A “Garden in the Forest” – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, we posted here about the volunteer creation of the wildlife feeding “Garden in the Forest” at the Arboretum – you can read it here:  http://www.greenbirding.ca/making-a-garden-in-the-forest/ to find out what it’s about.

Time for an update. All the trees, bushes and shrubs are now planted and the site has been thoroughly dug over to try to get rid of big, thuggish weeds and ferns. Needless to say, that’s a vain hope but at least for now they are under control. Currently we are spreading a thick layer of well-matured wood-chipping mulch over the site and have got about 40% of the area completed. There is a blattering rain coming the next couple of days but we still hope to have got the worst of the job done by the end of the week … that’s probably another bit of vain hope, but you have to keep feeling positive.

All of this being written to say that if anyone with a shovel would care to lend us an hour or two of their time on Wednesday and Thursday mornings it would be a huge contribution to completing this exciting project before the real summer heat starts to hit. Bring your shovel to the site, just in front of the sugar shack, either morning at about 9:30 am and we’ll soon complete the job. NOTE: should there be any reason to postpone this we will publish a note on the Friends of the Morgan Arboretum Facebook page late on Tuesday afternoon..

If you haven’t seen the Garden in the Forest yet, here are some pictures of where things stand today … later we will create a perimtere path around the garden and a low fence will be installed to keep dogs and small people from trampling the bushes.

Southern end of garden – mulching completed
A “stumpery” of decaying logs that will provide grubs for birds and other wildlife
Northern end of Garden with on-going weeding – mulch not yet applied
Pagoda Dogwood blossoms – berries for birds will follow in early summer
View from the Garden to the southern end of the birch trail
Winterberry bush – several of these have been planted and will grow into berry festooned six foot bushes in a few years
Looking north
American black cherry tree … the next generation will enjoy this 60 foot tree covered in fruit for the birds. It has some growing to do yet, but already has blossom forming.

Arboretum birding (with photographs)

Towards the end of April, Chris and led a birding field trip in the arboretum for members of Bird Protection Quebec that turned out to be stunningly successful with slightly over 50 species seen … which for April, when the snows have barely departed, is exceptionally successful.

Today we repeated the exercise for members of the Arboretum itself (we do this every year towards the end of May) timed to coincide reasonably well with peak migration but personally I didn’t expect it to match the April visit for sheer variety. Well, it shows how wrong you can be. A beautifully sunny day, mosquitoes of course but not too many, and 56 species of birds in four hours gentle wandering.

A good number of warblers, lots and lots of Indigo Buntings, a field with returned Bobolinks, possibly the sound of a rare Black-billed Cuckoo and right at the end an overflight by a Northern Goshawk. The arboretum is an exceptional place to see a variety of great birds.

Pretty good, eh?

A few non-avian things to enjoy as well included a very well camouflaged gray tree from on a tree and definitely not camouflaged six-sppotted tiger beetle crossing the trail

Here are some photographs to show the variety of birds seen or heard and after them the checklist for the day specially for our bird-nerd friends.  (As usual – hover over a thumbnail to see the caption and click any one to see it full size in a slide show.)

Checklist for the day …

  • Turkey Vulture  5
  • Northern Goshawk  1
  • Red-shouldered Hawk  1
  • Killdeer  2
  • Ring-billed Gull  3
  • Mourning Dove  1
  • Black-billed Cuckoo  1     (a rare bird but one was also reported from the MBO this morning so we have confidence in the ID)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
  • Downy Woodpecker  1
  • Hairy Woodpecker  1
  • Northern Flicker  4
  • Pileated Woodpecker  2
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee  5
  • Alder Flycatcher  1
  • Least Flycatcher  1
  • Eastern Phoebe  3
  • Great Crested Flycatcher  3
  • Red-eyed Vireo  9
  • Blue Jay  4
  • American Crow  7
  • Tree Swallow  1
  • Barn Swallow  6
  • Cliff Swallow  6
  • Black-capped Chickadee  4
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
  • House Wren  1
  • American Robin  2
  • Gray Catbird  2
  • Cedar Waxwing  6
  • Ovenbird  2
  • Tennessee Warbler  5
  • Nashville Warbler  2
  • Common Yellowthroat  2
  • American Redstart  5
  • Magnolia Warbler  2
  • Bay-breasted Warbler  2
  • Blackburnian Warbler  2
  • Yellow Warbler  3
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler  2
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
  • Black-throated Green Warbler  3
  • Chipping Sparrow  10
  • Song Sparrow  8
  • Scarlet Tanager  2
  • Northern Cardinal  4
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
  • Indigo Bunting  20
  • Bobolink  6
  • Red-winged Blackbird  7
  • Common Grackle  2
  • Brown-headed Cowbird  2
  • Baltimore Oriole  2
  • Purple Finch  1
  • American Goldfinch  12

