Archive for May, 2010

As I was laying in bed, early in the morning, I could see the sunny day at its dawn, hear the birds singing their morning chorus and smell…a campfire? The unmistakable, mellow smell of a wood fire was wafting in the window. I figured a neighbour was burning some wood debris and was happy to enjoy the scent, a reminder of happy days spent camping with the kids when they were young, relaxing days in the great outdoors.

I got myself up and dressed and headed outside for my morning routine of looking after the horses, putting seed out for the birds, checking on the garden. It was a beautiful morning, warm, but with a pleasant breeze, a little hazy, maybe. I was reminded of the Ontario song, There’s No Place Like This.

Do you rise in the morning with the sun,
Fill your eyes til the moonlight is done?
Do you hear the sound of your heart sing
As it calls out “This is living!”

There’s no place like this that I’ve been,
There’s no dream like this that I’ve seen,
There’s no home like this that I know,
No other place like this for me.

It was only later that I learned that the lovely wood smoke scent wasn’t local at all. It was coming from many miles away, from forest fires burning in Quebec. The smoke, pushed by the wind, moved through Eastern Ontario and south into New England and New York state, resulting in smog alerts in Ottawa and Montreal. It wasn’t much more than a scent in the air here, but over at The Marvelous in Nature, Seabrooke captured some photographs of the smoke over the Ottawa River.

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Last week, we had a few days when it was hot, hot, hot. So much so that the temperature set a record high for the area on one or two afternoons. While the heat made it hard to work outside in the garden, it was a boon to the odonates, the dragonflies and damselflies. They have become conspicuous, flying over the pond and long grass. The damselfly, above, joined me in the garden while I was doing some weeding near the house. I recognised her right away, because I had just read a post about River Jewelwings (Calopteryx aequabilis) over at The Marvelous in Nature. As there is a little stream running close by, we have appropriate habitat for this species. While Seabrooke has captured a male, this one can be identified as a female by the white stigma visible on the wing.

I had another close encounter with an odonate in the greenhouse barn. A dragonfly had become trapped inside and needed a hand getting back outside. I have a net handy for just such occasions and the dragonfly obligingly landed on the edge of net when I held it up near him. This gave me an opportunity to get a good look at him and take a couple of photographs. I concluded that he was a Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), who would usually be found flying over water.

You can tell that it is a male by the arrangement of the abdominal appendages at the tip of the abdomen. The male has two superior outer structures and a single inferior appendage in the centre, which looks cone-like from above. I gave him a lift outside and he was last seen continuing on his way to the pond.

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Bumblebee at Lupin

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Sunday Snapshot: Blue Iris

Electric Blue

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Carolus Linnaeus, that is. Strictly speaking, that should be Happy Belated Birthday, as his birthdate is May 23, 1707. The 300th anniversary of his birth was celebrated in 2007. What an amazing man. Darwin gets lots of credit for the whole Origin of Species thing, even though Alfred Russel Wallace had come to similar conclusions contemporaneously. I think I prefer Linnaeus as a hero. He brought order to the study of natural science.

Taxonomy, or systematics, is the science of classifying organisms. The system that was developed by the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus is still used today. It is a hierarchical system that ranks every organism, both plant and animal and even the neither here nor theres, in a series of categories. You may be familiar with King Phillip Comes Over For Good Soup, or some similar mnemonic. The phrase reminds schoolchildren and more than a few adults of the hierarchy: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

Somehow, I missed this in school and came to it late in life when I developed an interest in birds. Birds belong to the kingdom Animalia; the phylum Chordata (animals with vertebrae, or a backbone); and class Aves (this class refers exclusively to birds). There are about 2 dozen orders of birds. Names of orders end in “iformes”. The largest order is Passeriformes, the perching birds, which include more than half of the world’s approximately 10,000 species. Other orders are referred to as non-passerines. Examples of other orders are Piciformes (woodpeckers); Columbiformes (pigeons and doves); and Anseriformes (ducks and geese).

Each order is divided into families. There are many families in Passeriformes. Examples are Corvidae (crows and jays) and Turdidae (thrushes). Bird guides are generally set up in a standard layout of orders and families. The layout reflects the evolutionary age of the orders and species. The orders thought to have evolved first are at the beginning of guides. The more recently-evolved birds, the passerines, are presented after all the other orders.

