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?



Five busy minutes

There was a remarkably busy five (yes, just five) minutes in the garden mid-afternoon when every bird and its parents suddenly descended on us … here are the few that I managed to photograph,

The Hummingbirds have been regulars for several weeks now and cannot get enough of the canna lilies.

Iceland – a synopsis

The first two weeks of July were passed in Iceland revelling in scenery, birds and flowers … and eating lots of fish.

For those readers who would enjoy more information and a larger selection of photographs than can be posted here, please head over to the trip report page where you can indulge yourselves in just a small selection of what we encountered.

For those with only a few minutes to spare here are a very few choice images that will give you a small taste of what we found. It has been extremely hard to cull the >1000 photographs to a mere ten or so for this post … big decision, should the first picture be landscape or bird or flower? The rainbow made the decision easier …

The Gullfoss rainbow
The Gullfoss rainbow


Turf farmhouse
Turf farmhouse
Flatey island
Flatey island
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit
Arctic Poppy ... often mistakenly named the Iceland poppy
Arctic Poppy … often mistakenly named the Iceland poppy
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
(almost) the Midnight Sun south of Akureyri
Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit
Atlantic Puffin
Atlantic Puffin



Volcanic sand beach
Volcanic sand beach



Red-throated Loon (Diver)
Red-throated Loon (Diver)

Hummingbird Magnet

People faff about with plastic, gaudy red special feeders filled with sugar water when all they need to do is to grow some Canna Lilies – the Hummingbirds cannot resist. It never fails.

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… and, of course, we have LOTS of “new” Song Sparrows this summer:

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Interesting Insects

Very hot day, the birds are all skulking quietly in the shade but some insects have come out to play.

The dragonfly – I am pretty sure it is a fairly common Meadowhawk (if you are reading this in the UK you will know them as Darters) and I will venture that it might be a White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) – spent over half an hour sitting on the top of this cane in the vegetable garden, occasionally sallying forth to catch a midge or just get some air under its wings before returning to stare at me.

The yellow flowers are Black-eyed Susan, a very common late summer garden flower at this time of year which attracts a good number of insects. The reason for these two photographs is to show some confusing mimicry in that one flower is visited by a Hive Bee (Apis mellifera) while the other is visited by a bee-mimicing Hoverfly (species unknown). So, they both look like bees but one is actually a fly hoping you won’t notice.

A bit later in the afternoon, the Meadowhawk was still there so I had a go at him using the macro lens – this means getting to within just three or four inches of the insect but he didn’t seem especially worried and posed nicely.

Teal bee
Teal bee
Faux bee
Faux bee
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)
White-faced Meadowhawk (macro lens)


People think of Hummingbirds as being exotic creatures from the tropics, but have one smart little bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, that breeds in the forests of Quebec north of us ( At this time of the year, as summer slows down, they re-appear in this area. In particular new Hummingbirds starting to earn their trade.

In the garden they particularly like to exploit the bright red flowers of the canna lilies, the fuchsias and, by contrast, the tops of branches of the various conifers. Usually they flit in and as quickly out again and never arrive when there is a camera to hand – but around early afternoon today this youngster came close and came when i had a camera near me so finally, here are a couple of shots of a Canadian Hummingbird. This is young bird without its red gorget.

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An inadvertent addition to the patch list

We took a riverside stroll this morning at Cap-St-Jacques and came back with a nice collection of birds seen – including a couple of Great Egrets, one lying close overhead and one on shore of Ile Bizard across the river from us. Now I am certain that I have seen those earlier this year on the patch and so I was most surprised on entering the sighting in eBird to discover that seen before, or not, I had not reported their presence (or am somehow imagining an earlier sighting) and so we now are up to species #122 for the patch this year. That’s a nice surprise.

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The riverside at Cap-St-Jacques has a pleasant and well maintained trail along a high bank that falls off to the river. The bank is quite shrubby and unkempt, just the sort of habitat a lot of birds like, especially if it is adjacent to a river full of hatching insects. A god number of Yellow Warblers and many, many Song Sparrows handing us off from one to the other as we passed through successive overlapping territories. Several Catbirds, some Common Terns and plenty of assorted Swallows out over the river and all the usual birds you would expect in late July.

The botanist of the party found a couple of interesting flowers for the digital collection – once identified they will be appearing elsewhere with full details.

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Not all birds

The insects in the garden are busy pollinating today – a pity some of them think that pollinating a dandelion is a good service to humanity. Nice bumblebee though – must try to work out what species of Bombus it might be.

So – half an hour later, I get this message from my entomologist friend, Chris.  “Unidentified because you have been fooled by clever mimicry. This is actually a Syrphid fly. Maybe the genus Eristalis. They are commonly known as Drone flies due to their remarkable resemblance to bees.”  Now we know.

In the morning I had been asked to show a candidate for a job at McGill around the arboretum and the MBO. A very bright young biologist from New Zealand who did her PhD and post-doc work at Cambridge … all the birds were new to her so I didn’t have top try very hard to impress though Wood Duck, Baltimore Oriole and Bobolinks seemed to be quite impressive. In the MBO we both sweated trying to identify the calls of a number of birds in the cat-tails … I promised to check them oout and email her the answer but J asked the obvious questions. “Frogs?” … yerrsss, Yer basic green frog.  Shows what comes from getting too focussed on what you expect to see – birds – than on what you are seeing, or hearing in this case.

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NOT a bumble bee but a fly mimicking a bumble bee …. see text above

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Six-legged wildllife

First hive bees of the year are working hard at gathering pollen from our small clumps of crocus flowers and snowdrops.

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