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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is that?  ... Friend in the Garden

What is that?  … Friend in the Garden

Waddells

We have a new friend in the garden at the cottage … the rusty blackbird.  We are using the word ‘garden’ in the broadest sense possible … the green space between the cottage and the shore … the weeds over the septic field … the roadside ditches.  Everywhere that is green at the cottage is our garden.

Friends on the Ontario Birds Facebook page have posted photos of rusty blackbirds for years.  We thought they should be around and about Three Mile Bay, and we finally had one visit us in September, 2021.  A beautiful grey/brown robin-sized bird, rusties spend their time in secluded wet areas, including flooded woods, swamps, marshes, and the edges of ponds.  Once a common bird, the rusty blackbird is in serious decline, possibly resulting from the draining of their favourite habitats.  This individual was probably on its way to its wintering area of the mid-eastern States.  As everyone knows, we love all birds, but especially those that eat insects as the rusty blackbird does.

Another insect-eating bird we love to see is the northern flicker which is common around Three Mile Bay.  We see them every year, sometimes perched high in the old birch tree near the shore, but we get the best photographs when they come closer to the cottage as they hunt for insects burrowing in the ground.  Clearly, the northern flicker is having some breeding success, as we can surmise from this photograph of a parent jamming lunch down the gullet of this juvenile in mid-July, 2021.

One of our garden friends with a face only its mother could love is the American toad.  Its dull, mottled brown wart-like skin provides excellent camouflage as it wends its way through the ‘garden’ and over the exposed bedrock, seeking out crickets, caterpillars, moths, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, earthworms, and snails, all of which we have in abundance at the cottage.

The adult green lacewing is a beautiful, fragile-looking insect.  Voracious predators, the larvae eat many different soft-bodied insects including aphidscaterpillars, other insect larvae, and insect eggs.  Considered a beneficial insect by many, they are attracted to asters, cosmos, sunflowers, dandelions, dill, and other plants.  The green lacewing receives a high rating on our score card for friends in the garden.  This adult individual was photographed in early August, 2021.

Last but not least is the Asian lady beetle which was introduced to North America during the second half of the 20th century as a biological control.  Many people now consider them to be nuisance invaders.  They have out-competed our native lady beetle which we remember fondly from childhood as ladybugs.  The Asian lady beetle is an aggressive beetle which many feel has outstayed its welcome.  We certainly do not like the little stinkers when they find their way inside the cottage.  Nevertheless, they receive a decent rating on our score card for their aggressive appetite for the aphids that feed on the plants we love in the garden.  Most common at our cottage in late summer and into autumn, this photograph was taken in late August last year.

While our human friends and relatives have not been able to enjoy our gardens at the cottage for the past couple of years during covid times, our avian, amphibian, and insect friends have stood by us through thick and thin.  We look forward to enjoying their company again soon as well as that of our friends and relatives.

As has become our habit, we checked some facts for this article with David Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds Eastern North America; www.allaboutbirds.org; and, www.bugguide.net.

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