Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spring in the Home Bug Garden

Spring in Zone 3 is an iffy thing, especially the last couple of years as the climate seems to be cooling. At the moment (and this could change without notice), Environment Canada is predicting a hard frost (-6 C, ~21 F) for Wednesday morning (13 May). In theory, May 7 is Edmonton’s Last Spring Frost, but this actually translates as the 90% chance date. There’s still that 10% chance you’ll be heading back to the nursery if you plant out on May 8 (actually, for the 6 years I have records for the Home Bug Garden, there is a 50% chance of a hard frost [-3 or below] after May 7). The custom here is to wait until the long weekend near the end of May to plant out, and then hope for the best.

The first sign that Spring is on its way, is the raucous call of the ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) overhead in late March. It may seem strange that ‘seagulls’ are a common sight in landlocked Alberta during the warmer months, but we have lots of lakes, and remember how the settlers around Great Salt Lake were saved from a plague of Mormon crickets. We’ve identified two other gulls overhead, Bonaparte’s (Larus philadelphia), which is probably what the black-headed gulls I saw yesterday were, and Franklin’s (Larus pipixcan).

Technically, the Common Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) seems to be the first migrant to show up, but Ravens (Corvus corax) are resident in winter and it usually takes the call of a gull to make me check if I’m seeing crows instead of ravens. Later in April, our Pink Flamingo (rescued from a rubbish pile by my wife) starts to appear through the snowpack. That’s the signal that the sun is high enough in the sky to melt some snow and it is time to pull out the birdbath. Sometime during this period, ‘hey baby’ becomes more common than ‘chickadeedeedee’ in the calls of the Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and The First Flies of Spring (see previous post), a variety of spiders, soil arthropods, and overwintering nymphalid butterflies (Mourning Cloak, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell) appear.

Last week we finally had some warmth and some signs of insect activity in the Bug Garden including the first bumblebees (Bombus), yellow jacket (Vespula), and solitary bee (a male Andrena). We had a few pleasant surprise visitors too, such as a tiny shore bug (Saldidae), probably a species of Saldula. Some we don’t know yet, such as the green weevils at the head of this post. Weevils usually aren’t a good sign, but we try to keep an open mind. On the closed mind side are the various sawflies (Tenthridinidae) flitting around, each probably intent on ovipositing on some cherished plant, and flea beetles (Chrysomelidae). One of these, the Striped Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta striolata) has already wrecked havoc on my first crop, salad rocket (Eruca vescaria sativa). Oh well, Canada isn’t really an arugula nation. There’s a male Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) taking a bath in the backyard at the moment, the sun is more or less shining, and the wind isn’t blowing too fiercely, so I guess it is time to leave the computer for a few backyard bugs.

1 comment:

  1. Nice weevil!

    Bought some perennials today and the flowering Veronica gentianoides was a real crowd pleaser, drawing in a few wild bees and a fly. Also saw a few bumble bees today, at least 3 species, which is nice. I'll post what photo's I managed to take on Zone 3b tonight.