Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Elderberry Wine

These days my elderberry groves are in glorious bloom. They are also abuzz with thousands of honey bees, harvesting the butter coloured pollen. In a few weeks the blooms will turn into sweet berries and robins and cedar waxwings will gorge on them. But presently, those delicate blooms remind me of lace collars and I imagine ladies wearing those pretty collars and enjoying winter evenings over card games and elderberry wine.

A honey bee harvesting elderberry pollen.

This bee is aiming her antenna directly at a blossom.

This one has almost a full cargo of pollen.

She must be tempted to linger on this luxurious bed.

Then I happened upon what I first assumed to be a bumble bee. But it didn't quite act like a normal bee. It wasn't foraging for pollen or nectar but just crouched there on an elderberry leaf. I assumed it was unwell. It was only later, when I examined the photo that all was revealed. Those eyes are not bee's eyes. The antenna is not a bee's antenna. Those feet are definitely not those of a bee. In fact, it is not a bee at all, but a bee-mimicking robber fly, Laphria. And it was not interested in pollen, but in other creatures such as my honey bees. Waiting in ambush, this carnivore with it's heavily bristled front legs was waiting to grab an insect victim. It would inject the prey with a poison and digestive enzymes and then suck it dry. Hey, we all have to make a living, right?

A bee-mimicking robber fly crouches in ambush, ready to seize a victim.

Meanwhile, back at the hives:

Friday, 26 June 2015

You Look Like Crap!

And that's a compliment. That is if you are a Pearly Wood Nymph moth doing your best to imitate a fresh and gooey bird dropping.

This morning I noticed what looked like bird poo on my garbage bin lid. But before I made steps to hose it off I did a double take.

The splayed feet add a clever splat illusion ...

... but a wayward antenna spoiled the ruse.

They like to lay their eggs on wild grape leaves, of which I have aplenty. 

Likely overlooking the fake poo, the male Baltimore oreole is busy feeding his youngsters with insects, berries and the occasional beakful of grape jelly.

An oreole child coaxes for more after receiving a small insect from dad.

Grape jelly is part of the desert menu.

On my desert menu these days are sweet and flavourful wild strawberries. They are small but absolutely delicious.

Who could resist these tiny but flavourful sun ripened beauties?

My honey bees are ignoring the alsike and dutch clovers that are currently in bloom. They must be harvesting even more tasty nectar elsewhere, such as from the abounding wild blackberry and raspberry blossoms. But regardless of what other floral attractions beckon, I can always count on seeing a few customers on my garden's Anchusa flowers.

A honey bee enjoying her favourite tipple of Anchusa nectar.

A couple of nights ago I had a special treat. My yard light's motion sensor tripped on, causing me to look out my window. Imagine my surprise when a lovely fox strolled up the path and casually sauntered off into the night. He was a real beauty. So I decided to set up my night cam on the deck to see if it would come back. Bingo! 

Such an elegant visitor to my backyard!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

From The Window

Sometimes you don't even have to leave the good old comfortable couch to view wildlife. Especially when feeders are just outside the window.

A Yellow Warbler is drawn to his own reflection in a rain spattered window.

He danced and twittered a saucy challenge.

A female cardinal does a fine cockatoo impression.

One of my two backyard red squirrels appears to be nursing babies.

Sometimes a cat nap trumps watching window theatre.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Something Missing

The laneway leading to our bush lot is sodden from frequent and heavy rains. My rubber boots squelched with each step and the air was heavy with moisture -- almost steamy. So I expected mosquitoes to take advantage of the break in the rain and seek me out. But they did not. In fact, I don't think I saw, heard or felt a mosquito on my entire walk. They need stagnant water to reproduce. Perhaps the rain has been too frequent to allow the required amount of calm water time for the larva to develop. I can't help but wonder if the swallows and other birds dependent on flying insects are missing this food resource.

I found a seat on a culvert stone and watched as muddy water in the drainage ditch swept past. In this same spot a few years ago I witnessed a snapping turtle excavate a depression in the bottom of the ditch. But the water was too fast moving and murky today for any aquatic sightings.

On a burdock leaf beside the bank crouched a damselfly, waiting for a meal to fly by. For the five or ten minutes I sat there, nothing did. When I left, it remained perched at it's stakeout, so elegant in it's metallic colours of emerald and bronze.

A drainage ditch with muddy, flowing water.

An elegant damselfly crouching on a burdock leaf.

A bobolink keeping watch over it's hayfield nesting site.

A female red wing blackbird gathering green caterpillars.

A Baltimore Oriole nest under construction.

