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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is that ... Pine?

What is that … Pine?

Waddells

The forests of Lanark include a variety of tree and shrub species including pine, providing important habitat for numerous species of plant and animal.    Many species are so integral to our pine forests that their names include the word ‘pine’.

Perhaps our favourite pine forest species is the pine warbler.  With their colouring of yellow, olive, white, and grey, they are well camouflaged and difficult to spot as they move along the high branches of trees.  Most years we see one or two in the spring, or late in the summer when they are readying themselves to migrate south for the winter.  Pine warblers eat large quantities of pine seeds, but they are also insectivores eating mostly the caterpillars of various beetles and other insects.  We saw this male in August.

Pine Siskins are a rare treat to see at the cottage partly because their colouring is so effective, they blend with the conifer needles and cones of the trees they prefer.  Primarily seed eaters, this finch also feeds on insects and spiders.  They tend to move from region to region depending on the availability of food rather than temperature.  This photo was taken in October.

One of our favourite butterflies is the eastern pine elfin which we see most years in mid-May.  This butterfly is a good example of seeing something often, once you learn it exists.  We first saw and were able to identify an eastern pine elfin at the cottage in 2017.  Since then, we have seen them every spring, usually along the roadside.  They also feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.  In keeping with its name, the eastern pine elfin’s habitat includes pine/oak forests.

Of course, other insects have an important role to play within our pine forests.  The red-shouldered pine borer is a good example.  Their larvae generally attack dead and decaying wood, or occasionally develop in a wound in a living tree. Because the larvae feed on the dead and decaying wood of pine, they are important to the life cycle of the pine forest.  Not a problem beetle, adults are attracted to flowers, but this one seemed to prefer our cottage porch screen.

Our field guides tell us about various insects, where they live, what they eat, but more often than not, we see them where they do not quite belong because their camouflage, that works so well on trees and other plants of their native habitat, fails to protect them when they sit on the wall of the cottage.  A case in point is this pine tree spur-throat grasshopper whose cryptic colouring makes it most difficult to see if it is hanging out on a pine tree.  We were not able to find any information that suggests this grasshopper is a problem in our forests.  We tend to see only one or two a year.

We love the aroma of our pine forests.  They help clean the air, prevent soil erosion, and offer a range of foods and habitat for wildlife, including mammals, birds, and insects.  Let’s enjoy them with respect.

Because this article describes a wide variety of animals, we referred to a number of sources to check some facts, but we will name only one.  For Christmas we received a new bird book … Birds of Eastern Canada by David M. Bird and we found it helpful with our reading about the pine warbler and the pine siskin.  We like the way our new book is organized.

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