Updated: Dec 24, 2021
" 'Dear old world', she murmured, 'you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.' "
-Lucy Maud Montgomery in "Anne of Green Gables"
I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of living in a place where I can experience the wonders of Nature every time I step outside! To be free and healthy, and to be able to enjoy the luxury of having time to wander --- these are not gifts I ever take for granted. Although the Summer and Fall of 2021 have continued to be overshadowed by Covid threats and restrictions, they have also brought us some awesome gifts in the natural world. Here are "a few of my favourite things" to brighten a dreary November day...
Favourite Thing #1: Warblers
Six different kinds of Warblers have made appearances in our yard and gardens over the past few months, stopping in briefly for food, water, and rest before continuing on their Southward journeys. We were sitting outside one afternoon in early September, when a Yellow Warbler (young female, I think), stopped by for a drink from the tiny pond, then flew up and sat on the arm of my friend's chair for a few moments!
For several mornings, another Yellow Warbler (likely a young male, with the faint rust-coloured markings on his chest) searched for insects among the Dill and Sunflowers.
A Tennessee Warbler spent about a week here in late Summer.
Lots of insects disappear from the garden when hungry Warblers are on the hunt!
The Tennessee Warbler especially liked the large, colourful Zinnias, much to the dismay of a resident Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Not a great photo -- I was trying to photograph the Warbler, when the Hummer surprised both of us!
A Palm Warbler stopped by during Fall migration, and bounced around in the Spruce branches.
A young American Redstart enjoyed a bit of a splash in the birdbath on a September afternoon. It kept company with the Palm Warbler, and both of them only stayed a day.
A Wilson's Warbler paid a very brief visit, but stayed behind branches and refused to allow a photo! Here is another little Wilson's Warbler that we banded in September. Like the one that flew through the garden, this one is an adult male, with his black cap.
A Yellow-rumped Warbler showed up in October with a small flock of Juncos, and was still here in early November. No question about where this Warbler got its name!
Our late-staying Yellow-rump has spent many hours catching flying insects around the eaves, and over the roof of the house. It is unusual to see clouds of insects in November, but on a few sunny, mild days, the bug-eaters were finding plenty of food.
Favourite Thing # 2: The Caterpillar-to-Butterfly Adventure
Giant Swallowtail Butterflies are always welcome visitors in the gardens. These stunning creatures have been increasing in numbers in the last few years in our area, expanding their territory into Southern Canada. Coneflowers are great sources of nectar, and are enjoyed by many pollinators.
Giant Swallowtails only lay their eggs on the Gas Plants and Hop Trees around our farm (although one late-layer did deposit eggs on a Peony bush a few years ago). This female (bottom left) is checking out a Gas Plant for suitable leaves for her babies-to-be.
When she finds a leaf that seems just right, she "bends her body around", and deposits an egg, which sticks to the top of the leaf until it hatches.
Look closely, and you can see 3 brownish eggs on the leaves of this Gas Plant. Mama is taking a break!
This Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar is about a week old, and is covered with spines.
As it grows and sheds its skin, the Caterpillar changes its appearance, and is said to resemble a Bird dropping! When disturbed, it shows its scary, red "osmeterium" that resembles a Snake's forked tongue. I think there is something Boa-like about this Larva, with its striking markings and large head.
I usually collect most of the Caterpillars when they reach this stage, and put them into a screened box in our unheated garage for the Winter. The Larvae eat plenty of leaves, then attach themselves to the sides of the box, or to a stick, and spend the Winter months in Chrysalis form. In late Spring or early Summer, they emerge ... and the cycle begins again. It's hard to imagine many creatures that are more spectacular than a brand new Butterfly!
Sweet William Catchfly has established itself between some of the paving stones in our driveway, and it is a favourite food source for Giant Swallowtails. The largest Butterfly in Canada feeds on some of the tiniest flowers!
These Butterflies move their forewings very quickly when they are feeding (and as a result, there is blur in some of my shots in the top wings!).
The other Butterfly that is a pleasure to observe in all stages is the Monarch. I have included egg and Caterpillar photos in other blogs, so will stick with the Chrysalis-to-Butterfly photos this time. Because the Larvae frequently fall prey to a variety of Insects, diseases, and House Sparrows, I bring them inside to a window, and place them in individual jars with mesh tops. Once they have been in Chrysalis for a few days, I hang them outside on a ladder in the sunshine.
When the Butterflies are almost ready to emerge, the Chrysalis becomes transparent, and we can see the wing pattern.
The Chrysalis splits, and out comes a crumpled-looking Monarch Butterfly!
Over the next half hour or so, fluids and air are pumped into the wings, which straighten and dry.
