Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas Treats

Yesterday I saw a flash of golden yellow feathers as a large bird flew at and then immediately away from a suet feeder. With only a brief glimpse I had an impression that this was a Northern Flicker. But it couldn't be at this time of year. Or could it? Later I saw the same bird drinking from my heated bird bath. It definitely was a Northern "Yellow-Shafted" Flicker (Colaptes auratus). I have never seen one here in the winter before.

A Northern Flicker was drinking from my heated bird bath on Christmas Day.

And the avian surprises didn't end there. At dusk an Eastern Screech Owl calmly looked out from a roost box entrance. I had been watching for the usual winter visit from this little owl for weeks and was beginning to worry that something untoward had happened. So glad to see it's stern looking wee face again.

Late on Christmas Day, an Eastern Screech owl appeared from one of my roost boxes.

These bluejays will soon be screaming their owl alarms.

While clearing snow from my driveway I noticed rabbit tracks leading into a hole in a brush pile. All summer I had wondered if this little opening was an animal den and now I know. The cotton-tail rabbit that is almost a lawn fixture has been sheltering here all along.

Fresh rabbit tracks lead directly into a hole in a brush pile.

My resident cottontail rabbit munching sunflower seeds.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Cupboard Was Bare

In the wee hours this morning, a fox sniffed at a small feeding trough in my garden. Unfortunately, bluejays and neighbourhood cats had removed the chicken skin it held, so the fox got only a smell.

The little wooden trough is only twenty inches long, which gives you an idea of just how small these elegant little animals are.

Friday, 17 November 2017


Winter is upon us and I believe I'm ready for it.

My basement's propane furnace is serviced and I've changed my car's tires to winter ones. Garden hoses have been drained and put away and my deck chairs are under cover. For my driveway I've stocked up with bags of anti-skid sand/salt mixture. I've switched to winter clothing. My cat friend, Ellie Mae, has resigned herself to spend the cold nights indoors. At bedtime she sleeps on my pillow, just above my head. Sometimes it feels like I'm wearing a fur hat. Domestic bliss!

My two honey bee hives have also been prepped for winter and I'll continue to make frequent checks on them to make sure their bottom boards are open and clear. At their entrances I use the cardboard insert from a paper towel roll as a stethoscope to listen for life affirming buzzing. I'm a bit worried about the larger hive as there seems to be a larger die-off than usual. There is nothing more I can do now but wait and hope.

My honey bee hives look like badly wrapped Christmas presents.

Our exceptionally rainy summer has lowered honey production. Many days were too wet for the bees to fly and gather nectar so they were forced to stay in their hives and eat their stores. I've heard that commercial bee keepers in Ontario reported a 50% drop in honey production. I experienced about the same.

I did manage to harvest enough honey for myself, family and friends. Beside using the honey for a toast spread and for cooking, I like to make a honey/lime drink. Dissolve three tablespoons of honey in a cup of hot water. Let cool. Add three tablespoons of lime cordial and a cup of cold water. Ice cubes make a jolly 'clink' factor. Instead of the cordial, freshly squeezed limes and slices for garnish is even better.

Party in a glass!

There are always mice seeking winter shelter in my basement. And I offer hospitality by providing sunflower seeds for them -- hot-glued to the bait pans of mouse traps. Each morning I check the traps and if there are casualties, the bodies are recycled by bluejays.

In rigor mortis, a mouse's leg seems to try to fend off a blue jay.

The jay makes a test bite on the mouse's nose.

Satisfied there will be no resistance, the jay takes off with it's prize.

I have five feeders that are open to all birds and two feeders that are encircled with mesh to exclude large birds.

A chickadee nabs a peanut from a bluejay-proofed feeder.

A one and a half inch opening is large enough for a goldfinch.

Eyes fixed on the ground, a red-tailed Hawk scans for game.

Perhaps this Cotton-tail rabbit feels safer by grazing close to my house.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

October Bush Excursion

Our property is privileged to include approximately eighteen acres of hardwood bush. It's native trees have supplied our family with lumber, firewood, delicious butternuts and of course a retreat to enjoy nature and drink in the fragrant, clean air.

The nose of our tractor, as we head towards our property's bush lot.

Leaves of many native tree species decorate the ground.

The distinctive criss-cross pattern of a mature Butternut tree's bark.

Wildlife (and myself) enjoy the sweetness of Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) fruit.

This summer a dead Butternut tree (juglans cinerea) had fallen down beside a field. A tidy up was called for. As well, I envisioned rounds cut from it's trunk and used for footpaths through my flower beds.

My brother skillfully cuts 'stepping stone' rounds from a fallen Butternut tree.

He cut thirty-six of them. They will make dandy garden footpaths.

After we cleared away the expired old Butternut tree my brother discovered a fallen White Ash tree (Fraxinus americana) just a short walk away. In it's younger life, a vine had climbed it, making the trunk grow wiggly. That tree has now been added to my firewood stash.
A vine had climbed this now fallen White Ash tree, making the trunk grow wiggly.

