Category Archives: urban nature-pockets

Gift of the Raven

A raven was on our front walk this morning, with a prize, and an audience of magpies arrayed in the surrounding branches.

Raven and prize

Raven and prize

It flew up to the lamppost, then left soon after. So did the magpies – all abandoning the prize alone on the pavement.

“It’s a bird,” said my partner… “It’s still alive,” seeing it flutter a little.

We stood at the window and contemplated the harsh realities of predator and prey.

Soon after, we went out and saw the prize close-up –

A young raven?

No – a styrofoam, feather covered little crow figurine, with wires coming out of its feet.

Little crow

Little crow

Mystery sighting

Chickadees out in full force this calm, snowy morning, two nights and one day into this heavy snowfall.

A mystery bird came to the oak trunk and clung upside down there, closely followed by a female Downy Woodpecker with its smart black and white back.

The mystery bird is about twice the size of the chickadees, a little smaller than the woodpecker. Bigger than the nuthatches that frequent this area. Creamy buff breast and darker, greyish back. Shaped like a nuthatch or woodpecker with their short stubby tails.

The Downy meandered up the ant-sheltering oak trunk for a while, hunting, while the mystery bird just hung out, upside down, sheltering on the leeward side of the trunk.

A passing chickadee stopped at the tree and watched the woodpecker hopefully for a while.

Urban wildlife

My dog and I met a large coyote trotting down a back alley this morning, half a block from the river valley drive. My dog was eager to meet it, so I was relieved when it shyly detoured up into a driveway to avoid us. I’m surprised I don’t see them more often, this close to the valley.

Autumn Moon

A wonderful moon! Gateway to Autumn, easing us in slowly, deliciously…

It began with the first inklings of summer’s end:
Two bright yellow jewels in the green grass – the first fallen leaves.
Six geese making their pilgrim way across dusk-darkening sky at 9pm.

It shines brightly now on comfortably cool nighttimes; darkness falling ever-earlier.

Mornings are moonless at this time: sunrise presides over crisp morning walks,
under bright clear skies trailing high clouds that capture ever-shifting colours.
Elm trees presenting a single, stark, yellow-clustered branch among the summer-green.

And it will end with the autumnal equinox, ushering out Summer.


The apparently vacant stump showed a flurry of activity this afternoon…


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Prairie Flower & Herb Garden

Selections for a natural-style flower and herb garden in the northern prairies. Low-maintenance; sunny, dry location; zone 3 hardy; perennial. Whimsical meadow theme; attracts beneficial insects; many are good cut flowers.

Overwintering: water well and mulch generously before first freeze. Pile extra snow on top. Give extra protection on years when cold and winds come before a good layer of protective snow has arrived.

Achillea (Yarrow) A. ptarmica 12-24″ White blossoms; ground cover. “Love Parade” has baby-pink blossoms; grows in clumps. A. millefolium 24″ White, pastel or deep colours. Drought tolerant; deer-proof.

Allium (Onion) Many varieties; many sizes. Vibrant pinks, purples, yellow, white blossoms; perfect globe shaped; late-spring to mid-summer. Water regularly while actively growing. Drought tolerant. Looks best planted in odd-numbered groups, not singly. (cm-may not do well in a crowd)

Delphinium belladonna <5′ Purple/blue blossoms; loose spikes; late spring to midsummer. Some work: 3-4 year lifespan, self-reseed not as spectacular; deadhead & divide regularly for sturdier plants & longer lifespan. Likes rich soil – feed regularly.

Digitalis grandiflora (Foxglove) 24″ Yellow blossoms; tall spikes; early to mid-summer. Deer- and pest-proof. Biennials – may self-reseed, or may need help. (cm*)

Echinacea (Purple coneflower) 36″ Pink or lavender-purple blossoms; summer through fall. E. angustifolia: medicinal. E. purpurea: classic purple. (cm*)

Echinops ritro (Globe thistle) 36″ Blue; large spiny globes; mid- to late summer; cut & dry before fully open. Drought tolerant; pest-proof.

Helianthus occidentals (Sunflower) 48″ Yellow blossom; cone or disk-shaped. Drought tolerant.

Lavendula angustifolia (Lavender) This variety is the one popular for herbal uses. Drought tolerant.

Malva (Mallow) 20″-28″ Pink or white blossoms; pairs nicely with nepeta.
(Variety M. sylvestris has violet blossoms on tall plants, 36″.)

