Mar 232017
 

As we turn the corner into spring, let’s pause a moment to reflect back on the winter that’s been. For many people, the temperate weather was a blessing, with only moderate snowfall and temperatures well above average. Yes, the abnormally mild winter did make life easier for most of us. At the same time, however, any remaining climate skeptics need to accept the weather – both locally and continent-wide – for what it really was: yet more proof of climate change and climate chaos.

Record-warm temperatures and extreme weather events were the pattern across North America. While California received a deluge of biblical proportions and Arctic winter sea ice dwindled to record lows, a “record-setting record” was being established across the entire U.S. and much of Canada. No fewer than 1,151 record highs were set in the U.S. in February, compared to only two record lows. This translates into a  575-to-1 ratio of highs to lows, which is believed to be a record for the most lopsided monthly ratio in U.S. history. An increasing ratio of this kind is a hallmark of climate change. If the planet wasn’t warming, that ratio should remain constant at about 1-to-1. With each passing decade, record highs are outpacing record lows at an ever-increasing rate.

Since August 2015, only one month in the Kawarthas has been cooler than average. This past January and February were both nearly 5 C above normal. Not surprisingly, many migrants returned two to three weeks earlier than usual. The last days of February saw the arrival of turkey vultures, common grackles, red-winged blackbirds and killdeer – species we usually don’t see until the third week of March. As for robins, well, they had never left. Record numbers chose to overwinter in the Kawarthas this year, thanks mostly to the huge crop of wild grape.

Red-winged Blackbird – Karl Egressy

Early bird arrivals were only part of the “spring in February” story. Maple syrup producers in central Ontario were collecting and boiling sap two to three weeks earlier than usual; the buds scales of trembling aspens,  pussy willows, lilacs and silver maple opened; and snowdrops and crocuses began to poke above the snow in many gardens. However, despite all the climate chaos we’ve been seeing, an EKOS poll found that Canadians are less concerned about climate change than they were a decade ago. I suspect that one reason for this sad state of affairs is that weather reports almost never mention climate change and always frame mild temperatures in a positive context. Other than the odd interview with meteorologist David Phillips of Environment Canada, when do you hear weathercasters alerting viewers to the connection between extreme weather and the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? This is a shameful failure of weathercasters to fulfill their duty to the public. Imagine if doctors behaved this way with their patients!

With the caveat that climate change is disrupting the timing of events in nature, I would still like to remind readers of the mileposts of spring’s progression. Regardless of what the weather throws at us, the order of the events, which are listed chronologically, should remain the same.

Late March

·         It’s time to start indoor sowing of annuals for your pollinator garden. Some great species include Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and catnips (Nepeta).

·         For anyone paying attention, the increase in bird song is hard to miss. If you don’t already know the voices of common songsters like the American robin and the song sparrow, this is a great time to start learning them. Go to allaboutbirds.org, enter the name of the species, and click on the Sound tab.

·         With a bit of work, you should be able to find a dozen or more species of migrating waterfowl. Some hotspots include Little Lake, the Otonabee River, the Lakefield sewage lagoon on County Road 33 and Clear Lake at Young’s Point. Watch for ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, lesser scaup, common goldeneye, and both common and hooded mergansers.

Common Goldeneye male – Karl Egressy

April

·          April is a busy time for feeders. American tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and, later in the month, white-throated sparrows move north through the Kawarthas in large numbers. They can all be attracted by spreading millet or finch mix on the ground.

·         The yellow, dandelion-like flowers we see growing in roadside ditches in early April are a non-native species known as coltsfoot.

·         Peterborough Pollinators is hoping to see 150 pollinator gardens registered in Peterborough and area to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. You can register an existing pollinator-friendly garden or commemorate the occasion by starting a new one. Go to PeterboroughPollinators.com/Register.

·         The Peterborough Garden Show runs from April 7 to 9 at the Evinrude Centre. Don’t miss Cathy Dueck’s talk entitled “Pollinators: What Every Gardener Should Know” at 10:30 a.m. on April 9.

·         Now is the time to put out nesting structures for stem-dwelling bee species. Commercially-made nests are available or you can make your own out of Phragmites stems. Seeds.ca/pollination is a great resource as is the 2017 Peterborough Pollinators Calendar, which is available at the Avant Garden Shop on Sherbrooke St. or by contacting Peterborough Pollinators.

·         Close to 30 species of birds are nesting this month. Among these are Canada geese, mallards, bald eagles, mourning doves and American robins.

·         For many rural residents, the return of the yellow-bellied sapsucker is hard to miss. This migratory woodpecker loves to hammer on resonant objects such as stovepipes to advertise ownership of territory and to attract a mate.

