Are You Seeing A Lot of Butterflies?

Red Admiral Butterfly

[PHOTO CREDIT: CWF PHOTO CONTEST MARSHA LOMIS (Red Admiral Image)]

Are you seeing more butterflies this spring than usual? If you live in eastern Canada then you probably are, especially red admirals. According to a recent article, there are an estimated 300 million red admiral butterflies from Windsor to New Brunswick, that’s 10 times more than normal.

This increase in butterfly numbers is being attributed to the warm winter experienced throughout North America. This has caused butterflies to emerge earlier from their overwintering forms from Texas, Florida and other places and has helped them survive on their northward migration. Strong winds have also played a role in the abundance of migratory butterflies.

You can help create habitat for these pollinators and others by creating a garden haven!

Studies on Bees

bees gathering pollen from a Gaillardia flower
bees gathering pollen from a Gaillardia flower

Check out these two articles. They profile recent studies on how the health of bees is being affected by toxins in the environment, such as pesticides. They were sent to me by my colleague, Patricia Garcia, in our Quebec office.

To garden naturally, download our handouts on Gardening for Pollinators and Natural Insect Control. Also visit our pages on organic gardening and insects. In addition to what we do in our gardens, put your shopping power to use and buy organic where feasible.

Are Birds Singing Louder?

white-crowned sparrow

[Photo Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

Does it seem like the birds in your area are singing louder than they did a few years ago? If you live in an urban area than this very well maybe the case, at least according to a new study by Dr. David Luther from George Mason University.

Dr. Luther studied male white-crowned sparrows in Presidio, San Francisco and he found birds that live in areas with lots of traffic noise actually sing louder. In fact, in comparing sparrow songs that were recorded in 1969 with songs recorded in 2005, they found that they are actually changing their tunes. These birds in 1969 had three distinct dialects, 30 years later they had 2 and now it is only their higher-range song, the song that can be heard over low-frequency ambient noise, that is becoming the preferred song to sing. After all, there’s no point in singing if other birds can’t hear you.

This study can be found in the Journal Animal Behaviour

Check Out The Tracks – Rodents and Rabbits

 

snowshoe hare and squirrel tracks

tracks of squirrel (left) and snowshoe hare (right)

mouse tracks

mouse tracks

[PHOTO: CWF]

Recent weeks in my neck of the woods have included a couple of short warm spells. This gets me excited for spring, especially as I’ve been hearing spring bird calls and am now seeing returning birds like red-winged blackbirds, grackles and geese.

But as with many Canadian springs, those warm days were followed by snow. This helped me get my last fixes of winter, including a snowshoe outing last weekend in Gatineau Park, near Ottawa. But the warm spells are getting warmer, so I decided to share one last batch of animal tracks in the snow before my focus shifts to spring.

These photos help show the main differences between snowshoe hares and squirrels – the size of the track, with the toonie included to give perspective, and the pattern in which the paws are arranged. Snowshoe hares typically place their front paws one in front of the other whereas squirrels generally place their front paws side by side. As with most things in nature, there will always be variability and my animal visitors were no exception.

I’m adding in a photo of mouse tracks that I found the other day. Note how much smaller its tracks are but that its pattern is similar to the squirrel’s. Click here to see more photos of these animal tracks in our facebook album. You can also learn more in this article on snowshoe hares by CWF’s Terri-Lee Reid or in this guest article on tracks by Chad Clifford.

With spring coming (or already here for some of you in Canada) keep your eyes open for depressions and patterns in the mud, sand or even grass. Who knows, you may be able to tell the story of who visited your garden or local park just hours before!

Which Waxwing’s Which?

bohemian waxwing
bohemian waxwing

[PHOTO: JESSE BUTT, CWF PHOTO CONTEST]

I have seen groups of waxwings from time to time. They swoop in, do their thing and then they’re gone. Once it was a summer day and they feasted on my elderberries. Another time it was cold and it seemed they were having a drink from the puddles on my driveway. So when I saw them the other day, I quickly grabbed my camera and took a bazillion photos before they flew off.

When I put the photos on my computer and zoomed in, I was able to determine that these birds were bohemian waxwings. They are named “bohemian” due to their nomadic ways of moving around in the wintertime. The “waxwing” comes from the brilliant red on the tips of their secondary wing feathers.

