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Surprising discoveries in a dry summer


The Common Buckeye had two sets of “eyes” on its wings, giving it a startling appearance to hopefully ward off would be predators. Donald McClure Photo

All nature found the hot, dry summer of 2012 to be a major test of endurance.  From a gardener’s standpoint it became a  time to reflect, conserve water and gain a modicum of insight and a sprinkling of  inspiration.

Nature is unique designer:   The Not-so-Common,  Common Buckeye, made a visit to our garden again this summer and has been hanging around the fragrant Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) for the past three weeks.   We love to see this shy, evasive, little flier and occasionally we get a fleeting picture of it when it comes to rest

What excites me, is the almost startling, cat-like features it displays with feline like eye designs on its upper wings.  This must give potential aggressors some pause for thought before pouncing on the little creature.  It actually has four  “eyespots” — two large designs on the upper side and two smaller on the lower wings.

Take a glance at the accompanying photograph and you can imagine the pleasure the great designer must have experienced in this kind of handiwork.

The unique Orange Fruited Horse Gentian can be found occasionally along County Roads adding a horticultural oddity to the County’s rich inventory of plants. Donald McClure photo

The orange fruited horse gentian:  Thank to the vigilance of Sue Fraser who brought the plant to our attention,  the knowledge of horticulturalist Sally McCrea who finally identified this interesting member of the honeysuckle family with both its local (Wild Coffee , Tinker’s Weed and Horse Ginseng & and latin names), Judy and I were acquainted once again with this interesting plant.  Mind you we might have saved some time if we had checked Court Noxon’s detailed list of County wildflowers on the internet, but that’s life in the big city.   Here is a picture of it and you can look for it along our County byways.

Two distracted House Sparrows were harassed continually by Starlings wishing to take over their nesting box — until fate intervened. Donald McClure Photo

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong  Each spring when the rapier-beaked starlings return from their winter siestas in the south, they seem to make a beeline to all of the existing bird houses in the County to terrorize and evict overwintering inhabitants. Years ago on a birding expedition in the Don Valley,  I found the pecked-to-pieces remains of a bluebird beneath its nesting box with its new starling tenant coming and going at will from its new quarters.

It was in early May of this year that the starlings lined up to thrust their deadly yellow beaks into the interior of the nesting boxes on Judy’s studio attempting to dislodge our long-time House sparrow lodgers.  Day after day they tried (with us jumping up from the breakfast table to shush them away.)   Then all of a sudden the boisterous activity ceased. For three days no bird flew in or out of the bird house.

Curiosity got the better of me and I put a ladder up to the house and opened it up. Much to my surprise the stiff remains of starling lay in the bottom of the box.   Evidently it had forced its way into the box — but couldn’t get out again.   I replaced the box with a new one,  and the house sparrows returned and life had returned to what passes for normal.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere Else

About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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