·         If the weather is mild, local wetlands come alive in early April with the clamorous calls of countless frogs. The first voice usually heard is that of the chorus frog. Within a few days, wood frogs, spring peepers, and leopard frogs add their voices to the symphony. To learn amphibian calls, go to naturewatch.ca. In the menu at the top of the page, click on FrogWatch, then “How-to Guide”, followed by “Identifying Frogs”.

·         Hepaticas are usually the first woodland wildflowers to bloom in the spring. The flowers can be pink, white or bluish in colour. The Stoney Lake Trails are a great place to see this species and many others. Park at 105 Reid’s Road.

·         The courtship flight of the American woodcock provides nightly entertainment in damp, open field habitats such as fields at the Trent Wildlife Sanctuary.

American Woodcock – Karl Egressy

May

·         A variety of interesting butterflies is already on the wing as May begins. These include the Compton tortoiseshell, the eastern comma and the mourning cloak. Try walking the new, 1.5 kilometre interpretive trail in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, which was established by Ontario Parks with the help of the Buckhorn Trails Association. The trailhead is at the parking lot/boat landing off County Road 36, just north of Buckhorn. It provides an excellent example of The Land Between ecoregion.

·         The yellow-gold flowers of marsh marigolds brighten wet habitats in early May. Later, white trilliums blanket woodlots throughout the Kawarthas. A closer look will reveal numerous other wildflowers, too, like yellow trout Lily. Ties Mountain Road north of Nogies Creek provides a great wildflower display.

·         The first ruby-throated hummingbirds usually return on about May 5, so be sure to have your feeders ready to greet them. Keep your sunflower feeders well-stocked, too, since rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings may just pay you a visit.

·         The long, fluid trills of the American toad can be heard day and night. They are one of the most characteristic sounds of early May. Later in the month, gray treefrogs serenade us with their slow, bird-like musical trills.

·         Watch for native solitary bees in your garden and yard. Some common species include sweat, mason, carpenter and orchard bees. The Peterborough Pollinators calendar will help you identify these tiny pollinators.

Peterborough Pollinator’s 2017 calendar is a great garden resource – Ben Wolfe

·         If you’re looking for pollinator plants for your garden, don’t miss the Peterborough Horticultural Society Plant Sale on May 13 at Westdale United Church (9 a.m. to noon) and the GreenUp Ecology Park sale on May 21 (noon to 4 p.m.)

·         Mid-May is the peak of songbird migration with the greatest numbers of warblers, vireos, thrushes, orioles, flycatchers and other neo-tropical migrants passing through. Mild, damp mornings usually provide the best viewing conditions. Beavermead and Ecology Park can often be quite productive.

·         Wild columbine blooms in late May on rocky hillsides and along roads and trails. The flowers, a beautiful blend of red and yellow, hang in bell-like fashion and are often visited by hummingbirds. The Nanabush Trail at Petroglyphs Provincial Park is worth checking out for late spring wildflowers, including pink lady’s slipper orchids.

·         The showy, yellow and black Canadian tiger swallowtail butterfly appears by month’s end and adds an exotic touch to our gardens.

June

·         In downtown Peterborough and Lakefield, Chimney swifts are putting on quite a show. Pairs can be seen in courtship flight as they raise their wings and glide in a V position.

Chimney Swift (Wikimedia)

·         Painted and snapping turtles are often seen along roadsides and rail-trails laying their eggs. Please slow down in turtle-crossing zones and, if it is safe, help the reptile across the road.

·         The first monarch butterflies are usually seen in June. Make sure you have some milkweed in your garden on which they can lay their eggs.

·         The summer solstice occurs on June 21 at 12:24 AM. The sun will rise and set farther north than on any other day of the year. Celebrate this profound celestial event with your family.

Mar 042017
 

Warm weather that arrives too soon can harm birds, trees — and people
By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News Posted: Mar 03, 2017   LINK TO ARTICLE HERE

Mounting evidence suggests spring is occurring earlier as a result of climate change. While that may sound like good news, the truth is, it can wreak havoc on our environment. While colder temperatures are making their way into some parts of Canada this week, warm weather swept across most of the country in February. By the end of the month, several cities had seen warmer than usual temperatures, some in the extreme. In Calgary, the temperature rose to 16.4 C on Feb. 16. In Toronto, where temperatures at time of year should be around 1 C, 15 out of 28 days were above normal, with a record of 17.7 C set on Feb. 23.That warm weather travelled east, and parts of Nova Scotia saw temperatures in the double digits. While there are a few chilly days ahead, temperatures in cities like Toronto, Montreal and Halifax are all expected to climb at least 4 C above normal within the week. A few days of warmer than usual temperatures occur frequently, but it’s the trend that is most concerning.

