Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cold Feet

These past few days the temperature has dipped well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Understandably, many of my backyard birds are feeling chilly. The Ring-necked Pheasants are not native to North America but were imported here from warmer climes in Asia. So they in particular, are experiencing cold feet. As they forage for seeds, they warm one foot at a time by holding them up close to their bodies.

Not one-legged birds, they are simply warming one foot at a time.

The male pheasant seems to be wearing a warmer skirt than the female.

Searching for a safe and sunlit roosting spot.

A Mourning dove seems to be testing the water temperature with it's toes.

Each winter I use a low wattage water heating element in the bowl of one of my bird baths. This ensures an ice free drinking source which I clean and refill each morning. Judging by the high volume of patrons I know this small contribution is much appreciated.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Table For Two

I had not seen the male ring-necked pheasant (whom I've named Ringo) for a few days and so I was beginning to think he'd found better pickings elsewhere. Then, this afternoon, I was surprised and delighted to see that he was back -- and this time with a lady friend.

Mrs. R: Well, this looks like a nice place.

Mr. R: Just don't let that pesky little squirrel push you around.

Mrs. R: I'd like to see the little brat try!

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Good Sign In The Dead Of Winter

When temperatures plunge well below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it's always reassuring to see a rim of frost around the upper entrance of a honey bee hive. This evidence of frozen bee breath proves the colony is alive and well. Of course I already knew this from listening to the collective hum of the bee cluster inside. This morning all of my three hives were humming a contented tune. They are producing heat by shivering their flight muscles and it's marvelous that during our very cold winter nights, the centre of their cluster is as warm as a mid-summer's day.

On a frosty morning, a bee hive's top entrance has frozen crystals of bees breath.

Yet again, my learned cousin and beekeeping expert came up trumps in advice. For the final filtering stage of beeswax, he uses and recommends milk filters. In 2014 I recovered over 30 pounds of beeswax. Last week I melted and ran the wax through coffee maker baskets. The wax looked pretty clean but after remelting and passing it through the milk filters I could see that it really does remove the finer particles. Excellent tip, Cuz! The next step will be making hand-dipped taper candles. I love the sweet fragrance of the warm bees wax and the feeling of connecting to a practice extending back to the middle ages. 

Milk filters removing the finer debris in beeswax.

Keeping me company while I putter the winter away, my furry pal Ellie Mae follows me from room to room. I would love to know her background but she keeps these secrets to herself. And anyway, a lady should be allowed her own privacy, shouldn't she?

Ellie Mae takes her role of companion cat seriously.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Meals Of Choice

Just before dawn this morning, I noticed some activity at the screech owl box. Through my light gathering binoculars, I saw the screech owl struggling to haul a freshly caught bird through the three inch box opening. There was not yet enough daylight for me to determine detail or colour but it looked like the owl's game was a blue jay. It was also the approximate size and could have been a mourning dove. Either way, the owl was having a very difficult time getting both itself and the prey item into the box. Just when I thought the task was impossible to achieve, the owl managed to enter the box and then, clutching the dead bird with the talons of one foot, pull it in as well. The owl will feed well today in the privacy of the roosting/dining room box. 

Madam owl seems to wear a satisfied expression.

Admiring the little birds at their feeding stations.

Safe from other predators such as hawks or larger owls.

A White Breasted Nuthatch scolds from a safe vantage.

The screech owl is not the only one having a bird feast today. My former feral cat, Ellie Mae, once led a paw to mouth existence. She would wolf down anything on offer. A tad spoiled nowadays, she refuses all commercial cat food unless it is the treat variety that comes in small packets. She will, however, accept roast chicken from the grocery store deli. So once a week I buy one. I eat the white meat and she eats everything else but the bones. Everyone but the chicken is happy. 

Ellie Mae went from rags to riches.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Mixed Signals

Another great morning for window view birding. I'm very pleased that the eastern screech owl is roosting in the box south of the house but out my north window, I was in for a special surprise. A male Ring-Necked Pheasant! Until this morning I had not seen one in the wild. It was feasting on bird seed in an area with good cover and a small, brush lined gully. Yes, I was delighted with the new visitor and very glad that I had broadcast plenty of mixed birdseed beforehand.

