Plants, insects and a spider

I’ll start with plants without insects and spiders, for those few readers who don’t like our arthropod neighbours.

The first is a mystery shot. Guess what it is and award yourself a prize if you get it right. Answer below.

Mystery shot
Mystery shot

Here is one of our two apple trees, a Macintosh. The Northern Spy, once again, had no apples at all, in spite of having had a few flowers. The crab apples were profuse as usual.

Macintosh apples
Macintosh apples

This is the first year we have had no blackberries. The drought has been dreadful. “Russian Giant” sunflowers, normally at least my height, are mostly around knee high.

No blackberries
No blackberries

Many of the native plants are more drought resistant, such as these tiny but prolific asters.

Native asters Ontario
Native asters Ontario

And here is the answer to the mystery photo. It was the centre of this Gaillardia (aka Blanket Flower, Indian Blanket or Ring of Fire).

Gaillardia aka Blanket Flower
Gaillardia aka Blanket Flower

Warning: from now on there is an arthropod in every picture, though of course, they are on plants.

First is an unidentified bug, on grass seeds. Although I’m not exactly sure what kind of plant bug it is, I know it is a true bug because you can see its beak tucked under its head and thorax. For those not familiar with insects, although we all tend to call all kinds of animals ‘bugs’, there is an order of insects that entomologists call ‘true bugs’, or in scientific naming ‘Hemiptera’. There are somewhere around 70,000 species of these and they all have a sucking tube for a mouth, which they stick in their prey and such the juices, be it plant (mostly) or animal.

Bug on grass seeds
Bug on grass seeds

Some entomologists are even pickier and reserve ‘bug’ for a sub-order, the ‘Heteroptera’, but that just bugs me. And just to confuse matters more, a few insects with sucking mouthparts are not related. For example, those nasty mosquitoes are actually flies, not bugs (order (Diptera)).

Here are a couple more true bugs. First, an adult milkweed bug, sitting on a milkweed seed pod. I don’t think you can see the beak (scientific name is ‘rostrum’) from this angle.

Small milkweed bug
Small milkweed bug

Bugs don’t go through a pupa stage, like caterpillars. Instead each moult gets it a bit closer in appearance to an adult. Here is a juvenile milkweed bug that has just started to develop wings, outlined in black, below.

Immature milkweed bug
Immature milkweed bug

Sticking with bugs, here are a couple more, a shield bug and a plant hopper.

Shield bug
Shield bug
Leaf hopper
Leaf hopper

Leaf hoppers are hard to photograph because they are tiny, so hard to get in focus, and they tend to, well, hop off, at no notice. They have good reason to be jittery, though. While I was watching this cute little jumping spider, four or five leaf hoppers landed nearby. The spider jumped at them before I realized they had landed but all of them were fast enough to escape with their lives.

Jumping spider
Jumping spider

I knew that jumping spiders caught their prey by jumping on them, rather than using webs. They have quite an impressive array of different kinds of eyes to help them with their hunting.  I did not know that they did use webs, but as a home. Here is the same spider in its nest. You can just see part of it towards the lower left.

Jumping spider nest
Jumping spider nest

This fierce-looking creature actually feeds off nectar. Its long tail is for laying eggs, which it does in June bug larvae (the white grubs you find in your lawn, that eat the roots). The wasp larvae are parasites that destroy the grubs from inside. This one is sitting on an oak leaf. I found half a dozen of these in a few minutes, quietly enjoying the sunshine.

Pelecinid Wasp
Pelecinid Wasp

Although it hops on leaves, this grasshopper is not closely related to the hoppers above, and is not a true bug. It has chewing mouth parts, not sucking.

Grasshopper
Grasshopper

And here is another member of the same ‘straight winged (Orthoptera)’ order, a cricket.

Snowy tree cricket
Snowy tree cricket

Next is an inch worm, so called because it moves by looping up its body to bring the back pseudo-legs up to the front true legs, thereby “measuring” its length as it goes. It is a caterpillar of the geometer moth. Of course, now we are all metric, it now 2.5 centimetres along, instead of inching.

Inchworm
Inchworm

Another carnivore, helping to keep down the aphid population.

Lacewing
Lacewing

And yet another. There have been many fewer dragonflies this year, because of the drought, which means many fewer mosquitoes for dinner. We also haven’t had swallows or other mosquito-eating birds.

Common darter
Common darter

Goldenrod season

I feel sorry for all the people who are allergic to goldenrod, but it’s in full flower today.
Here is some in our back yard

Goldenrod field
Goldenrod field

The local insects think the pollen is delicious.

Goldenrod pollen - honeybee
Goldenrod pollen – honeybee
Goldenrod pollen - bald faced hornet
Goldenrod pollen – bald faced hornet

I found this on the ground in the forest. Why is it not on the tree and why is it this strange colour? It’s months before fall, isn’t it?

Maple leaf - first fall
Maple leaf – first fall

Toad-in-the-hole

I knew that toad-in-the-hole was an English dish made of Yorkshire pudding with sausages stuck in as it baked, but I didn’t know that our garden toads made themselves similar holes. I probably should have, but that one escaped me until I saw this one.

The hole was just big enough for the toad to fit, with a small space around it. I don’t know how the roof stayed up, because our soil is very sandy so I would have expected it to collapse.

