Thursday, July 28, 2011


By midsummer we often see patches of sweet peas in flower at the edge of the road, sometimes in large bright patches like this one. These have spread from initial plantings or seedings; it's easy to gather sweet pea seeds later on, and spread them to new areas. These seem to add an element of human caring to our roadsides to me, as well as a little bit of colour.

Orange daylilies must have been one of the original garden plants. When you find pioneer homesteads around here, a few planted daylilies like these (as well as lilacs) are the most common evidence of humans living there, in addition to any actual building that's left standing. But now they have spread to roadsides through planting, sometimes in great lines along the ditch or across the front of a farm yars.

Queen Anne's Lace is not planted, but is a 'weed', that spreads widely, especially on poorer soils. Not only do you find it in lines along the roadside, sometimes it colonizes an unused former farm field, spreading it's flat white blossoms everywhere.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I am NOT a bird photographer, so it’s only good luck if I ever catch a picture of a bird sitting closely enough that it’s worthwhile. This chipping sparrow stayed in the cedar just off our deck, cheeping steadily, because our cat was out on its leash, and the sparrow’s nest was nearby. I’m glad to say the cat stayed on its leash, and didn’t get the birds!

But we have become much more aware of the birds around the cabin and the neighbourhood this summer, seeing and hearing them often enough that we are getting to know them by their songs quite well, and we frequently see them nearby, so much so that I always have my binoculars close at hand.

Herewith is a short list of the birds we regularly see at home or in the immediate neighbourhood, and whose songs we have learned to recognize:

The common chipping sparrows are the closest, right around the house. Tiny little sparrows with a rusty cap and a plain breast, they sing their steady trill which is easy to recognize, or they squeak from the bushes as they hop around seeking food.

Red-wing blackbirds nest in the meadow, and throw their piercing calls from the top of a pine tree. Their family is now off the nest, but until recently they made a enormous fuss if you walked down the path near their nest, hovering in the air above your head, ready to attack.

Chickadees seem to always be present hopping among the branches of the apple tree, looking for food in the nooks and crannies of the bark. They’re one of the few that will stay for the winter, and I saw one feeding a younger bird that looked the same size to me.

And this summer we’ve had a wren, a very small brown bird, but with one of the nicest bird songs you’ll ever hear. It warbles loudly from trees, shrubs, even the railing of the deck. There’s also a song sparrow around sometimes, and we frequently hear the descending trill of the field sparrow. Its song speeds up toward the end, as if you dropped a ping pong ball on a table.

There is a family of kingbirds, a swallow-like bird that can hover like a helicopter while it catches insects. There are always goldfinch, one of the few birds that sings while it’s flying, bouncing across the sky, its cheerful song almost always echoing nearby.

For a few days I saw a brilliant blue indigo bunting, one of the most beautiful of our birds, singing its regular six-note song from several different trees. Almost every evening a couple of cedar waxwings come and sit for awhile in the tall dead elm 200 feet from the deck.

We’ve had bluebirds around all summer, perhaps our favourite bird, and there’s been a family of orioles, with their brilliant black and orange colour. I did manage a very distant, slightly blurry picture of a bluebird – enough to prove that’s what it was!

There are of course the usual assortment of bluejays occasionally flying past and shrieking, crows passing, and a few gulls. There are mourning doves and robins nesting – one for the second time under the eave of the cabin. There are virtually always at least one of two turkey vultures soaring overhead.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


They're not nearly as showy as the daylilies in the garden, but the 'weeds' in the meadow add a lot of interest to the season at this time of year. Most of these would be labelled weeds officially, but I like the definition of a weed that says 'a weed is a plant growing where it's not wanted'. The fact is that I want these weeds in our meadow, rather than just grass and hawthorns, so to me they're meadow flowers, not weeds. Here are just a few of what's blooming.

The milkweed, a stubborn weed in crop fields, but one of our favourite, because it is food for monarch butterflies. And if you get close to a large patch of milkweed, the fragrance is wonderful.

Queen Anne's Lace, a member of the carrot family, which scatters its white blossoms over any open spaces available. This is a personal favourite, as my mother often mentioned using it for her bridal bouquet 70 years ago.

Chickory, one of those flowers that opens and faces the sun in the morning, but then closes its blossoms and rests til the next morning. And one of the few truly blue meadow flowers.

Mullein, which grows a large rosette of thick fuzzy leaves one year, and then sends up a tall stock of flowers the next.

The rather weird viper's bugloss, the other blue flower in bloom at the moment. This one is growing right in the middle of our driveway.