Mentha (Mint) Tea. Cultivars: spearmint, peppermint, and many more. Aggressive spreader –  contain in out-of-ground planter or raised bed; or plant in wide open area with no neighbouring gardens where they are welcome to spread.

Mondara citriodora (Lemon bergamot) 30″ Rose-purple short-lived blossoms; summer/fall. Tea.

Nepeta racemosa (Catmint) 6-36″ varieties. Lush, rich lavender-blue blossoms; spikes; long-blooming, throughout summer to early fall. Drought tolerant, deer- and pest-proof. Divide every 3 years. (cm* “lovely”)

Origanum (Oregano)

Papaver (Poppy) Asst varieties 8″, 12″, 36″ Variety of coloured blossoms; early spring.

Salvia (Sage) Purple blossoms; spikes; throughout summer. Grey-green savoury scented foliage. Doesn’t overwinter well. S. nemorosa sap. tesquicola: 24″ Sturdy, brilliant large blossoms. S.  officials: <30″ Culinary herb. Deer-proof.

Thymus (Thyme) Lots of hybrids – the fancier, the less hardy. Overwinter in a pot. Thymus x citriodorus: 10″ Lemon thyme. Lavender-pink blossom. T. doerfleriBressingham‘: 4″ Creeping thyme; hardy. Smells nice when trodden on; set along paths. T. vulgaris: <12″ Culinary herb.  Drought tolerant.

Verbena hastata 48″ Dark blue, pink, or white flowers. V. stricta: 24″ Lavender-purple blossoms. Native to prairies; drought-tolerant. Pretty little “confetti cut-out” shaped flowers.

Veronia (Ironweed) 6′ Purple-viotet blossoms; late summer. Does well in heavy soils, even clay; also tolerates drier areas.



The Northern Gardener: Perennials That Survive and Thrive, by Barbara Rayment (Harbour Publishing)

Lois Hole’s Perennial Favourites, by Lois Hole and Jill Fallis (Lone Pine)

Robins return (sort of)

Absent since spring migration sightings, a few robins have reappeared in the neighbourhood briefly.

Two juvenile robins… or possibly another type of smaller-sized, adult thrush… hopped and hunted their way through the yard – subtly rust-coloured, mottled breasts.

A single adult robin seen nearby another day. Most recently, an adult robin lying dead in the alley with a throat wound… the same bird?

Other places are alive with birdsong in the summer, while this area seems quiet by comparison.

I bear witness to the truth of this recent local newspaper article – in this neighbourhood owned by magpies and squirrels, “few town-nesting American robins ever succeed in raising a clutch of eggs to hatching.”

Ahh, chokecherries



One of my very favourite prairie fruit is chokecherries! I have distinct memories from childhood of eating them straight from the tree, camping at the lake one summer. Drenched in chokecherry syrup is really the only way I get excited about pancakes. So this summer I made a point of learning to identify this ubiquitous prairie plant – and learn syrup making… mmmmmm


Leaves for IDing…

The harvest is in, and syrup made, thanks to the help of my visiting mom and sister (and another friendly neighbourhood blogger). 😀

Chokecherries on the branch

Chokecherries on the branch

Chokecherry syrup

Chokecherries in the jar!

Now off to make buttermilk pancakes! (Oh, the power of suggestion)


A week ago in the park, unusual feathers covered the ground. They were fluffy, with blunt tips. Yellowish fuzzy tendrils so fine that they clung to everything the feathers touched. Brown and white, barred with darker brown. It was hard to find any good ones to bring home because they appeared to have been through a lawn mower.

I assumed from all the feathers that a bird had met its fate there – perhaps a passing coyote?

I’m not familiar with identifying birds by their feathers (except for the brilliant yet ubiquitous Magpie) but my guess was an owl, based on my amateur intuitive reasoning that if the shape of the parts resembled at all the shape of the whole – that squarish, blunt shape & bars just seems owlish!

Today passing through the park again, I was surprised to see fresh feathers, these ones unmown and in great shape. This batch was less fluffy than last week’s, and didn’t have such square tips. Perhaps the bird is alive and well, after all!

It dawned on me that there may be a juvenile owl just getting her first adult suit – from the fresh supply and the reduced baby-fuzziness. Peering into the treetops in the bright sunshine I couldn’t see any sign of the little(?) one, though. If it is an owl, it’s come to the right place – plenty of young jackrabbits to meet any carnivorous appetite in these parts!

Three Feathers - Owl?


Looking again at the colouring, I remember the last mystery bird in the neighbourhood – the Ring-necked Pheasant… Maybe I’ll have to do some research on this one!