poetry QoTD

To make a prairie (1755)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Emily Dickinson
insects and arachnids

Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer “EAB” beetle
(Agrilus planipennis)

Just had my first sighting of emerald ash borer. We knew our ash were infested, but I’d never seen the actual beetle before.

I looked down while I was in the garden and noticed a shiny bug on my shirt. Did a little googling to confirm and sure enough, it was an emerald ash borer. It was much smaller than I’d pictured. Only about half an inch long.

I know I’m on the tall side, but I don’t think I’ve been mistaken for a tree before…

Though it’s no fault of the beetle that it was transported here and is now wreaking havoc on Ontario’s ash, I did squish it. Sorry about that, my shiny friend.


insects and arachnids QoTD

When two become one

No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.

Aldo Leopold
chickens gardening Uncategorized

Who says kale isn’t fun?

Here’s Lin enjoying a kale and borage piñata. One of the summertime treats we put out to feed the chooks/enrich the runs. And the kale comes complete with complimentary cabbage white caterpillar topping!

I know she looks skeptical, but that’s kinda just how Lin always looks (she is a very sweet chicken). That piñata will be annihilated by day’s end.


flora QoTD thinking big

Quote of the Day (QotD): Aldo Leopold

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree – and there will be one.”

~Aldo Leopold
flora foraging

A berry on the bush and a few in the hand

The first of this year’s wild raspberries. The vines were partially defoliated by the LDD caterpillars, but the caterpillar population collapsed and died en masse just in time for the raspberry to still produce this year.

We’ve had a bumper crop of mulberries this year, possibly in part thanks to the LDD moth. Our mulberry bush is usually partially shaded by red oaks, and this year they were bare for much of June, giving the mulberry bush lots of extra sun — though the beautiful old oaks are beginning to grow their leaves back now. One tree’s struggle is another’s boom.

Like the mulberries, the raspberries here are a rolling harvest. Usually a small handful each day once it gets going. A berry perfect after dinner treat.


fauna insects and arachnids thinking big

All creatures great and small

Sometimes we glimpse the pure volume of life here and it’s nearly overwhelming.

We were watching the woods flickering with fireflies this evening, and began talking about the other nearby critters, just the ones we know about, who were also going about their evenings, on the ground and on the plants and in the trees around us.

The phoebe sitting on her eggs, in her nest on one of the logs that make up our house. Who periodically cliff-dives down past the living room window, to catch a bug or have a sip of water.

The robin, on her own clutch, sitting on top of the nest box by the wood’s edge.

The hawk who flew over the yard today, carrying a snake.

The four swallowtail caterpillars in the carrot patch.

The flying squirrels, whose day begins as ours ends. Who take off from our roof, each evening at twilight.

“Scrappy”, the eastern cottontail missing a chunk from his ear, who visits the yard every evening, and who seems to have developed a taste for milkweed as well as the other forage.

The eastern grey squirrel we saw building a new drey today in one of the junipers.

The monarch babies on the milkweeds, some of which are evading Scrappy.

The cabbage white eggs on the kale.

The bat who has been using the roof’s overhang as a sometime roost. Leaving little bat poop “I was here” sign on the deck.

The hummingbird who buzzed my head today, intent on getting a drink from the red flowers of the scarlet runner beans.

The tiny bees in the yard’s clover.

The wolf spider carrying her egg sac.

The mystery russet-coloured bird who flushed from the ground up into the trees, when I rode past on my bike.

The veerys, singing their pan-flute songs as dark sets in.

The barred owl, whose call drifts through the night and in the bedroom window.

Just a few of the critters we happened to notice today. Just the ones whose paths crossed ours.

Each one of them living their lives, coming and going and breeding and eating and resting.


Goodnight moon, goodnight birds and bees and bugs and beasts. Goodnight all.

fauna insects and arachnids

Black swallowtail catersnake

“All swallowtail larvae have an eversible horn-like organ behind the head known as the osmeterium (osmeteria, plural) that looks like a forked snake tongue. It is a bright yellow-orange color on the black swallowtail. When the caterpillar is disturbed it rears up and the organ is extended for a short period of time. When everted it it releases a chemical repellent with a foul smell to repel predators. It is harmless to humans, however.”

From Wisconsin Horticulture

One of several black swallowtail caterpillars (all different instars — a younger one pictured below) found munching away on the carrot tops. I wasn’t trying to alarm it into pretending to be a snake, but just my looming presence in the carrot patch was probably a bit alarming.