This swallowtail butterfly appears to have escaped an attack.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Water Safety

I'm richly entertained by the creatures enjoying the jelly feeder but there was a problem. With all the showers and chance of showers peppering this area, the bowl of the feeder often filled with water and I had to rescue bees from drowning. So with a little adjustment, my jelly clientele can now dine in safety.

A male Baltimore Oriole and a honey bee feasting on grape jelly.

A female Baltimore Oriole also frequents the feeder.

Bottle caps screwed into the lid keep insects from getting trapped inside ...

... and is a much more attractive presentation!

The lid provides more comfortable customer seating.

And best of all, when it rains nobody drowns.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Hive Inspection

Once a week I like to do a bed check on my four honey bee hives. Are they queen right? Is she laying well? Do they need more frames? That sort of thing. This morning was my day to inspect. Two hives have queens that overwintered from last year. The other two are nucleus hives (called nucs) that must make their own queens.

In one of the nucs, I found a new queen, born less than a couple of weeks ago. I caged and marked her with this year's official beekeeping colour which is blue. Before I could release her, she ruined the look of her freshly applied makeup when she rubbed her thorax against the marking cage netting, adding a blue smudge to a wing and her abdomen. Anyway, her young majesty is laying well and the hive is well populated and cheerful.

The other nuc hive has not yet produced a queen but are busy grooming queen cells in a donated frame of brood. The bees in that hive are quite docile and seem to be optimistic that their queen rearing enterprise will succeed. Each week I'll add a frame of brood with eggs until I confirm that they are queen right.

Nurse bees fussing over one of their capped queen cells on a donated frame.

The same hive adding royal jelly to another queen cell, not yet capped.

A young queen's mating flight can be problematic. The past several weeks have had many rainy days. Not good since queens mate in mid-air drone congregations. Then there is the gauntlet of birds that would love to nab a flying queen or her entourage. I've spotted an Eastern Kingbird in the yard. They love to snack on honey bees. Are you feeling lucky Princess?

Sorry Carol, but I just had to steal your great idea for a honey gathering box.

The girls (and a couple of flies) love their grape jelly treat.

My yard's Eastern Kingbird watches for insect prey. Please -- not the queen!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Grape Jelly Appreciation

The assorted jams and jellies from my cupboard went down a treat with the oriole crowd. But a favourite, grape jelly, was nowhere to be found among my condiments. Since local berries are not yet ripe and I see no reason to stop indulging my backyard creatures now, I made a special trip to the grocery and bought a jar of the purple stuff. I think the appreciation was evident. 

An oriole sampling the freshly served grape jelly.

This red squirrel also enjoyed the treat.

Both oriole and honey bee prefer the grape jelly over strawberry jam.

Avoiding the honey bees, the oriole digs in.

This golden honey bee is a visitor since mine are much darker.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Sugar Fix

I have a sweet tooth! In fact, all of my teeth are sweet loving. Only with strict self discipline do I manage a healthy diet. When grocery shopping, I consider the candy isles 'No Go Zones'. At the check-out counter, I avert my eyes from all the chocolate coated temptations.

So when a Baltimore Oriole arrives at my feeders and looks disappointingly at the sunflower seeds, I empathize and haul out the sweet treats. And since he has no teeth, dental considerations are not even an issue.

Sunflower seeds? Is that all you have on offer?

Now this looks more like it!

Hm-m-m. Black currant jam. Delicious!

And another tray with raspberry jam. Sweet!

Lady, you know what I like!

As for my regular customers, sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts are always on the menu.

Now let me see. What looks good today.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Penny Drops

In the interests of justice, I dearly hope I'm never subpoened to testify as an eye witness. Turns out my observational skills are downright atrocious!

Looking through my photos this morning, it slowly dawned on me that there is more than one orange tom cat visiting my yard. In fact there are two very different, although similarly coloured, animals.

Subject No. 1: A mature feral tom I've seen hunting and foraging about the grounds for at least a couple of years. He is very wary and evasive. Most of my sightings of him have been in a distant field or at night from my trail camera. I've been calling him "Oscar".

Subject No. 2: A younger looking tom with more white markings and for whom I've recently made a neutering appointment. I have also been calling him, Oscar. Mistaken identity! I'll rename and refer to him as "Gus" from now on.

The battle scarred tom I've been calling "Oscar" in January 2014.

This year's model of ginger tom, renamed "Gus".

Now that the scales have fallen from my eyes, I realize the two ginger toms are very, very different looking animals. Even their behaviour is quite dissimilar.