Sunday, 18 September 2016


A couple of days ago I executed some seasonal beekeeping manoeuvers.

I performed a final sugar shake mite count sampling for the year on both hives and was satisfied that mite levels were low enough to forego treatment until next Spring. Also, I had to unstack the boxes from each hive to replace the summer's screened bottom boards with solid, winter ones. The empty vent boxes under the roofs were replaced with ones filled with insulating and moisture wicking wood shavings. By early November I'll envelope each hive in a winter wrap.

Each colony now contains about 50,000 honey bees. During the necessary invasion of their domicile, the usual content and peaceful hum turned into angry bee buzzing war cries. Nothing perturbing to a bee keeper clad in good old protective gear.

Some hive box disarray during my beehive winter preparations.

Not recommended without a protective beekeeping suit and veil.

This year's queen is painted with a white dot. She tooted her hunting horn for me.

But the interesting event (and the reason for the quirky title on this post) is that after I had smoked one of the boxes to encourage the bees to go from the top of the frames into the depths of them and avoid being accidentally crushed during box restacked was what I heard. The unmistakable sound of the queen tooting! I've heard some beekeepers refer to this queen call as 'quacking' but it reminds me very much of a distant call from a fox hunting horn.

Huntsman John Tabachka demonstrates the calls on the fox hunting horn in the following video.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Minor Damage

Wowee, did we ever get a storm here last night! High winds, heavy rain and almost continuous thunder and lightning. There were times the flashes were so bright and constant it looked like daylight outside. The television kept displaying public service warnings of possible tornadoes in this area and to seek immediate shelter. Scary stuff!!!

A walkabout survey this morning revealed no major damage but my lovely sweet pea vines were certainly brutalized. At least I had captured a few pics of them the previous day.

Sweet pea flowers make fragrant and colourful bouquets.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Smells Like Bacon

At this time of year there is a change in the air around my bee hives. I'm referring to the distinctive scent which I can only describe as being similar to that of raw bacon. In a way, it is raw meat for it emanates from the bodies of unborn drones being ripped from their cells and tossed outside the hive. Winter preparations by the worker bees include this practice of autumn drone eviction. The boys played no part in gathering honey or pollen for the colony and they will not be allowed to partake of their sisters' provisions. The ground in front of the hives is littered with drone bodies. During the night, my resident skunks will likely clean up. When winter is on the way, there is no social security for male honey bees.

Born and unborn, these honey bee drones were murdered by their sisters.

The area in front of my hives is littered with dead drones.

Worker honey bees harvesting licorice mint nectar.

Goldenrod flowers are one of the later of the nectar crops to bloom.

The honey bee drones may lack a social security safety net, but there are two animals in my neighbourhood that are covered. Feral tomcat, Ginger Tom and young red squirrel, Timmy, do get a pension of sorts.

Ginger Tom has been demoted in the pecking order of the feral tom cat community. The younger and stronger black and white cat I call "Chico" calls the shots now. Some weeks back I noticed that Ginger Tom was limping along with a forepaw held well off the ground. There was a fresh scar on his forehead and his thin frame made quite a pathetic picture. How could anyone deny the poor lad a war pension? He knows that if he waits on my deck in the early morning or early evening, a meal allowance will materialize. So far, he hasn't rewarded me with a friendly meow or a cat's version of a smile -- the upward tail. When I go outside with his meal tray, he hides under the deck and doesn't come out until he hears the door shut behind me after I go back into the house. But I don't begrudge him this simple fund. We all need a little help at times.
Ginger Tom nervously checks over his shoulder.

A more virile looking Ginger Tom in January, 2014.

Today with thinner cheeks and a lighter summer coat, the ear scars are the same.

Waiting for the soup kitchen to open.

His paw has obviously healed well enough to climb and peer into my window.

Young red squirrel, Timmy, is another matter entirely. His left hind foot is missing. There is only a short stump attached to that hip and it appears to have healed over from some injury. There is no sign of parent or sibling. I suspect he is his family's only survivor. He can't manage branch leaps with only one hind foot. When upset that a cat is nearby, he chatters and stamps both his real foot and his imaginary one. I suppose the sunflower seeds and peanuts he receives here will help, but I doubt that his long term chances of survival are good.

Young red squirrel, Timmy, is missing most of his left hind leg.

He will need good luck as well as a disability allowance to survive the winter.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Lawn Service

We finally received some much needed rain, bringing an end to months of oppressive heat and severe drought. Our brittle lawns no longer crackle under foot and the air has a wonderful, freshly laundered fragrance. 

Starlings, grackles and red-winged blackbirds have vacated these summer breeding grounds and are now further south. Among our remaining birds is a colourful woodpecker, the Northern Flicker. Over the past few weeks, a female of the yellow-shafted variety has been providing me with a complimentary lawn service of pest control and soil aeration.

Bill deep in my patchy lawn, she probes for edibles.

You can see why this flicker is the yellow-shafted version.

She pulls out an item that might be a spider.

A quick check for danger before resuming her treasure hunt.