And after hanging and resting for a few hours, the Monarch Butterflies head out to the gardens to find some nectar to sip! Cosmos and Butterfly Bush were on the menu on this particular day.
The spots on this Monarch's hindwings tell us that it is a male.
Here are a few other Butterflies that visited our gardens this summer. I wasn't able to follow them through their life cycles, but have added some plants that might make that possible another year!
The beautiful Question Mark Butterfly looks a bit like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, but we can see the tiny white markings that distinguish it from other camouflaged Insects, and give this Butterfly its name.
When a Question Mark opens its wings, it is stunning.
Another "dead leaf" Butterfly is the Mourning Cloak.
Again, when it opens its wings ...
Favourite Thing #3: Marsh Birds Thriving and Fledging
I've already completed a whole blog on Birds of the Wetlands, but here are a few more highlights from an amazing Summer in the Marsh.
A Green Heron waited and hunted in plain view as we watched. Slowly climbing down the fence, and using its long toes to grip the wires (and ignoring the Spider!),
the Green Heron was able to stretch its neck and body with lightning speed to snag an unsuspecting fish.
Wings come in handy for balancing and pulling yourself out of the water, with a hefty mouthful of squirming fish!
Once the Heron had caught a snack, it climbed back up to the top wire of the fence, and quickly swallowed its prize.
Out in the pond, a young Gallinule poked about for food in the soft morning light of early September.
It's hard to believe that a bird as lovely as the one above looked like this a few short weeks ago:
By late Summer, a juvenile Virginia Rail (with brown eyes that will turn red as it matures) was foraging independently too; these little ones would soon be ready for their first migration flights.
Favourite Thing #4: Observing Bird Families...
With all of the disadvantages that Birds face when they return in the Spring to nest, it is truly a wonder that any of them manage to survive and raise their young. It is always encouraging to see whole families of Birds, and especially to see young ones that have fledged successfully.
A pair of Brown Thrashers was able to raise at least one chick in their nest in Evergreens along our lane. Early evening was family time, and the Thrashers would perch in the Lilac Trees, often flying out to bring in food for the chick.
Red Osier Dogwood berries were the meal of choice for our Brown Thrashers; they completely stripped three bushes!
Chickadees raised two broods in a nest box near the house. They are some of the cutest babies ever! Four tiny Chickadees were scattered among the Apple and Maple trees, waiting patiently for Mom or Dad to bring their lunch.
They would sit quietly until they saw a parent approaching, then flap their tiny wings and chirp loudly, "My turn, my turn!"
Sometimes it all got to be too much for a wee bird, and a nap was in order.
Young Chickadees don't seem to be able to sing the whole "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee" phrase, but I would often know there were new fledglings when I heard partial phrases in the trees surrounding their nest box. "Dee-dee", or "Chick-a", or any combo... meant the newest generation of Chickadees had fledged and joined the party!
Bluebirds are certainly some of the most colourful "Favourite Things" of Summer.
Eastern Bluebirds had a successful 2021, raising young in many nest boxes around our area. Both parents help to feed the hungry chicks.
(Bluebirds will need to be featured in their own blog one of these days!)
Favourite Thing #5: Fall Banding
As Birds migrate through our area on their way South, we have the opportunity to see some Avian visitors that we do not see at any other time of year. During September, Warblers and friends are passing through, and it was a privilege to spend a few mornings with my "banding buddies"*, viewing some pretty amazing little creatures at close range.
This is a Common Yellowthroat in his Fall colours.
I love the patterning and colours on an Ovenbird.
Two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were nice surprises.
The Blackpoll Warbler's orange feet are a distinguishing feature.
Perhaps my very favourite "Favourite Thing" of all happens in October, on dark, cool, still nights ... when the Saw-whet Owls show up! On one evening, we banded 25 of these beautiful creatures. Their expressive eyes and downy soft feathers, along with their diminutive size, make them one of the highlights of our banding year.
Sometimes when the Owls are released, they fly to a nearby tree, and sit for a few moments before heading back to the forest. (No flash used.)
Truly remarkable little creatures!
I said I would share "a few of my favourite things", and then I got a bit carried away! It's hard to pick and choose when there is so much out there. Now that November is upon us, perhaps it is time to enjoy some inside comforts, at least until the Snow Buntings arrive ... oh, and the Snowy Owls ... maybe some Short-eared Owls ... perhaps a Crossbill or two...
Nature just keeps on giving, all year long!
*Thanks to David Lamble and Harry Barber for the banding work they do!
If you enjoyed the creatures in this blog, you might want to consider purchasing a 2022 Nature Photo Calendar, or a package of notecards. All proceeds from the sales of these items will be donated to Mennonite Central Committee for Relief Work around the world. Interested? Go to the top of this page, and click on "Contact/Calendars" for more information.
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