As spring approaches (ever so cautiously) it’s likely these weekly journal entries will grow in length so from here on we will split the comments up into sections, thus allowing you to skip the bits that don’t interest you.

Plants

For some time friends in Europe have been dangling pictures in front of us of snowdrops and aconites and all those early flowers we need to have. Well, no more need we rise to the bait. During the warm few days at the start of the week a small patch of snow-free ground appeared at the base of one tree and there, waiting to be admired, was this year’s first Quebec snowdrop. In French they are perce neiges and a more apposite name could not be found. Actually, there are two snowdrops there but one has decided it’s a bit premature to open fully. There it is at the top of the page – now we are certain that spring cannot be far away.

Not only are snowdrops eagerly awaited by the two of us but they are also a terrific gardening challenge. You can purchase the corms easily and plant them in suitable locations but then it’s a matter of chance if any will come up the next end-of-winter. We and others have a high failure rate. There’s a simple reason for this – dried snowdrop corms are just not the optimum way to make the plants available. Twenty plus years ago, living on the edges of the Cambridgeshire fenlands in England we were able to purchase snowdrops “in the green”. These are lifted by the nurseries after the flowers have done their thing and sold like a bunch of spring onions that you can place in the garden and grow on immediately. They are able to get their roots established and provide almost 100% success in following seasons. Enquiries made to Canadian nurserymen have produced blank stares. Such a shame, were we able to buy snowdrops in the green we would be handing over significant sums of money.

Anyway, nice to see the first little white flowers and there are a couple of larger groups still waiting under the snow that we will welcome in a week or two as they emerge.

In other plant news, there is sign of at least preliminary bud swelling here and there – in particular the blackcurrant bushes, that’s them on the right, are budding up nicely.

Less pleasant, much less pleasant, was the revelation as the snow started to retreat from the bark at the base of lovely old Euonymus shrub beside the garden pond. It was never in the ideal position, a bit too shady and not the best soil, but it has produced good coloured foliage and leaves every autumn that we look forward to and in summer gives a nice backdrop to the pond and waterfall. No more. The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit that we have spoken of before has found the bark much to his/her liking and stripped it up as far as it can reach. We fear the bush is dead and we are certain the rabbit is for the pot if we ever catch it … he was cuter while nibbling the grass and especially the dandelions but this is a step far too far.

Just one of dozens of varieties of “snowdrops in the green” available in the UK. Come on Canadian nurseries – do your duty!

Weather

The weather is all over the place this year with lurches from +13C and heavy rain to snow flurries to -17C overnight all within a couple of days. Even on the warm days the winds have been cold but that’s often because we live almost beside the St Lawrence river with acres of ice for the air to blow across before it reaches us. Looks like the next week or ten days will be cold again – not especially good now that some plants have emerged from their snow blanket – and then we will see more consistent warming … and more snowdrops !


Birds

Last week we noted the somewhat early appearance at our feeders of the first Red-winged Blackbird. Early this week he was followed by the appearance of a pair of Common Grackles who hung around for a good part of the day sallying between the shelter of some tall evergreen trees and the feeders where they filled themselves on sunflower seed. Although the RWBLs hung around for a few days, neither species were present by the time the temperatures fell dramatically at the end of the week.

The RWBLs were only a couple of days early but the grackles should not be here at all for over a week. They have presumably been drawn north with the unseasonal warm spell we had – we fear they will regret that for the next few days.

Perhaps not the most popular of birds with most people but they have lovely glossy heads, bright beady eyes and they just something else that calls out “spring is coming”.  Plenty of time to curse them later, for now we are pleased to enjoy their return.

Keeping Score

As you can see from one of the other pages on this journal, as well as welcoming, feeding and watching birds in the garden we also keep a tally of those we have seen. Time for a note of those that have listed so far now that we are two months into the year and the first returning migrants (Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle) have already appeared … oh, and yesterday an over-flight of a party of Snow Geese was added.

So – Garden birds seen between 1 January and 3 March of 2017:

SpeciesDate first seen
American Crow01 Jan 2017
Black-capped Chickadee01 Jan 2017
White-breasted Nuthatch01 Jan 2017
Dark-eyed Junco01 Jan 2017
American Goldfinch01 Jan 2017
Blue Jay02 Jan 2017
Northern Cardinal02 Jan 2017
House Finch02 Jan 2017
Downy Woodpecker03 Jan 2017
Pileated Woodpecker03 Jan 2017
Mourning Dove05 Jan 2017
Purple Finch12 Jan 2017
American Robin13 Jan 2017
Carolina Wren14 Jan 2017
European Starling20 Jan 2017
Red-tailed Hawk16 Feb 2017
Red-winged Blackbird23 Feb 2017
Common Grackle26 Feb 2017
Snow Goose03 Mar 2017