Jackpot! A plump and juicy grub. Sweet!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Summer Sweets

A few days ago I pulled some honey from my hives. This early harvest was quite mild, in fact wine tasters would likely pronounce it "lacking in character". Still, an early sweet treat that when drizzled over a small dish of salted peanuts makes a very satisfying snack. 

A jar of early honey becomes an amber jewel.

Two little fliers zoom in on a freshly filled nectar feeder.

Sugar water drips do not go to waste.

I like to train my binoculars on the edge of the hay field at the back of our property.

This coyote was focused on something to the south and ignored me completely.

Among the many joys of summer are fresh and cheerful bouquets.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Jimmy or Jenny?

I have quite a soft spot for skunks. Their black and white coat is elegant haute couture. They help keep rodent populations in check and you have to admire their natural ability to use 'bear spray' if threatened. Skunks and I have shared many walkabouts and I must say, they have been nothing but polite to me. My cat, Ellie Mae, prefers them to other cats.

When I was about five, I saw my first litter of baby skunks tottering behind their foraging mother and was forever smitten by their cuteness. As children, we thoroughly enjoyed the series of fictional animal adventure books by Thornton W. Burgess. One of these was titled 'The Adventures Of Jimmy Skunk'. Consequently, we tend to label each skunk we see with the nickname of Jimmy.

Early some mornings, I spy my resident Jimmy stopping by a little pond for a drink before denning up for the day. I notice that the animal has a bulge that could either be a full stomach or a baby bump. Perhaps 'Jenny' would be a more appropriate name. 

Jimmy skunk takes an early morning drink from my backyard tub.

He seems to check for edibles that might live around the water.

Could that be a baby bump or just a well fed stomach?

A few years ago, I had fun sculpting this little character from polymer clay.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Ol' MacDonald ...

... E-I-E-I-O.

We have farmer neighbours whose family name is MacDonald. But these days, the lyrics from the famous old children's song wouldn't describe their farm. No 'oink, oink' or 'cluck, cluck'. They have only one species of farm animal and that is dairy cows. Lots of them!

They raise pure bred Holstein cattle and the milk cows have recently moved into a brand new dairy barn. One of the owners kindly gave me a tour of their new building. I was gob-smacked at the level of automation.

The new, ultra-modern barn has two robotic milking stations, each capable of milking seventy-five cows several times a day or night. The robots keep track of precise data including volume and quality of the milk each cow produces and her daily weight. The cows voluntarily enter the milking station for a tasty treat, dispensed if they are due to be milked. Each cow wears an electronic tag, enabling the milking station to recognize her. If a scan of her ID tag indicates the cow is due to be milked, a yummy feed reward is dispensed in an amount customized to her production data. The robot then cleans her teats, attaches the milk cups and milking commences. If the cow is not due to be milked, no treat is given and the gates open to release her.

Not only is the milking chore fully automated but so is feeding, stable cleaning and even grooming. Not for the first time, I wonder "How can the future possibly improve on this?"

At most farms, there is the occasional sound of a cow bawling. During my visit to this particular farm, I heard not a moo from the herd. They were content. And why not? They walk on rubber flooring and bed down on dry sand. They were relaxed and friendly, well fed, nicely groomed and content to enjoy their pampered modern lives.

The feed mixture smelled wonderful. These cows seem to agree.

A cow enjoys her dairy ration while being automatically milked.

View from the milking station.

Milk collection unit.

Dairyman Shawn, chats as his robotic feed mill distributes cattle feed.

The milk cows are free to feed whenever they want.

Newly freshened and about to freshen cows lounge nearby.

The cows choose to lie down on beds of sand.

Throughout the barn are automatic grooming brushes.

Some of this year's future dairy stars.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Buzz'n And Flutter'n

I'm continuing to monitor my honey bees with the sugar shake mite count. So far, I have found zero mites. July and August is the time when mites reach their highest levels, concurrent with the peak volume of honey bee brood cells that varroa mites reproduce in. I'll continue regular mite sampling checks until the hives are wrapped for the winter.

But I noticed that the great majority of returning worker bees are favouring the top entrance over the bottom board entrance. And traffic jams were occurring during peak foraging hours. So I gave each top box an additional two entrances. Bee traffic is flowing much better now.

When I added a box to each hive, I used thawed frames of honey near the box sides and empty frames for new comb and brood in the center portion. Some of the honey was dripping a bit and the sweet scent lured a hummingbird. She spend a few minutes searching for the source, then gave up and returned to the flowers.

My honey bees are making good use of the two additional entrances.

A hummingbird is drawn to the sweet scent of newly added honey frames.

The nest of Yellowthroat warblers now contains three newly hatched babies (all legitimate, not a cowbird among them). They are growing incredibly fast, thanks to their devoted parents. In only a couple of days their tiny naked wings have sprouted pin feathers. The parents seem to have gotten used to my occasional and brief inquisitive visits and only issue token scoldings.

Only days old, these Yellowthroat warbler babies are growing remarkably fast.

A tree swallow delivering food to his youngsters.

Feral Ginger Thomas is not chatting but licking his lips after a hearty meal.