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?



Purple Martins in Baie-D’Urfé

The new Purple Martin (PUMA) house in Baie-D’urfé beside the St-Lawrence Rivr has been occupied. At least 12 birds are using this housing complex and another four in a nearby, and rather older less well preserved, facility at the boat club. This house was donated to the town of Baie-D’Urfé in the fall of 2015 by Bird protecion Quebec to replace the old house that was reaching the end of its useful life.

20160604-002 20160604-005

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

Bird Pool Warbler

Warblers being reported from all over the place today but up until now they have been avoiding the bird pool … no longer, though. The rush has begun:

(low light = slow shutter = not as sharp as they could be)

Magnolia Warbler
White-crowned Sparrow

Mrs. Beakie

While we were in England last week there were several reports of FOS Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in friends’ gardens and we fely a little left out of the fun … but this morning a smart female came to visit and so far seems to be sticking around.  Just need a male now to complete the set.




Following a tip off from Michel, I visited one of the vernal pools on the Macdonald Farm fields this morning and added a nice pair of Gadwall to the year list with a bonus Killdeer thrown in for nothing. A rather understated but handsome bird, the Gadwall. Couldn’t get very close to them but these pictures aren’t too band, I think.

Sadly, that pool will dry up before long and the farm will be ploughing and sowing corn.

20160417-003 20160417-004-2 20160417-004 20160417-006 20160417-007

The Bird Magnet

The snow is gone, the days are warming up and the birds are slowly getting into spring mode … so naturally, the pump is back in the Sparroworks pond and the bird-magnet waterfall is operating for another year.

Here’s one of the first of many users … cooling off at the end of the day.


A Fine Flurry of Finches


Reports are coming in from all over the west-of-Montreal area of a strong movement of winter finches heading back north this morning – one friend talks of 70 Pine Siskins interering with his photography as they land on his head !!  All very exciting. Another friend driving up to Montreal from the US border notes that huge flocks of Siskins are on the move today having over-wintered just south of the border in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Not quite that number at the Sparroworks All-Day Bird Buffet but plenty of activity with lots of Purple Finches, a few Pine Siskins, small numbers of Common Redpolls (finally !!), a pair of House Finches and the like, all turning up to be counted at the weekend Feederwatch. As we approach noon, the numbers of Pine Siskins are increasing rapidly.

Pictures follow – including a Euro-Starling simply because they are handsome birds. Click on the thumbnails to open a full-size slide-show.

American Goldfinch Studies

Today is not a nice day at all and looks like getting worse so the birding itch has had to be satisfied with an unusually good selection of fairly common species at the garden feeders – including Purple and House Finches (bit not yesterday’s Carolina Wren). But you don’t come here for words, you come here for photographs, so here are some studies of our very common – especially today – friend, the American Goldfinch. The white, spotty stuff in the pictures is snow ice pellets and incipient freezing rain … yes, it is supposed to be spring.

20160324-002-Edit 20160324-004-Edit 20160324-006 20160324-008 20160324-011-Edit 20160324-012

First Ducks

The open water above the rapids at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue has been fairly uninhabited so far this winter but the snows are finally melting, the edges of the ice is getting raggy and starting to crack and the wind is effin-cold and strong.

But – there were two lone ducks sitting on the water at the far end of the more than somewhat exposed-to the-wind breakwater – I almost didn’t go see what they were as Mallard was the default setting in my brain (back-lit and no features from far away) … and there was the wind!. But having got that far I decided to be brave. Half way along they spotted me and took off but the trusty camera was to hand from which it was clear that they were a pair of female (immature male ??) Red-breasted Mergansers. New tick for the year and harbingers of more good ducks to come I hope.