#The First Five Hundred – West Island Wildlife

A change of pace … 

500 days ago I set myself the daily challenge of identifying and then sharing at least one different species of bird, insect, plant etc that I could find locally. Today the number reached the 500 mark. My intention continues to be to double that and reach at least 1000 species but no longer will I be doing so at the rate of one a day … time for a change of pace.

Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana

Although I was always going to concentrate on the biodiversity of the Montreal West Island, the declaration of the covid pandemic less than a week after I started this fascinating journey really forced me to concentrate on what is almost literally on the doorstep as it were. There was no option to do otherwise as travelling was and still is heavily restricted. Starting in my garden in Baie-D’Urfé and then working outwards to places within a reasonable walk or cycle ride was thus my self-imposed patch — at most perhaps a 4 or5 km radius. 

What soon became evident was that although I live in a big city suburb, the wealth of wildlife and plants that is still around us, despite the best efforts of modern society to make life hard for them, is quite remarkable. All you have to do is pay attention and you will see.

I am taking a pause at this, the half-way point in my journey, and will for a while continue to publish new species as they appear rather than one a day. To be honest, five-hundred species rather impresses me, all the more so because a high proportion of them have been seen in or from my moderate sized garden. The biodiversity of cities is way more complex than perhaps most people suspect.

I intend to take some time now to go back over the species I have already shared with you and start to analyze what’s been observed. I am still progressing towards the thousand mark, just at a more measured pace than hitherto.

The remarkable thing really is just how relatively easy it has been to find all these many species in a “peri-urban” environment. I thought 250 or 300 would be fairly easy and then it would take more effort but that has not been the case. Thus far, I have shared some fairly basic details of:

  • 149 species of birds
  • 11 mammals
  • 132 insects
  • 12 spiders
  • 4 “other” arthropods (stuff like millipedes for example)
  • 2 amphibians
  • 1 reptile
  • 135 flowering plants (annuals and perennials)
  • 21 trees/shrubs/bushes
  • 16 fungi
  • 6 grasses
  • 2 mosses
  • 5 lichens
  • … and a single slime mould … the gloriously and appositely named dog vomit slime mould no less

All of which I think is pretty impressive for a suburban garden and a few nearby parks … OK, there is also Canada’s largest Arboretum within a short bike ride, but it’s nevertheless good to discover how many species I see in the forest there that can also be found living just down the road and in my garden. In your garden too, I’ll be bound.

The 1000 Species project will be continuing at least until the target is reached. 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 [greenbirding@gmail.com].

Now – onwards to that second 500.

#500 Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

18 July

Swamp Sparrows nest only in wetlands. In the northern parts of the range, they use fens and bogs that have patches of open water, especially those dotted with shrubs. They also nest in peat bogs with little open water. Through most of the breeding range, look for them in freshwater marshes with cattail, sedges, and other tall reeds, rushes, or grasses; these areas often have willows or alders around their edges. In the mid-Atlantic states, “Coastal Plain” Swamp Sparrows (the nigrescens subspecies) nest in brackish marshes in tidal rivers, mostly in the higher portion of the marshes where salt-meadow hay is dotted with small shrubs like marsh elder and groundsel. During migration, large numbers of Swamp Sparrows mix with Song, Lincoln’s, and White-throated Sparrows in the East, especially in coastal locations prone to “fallouts” of migrants. In such cases, the birds might be a considerable distance from the nearest wetland.

#499 Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis)

17 July

Clintonia borealis is commonly known as bluebead, bluebead lily, or yellow clintonia. The term “bluebead” refers to the plant’s small blue spherical fruit, perhaps its most striking feature. However, the term can be misleading since all but one of the species in genus Clintonia have blue fruits (notably, the fruit of C. umbellulata is black). Thus yellow clintonia is probably a better name for C. borealis since the adjective refers to the color of the plant’s flower, a unique character among Clintonia species. Compound names such as yellow bead lily or yellow bluebead lily are also in use.

Clintonia borealis is not found in open spaces, only growing in the shade. It is extremely slow to spread, but established clones can usually survive many later modifications, as long as sunlight remains limited. Whereas crossed pollination is more efficient in producing seeds, self-pollination will still produce seeds, allowing the plant to propagate.

