“They can cut all the flowers, but they can’t stop the spring…”   –   Pablo Neruda.

It’s been a messy week in the garden weather-wise. Not terribly cold but a promised snow dump turned out to be a bit of snow with a healthy dose of ice pellets and then rain. We are starting to get a bit concerned about the state of some of the more sensitive perennial plants if their protective and accustomed winter snow blanket proves to have been inadequate. We shall see; fingers crossed.

All at once there is sign of creatures anticipating the arrival of spring – always a surprise in the depths of winter even if this winter is so mild. Well, mild for Montreal. Crows have, in the last few days, been checking out an established nesting site in a tall tree in a neighbours garden near the boundary with ours, Northern Cardinal males are enlivening the mornings along the road with their “pee-oo” territorial warning calls (link below**), squirrels are chasing each other with a different intent than just “keep off my food” and the days are noticeably lengthier. Meanwhile the Carolina Wren is still coming fairly regularly and the flockette of Mourning Doves has increased in number again, gathering nightly around the heated water bowl.

** The Cardinal call we are referring to can be listened to on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/sounds … there are links to two songs and two calls on that page, you want to listen to the first one in the calls section.

The Wild Garden Gnomes, who have been happily represented since the start of this journal by K’nuf our resident Raven (see center-top of the page) have now acquired a more stylish logo – supposedly this is a butterfly and a flower which seemed appropriate. Before anyone comments that Ravens do not have yellow bills, we know that but he had been poking his where it wasn’t wanted when his portrait was captured.

A gateway to the subnivean zone of the garden … who lives down there?


Identifying wildlife in the garden

How you respond to the wildlife in your garden, or anywhere else for that matter, depends a lot on you as an individual. Some people are just content to have creatures around them without wanting to know much more than that they seem to be thriving. We are at the opposite end of the spectrum and need, really need, to know their names and their habits and everything we can find out about them (it sort of comes with the territory if you are a biologist). Every year, we are asked to help identify a bird, a flower, an insect and we do so happily to the best of our ability but there’s nothing magical about being able to put names to things in nature. You simply need to look carefully and have a field guide to hand. We thought this might be a suitable opportunity to make some suggestions about what we find to be the most user-friendly of the field guides if you want to get yourselves ready for the spring. These suggestions are mostly for Eastern Canada and the US as that’s where our garden is located.

Birds

These are probably the hardest to identify as they come and go so quickly. Start with an app for your smartphone (free) that ask a few questions and then makes surprisingly accurate suggestions that you can confirm with a printed field guide. Download “Merlin” from the Cornell Lab of ornithology at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org

There are two field guides for birds we like – Sibley and National Geographic. The latter has more pictures of juveniles and unusual plumages and more detailed descriptive text while the former is a bit easier for beginners to get to grips with but shows fewer alternatives to breeding season adults.

If you are one of our readers from northern Europe then get the Collins Bird Guide (2nd edition) by Lars Svensson which is one of the best bird guides on the planet – would that they would do an equivalent book for us here.

Flowers

Very hard to suggest something here as the good ones are quite localised in their coverage and the best for you depends on where you are gardening and your personal likes. An excellent book is Widlflowers in the Field and Forest by Clements and Gracie (Oxford UP 2006) but best of all is often to make use of one of the growing number of on-line plant identification sites such as the very useful and comprehensive Andy’s Northern Ontario Wildlfowers at http://www.ontariowildflower.com which covers neighbouring provinces, especially Quebec, very well.

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Insects

For a comprehensive selection of insects look at the Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Evans (National Wildlife Federation 2008). Most gardeners are attracted by butterflies and moths in which case get the Peterson Field Guide to Moths (by Badle and Leckie) for moths and the Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Southern Quebec ( http://www.quebec.butterflyguide.ca ) Butterflies of the Maritimes (http://www.maritimes.butterflyguide.ca ) or Butterflies of Ontario (http://www.ontariobutterflies.ca ) – all by Rick Cavasin. All of those can be backed up with several websites for insect identification for which you can “let Google be your friend” or visit something like http://www.insectidentification.org  You can buy the butterfly guides directly from the author, all the rest from Amazon.