Sunday, April 26, 2020

Growing Wild Bergamot + Recent Bird Sightings

As I grow older, I have found that I enjoy gardening more and more.  I want to be able to grow veggies, as well as be able to grow a nice native perennial wildflower garden.

But, I have had bad luck with gardening in the past. I blame that on having poor  infertile clay soil and a general lack of knowledge of gardening. Amazingly, Youtube has been such a great source of information. There are countless videos for learning how to grow anything.

Last fall and this spring, I have made an effort to collect some local seeds (ethically of course) and just in the last week or two, I've attempted to germinate Wild Bergamot seeds in a wet paper towel that was left in the dark for a few days. Amazingly, it worked! I have transplanted the sprouts to potting soil and I could have many, many Wild Bergamot plants to propagate into my garden and perhaps in the hedgerow behind my house. I am doing a similar experiment with Black eyed Susan seeds I gathered from a local field.

Wild Bergamot Seed Head

Some plants that I have tried to grow in my perennial garden are:

Tall Sunflower (success)
Coneflower Echnicea (success)
Black eyed susans ( From Lowes not a local variety)
Wild Bergamot
Bee Balm  ( From Lowes not a local variety)
Butterfly Milkweed
Common Milkweed
Blazingstar ( From Lowes not a local variety)
Dense Blazingstar (from local seed stock)

I have recently learned about how with coneflowers, at this time of year, you can take a shovel and divide up the bundle of shoots emerging from the ground. I didn't really know you could do that!

I have had good luck at Black Oak Heritage Park in West Windsor for birding and Daily Physical Exercise.  Today I had a very drab looking female Pine Warbler (FOS), FOS House Wrens and a FOS Blue Grey Gnatcatcher.

The next week promises to start to get exciting bird wise.

Good Birding!

This plant is rumoured to be extremely healthy --- and extremely ... painful !?!?

Grapevine Epimenis Moth

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker - First of Year + Reflecting other YBSS Interactions

One of my favorite April migrants is the Yellow bellied Sapsucker. Each year for the last few years, I have made great efforts to seek out this species. Generally, they are easy to find in a decent forest during the last three weeks of April. Males migrate though first, then females follow through in early May. Females of course have white throats.

YBSS is a keystone species - lots of other species benefit from the tree sap they liberate from inside of trees. I have read once that even hummingbirds use tree sap to fuel up on energy as they migrate after YBSS. I have seen lots of insects feeding off this tree sap as well.

In the summer, it seems that YBSS makes different formations "holes" in tree bark (grid shaped) than it makes during migration (horizontal-linear). Last summer at Killarny Provincial park, I saw YBSS strip large patches of bark which attracts more insects. The YBSS would grab insects attracted to the sap and bring it back to the nest, wanting to gives its offspring some protein rather than just a sugary sweet drink.

One last thing that I love about YBSS is how they make an auditory proclamation not by singing - but rather, with a distinct tapping sequence that is very memorable.  I recall a few years ago while on a trip to Carden Alvar, I was driving down Wylie Road and stopped to listen to the tapping noise. I did not realize right away that a YBSS was just meters from my car. It was tapping on a fence post that was resonating very loudly. I tried to record that interaction with this species, and I've embedded that video in this posting.

In Essex County - it seems that YBSS are just migrants. They breed as close at Skunks Misery - and I recall hearing YBSS tapping its mating call at that wonderful forest and being amazed to hear it at its mid-summer breeding grounds.

If you take your time to observe this species, they seem to tap several trees in an area (it seems to have species favorites) and it "does the rounds". If you are patient enough, you can almost predict where it will go next. Sometimes, it will chase off other woodpeckers that try to get a free drink from its sap wells.

Its just one of many fantastic woodpecker and sapsucker species.  I have a personal fascination with woodpeckers, and blog readers might know that several years ago - I travelled to sisters oregon to a woodpecker festival that featured three new sapsucker species - Williamsons Sapsucker, Red breasted Sapsucker and Red-naped Sapsucker. (photos provided below).

So, next time you see YBSS -  you can appreciate its "keystone species" status. This is just one of many journeys that we in ornithology do. We don't just want a photo of a bird, or a check on a checklist. We can slowly get to know a species - its habitat, behavior, its diet, its migration pattern. There is so much to learn and discover in ecology... you have to love it!

Good birding!

This photo below was from April 2018 at Black Oak Heritage Park

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Pandemic Birding - Early April 2020

At the expense of stating the obvious - we are in the midst of a (once in a century) pandemic and governments around the world are issuing social distancing and stay at home orders.

Over the last two weeks - I have been quarantined and working from home. My Wife, two boys and myself have practiced social distancing - but we also like to do daily physical activity - which sometimes involves walking around one of Ojibway's parks here in Windsor.

Black Oak Heritage Park is one of my favorites, as well as Spring-garden.

Over the last week or two, I have seen several new birds migrate into Essex County - such as Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Towees, Winter Wren, Tree Swallows, Fox Sparrows, Field Sparrows and Yellow rumped Warbler.

April is a great month to find Yellow bellied sapsucker, and Blue headed Vireos will be seen as April moves on. If one is lucky, you might even see Louisiana Waterthrush in mid April.

There has been a great horned owl nest in Amherstburg, I couldn't help but go see it this weekend.  It was on the way to Holiday Beach so its always nice to see this famous raptor out in nature.

Interestingly, today - I found a Great Horned Owl perched in a tree at Ojibway, and it hopped into a nearby nest with a baby owl present!

Finally, this last week revealed my first-of-season butterflies. I had seen two commonly early species - Mourning Cloak and Eastern Comma.

It will be interesting to see how birding during this migration will be. Many of the federal and provincial parks are not open - so it will be interesting to see if access to these parks can be granted in May.

Stay safe, stay healthy,
Good birding & naturalizing,


Its always nice  (and hear!) to see new species  during springtime!

This Phoebe might have a tick in its mouth - maybe...


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