Saturday, December 05, 2009

Small Yellow Moth

During the summer months there is a frequent bright yellow visitor that flutters around in our front yard going from flower to flower. While moving our furniture to accommodate our Christmas Tree we found the remains of the moth that is pictured here. I never realized how difficult it can be to identify moths since there appears to be so many species and subspecies. Many are similar and yet not exactly the same. The closest moth that I was able to identify in this case was the False Crocus Geometer [Xanthotype urticaria]. The colour is similar however the shape of the wing looks more like a Pale Beauty [Campaea perlata] which is definitely a different colour being mainly white . Also the False Crocus Geometer has a more mottled yellow colour than this sample. So using my resources at hand this is as close as I have been able to come to identifying the moth. I think the next time I get a chance to shop for field identification books I might consider a book just on moths and butterflies.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Firefly Larvae are alive and doing well in Eastern Ontario

Last night I went to the garden to pull some fresh carrots and spotted the bio luminescent glow of this insect which until now, I always thought was a glowworm. I first found this insect here in 2004 and each fall thereafter. One fall they were so abundant and literally everywhere even throughout the forest. They were spread out no more than a metre (3 feet) apart.

I first thought that this was a glowworm but I bought a new book on Insects titled Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America ISBN-10:0-618-15310-1 and it clearly identifies this glowing insect as the larva of a firefly[Genus Photuris for sure and probably photuris pennsylvanica.] This makes total sense because we experience many fireflies in our fields in the evenings and all summer long it seems. The typical glowworm on the other hand has a real worm-like appearance. It is typically long and cylindrical and not at all like this insect.

Firefly larvae prey on snails which is a good thing. We have no shortage of them either.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Giant Water Bug

Arriving home this afternoon I noticed on the driveway near the back steps a Giant Water Bug [Lethocerus americanus]. It probably flew in since it ended up on its back - turned turtle - and was attempting to turn itself over while flailing away.

By the time I got back out it had righted itself and found itself a small puddle to rest in. This is the state that it was in when I took these photos. 20 minutes later he was gone and must have flown away. About 10 years ago we found the same bug on our drivway in the suburbs where we lived, in the west end of Ottawa. At that time we were much less well prepared, or interested, to identify it without the bug books I have now and the quality of internet resources.

This beetle will attack and prey on small fish, frogs and snakes as well as other bugs, and it will bite a person if irritated.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Burying Beetle

Yesterday I found a dead grey squirrel by the roadside. It was close to the roadway so I decided to move it into the ditch expecting in due course for a turkey vulture or crow to find it and clean it up. So I grabbed a stick and flung the carcass into the ditch and it uncovered a pair of unusual beetles. I didn't have a camera so couldn't take their pictures for better identification, and I am not inclined to kill them so was not able to identify them better that two black beetles with 4 orange spots. My Bugs of Ontario book identifies them as a species of Nicrophorus or burying beetles with interesting behaviours. Unusual for a beetle they actually pair up and take care of their young. Typically when they find a smaller carcass such as a mouse they will bury to hide it from competitors. This squirrel carcass was obviously far too big for these two 15 mm sized beetles and the roadside shoulder gravel was likely too hard to bury in.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Many Bees sighted in the Golden Rod

Goldenrod is now in full bloom and we have several patches of it in the abandoned field west of our house. One particular patch was very busy with what looked like the common honey bee [Apis mellifera]. This is probably the first time that I have definitively identified this bee on this woodlot -- I usually find bumble bees -- and the first time that I have seen so many, so active in one patch. This patch must have had one insect per plant, it was a busy place and time.

A Caterpillar eating a Milkweed Leaf

Today I did a visit and inspection of all the Canker resistant butternut trees in the woodlot. All but 2 are found and accounted for. Of the remaining 8, two are dead. The cause does not appear to be the disease but rather trampling by wildlife, or poor soil conditions. All will be reported on their respective blogs. On my way out I came across this very interesting looking caterpillar. I immediately associated it with the monarch butterfly which also eats milkweed, however it turns out that the monarch feeds on the milkweed when it is still young, and besides I have not seen any monarch butterflies around.

It turns out to be the Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar [Euchaetes egle], the caterpillar for the Tussock Moth a.k.a the Milkweed Tiger Moth. This caterpillar feeds on older milkweed plants and indeed this is approaching the end of our vigourous growing season.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jewel Beetle or Metallic Wood Boring Beetle