The U.S. National Phenology Network, which studies seasonal and natural changes, has found that this year, leaves are appearing about 20 days early in many parts of the southeastern U.S. stretching north into Ohio.Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the network, says that in the east and west — in the U.S. and Canada — “there is definitely a trend towards earlier spring, although there’s some spatial variation … and a stronger effect the further north you go.” David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, said this is occurring straight across the country.”We know that the winter and spring periods are showing the greatest change of temperatures since the 1940s,” he said.

The birds and the buds

The warmer weather provides signals to species far and wide. Insects emerge. Buds appear on trees. Birds begin to breed. But if this process begins earlier than normal, it can throw off the whole ecosystem.Take birds, for example. Birds that migrate short distances are able to respond to a signal that indicates warmer weather at their breeding site.However, those that have wintered thousands of kilometres away are unable to respond. They rely on longer days as their signal. One bird in particular, the wood thrush, arrives on almost the same date each year.Kevin Fraser, assistant professor at the Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, studies the migration patterns of birds.”When birds arrive late, and they’re mismatched with the peak productivity, they produce fewer young, and that actually is correlated in population declines,” Fraser said. It’s these birds that are facing the biggest challenges caused by climate change.Kevin Fraser has tracked purple martins migrating between the Amazon basin and Canada. The species is showing an unfavourable response to earlier springs. (Nanette Mickle) The purple martin, for instance, which Fraser studies, migrates thousands of kilometres from Canada to the Amazon basin.

“We know that long-distance migratory birds are declining more steeply than any other kind of bird,” Fraser said. The decline varies between one and three per cent annually. Interestingly, birds have been seen to respond to cooler weather by halting their migration or even retreating.”My concern is that long-distance migrants aren’t going to have the flexibility and plasticity that they need to respond to the rapid rate of environmental change that we have,” Fraser said.”Particularly with our springs; with earlier and warmer springs, we have birds that are trying to cue to this from great distances away and don’t seem to be keeping up with the pace of climate change.”

Long-term consequences

Earlier springs also greatly affect the ground, the consequences of which can carry on far past the season. Earlier snowmelt means the ground may dry out earlier, which can be particularly problematic to farmers, who may not receive enough precipitation to account for the loss. That can raise prices at the grocery store. Not only that, unseasonable temperatures can affect the quality of foods, even the beloved Canadian maple syrup.Phillips said if warm weather starts earlier, too much maple syrup can be collected. It can’t be processed quickly enough, and the quality can suffer.As well, maple syrup production in trees relies on a thaw-freeze cycle that warmer weather can break.’People are worried about agricultural production, crop production, with the change in climate.’ — Ecologist Jake WeltzinOverall, there is a concern about what warmer winters and earlier springs can mean to farmers.

Then there are fire concerns. Persistent dry conditions greatly increase the fire risk, as was demonstrated in Fort McMurray last year. The drier winter and early spring helped create a type of tinder box that resulted in the rapid spread of flames throughout the city.

Winners and losers

Phillips said that while we may enjoy hitting that patio a week or two earlier, there are consequences we might want to consider, such as allergies. People allergic to pollen may begin to feel their symptoms earlier or could see their runny noses and watery eyes stick around for longer. Some argue there are positives to earlier springs: some farmers may have longer growing seasons or may be able to grow new crops. We may see songbirds that are usually found farther south. And, of course, there may be more weekends at the cottage. However, each of those positives could also have a negative consequence. New birds might push out native birds, for example. The scourge of spring and summer — mosquitoes and blackflies — might arrive earlier and stick around longer.Already there have been more cases of Lyme disease seen farther north than normal, such as in Newfoundland and Labrador.Not all the consequences of climate change are known, but they will come.”Part of it is the sad story of seeing who are going to be the climate change winners and who are going to be the climate change losers,” Fraser said.

Oct 032013
 

A time of radiant leaves

But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer.
~John Burroughs, “The Falling Leaves,” Under the Maples

It’s hard to know where to begin when describing all that’s wonderful about October. Blazing colour, of course, comes to mind first. There is a beautiful Native American legend that talks of hunters in the north sky who killed the Great Bear – represented by the constellation bearing the same name – in autumn, and its blood dripped down over forests coloring the maples red. Later, as they cooked the meat, fat dripped from the heavens turning the leaves of the aspens and birch yellow. Quite clearly, the fall colours have never ceased to amaze human beings and to make us wonder why they appear. Together with the cooler air and the dreamy quality of fall sunlight, so different from the light of summer, there’s something about fall colours that lifts the spirits and provides a new-found energy.

But October offers much more than just the wonderful colours. Blue skies, dreamy light, cool but comfortable temperature, busy birdfeeders, the scent of the fallen leaves, crisp nights, family get-togethers at Thanksgiving, and children’s wonder at the magic of Halloween are but a sampling.

Hopefully, by observing some of the plants, animals and other events in nature listed in this October almanac, your enjoyment of the month will be all the greater.

