Archive for September, 2011


We were dogsitting the corgis this weekend. Saturday was so beautiful, sunny and just a bit cool, that we wanted to get in a hike. We had some shopping errands to run, and didn’t want to overchallenge the rather tubby Pookie, so decided to try out the Stonebridge Trail in Barrhaven. Barrhaven is a suburb of Ottawa, and like suburbia everywhere, features acres and acres of streets and houses and big box stores. However, a narrow buffer zone has been maintained along the little Jock River and the larger Rideau into which it flows.


The trailhead offers a large parking lot and the trail itself is gravelled, smooth and undemanding. However, even though you are rarely out of sight of housing, the trail is surprisingly pleasant, with views of the rivers as it meanders through forested strips. Near the parking lot are large playing fields. We were surprised to see a game in progress, not of the commonplace soccer, but of cricket! It’s not a common sport in Canada and I can’t recall seeing a game in progress before.


The Jock River has its beginnings in Goodwood Marsh near Franktown and meanders 72 kilometres (45 mi) until it empties into the Rideau River north of Manotick. Its watershed drains 551 square kilometres (213 sq mi) of land. The Jock is named after an early 19th-century drowning victim, but the river looked calm and serene on this day, with rafts of Canada geese dotting its surface here and there.


After circumventing the playing fields, the trail enters woods. Occasional apple trees are reminders of the area’s former use as farmland. The Barrhaven area was first inhabited by First Nations people, but by the early 19th century, had been settled by European farmers. In the 1960s, Mel Barr purchased a 200 acre farm and began the construction of the first of the suburban subdivisions in the region that bears his name.


The various subdivisions of Barrhaven include older homes from these early days of development and more recent builds. In the 1990s, a building boom in the region saw a huge expansion of housing here. The newer subdivisions include some of the latest in green construction technology. Stonefield Flats in Minto’s Chapman Mills development offers (according to the builder Minto’s website) the largest LEED for Homes community in Canada, with leading edge energy-efficient houses.

One of the landmarks along the trail is a home with a small observatory in the backyard.


The trail leads under the overpass for a busy road. When we stopped by the riverside, the water appeared to be clear and clean, but the dogs declined to have a drink there. Perhaps there noses were telling them something about the water quality. An EPA site says this about runoff into rivers that run through populated regions:

Runoff pollution is that associated with rainwater or melting snow that washes off roads, bridges, parking lots, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces. As it flows over these surfaces, the water picks up dirt and dust, rubber and metal deposits from tire wear, antifreeze and engine oil that has dripped onto the pavement, pesticides and fertilizers, and discarded cups, plastic bags, cigarette butts, pet waste, and other litter. These contaminants are carried into our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans.

In fact, the yearly road runoff from a city of 5 million could contain as much oil as one large tanker spill. There’s a really excellent article about unseen sources of pollution at SeetheSea.Org.


The trail is impressively long, running for a number of miles. We stopped for a rest at a bench offering a view of the Rideau River before heading back. The view was somewhat obstructed by an ugly fence, presumable intended to protect the foolish from themselves and the bank of the river from further erosion caused by people scrambling up and down.


In spite of the close proximity of a large community, the trail offers plenty to see. A number of really large, beautiful trees, including old maples and oaks, border the trail. I also noticed a large walnut tree, not a common species in this region.


In open areas there were asters and goldenrod and milkweed and grasses. The forest had interesting ferns and other flora. We could hear chickadees calling and excavations in the trees gave evidence of the presence of woodpeckers.

We passed quite a few bikers, including parents with young riders, and joggers and dogwalkers. However, there was a notable absence of children exploring on their own, playing, paddling, mucking about. Where were they? I was reminded of Richard Lou’s treatise, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

As we were reaching the trailhead, we encountered the only children we saw that were actually looking closely, interacting with nature. Two young girls with their parents were opening milkweed pods and watching the fluffy parachutes fly away.

The hike was a pleasant way to enjoy the day, and just right to tucker out Pookie, not to mention us.


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Nettie, Rosebud and Mark

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As I was walking by the hydrangea bush, an insect pollinator caught my eye. It caught my attention because it was remarkably large, an inch and a half long or more, and dark. What IS that? I grabbed my camera, which I usually keep handy for just such moments, and snapped a few shots.