Like other slow-growing forest plants, such as Trillium species, Clintonia is extremely sensitive to grazing by white-tailed deer.

#498 Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa)

16 July

A flowering plant native to the eastern United States and Canada. Grows to up to four feet high and prefers moist to wet soil and full sun. It blooms in summer. Each tiny, pink flower is about 1/16 of an inch wide and arranged in narrow, pyramid-shaped flowerheads that grow up to eight inches long. The flowers are followed by small, dry, brown fruit. The specific epithet tomentosa refers to the undersides of the leaves and the stems, which are covered in a dense white-woolly tomentum

#496 Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica)

14 July

Norwegian cinquefoil is usually an annual but may be a short-lived perennial. It produces a basal rosette of leaves from a taproot, then a green or red stem growing erect up to about 50 cm (20 in) in maximum length, and branching in its upper parts. Native to much of Europe, Asia, and parts of North America, and it can be found in other parts of the world as an introduced species. Its natural habitat is arable fields, gardens, banks, hedgerows, wasteland, logging clearings, loading areas and occasionally shores, often on sandy or gravelly soils

#495 European Earwig (Forficula auricularia)

13 July

An omnivorous insect in the family Forficulidae. The European earwig survives in a variety of environments and is a common household insect in North America. The name earwig comes from the appearance of the hindwings, which are unique and distinctive among insects, and resemble a human ear when unfolded; the species name of the common earwig, auricularia, is a specific reference to this feature. They are considered a household pest because of their tendency to invade crevices in homes and consume pantry foods, and may act either as a pest or as a beneficial species depending on the circumstances (see below).

Forficula auricularia is reddish brown in color, with a flattened and elongate body, and slender, beaded antennae. An obvious feature of earwigs is the pair of ‘pincers’ or forceps at the tip of the flexible abdomen. Both sexes have these pincers; in males they are large and very curved, whereas in females they are straight. Nymphs are similar to adults in appearance, but their wings are either absent or small.

In North America, European earwigs comprise two sibling species, which are reproductively isolated. Populations in cold continental climates mostly have one clutch per year, forming species A, whereas those in warmer climates have two clutches per year, forming species B.

#494 American Bugleweed (Lycopus americanus)

12 July

A small dense cluster of 1/8-inch white flowers surrounds leaf axils along much of the stem, blooming from the bottom of the plant up and usually not all flowers in a cluster are open at the same time. Individual flowers are tubular, with 4 spreading lobes about equal in size. There are often tiny pinkish purple spots on the inside of the petals. 2 purple-tipped stamens extend out of the tube. The calyx is hairless, has 5 narrowly triangular lobes each with a sharply pointed tip and is about as long as the floral tube.

#493 Grayish Fan-Foot (Zanclognatha pedipilalis)

11 July

A litter moth of the family Erebidae. The species was first described by Achille Guenée in 1854. It is found in eastern North America, from Nova Scotia south to Florida and Mississippi, west to Alberta and Kansas.

The wingspan is 24–30 millimetres (0.94–1.18 in). Adults are on wing from May to August. There is one generation in the north, with a partial second brood in Connecticut. There are two broods in Missouri and multiple generations in Florida. The larvae feed on dead leaves in deciduous woods.

#492 Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

10 July

A bird in the family Mimidae, which also includes the New World catbirds and mockingbirds. The brown thrasher is abundant throughout the eastern and central United States and southern and central Canada, and it is the only thrasher to live primarily east of the Rockies and central Texas. It is the state bird of Georgia.

As a member of the genus Toxostoma, the bird is relatively large-sized among the other thrashers. It has brown upper parts with a white under part with dark streaks. Because of this, it is often confused with the smaller wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), among other species. The brown thrasher is noted for having over 1000 song types, and the largest song repertoire of birds. However, each note is usually repeated in two or three phrases.

The brown thrasher is an omnivore, with its diet ranging from insects to fruits and nuts. The usual nesting areas are shrubs, small trees, or at times on ground level. Brown thrashers are generally inconspicuous but territorial birds, especially when defending their nests, and will attack species as large as humans.

(*Image from Wikipedia)