#62 Honey Bee

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

30 April

A very important and generally useful creature without which my toast would be bereft of honey … BUT it is absolutely not a native bee species but another alien import now well naturalised after almost 400 years on this continent. I used to keep honey bees, hives at the bottom of the garden etc, when we lived in England but here we need to be careful because if there are too many in a given location they will compete with native (bumble etc) bees for the available pollen and nectar.

In North America, “European” honey bees represent a complex of several interbreeding European subspecies including; Apis mellifera ligustica Spinola, Apis mellifera carnica Pollmann, Apis mellifera mellifera Linnaeus, Apis mellifera causcasia Pollmann, and Apis mellifera iberiensis Engel. Introduction of these subspecies dates back to early American settlers in 1622.

#61 Blue Jay

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

29 April

The big blue bully of gardens and woodlands famous for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period. If you are feeding birds then Blue Jays prefer tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post rather than hanging feeders, and they like peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet.

Confusingly they frequently mimic the calls of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk.

There is no such thing as a “blue” bird and your eyes deceive you when looking at this fellow. The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.

#60 Cabbage White

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

28 April

Everybody knows this one – a small- to medium-sized butterfly species of the whites-and-yellows family Pieridae. Accidentally introduced to North America a couple of centuries ago. The species can be found in any open area with diverse plant association. It can be seen usually in towns, but also in natural habitats, mostly in valley bottoms. Although an affinity towards open areas is shown, the small white is found to have entered even small forest clearings in recent years.

Caterpillars can be a pest on cultivated cabbages, kale, radish, broccoli, and horseradish

#59 Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

27 April

Painted lady butterflies inhabit every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Although they live in warmer climates, they often migrate to colder regions in spring and fall, making them the butterflies with the widest distribution of any species.

The painted lady exploits over 300 recorded host plants with larvae feeding on Aster species.

There are two or three generations in Canada, appearing first in May from the south, followed by locally emerging specimens that are seen from June to October. This butterfly does not normally overwinter in Canada, or even in the U.S., except possibly in the extreme southwest. However, a very fresh specimen was seen by PWH on 30 April 1983 at Ottawa, almost certainly one that had emerged from a pupa, following an unusually mild winter … presumably something similar happened with this specimen.

#58 Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

26 April

An early butterfly most years first seen well before the leaves are out on the trees as adults overwinter in crevices and come out as temperatures rise. Can be seen in deciduous forests, woods close to rivers, swamps, marshes etc.as well as in your gardens.

Caterpillars appear on most species belonging to the elm and the nettle families. Adults feed on rotting fruits and tree sap

#57 Eastern Parson Spider

Eastern Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus)

25 April

A splendid little animal serendipitously sitting half way up the stairwell wall one evening so there’s an evens chance you have one or more in your house also. Commonly called the eastern parson spider, after the abdominal markings resembling an old-style cravat worn by clergy in the 18th century.

Individuals are covered with black hairs on the cephalothorax and gray hairs on the abdomen. On the back is the distinctive white mark that gives the species its common name; there is a small white spot above the spinnerets. During the day, individuals shelter in silken retreats. At night they hunt for prey and can move very fast. They run in a zigzag fashion to evade predators and so are hard to capture when seen in homes. Females deposit a white egg sac during the fall under the bark of trees and logs. They will also hibernate in these locations and protect the sac from predation.

Bites may be painful, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction but there is no reason or liklihood of getting bitten if you each treat the other with respect and keep your distances – most bites occur when the spiders are trapped against the skin in clothing and bedding. Quite small, around a centimetre long.

#56 Carolina Wren

56 Carolina Wren (Thyrothaurus ludovicianus)

24 April

If we lived further south in the eastern US these would be fairly common garden birds but here in the Montreal region they are harder to find. In fact they only really apooeared a bit over 15 years ago as they expanded northwards and even now only occasional birds are seen usually within reach of the river. Over the operiod we have lived here we have had one certain and on possible nesting pair in the garden and the winter of 2018-19 a pair were faithful visitors to the feeders throughout the snow cover period.

They are reasonably able to withstand the cold tempereatures provided they can find shelter from winds (we provide brush piles and they have been under the deck) but they are ground feeders and cannot find food when it is under snow and hence they are dependent on well stocked garden feeders.

If you have one in your garden or neighbourhood, cherish him. Meanwhile here’s a recording of on of their songs from a town garden

#55 Plagiomnium (Moss)

Plagiomnium (Moss)

23 April

Going out on a limb here because mosses are really hard to identify … nevertheless my starting point is the genus Philonotis.

Plagiomnium are a genus of Acrocarp mosses with capsules (those are things on the end of “stalks” in the photographs arising from the end of each stem. The capsules contain and protect the sporophyte inside which the spores for prior to dispersal. This moss was growing at the foot of an old tree and I will return later in the year when it may be easier to get a more confident identification.

#54 Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

22 April

Another recent spring returnee – the Chipping Sparrow is a slender, fairly long-tailed sparrow with a medium-sized bill that is a bit small for a sparrow. He will stay in this area and be quite a common site hopping aorund on the ground seeking food. If and when the arboretum re-opens they will be easily seen near the conservation centre.

Commonly seen in open areas of woodland and along field/woodland borders.

#53 Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow (Paserella iliaca)

21 April

A really large sparrow (“little brown job” or LBJ to the initiated birder) that appears fro a few days in and around the garden nearby habitats most years during the second half of April.

Very heavily marked plumage with a very big chest “badge” and grey cheeks. Typically spend their breeding time a bit north of Montreal. Fox Sparrows forage on leaf litter and bare ground, usually under dense cover and are usually seen foraging in the leaf litter for food with a characteristic “double-scratch” involving a hop forward and an immediate hop back, during which they simultaneously scratch both feet backwards through the leaf litter.

Encouraging shrubs or berry bushes to grow at the edges of your yard, or keeping a brush pile, are good ways to provide places for Fox Sparrows to forage.