Making a “Garden in the Forest”

I have been involved this spring in a wonderful volunteer project in the Arboretum … we are creating a new trail (which I won’t spoil for you here, there will be an official announcement and unveiling later in the year) and alongside it a small group of us are creating a “Garden in the Forest”. It’s a lot of fun, really, despite the complaints from my back and the ever hungry mosquitoes.

The garden is envisaged as a small “copse” that will be filled with native berry-bearing trees and shrubs to provide food for birds and other wildlife throughout the year. We have selected species that bear fruits from early summer right through the fall and some even going into winter with a good crop of food for wildlife.

The site is filled with rampant weeds and ferns so there has been a lot of hard work trying to get them out … lots more of that to be completed but today we reached a milestone in that the bushes and trees have all been planted just in time for a good overnight rain shower that will settle them in. We are taking a long term view of this project – some of the plants will grow fast and look good in the next few years while others are going to take a generation to achieve their full potential and I may not be around to see that.

Species planted are:

  • American Black Cherry – that will be HUGE in 30-40 years from now 🙂
  • Amelanchier canadenisis – a species of serviceberry
  • Cornus alternifolia – pagoda dogwood
  • Cornus stolonifera – a red-stemmed dogwood
  • Viburnum lentago – nannyberry bush
  • Ilex verticillata – winterberry
  • Sorbus americana – rowan tree
  • Sambucus canadenis – American elder

There will be further instalments here as the copse gradually takes on a more polished look – at the moment it’s very much a work in progress.

Anyway – a few pictures of three volunteers (well two, I was behind the camera) getting those plants into the good soil. Having such a  lot of fun with this …



Arboretum addendum – with audio

While walking the Orange trail yesterday (see the previous post here for details and photographs) I was experimenting with recording bird songs using my iPhone and the Røde audio recording app. In the summer months there are lots of Red-eyed Vireos singing in the forest and I turned the microphone on what I thought was one just off the trail (I never saw it) and got a good, clear recording with frog croak accompaniment from around the mid point when I turned up the gain on the microphone. Listening to the recording later though something didn’t sound quite right for the assumed Red-eye so after some thinking and comparing online songs of various Vireos I thought perhaps this might be the rather less common Philadelphia Vireo.

I passed the sound file and my thinking across to a friend who has stupendously accurate ears for bird song … and he agreed, Philadelphia Vireo.  What’s more just about the first in the Montreal area for this year according to eBird.

A good year tick for the arbo … here’s the recording I made. Something for you to listen out for when next in the arbo.

Note: The point of this post is not to demonstrate the song of the Philadelphia Vireo which anyone can find dozens of better recordings of elsewhere on the internet – rather it is to demonstrate how easy it is to record bird song (for later identification) using the smartphones most of us carry in our pockets. I have been very surprised at how good the results are and plan to do this more often when puzzled about a song I hear.

Today in the Arboretum

What a difference a few days make at this time of the year … here is the entrance to the Orange Trail just west of the Conservation Centre on 3 May and again today (17 May). The pictures below are of the same stretch of the trail at the same time of day.

Last week we took a detailed walk around the Orange Trail specifically focussed on the ephemeral flowers that briefly show themselves in the couple of weeks between the start of warmer weather and the opening of the leaf canopy which plunges them into shade – a few are still there to be enjoyed but most are coming to the end of their too brief flowering period … if you missed the photographs we shared and didn’t get out into the forest to look for yourself you can catch up by looking through the post on here from last week … click here.

