesn’t seem to have more organic matter in it, or improved moisture-holding capacity than in the past either. They aren’t blowing away because they yard is surrounded with fences. It really seems like the leaves are just disappearing.
In October, my son took a photo of the resident rabbit eating a bundle of dried Honeylocust leaves. There were lots of green plants it could have been eating, but it chose to eat dried leaves. That got me wondering if the rabbits are eating my leaf ‘litter’. After some Googling, I discovered that pet rabbits and farmed meat rabbits can be fed dried leaves.
My suspicions were confirmed while I was adding my neighbours’ donated leaves to the backyard hedgerow. I watched a rabbit eating leaves I had just thrown beneath the shrubs. Urgh! I guess I have to spread even more leaves now to try to improve the soil? Will I have to add wood mulch too? Should I used ground covers as ‘green mulch’ too, or instead? I solved one mystery, but now I have another problem to figure out.
Red dragonfly warming up (October 29, 2022)
I was surprised to see this red dragonfly sunning itself so late in the year. I thought dragonflies migrated. After some research, it seems that some species migrate, but others don’t.
Witch Hazel flowers (October 29, 2022)
Now that the last of the Witch Hazel leaves have fallen, I can see their spidery yellow flowers. The flowers and leaves stand out well against the grey walls in the background.
Since these shrubs bloom so late, one wonders how they’re pollinated. Apparently, there are moths that shiver to stay warm and active in cooler temperatures. Flies, gnats, and the odd bee have also been spotted visiting the flowers by researchers.
Those darned rabbits eat my little Witch Hazels each winter, so I’m finally placing chicken-wire rings around them. This single flowering branch in my photos is the only one the rabbits left alone last winter. Since the shrubs are at the back of a flower bed, I am going to leave the chicken wire up year-round for a few years to give the shrubs a chance to mature.
‘Gro-Low’ Fragrant Sumac (October 29, 2022)
While most the the leaves have fallen from trees and shrubs in our yard, the ‘Gro-Low’ Fragrant Sumacs are in full colour. ‘Gro-Low’ is a cultivar that only grows about a foot tall, but sadly my 3 shrubs have never produced berries.
I bought seedlings of the taller native species from Ontario Native Plants, but they’re still quite small. These also have beautiful leaves and will hopefully produce berries for the birds when they mature.