The small things…

Spring is always a time of anticipation. I find myself checking on the growth of my plants many times a day, always astonished to find visible changes in the height of a common milkweed shoot (Asclepias syriaca) or the surprisingly scarlet first growth of dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). My wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) are doing very well, and both redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are about to burst into flower. I’m particularly psyched about the many giant hyssops (Agastache nepetoides and A. foeniculum) that have taken hold. No plant got more bee visits last year than them.

Yesterday I saw a few Dunning’s miner bees (Andrena dunningi) making holes in the bare ground at the base of my burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa). I had never noticed these bees, let alone seen their nests, which look like ant holes. The bees are a bit smaller than a honey bee. In the photo to the left (below), you can see two bees: the fully visible one and also the head of another one poking out from a tunnel. The image on the top right is a new lupine (Lupinus perennis), with its gorgeous star-shaped first leaf. I have yet to succeed in growing a lupine beyond this early stage. Let’s hope for better luck this year. Under the lupine is a cluster of redbud flowers, and at the very bottom is a closeup of one of redbud’s main pollinators, the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria), though so far it seems to prefer visiting forget-me-not flowers (Myosotis scorpioides), one of the few non-native plants I am not actively trying to eradicate from the garden because it flowers abundantly in the early spring, when small bees and flies have few other options.

There’s been something new this year. Along with the usual movement of migratory birds–the most exciting of which is always hermit thrushes–I’ve been hearing a white-throated sparrow singing in the neighbourhood for a few days now. This is an instantly recognizable song for anyone who’s spent time in the Norther (see a version here, though this is rather different from the one I’m hearing); in fact I’ve always associated this song with canoe trips. I’ve never heard it in Toronto before. Who knows that it means, but I couldn’t help find it uplifting.

Signs of the times…

Yesterday (January 20, 2021) was a pretty cold day (-4C), an anomaly. Not so long ago it would have been an anomaly because it was so warm for late January; now it’s anomalously cold.

Having lived in the same place for 12 years now, it’s easy to notice certain trends. In the past few years, I have been alarmed to see crocuses starting to sprout in mid-February. Last week I saw the little shoots a whole month earlier than any previous year. My irises are also throwing up a few brave leaves. On Sunday it was warm enough to transplant my Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rosa odoratus) from the backyard to the front. The soil was pliable and not even close to frozen. In fact it was crawling with earthworms. Yesterday my kids saw a robin, not a usual sighting in Toronto in the heart of winter.

Crocuses sprouting in the third week of January: not the Toronto I grew up in!

As a once avid and now more mellow birdwatcher, one of the most tangible evidence of Toronto’s changing environment has been the appearance of mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). Back when I birdwatched a lot in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I never saw one until I went to California. I saw my first Ontario mockingbird at the Oakville GO Train station in 2003. Since then, mockingbirds have become a daily sighting in my neighbourhood, often coming to feed on the berries of Virginia Creeper growing on my porch.

A Northern Mockingbird, just done feeding on fruit from a Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), January 2021.

Today (January 21, 2021), they’re calling for a high of 3C.