One of the lesser known meadow flowers, the pale yellow cinquefoil.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Daylily Season

Daylilies have been out for a week or two now. In places, the roadsides feature huge clumps of the common orange daylilies that have been grown for years. In fact, if you investigate pioneer homesteads, you often find orange daylilies along with lilacs as two of the original plants the pioneers planted around their homesteads, presumably brought from home.

But today there are hundreds of varieties of daylilies, and breeders are constantly trying to create new ones. There's a beautiful daylily garden not too far away, so we've acquired a few of the new varieties, in a range of colours. What I find fascinating is that the large blooms come out for just a day - hence the name. A flower stalk may have several blossoms on it, and a plant may have several flower stalks, so you can have a lot of blooms on larger plants, but on any single flower stalk, normally only one bloom opens, and it opens for only one day.

We'll have beautiful daylily blooms in the garden now for the next month, and often go out each morning to see what flowers have opened their blossoms today.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poplar Fluff

A couple of weeks ago we had one of those seasonal episodes when the poplar trees next door started shedding the white fluff from their catkins. With any little breeze, the air was filled with white cottony snow, a little like milkweed seeds, blowing through the sky and accumulating in places on the ground. There was so much of it that the grass was covered in white fuzz near the trees.

These are hybrid poplars, likely with a strong genetic element of native cottonwood in their make-up. Watching the snowy cotton fluffs blow around, I realize now why it's called 'cottonwood'.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Signs of the Seasons

Summer continues to change day by day, and since I practically live outside every day now, I notice a lot of the little changes more than I used to when we mainly visited on weekends. The birds are quieter now, the musical spring calls gone and birds busy raising young, moving stealthily among the branches, to avoid giving away their nest location. Crops are maturing in the farm fields, and I amuse myself trying to recognize them; the hay is mostly in. Flowers in the meadow change constantly. Yesterday I noticed the first Queen Anne's Lace in bloom; soon they will turn wide stretches of roadside and field into white. The first Evening Primrose is in bloom too, joining dozens of other 'weeds' like vetch, viper's bugloss, daisy fleabane (above) and brown-eyed susans in turning the meadow colourful.

And in the garden, the peonies and iris are suddenly over, while the daisies, valerian, sweet william, bear's britches, and daylilies are out. The 'stella dora' daylilies (widely used in institutional landscaping) border the path in the garden with their small (for a daylily) orange blooms, but the fancier daylilies open one huge blossom at a time, welcoming the day with a new flower.

The hostas, known mainly for the foliage - and we have a lot of them - are now coming into bloom. Not as showy or colourful as many other garden flowers, but when you have a lot of them the flowers turn long swaths of the garden white.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Farm Crops

Perhaps the biggest single visual component of the rural landscape around here, at least where the farmland is good, is the variety of farm fields and their crops. It's haying season; in fact haying season is nearly over, though farmers are still out cutting hay, raking it to dry in the sun, and then baling it, mostly in the big round bales that have removed one of the heavy former jobs on a farm - manhandling those old square haybales onto the wagon.

While haying season is nearing an end, the canola is just coming into bloom, throwing an almost fluorescent yellow across a few fields in this area. There is more of it, and larger fields, further south.

And the wheat fields, most of them winter wheat that was planted last fall, are just showing the first touch of that golden colour that will lead to their harvest. It's amazing to me that more people don't connect the golden fields of wheat ready for harvest with the bread in their kitchen! The first wheat harvests will probably be underway before the end of the month.

Corn crops will mature later into the fall, and they illustrate the huge variability of crops on farms. Rainfall at the wrong time, soil conditions and other variables the farmer juggles can mean a huge difference in crop growth. These two photos were taken the same day; the corn in the left photo is just about 6 inches tall, and hardly beginning to grow; the corn in the right hand photo was a good 18 inches tall, and growing fast.

While well over 50% of the farm fields around here are in hay, and some more are in pasture, canola, wheat and corn account for about 90% of the other field crops grown. And together, they represent one of the most obvious indicators of the changing seasons, in a region that is still largely a farm landscape.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Canoeing the Nottawasaga

Reading this blog the last 3 weeks you probably think our life consists of nothing but our garden and the meadow. They are near-at-hand, 'in your face' so to speak, so I notice the changes daily. But there is lots else going on, and lots of other indications of changing seasons.

Yesterday I finally got out in my new canoe - a smaller, short single canoe with a kayak seat, designed to be paddled with a kayak paddle. It worked marvellously, though I have a few new sore muscles today. The lower Nottawasaga is a slow wandering river, sediment laden, and very easy to paddle. And we saw surprisingly few signs of civilization, considering it ends at Wasaga Beach.

We were lucky to see a fair number of birds too, including lots of kingfishers, plentiful swallows, and this juvenile black-crowned night heron, which just sat on a tall dead stump while I took its picture.