Earlier this year I had an article published in a local cottager magazine on ‘soft mast’, otherwise known as wild berries (as opposed to ‘hard mast’, like nuts and acorns). Mostly on how important berries were for wildlife, and the fact that many are also quite tasty for us humans. Although there are many different species of wild berries in our neighborhood, many are uncommon, or at best, not well known by most people.
One of the reasons why many wild berries don’t seem to be abundant is that when wildlife is having a good year, the berries are eaten by something as they ripen, or even before. So people don’t see them. And it’s only when berries are super-abundant – like blueberries often are – that there’s a reasonably good chance for us to reap the bounty of the harvest.
Biologists know how important berries are for wildlife, and in Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (they changed the name recently from simply Ministry of Natural Resource, or MNR) tries to keep track of the relative abundance of soft and hard mast. It’s just a guess based on staff observations, but as an indices of abundance, it serves its purpose.
We’ve been watching a few bushes of serviceberry (also known as Saskatoon berries; botanists call this shrub Amelanchier) in our yard this year because they have a good lot of berries that have been mostly disease free and were coming along nicely. Alas, the other evening a family of purple finches descended on them and in about an hour munched all the berries that were starting to show some colour. Good for the birds.
Fortunately, from my perspective, I’ve found a couple of places where there are serviceberries, pin cherries and blueberries all together and in abundance, so it looks like the preserves in our household will be getting a boost, regardless of what takes place in the yard.
I like that!