Still lots to see at the moment though … and no mosquitoes. For example, on a two hour (well, we walked slowly and stopped a lot to poke at things) we saw some interesting stuff in addition to flowers:

Have you been down to the field between the larches and Pullin’s Pasture recently? Volunteers from the Friends of the Arboretum are busily clearing out an old trail through the birch collection and the branches are being piled up in the filed to create not a rockery, not a stumpery (the Victorians loved those), but a “Branchery”. This will create a wonderful feature for wildlife who will find shelter and food in there behind the boundary fence.

The Branchery

Down amongst the woody tangle are garter snakes and toads and up on the taller parts the birds are already finding singing stations to proclaim their territory to rivals.

Male Red-winged Blackbird
Song Sparrow at the Branchery

Soon the field will be full of grasses and lots of birds that like grassland habitat will have moved in and be staking claims to their corner of the site.

On the edge of the filed one of the nesting boxes has been claimed by a Tree Swallow – here he is bringing nesting materials to his box

Tree Swallow with nesting material

Other things to look out for …

Click on any of these thumbnails to enlarge them – hover over each one to read the captions

As you leave the arboretum – pause at the radar dome and enjoy the Cliff Swallows nesting under the top gallery.

There are three heads looking at you  …

Ephemerally Botanising … spring in the Arboretum

LOTS of pictures for you today … For about two weeks at the start of May (hereabouts) the leaves have not fully opened on the trees and the flowers on the forest floor make the most of the light before they are cast in shade for the rest of the summer … these “spring ephemerals” are showing beautifully this year. The photos that follow were all taken on a walk this morning along the orange trail in the arboretum but won’t last long – get out there in the next few days and enjoy this special time of the year.

I thought it would be interesting to show a couple of photos of specimen plants and then end this post a gallery of lots of pictures (bigger format) for those who can’t enough of this sort of thing. So, in no particular order …


Colt’s foot – Tussilago farfara (Tussilage pas-d’ane)

Actually a widespread foreign invader, not a native plant at all, but it has probably become one by since its seeds arrived on the muddy boots of an early setter.  One of the first flowers to bloom; nothing special or rare but it was about the first wild flower I saw in spring of 1998 when I was very new to Canada/Quebec so I am rather fond of them … as is this hoverfly.

Large-flowered Bellwort/Merrybells – Uvularia grandiflora (Uvilaire grande-fleur)

This one is certainly a native flower and is found in several discrete small and rather wet sites around the orange trail. In the gallery at the end of this post you will see some close-ups of the flowers for more detail. It is apparently much favoured by deer as a browse which may explain why it is not as frequently seen as some other flowers.

Trout lily – Erythronium americanum (Erythrone d’Amérique)

These are simply everywhere at the moment. There is one spot along the southern stretch of the orange trail where a lot of standing water exists that many small islands are just overwhelmed with Trout lilies. According to the literature, the common name “trout lily” refers to the appearance of its gray-green leaves mottled with brown or gray, which allegedly resemble the coloring of brook trout … I have fished for, caught and eaten trout both here and in the UK and I can assure you this in no way resembles the colouring of any trout species on the planet.

Interestingly (well, it interests J and I) there are several forms of this species in which the pollen on the anthers is of different colours … most particularly yellow and brown.

Trilliums – Trillium grandiflorum (white) and Trillium erectum (red)


Carpets of these are all over the place … the red species flowered a few days ahead of the white form and are in fewer numbers anyway … but you should find them easily enough.

Wild ginger – Asarum canadense (Asarat gingembre)

This is quite vulnerable so if you are lucky enough to find it please don’t spread the word around of its precise location. It’s only called “ginger” because it tastes a bit spicy …

Beware.  This is a classic example of why nobody should assume that a wild plant from which a medicine can be extracted  is, ipso facto, likely to be good for you as opposed to a “chemical” remedy. Indigenous people used it a  spice and as a medicinal herb to treat a number of ailments including dysentery, digestive problems, swollen breasts, coughs and colds, typhus, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, heaves, earaches, headaches, convulsions, asthma, tuberculosis, urinary disorders, and venereal disease. In addition, they also used it as a stimulant or appetite enhancer, and as a charm (sounds wonderful – right?). Unfortunately the wild ginger contains aristolochic acid which is carcinogenic. Consumption of aristolochic acid is associated with “permanent kidney damage, sometimes resulting in kidney failure that has required kidney dialysis or kidney transplantation”. In addition, some patients have developed certain types of cancers, most often occurring in the urinary tract.

