How time does fly — just over a year ago I was inspired by a fine naturalist from England (thanks Tom) who had set himself the challenge of identifying 1000 UK species — birds, grasses, spiders, whatever. I had a couple of exchanges with him was assured that the concept was not trademarked, and so I thought to take up the challenge myself here in Quebec.
And then the pandemic struck just about the time this project was coming together in my mind and Covid-19 completely put a stop to any ideas I had of travelling from habitat to habitat on distant day trips from Montreal adding new species to what I hoped would be a rapidly growing list. Travelling was pretty well forbidden and for excellent reasons.
So, I narrowed my field and decided to concentrate just on species that can be found on the West Island of Montreal. As it happens, that turned out to be an excellent limitation because it has made me really concentrate on what is right under my feet and nose — the things you rush past and ignore while heading to a “hot spot”. Starting in my garden in Baie-D’Urfé and then working outwards to places within a reasonable walk or cycle ride has become my self-imposed patch — at most perhaps a 5 km radius. I renamed the challenge “1000 Species – Neighbourhood Nature”, set up a simple website and a Facebook Page and was away. The intention was, and remains, to share brief notes and a photograph of one species (anything) every day for as long as that is possible. Species are chosen pretty much at random depending on what I happen upon while wandering or just strolling the garden smelling the flowers. Sometimes a species observed that same day, sometimes something seen a week or two ago because on good days I can ID far more than simply one species, and they do back up a bit. On other less productive days – in mid-winter for example – it has been something from my personal archives.
The website is: https://1000species.sparroworks.ca
The FB page is: https://www.facebook.com/1000speciesoneaday
On Friday 5 March I posted the 365th species and completed the first year of my challenge with Passer domestica, the House Sparrow. There was a personal reason for that choice and I refer readers to the links above to read what it was.
What soon became obvious to me was that although I live in a, albeit fairly leafy, suburb outside one of Canada’s major cities there is a wealth of wildlife and plants that manage to hang on despite the best efforts of modern society to make life hard for them. The range of species is quite astounding when you stop to look in odd corners, cracks in pavements, the edge of a vegetable patch, a wooded area in a park. At the moment I don’t expect to get all the way to a thousand without a few breaks in continuity as finding something new inevitably becomes harder each day but at the one-year mark I am still on a roll.
There are so many species to be found in this “peri-urban” environment. Thus far, I have drawn attention to:
103 species of birds
4 “other” arthropods (stuff like millipedes for example)
92 flowering plants
… and a single slime mould – the gloriously and appositely named “dog vomit slime mould” no less – which is this splendid thing:
All of which I think is pretty impressive for a suburban garden and a few parks … OK, I do have Canada’s largest Arboretum nearby, but it’s nevertheless really rather wonderful to discover how many species that we can see in the forest are also observable just down the road and in our gardens.
Native or Naturalised
There is often a tendency in wildlifing circles (birders are terrible for this) to look down on non-native species, even if they have been in the continent for many human generations, and to suggest we should try to eliminate them. Yes, it is true that more than a few can be harmful to the local ecology because they are particularly thuggish and invasive or they have no natural predators on this continent and are better at exploiting specific ecological niches than the natives, but on the other hand a good number just settle in quietly and go about their business causing no harm at all. Slipping under the radar as it were.
Invasives, as they are known, have been spreading themselves around the planet for millions of years anyway – we humans do it all the time!
What I have found this year is the quite high number of species, plants in particular, that are quietly ensconced in our gardens unobserved. And the reason? Because Montreal is one of the original settler communities on the continent with several hundred years of back and forth trade with Europe and other parts of the world. Almost every ship that landed probably brought some seeds along with it or there were insects that hopped ashore, liked what they found and set up home.
This process is still continuing today. Here’s an example. You will be familiar with various similar looking species of small, blue butterflies in spring and summer. There is one in particular that I have seen several times around town and puzzled over its identification as, although it closely resembles a few native species, it isn’t “quite” right to be nailed down as one of them. At last I sorted it out. This particular blue butterfly is the European Common Blue Butterfly (Polyomattus icarus) which was first discovered in Mirabel by Ara Sarafian, an amateur entomologist who observed the butterfly from 2005 to 2008. He contacted the Canadian National Collection of Insects in Ottawa where the butterfly was identified as Polyommatus icarus, a newly introduced butterfly to Canada and to North America. The butterfly seems to be well established in the Montreal region already and is extending its range from year to year. It almost certainly arrived here by hitching a ride on a transatlantic plane arriving at Mirabel Airport – or at least part of a cargo included viable butterfly eggs or larvae.
ISN’T NEIGHBOURHOOD NATURE AMAZING?
The 1000 Species Project will be continuing until the target is reached. Maybe beyond? There will inevitably come a point when I find it harder than at present to find, photograph and identify different species so in due course the posts will perhaps cease to be daily, but eventually we will get there. In the meantime, if you find something that I have not catalogued then might I ask you to post a picture and details on the Nature Baie-D’Urfé Facebook group or send me the details to share by emailing me at email@example.com.
Now – onwards to the second year.