But despite my hospitality to all feathered visitors, my little chum, Reddy, was definitely not of the same mindset. In fact, s/he was downright hostile.

A Ring-Necked Pheasant transforms my weedy garden into a posh country estate.

Plenty of surrounding cover if a dash for safety is called for.

Reddy tries for a head to head confrontation.

Perhaps an attack from the rear.

A full gallop past, designed to unnerve.

Reddy: Push off! All this seed is mine and I don't share with anyone!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Buzz, Buzz!

We are deep into a bitterly cold spell. Not surprising for this latitude and at this time of year. The good news is that the extreme cold makes the air nice and dry. There is no wind (hurray) and with proper outdoor clothing, it's actually a pleasant day for a stroll outside

Definitely toque and parka weather.

So go for a walk, I did. And my first stop was to check on my bee hives. Are the occupants still alive?

The two end colonies are buzzing nicely inside their boxes.

I put an ear to each of the hive top entrances and listened for the hum that indicates a cluster of live bees. The colonies at each end of the hive stand were buzzing quite nicely but I could not hear anything from the middle colony.

Back in the house, I resumed my chore of melting and filtering last summer's harvest of beeswax. I found small baking tins that hold about half a pound of wax. This is a perfect size for fitting into juice cans for a final melt before the wax will be made into candles.  

As each filter becomes clogged with debris, it is upturned and cleared with boiling water.

The resident screech owl peeking from her box's entrance.

Reddy taking a foraging break on the front porch of his/her box.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Some Unpleasantness

This morning I watched an Eastern Gray Squirrel rummaging through a Red Squirrel's winter food storage. Just as I was beginning to wonder why the red was allowing this, the following scene played out.

The gray has returned for another raid but homeowner, Reddy lands a nip.

An exposed rump is a vulnerable rump. The gray is quite aware of this.

With the box as a shield, the gray squirrel is ready to bite the incensed homeowner.

Reddy: You've got to come out sometime, punk!

I know that I shouldn't interfer with wildlife (providing the wildlife does not include the occasional mouse that finds it's way into my home) but I felt that Reddy could use a hand. As long as the gray squirrel stayed in the box, it was safe from nips. But those stores were gathered through a lot of hard work by the smaller squirrel and I found it impossible to just stand by and do nothing. So I went outside and clapped my hands. This made the big gray squirrel bolt from the box and thus become a better target for the furious Reddy. He bolted with the little red squirrel in hot pursuit.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Elegant Hunter

Very early this morning an elegant little hunter passed by the motion triggered camera I have set up on a laneway gate post. When I viewed the video I had to laugh because it looked for all the world like an elegantly dressed actor who first paused for a cue to go on stage and then strolled past the camera for a six second moment of fame. 

What a pretty little animal with his/her full length black evening gloves and luxurious brushy tail. Sir or Madame could be on the way to or coming home from a high society ball in that lovely coat. 

A couple of weeks ago a coyote passed by the same camera at the same location. The larger predator was a less seasoned actor and hustled across the stage in less than two seconds.

Over many winters of observing their winter tracks, I've noticed they like to take this route days apart from each other. The fox wisely avoids an encounter.

And of course, they both try to avoid human creatures.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

First Day Of 2015

After a week of unseasonably mild weather, this section of the 'Great White North' is not white at all on this, the first day of a brand new year.

Ice and frost on the morning of January 1st, 2015.

But despite the lack of snow, today is well below freezing and outdoor folk in furs and feathers are very appreciative of a hand out.

The starlings have left no suet for this male Downy Woodpecker.

A male White-breasted Nuthatch is also disappointed.

Reddy on either a grocery run or a bird chasing caper.

Even the very wild tomcat I've named Oscar, is less careful about being seen in public. He has been finding tasty morsels in his alms dish and is increasingly considering me as a soft touch.

Feral tom, Oscar, allows a rare public viewing from a window.

I hope 2015 brings continued delights to all who share this splendid planet. Cheers everyone!