New Year’s Day 2017

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbours, and let every new year find you a better man. 
Benjamin Franklin

… and here we are at last with edition number one of of the Gardening for Wildlife weekly(ish) Journal. If you are new here, we published a test piece just before Christmas that you might like to look at as it explains what this is all about – so no need to repeat ourselves.

Note: You can click on any of the small photographs in the text in order to see them at full size … you will also notice that the header photograph is on a “slider” and keeps changing. Isn’t technology wonderful 🙂

For a Montreal week in winter these past seven days have not been unduly cold, mostly just a few degrees below zero during the day. We thought it wouldn’t be all that snowy after a nasty amount of freezing rain on Boxing Day (not well received) but then Thursday arrived with what Environment Canada warned us would be an “explosive” snow-storm – not sure what was explosive about it, but it was certainly a dump. Naturally, nothing is growing out there right now and the few remaining berries on bushes are being snaffled by passing birds and squirrels – which is exactly why we grow shrubs that produce berries and carry them into the winter.

Making the most of the food the garden provides


Squirrels are proving the bulk of the mammalian activity as they hunt around for the nuts and things they buried in summer in between extensive clean-up operations on the round under our battery of bird feeders. Mostly these are the three colour morphs of grey squirrels (grey, black and creamy-white) and a couple of exceptionally active and territorial red squirrels (for European readers, our red squirrels are a different species, smaller and very much more “feisty” than their Euro-cousins) who are never still … and who mostly remember where their food caches are, unlike the greys who browse at random in hope of finding anything they, or their relatives, have put away. A couple of neighbouring cats, at least one being partially feral, pass through daily but usually on the way to easier hunting elsewhere; our birds seem wise to their presence. We have had tracks in the snow of what we think is most likely a fox. A pair of Eastern Cottontail Rabbits have put in short appearances. These seem to be quite young animals and presumably the product of a late litter before the cold arrived. On their first appearance they were playfully chasing each other and seemed to be coming from the shelter of the stumpery, details of which come later in this post. We also know there are plenty of active small rodents, mostly mice, in the garden though we rarely see them. Their presence is shown by the numerous small tunnels in the subnivean zone that are revealed after a snowfall when the open ends of their highways are opened as we dig a path to replenish the bird feeders.

Catching some rays beside the winter drey

One of the squirrels has built him/herself a beautiful drey high in one of the pine trees and mid-week was just hanging out on the tree trunk next to it getting some rays from the sun.


Birds are always the big draw, especially in winter. Two Carolina Wrens, American Crows (mostly passing through at the moment, not often on the ground), BC Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Downy and Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Am Goldfinch, occasional Mourning Doves, a small flock of House Finches, Dark-eyed (Slatey-backed) Juncos, Blue Jays and a couple of Am Robins. Many of these come to the feeders whence they throws seeds and husks to the ground for the squirrels and those birds that prefer to feed on the ground rather than perch on the feeders. A few skulk in the bushes and trees, sometimes finding food in the form of bark-crevice insects or remnant berries.


We should mention the Stumpery here. We all know what a rockery is – well, a stumpery is a wooden equivalent and invented by those fine gardeners, the Victorians. For a garden that is going to be welcome to wildlife, a stumpery is a good thing to have. In essence it is really nothing more than a pile of logs. You can artfully arrange them as the Victorians did or simply pile them up in a corner. Ours is not pretty, just built from a few leftover sections of a huge butternut tree that we removed a few years ago due to its advanced years and decrepitude. This sort of stumpery is easy to create – simply build a square stack of logs so that you have a structure of perhaps two or three “storeys” height and fill in the top with logs side by side. Pile up some brushwood around and over it and leave it alone. Over the years as the logs decay a fine population of fungi and insects will move in and provide food for birds and small mammals. Mosses will cover exposed areas. In winter creatures can take shelter inside and be safe from predators and the cold. Place it in an out of the way, quiet corner of the garden and enjoy the lodgers.

The Stumpery – in all its glory. Not a Victorian thing of beauty, but the animals enjoy it and that’s what matters.


Not much to record on the plant front right now. However, in the fall we saved seeds from two species of milkweed. One of these is a small, locally native species also know as “Butterflyweed” (Asclepia tuberosa) while the other is Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). These are being stratified in cold store and will be germinated and grown on at the end of winter. In theory we grow these for Monarch butterflies, but in reality they are rarely seen in the garden while other insects, including some splendid butterflies, are happy to make use of them. We have more seeds than we can accommodate and already a waiting list amongst friends who will give the surplus a good home.

Citizen Science in your garden

Lastly, there is something that anyone who is at all interested in wildlife in their gardens can contribute to. The Habitat Network is a citizen science project sponsored by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the (US) Nature Conservancy … visit their website here

This is what they say about their aims and how you can help: Habitat Network is a citizen science project designed to cultivate a richer understanding of wildlife habitat, for both professional scientists and people concerned with their local environments. We collect data by asking individuals across the country to literally draw maps of their backyards, parks, farms, favourite birding locations, schools, and gardens. We connect you with your landscape details and provide tools for you to make better decisions about how to manage landscapes sustainably.

** Look out for the next exciting episode, to be published at 18:00h (Montreal time) next Saturday