Each family is divided into genera, which include very similar species. Each species has a latinized name made up of the genus combined with a specific name to distinguish it from other members of its genus. A shared genus name indicates that two species are closely related. Scientific names are traditionally italicized. Because the Linnean system features a two-part scientific name it is commonly referred to as binomial nomenclature. Here is how the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), above, photographed recently in my garden, would be classified:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Turdidae
Genus: Turdus
Species: migratorius

The Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that I photographed last winter would be classified as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Branta
Species: canadensis

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Well, it’s been a donkiful week. It’s been a busy week for gardening, as well. One of the things I did was plant a container with Hens and Chicks. I bought the large saucer, above, a few years ago. It’s about 18 inches in diameter and just an inch and a half or two inches deep. I thought it would make a good display feature for Hens and Chicks, or sempervivum. The common name clearly refers to the form of the plants, which look like a mother hen surrounded by her little chicks. The Latin name, sempervivum, means “always living”.

Sempervivum "Red Beauty"

I first planted the dish a couple of summers ago. Most of the plants survived into their second year, and I anticipated that they would return this summer, which would have been their third. However, a certain visiting Grandog had other ideas, and in just a few minutes alone, was able to dig up and totally destroy the saucer-full of plants. So this summer, I had the fun of buying a new set of plants to resettle.

Sempervivum Medley

First, I covered the drainage hole with a bit of screen and a few pebbles to keep it from being clogged with soil. Fortunately, I have a handy supply of screen bits, owing to the Arthur Incident. I arranged the plants in a pattern that pleased my eye and then planted each one. The pots the plants came in would have been too deep for the shallow saucer, and I shook most of the dirt from the plant roots and settled them with potting soil.

Sempervivum "Silverine"

Sempervivums are amazingly tough little plants. They can survive summer drought and the freezing cold of winter with scarcely any soil at all. I have planted semps in nothing more than a handful of soil set in a natural pocket in a boulder and had them thrive.

Semps are available in many varieties. You can build a whole collection of semps. My favorites look like they have cobwebs strung across them. A good nursery will offer you an amazing selection. If you check out this listing from Lost Horizons nursery, you will get an idea of what is available. There are photographs that give you an idea of the different colours and forms here.

For this project, I just picked up the few varieties that were available at my local box store’s seasonal plant sale. There are a couple of Red Rubins, a Silverine, a Red Beauty, and one labelled simply sempervivum medley.

Sempervivum "Red Rubin"

I deviated a bit from my original plan to plant all Hens and Chicks. A couple of other plants caught my eye and I decided to give them a try. One was a little sedum named “Chocolate Ball”. Sedems can spread quickly, so I’m not sure how this plant will do in the confines of this container, but if it hangs over the edge of the saucer, it will add interest to the design.

Sedum "Chocolate Ball"

The other plant I fell for is a Leptinella squalida “Platts Black”. I’m not familiar with this one at all, and had to Google it when I got home. I learned it is a native of New Zealand, and a relative of the sunflower, which it resembles not at all. It spreads rapidly by runners and can be used as a ground cover. Its common name is Brass Buttons, cute. There is more information at Paghat’s Garden, where it is aptly described as “iddy biddy ferny looking thingy”.

Leptinella squalida "Platts Black"

Here are a couple of pictures of the finished planting.

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Friends Show Friends…

…the very best spots to roll.

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The Girls Meet Teddy

Teddy and Louis have their own little pasture to themselves for the moment, while everyone adjusts to the new status quo. When the horses were turned out, they rushed over to the paddock to check out the new arrival. Above, Mousie stretches over the fence to sniff Teddy.

Czarina, who is fond of Louis, took her time visiting with Teddy.

After a little visit, Mousie was satisfied and ready to move on. She trotted off, fully expecting, no doubt, that Czarina would follow her lead. “Come on! Let’s go check out the grass in our field!”

Part way out to the field, she stopped and looked back. Czarina was still visiting with the donkeys. Mousie waited patiently.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! It’s a donkey! Now let’s go!” But Czarina wasn’t to be persuaded. She stayed close to the donkeys’ paddock most of the day, and Mousie, being a loyal companion, was forced to return. She settled for eating hay close by. By the evening, the bugs had convinced Czarina that, donkey or no donkey, she needed to follow Mousie back to the barn. Soon, the donkeys came back inside too, and everyone spent the night together in the barn.

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On Sunday morning, Teddy and Louis left their stalls behind and got to know each other in their own little paddock. Teddy was anxious to investigate his new surroundings. Accompanied by Louis, he purposefully strode around the little field, checking out its possibilities, and stopping frequently to visit with his new friend.

In fact, lots of nose-touching went on.

Teddy was pastured with a young horse before arriving here, and was quite attached to his partner. Both Louis and Teddy seemed surprised and pleased to meet another donkey.

There were no expressions of territoriality or aggression. Theirs was a quiet, civil introduction. It looks like this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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