It would be better for our crisper if the caterpillars were on the usually abundant Queen Anne’s Lace instead of our domestic carrots, but until the wild food gets going, I don’t mind sharing. The veg patch can be a pop-up pollinator garden.


Earlier instar, same species. Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
insects and arachnids thinking big

Agent of Destruction

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

Agent of destruction. Ah, no, I don’t mean the caterpillar shown here. I mean humans. We’re capable of a lot, and not all of it is great. This hungry hungry caterpillar — Lymantria dispar dispar (“gypsy moth”, hereafter “LDD moth”) — is only here because in 1868 one man thought he could use them for silk. Étienne brought them over from Europe, and “kept” them at his house. They got out, of course. When will humans learn it is one of life’s truths… Death, taxes, and they will get out.

We live here in a forest full of oaks, the LDD moth’s preferred food. Many of our trees are completely bare. In the middle of a green spring, dry leaves crunch underfoot. If we step out of our house *at all* recently, we get caterpillars all over us. The ground is slick with their frass. Later this summer, the moths will fly so thick they’ll hit us in the face. Maybe they should be called “truth moths”…

But I do not hate the LDD moth. It is a caterpillar eating leaves. There is no malice there, no forethought. Humans, on the other hand, might need a time-out to think about what we’ve done. And, importantly, what we plan to do. For nearly anything ecological today, not much has changed. We still chase quick fixes. How quickly, how quickly can I stop looking at this and pretend what I want to be normal is normal. But the complex fights our efforts to make it simple. And nothing complex will be simply solved. At least not without making more problems…

The good news is that while some outbreak years are brutal to witness, the data to date shows that these moths, even though they’re not from here, now collapse very much the same way as endemic species with outbreak cycles do. From diseases and the weight of their own populations. We are already seeing here the extraordinary number of caterpillars beginning to die off in equally extraordinary numbers. The crawling masses suddenly gone still. Healthy (deciduous) trees can withstand a couple of years defoliation. And if trees are unhealthy, well that’s a different string to follow…

It’s a tangled web indeed, but the bugs didn’t start this.


fauna tracks & scat

Deer little things

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

There is no stop on the tour when you are out for a walk alone in the unmediated woods. No guide raises a colourful umbrella to get your attention. There’s no floating arrow directed at points of interest. No plaques. Just your own eyes and whatever you pay attention to.

When you walk with a companion, you can see with their eyes as well. When Neil and I walk together, there is usually a fair amount of quiet pointing while we chat about other things. An interesting tree, a patch of new blooms, fruits emerging on the mayapples (oh the mayapples…). But no one stops you from walking right past something marvelous. It is up to you to notice. And there’s an awful lot that hides in plain sight. And not all of it is small.

A couple of days ago I was walking the woods alone. I had gone up to the woods to try for a gentle run, and did a walking lap of the woods first. I often end up walking a full lap before running it. It just gets my feet used to where I am. Besides, my head was many places other than where I was. And that is usually a good recipe for a turned ankle. So I did a walking lap to let my thoughts ramble and untangle. But as I neared a large mayapple patch, I doubled back. Had I seen tiny tracks in the dirt? I retraced my steps, crouched down to the ground, and decided… yes! I had. Tiny hoofprints leading into the mayapple patch. Deer. But so small. Was this the right time to be seeing fawn tracks? I wasn’t sure. Would they be big enough to be walking around? I walked on, thinking to myself about how much I love learning to see animals even when they’re not there in front of me. Oh how right and wrong I was…

I finished my first lap of the woods, and began again. As I passed the mayapple patch for a second time, I thought about the unseen deer. And a few metres further on, I *gasp* SAW. Not a hoofprint, not a flash of white tail bouncing away. A little tiny wee baby deer, curled up and resting in the grass right beside me. And I do mean, right beside me. Three feet away, if that. I had gone right past it on my first lap, moments after spotting those prints. Right past it, and it was right here.

Though I had never encountered a baby deer like this before, I knew well enough to leave well enough alone. I took this fast photo with my phone and then I was the one who hightailed it out of there. The best thing I could do for this baby deer was am-scray. Though my best day is one when I see a baby deer, a baby deer’s best day is when it sees no one.

