Baltimore Oriole and other migrants

I went to put out the oriole feeder in what we call “The Oriole Tree” but is in fact a wild plum and is full of flower buds that will probably open in a few days. I started walking back to the house but stopped and turned back for some reason, and there was the oriole, already feeding. I hadn’t seen it until then.

Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole

Bruce told me that the bird I had unthinkingly called a finch at the hummingbird feeder, was in fact a female Baltimore Oriole and since the male showed up two days later, I expect he is right. It is clearly an oriole, and I wasn’t paying attention. However, the goldfinches were also hanging about, and this particular one is much more yellow than the orange ones that were here last year, and it appears to be smaller. It is just possible that it is an orchard oriole. If nobody comments with a definitive ID, I’ll just have to wait until I see the pair together or not.

Female Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore Oriole 2
Female Baltimore Oriole 2

The female hummingbird arrived today as well, only a day after I put the feeder out. I didn’t get a picture as it only stayed a few seconds and I haven’t seen it since.

Another arrival today was the evening grosbeak.

Evening grosbeak
Evening grosbeak

There was this bird as well today. The spring migrants are coming so fast it’s almost as if they are falling from the sky. I don’t have time for a trip to Point Pelee, where there is a natural break from lakes so that many migrants can be seen. Maybe next year. However, there is no shortage of them here.

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

First trillium of the year

The first purple trillium came out today.

Purple trillium
First purple trillium of the year

The white trillium is Ontario’s provincial flower but it is usually a few days later than the purple ones. There are lots of buds for those so I’m expecting a good show by weekend.

The blue cohosh is not quite as spectacular but is another early arrival.

Blue Cohosh
Blue Cohosh

In case anybody noticed in earlier entries that there is always a small, flat rock on our back deck, here is why. The chipmunks and the red squirrels like it, either because it gives them a little height to watch for sneaky predators, or it gives some heat if it’s been in the sunshine, or both.

Chipmunk rock
Chipmunk rock

We had a bit of rain today, so got another spring first. Black flies.  Those I could do without.  No swallows or dragonflies yet to gobble them up.

I put this separately on Facebook and Twitter today but for those who just read this blog, here is an oriole that beat the hummingbirds to the punch.

I heard on the weekend they were down by the lakeshore so they should be up over the ridge in a day or two.

Finch pretending to be a hummingbird
Oriole pretending to be a hummingbird

For those who are interested, we live on the Oak Ridge Moraine, a big pile of sand and rock pushed to the edge of Lake Ontario by the ice sheet. We are about 100m above the lake so get cooler weather all year.  Most of that 100m comes when we ascend a ridge about 10 km south of here; the thermometer in my car usually drops a couple of degrees (Celsius) in the space of 2 km.

Laurie asked why I started putting a copyright watermark on my pictures.  A lot of people seem to pirate photos from the web.  “CC” is for “Creative Commons” – you are welcome to use my pictures as long as you attribute them, and the watermark makes it easy.

Snake in the Grass and Pond life

Here are a few pictures from a garden tour today. It finally warmed up to about 21ºC so the garter snakes were able to get around at reasonable speed.

Garter snake
Garter snake

The sunset maple was in flower. They’re not as fancy as insect-pollinated flowers but a very attractive red all the same.

Sunset maple flowers
Sunset maple flowers
Sunset maple flowers 2
Sunset maple flowers 2

It’s possible that they may be partially insect pollinated. For willows, a study shows that the balance in some species between wind pollination and insect pollination depends on the weather.

Willow flowers
Willow flowers
Willow flowers 2
Willow flowers 2

The next plants are not pollinated at all, they are not seed plants but an ancient class of vascular plants that were around in the Carboniferous era and in those days some species grew to 10m (30 ft). (“Vascular” means they have tubes to carry water, like ferns and flowering plants). These are very persistent weeds in my dad’s garden. I’m sure he’ll be horrified at the thought of 10m plants. They reproduce by spores instead of seeds. The second picture is a close up, showing the sporophytes (spore-carrying bodies) in the strobilus which is the whole top part carrying the sporophytes.

Horsetail strobilus
Horsetail strobilus
Horsetail strobilus closeup
Horsetail strobilus closeup

Moving away from plants, here is a shot of the blue jays congregating at our feeder. They seem to be over the serious fights they were having a few weeks earlier.

