same time, same station

This morning, I’ve begun filling in my “phenology calendar” for the coming season. In years past, I’ve just scribbled notes on our kitchen calendar, but this year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more organized. That should save us from mix-ups over whether we’re to go to the dentist, or pack up the canoe to go looking for aggregations of watersnakes slithering over one another in a certain tree along the Tay River.

Observing and photographing insects and other creatures is largely a game of being in the right place at the right time, so I pay a lot of attention to dates and records. Based on the dates on many of my photos, the emergence of certain species is almost as regular as clockwork – with some variation depending on weather conditions. Marking up a calendar is the best way I can think of to ensure that I’ll “be there” at the right moment in time.

For example, for three years running, we found a huge aggregation of our native Coleomegilla maculata lady beetles in the fallen leaves less than half a meter from the trunk of a Red Maple on our front lawn between April 11 and April 16. Last year, they were absent. However, I’ll be watching that spot to see if they make a return appearance this year.

Another that I’ll be carefully watching out for is the Brown Mantidfly – I believe ours are Climaciella brunnea – pictured above. I found more than a dozen climbing about over the leaves and flowers of Common Milkweed here at the farm on July 6, 2005, and for several days after. That was the first time I’d noticed them on our land. I’m sure they’ve probably been around before, but somehow I’ve managed to miss them. Hopefully, that won’t happen again – thanks to my calendar.

There are many creatures that are quite reliable in their activities. In the past, we’ve found that snakes can be quite dependable about making an appearance around a certain date. Unfortunately, we seem to be less so as we’re still trying to get back to a particular location to watch for wandering Black Rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) on a certain date in May after sighting several wonderfully large individuals in 2003 (see photo below).

I suppose I could create a phenology calendar on my computer — perhaps something with a pop-up screen that would remind me that I should get out the camera gear to go searching for a huge brain-like Bryozoan floating in Morton Creek, or Smooth Green Snakes among the cedars in Marlborough Forest. However, I believe the low-tech, hand-written calendar is more my speed. I can use my highlighter or a pen with different coloured ink to circle or make asterisks to draw attention to those items that I really *do not* wish to miss out on this year.

Of course, the big problem that arises as you keep track of “events” is, that after a few years of observation, you have so many things to be watching for, that life seems rather hectic. But, indeed, that’s just how the natural world works, especially up here in the Frozen North where so many creatures rush to complete their life cycles in our relatively short summer. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with hectic – that’s just a sign that you’re surrounded by abundant life. And, furthermore, if you miss something this year, chances are pretty good that you may see the same or something similar a year or two from now – unless, of course, the habitat has changed drastically, or has been entirely destroyed… which, unfortunately, is always a distinct possibility in our time. — bev

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