Then I got out my insect guide, the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, by Eric Eaton, to see what I could find out about the visitor. It seems to be a Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus), certainly an appropriate name.

Great Blacks are solitary wasps. Females are specialized predators of katydids, and these wasps are sometimes called ‘Katydid Hunters’. The female excavates nest cells in which she lays her eggs, provisioning each with katydids. The katydids are paralyzed by her sting, rather than killed, and thus the bodies don’t decompose before the eggs hatch. The cell is then sealed, and when the larva hatches, it has a food supply waiting. The young overwinter in the burrow and emerge as adults the following summer.

The wasp doesn’t eat her prey herself. Katydids are baby food. She herself feeds on the nectar of flowers…which explains why I saw her on my hydrangea bush!


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One of the routes I can take into town leads through a wetland. I love this attractive place. On one side of the road, cattails line the ditch and it is difficult to see inland. In winter it becomes obvious that this marsh is home to a host of muskrats, whose winter shelters become snow-covered igloos. You can see pictures of Muskratville here.


On the other side of the road, the wetland is more open and swampy. Of course, in a sane world, there would be no road running through the middle of a wetland. How ridiculous! But there is, and on one recent sunny day I stopped to help a small turtle cross to the other side. He was stopped in the middle of the road, inviting disaster. It was a smallish painted turtle. When I picked him up, he quickly withdrew his legs and head into his colourful shell. I carried him over to the shore towards which he was headed and gently placed him in the water. He rapidly reemerged and swiftly sped away, disappearing into the vegetation. Turtles may be slow on land, but they can get around just fine under water.


It was a very pleasant day, and I took a few minutes to hunker down at the water edge and appreciate the view. It’s not too busy a road, and it was quiet and serene there. Nature can’t often be appreciated at the speed of a video game. It takes time to sit back and let the natural world reveal itself. As I sat there, a large darner dashed by. These big dragonflies are almost impossible to photograph. They move very fast and rarely pause. I noticed a frog watching me though.


He doesn’t know how lucky he is. Sure, there’s a road right beside his home. No doubt road salt and oil run off the road into his habitat. But at least he has a pond. That’s more than many former wetland denizens can claim. A Ducks Unlimited Canada report, released in October 2010, states that:

Seventy-two per cent of southern Ontario’s large inland wetlands have been lost or converted to other land uses and this loss continues at an alarming rate. The decline to the wetland base has been most drastic in southwestern Ontario, parts of eastern Ontario, Niagara and the greater Toronto area, where in some regions the loss is greater than 90 per cent.

By-and-by a meadowhawk landed nearby. Meadowhawk species are difficult for the amateur to differentiate, but it may be a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk (genus Sympetrum). A moment later, I noticed a golden female dragonfly, possibly of the same species.


Few wetland losses have been more egregious than the damage done to the South March Highlands by an extension of Terry Fox Drive in Kanata on the fringe of the City of Ottawa. The South March Highlands are a Provincially Significant Life Science Area and contain a Provincially Significant Wetland Complex. The Highlands are home to the densest array of biodiversity in the Ottawa area. Eighteen known Species At Risk reside here, including the threatened Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii).


Every level of government participated in this wanton act of environmental destruction. The Harper Conservatives, renowned for their monumental disregard for all things linked to the environment, contributed cash through their Infrastructure Funding project. In response to protests by concerned citizens, the city made a token gesture of concern, and included plans for specially designed fencing and walls to prevent wildlife access to the roadway and work zone, and culverts to provide access to lands within the urban boundary.


The road will connect the north and south ends of Kanata, making the commute a little easier on Kanata north residents. “This is very good news for us,” said Karey Mulcaster, a resident of rural Kanata. “This road is definitely going to facilitate travel for Kanata north people,” said Mulcaster. “Can you tell we’re anxious for it to be opened?” (From Ottawa River Keeper site)

There is a wonderful video about the South March Highlands on Youtube. It is beautifully filmed and well worth viewing.

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Wow, can it really be a month since the August Bloom Day? Can it really be September? It can and it is and the garden is lush and full, moving into its final display before frost ends the show for another year. There is still plenty to see. Welcome to my Eastern Ontario Zone 4a USDA garden. Let me take you for a little tour and we’ll enjoy some of the highlights together.


