Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Category: Biophilia (page 1 of 3)

Sugar ants aren’t pests – they’re harmless and helpful!

Photo caption: A legion (hah, get it  – not army, but part thereof!) of sugar ants committed mass suicide in my bottle of honey. In honour of those that might resurrect – I can see some of them will – I pooled it in the sink and gave them a chance to extract themselves (sugar ants are resilient to injury). A few less foolhardy brothers and sisters are supping from the edges.

People don’t know what to make of the teeny-tiny ants that march indoors like school children on spring and summer days (when they should be outside!). They can’t be mistaken for carpenter ants. But, like the many other species that aren’t carpenter ants, all searches end up on results about killing them. As if they were as dangerous as carpenter ants. Carpenter ants won’t hurt you, but their infestations are dangerous to your house – they devour wood.  

Common talk, mass media, and the extermination industry has effectively enabled people to think that insects are disgusting and undesirable. We know this is just flat-out wrongheadedness. All it takes to realize that bugs aren’t your enemy is to observe them objectively, and if that isn’t enough, it always helps to do a little research.

Of course, when you try to do some research, you have to get past the “get rid of” them websites. The truth takes lot more digging. So that’s what this blog post is about.

Tapinoma sessile is the name of this kind of ant. Here’s the path I took:

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How can you protect birds during nesting season? (Short answer: don’t cut trees). And, BirdFest.

Migration is pretty much over now, and all birds are where they want to be if they’re sitting on eggs in a nest, or raising a clutch of nestlings. It might give us an opportunity to have a peep into their nest boxes and niches and see them raise their babies (mostly by web-cam — something we all love!), but it doesn’t mean the dangers they face are completely over. There are still things to watch out for in the city…

Tree Felling During Nesting Season

Every spring, members of my local birding club notice incidents of tree cutting and felling in and around Montreal during this period, when birds are nesting. Even trained ornithologists have difficulty locating nests, so we’re concerned that these activities may harm or even be fatal. People need to proactively protect nesting birds, and not assume anything.

Perhaps making matters worse is that while tree felling is an activity a homeowner needs a permit for, the permit process might not take into account the time of the felling  – and the businesses that fell trees, like landscaping services, don’t need to have a license from the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec. We can’t know whether having a license would necessarily help birds, but it’s at least one reliable avenue for educating contractors.

What can you do if you witness tree felling during nesting season in your neighbourhood? One or all of the following:

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Visiting one of the last remaining urban wetlands – the Technoparc

Two weekends ago, I participated in the Good Friday Migration to save the Technoparc Wetlands. Read more about it – and see the French-language Pimento Report on YouTube (embedded) here.

With this post, I wanted to mention to readers that I’ve got a new pop-up to subscribe to my email list. See a similar box at the bottom of this post for more details.

I’ve been draggin’ my heels on writing this post ever since, for a false reason. I’ve been making it a bigger deal of writing a blog post than in than the writing actually is, because the issue is a bigger deal than most people realize. So I might say something controversial, but seems clear enough for someone to say.

Part of the game of development is “build it and they’ll come.” There’s no big influx (except if it’s downtown – proper brownfield building development!) but in the meantime, the first occupants will pay for servicing the building and the taxes. Though this is just kicking the can down the road, cities sees that new development, that new tax base as proof of … something usually vanity-related, and a revenue base for existing services. In time, because there’s no incentive for municipalities to forego development without a large NIMBY crowd, their services:tax base ratio will get skewed again. Development sure looks like a Ponzi scheme.

This is the view of the park from overhead, from the south.

Situated in this tension, with no voice but for those who speak up in time, is nature, where the birds carry on with their nestlings like they always have, only the conditions are less and less optimal while development games are played to make them unwelcome. Continue reading

Butterflies to see and links to share for Pollinator Week

It’s said that birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammal pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of our food. Pollinating flowers is a serious job. For this reason, the Pollinator Partnership organization created an event called Pollinator Week, every year around the third week of June.

In 2019, it’s June 17– 23. The blog post for this year is Creating Lawn Habitat for Endangered Bumblebees, which includes two citizen-science initiatives that you can contribute to by sending in your bumblebee sightings.

In 2017 (the year of this post), it’s June 19-25.

In 2013, I blogged about it with a bonus DIY Mason Bee house project.

It’s very important to give honeybees and native insect pollinators as much habitat and food as we possibly can, because of Colony Collapse Disorder. In absence of remedies to prevent this disease from killing the honey bees that pollinate our non-native food crops, only natural resistance, the kind where survivors (in particular, survivor queens) go on to create new hives, will improve the survival rates of beehives. In addition, honey bees are very competitive with native pollinator species, so we need to make sure that the natives get a fair crack at food sources – specifically native plants, which honey bees are less adept at pollinating.

So, to inspire people to do something to appreciate or even help our pollinators, I found a few links to share. Nature herself also motivated me: the cover photo for this post came from my recent trip to the Adirondacks, where I found a bunch of Eastern Swallowtail butterflies mud-puddling on the beach.

Why do butterflies mud-puddle? Well, it’s an easy way to absorb minerals, sodium in particular, from the solution it makes in water-logged soil. For this reason, other insects also congregate around mud puddles.

  • Male butterflies tend to mud-puddle more than females, and you can read more about that curiosity here.
  • If pollinators had dating profiles, these would be those. This is an article by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, on my favourite publishing platform, Medium. It’s cute and clever and I learned a few species.
  • Updated in 2018: there’s also an Irish website, “Don’t Mow, Let it Grow,” dedicated to education about helping pollinator species such as bees. They have an animated cartoon series suitable for children to explain what bees and other pollinating insects do. (Note for little children: it would be helpful for a parent to read the titles on the animation!)

What more can we lawn-owners and gardeners do to help bees and other insect pollinators, such as butterflies?

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