Friday, June 29, 2007

Don Watcher wrote recently about removing a safe as part of a trail clean-up event. I think we have another little challenge for you, DW. This one's under the bridge at Pottery Road:

Sumac flowers pinking up:

I had read that gypsy moth caterpillars grow to the size of a finger, but I hadn't seen any that big until today. Eek.


Here's a juvenile black-crowned night heron. I just can't take these birds seriously. They look like cartoons to me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just in case anyone is relying on this blog instead of checking their e-mail (seems extremely unlikely), here's the breaking news: tonight's outing has been cancelled due to impending thunderstorms. We'll get back on track next week with what we'd planned for tonight. Here's a hint: if you're into wearing rubber, you'll want to join us ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The weather does not sound at all promising for tomorrow night's outing. In case we have to cancel because of thunderstorms, here are some random pictures to give you a little Beechwood fix.

The blackeyed susans have started blooming:

This is what the blue flags do after they flower:

A clump of milkweed in flower. That looks like a hummingbird above them, in the distance, or maybe it's a hummingbird moth.

Crown vetch got its name because the flower looks like a crown:

Similarly, cow vetch got its name because its flowers look like ... well, no, that doesn't look much like a cow:

I don't know this gorgeous little flower, but isn't it perfect? I didn't quite capture the delicate pale yellow colour of the heart-shaped petals.

This is a bit closer to the colour:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My loyal and brainy readers quickly identified the caterpillars I saw recently. It's bad news: they're gypsy moth caterpillars, a "regulated pest" in this part of the world. They were first discovered in Canada in 1924 and have been spreading ever since. The larvae prefer oak and aspen trees but will eat many other kinds as well. Mississauga mounted an aerial spraying campaign last year to deal with an infestation, and a few areas in Etobicoke were sprayed this spring.
A major infestation can defoliate a significant area, and the hairs and droppings (frass) of the larvae can cause rashes and respiratory problems in people. I've seen the caterpillars in a few places now, but the biggest gathering was right within our own stewardship equipment box. Talk about rubbing our noses in it! I'm afraid the ones pictured here met with a tragic end shortly after the photo was taken. Hey, they were filling our box with frass.
("Frass" makes a good swear word, almost as good as "vetch." Try it.)
These are big, meaty caterpillars, and small mammals and some birds like to eat them. Other dangers for them include viruses, fungi, and newly enlightened stewards.
My question now is, how did I not already know about these things? Have I just not been paying attention? I spent ages poring over caterpillar images online, trying to make an ID without success. (I did find them at after I knew what to search for.) Shouldn't there be WANTED posters on every corner to educate people about gypsy moths? It's the same story with invasive plants like dog-strangling vine and garlic mustard: after a session of removing them from Beechwood I walk back through my neighbourhood and see them growing in flower gardens. People just have no idea what they are, so they don't get rid of them. How do we spread the word?
Sometimes the best thing to do at Beechwood is nothing at all. The other day I stopped to watch the activity in a dead tree which was providing a perch for a couple of cedar waxwings, several robins, a downy woodpecker, and a pair of goldfinches. There are always some bumblebees and other interesting insects at work if you take the time to look.

If you hang out by the pond quietly for a few minutes you start to notice that there are loads of frogs. Frog ...

... after frog ...

... after frog ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I was a little afraid of what I'd find at Beechwood this morning after another storm yesterday, but everything survived pretty well. The path we use when taking water to the newly planted trees got a little harder to negotiate:

It's another story at the top of Pottery Road hill, though. This area took a hit:

A mullein beginning to bloom:

I found a lot of these little green and black beetles on a cup plant. They were a bit camera shy. I think they're some kind of leaf beetle.

While trying to identify it I learned the identity of a bug I photographed several weeks ago. Turns out it's a ladybug larva! Huh. I should have taken it over to one of the maple leaf viburnums to let it eat up the viburnum leaf beetles.

I haven't figured out what this caterpillar is, but we have a lot of them. It's like a mourning cloak caterpillar, but ... not. Anybody recognize it?

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm still not tired of the blue flags. Those yellow markings show the bumblebees where to go.

On hot days like this it's nice to take the kids for a swim.

