Saturday, 31 December 2016

A New Zealand Gem

Only hours now remain of 2016 and old man winter is serving up an all day snow storm driven by a cold east wind. My thoughts turn to hot popcorn and a good movie.

On Netflix, I did find a gem -- a 2016 New Zealand film called, Hunt For The Wilderpeople. The stunningly rugged scenery of New Zealand's wilderness was reward enough, but the characters were all quirky and likeable. The story is based on the book, Wild Pork and Watercress written by Barry Crump. I chuckled throughout and whole-heartedly recommend this film to everyone. Guaranteed to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy!


Friday, 23 December 2016

A New Ginger Tabby

Well, it may not exactly be a tabby in the feline sense, but it does resemble a ginger tabby kitten to me -- except for the beak -- and for the feathers. But it does hunt mice and see well in the dark and is very, very cute!!

Over the years I've had the pleasure of watching gray morph eastern screech owls use my winter roost boxes but today I had my first tenant with a reddish tint. In my region, the rufous morph is less common. I don't know it's gender, but I think of this one as female. It seems larger than the slightly smaller males. To me, she looks like a pretty little miss with bleached tresses. I'm reminded of the old Miss Clairol ad -- "Only her hairdresser knows for sure."

Their common name of 'screech' owl is misleading. They do not screech at all, but call with a low, descending whinny and a muted trill. Lovely music to my ears!
The rather kittenish face of a rufous morph eastern screech owl.

There are tabby-like markings atop the owl's head.
We gaze into each other's eyes. Her's appears judgemental.'
From an old box on an old tree, she peers at something on the snow below.
What delicate blush work on those cheeks, my dear.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Br-r-r-r-r, Surprise!

Our winter solstice is almost here, so it was no surprise to wake up to a very cold morning. Minus 31 Celsius! The snow really crunches underfoot at these low temperatures. A fresh and clean sound. The air was very dry with little breeze and so not unbearable for the warmly dressed.

Because of this dry and cold air, the bird bath had evaporated quite a bit overnight. Still, the heating element kept the water tepid. This source of liquid is much appreciated by the birds for drinking and as in summer, the bowl needs to be cleaned and refilled daily. 

But the surprise, and a delightful one it was, came near the end of the day as the sun had almost set. From the entrance of one of my roosting boxes was the sight I had been hoping for since last winter -- the cute little face of a screech owl! My favourite feathered friend is back and will keep me in good company this winter.

The lemon yellow eyes of a gray phase screech owl scan for prey items.

He or she seems eager for the nighttime hunting shift to begin.

A cold morning regardless of which scale you prefer.

A pair of jays start their morning with a sunflower seed feast.

A tepid drink of water on a sub-zero day must seem like a luxury to wildlife.

The squirrel, with only a stump for a left hind leg, looks fat and sleek.

It's cardinal friend seems to be saying, "Hey, I want my turn at those seeds!"

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Last Chance, Girls!

Weather forecasts indicated that yesterday was the last warmish day predicted for the season. So, I said to the bees,
"Girls, this is your last chance at a handout before Spring, so take advantage of it."

They happily did.

Yesterday's honey bee feast of mint flavoured sugar syrup.

Also, it was a good day for a hike around our trails and through our bush lot. I hoped the exercise and fresh air would help reduce my persistent bout of insomnia. 

I quite enjoyed my hike although there was not much in the way of wildlife spotting. I did see fresh coyote scat, raccoon tracks and a foraging black squirrel. A hawk's 'scree-e-e-e' call came from somewhere among the trees.

Walking North beside a line of hybrid poplar trees.

Heading West towards our bush lot.

Of course I had to stop and admire exposed bird nests.

Now with only ankle deep water, field drainage ditches made easy walking.

The trail winds through a stand of white pines which were planted in 2009.

Long afternoon shadows were cast on a tree that still clings to it's leaves.

Occasional stones peek through the leaf cover.

A splash of green from a fern, not yet dormant.

Fallen trees provide animal and insect shelter and eventually forest compost.

Never clear-cut, this bush lot contains a good variety of native tree species.

Today the weather worm has turned. An all day snow and a cold wind makes me glad I took advantage of yesterday's clement window. As for helping me sleep, yesterday's walk was not a complete success. I did become wide awake at the customary 2:30 am but at least my dreams were only mildly pesky, verging on sweet. Perhaps it's the change of seasons that disrupt our sleeping patterns.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Picnic In November

Yesterday was a beautiful day -- warm and dry and windless. It was my window of perfect weather opportunity for finishing my eaves trough caulking chore. Mission finally accomplished.

