Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August Snapshots

With the arrival of August, I already sense the days starting to shorten. This year's extraordinary rainy spell has finally broken and sunshine, strong and steady, prevails. Flowers have responded to the abundant moisture and are showing off with exceptional blooms

Cut a week ago, this cheery bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans still looks fresh.

A honey bee gathering pollen from an Anenome blossom.

Foot long seed pods dangle from one of my Honey Locust trees.

One of the perks of keeping honey bees is the accumulation of hive parts which can be repurposed. I found a new use for the little pieces of wood used in frames to retain wax sheets. Already, my backyard birds are enjoying this contraption.

Six little sticks that once held beeswax sheets in honey frames have a new calling.

Frame strips see the light of day as a deluxe feeder perch and beak wiper.

A Downy Woodpecker kindly puts seeds in reach of a young Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Into his moult phase, father Rose-breasted Grosbeak appears rather bedraggled.

The cage excludes seed tossing bigger birds but admits these American Gold Finches.

The City of Ottawa just waved farewell to 'La Machine'. This was live theatre entertainment from France in which two gigantic robots (a spider and a horse/dragon) stalked the downtown streets with it's own orchestra and special effects.

Very clever and entertaining, but I have my own version of huge metal beasts prowling outside. The road beside my home has been ripped up and massaged for a new roadbed and surface. There are gravel trucks and graders and water tankers and roller/compacter machines that shake the earth, including the foundation my house. Dishes rattle on the counter and coffee dances in my cup. I must admit, it is beginning to wear a little on my nerves.

At end of this operation, I'll have a lovely new road to travel, but I'll be glad when the machinery finishes the job and moves elsewhere. The novelty has worn off!

The roller/compactor machine I call 'Bone Rattler' retires for the evening.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Soggy Summer

So far this year, Ottawa has seen 95 days with rain (out of 191). That's the most precipitation since Environment Canada started record keeping. I certainly cannot recall a wetter year. Between rains, I scurry outside for a walk-about and to do some yard work but the mosquitoes are extra bad this year, and also seem to be extra ravenous.

The record rainfall rendered my vegetable garden's clay soil too soggy for the rotor tiller this Spring. Consequently, poppies and other self seeding flowers are growing wild where there would typically be Swiss chard, beets, peas, onions and lettuce. Well, I did manage to plant some tomatoes that I started from seed in the house in late winter, but whether they get enough sun to ripen is another matter.

Poppies and wildflowers (weeds) have taken over my vegetable patch.

I expect a reduction in my honey harvest as well. Rainy days prevent the bees from foraging. Instead, they stay in their dwellings and consume their groceries. And I can relate to that, myself!

The flowers are thriving with all this rain. Cheerful looking hollyhocks.

My flower border's Monarda looks especially perky.

This cherry tree was planted decades ago by my father.

It's sweet fruit pleases Robins, Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings and, of course, myself.

Sumac bobs are now plump and colourful.

2017 is not the best foraging year for my honey bees.

Another rainy morning as a dainty visitor browses through my garden.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer Solstice

For anyone living north of the equator, today is our longest day of the year. My patch will receive sixteen hours of daylight. Perhaps that explains why I wasn't sleepy last night. My internal clock is in summer mode.

And, of course, the summer solstice brings summer delights. A large and modern new grocery store has opened in the nearby village of Winchester, Ontario. It's parking lot not only has a fresh and smooth paved surface but an eye-catching new landscape feature. Beautiful roses are planted throughout. I was smitten by the gorgeous purplish-pink double blooms and simply had to stroll over and take a sniff. Their fragrance was wonderful! Amid the thorny stems, a single metal tag had escaped the landscapers. It read, Rosa rugosa 'Hansa'. Lickity split, on my next foray into Ottawa, I bought three pots of it from a garden centre. And even before I planted the roses, my honey bees had found the pots and were checking out the yellow stamens amid the magenta blooms.

Front and back views of a tag on my new rose acquisition.

Speaking of honey bees, last week I opened the hive split that did not receive a queen and was happy to see that it had made one of it's own. I did not actually eyeball a queen, but there was solid evidence that one was in residence. The hive workers were relaxed and hummed contentedly. The sight of eggs in new comb was conclusive queen-right proof. A single egg had been placed precisely in the bottom and centre of each new brood cell. Only the long abdomen of a queen could perform this technical feat. All is well in my little apiary.

Also among the pleasures of summer are lovely, fresh bouquets. Presently, these are provided by peonies, planted by my mother many decades ago. Not only outrageously showy, they produce an exquisite rose-like fragrance.

I can picture this magenta beauty decorating a girl's summer party hairdo.

The wonderful fragrance of this pink peony would rival any rose.

Fresh bouquets of peonies grace my kitchen window sill. Thank you, Mom.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A New Customer

Wild elderberry shrubs have sprung up in several places around my grounds. They have pretty white blossoms that develop into sweet little berries. Gray Catbirds love these berries and quite likely have deposited the seeds that formed the shrubs in the first place. So it was no real surprise when I noticed the fruit loving catbirds checking out my grape jelly feeder. They feed from each little pot in turn and then head off somewhere, presumably to share with a nesting female. My orioles and catbirds have already polished off one 500 ml bottle of Welch's Concord Grape Jelly and are well into a second one. Word has spread among my feathered customers and business is brisk!

A Gray Catbird arrives to check out the grape jelly feeder.

You can almost see a smile on it's beak!

Yum-m-m! Even sweeter than the elderberries!

A female Baltimore Oriole wolfs down her share.

Good stuff, eh? I like a little on a cracker and cheese, myself!

Friday, 2 June 2017

June Treasures

I try to limit the number of pictures for each post to five or seven. But this time, I couldn't pare down those of my treasures to less than ten. Note to self -- post more often!

Another showery morning and Ellie Mae ponders how to spend the day.

On a nest hidden by virginia creeper vines, a Mourning Dove eyes my passing.

When she flew off, her treasure was revealed.

Nearby and hidden in the grass, a pair of Tree Sparrows tend three tiny speckled eggs.

A kind gift from my sister, this little hanging bird house harbours a House Wren nest.

It looks like bluebird feathers were used to cushion the cinnamon-brown eggs.

On a St. Lawrence River inlet, Canada Geese parents chaperone 21 fluffy babies.

Stretches of my grounds contain wild strawberries. I can almost taste them now!

My honey bees vary in colour as seen on these two workers using Mountain Ash blossoms.

At least a half dozen Baltimore Orioles frequent my grape jelly feeder. What dazzling colour!!

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.