So – admire, take pictures and walk away.


Spring beauty – Claytonia caroliniana

A gorgeous little flower that you are going to have to hunt for … we had to take a side track off the orange trail to track these down. Well worth the effort though.  First nations people once ate the corms boiled like potatoes which may account for the alternative common name of “fairy spud”.


Jack-in-the-pulpit – Arisaema triphyllum

These are a bit later than some of the other plants here and only just starting to emerge so they will reach their full glory as the others are gloing over. Plenty of them about in small numbers.


Wild Lily-of-the-valley / Canada mayflower – (Maianthemum canadense)

We only found one small patch of these not far form the junction with the yellow trail. Very close to the path though so you shoulkd find them easily enough. The flowers are still in bud stage and will open shortly.


Hobble bush – (Viburnum lantanoides)

Our gardens are full of the many forms of Viburnum … this is the eastern Canada native form and is most easily identified by its unusual flowers. Will bear fruits later that the birds will dine on.


Wild Canada violet – Viola canadensis

Also occurs as a white form and hybridises wildly and wantonly with other violets so can be hard to identify. There is a patch not far form the sugar shack.


Not a flower … cones of the larch trees

At their red best right now. You will have zero problem finding these.


While we are looking at trees – Birch catkins

How’s your hay-fever this year 🙂 ?


And finally, the guardian of the forest … a Common Raven



It would have been too crowded to put all the photographs we have above, so here are those and more in a gallery. Click any thumbnail to open a slideshow at full screen size.  Then put your boots and go find these flowers for yourselves while thye are still here … mothers’ day weekend is coming up, what better time?



Arboretum April Record

Chris (who has way better birding ears than this old guy … well, he is younger) and I led a group of 26 birders on Bird Protection Quebec field trip this morning in the Morgan Arboretum and the adjacent fields. To be honest, we started with 26 but ten got eaten by bears as we ended with 16 … but it was cold, and grey and damp and we walked for four and a half hours. It was a brilliant morning’s birding … and it’s not even warbler season yet.  Thanks to everyone who came and joined in the fun.

Total species seen … an amazing 50. That HAS to be a record for April.  There will be a follow-up walk in the arboretum on 27 May that will give us plenty of migrating warblers and their friends to add to today’s list.

Hard to know what was the “bird of the day”? The Eastern Bluebirds maybe, or the Pintails, or the two Broad-winged Hawks, or three Pine Warblers interacting, or … well, pick your own.

Here is the species list FOLLOWED BY LOTS OF PHOTOGRAPHS.


Apr 22, 2017 7:50 AM – 12:00 PM

Protocol: Traveling – 5.0 kilometer(s) – 51 species

Canada Goose  17

Wood Duck  4

American Black Duck  1

Mallard  3

Blue-winged Teal  1

Northern Pintail  5

Great Blue Heron  1

Northern Harrier  1

Broad-winged Hawk  2

Red-tailed Hawk  1

Killdeer  3

Ring-billed Gull  32

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1

Mourning Dove  1

Belted Kingfisher  1

Red-bellied Woodpecker  1

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2

Downy Woodpecker  3

Hairy Woodpecker  1

Northern Flicker  3

Pileated Woodpecker  1

Eastern Phoebe  2

Blue Jay  4

American Crow  11

Common Raven  2

Horned Lark  27

Tree Swallow  5

Black-capped Chickadee  15

Red-breasted Nuthatch  1

White-breasted Nuthatch  2

Brown Creeper  1

Winter Wren  1

Golden-crowned Kinglet  1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet  7

Eastern Bluebird  4

American Robin  12

Brown Thrasher  1

European Starling  7

Pine Warbler  3

Chipping Sparrow  8

Dark-eyed Junco  7

White-throated Sparrow  10

Savannah Sparrow  3

Song Sparrow  6

Northern Cardinal  3

Red-winged Blackbird  6

Common Grackle  2

Brown-headed Cowbird  2

House Finch  3

Purple Finch  2

American Goldfinch  8

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36171187


NOW FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS … including the first ever official BPQ selfie
Hover over any thumbnail to see a pop-up caption – click and thumbnail to open a full size slideshow/gallery.

60 Arboretum Birds in 240 Minutes

That’s one bird species every four minutes !! Pictures follow.

