Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Flowers: Tamarack Larch

Tamarack in April

There are a few stands of Tamarack trees in our region. This native tree, also called the American Larch is a deciduous coniferous tree. Its needles turn yellow and drop each autumn and in the spring, fresh new needles and flowers appear. I took the above picture at the end of April about a week before our other deciduous trees came into leaf.

On the same tree, fully opened cones from the previous season remained on the branches, their seeds fallen or about to be dispersed by the wind. The cones are small and average in size between one to two centimetres in length.

Riverside Park, Cambridge Ontario

This has been one of the best winter birding trails I have discovered this year. It has been easy to walk and is within the city limits. A well maintained boardwalk goes through a swampy area and over Riverside Creek which empties into the Speed River. Along the way are signs which list trees, plants, birds, animals and amphibians found in the area. Tamarack Green Alder trees are plentiful in this swampy ground and are easily identified by the hundreds of tiny cones on the bare branches. (I am correcting this in May 2009 as the leaves are coming out proving that the trees on the boardwalk are not Tamaracks)

Common Redpolls extracting seeds from Alders

A huge flock of mixed winter finches arrived while I watched. Common Redpolls, Goldfinches, House Finches, and White-winged Crossbills descended noisily on the cones and worked to extract the tiny seeds. The sky was heavy and grey and not great for pictures, but the view with binoculars was very interesting.

Here are some Alder "cones" and seeds beside a Canadian quarter for scale. (The Canadian quarter is the same size as the American quarter!) The cones seem to be very plentiful this year, but I have never been here until recently to make a true comparative observation.

The Alder trees are not large in height or diameter and grow alongside birch, dogwood, highbush cranberry, grasses and rushes. I am really looking forward to exploring this area in the spring.

American Robin, January 22, 2009

I came here looking for a few more birds to add to my January list. I had in mind a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, a Horned Lark and perhaps a Pine Grosbeak or owl, all of which have eluded me this month. Instead I found two White-throated Sparrows, a Winter Wren and a group of American Robins. I have never seen these birds in the winter before.

My January list stands at 55 birds and my goal is still 60. We will see what this last week of the month will bring my way.


  1. That poor, crazy robin!

  2. You have a wonderful blog! I wandered over here from Winterwomans blog- and am glad I did!

  3. Anonymous9:12 am GMT-5

    Is this the first robin of spring?

  4. I enjoyed reading the link on tamarask larch trees and learning about them. Great photos! The poor robin does look cold. Hope you meet your birding goal.

  5. What a treasure to have such a trail within city limits.
    Wow--the city planners sure know how to do things right. . .at least in this regard.
    Poor robin looks a bit cold, all plumped up.

  6. A lovely spot to go birding! I do hope you make your 60 birds. What a lot of variety. I have all of 11 for our area.

  7. Anonymous1:54 pm GMT-5

    I love the way the yellow tamaracks looked out west when I lived there, mixed in with the spruce, it was like a gorgous big needlepoint or something, all over the foothills. Great bird photos and an impressive list! Hope you make 60!

  8. There are so many things I could comment on here; I love the angle that you took the Robin photo from.

    Tamaracks could easily become my favourite tree, if I had to limit myself. We have planted two along our driveway. Their beauty in the fall is so soft and gentle and a stand of them colour a landscape so beautifully. They are/were also called them by the name Hackmatack, and were used for shipbuilding here in the Maritimes.

    Your favourite winter trail looks like a lovely place to walk. I don't have such a trail to follow and do most of my winter birding out windows; either from my home or car.

  9. Anonymous7:07 pm GMT-5

    Thanks to you, I have come to enjoy that same trail and like you I too am excited to see what spring has to offer.
    There certainly is an abundance of pines cones this year. I wonder if they produce more in some years as in others.

    I had a Robin in my backyard about a month or so ago. I though it was very strange he was here. Do some of them stay over winter?

    You know I rooting for you to reach you count of 60 - HAPPY BIRDING!

  10. I believe I saw a few of these trees this winter and wondered what they were. They looked like some kind of dead pine tree with pine cones hanging off of them.-It seems like you are making the best out of winter-nice post swith the description and comparison photo.-I hope you enjoy the final push to reach your goal-and get there!

  11. The Larch is an interesting tree.I really like the spring photos of it.With all those cones food must be plentiful for the finches.

  12. AC- The bird is as crazy as we are for staying around in the winter.

    Dee- Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    SG- I think it is the last robin of winter. Our spring arrivals show up around mid March.

    Janie- Thanks. I did reach my goal today :-)

    KGMom- We have higher taxes in Canada, but our cities have many beautiful free parks and trails. I try to take advantage of all the things the government spends my money on.

    CS- I was trying to find a winter birding list for your area on the internet. I found one for Ontario and used it as a guide for what to for.

    Deborah- We don't have enough Tamarack here to really make a landscape. But I will pay more attention to this stand in the autumn.

    Ann- You added some interesting information. I believe Larch is the English name and Tamarack the native Canadian name for this tree. Hackmatack sounds native as well. The light was awful for the robin pictures and I got only one that was half decent. Lucky pose!

    Cheryl- sending you an email...

    Larry- I may surpass my goal, but maybe I should let up so I can beat it next year.

    Ruth- Tamaracks in the spring are very lovely. The cones are very plentiful on many conifers this year.

  13. So much beauty out there -we have only to stop and look. Wonderful pics, as usual. Will the robins survive?

  14. Ruth,

    Love the photos. I have visited this park before and it is a nice place. I think I'll see if hubby is up to going for a drive. Probably not until the weather warms up a little though. Our frigid temperatures are supposed to come back overnight.

    I do hope you make your bird count quota of 60. You don't have far to go. Great job!


  15. How beautiful they are Ruth. If I were a betting person, I would lean towards your getting to that 60 mark!

  16. It's great to have a local trail or park you can rely on, even in the heart of winter.

  17. This was very informative! I belonged to a choir whose name was Tamarack. I never really knew why this name was chosen. I did a bit of research and found out it was a tree - but you've really given us lots of good info along with pics. I wonder if we have any Tamaracks here in Quebec? Will check into it.
    Your little robin looks like he's playing peek-a-boo!

  18. You are well on your way, Ruth. Your life list is probably twice as long as mine. I should be on the trails as often as you.

    Good job!

  19. That does look like a great place to walk and you have quite a list going Ruth

  20. Ruth, this post is wonderful. I love your park and your birds. Congratulations! You are an inspiration!

    I am not very good at keeping lists. I always think I will, but it doesn't happen. I enjoy the moment with the bird then I don't record the experience. I'm just going to have to start to write it down!

  21. Ruth, what a lovley walk and wonderful pictures. I want to walk this trail with you! I also can't believe you found a robin that far north in winter! Brrr! he must be a Canadian Robin! And I miss Tamarack trees. They don't grow this far south!

  22. Chances are that you will be more adept at reaching a goal next year.-You learn more about what to find where in January from practice.-Since you only do this once a year it is the tradition that takes on more meaning than the numbers.-


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