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A Naturalist's Dialoque - Fleabane fleas and more...  

A Naturalist's Dialoque - Fleabane fleas and more...

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DOES FLEABANE BAN FLEAS?

I always do a bit of a double-take when I see fleabanes ( Erigeron ) in bloom in June. Because they resemble the asters that brighten up the fall woods, they are a somewhat unwelcome reminder of just how short the Manitoba summer can be. They are distinguished from asters by the much larger number of fine rays around the yellow centre of the flower. There are numerous fleabane species in the Prairie Provinces; I think this one is a large specimen of smooth fleabane, but maybe someone will put me straight on that.

Opinion varies among a multitude of Internet sites as to whether fleabane really does drive away fleas. The useful book Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland (Derek Johnson et al., Lone Pine) asserts that the plant and its extract are indeed effective and describes a variety of other medicinal uses, past and present.

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THE SKIPPER INVASION

Skippers are small, sturdily built butterflies with relatively short wings and rapid flight. About three dozen species occur in Manitoba. One of these was accidentally introduced to North America from Europe, most likely transported with hay. First seen near London, Ontario in 1910, it has since spread across much of North America. Known over here as the European Skipper (but called Essex Skipper in Britain), this little butterfly was first found in Manitoba in 1972 and is now an abundant sight along roadsides in the Pinawa area, where it often visits alfalfa and vetch flowers. Indeed, it is considered a pest in some regions, because the caterpillars feed on timothy, an important variety of grass for haymaking.

While it is still unknown how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, this photo shows that at least three skippers can skip on one head of grass.

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A SUMMER GREAT GRAY

Great Gray Owls are most often seen in our area in winter, wherever voles are plentiful around the edge of the forest. Varying numbers stay for the summer, at which time the species, our provincial bird emblem, is much less conspicuous in its habits. It was a stroke of luck to see this one hunting alongside PR 211, roughly midway between the two Great Gray Owl habitat signs, one evening in early June. Don't you just love those eyes?

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AN OBLIGING MEADOWHAWK

Fresh back from vacation with a deadline to meet, I stepped out of the house clutching my camera, vowing to snap the first thing that would sit still for me. No luck with the neighbourhood Evening Grosbeaks or chattering House Wren, but then I spotted a couple of small, bright red dragonflies at the edge of the yard. Probably Cherry-faced Meadowhawks, but there are some other very similar species. Beautifully lit and very approachable, they kept returning to perch on the same few twigs and grass stems. About twenty quick snaps (digital cameras are so liberating!) were quickly whittled to six, then down to this one.