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Aug 8

Of Great Goldens and Little Browns

The Great Golden Digger Wasp - Photo  courtesy of Jennifer HowardThe Great Golden Digger Wasp is a large and colourful insect, shades of gold and orange and russet. We found her diligently digging a nest on a bare patch of ground on the Carolina Dyke in Tiny Marsh. Down she went, into the loonie-sized hole. Pause. Out again, backwards. In and out, with metronomic regularity as our group gathered to watch.

Then Jennifer decided to get a frontal shot and moved into the wasp's line of sight. I thought this might not affect the dogged activity, but no. The wasp stopped and started a dance – it reminded me of the Maori war dance – stamping her feet and waving her antennae at Jennifer. After which, she turned around and did the same at the rest of us. So we decided caution was the better part of valour and beat a retreat. Jennifer got some great pictures.

Despite the dance (or my interpretation of it), and despite its intimidating size, the Great Golden is not aggressive and minds its own business if left alone – though it will sting if you do something like step on it. It’s a beneficial and solitary wasp that does not live in colonies although several females may be found near each other in suitable nesting areas of bare ground, in full sun, with flowering plants nearby.

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Jul 15

If the Giant Swallowtail visits, are you ready?

They said she was on her way, and on June 12, there she was - the Giant Swallowtail, floating through the flower beds, the largest butterfly I have ever seen in these parts. I hadn’t heard she was coming so I grabbed a camera to document the find, and a day later a naturalist friend identified her, telling me there had been recent media reports about how this species is moving north.

I didn’t think, when I saw her a few more times, whether she might have special needs, this creature forced northwards by global warming, even though the question of assisted migration is one of my preoccupations. Then today, I was moving some potted Hop Trees out of a sheltered location close to the potted Northern Catalpas, thinking they all need a bit more space, a bit more sun, so they’re ready to be planted out at some stage.

That’s when I saw it. The poo on the leaf. And then I noticed that the poo, at first glance the poo of a very large bird, in fact had a structure, markings, and evidence of activity: the Hop Tree leaf that supported it was half gone.Read more
Jul 7

Wonderful, glorious, stunning Catalpa

There is no more glorious sight in these parts than a Northern Catalpa in full bloom.

This week was the peak of flowering for this tropical tree that has adapted to our northern climate. The first clue is the fragrance wafting over the sidewalk. Like a bee seeking nectar, you follow the trail and come across a wonderful show - dense panicles of huge white frilly orchid-like blooms, their centres delicately highlighted with purple stripes and splashes of orange. A pollinator’s delight.

If you have a lawn, in full sun, in need of a “specimen” shade tree, this is the one. Its elegant form, its large heart-shaped leaves, the long bean pods that develop in fall, all ensure season-long interest after the dropped petals have carpeted the grass below in white.Read more