Blue jay party
Blue jay party

In March, the males were having pitched battles resulting in serious injury. I’m not sure if the one on top in the second shot did actually peck the other bird’s eye, but it seemed to be trying hard.

Blue jay fight 1
Blue jay fight 1
Blue jay fight 2
Blue jay fight 2

Next is a few pictures from the pond. I couldn’t get the larger diving beetle. All of the different species were hiding under dead lily leaves and only coming up to grab a wingful of air before diving again. They are able to swim out from under the leaf, up to the surface, exchange the air they keep in a bubble under their elytra (outer wing cases, the hard shell that is a distinguishing feature of beetles) and then dive again, all in under a second.

Diving beetle
Diving beetle

The elytra (singular elytron) protect the inner flight wings which are folded up inside. That way, land beetles can burrow or hide in narrow crevices without damaging the delicate inner wings. So I find it interesting that water beetles were able to adapt them to life under water by turning the space under the wings into a sort of aqualung.

You can see some mosquito larvae in the picture, here are more, along with a pond skater.

Pond skaters are true bugs, so they have piercing mouthparts.  In this case, they are carnivorous and eat anything small enough that falls into the water, piercing and subduing them with the claws on their front legs, before sticking in their beak and sucking their prey dry.  Their long legs allow them to take advantage of surface tension and run around on top of the water. The legs are coated with water-repellent micro hairs. You can just make out the little dimples they make in the surface of the water.

Pond skater and mosquito larvae
Pond skater and mosquito larvae

If you look carefully just under the eyes, you can see the beak sticking down, angling to the left, into the water. It is easier to see in the reflection.

Pond skater
Pond skater

There were a few scarlet water mites in the pond but they were partly concealed by weeds. They look a lot like the land mites.  This one is also a carnivore, feeding on very small animals. It is only a couple of millimetres across, itself.

Red mite
Red mite

Hepatica and spring bulbs

The coltsfoot are always the first spring wildflower but I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those.  But Spring is such a short season even in central Ontario that the flowers arrive only a few days apart. This is especially true of the woodland flowers as they have to make as much as they can of the Spring sun before the tree leaves catch all the light.

The second flowers to arrive, the first woodland flowers, are the hepatica.  My ancient latin education still has a few words left so I wondered why they were named after liver so I looked them up on Wikipedia to find they were also called “liverwort” which is unfortunate because that word also refers to an entire division of the plant kingdom, more ancient than the flowering plants that now dominate the landscape.  However, the term “hepatica” does come from the fact that their leaves are similar in shape to the human liver, so medieval medics assumed that they must help with liver disease.  (They don’t, though they do have some medicinal use.)

Hepatica
Hepatica

Another woodland flower, the emblem of Ontario, is the trillium.  More latin, for the 3-lobed leaves (tres=3).  They will soon be out in their hundreds, just in our woodland. I’m assuming these are the rarer purple ones as they usually precede the majority white ones by as much as a week.

Trillium buds
Trillium buds

Those are they only spring flowers I have seen, though I haven’t had time to look much as I was in Baton Rouge all week. Although there are tree flowers that most people don’t recognise as flowers, like the willow and maple, because they are wind-pollinated so are not showy like the insect-pollinated flowers.

The early garden flowers are all bulbs.  This is because having a large store of energy underground allows you to produce a large flower much more quickly than if you have to grow yourself from scratch from a seed.

Glory-of-the-snow
Glory-of-the-snow
Striped squill
Striped squill
Scilla and some yellow flowers
Scilla and some yellow flowers

When I got home on Friday, we had about 4 daffodils out.  This morning, a day later, it was closer to 40.  I did try to get varieties with a range of flowering periods but because of the short season here, there are only a few days between them anyway.  The tulips are just showing buds, they do manage to take about a month between early-flowering and late.

 

Red Bellied Woodpecker moves in

I posted an accidental picture of a red-bellied woodpecker a week ago (I just assumed it was a downy on the feeder and wasn’t paying attention). We had never seen one before in our neighbourhood.

Since then it has been a regular visitor to our garden.  Here it is on a carved fence post. One reference said “It is called that even though it does not have a red belly” and so it appeared when I first saw it.  However, looking more closely you can see a slight tint of red at the bottom.

Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker 2