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."

Friday, 3 February 2017

The February Scene

Yesterday, snow flurries were heavy at times. Late in the afternoon the bluejays were elsewhere and my little screech owl decided it was safe to risk exposure on his/her roost box perch.

My screech owl neighbour enjoys a peaceful rest on it's front porch.

It gazes up at flocks of crows heading to their winter roost location.

The snow does not melt on this well insulated feather coat.

Last Spring, when I first saw my resident red squirrel, I didn't think it had much of a chance at survival. The young animal's left hind leg was only a short stump. There were no older squirrels or siblings in sight so I presumed some calamity to it's family had occurred. I certainly didn't think it would last the winter. Happily, I was mistaken. The disadvantaged little squirrel has not only survived but is doing quite well. While it does not jump as well as an intact squirrel, it can still shuttle about tree branches with remarkable skill. I think it's a male and I've named it 'Timmy'. What a valiant little champion!

Timmy was moving some dried grass to a den in a nearby brush pile.

As he neatens his bundle, you can see his leg stump.

This rustic 'handicap ramp' facilitates feeder access.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Wrongfully Accused

In my previous post, I pointed an accusatory finger at a coyote as the chief suspect in the sudden disappearance of feral tom cat, Ginger Tom. I was wrong. My sincere apologies to the coyote, to his family and to his friends for any embarrassment I may have caused.

When I returned from a grocery run this morning, what did I behold? Sitting on my deck was the missing Ginger Tom. He appeared unharmed and in fact, was not even very hungry after his absence of almost a week. What was I thinking? I've seen this orange tabby in the neighbourhood for quite a few years. Sometimes he would be hunting in a field and sometimes he would be sitting a couple of miles away in a ditch, waiting patiently for a mouse. There are nearby dairy farms where he can likely score a dish of milk. His territory takes in miles and I'm sure he also looks for opportunities to pass on his genes. Ginger Tom has been around the block more than a few times and is nobody's fool.

Where have I been? That's for me to know!

You don't own me, lady, and yes, I'm a man of mystery!

Also being accused--rightly or wrongly--is my roost box visiting screech owl. As it tries to get some shut-eye before it's nightshift of hunting begins, neighbouring birds gather and hurl screams of, "Murderer, murderer, murderer!!" 

The screech owl was using a roost box and trying for a little sunbath.

But local bluejays had formed a mob and were intent on an eviction.

Come on out of there you low-down varmint! Your kind ain't welcome here!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Watch Cat On Duty

...or, who needs a watch dog when one has a perfectly good watch cat?

In the Spring of 2014 my faithful sheltie dog, Henry, passed away. He had reached the very senior age (for shelties) of nearly sixteen. Because I'm now a senior myself, I decided it would be unwise to sign up for more pet responsibilities so I'm unlikely to replace him.

But I'm not without a furry informant. My cat, Ellie Mae, is handily filling that position. She has excellent hearing, and of course, first-rate night vision. Her suspicious nature verges on paranoia. She is ultra vigilant and certainly lets me know if anything is afoot.

Last summer there was evidence that she got into a skirmish with what I expect was a coyote. Wisely, she now spends most of her time indoors. At night while I sleep, she is always on my pillow and on top of my head -- a sort of deluxe night cap. Her two favourite daytime hangouts are padded cat beds, each one located beside a different facing window. With her tense body language and deep growls, she lets me know if there is anything unusual outside. I appreciate her snitching service.

Ellie Mae at one of her lookout stations. Halt!!! Who goes there!?!?

Late yesterday afternoon, she made quite a fuss about something outside. It turned out to be a runaway farm wagon. My neighbour was hauling two wagons in tandem behind his tractor. Each wagon was loaded with white plastic covered round hay bales. While turning the corner into his laneway, the rear wagon became unhitched and rolled across the road and onto my property. Thankfully, no one was injured and there was little damage, other than a dent in my young cedar hedge. This morning my neighbour removed the hay and then the wagon. Ellie Mae has settled back down but still remains vigilant. Thanks for the report, Ellie!

Ellie Mae was growling at something unusual on our property.
A red hay wagon had gone A.W.O.L.

On a sad note, feral tom cat, Ginger Thomas has been missing for several days now. He never became tame but since the summer, he has been a regular fixture at my back door for a morning handout. There are very large coyote/wolf tracks in the snow around my yard. Ellie Mae, you are wise to stay inside!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Garden Feature

This morning was sunny but bitterly cold. The thermometer failed to register much above zero degrees F. But I was delighted to find that my frozen garden had acquired a new feature.

As I prepared breakfast, I noticed an unusual movement in the view from my kitchen window. It was a fox. In the far end of my garden it selected a sunny but secluded spot, turned around a couple of times to make a little bed in the snow and then settled in for a morning's nap. It slept there all morning. Around noon when the sun's rays no longer reached it's bed, it got up and stretched, had a good scratch, a roll in the snow and then moved off to a sunnier location a few feet away.

To my eyes, garden features just don't get any more charming!

Furry ears point in the direction of my kitchen window.

Pawing the snow and turning around to form a bed.

Settling in to a sunny spot for a morning's sleep.

Afternoon shadows have crept over it's bed.

Time to stretch and follow the sunshine.

Ah yes, there is a warmer spot over there!

This is a good bedroom for a little fox -- very private.