Friday, October 4, 2013

Eastern White Pine Trees

We've got Eastern white pine trees bordering our yard on one side -- our neighbour planted them there years ago. Our dad didn't particularly like them because their roots are invasive; he was concerned they would be a hazard to the foundation of our house. 

So far, they haven't taken down the house. But they do provide a rough ride along the drive, as the roots stick up through the ground in places. 

Still, they're beautiful, and we have fond memories of sitting beneath evergreens when we were little and staring up at the branches, warmed even in autumn by a blanket of fallen needles beneath us.    

Called Weymouth pine in England, the Eastern white pine is the only native five-needle pine in Canada and the Eastern US. It grows from 80'-100' tall and beasr slender, tapering, thornless cones. The cones are also long-stalked and grow from 3"-6" long. Many other pines have scaly bark, but the Eastern white pine has a dark bark with deep furrows. In windswept northern areas, a dwarf matted form occurs. 

We got our information from Eastern Trees, by George A Petrides and Janet Wehr. 

Friday, September 27, 2013


Wisteria is a beautiful plant. It has lovely purple blossoms in the spring, which hang like mist in the trees, and, as you can see here, the leaves are also attractive. Our wisteria is apparently turning yellow and brown for autumn.

The problem, of course, is that wisteria is so invasive. Once you've got it, it seems impossible to be rid of it, particularly if you (as we are) are against using herbicides; and it takes over everything. We've even got it growing in our eastern side garden, nowhere near where the original vine started. Equally bad is the fact that it's literally covering some of our beloved trees, no doubt doing severe damage, and likely to result in their deaths. 

But wisteria is its own fascination. Hardy and deciduous, there are five species, two of which are native to the US, according to Garden Guides ( The flower clusters, which are fragrant, may be from six to eighteen inches in length. Chinese wisteria blooms all at once, whilst Japanese wisteria blooms over the course of two to three weeks. 

When planting wisteria, you must plan for its inevitable growth (wisteria can grow to the size of a tree and will do structural damage to your house if you do not plan properly). Instead of training it on a trellis -- which will work for only a few years of its life -- try erecting a sturdy pergola for it to climb upon. The pergola must be made to last, as wisteria can live for decades. Garden Guides also suggests training using posts and wire; however, you must be prepared for regular pruning. 

When kept in check, wisteria can be the delight of the garden (or wood; ours is wild). It was used in Victorian gardens, and is still popular to-day in spite of its downsides. 

Friday, August 30, 2013


 The first day we saw the blue jay we call Greycap, he was at the feeder. He gathered several seeds in his mouth and took them over to the deck railing, where he spat them out & proceeded to eat them one by one. The photos to the left are of him eating. 

One thing we noticed about him was that the top of his head was grey, rather than the blue we were accustomed to seeing on blue jays (which is why we call him Greycap). He does have some blue there, just not much. 

Another characteristic of note is that 
Greycap's collar doesn't wrap all the way round in the front. The second picture here seems to indicate that it does wrap all the way round, but that wasn't the case in real life. 

We didn't see him again for quite some time, so we began to wonder if maybe he was a young fellow and just hadn't entirely got all his plumage yet -- perhaps he'd gained it since, and we were thus unable to distinguish him from other blue jays. 

As it turns out, however, he still looks the same; we saw him only the other day, again at
the feeder, though this time he didn't gather seeds in his mouth like he did before. 

Blue jays are related to crows, ravens, and magpies. They are noisy birds, and unlike other jays in the US, they have a crest. They like oak and pine woods, as well as groves, towns, and suburban gardens. Though they are songbirds, most people know them for their harsh, slurring jay call.    

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Young Brown Thrasher and His Mum

These may not be the clearest pictures, but we thought we'd include them in any case, as they're the only ones we have of the young brown thrasher and his mum, who we watched foraging for food in our back garden.

The young thrasher is in the background of the top picture; the mum is foraging in the foreground. 

Thrashers eat fruits and insects, but not seeds; they don't come to the feeder, so your only chance to see one is if he decides to forage in your garden or if he's made a nest nearby. You may be able to coax one into your garden with fruits; we've never tried doing so. 

