Habitat Diversity on Farms
World Habitat Day is October 5th! To help celebrate this day our Farmland Ecology Assistant, Christine, has written about some of the awesome diversity she has seen on this year’s site visits. Her writing clearly shows the diversity of habitat that farms are able to offer, and why it is important to celebrate farms on World Habitat Day as well!
During my time at OFT, I have had the pleasure of visiting farms in the Simcoe, Peel, Wellington and Oxford Regions. OFT staff conduct annual monitoring visits to their protected farms to ensure that easements are being upheld.
On my visits, I was fascinated by the vibrant colours of the fields and forests, and the busy sounds of animals at work. I was particularly amazed by variety of different insects at each farm! With every step I saw butterflies take flight, grasshoppers hopping and heard the buzzing of busy flies and bees.
Watching the world of insects unfold before my eyes was one of my favourite experiences from the field! I saw many of the charismatic pollinators – bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies. One memory I treasure is being surrounded by Monarch butterflies while walking through an agricultural field. It was a truly beautiful and uplifting moment to witness this species at risk in such large numbers!
I also saw many other pollinators such as sweat bees, hoverflies, wasps and moths. Wasps and moths tend to be familiar to most, even if they are not thought of as pollinators. However, hoverflies and sweat bees tend to be lesser known. Many hoverflies are yellow and black and are seen (as their name suggests) hovering around flowers, so they are often mistaken as bees. However, they are in fact flies! If you are wondering how to tell the difference between a bee and a fly, the secret is in their wings – bees have two pairs of wings while flies have one pair.
Some species of sweat bees on the other hand, can be mistaken as flies due to their metallic green or blue colour. However, they have two pairs of wings and are bees. Their name is due to their unusual habit of landing on unsuspecting animals and people to drink sweat to meet their salt nutritional needs. But no need to worry, this is completely harmless!
Another pollinator that I was lucky enough to run into on a farm visit was a hummingbird! The hummingbird was beautiful but extremely busy, and only stuck around to give me a quick nod before continuing with a full schedule of pollination. I was also fortunate to see many other beautiful birds, including woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Black-Capped Chickadees, maneuvering between branches of trees, ducking in and out of the agricultural fields and soaring through the sky.
Of course, I was also impressed by the various species of wildflowers and trees that provide homes and food for all of the interesting fauna I observed. The farms all had goldenrod and milkweed – which are crucial for many pollinators such as the Monarch butterfly – scattered throughout the forested areas and on the borders of the agricultural fields. As well, I was able to observe a few endangered Butternut trees on my farm visits! One of my favourite memories was seeing two baby racoons in a Butternut tree, one nestled comfortably in a nook in the tree and the other skillfully clinging to the trunk of the tree.
All of my experiences in the field this summer and fall have really driven home how important it is to protect Ontario’s farmlands and their adjacent forested areas, which can be havens for a wide range of flora and fauna, including pollinators and species at risk.