A bird in the bush

A couple of photos of birds in bushes in our garden

The small birds love the golden ninebark as it is so dense that even the sharp-shinned hawk can’t catch them in it. Your task is to count all the juncos, starting from the blurred one in the foreground which is not in the bush.

Juncos in Ninebark
Juncos in Ninebark

Next is a black-capped chickadee.  The dogwood provides some welcome winter colour and is even prettier in this shot with the ice covering from the storm.

Chickadee in dogwood
Chickadee in dogwood

Ice needles in the forest

It’s been hovering around freezing for a few days, give or take a degree or two, still unseasonably warm for December, with no snow.  Apparently just the right conditions for ice needles in the forest.  The ground is fairly wet as the forest floor doesn’t get bright sun.

I don’t know the physics of this, but the combination of moisture and approximately freezing temperatures has resulted in these ‘needles’ rising roughly vertically from the forest floor.

Ice needles
Ice needles
More ice needles
More ice needles

While wandering in the forest, I saw this rather weird fungus that at first looked like some animal had been using the stump for a toilet.

Tree stump fungus
Tree stump fungus

This branch from juniper (aka Eastern Red Cedar, but not a cedar at all) seems to have taken quite a detour on the way to find light.  Junipers are very shallow rooted and tend to blow over a lot.  The main trunk was leaning at about 60º from the vertical, so you can imagine the twists and turns as it sank, causing the branch to re-orient a few times.

Twisted Juniper
Twisted Juniper

Woodpecker and goldenrod galls

We have many, many goldenrod plants in this area – they are common everywhere, though when I was very young, my grandfather had an allotment and I remember that he had goldenrod growing around the shed.  One of my earliest memories.

Goldenrod are very susceptible to galls.  Almost every stem has at least one. These are made by the plant as a result of an insect sting.  The resulting gall provides food and shelter to the insect grub.  The insect is the goldenrod gall fly.

I noticed a downy woodpecker on the weed stems in my garden, where I usually see chickadees and juncos. Unusual, as woodpeckers aren’t big seed eaters.  Then I realized it was eating the gall fly larvae.  Once it had gone, I checked out the galls. Every single gall had a large hole in it, much bigger than the exit hole normally made by the fly, when it hatches out the next spring.  

Woodpecker on galls
Woodpecker on galls
Goldenrod Gall after woodpecker
Goldenrod Gall after woodpecker

Blue Jays and Chickadees

Today was dark and cooler so not great for photography, but here is a Chickadee and a Blue Jay.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Jay
Blue Jay

These are both year-round denizens of our garden. Both are omnivorous. The jays eat other vertebrates but we still seem to have no shortage of birds, frogs and the like, so we still enjoy their visits.  We grow a lot of sunflowers (and the birds ‘plant‘ quite a lot of seeds themselves that I often leave to grow in random places) so that gives them something else to feed on.

On the other hand we don’t like neighbourhood cats eating the birds and other small animals. This one is particularly well disguised. Once I spotted it, I asked it to leave and not return. I suspect it will.

Notice the milkweed seed pods in the middle. I’m ever hopeful that the monarch butterflies will return.

Neighbourhood Cat
Neighbourhood Cat

Pine seed bugs

Our house gets infested with these Western Pine Seed Bugs every fall. Well, would you like to stay outside all day in an Ontario winter? (Yes? You must be from Alberta).

Pine seed bug
Pine seed bug

They are harmless but if you scare them, they emit a stink. Not too bad, a bit like a bruised apple. Also, being a true bug, they have a sharp, pointy beak that they can stick in you. After all, if it can pierce a pine seed, it can pierce your skin. It is normally folded under the head and body. Sort of like a permanently-attached drinking straw with built-in bottle opener.
So if they land on something, like me, or food, I give them a flick of the finger so they are gone before they get time to get scared. Imagine if something the size of a tree trunk suddenly hit you from behind, hard enough to send you flying many body-lengths1. Well, these guys recover mid-air and manage to fly to safety, at least until I manage to catch them again.

I think that this one was a bit miffed because it opened its wings and refolding them several times after that harsh treatment so I took the opportunity to take a few pictures.  Of course, I couldn’t get the depth of focus and the shutter speed both right in the few seconds before it stopped doing that, so the best picture is the first one, that I actually took last, and it never did it again.

Pine seed bug. wings open
Pine seed bug. wings open

1. The lesson to be learned from any such “many body-lengths” etc. that you see here or in the papers is not that some small creatures like fleas have super-powers, but that scaling doesn’t work like that. In this case, mass is proportional to cube of size so at tiny size, the force and energy to accelerate them is proportionately very much less than it is for us, so not much harm done. OK, a bit more complicated than that,… exoskeleton,… but the point stands, no superpowers.