Near our front door, the white bottle-brush blooms of snakeroot (Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’) stand tall beside the curious ropes of the annual Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus cauditis). Annuals that reach their peak just as many perennials are dying back can really enliven the fall garden. Certainly, Love-Lies-Bleeding has both a catchy name and an eye-catching form.


To the other side of the doorway is our ornamental pond, where the pink impatiens have filled out and brighten the shade.


The large island bed is edged by Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Mayfield Giant’. I have several coreopsis species, but I have to say this reliable bloomer is a favorite. I generally prefer stems that stand upright, but the sprawling nature of Mayfield sets off the grasses it fronts in a pleasingly natural manner.


The grasses come into their own in the fall. Behind the coreopsis is Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, which features wine-red leaf tips and reddish flower heads. When the grasses go to seed, they will feed wintering birds.


Interplanted with ‘Shenandoah’ is Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’, a blue grass. The grasses are at their finest when bejeweled with tiny dew or rain drops. Echinacia purpurea ‘Ruby Star’ looks good with both grasses. I never cut back dead flower heads until the spring. The echinacea and coreopsis seeds will provide another winter food source for wildlife.


A pair of Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) did well this summer. This moderately sized plant does well in a shady section of the garden and features interesting seedheads in the fall.


Agastache ‘Heatwave’ has been a fabulous performer this summer. It is backed by Helenium ‘Helena’ in yellow and rust red. To the left, you can just make out the tall stems of Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem), which doesn’t have seed stalks yet. To the right is Miscanthus gigantus (Giant Maiden Grass). The plumes in the centre belong to an unnamed Miscanthus species.


Blooming amongst the tall grasses is Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstonne’, shown below with a Monarch visitor.


Buddleja, or Butterfly Bush, is considered an invasive species in some areas, but there is not much risk of that here. This Buddleja davidii ‘Honeycomb’ struggles from year to year, and this spring, I considered digging out the rather unimpressive shoot. However, I let it be, and I am gratified to see that butterflies are finding it attractive, not to mention bumblebees.


A nice patch of Chelone obliqua (Turtlehead) is offering up its pink blooms to bumblebees too, and it is fascinating to watch the bees disappear into the tubular blooms and then reappear a second later.


Perhaps the star of the late summer garden this year has been this sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. If I were to stake it, the stems would be 6 to 7 feet tall. But I let is gently bow down and the huge bouquet of flowers is thus held at a perfect eye level. I wouldn’t want to miss viewing the host of pollinators that this beauty attracts.


Along a shady path, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Anemone hupehensis ‘Pink Saucer’ are mingling. This geranium has been a wonder this summer, offering up its beautiful blue flowers over a remarkably long period.


Here’s another blue, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Longwood Blue’, or bluebeard. I had no experience with caryopteris before I purchased this plant. It wasn’t until I travelled to Longwood Gardens that I made the connection between my caryopteris and the magnificent Pennsylvania garden, where I was delighted to view the “Caryopteris Allee”.


Of course, no fall garden would be complete without asters. This is Aster dumosus ‘Pink Bouquet’.


Likewise, sedums are also great for fall colour. This is Sedum ‘Carl’.

sedum 'carl'

Although there are still other interesting sights to see, I’ll end our tour with this final plant, Phytolacca acinosa, or pokeberry, which is at its best when its colourful berries put on their show.

You can visit other gardens through GBBD Central at May Dreams Gardens. Enjoy!


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As I walked past the hydrangea bush, a big orange butterfly flew up and gently batted me on the nose! I stopped to investigate. I’ve grown accustomed to the buzzing of many bees visiting the hydrangea, and there are usually a few butterflies to be seen as well. But on this day, what caught my eye were more than a dozen regal fliers, Monarchs and a few Viceroys.


The Viceroys (Limenitis archippus) are more inclined to pose with their wings open, which makes them easy to differentiate from the similar Monarchs. The Viceroys display an easy-to-spot black line across their lower wings. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are well known for their reputation as foul-tasting, a result of their absorption of chemicals found in the milkweed plants eaten by caterpillars. Viceroy caterpillars dine on willows, which contain small amounts of salicylic acid, a chemical related to the acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin. The salicylic acid stored in the bodies of Viceroys makes them foul-tasting as well.


