Saturday, 18 June 2016

Buzz'n And Flutter'n

I'm continuing to monitor my honey bees with the sugar shake mite count. So far, I have found zero mites. July and August is the time when mites reach their highest levels, concurrent with the peak volume of honey bee brood cells that varroa mites reproduce in. I'll continue regular mite sampling checks until the hives are wrapped for the winter.

But I noticed that the great majority of returning worker bees are favouring the top entrance over the bottom board entrance. And traffic jams were occurring during peak foraging hours. So I gave each top box an additional two entrances. Bee traffic is flowing much better now.

When I added a box to each hive, I used thawed frames of honey near the box sides and empty frames for new comb and brood in the center portion. Some of the honey was dripping a bit and the sweet scent lured a hummingbird. She spend a few minutes searching for the source, then gave up and returned to the flowers.

My honey bees are making good use of the two additional entrances.

A hummingbird is drawn to the sweet scent of newly added honey frames.

The nest of Yellowthroat warblers now contains three newly hatched babies (all legitimate, not a cowbird among them). They are growing incredibly fast, thanks to their devoted parents. In only a couple of days their tiny naked wings have sprouted pin feathers. The parents seem to have gotten used to my occasional and brief inquisitive visits and only issue token scoldings.

Only days old, these Yellowthroat warbler babies are growing remarkably fast.

A tree swallow delivering food to his youngsters.

Feral Ginger Thomas is not chatting but licking his lips after a hearty meal.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Egg Fraud

The gooseberry bushes, planted decades ago by my parents, have become badly overgrown with grass and weedy shrubs. A couple of days ago I made a mental note to bring out my pruning sheers and tidy up the mess. But just as I eyed a honeysuckle plant that would be on the hit list, I noticed that it held a dainty little nest, containing two delicate eggs. It belonged to a pair of Yellowthroat warblers. She flew off the nest and then scolded me from a nearby branch. Trimming will have to wait until the nesting season is over.

 A female Yellowthroat warbler waits for me to leave before returning to her nest.

Her tidy little nest held two dainty and speckled eggs.

A male Yellowthroat warbler challenges his reflection in my window.

This afternoon I noticed that the Yellowthroat nest now has four eggs. But something is not quite right about the clutch. One egg is noticably bigger than the others and patterned a little differently. It belongs to a Brown-headed cowbird. Bad news for the Yellowthroats! The illegitimate cowbird egg means almost certain death for the warbler young.

Three Yellowthroat warbler eggs and one Brown-headed Cowbird egg.

Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of over 200 bird species, sneaking in at daybreak and quickly depositing an egg as well as throwing out an egg belonging to the host. Red-winged blackbirds are capable of raising both their own young as well as that of the cowbird, but this is seldom the case of the smaller host birds.

Each female cowbird is capable of laying dozens of eggs per season. She never builds a nest or cares for her young. No Mother's Day cards for her!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Morning Walkabout

This morning I took a wander back our field lane to the far reaches of the property. Not only for the much needed exercise and to fill my lungs with the sweet air of June, but to see what wildlife is up and about at 6:00 am.

Bird activity was fairly quiet, which I suspect is due to their having already nested and not wishing to draw attention to their sites. Raiding crows, grackles and jays are always on the lookout for tasty eggs or nestlings and as the day progresses, outrage of defense and of offence increases.

Beside my house and at the top of a tall pine tree, is a nest of crows. The young, already the size of their parents, sit near the nest and squawk out demands for food. As their parents fly in and out on groceries runs, they are harrassed by smaller birds who fear their own young will be on the menu.

By the afternoon, robins sound random but urgent alarms of "Cat! cat! cat!" Sometimes peaceful and sometimes mayhem, these days of summer roll on.

The morning sun paints a dappled effect on our tree-lined lane.

Instead of their traditional elm, this year's oriole nest is built in an ash tree.

An eastern phoebe watches for flying insects. Including my honey bees.

Under the front porch awning, a robin broods her eggs.

These four young robins are about to leave their nest, built in a tractor shed.

In mid-May I picked up my two new colonies of honey bees.  They have now settled in and are increasing their populations nicely. This week I tested one of the hives for mite levels with the sugar shake method. No mites were found. In a few weeks I'll test the other colony. After last year's disastrous loss of all my bees, I'm now a bit paranoid.

Instead of feeding the new colonies sugar syrup, I gave them inverted jars of crystallized honey. It seems to be appreciated.

My two new honey bee colonies seem to be thriving.

As the day warms up, their foraging activities increase.

Worker bees rush home with water, nectar and various colours of pollen.

They have consumed almost half a jar of last year's honey.

Like tiny window washers, these girls clean up their side of the glass.