The camouflage is good, too. The toads in my garden do have different shades of brown/green, depending on soil colour or if the soil is hidden by short plants.

Toad in the hole
Toad in the hole

Fungi

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. This metaphorical drought is partly due to a physical drought. Until two weeks ago, we have only one rain shower since early May.  My garden was a complete failure. After initial attempts at watering from the creek, I couldn’t keep up. Because our “soil” is mostly sand, the water just disappeared within hours under the sun and 30ºC heat so it would have taken all my time to keep it watered.

I’ve figured out a plan for irrigating next year, but it was too late once I realized it was needed, so got almost no vegetables this year. Luckily, I was too lazy to plant all my new perennials so they were safe in the greenhouse and I’ve started planting them so they can flower next year. Most will be safe enough once established, though I lost quite a few established perennials and even small bushes this year.

A few days after we finally got some rain, by way of torrential downpours, the forest floor sprouted many fungus fruiting bodies.

I’m not that great at identifying fungi, so you’ll just have to enjoy the pictures without knowing exactly what they are.

Small fungus
Small fungus
A bit larger
A bit larger
Maybe oyster but not risking eating
Maybe oyster but not risking eating
More tiny ones
More tiny ones
Nearby one had much larger cap
Nearby one had much larger cap
Hiding in a hole
Hiding in a hole

Fungus 6

Yellow cluster
Yellow cluster
Pink umbrella
Pink umbrella – a little larger
More delicate
More delicate
Slug food
Slug food

The end of winter?

This is just a quick gallery of the pictures I have taken since early February, mostly birds with some ice, lichen and a snowdrop.

I have posted over half of these pictures on Twitter but, since I do a print version of this blog for a few people who don’t use the Internet, I thought I’d better get caught up. I haven’t been doing as many pictures over the winter as things don’t change much in the garden, although this year has been weird, with not much snow and very wild temperature swings from -20ºC to +15 in a single week. Not having the snow makes it worse as the snow insulation takes the edge of the swings. We’re having May weather in March.

On one of the -20ºs swings it got cold enough for fur hats, but only for one day. It’s from Russia, thanks to my sister-in-law, Lily; warm at -40º.

Fur hat
Russian fur hat

It’s Charlie’s birthday party in mid-February, so we went to Toronto.  He seems to know almost everyone in Toronto, there was at least one floor of the bar full of his friends.

Me Laurie Charlie
Me, Laurie and Charlie at his birthday party at the Artful Dodger

Next are some of the birds that stay around for the winter,

Purple Finch
Purple Finch
Chickadee
Chickadee

One day, we had a huge flock of American Goldfinches, around 200. All our trees and bushes were full of them.

Goldfinches on ground
American Goldfinches
Goldfinches
Goldfinches in Locust tree
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy Woodpecker

Mourning doves are regulars, but we hadn’t seen quite this many in the one tree at once, they’re usually only a few.  These are not peace doves, they’re quite aggressive with other birds. Even the blue jays keep a careful eye on them when they’re within beak range.

Mourning doves
Mourning doves

We had an ice storm and lost power for a few hours. It came back just as the house was getting cold and I was downstairs getting ready to light the wood stove which we keep for emergencies and to start the generator for a few lights and recharge batteries. We should look into getting it set up to run the furnace fan.

Ice-covered dogwood
Ice-covered dogwood
Ice on trees
Ice on trees

Next are the same trees, slightly out of focus so you can see the rainbows. I can’t capture how they were with the naked eye, because it took a little bit of motion to make them sparkle. I should have shot some video.

Ice storm rainbows
Ice storm rainbows
Ice storm damage
Ice storm tree damage – sugar maple

The next wasn’t the one that took our power out because ours was back on by the time we ventured out.

Ice storm power line damage
Ice storm power line damage

 

Ice-covered branches
Ice-covered branches

The sharp-shinned hawk sat here spreading its wings and shaking them. It was still hunting through the ice rain falling.

Sharp-shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned hawk
Pigeon River at home
Pigeon River at home during a thaw

The next one is from my home brewing. The sanitizing fluid made large bubbles in the carboy I use for fermenting .

Sanitizing fluid bubbles
Sanitizing fluid bubbles

These pixie cup lichen are very pretty. Almost a garden by themselves.  On my high-resolution original, you can zoom in to see tiny cups within these larger ones. Fractal.

Pixie cup lichen
Pixie cup lichen
Downy close up
Male Downy Woodpecker, close up
Female Downy Woodpecker
Female Downy Woodpecker
Female cardinal and Junco
Female cardinal and Junco
Female cardinal
Female cardinal in dogwood

The next is a tree branch that had fallen but not touched the ground, so these fungi look like they’re cascading off the end.  The green is from algae that live within the fungus. I don’t know if the fungus gets energy from the photosynthesis or not. Since lichen are fungus with algal partners, these are part way there but not with the same species.

Fungus cascade
Fungus in a cascade
Snowdrops
Our first snowdrops

Finally, a much-magnified (4mm=0.15″) flower from summer savory, which I had growing this winter in my plant case. But didn’t get enough leaves to use as herbs.

Summer Savory herb
Summer Savory herb