This morning I was scheduled to help Chris lead a birding walk in the arboretum … but we found out at the last minute (ie: 7:30am) that everyone who had signed up had phoned in the day before to cancel (but the office didn’t tell us). Who knows why? Maybe the weather was too nice to waste it on birds? Well, their loss, as together with Claude, the three of us went birding anyway and had a spectacular morning … and my thanks to Chris for lending me his (young) ears 🙂

Black-and-white Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler


Bird of the day has to be the Northern Waterthrush working in the quarry – we thought it was perhaps the first of this species in the arboretum but checking eBird it seems it was first reported back in 2004 though with no more than a half-dozen sightings since. We heard Indigo Buntings all over the place wherever there was edge habitat but it was only at about the three-and-a-half hour point that we finally saw (and photographed) one. At this time of year everyone asks “how many warblers?” and the answer for my personal list is 16 this morning.

Questionable birds that we discussed before accepting were a Veery that flitted back and forth across the track in Pullin’s Pasture but never sang … finally a photo of a headless bird confirmed Veery and not Hermit Thrush (though we had a couple of those elsewhere) and secondly a House Wren that we are sure we heard singing in a location where they have been seen before.

An excellent morning’s birding with good company that was frankly made all the more successful byt the absence of the grooup we were expecting to take round.

Now … the details, first some photographs and after that a checklist for the morning. for the real bird-geeks of my acquaintance. I have included some iPhoned pictures of the arboretum habitat for anyone not familiar with this wonderful birding site.

Click on any thumbnail photo to open up a full size slide show – most of the pictures have a caption which you can see by hovering over the thumbnails.



The morning’s checklist:

Mallard  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  2
Mourning Dove  1
Chimney Swift  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1     
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Least Flycatcher  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Eastern Kingbird  1
Red-eyed Vireo  5
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  4
Tree Swallow  3
Cliff Swallow  25
Black-capped Chickadee  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Veery  1
Hermit Thrush  2
American Robin  3
Gray Catbird  2
European Starling  1
Cedar Waxwing  6
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  1
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  3
American Redstart  3
Northern Parula  1
Magnolia Warbler  2
Bay-breasted Warbler  3
Blackburnian Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  2
Chestnut-sided Warbler  2
Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Black-throated Green Warbler  2
Chipping Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  2
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2
Indigo Bunting  4
Bobolink  8
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Common Grackle  1
Baltimore Oriole  3
Purple Finch  3
American Goldfinch  1

Waiting for Winter

We;ve had a bit of frost and a smattering of snow in recent days but it is unseasonably warm right now – proper cold arrives over the weekend they forecast and then it will be brisk (or frisqué as the natives here have it) until April at least. Thus, we took advantage of being able to leave the gloves and tuques at home and went for a wander in the arboretum. Birds were not expected to produce much out of the the ordinary, but a first year Sharp-shinned Hawk landed in a tree beside the car as we drove in and posed nicely for photographs while half way aorund the trail we selected an equally young Red-bellied Woodpecker did some hacking at a tree close to us. Of course, this could have been predicted as I had taken a landscape camera with me and left the long-gun at home!

A minor irritation was provided by a couple of people sharing the trail with us. They had two unleashed dogs – the older, heavier one more or less plodded along beside them but they also had a young and hyper-active beagle that was allowed to hare off into the forest barking and yapping away. This is not good for the local residents, furred or feathered. The beagle was having a great time and I don’t blame it but the the owners were being incredibly irresponsible. My preference would be zero dogs in the place at all times but at the very least compulsory leash requirements – why is that so hard to impose?  End of rant.

The forest was pretty quiet otherwise and the colours warm and muted under a grey sky that diffused the light rather well. Rather a pleasant walk.  Here are some photographs …

Autumn arrives at the Arboretum

A gloriously warm and bright Thanksgiving drew us to the arboretum this morning along with a plenty of others … we are not quite at peak colour yet (soon) but the next couple of days are forecast to be wet. Very few birds around due to the high number of people though Nuthatches were blowing their plastic squeakers not far away almost throughout our visit. The red squirrels were equally vociferous and looking forward to have their forest to themselves later in the day.

The album below is a heavily culled selection from the too many pictures taken … gosh, Quebec really is a beautiful place.

(As usual, click any thumbnail in the gallery below to open a full-size view)