Thursday, 18 May 2017

What's With The Attitude?

On Tuesday morning I split my overwintered hive of bees into two separate colonies. I found the queen and recorded which box she now resides in. I made sure the queenless hive had plenty of brood, nurse bees and eggs which, when furnished with royal jelly, should produce a new queen. During this invasive operation, the bees were remarkably docile and a pleasure to work with.

One of the hive boxes was a 'deep' or brood box, which contained 9 9/16 inch frames. Because I like lighter boxes and only one uniform frame size, I cut the bottoms off to form medium frames (6 5/8 inches). These cut off portions were empty so I set them a short walk away to await wax rendering.

That evening, I took a stroll out to the beehives to see if everyone had settled into their new digs. As I passed by the little stack of cut-offs, I noticed a fist sized cluster of bees on one of them.  Thinking they were as gentle as they were earlier that day, I picked up the cut-off wax portion, bees and all and walked them back to the hives. As soon as I set them on the board on the hive stand, they let out a collective war whoop and attacked. Last year, I didn't get a single sting but now I could feel a half dozen jabs on my scalp and chin. A quick retreat to the house ended the onslaught. But I was puzzled. What's with the attitude, girls?

This morning I put on my protective gear and checked to see if the wayward bees had found their way back into the hives. They had not! I took a closer look at the still clustered and agitated little group. All was revealed!

Almost all of the stray worker bees on this comb had their abdomens poked into cells and were trying to lay eggs. They had become laying workers! Away from their queen and the scent of open brood within the hives, they decided to become queens themselves. These aspiring little workers could never be real queens. Their unfertilized eggs can only develop into drones, not more workers. Confusion/futility/desperation had made this little band of strays hot tempered. No wonder they had copped an attitude.   

The hive on the right contains a queen. It's neighbour must make it's own.

A frame cut-off has attracted a small wayward band of honey bees.

A close inspection reveals worker bees trying to lay eggs. No future there!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Welcome Back Vacationers

A familiar sound made me look up from my morning's porridge. Sure enough, perched outside my window was a Baltimore Oriole. Again she burbled out her question. Likely, she was merely keeping contact with her mate or checking her window reflection. But I imagined she had just returned from the south and was asking if jelly was still on offer here. Of course, I had to put aside my breakfast and hustle out with an order of grape jelly. Almost before I was back inside, she had a good feed of the sweet offering and was joined by her mate.

A female Baltimore Oriole eagerly samples freshly served grape jelly.

Her mate quickly follows suit. Grape jelly has been added to my grocery list!

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks have also recently returned from their southern migration and are making use of my feeders. 

A pair of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks reacquaint themselves with this old feeder.

Mrs. RBG looks very different from her conspicuous partner.

These migrating friends are certainly a welcome sight but I can't underestimate the charm of the local wildlife that enriches my yard the whole year long.

Flocks of bouncy American Gold-Finches are among my favourites and for them especially, I plant sunflowers and cosmos. Most of the males have now molted into their dazzling breeding plumage.

A venetian blind reflection subdues the brilliance of this male Goldfinch.

During this past winter, I never saw any rabbit tracks at all in the snow. I did, however, see lots of coyote tracks. Some of them were huge, looking more like wolf tracks. I've read that all coyotes in the eastern part of North America are now coyote/wolf hybrids. Last week I saw a very large one running across a field. It occurred to me that I have not seen any feral cats lately. Coincidence? So I was delighted to spot a smallish cotton-tailed rabbit munching on my lawn's dandelion leaves one morning. Well done, little chap. I'll gladly share my garden asparagus with you.

A young cotton-tail enjoying my lawn's dandelion leaves.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Backyard Crime

For the past few days I've been wondering why my Eastern Phoebes have stopped singing. A pair of them have recently constructed a lovely little moss clad nest under the roof of a tractor shed. This morning I saw something that explained the silence. Five little white eggs lay punctured and on the ground near their nest. They were vandalized.

Two of the Eastern Phoebe eggs found punctured and discarded on the ground.

The nest's eggs were almost certainly destroyed by a House Wren.

This Phoebe will have to start over with a second nest. Better luck next time!

What tyrant could have done such a mean thing? My main suspect is that cute and chatty little character, the House Wren. They are known to harass larger birds, to puncture their eggs and to kill the young and even the adults. No wonder squabbles and shrieks can be heard among the feathered community in breeding season. The neighbourhood is awash with avian crime. A defense lawyer could proclaim, "My client is pleading insanity due to instinct."

A House Wren stuffing apartment #4 with cedar twigs.

Mr. Wren is certainly cute and dapper but also aggressive and mercurial.

The Phoebes will likely re-nest and try again. And perhaps tonight a foraging skunk will be happy to find those eggs and enjoy a protein rich snack. Even misfortune can benefit someone.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Spring Beauties

Yesterday a window of fair weather opened in our otherwise lengthy stretch of rain. My camera and I took a hike to our bush lot. The trees were still mostly bare but the ground was carpeted with wild flowers -- primarily Spring-Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

Spring-Beauties may be one source of pink pollen collected by my honey bees.

A Brown Thrasher has been belting out medleys from my garden's tree tops.

His mimicry is impressive. Some songs are copied from species living further south.

A rabbit enjoying some young and tender dandelion leaves.

A male Tree Swallow staking a claim to one of my three dozen bird boxes.

Never used by Martins, for which this house was built, a House Wren shows interest.

He loudly chatters out an invitation to any and all ladies of his kind.

