Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Backyard Bees

On the door of my study hangs a poster of the backyard bees of North America and often when I’m thinking, my eyes fall on this poster and I lose my train of thought as I examine the multitude of bees. My thoughts turn to the many bees I’ve watched in my wildlife garden and how each year, more and more show up as the plants mature and I add new native flowers.

Butterflies, moths, beetles – they come and go and I can’t be guaranteed seeing them on any given day, but bees, they are always there and I can go out anytime from spring to autumn and know I will find them. My yard isn’t large, but I’ve followed the advice of the Continue reading →

Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Wildlife Pond

The birds and the bees are great, but what I’ve wanted since I started transforming a featureless backyard into wildlife habitat, was a pond. I have long been fascinated by dragonflies (they will feature in a chapter in my upcoming book Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World), and I wanted to bring them to my own backyard so I could watch them. Over the years, dragons had visited the yard, usually females who would rest on the fence or on a branch for a time, or darners and saddlebags cruising over the neighborhood, but I wanted to offer habitat for the full life cycle of the dragon.

When we moved in, the backyard was 2/3 lawn with a lone forsythia, and 1/3 deck. The deck was a huge wasted space and a hideout for rats so about three years ago we began slowly…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: See No Weevil

It all started back in April when I found a teeny weevil on a window ledge in the living room. The weevil had ceased to be, but where had it come from? I posted it on Twitter and quickly learned it was a Hollyhock Weevil (Rhopalapion longirostre), which made sense because there are hollyhocks planted right outside the window I found it in. The flowers had been there a few years, sown as part of a fairy garden flower mix, but they didn’t appear to have much wildlife value so their days would be limited once I got around to adding new native plants to that area.

But now I was interested in these flowers I had mostly ignored. The hollyhocks were barely beginning to sprout out of the ground, but over the next few weeks I kept an eye on them as…

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Pollinator Week

This week was Pollinator Week and I started thinking about all the different pollinators that visit my yard. Over the roughly seven years since we moved in, I’ve been continually adding new native plants and transforming a yard of grass to wildlife habitat. In the last couple of years I’ve focused on the backyard and creating more pollinator habitat. Flowers start blooming before winter is over and there is a constant bloom throughout the spring and summer and well into the autumn. I also leave things messy because old flower stems are used for bees to nest in. There are patches of bare soil for ground nesting bees to dig their holes and I never use pesticides.

As a result, I have been rewarded by dozens and dozens of different types of pollinators – from bumble bees and leaf-cutter bees to…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Anatomy of a Dragon

There’s nothing that can humble an ‘observant’ naturalist more than nearly walking face-first into a resting darner dragonfly. A few days ago I was walking around the wildlife garden taking photos and I completely overlooked the large Blue-eyed Darner until it was just a few inches from my face. Luckily for me the dragon had no previous engagements and sat perched on the Fireweed for a few minutes. I was able to take photos at my leisure and I focused my lens on different parts of his body to study it in depth.

The Eye of a Dragon

Dragon eyes are perhaps the most conspicuous feature of a dragonfly. They comprise most of the head and are arguably the most important part of the body. Vision is the primary sense of dragonflies and is used…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: A New Discovery

Once in a while I encounter something in my yard that leaves me completely baffled. I may not be able to identify all the bees, flies or beetles I see, but I usually know that they are bees, flies or beetles. A few days ago, I noticed something that no matter what angle I looked at it from, I just couldn’t figure out even what type of insect it was.

At first glance it looked like a stick insect, but when I looked closer, I could see there were two, a pair mating back to back, attached together. They had long, sender bodies and even longer, more slender legs. Their antennae were also thin and terribly long, ending in little knobs, similar to that of butterflies. Their bodies were brown, but one had a thicker abdomen which had a green underside, and they…

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