Saturday, November 3, 2018

For the Birds

This fall I’ve been enjoying the migrant birds in my garden. The sparrows (white-throated and song) are back and so are the yellow-rumped warblers.  Flocks of golden-crowned kinglets perch on branches and flower stalks to glean tiny insects.  They seem fearless and allow me to get quite close to them.  One day I was thrilled to observe a group of northern parulas bathing in the pond.  Amongst them was a further surprise - a lone Canada warbler identified by a dark grey necklace on its bright yellow breast.  Late-flowering plants, seed heads and berries are plentiful in my garden to feed these visitors.  However, I was alerted to a hazard for these birds when I kept on hearing the sound of dull thuds against my picture windows, from which I have beautiful view of surrounding trees looking resplendent in fall color.  But reflections of this canopy in the glass were proving to be deadly. 

So I used some specially designed bird tape from the American Bird Conservancy to prevent further collisions.  Now my windows have arrays of 3” squares of opaque tape. There is still a view from within, the birds can sense there is no way through and this arrangement is proving to be quite decorative. The squares sometimes shimmer with shadows and light.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dogwood Sawfly Larvae - Pest or not?

I’ve just noticed dogwood sawfly (Macremphytus tarsatus) larvae on the red-osier dogwood. Squirming heaps of them are found on the underside of the leaves. At first I thought they might be caterpillars, as they look quite similar to the larvae of skipper butterflies. Heaven knows I have seen many a skipper this summer in the garden! Sliver spotted, Pecks, and many more I have a hard time identifying, have been nectaring all summer, particularly at the deep purple flowers of New York Ironweed. 

But skipper larvae are not known to feed in groups and I just learnt another way to tell them apart from sawfly larvae. They have a maximum of four pairs of stumpy prolegs, whereas sawfly larvae have a few more. So sawfly they are, but not true flies. These are the larvae of a wasp. Adult sawflies lay their eggs along the veins of leaves of their host plant. The larvae change color as they go through instars. At first they are a translucent yellow, then white with a waxy coating and finally, the stage I am viewing, they have a striking yellow underside and a black head. When the larvae stop feeding in late summer, they fall to the ground, burrow into decaying wood and pupate for nine months. 

Dogwood sawfly larvae are partial to red osier dogwood and, in some instances, are a considerable defoliating pest.  Indeed, I see that leaves on a few twigs have been chewed down to the mid-vein. But this is the end of the growing season and I planted this stand of shrubs not as an ornamental, but for wildlife habitat and to prevent erosion on a steep slope. I am confident that I will again see the plant’s striking red twigs standing in the snow again this winter. Meanwhile, the insect will be kept in check by being food for birds. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nest Depot

I spent this beautifully bright and warm spring day clipping and raking the meadow. There are now plenty of dried stalks, seed heads, straw and leaf litter to add to the  “lumber yard” for wildlife. The birds sing incessantly. A little flock of goldfinches has been visiting the feeders in recent weeks, their plumage all shades of muted yellow and olive. I hear their reedy song while I work. But this morning a neighbor’s incessantly droning leaf blower, that I had to put up with for well over an hour, drowns out the sweet sounds of spring. I disturb a bee with my rake and I gingerly replace the leaf litter. I wonder how many bees and other critters are being more rudely and inadvertently driven out from their winter hiding by the gas-guzzling machine over the road from me. I rake and clear just enough so as not to smother and destroy emerging fauna and plants. The Nest Depot at the back edge of my property is now overstocked with building material and organic matter left in place feeds the soil.