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.

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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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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Far, far west of Montreal (with a lifer)

You can’t get much further west of Montreal to watch wildlife than on the Pacific coast.  We just spent a couple of days in the San Francisco area visiting old friends and managed (thanks to their kindness) to see some birds along the way, though that was not the primary purpose of our visit.

We birded two areas of considerable contrast.  The first was a scrubby little park adjacent to the Berkeley Marina where Burrowing Owls are spending the winter, albeit they managed to use their camouflage skills to great effect and we never found them although we did meet a lady doing monitoring of them who assured us that they were around but who wasn’t keen on leading us to them which was probably sensible as the park has dog runs in it and the birds could easily be disturbed.  Anyway, lots of other good stuff was to be seen there.

Bird in the park included : Great` Egret, Snowy Egret, Savannah Sparrow, Brown pelican, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, White-crowned Sparrow, House Finch (regular red plus yellow variants), Western grebe, females of the Pacific coast race of Purple Finch (californicus), Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-shouldered Blackbird

The second site we visited was Pamponio State Beach and the nearby Pescadero Marsh Wildlife Reserve.  These are on the Pacific coastal side of the SF headland and jolly fine places. The beach was knee deep in too many gulls to count while the marsh reserve just inland was very birdy. We counted 20 Great Egrets and encountered a biologist working there who told us that the annual sand bar that separates the marsh from the sea had formed early this year resulting in lower than normally salinity in the marsh and so the Egrets had arrived in number and were thriving. Bird of the day (bird of the trip) was a White-tailed Kite c;osely followed by three Northern Harriers and a Say’s Phoebe.

Pescadero/Pamponio species included: Northern Harrier, Great Egret, Say’s Phoebe, Horned Grebe, White-tailed Kite (lifer), Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-shouldered Blackbird, Brown Pelican, Many Gulls, Heerman’s Gull, Californian Gull, Surf Scoter, Savannah Sparrow

Driving back we briefly saw a perched hawk that looked remarkably like a Ferruginous Hawk which i would dearly like to “tick” as it would be a second lifer, but I do the decent thing and admit that I didn’t see enough to be certain.

Altogether, an excellent couple of days on one of our favourite parts of the US.  The restaurant reviews will be posted soon on the “other” blog we maintain.

Pictures, of course.  Some feature shots of the White-tailed Kite and then a more general gallery (click the thumbnails to start the slide show in full screen).

White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kite



Getting started

This blog will take off properly in September (2013) once I have moved from a five-day-a-week-and-then-some professional life to one of retirement with time to go wildlifing/birding a bit more frequently than just at weekends.

I shall be posting here about the birds, and trees and flowers and insects to be found on my patch – an 8km diameter “wildlife circle” about which you can read by clicking the links in the above navigation bar.

There is another blog, one from which this was derived, that has been maintained for some years.  It has plenty in it about birds and birding all over the world but also covers gardening and bread making … if you are interested in this it might give you a hint of what is to come on this site. Here it is –

Meanwhile, here I am just grubbing about on my patch.

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