While in Nova Scotia I spotted this motionless beetle on the ground. It appeared to resemble the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) so I put it in some alcohol and saved it until I was able to identify it with my library of wildlife books, or so I thought. Based on what little I know so far this beetle appeared to be much too large to be an EAB but I was curious none-the-less. Bugs of Ontario, by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon, ISBN 1-55105-287-3 most closely identified it with the Gold Dust Buprestid [Buprestis confluenta], although in the book the bug is much greener and much less metallic. The book states the length is 17 mm, and while comparing it with the dime in the photo I calculate this beetle to be 21 mm (13/16 in.) long. After further internet research it turns out that there are literaly 1000s of species of Buprestidae. There are many websites with pictures but none come close to identifying this bug. I so far have been able to confirm that the general term is either metallic wood-boring beetle or jewel beetle since they are known to be used to make jewelry particularly in southern countries. After digging further, and having subsequently found a copy of Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, ISBN 0-618-15310-7 -- that I must have bought recently since I didn't know I had it -- I was able to establish that it is very likely the Buprestis Lineata primarily by its shape and more even colouring. The book shows two variations one with gold strips which appears more common and one that is more evenly coloured like that photographed here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pictured above is a ruffed grouse [Bonasa umbellus] the only species of fowl-like birds that I know of that resides in our woodlot. They are particularly common in the low brush areas of our woodlot. Quite often as I go for my walks I will flush one out but rarely do I get a good glimpse of one. You can occaisionally hear the males drumming in the woods with the classic, foop foop foop foop furrrrrr. My wife was lucky to capture these photos today as the grouse casually walked across our lawn. They remain here yeararound.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our resident and most common Snake

This is without a doubt the most common snake in this area since if I find a snake it is of this species. I did once come across a black snake with a red belly but never saw it again.

A Black and Yellow Spider

I encountered this black and yellow spider on the side of our house that seemed quite busy. It is one of the more attractive and interesting spiders I have seen. It most resembles the Yellow Garden Spider, [Agriope aurantia] as viewed in Bugs of Ont. ISBN 1-55105-287-3..

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The everpresent and successful Poison Parsnip

This is a stout specimen of the wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) which grows very well on our property. I first posted on this plant early on in this blog since it was quite dominating in places. I find however that it can be managed although with some vigilance.

This plant was very common in the fields of the Montreal west end where I grew up. I frequently would get rashes from it. It is quite hard to determine the cause of the rash since it shows up about 3 days later. Also it required UV light to stimulate the rash, so if I pull the weed late in the day shortly before sundown, I don't get the rash at all, with the weak sunlight. I don't even have to bother wearing protective clothing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skunks, skunks and more skunks.

We installed a gazebo about 25 metres (25 yards) away from our house. Today while on her way out to the gazebo my wife was greeted by the four baby skunks pictured here. Skunks are in fact beneficial animals that have a large appetite for insects and especially grubs that kill your lawn. Since we are in an isolated area away from any dense populations and with an extremely ample supply of insects, we have decided to co-habit with the skunk. I just have to be careful not to startle the animals in my walks around the woodlot. We don't have a dog and our cats seem to be able to handle the skunks well. When we lived in town our house cat was often seen frolicking with a resident skunk, yet careful enough to stay out of reach.

This is a striped skunk [Mephitis mephitis] which very common in these parts and the only skunk species here that I know of.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Tiny Red Spiders

Every now and then I come across a tiny red spider or mite as photographed here foraging in the earth. I believe it is Anystis baccarum which is a beneficial predator particulary to fruit growers. According to studies available on the net, one such insect can kill and consume up to 12 similar harmful insects in a day. It is quite difficult to identify the insect precisely, so I am willing to be corrected. If you can better identify this insect please leave a comment below or email me at

In comparison to the dime in the photo I would think that this insect is about 3-4mm long. In comparison to the pictures on the internet this spider is quite large and fat so it must be doing quite well.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Our Very Own Vernal Pool

If it wasn't for a lecture at one of the Ontario Woodlot Association meetings, I would likely never have found out about the vernal pool. Vernal is commonly used since these pools typically fill up in spring from snow melt and runoff. The pool in this picture is definitely vernal, since by summer time it will be completely dry.

The periodic drying up of the pool is what makes this pool special. It will not support fish and other predators which allows certain woodland creatures to lay eggs etc in relative safety. Next time I am back to this spot I will wear some rubber boots which will allow me to wade in a ways to observe the pool from a closer vantage point. These sneakers were keeping me away and confined to high and dry ground.

It would be interesting to see some salamanders. The only such amphibian I have ever seen was the quite common redbacked salamander up on the mountain in Ile Perrot where I grew up west of Montreal Quebec.

Dust to dust (What is left of Lefty)

In my short evening walk today I found the skeletal remains of Lefty, the porcupine that died near my house. I had reported on this porcupine in several earlier posts. I called it lefty because it had broken one of its toes on its left front paw and the bone had reset with the toe pointing up. It was easy this way to identify Lefty even way up in a tree. Being so close to the house I grabbed some rubber gloves and picked up the carcass and moved it to a spot further inside the woodlot and away from our trails. The plan was of course to let the wild predators have at it. Oddly enough, this carcass, unlike others, was never preyed upon. I gather that the turkey vulture did not like to feed on carrion located in the woods since it is less safe than in a clearing. The coyotes, raccoons etc. possibly were wary of my scent on it.

I recall when I carried the carcass that one of the needles went right through the glove and into my finger. It was a strange feeling trying to pull the needle out. It stuck like glue. Apparently the barbs on the needles are extremely fine and barely visible even under a regular microscope. There was no easy way to pull it out but mere force. It drew no blood and never festered so all was well.