Leaf colour east of Apsley - October 1, 2012

Leaf colour east of Apsley – October 1, 2012

Early October

  •  According to David Phillips of Environment Canada, we should see extra bright colours this fall, thanks to a relatively wet summer that was not too hot. On an average year, fall colours in the Kawarthas reach their height by the second week of October. More northern areas such as Algonquin Park are at peak colour right now. Go to ontariotravel.net for the latest “Fall Colour Report.” For a great colour drive in the Peterborough area, go east from Apsley along County Road 504 to Lasswade and on to County Road 620. Turn west to Glen Alda and back to Highway 28.
  • Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month making early October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. By spreading black oil sunflower seed or niger seed on the ground, you should be able to attract White-throated and White-crowned sparrows along with Dark-eyed Juncos.
  • As the goldenrods quickly fade away, asters dominate (and conclude!) the wildflower show this month. The generally white flowers of Heath and Calico asters, along with the purple or mauve blossoms of New England and Purple-stemmed asters are. Go to ontariowildflowers.com for excellent tips on identifying asters. Click on “Season” and then “Fall.”
  • The signature constellation of fall is Pegasus and its asterism, the Great Square. Adjacent to the square is the Andromeda constellation and the Andromeda galaxy. Our closest galactic neighbour, it appears through binoculars like a faint oval of fuzzy light – light that left the galaxy two million years ago! Go to Wikihow.com and type “Andromeda” in the search box for detailed steps on finding this galaxy.
  • If you’re an early riser and would like a preview of the winter constellations, you can now see Orion looming above the southern horizon.
  • On balmy October days, Ruffed Grouse can sometimes be heard drumming. It is thought that these birds are mostly young males attempting to establish their own territories. Early fall is also the grouse’s “crazy season.” Young birds disperse from their parent’s territory and often end up colliding with all manner of objects.
  • If you are in the forest on a warm, damp fall day, listen for the weak, intermittent calls of Spring Peepers. Most often, only one or two lonely individuals are heard.

Mid-October

  • Watch and listen for mixed flocks of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, Brown creepers, Dark-eyed juncos, White-throated sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Our local rail-trails are a great place to see these birds.
  • Flocks of giant Canada geese (the subspecies that nests in the Kawarthas), Ring-billed gulls, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, and American Robins are widespread.
  • Using its antlers, the buck White-tailed Deer makes scrapes in the leaf litter on the forest floor in preparation for the upcoming rut. It then urinates on its hind legs in such a way that the urine runs over special “hock” glands and carries the scent down to the scrape. Female deer visit these scrapes.
  • Mid- through late October is very much a time of yellows. Most of the colour is supplied courtesy of Trembling Aspen, Bigtooth Aspen, Balsam Poplar, Silver Maple, White Birch and, at month’s end, Tamarack.
  • On warm days in mid-fall, watch for strands of spider silk floating through the air or caught up in branches. A baby spider is attached to each strand. This special period of the year is sometimes called “gossamer days.”
  • The evening of October 18 is the Hunter’s Moon, namely the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. In the fall, the moon rises only about 30 minutes later from one night to the next – instead of the yearly average of about 50 minutes. This means that when the moon is full, or nearly full, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise. This allowed Native American hunters to hunt by autumn moonlight.

Late October

  • You can get a real sense right now of just how many of our city trees and shrubs are non-native and, therefore, still stubbornly green. Species such as Norway maple, Lilac, Weeping Willow, and European Buckthorn are still genetically tied to the day-length patterns of their native Eurasian bioregions.
  • Given the excellent cone, seed and berry crops on nearly all tree and shrub species across Ontario this year, we should not expect to see much in the way of winter finches moving south and showing up in our yards and at our feeders. Birds such as Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings are likely to remain in the north because of the abundant food available. However, we will likely see high Blue Jay numbers all fall and winter since the huge crop of acorns, beechnuts and hazelnuts means most jays will find all the food they require and therefore not need to migrate south.
  • Migrating diving ducks stop over on our larger lakes such as Pigeon and Rice. Goldeneye, scaup and mergansers are most common.
  • The “fall turn-over” begins to re-oxygenate lakes this month. As the surface waters cool, they begin to mix with the uniformly-cold lower layers. This brings oxygen to the depths and nutrients to the shallows.
  • Red Squirrels in the fall spend a lot of time nipping off cone-bearing twigs on evergreens such as pines, spruces, hemlocks, and even cedar. These “nip twigs” are scattered all over the ground. The cones are removed and stored as winter food.

If you find a Halloween bat in your house, it is probably a Big Brown, a species that often overwinters in buildings. Little Browns, on the other hand, choose caves and abandoned mines as winter quarters. Their population is plummeting, however, as a result of White Nose Syndrome. The Little Brown Bat, formerly our most abundant bat species, is now listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. In other words, it is facing imminent extinction or total disappearance from the province.