In the bee yard, my two colonies of honey bees were flying about, looking for forage. Our recent sub zero spell had put the kibosh on flower blossoms, so I offered the bees a sugar picnic. They were delighted! 

On a very mild November day, my honey bees were flying about.

They happily lap up moistened sugar from their custom made picnic table.

Red squirrel, Timmy, wisely dries his apples before storing them.

A picnic meal of roast chicken, ham, chicken broth and cat kibble.

Feral Ginger Tom rewards me with a half smile. High praise coming from him!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

First Snow

Yesterday we received our first snow fall of the season. I enjoyed the novelty but am still hoping for warmer weather that is also dry enough to finish an eaves trough project. I need a dry plus 10 degrees C for the caulking to stick. That rules out the next few days.

A few robins have not flown south, but are chatting to each other as they glean fruit from vines and shrubs. So nice to hear them as winter approaches. But my current favourite backyard bird is a red-breasted nuthatch. I suspect it spent the summer further north or at least in an area with denser stands of cone producing trees. With a distinctive eye stripe, it is smaller and stubbier than it's white-breasted cousin and is very, very cute!

Despite all odds, my three-legged red squirrel has survived and is gathering wild foods with determination. It only occasionally visits my feeders. I suspect it is nervous of the bluejays. 

An icing sugar-like coating decorates my kitchen window view.

Fresh snow brightens our fields on an otherwise dark October morning.

Evidence that a cat has been on patrol. Likely feral guy, Ginger Tom.

A lonesome birdhouse awaits next year's occupants.

Before nabbing a peanut, this red-breasted nuthatch scans for trouble.

Ellie Mae has decided that indoors offers the most comfort today.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Nanny Who?

There is a native shrub hereabouts that my father used to call a 'Nannytaw'. Checking horticulture websites, it is only referred to as a 'Nannyberry' (Viburnum Lentago). It is presently sporting ripe, blue-black, sweet fruit. Each autumn since childhood I've been nibbling this tasty berry and a row of this dense bush provided me with a secret fort when I was about twelve. Back in the day when smoking was cool and I was much too young to buy a pack or even smoke cigarettes, (and not allowed to by my parents, anyway) I would covertly smoke dried nannytaw leaves. No nicotine and a very, very mild smoke.

Anyway, I was wondering why Dad's family called this shrub a Nannytaw. I get the 'Nanny' bit because goats like to eat this plant and the bark, when pealed, smells somewhat like a goat. But the 'taw' bit? Webster's dictionary describes taw as a fancy marble. I'm guessing somewhere in Dad's ancestry, taws must have been a sort of slang for berries.

Nannyberry (our family called it nannytaw) fruit is currently at it's snacking best.

Some berries are missing from this bunch. Robins love them.

Today was gloriously sunny and warm. I spent most of the day outside and felt sorry for those folk at deskbound employment. Here are more pics from my morning's walk.

Virginia creeper vines are now at their festive best.

The tree-lined laneway in the middle of our farm is perfect for relaxing walks.

October's sun climbs less high now and throws longer shadows.

The plastic net allows smaller birds to feed without the competition of bluejays.

Monday, 3 October 2016

And The Oscar Goes To ...

Each autumn, I like to mentally award an Oscar to the plant in my collection with the best overall blooming performance. And this year I'm giving my imaginary Best-In-Show Oscar to (envelope please) -- Bacopa.

On impulse, I bought a small pot of this plant in May. The little tag said 'Bacopa' and nothing else. I had not heard the name before but I was seduced by the pretty blue blossoms. Replanted in an outdoor container, it bloomed for the entire season and is currently the 'show stopper' on my grounds. Bonus -- it requires little care except for watering twice a day. It's not frost tolerant so I'll take some cuttings and try to overwinter it. Hummingbirds and bees like it and they are important members of my judging panel.  Next year it will star in more of my containers.

From June through October, this trailing Bacopa plant was in continuous bloom.

Bacopa's cascading beauty welcomes all who pass by.

I'd also give an Oscar award to my cosmos plants, this time for 'best supporting' roll. I originally started growing cosmos for long lasting and colourful table bouquets. Then I realized how popular the seeds are with gold finches. In fact, each Fall I have to scramble to save some seeds for planting next year before the birds beat me to them. And when I started beekeeping I truly came to appreciate what a good source of pollen the cosmos flowers provide. Yes, they quite deserve an Oscar as well.

Soon cosmos seed heads will ripen and gold finches will heartily feast.

I think 'raspberry truffle' could describe this bloom.

A teddy bear-like bumble bee snacking on cosmos pollen.

Golden pollen glitters up this dark pink cosmos bloom.

Oh Marilyn, who are you wearing? A honey girl accessory!


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.