Species #1 to #8

Dates: 24 February and 1-7 March 2020

These are the “Lifeforms of the Day” for the past week … they originally appeared on this Facebook page. If you would like to follow that page you will get a new species to enjoy and learn about each day until some embuggerment or another prevents me posting.

The images can be clicked on to view them at full size.

The 1000 Challenge?

I am documenting one different species each day and intend to share a photo and some interesting and maybe entertaining information on a Facebook page that I have created for this purpose together with the weekly summary on this web journal. My challenge is to find 1000 species within about 5 miles (that’s as near as dammit 8km) of where I live – that is, near my home town of Baie-D’Urfé and the nearby West Island of Montreal.

Species #1 – Asclepia syriaca (Common Milkweed)

24 February 2020. Baie-D’Urfé.

My 1000 species challenge starts in earnestness on Sunday 1 March. This was a TEST post to get the ducks in a row (and it does not involve a bird).

Common milkweed is the plant everyone loves to have in their gardens because it is the host plant for the Monarch Butterfly to lay its eggs on – in fact it’s the only plant their caterpillars can feed on. We all know it from its green and growing form with attractive and rather strange flowers but at this time of year hereabouts we can enjoy its beautifully architectural dried seed pods, often with a few seeds still hanging around waiting to be dispersed by the winds.

Monarch butterflies are not the only insects that can exploit this plant – honey bees and most native bees  get great benefit from its presence.

Species #2 – Turdus migratorius (American Robin / Merle d’Amérique)

1 March 2020

To get the challenge rolling properly, and as spring is (if you squint hard) not that far in the future I have taken for the second species of the target 1000, to post the bird everyone hereabouts thinks of as the Herald of Spring even if a few of them do stick with us all winter, usually in loose, roving flocks. Misnamed a Robin by early settlers because of its red breast, it is really a Thrush. Spends a lot of summertime on lawns eating worms but adores berries, a few of which are still to be found even this late in winter, as well as insects. Winter berries are an important food source for Robins so make sure to grow them in your garden

Beautiful song.   https://youtu.be/UOn-uIDk-oE

Species #3 Golden Rod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

2 March 2020

Plants of any species are not exactly clamouring to be observed in this deep snow and cold, but we happened upon a dried Golden Rod (Solidago sp.) sticking above the snow with a large gall on the stem. There are three species of insects that form these galls but which can be differentiated by the shape of the gall that results. This one is spherical, known as a ball gall and formed by the Goldenrod Gall Fly, Eurosta solidaginis. The adult insect lays its eggs on the plant in the early part of the year. The larva from the hatched egg then eats its way into the stem and the plant responds by rapidly increasing cell growth around the intrusion, enveloping the larva in a woody protective sheathing that keeps the larva safe, and provides a food supply for the remainder of the summer and a home to overwinter in before emergence in spring as a new adult. The larvae are not entirely safe, however large and hard the gall appears to be – Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers have this food source worked out and can break the galls open to eat the larva inside

Species #4 – Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

3 March 2020

This week as days lengthen and temperatures rise just a little the Cardinals have started uttering their distinctive spring territorial calls up and down the tree-lined roads and gardens around our home. Although it could be a month before the snow melts and two months before leaves start to appear on the trees, the fact that these colourful birds have started to think spring thoughts is encouraging. When we came to Quebec from the UK back in 1998 the first Canadian bird I was really conscious of appeared on the feeder in our new garden the morning after we moved in. It was a stunning male Cardinal and I was hooked. Females are of a more muted colour range, which causes many people to think they are a different species, but equally delightful. Usually a pair will raise two broods of young each summer – occasionally if conditions are propitious some will raise three through the youngsters of the final nest will have to grow up fast if they are to get through the winter ahead.

Species #5 Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
4 March 2020

Trying to keep as many non-birds on the list as birds at the moment but plants are tricky in the snow. One that stands out just now is the Staghorn Sumac (Vinaigrier* in Québec). There are a lot of these trees in the top right hand corner of the continent – something that surprised me coming here from Europe as back there they are known to have been a “big mistake” when planted as ornamentals because of their highly invasive roots that get into drains and break up road surfaces and foundations. Here, where they evolved, they seem to be better behaved. Quite attractive trees/shrubs with bright green leaves that change to a very nice yellow and red in the fall. They bear large, upright clusters of fuzzy red fruits that appear above the branches in late summer on female plants and which are highly appealing to birds throughout the winter.
* Wikipedia: “Le terme vinaigrier vient du fait que les fruits du Rhus typhina sont acides et parfois utilisés pour fabriquer une sorte de limonade rose”

Species #6 Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
5 March

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are quite common south of Canada (ie: the US) but odd birds have turned up in the Montreal area in the past few years with a small, but reliable, breeding population in Morgan Arboretum just down the road from here. Climate change – who knows? They are at the nothernmost limit of their population hereabouts and are aided in winter by having access to seed-filled feeders. This picture is of one that was in our garden a few years ago and was hacking bark off a tree as you can see – I didn’t gete a picture of the one just spotted. Although it’s hard to discern, there is a red-belly to these birds but it is well hidden when they are against the tree like this, as they usually are, and anyway is quite pale. Such is the way of common names for wildlife. it seems that Red-bellied Woodpeckers have the tendency to nest in clear areas on the margins of forest – edge habitat and use dead trees for their nesting cavities.

Species #7 Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)
6 March

We seem to have a healthy population of these creatures, possibly because we have ensured that the garden has planty of sheltering brush-pioles and a decaying “stumpery”. On the other hand we also have young trees and bushes with tasty bark – bark being what these animals often feed on during the winter. Not good for the trees.

The bunny illustrated here was eating fallen pine tree needles that had been thrown down to the ground by the squirrels – we have a short video of a length of such greenery being inhaled by the rabbit (link below).

Unlike the Euro-Rabbits, these guys do not make burrows but prefer to rest and shelter in scrapes made in the grass, rather like Hares do. On the other hand they will take shelter in major snow storms etc in burrows excavated by groundhogs and the like.


Species #8 American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
7 March

Not the really common Gray Squirrel (the one that has taken over in Europe) but a native of the northern boreal forest which has stayed on the continent in which it evolved. Here we are at the southernmost extent of its range but we usually have a family of them around the garden – this fellow appeared outside the window as we were eating lunch today so need to go out in the cold in search of a new species to list … some creatures are really obliging. Cute as anything they zip around at high speed – they have just two speeds motionless and flat out. Quite territorially aggressive too – in our early years in this house there was one that decided he “owned” a giant butternut tree we had in the garden and would spend more energy chasing grays out of “his” tree than actually eating the nuts. Mostly though they eat the seeds of conifers. For some years they got into the roof of the house via a small hole (now found and blocked) and raised their young safely inside. After they had been evicted we found stacks of pine cones (technically a midden) in the loft that they had dragged in as snacks.

Please come back next week for Species 9-15 … and/or follow the list daily on facebook