Thrashers belong to the same family as mockingbirds and catbirds. The birds in this family are often called 'mimic thrushes,' and are wonderful songsters. 

Brown thrashers are a vivid rufous colour on top, and heavily striped below. (You may be able to see the stripes on the young thrasher in these pictures.) They have two pale wing bars (you can see them on the mum, above), yellow eyes, a long tail (which you can also see on the mum), and a somewhat curved bill. (Note the shape of the bill on the next to the last picture below.)

The thrasher's note is a harsh chack! The song resembles that of a catbird except it is more musical, and each phrase is generally sung in pairs. They enjoy thickets, brush, shrubbery, and thorn scrub -- which describes our garden to a T. 

Bibliography: Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Backyard Fawns

We've often spied deer in the garden, but it wasn't until this summer that we saw our first fawn. He was, oddly, alone, and simply wandered out of the back wood to look about and munch on the weeds. At left is a picture of one of the plants he favoured. 

Since then, we've seen this particular fawn a number of times -- and then, at last, with his mum, trying in vain to suckle her. She stepped over him time and again in an effort to wean him -- though on a later day she did let him suckle, and he made loud contented noises. Possibly, as a friend suggested, the mum was absent because the fawn was getting older and more able to fend for himself.

Most recently, we were treated to the sight of two fawns, both younger than the fawn we'd become accustomed to, racing out of the garden after their retreating mother. 

Deer usually have two young, though they can have as few as one and as many as three. They wean their young at around four months of age; gestation period for deer is around six and a half months, and the young may stay with their mum for nearly a year. The mating season occurs from November to February. Females begin breeding at one and a half years of age, though they may breed as early as half a year old. 

Our information comes from Mammals by William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider. Below are pictures we took of the first fawn on the first day we saw him. The other two, we're afraid, were racing by too quickly for us to even grab the camera.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bluebirds on the Aerial

We used to see one or two Eastern bluebirds now and then in the spring or summer, but they never stayed long. We still only see them occasionally, usually on the TV aerial out back -- sometimes just the male, sometimes his wife, or sometimes the two of them together -- but we see them more frequently than we used to. 

Probably that's because our neighbours put up a bluebird box a few years back. We've seen bluebirds coming and going from that box since, sometimes coming to roost on the telephone line that nearly crosses over our drive. 

The bluebird is a kind of thrush, like the American robin. Male Eastern bluebirds have a rust-coloured breast and a blue back, tail, and wings. The female is a sort of greyish colour, with blue washed in her tail and wing feathers; she, too, has a red breast. The juvenile of the species is also grey, with blue in the wings and tail, but their breasts are speckled greyish and white. We've never seen a juvenile, but there's a nice depiction of one in Eastern Birds, by Roger Tory Peterson.  

Bluebirds eat snails, insects, worms, fruits, and berries, according to Peterson. Usually the ones who come to our aerial are there to rest, or to scope out the ground for insects and the like. 

The Eastern bluebird population, according to our parents, has been declining, which is why we have seen so few of them. Used to be, before we were born, that our parents would see them in this area all the time. They like farms, roadsides, and open country with some trees -- which may be why they're on the decline in this area, which used to have a lot more farmland and fewer houses than it does now. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

Potter Wasp

A few summers ago, we discovered a lovely black and white wasp going back and forth from a hole in our deck railing. Once we observed her bringing a green caterpillar into the hole, and we realised she was leaving food for her young for when they hatched. The wasp had blackish blue wings and was black except for some white stripes and spots on her body.  

A look in our copy of Insects, by Donald H. Borror and Richard E. White told us the wasp we'd seen was a potter wasp. Most wasps in this subfamily are black with yellow or white markings, and many species are quite common. Some species nest in burrows or natural cavities, whereas others build nests out of mud. As we discovered, the nests are usually provisioned with caterpillars.  

Potter wasps, also known as mason wasps, may have white, yellow, orange, or red markings, according to ( They are called potter wasps because of the shape of nest some of them build. They mainly like temperate regions, and may be found throughout the northern hemisphere. Some will choose abandoned bee or wasp nests for their young, whilst others will nest in the ground or in hollow plant stalks. They are related to hornets, yellow jackets, and paper wasps.