by Liz Thunstrom
This summer, we all have been able to spend more time outside in green spaces to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. And apparently nature has responded. There are reports from around the world of wildlife that has not been seen, or seen in daylight, for years.
It is also possible to hear more natural sounds like the soft. ’chuuuurr’ of a mother raccoon to her kits, the bird-like chirps of baby skunks at play and the call of a pied-billed grebe, that seems totally outsized for such a little bird.
In the Lower Mainland it has been a good year for nesting purple martins at the various nest-box locations, for garden birds, even for whales – apparently they have responded to quieter surroundings!
Lori Austin has a very successful wildlife garden with many visitors – “a pair of Western tanagers in a hemlock tree, a mama raccoon with two young kits exploring the neighbour’s grapevine, and a wool carder bee nest. Families of spotted towhees and northern flickers visit our garden every day. House finches are eating the yellow flowers on the pak choi plants that have gone to seed”. At her family cabin on Galiano Island, Lori saw “a pod of transient killer whales travelling just offshore; a humpback whale which surfaced multiple times blowing a cloud of whale breath that hung in the evening air before the whale dived, lifting its signature tail; a nest of Pacific-slope flycatchers under a deck (they fledged the next day), a red crossbill feeding on something at the tide line on the beach, and a pair of duelling belted kingfishers chattering at each other in the bay”.
Jane Shoemaker’s cousin in Tsawwassen had an Anna’s hummingbird nest on a string of Christmas lights that had been left up under the eaves! The bird successfully reared two youngsters.
Catherine Ho sent along a photo of a Western swallowtail butterfly nectaring on what appear to be Sweet William blossoms. She spotted this beauty near the Coquitlam River Trail entrance on Ozada Street.
Diane Kizik-MacDonald wrote to say that she’s been using her “new fun app” called Seek, which is a simpler, kid-friendly (no locations revealed!) spin-off of the iNaturalist app. Diane says that in the past, she’d “just wonder what that flower is. Now I take a picture and Seek tells me its name. A new Covid-19 experience!”
In my garden, chickadees fledged from two nest boxes, towhees nested in the groundcovers (periwinkle is good for something!) and there was a profusion of bee species in the lavender and rose mallow. There were adult and juvenile flickers in abundance feeding on ants on the lawns and pathways. Sadly, there were no robins on the lawn this year. Their annual attempts to nest have been foiled repeatedly by crows for the past few years.
We did see one crow apparently ‘anting’. The bird lies very still on the ground with feathers ruffled and ants crawl into the feathers, feeding on tiny parasites. The birds appear almost comatose and lie in place for as long as 10 minutes if not disturbed!
There also seem to be many hummingbirds around, very visible in the flowerbeds and sparring with each other in aerial contests, squeaking loudly.
Unfortunately, there have been two hummingbirds sent into the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) for autopsy after being noticed in distress in local gardens. The birds were found to have succumbed to a fungal disease, avian aspergillosis. Aspergillosis is not uncommon and can be contracted by birds that are weak or otherwise unhealthy, but it can also be the result of lack of cleanliness of hummingbird feeders.
It is a timely reminder to be aware of feeder cleanliness.
Dr. Christine Bishop, of CWS, recommends changing the solution every 2 days in summer and cleaning feeders with 10% vinegar in hot water before refilling. If there are signs of black fungus, use 5% bleach and lots of hot water, scrub, rinse and leave overnight to dry well before re-filling.
For more detailed info on hummingbird health, you might be interested in the paper, Hummingbird health: pathogens and disease conditions in the family Trochilidae, by Godoy, Tell & Ernest.
Just as I was finalizing this column, I went to my garden pond to tidy it up. Imagine my surprise to see four dragonfly nymphs that had crawled up one of the plants and I guess, were drying off and ‘getting their wings’. I have never had so many at once – and more pond lilies this year too! Dragonflies are a favourite of mine.
Enjoy the rest of your summer! I look forward to hearing about your nature discoveries. Please send them to me at email@example.com for the September newsletter.