Bohemian waxwings are similar to cedar waxwings and I swear, no matter how many times I’ve looked them up, I still forget the differences. It doesn’t help that both their ranges are widespread across Canada. But thanks to this last experience, I think I’ve finally got it. Bohemian waxwings :

  • are a little larger than cedar waxwings. It’s hard to use this as a guide when they aren’t side by side, but they certainly looked largish when perched in the treetops. In case it helps, bohemians are ~21cm long while cedar waxwings are ~18cm, according to one of my favourite bird guides – Field Guide to the Birds of North America by the National Geographic Society.
  • have grey bellies. Cedar’s have a hint of yellow on theirs.
  • have bright yellow on their wings which the cedar waxwings don’t.
  • have reddy-brown undertail coverts. Those are the feathers on their undersides, below their belly and at the top of the tail. When the tail is spread out, it looks like the middle of the underside of the tail. The cedar waxwings have white undertail coverts.
  • have a white wing bar that you can sometimes see when they fly. Otherwise, it can look like a splotch on their wing when perched. Again, cedar waxwing’s don’t have this.

While not worthy of any photography contests, the photos I took helped me get my head straight on these birds. Click here to see some and maybe they’ll help you, too!

You’ll notice they are eating a blackish fruit. They are one of our alien invasive species of buckthorn. While I am glad they had food to eat, these shrubs are known to quickly take over natural areas, pushing out native plants that have important roles to play in our local ecosystems. You can do a lot of good by planting regionally native fruit bearing shrubs that will hold their fruit during the different portions of the winter and early spring. Some Canadian natives include rose bushes, highbush cranberry, sumacs, winterberry and Viburnums. To find out which species are suitable to your region and your garden, check out our Native Plant Encyclopedia.

You’ll be helping other fruit-eating birds, too, like any robins that decide to overwinter! You can continue to welcome bohemian waxwings in other months by gardening organically, so they can eat and feed their young healthy insects, as well as tree sap, flowers and buds.

Check Out These Tracks – Red Fox

red fox track

[PHOTOS: CWF]

Ever wonder about the story behind the tracks in your garden or local park? I certainly have, to the point of taking a tracking course with the world famous Tom Brown Jr. It was thrilling to learn the language that reveals who was there just hours before me and what they were up to. He even helped us see tracks in the finest dust and in grass!

red fox track 2

Now, don’t get me wrong. I only scratched the surface of finding, let alone interpreting, these markings…and I forgot a fair bit of it, too. But from time to time I’ll stop and look and have a guess. Take this past weekend for example. I went for a wander in my garden and noticed tracks of animals I knew; snowshoe hare, squirrel, mice…but I also found some mystery tracks. The look of the individual track reminded me of a fox or coyote because of its dog-like shape and pad imprints. But I wasn’t sure about the size and I had thought foxes made a single straight line like a cat, unlike the ones I found.

The next day a red fox went strolling by, along the very same route! I managed to get photos of it and its fresh tracks (with a toonie at the side to give perspective). While the pattern was different, the individual tracks looked identical to my amateur eye. Paul Rezendes, in his wonderful book Tracking and the Art of Seeing, explains that foxes do make a single line of tracks when walking as “the hind track registers directly on top of the front”, but that when they go a little quickly as in a trot or gallop, they make different patterns.

To view a gallery of this fox and its tracks, visit our page on Facebook. If you wish, “like” it and tell your friends!

Visit WildAboutGardening.org to learn more about the red fox or about tracking wildlife and stay tuned for more tracking blogs in the weeks to come.

Pileated in the Parking Lot

Pileated woodpecker adult with young
Pileated woodpecker adult with young

[PHOTO: JENNIFER HOWARD, CWF SUPPORTER]

Thanks to the mature hardwood trees that remain around CWF headquarters in Kanata, Ontario, we have a variety of birds that come to feed and live. One is the huge pileated woodpecker – Canada’s largest woodpecker!

I hadn’t seen or heard them in the trees that surround our parking lot since the early autumn, but Aaron Kylie, CWF Publications Manager, caught site of one on Friday. I could tell he was impressed by its size, as are most people that see this impressive insect eater. They average 17 to 18 inches long (43 – 45 cm) – a whole lot larger than its cousins which are anywhere from 6 to 9 inches (15 – 22 cm), although the northern flicker comes closer at 13 inches (33 cm). Their vocalizations are loud, as is their drumming which can be heard from far away and their holes are a vertical rounded rectangle.

Help support these remarkable birds by keeping mature trees on your property – even dead or dying ones called ‘snags’. Follow these links to learn how to recognize pileated woodpecker holes, attract them to your area, how to keep snags safe and other neat stuff.