Posts Tagged ‘tamarack’


Late in the fall, when the trees let loose their leaves, the secret lives of birds are revealed. The nests that were hidden away from the view of casual observers are suddenly made plain. In a quick stroll around the backyard, I spotted six nests.

Perhaps the easiest to identify is the pouch-like nest of the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). Orioles have built a nest near the driveway for the past few years. This year, they opted for a new location at the end of the garden, close to the barn, in the branches of a big Manitoba Maple.

In June of 2011, we were lucky enough to witness the fledging of several oriole youngsters. For more on orioles, visit Oriole Fledglings, linked here.


Nestled into the branches of one of the small larch trees in the Tamarack Walk is a robin’s nest. American Robins (Turdus migratorius) incorporate mud into the construction of their cup-shaped nests, making them quite distinctive. For a closer look at a robin nest and their attractive blue eggs, here’s a link to an earlier post, Robin’s Egg Blues.


Robins are a common sight in the garden and there were several more robin nests in the yard. One was tucked into the tangles of a honeysuckle vine.


Another brood of robin youngsters began life in this nest situated on a branch of the Bur Oak tree, just outside our front door.


This nest, set in the crotch of an Amur Maple (never use the word crotch when addressing a group of 10-year-old boys), was home to a clutch of Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) nestlings. I can say this with assurance, even though the nest is too high up for close inspection, because I enjoyed watching the comings and goings of the parents earlier this summer.


I mounted this wren box in the spring in the hopes that House wrens (Troglodytes aedon) would settle in. I did observe a wren checking the box out, but Mr. and Mrs. settled on another, more conventional nesting box. Perhaps something about the location of this box didn’t suit them, or perhaps the aesthetics of flying up a nose didn’t appeal to them.

In any case, here is the nest they built. Wrens are tiny birds, and I am always taken aback by how uncomfortable and scratchy their twiggy nests look. However, such nests have been home to untold generations of young wrens. And that completes the tour of my 6 backyard nests.


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The Eastern Larch, or Tamarack (Larix laricina) is an interesting tree, a conifer that is not evergreen. Rather, it is deciduous, shedding its leaves, or needles, every fall. Other conifers retain their needles for two to ten years, thus maintaining their green colour year round. The larch is quite attractive and distinctive in every season. In winter, it presents an interesting silouette, with its nubby, dense branches. In spring, the fresh new soft green needles lend the tree a feathery appearance. However, it is in the autumn that the larch really shines. As the year advances towards winter, the larch needles turn a vibrant gold. After the brightly coloured maples and oaks and other deciduous trees have lost their leaves, the larch trees stand out against a background of brown branches and dark evergreens, glowing brightly even on the drabbest day.


The Eastern Larch is wide-ranging. It can be found from Maryland north to the taiga, and across the continent from Newfoundland to Alaska. In spite of its wide range, it rarely forms pure stands and makes up only one percent of the softwood trees of Canada. It is quite adaptable, but is most commonly associated with wetlands and damp areas. It favors fens, which are less acidic than bogs, and have some minimal water flow bringing nutrients. Larch trees have shallow, wide-reaching roots that help to protect fragile soils and prevent erosion at the edges of wetlands. Trees grow to a height of 50 to 70 feet and live for 60 to 80 years, on average.


Small cones, less than an inch long, are produced and heavy seed crops occur every three to six years. Studies have found that up to half of the seed crop that drops to the ground is consumed or cached by small rodents and shrews. American Tree Sparrows and Red Crossbills are said to favor larch seeds and grouse feed on the needles and buds. Porcupines are fond of the inner bark and may damage the trees as they chew away large patches.

Many larch were destroyed in the early part of the twentieth century by a larch sawfly (Pristiphora erichsonii)epidemic. These needle defoliators virtually wiped out most old-growth stands of larch in eastern North America. The epidemic subsided after most of the larch population had died. Recurring infestations have varied in impact across regions. Fortunately, a few survivors carried on and in this area we are fortunate to be able to enjoy a good representation of the species.


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