Monarchs and Viceroys have very different life cycles. The Viceroys will overwinter as caterpillars,wrapping themselves in a dead leaf on the ground. In spring, the caterpillars emerge and eat fresh leaves for two to four weeks before pupating. They will emerge as adults just about the time that the Monarchs are returning from the south.


The Monarchs famously migrate to Mexico, undertaking a journey of several thousand miles. It is a journey fraught with peril, made more difficult every year by the intursions of humans into the landscape, more habitat loss, more cars, more pesticides. Once in Mexico, the Monarchs are concentrated in one of Mexico’s poorest areas, where their winter habitat is under severe threat from slash-and-burn farming and logging. Monarchs are now listed as a species of concern.


Sue Halpern, author of Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly notes that ironically, the North American Free Trade Agreement chose the monarch as its symbol, because it, too, crosses among the continent’s three nations. But the poor environmental practices that NAFTA encourages may harm the monarch’s chances for future survival.


I strolled around the garden and noticed that the Monarchs were visiting other plants as well, especially the sunflowers and the buddlia flowers. As I watched, a line of Canada Geese flew overhead, the first I’ve observed this fall. Soon they will be heading south and the Monarchs will begin their long journey as well. I pray that many of their descendants will return safely in the spring.


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Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada by Allan Casey. Greystone Books, 2009.

When Allan Casey went looking for books about the lakes of Canada, he found plenty of information about the Great Lakes, those huge inland seas that dominate the centre of the continent. However, he found very little about Canada’s other lakes, the myriad of glacial scours and kettles that so define the Canadian psyche. Indeed, so numerous are these lesser lakes that Canada could be named Lakeland. No other country in the world is so blessed. Canada contains an amazing 60% of the planet’s lakes.

Thus, Casey set himself the task of travelling throughout Canada to explore a subset of lakes and examine our human relationship to each of these bodies of water. Lakeland, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction in 2010, is the result.

He begins with the place he is most familiar with, Emma Lake. Emma is located about 3 hours north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Casey’s parents built a small cherry-red cabin on the lake in 1960. In those more innocent days, the cabin was simple, with bedsheets serving as room dividers and a path to the outhouse leading to the only ‘amenities’. The lakeside population gradually grew, and with more people came more change, more demands. Cottagers brought fogging guns to spray insecticides through the forest against mosquitoes. A tent-caterpillar invasion brought Malathion and even DDT. The municipality road was oiled to keep the dust down, and the waste oil spilled over into the lake. Cottagers cleared the shoreline of vegetation, the lake’s natural defence against uphill pollutants. And the people keep on coming, demanding ever more of the lake. Tiny cabins continue to be replaced with ‘Super-Size-Me’ houses with multiple bathrooms, or A Vinyl Villa, A Taj McMall, A Plastic Fantastic as Casey labels them. The story of Emma Lake is pretty much the story of every lake within driving distance of population centres in Canada.

From Emma Lake, Casey travels to Ajawaan Lake. While not a long distance from Emma, Ajawaan has the advantage of lying within the protective boundaries of Prince Albert National Park. Grey Owl, the famous Englishman-turned-native resided and wrote in a cabin on the shores of Ajawaan and Casey joins others who make the pilgrimage to visit his former home. I was surprised at Casey’s charges of alcoholism and infidelity, neither of which differentiate Grey Owl from writers like Hemingway and no doubt many more. As for his appropriation of Native American culture, this is surely a modern sensibility to place on a man who clearly respected a culture so different from his own. Casey notes that Grey Owl was instrumental in rescuing beavers from extirpation. Beavers are associated with Canada not because we are all as busy as beavers, or because we really really like large rodents, but because the early wealth of Canada was built on the pelts of beavers. The wilderness was opened up as trappers moved from lake to lake in pursuit of beavers until large areas were completely without this vital keystone species.

In all, Casey visits eleven Canadian lakes, journeying from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Casey is a pleasant travel companion and Lakeland is an enjoyable and accessible read. Casey’s introductions to the people he meets and the surroundings he finds in each new location are evocative and thoughtful. He offers an introduction to the ecological concerns most relevant to each lake, from the nutrient overload in Lake Winnipeg, now considered the world’s most eutrophic major lake, to overfishing on Lake Nipissing. However, he doesn’t pass judgement or write prescriptions, a sort of ecology-lite approach. Other lakes that Casey covers are Bras d’Or Lake, Nova Scotia; the lakes of Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland; Lake Athabasca, Alberta/Saskatchewann; Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec and Waterton Lakes, Alberta.