Baby deer (yes I know they’re called fawns but baby deer) can stand and walk shortly after they are born. But they’re not fast enough to keep up with mom, and they also don’t carry the scent that mom has, and which predators might use to find them. So, for the first few weeks of their lives, mom keeps them safe by keeping them away from her. She leaves her babies secreted and alone in various spots during the day, coming back only to nurse them, once every four hours or longer. In this way, baby deer are very similar to baby bunnies, whose moms also protect them by staying away. (Deer and rabbits are also similar in that our handling the babies and leaving our scent on them may cause the mother to reject it. Excellent reason to keep our paws off the wildlife. This is not, by the way, true of baby birds, an idea that is widespread but unfounded.)

At this age, being perfectly still — and wow was that baby ever still — and being perfectly tiny is a fawn’s best defense. A healthy baby deer lying quietly and still and alone is doing exactly what a baby deer is meant to do. Like so many other times, with so many other critters, the best thing I can do to show it I love it… is to walk away. Just because something is still does not mean it is not frightened. Its mom keeps it safe and alive by leaving it alone, and I should do the same.

Is that easy? NOPE. This is your brain, this is your brain on baby deer. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh! As I walked quickly away I literally had to hold my hands over my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. A baby deer! Heaven! We have spooked fawns in the woods before, been right on top of them with no idea until they suddenly flush from under our feet. But never this. A baby deer at rest. So perfect and perfectly still.

I thought I would finish my walk in a daze, processing what I had seen. In the moment, I had trouble connecting my eyes to my brain. It was a baby deer! It was right there! I was right beside a baby deer! Etc! Seeing them in the wild… it’s difficult to process. A fawn staying perfectly still looks like every photograph or illustration of a deer you’ve ever seen. I ran it over and over in my mind as I walked. Curled up, russet-coloured, big ears, white spots, right there. And oh, no, wait…no…nope.. no way… what is that over there??

I was clear on the other side of the woods when something caught my eye. Much farther away from the trail, but a shape I had just seen, and which I guess my eyes will now always search for — it was another baby deer! You can see it in the photo above. That reddish patch in the centre of this zoom. Thaaaat’s a baby deer. A second baby deer spotted on one walk. If you need me, I’ll be over here holding my exploded heart.

In the first few weeks mother deer “store” sibling fawns separately from each other, so this spotting of a second baby was another good sign that all was well and normal. If there were signs things were not well and normal, well, that is a discussion for another day. My decisions around hard questions are not drawn with hard lines. But in general, if it has a human cause, I will intervene. If not, I will let nature run its own course. I have intervened before, on smaller scales, and cost another critter its dinner. I tread more carefully now around my “help”.

Now did I worry about the baby deer? Yuuup. Of course I did slash do. I know what else is in the woods, why it is so important to be still and quiet and scentless. And, for human concerns, people drive too fast on the roads near here, hunt both in and out of season, and it was not out of the question that mom was not coming back.

I will pause here to say that I do eat meat, including deer, and that I am not opposed to hunting, in principle. Though not hunting done ignorantly, or wastefully. A lot of hunting seems to just be a socially-acceptable reason for men to go sit alone in the woods. Which is just… sad. You shouldn’t feel you need to justify a long walk in the woods with a death. It makes a real mess of things. That said, one bad day in an otherwise wild life is incomparably better than the “lives” of almost all the meat we eat.

I decided to keep an eye on things as lightly and from as far away as possible. I thought about leaving a trail camera, but ours flashes red when it takes a photo and I had seen evidence of it spooking deer before. I certainly didn’t want to be the human cause keeping mom away. So I went up the next day to check as discretely as I could. Baby one, by the trail, had not been moved, but baby two was gone. Which I decided was a half-good sign. Some guides will tell you to be concerned and perhaps intervene if the baby hasn’t been moved in 24 hours. So what about baby one, by the trail? But I asked some wise animal-knowledgeable friends of mine who suggested that it was just as likely that mama deer had simply decided it was a good spot. So I waited another day, and checked again. Sure enough, baby one was gone. No signs of anything gone awry. Just a tiny deer bed, the sign of it already being covered over by the growing woods.

I am so glad to have seen these beautiful babies, and even more glad they have safely moved on. I hope to see one again sometime, though perhaps at a greater distance. Where I could enjoy getting a glimpse of it, and it could enjoy that the human was not quite so close to where it rests until mom returns.

It was good to meet you wee ones. Have a good life, you dear little things.