Milkweed about to flower. This is the best smell in the world. Why does nobody market it? Maybe it needs a better name. Milkflower? Fleur-de-lait? Plante latte?
Apparently he loves her not.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bird news! This morning I saw a great egret in the pond. It's a stunning bird, snowy white and as large as a great blue heron. This brings my Beechwood bird list to 25 so far this year.
On Wednesday night we planted a variety of native plants: Blue Vervain, Hoary Vervain, Joe Pye Weed, Sky Blue Aster, Great Blue Lobelia, Smooth Aster and New England Aster. There was also some kind of tall grass, and we finished the evening by planting a lot of nice little poplar trees. Thank goodness for the extra volunteers who came out to help! We didn't get everything finished, but we came close. Here's a flat of plants waiting to go in the ground:

The city grows these for us in the greenhouse at High Park. I'm not sure about the trees. Does anyone know where they come from? [Answer: there's a city tree nursery near Fort York.]
Poplar tree settling into its new home. It has a good layer of mulch to discourage weeds and retain moisture, and a tree guard to discourage bunnies who would like to nibble the bark:

This is a smooth aster. Notice how skilfully it was planted:

Another masterful planting job:

I didn't plant this kind, so I don't know what it is, but I'm sure it will turn into something great:

By the end of today John and I will have watered all the new plants. I don't see any rain in the forecast for quite a while, so we may need to keep doing this. Unfortunately, it's not like a campground with a handy tap every few sites: watering plants means dipping water from the pond and carrying it through twelve miles of heavy brush. Well, maybe not twelve miles, and maybe the brush isn't all that heavy, but the water sure is after a while. This morning a couple of passersby kindly asked if I needed help (no, thank you) and then wondered why the water was so black (just mud from the pond). I had to be careful to avoid the frog that was "hiding" a few inches from my dipping bucket.

It's cottonwood season. This twig came down in the last big storm. You can see the shape of the leaves and the white fluff that is everywhere right now. This tree has a heck of a seed-dispersal system.

Finally, I saw dead chipmunk #3 this morning on the path. I'm going to have to put up tiny signs to warn them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

FFOS: first frog of season. I heard one the other day and got a good look this morning:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is odd -- everything I read about black locust flowers says they smell very sweet, but I walked up to this one for a sniff and there was no scent. What's up? I must continue my research.

Spot the rabbit hiding in this picture:

It's hiding in a patch of tansy, which I've been busy pulling lately. It's the new garlic mustard. Speaking of garlic mustard, this is what happens after the bolting and flowering stages: those prongs are seed pods full of little black seeds ready to go forth and conquer the world.

While exploring the site I found this artifact, obviously left behind by the early pioneers who settled the area:

I've been reading about spit bugs, aka spittlebugs or froghoppers. These little insects produce a white froth that hides them and keeps them from drying out while they mature. They've beaten out fleas for the title of highest jumper in nature, so show a little respect when you see these gobs of spit on your plants.

Sightings: I saw a muskrat in the pond for the first time this season, along with some white-tailed dragonflies. There's been a black-crowned night heron there several times too. Early summer seems to be progressing nicely!

Finally, welcome to a new blog on the block, Riverdale Farm Ponds Stewardship. Check in there to learn how another great site benefits from the stewardship program.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wow, that was a heck of a storm yesterday! There's a tree down in the pond:

(Actually a couple of trees, one [or more?] recently living and one [or more?] long dead. It's hard to make sense of the tangle.)

All serene today, though:

A chipmunk takes a break from checking out the storm damage to check out the woman with the camera:

The purple-flowering raspberry is doing its purple-flowering thing. The raspberry part comes later.

Is there anything prettier than a wild rose?

Friday, June 08, 2007

We had another evening of weeding this week, rooting out the last of the garlic mustard (I hope!), some dog-strangling vine, tansy and thistles. For variety we watched John take part in a study of Japanese Knotweed genetics. This very leaf provided a small sample to be mailed off for testing and comparison to other JK across the US.

I wonder about this glove every time I walk by it. I suspect it marks the final resting place of a fellow steward who lost the battle with dog-strangling vine:

The blue flags always look pretty in the pond:

The black locust trees in the area are in flower. I'm told these smell wonderful, but I haven't checked yet. Stay tuned for a report on this. Strictly speaking, black locust trees are on our black list (non-native), and I shouldn't encourage them, but just this once, in the name of science, I'll give them a sniff.

Next week we're going to have a special wildflower-planting session on Wednesday. Hopefully we'll get lots of people to help us fill in all the bare patches that used to hold garlic mustard.