In the end, all of the lakes Casey visits suffer to a greater or lesser degree from a common plight: too many people. As a nation, we are failing our lakes. There is too little science funding (how can we protect what we don’t understand?); parks promote the very uses of nature that they stand against; an Environmental Impact Assessment is little more than the first step in paving Paradise.

I noticed that there is a ‘Boil Water’ advisory in place for Lake Emma this summer, presumably related to human uses and abuses of the lake. Casey wrings his hands over his own little cabin on Lake Emma, now dwarfed by its neighbours. Should he sell out, take his money and find a new place on a more distant, less exploited lake? Or should he join a cottager’s association and stand up for his beloved Lake Emma?

Environmental action begins at home and Casey notes that citizens must rediscover economy, modesty , and simplicity not just within the bounds of a government map, but in our own families, house by house… Our greatest need is to want less.

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While doing some weeding in the garden on the weekend, I came across this interesting caterpillar. It was nibbling its way along a daylily leaf. Caterpillars are an eternal wonder. That such a creature could be magically reborn as a butterfly or moth is incredible. The question is, what kind of butterfly or moth will it become?

I have a couple of guide books to help answer this question. One is the Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars, by Amy Bartlett Wright. It is an accessible look at some common caterpillars, the ones you are most likely to encounter. David Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America is much more inclusive. Both books failed me in this case. It was time to move on to my next source, my daughter Seabrooke! Sure enough, the co-author of the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America was able to identify my caterpillar as a Hitched Arches (Melanchra adjuncta), and she kindly provided me with this photograph of the moth my caterpillar will some day become. Thank you!


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Millbrook Zucchini festivl head 2

It’s that time of year when any gardener who planted zucchinis in the spring is looking for friends, enemies, anyone really, to dump share a fabulous crop of zucchinis with. In celebration of the abundant fall harvest, the village of Millbrook, near Peterborough, Ontario, hosts an annual Zucchini Festival.

The Festival features exciting events such as the Kate and Will Zucchini Look-Alike Contest. Music at this year’s festival was provided by Blind Dog George, of which the festival website has this to say:

Once more the Zucchini Festival hosts band Blind Dog George. Steeped in the blues with a healthy nod to The Band, the boys will be serenading our festival goers from 12 p.m. until the boat races begin. Pull up a pew and enjoy!

Seabrooke attended the festival and made the following recording of Blind Dog George. You may recognize the violin player, none other than our own Fiddlegirl.

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This weekend, we had a visit from a Royal. Well, not a Royal so much as a Royal-Lookalike, a sable corgi who looks very much like the pups favoured by Queen Elizabeth. She arrived with grandog Remy and Ponygirl, with whom she is currently residing on a trial basis for a week. Remy is a corgi too, of course, but his coat is the less familiar dark variation.


Her name is Pookie, but really, Princess would be more in keeping with her dignified demeanour. For the past four years, Pookie has lived a restful urban life. Unfortunately, it has been a bit toooo restful, downright sedentary in fact, and her figure has suffered as a result. Her owners have been unable to offer her sufficient exercise and are hoping to find a place for her where she can participate in a more active lifestyle. Meanwhile, Ponygirl has been worried that Remy is lonely when left alone during working hours and is hoping to find a good companion for him.


Pookie has displayed a very even-tempered nature and has adjusted well to this sudden change in her fortunes. She seemed to enjoy the opportunity to gambol in the country air, although keeping up with the very fit Remy was a challenge that quickly left her panting for breath.


Nor did she know quite what to make of Remy’s passion for swimming. She politely dipped her toes in the pond, but was just not interested in the Full Dip, and meandered up and down the shore as Remy retrieved sticks.


Those giant four-legged beasties came as quite a surprise too, but she bravely followed Remy along the fence to get a closer look. It remains to be seen whether she will become a full-fledged member of the menagerie, but at the very least she will have enjoyed an interesting and eye-opening fitness vacation with her country cousin.


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