In the photo, the skull is clearly visible as well as a smattering of odd bones. Maybe the animals did get into it after all since the bones dispersed over time. And the rest went back to the earth whence it came.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Turkey Vulture and Global Warming

On my way to a friend's cottage at White Lake, Ontario, I drove by this field where I spotted a crow and several turkey vultures [Cathartes aura] huddled around this dark object. By the time I opened the car window and had the camera ready the crow had flown away. These vultures were feeding on the carcass of a fairly large raccoon that the right-most vulture, in the picture, is standing on.

My first bird book, Birds of North America, Robbins, Bruun, and Zim, (1966) showed the range of the Turkey Vulture to be no farther north than a latitude of the middle of Lake Erie or about 400 km (250 mi.) south of here. As a youth and active birdwatcher back in the 60's and 70's I had never witnessed a Turkey Vulture anywhere in the area around Montreal where I grew up. The newer bird books -- and I referred to four; Stokes, Royal Ontario Museum, Kaufman and Sibley -- consistently show the Turkey Vulture range is now well north of North Bay, Ontario to a point over 200 km (125 mi.) north of here. I have personally seen them as far north as Otter Lake, Quebec on one of my drives there. I would say that this is real evidence of global temperature change wouldn't you say?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Border Fence

A part of the north by north west border of the property is marked by a very old fence pictured here and referred to here in the vernacular as a snake rail fence made of white cedar split rails. As you can see in the photo there is no shortage of eastern white cedar on either side of the fence. This is probably the easiest fence to build requiring local materials, a few tools, and no post hole digging. The land here is glacial till or hard pan in local parlance and that is made out of 60% to 80% rock. So post hole digging is not really viable.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another girdled Tamarack Tree

On the return path of the walk I came across this newly gnawed tamarack tree. There is so little bark left on this tree that it will certainly die. Tamarack is a favoured food of the local porcupine.

A Red Squirrel's Midden

I first came across the term midden when reading a report on archaeological findings where middens or piles of shells were found on the beaches of Prince Edward Island as evidence of early inhabitation by man. Always thought it was odd to have such a name for a simple pile but then it is a better explanation than just a pile. In fact says that a kitchen midden is a "mound consisting of shells of edible mollusks and other refuse, marking the site of a prehistoric human habitation." That is quite specific. I have also heard it used for the small piles of spruce or pine cone husks left by squirrels as pictured here. Numerous such middens have been found throughout the property today. It must be that the reduced food supply may be diminishing to a point where cone seeds now become the best there is on the forest menu of the red squirrel.

A mammal's Breathing Hole

There is an old fence/tree line that runs near the centre and along the length of the woodlot. I call it the Hawthorn line since it is made up mainly of hawthorn trees and basswood trees. Along this line I found a hole in the snow pictured here and the outer rim of the hole was covered in hoar frost crystals as shown in the photo. This is typical of a breathing hole for a mammal that is hibernating or holed up in the snow. There are at least two of these that I know of on the property. The other is from underneath an old barn floor.

Nature's home Builder, the Pileated Woodpecker

In today's walk the second exhibit I encountered was the hard work of the pileated woodpecker [Dryocopus pileatus]. The bird, as it seeks food such as insects in the trees, hollows out sizable holes which make ideal nests for small bird or mammals. The huge chips of wood in the snow bely that the construction was quite recent, and this size of wood chip is typical of the pileated.

The woodpecker must be able to hear the insects inside the tree. Some think that the woodpecker damages trees while in fact the tree by now is already rotted or insect infested in the centre.

In woodlot management it is recommended that a number of dead trees be left standing to provide habitat for animals. This tree will likely serve as a home for some animal one day.

The Highbush Cranberry

Today's walk in the woods provided a number of interesting exhibits. We have a number of highbush cranberry shrubs throughout our woodlot that were generated naturally. In winter they provide a rather attractive showy red berry against the dreary white and gray winter background. Apparently after a frost the berries do not taste as strong as when they are first ripened. In fact I tried one of these berries which has a rather pretty heart-shaped seed inside and it tasted a lot like a cranberry, though it is not of the same family.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Walk to the Red Pine Grove

Our woodlot has a very pronounced red pine grove located near the center of the bush. The grove must have been hand planted since the trees are not planted in exact rows and yet they are nicely spaced apart. It is an interesting grove since many of the trees there are shaped like a Y. I am guessing it is because of porcupine damage killing the top of the tree, and leaders then growing out of the sides below the bark damage. I am assuming it is porcupine since some of the red pines located near the house have noticeable porcupine scars which also created leaders.

This renders the wood of the trees quite valueless from a commercial perspective, so I will be thinning this grove over time, besides red pine has to be thinned. If I leave it the way it is red pine will keep growing but become thinner and overtime will not be able to withstand high winds. We have had some incredible wind storms lately with 100 km/h winds.

Today we snowshoed to the grove, my wife, my 4 yr. old grandson and I. We have had quite a bit of snow this winter. The accumulated snow was knee deep ~ 60 cm. (2 feet) next to the trails and the snow shoe trail was packed down to half the depth of ~ 30 cm (1 foot).

Along the trail we came across a well used porcupine highway which is a 15 cm (6 in) deep track in the snow.