Thursday, 30 October 2014

Empty Nests

Yesterday, the answer to a small mystery was revealed.

In March, as per usual, the screech owls stopped using their boxes for winter roosting. And also as usual, as spring got underway, the starlings returned and soon got busy hauling nesting material into those boxes. But this time, something was different. The normally competitive starlings didn't squabble over the boxes and in fact, treated them with suspicion. Very strange! Anyway, I kept my beady eyes on the boxes but saw no evidence of anything that might be a threat to them. For the first time, those boxes did not house a new generation of starlings.

Well, yesterday I hauled out my ladder and cleaned refuse from both boxes and added fresh wood shavings -- a sort of welcome mat for the owls, if you like. All was revealed! In the north box, the one most used by the screech owls last winter, broken starling eggs were discovered. And on top of the starling's nesting material was perhaps a dozen screech owl pellets. Aha! I'm sure the owls didn't raise brood in the boxes, but they certainly used them for something! Midnight snacks of starling burgers perhaps?

No starlings were raised here this year.

Screech owl pellets and starling egg shell from box.

A tidy little nest in an elderberry bush.

In May, I watched a Baltimore oriole weave this nest.

A Robin's nest in an ornamental crab tree.

As I notice each exposed nest, I wonder if the babies they cradled were safely fledged. And if so, are they now enjoying warmer climes? Next Spring, at least some of them will return. And they will build their secret nests. And I will walk by them unaware as feathered parents voice their concern.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Dressed In Silver

In previous winters, my honey bee hives were wrapped in tar paper. This year, they are a tad more glamorous, since I'm using aluminum coated bubble wrap, instead.

But the really important change I've made is that the top and bottom boxes are filled with wood shavings to help wick away excess hive moisture.

This winter's fashion is silver lamé.

Shavings filled top boxes have two screened holes per side.

On the 'cat walk', Miss Ellie Mae is cozy in a luxurious tortoiseshell fur.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sumac Appreciation

In this part of the world, the trees have almost finished their role in October's outdoor beauty pageant. The clicking of cameras is tapering off and applause is fading. Leafy gowns are being slowly discarded in a wind swept striptease of twirling and drifting multicoloured patches. Appreciative folk share photos of the extravaganza and declare their favourites.

My vote for best in show is not a tree, but a shrub. The Staghorn Sumac. 

I would name this sumac colour scheme 'Hot Coals'.

Does this remind you of ceremonial feather decorations?

This colour could be 'Show Girl'.

Velvety red fruit candles appear in July.

Flamboyant but undemanding and a provider of summer cover and winter food for birds, the sumac is not just a pretty face.

A drink tasting like lemonade and high in vitamins A and C can be made from the red berries. The dried fruit clusters also make an excellent beekeeper's smoker fuel. In spring, first year shoots (look for a green pith) can be peeled and eaten either raw or cooked. Added to a dried floral arrangement, the velvety red bobs make a festive touch.

So let's have a round of applause for Miss Sumac. Yay-y-y! Hoot! Hoot!


Friday, 10 October 2014

Nightmare Alice

Is that cat really asleep? Yep, out like a light!

Early birds gaze at the sleeping, night-owl cat.

In the grip of a dream, Ellie's paws and whiskers are twitching.

After a night of outdoor adventures, former feral Ellie Mae has finished a hearty breakfast and settled in for a nap. Before long her sleeping body starts to animate. Her paws and whiskers madly twitch. I wonder if, in her dream, she is running after or running away.

In my youth, the Saturday morning comics (referred to by Mom as the coloured section) were a treasure. And one of my favourite comic strips was Li'l Abner by Al Capp. Among his many rustic and imaginative characters, I found 'Nightmare Alice' particularly intriguing. She was delightfully loathsome but also admirably powerful in her own way. She was scrawny with thin arms and oversized hands and feet. Her dirty feet were always bare. She had unkempt black hair and wore a dark, ragged dress. The residents of Dogpatch would scatter in fear as she buzzed them from her frayed old broomstick.

Well, I have a personal Nightmare Alice. No, she is not an actual person, but rather the nickname I give to the director of my bizarre nightly sleep productions. I can almost imagine her cackle as she mischievously orchestrates my dreams into ridiculous situations that I find myself the starring role of. Usually, these works of fiction are centered around people, animals and places from my remote past and bear little resemblance to reality.

The following are typical examples of Alice's sense of humour.

(z-z-z-z) My car is ancient and falling apart as I pump the useless brakes and try to dodge traffic in some strange and congested city. Sometimes as I commute to work, this defective vehicle morphs into a flattened cardboard box that I try to surf along the highway. (Usually with surprising success and surely scoring great gas mileage!) Oh, and there is the always popular scenario of searching for where I parked it and trying to remember what it even looks like.

(z-z-z-z) I'm working in an office but instead of using a computer, I'm typing on a very old pre-electric typewriter. I must very quickly produce (after all, the Minister has a plane to catch) perfect copy in quadruplicate using carbon paper and special letterhead. Well, you can just imagine the mess this task leads to!

(z-z-z-z) I stroll into our barn and discover that for a very long time (yes, years) I've forgotten we have livestock. Dozens of cows and calves are hungry and thirsty (some of them dying) and the stables are in extreme need of cleaning. After emergency feeding/watering, I push the heavily laden wheel barrow up a slippery, narrow plank and out onto the manure pile. But I discover I'm manoeuvering the unbalanced load onto a dangerously steep mountain which is covered in ice and snow.

On rare occasions, Alice is generous enough to allow me super powers -- flying (well, gliding really) and speed swimming with great flippered feet that perform like high powered outboard motors. Bystanders are very impressed!

Morning and awake now, I'm delighted to return to my mundane but safe and happy, privileged reality. If someone asks me, "Sleep well?" I would reply "Yes, but I had a visitor." And my imagination hears a very faint cackle and I can almost catch a glimpse of a departing black and tattered dress. Oh Alice, you are certainly a character!!!

Good morning Sunshine! Sleep well?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Beehive Sandwich

Because I suspect condensation killed my bees last winter, I've become paranoid about moisture control. So, this winter I'm doing everything I can think of to keep them dry. To this end, I've made a sort of beehive anti-moisture sandwich. The hive body will be enclosed by a bottom box that can drain out drips and a top box that will wick out condensation. Desperate measures? Well, yes!

Top Box

Bottom Box

In previous years, each of my inner covers had only one small center hole. And that was covered over with rigid foam insulation. Silly me, the moisture had no place to go but back into the hive and (shudder) onto the bees. Black mold was evident on wooden surfaces. Not good. Not good at all!

Inner covers now have five screened vent openings.

Wood shavings filled vent box is gusseted to the hive body.

Assembled winter moisture control system.

Soon, I'll wrap each hive with foil bubble insulation, but you can be sure I'll be careful not to cover any of those all important vents! From all of this, do you get the feeling that beekeeping is some sort of an obsession/addiction? Guilty as charged!