Monday, 10 April 2017

April Buzz

Each Spring, beekeepers in this cold part of the world nervously assess their colony winter survival rates. My reveal was hardly a surprise since I'd been keeping a close eye (well, ear) on them all along. My honey bee hives are located only a few steps from my house.

Last year I had two colonies. One fell silent before winter even began, while it's neighbour buzzed and hummed happily within it's dwelling throughout the frigid months. Both hives had large populations and low mite counts. Both hives were heavy with honey stores. Yesterday's autopsy on the failed hive provided no clue. I could see no sign of disease or robbing. I saw no evidence of mold or excess moisture but simply large clusters of dead bees inside and a pile of dead bees on the ground in front. Were they poisoned? Did something happen to their queen? I may never know.

Meanwhile, I'm very glad to see that it's sister hive is flourishing. Busy little workers are already hauling in water and light yellow pollen and perhaps sap from broken tree branches. From this robust hive I plan to make at least two additional colonies next month

Worker honey bees begin an early morning foray.

As the morning advances, a traffic jam forms at the entrance.

After I widened the entrance, traffic flowed much better.

The girls really hustled and bustled on this warm April day.

Oh little lady, where did you find that butter coloured pollen?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

An Abundance Of Mice

It seems that mice are extra plentiful this year. I recently cleaned and readied over thirty bluebird/tree swallow nesting boxes. At least half of them contained mice nests, some with live mice inside. One box contained the bodies of three mice, which I'm thinking must have been stashed there by something. Coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks and crows all seem plump and happy that mice are abundant. Predators should be able to raise healthy families this year.

This mouse nest had a deluxe bed made of milkweed silk.

Exposed, a meadow mouse peers out in fright before jumping out of the box.

The bodies of two voles and one deer mouse were found in one of the boxes.

I have no ill feelings toward rodents of any kind. In fact I wish them only good health and happiness for the duration of their short lives. They are an important part of nature's food chain and have as much right to life as anyone. That being said, my goodwill does end when they enter my house. I never see any in my living quarters. They would be unwise to risk an encounter with my watch cat, Ellie Mae. But the basement seems to be a point of entry for them and that is where I keep a trap waiting with potentially their last meal of sunflower seeds, hot glued to the bait pan. Any mice that are only caught but not fatally injured are released outside. Dead ones are put out for the first taker, which is usually a bluejay.

This cute little chap became the season's 65th mouse trap victim.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Janitorial Duties

This handsome American Robin is looking for sumac seeds.

He will be lucky to find anything worthwhile on this decimated shrub.

In this, the last week of March, I'm getting anxious to inspect and clean out all of my bird boxes. In coming weeks, Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows will be returning and looking for suitable cavities to nest in. Putting on my janitor hat, these little apartments must be made ready for their inspection and approval.

The Eastern Screech Owls have now abandoned the two boxes they used over winter for roosting and for caching prey. Their preferred nesting location remains a mystery but is far enough away that I no longer hear their calls at night. I wish them success in raising their babies, wherever they are. Since the owls have not chosen the boxes for brooding, I'm adding entrance reducers to exclude European Starlings, which can be somewhat messy. Each autumn, the larger entrances are reopened and the welcome mat is back out for my favourite little nocturnal friends.

A pair of White-breasted Nuthatches considered this box for nesting.

Also, a pair of House Sparrows showed more than passing interest.

European Starlings had claimed ownership of this box.

Spring inspection and alteration in progress.

Sorry Mr. Starling, I've changed the locks. Landlady privilege.

A mouse started this nest in the Fall but never moved in.

A typical House Wren nest -- chock-a-block with twigs and peppered with spider egg sacs.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Usual Crowd

On this morning's CBC Ottawa radio broadcast, a weather reporter declared that March came in like a wet lion. I would call it more of a wet lamb. We have mild weather and lots of rain. Much of our snow has melted away. The usual crowd of birds are now returning from their winter vacations. Their early morning songs declare that winter's days are numbered.

Red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds forage in mixed flocks.

Starlings are all business as they energetically probe the lawn for edibles.

A soft maple tree now resembles a scene from the Hitchcock film, 'The Birds'.

The same tree still provides my red squirrel with nutritious maple keys.

Last week on this maple, my screech owl was scolded by two nuthatches.

Ellie Mae and my knees will soon part company when Spring beckons us outside.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Two Guys On A Bench

Some years back, my talented crafting friend and former co-worker introduced me to the versatility of polymer clay. She used it to make beads for her jewellery hobby. Her creations are absolutely amazing and sumptuous to the max. My use of the clay, however, is geared more to the creation of small and whimsical sculptures.

Yesterday I finished another one. This time my subject is two men on a bench. They do not represent anybody in particular, just two random guys having a discussion. As I work the clay, their personalities develop. I imagine walking past them somewhere and eavesdropping on them a little. Are they related? I don't see a resemblance. I think they are about a generation apart in age. The older chap seems to have a hearing impairment but is keen (or polite) to follow the conversation. The younger man is wearing a sweat suit but also sandals, so I assume his costume is for comfort and not for jogging. And what are they talking about? Politics? Relationships? Health? Adventures from days gone by?

Each figure begins with a roughed out base over a wire armature.

Adding clay and shaping develops a unique little personality.

I fashioned a bench from popsicle sticks and posed the 'dolls'.

Feet with socks are next.

Shoes go over the socks.

All dressed, the guys are ready for a gab fest.

Yellow shirt's pectoral muscles are too feminine. Reduction surgery is scheduled.

"Try telling that to kids today! Well, they wouldn't believe you! They just wouldn't!"

"Uh, huh."