Easy to split and with a low moisture content, White Ash makes excellent firewood.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Fall Treats

This time of year always brings Cluster Flies (pollenia rudis) to my rural area. They buzz about the sunny side of the house, in search of protected over-wintering sites. The flies are only a minor nuisance and easily subdued by my trusty vacuum cleaner. But one of my cutest visitors finds them delightful. Yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are now in winter plumage and making their way south. But first, they are fattening up on cluster flies. These cute-as-buttons little birds seem to be almost constantly on the move, darting and fluttering to capture the flies. Focused only on the fly bonanza, they are unconcerned by my picture taking.

A Yellow-rumped warbler scans her surroundings for insects.

The droopy wings give a fatigued look as she pauses her frenzied hunt.

It's easy to see where the name "Yellow-rumped" comes from.

Last week, a nephew was surprised and delighted to see a wolf pup eating apples on the ground of his cottage-country backyard. That very same morning I watched my own version of 'The Littlest Hobo' here. A coyote was mousing in a hay field, leaping up in the air and pouncing down in a fox-like manner. There is an abundance of mice here so I'm sure this handsome guy makes a very good living.

Pausing to check for danger before resuming his mouse hunt.

One of my fondness memories is that of my mother's maple cream fudge. (We had our own dairy cream and our own nuts.) Some years, the butternut trees in our wood lot produced bumper crops. Cracked with a hammer on a good granite stone, butternuts were the gourmet ingredient of Mom's fudge. Lucky me, friends recently gave me a bag of butternuts. And yes, I have delicious plans for those walnut cousins!

Green butternuts dry and mature on a bed of newspapers.

With a little hammer skill, the nut meats can be winkled out whole from their hard shells.

These two remind me of Audrey II begging, "Feed Me, Seymour!"

Monday, 25 September 2017

Hot, hot, hot!

Ottawa broke a weather record yesterday for September 24th with a scorching high of 31.8 Celcius and a humidex of 39. One of my nephews lives in the nearby village of Renfrew and sent me a picture of his thermometer registering over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. One upside to this autumn heat wave is that it finally put an end to my backyard's mosquito reign of terror!

Much cooler in our barn yesterday, these youngsters looked quite comfy.

My nephew took this picture of his backyard thermometer.

Cool looking ferns in our bush lot have not yet gone dormant.

Usually dry at this time, our drainage ditch still offers a water source for wildlife.

Keeping larger birds off this feeder, the net did not deter everyone.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

September Buzz

After an especially wet and cool summer we are now having an unusually hot couple of weeks. Perhaps the last weeks of September and October will be the happy medium of this year's extremes.

Like most beekeepers in my area, this year I noticed a decline in honey production. All those rainy days made the bees stay home from work, loaf about inside and consume their groceries. Much like my own response to the inclemency! (And when it wasn't raining, mosquito hordes also drove me to seek shelter.) Now that the sun is keeping us steady company, the bees are busily harvesting sedum, hollyhocks, golden rod and wild asters.

A bee covered in sticky grains of hollyhock pollen.

Despite the summer-like temperatures, lessening daylight hours have triggered the honey bees to start their Fall drone eviction. Workers are nipping, stinging and riding their larger sized brothers away from hive entrances. At times it resembles a miniature rodeo in which the drones are the bucking broncos ridden by the smaller workers. The bodies of murdered drones lay on the ground outside the hives and are dismembered and carried off by ants and yellow jacket wasps. I watched as one yellow jacket took fully five minutes to snip off the head of a drone and then fly off with it. Surprisingly, little black ants can actually intimidate the much larger sized wasp. I guess the ant's formic acid is like skunk spray to a dog.

A week ago I was horrified at the high level of varroa mites during a hive sugar-shake mite count. A quick application of formic acid pads produced a rain of dead mites. Left untreated, my bees would certainly have died this winter. Now a worldwide pest, this mite is a devastating threat to honey bees and must be diligently controlled to prevent colony losses.

Honey bees forming beards after an application of formic acid mite treatment.

Amid dead varroa mites, a yellow jacket wasp and an ant compete for a drone body.

Air traffic getting busy at a hive's bottom board entrance.

Hunched over and fanning like mad to cool their hive on this hot September day.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August Snapshots

With the arrival of August, I already sense the days starting to shorten. This year's extraordinary rainy spell has finally broken and sunshine, strong and steady, prevails. Flowers have responded to the abundant moisture and are showing off with exceptional blooms

Cut a week ago, this cheery bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans still looks fresh.

A honey bee gathering pollen from an Anenome blossom.

Foot long seed pods dangle from one of my Honey Locust trees.

One of the perks of keeping honey bees is the accumulation of hive parts which can be repurposed. I found a new use for the little pieces of wood used in frames to retain wax sheets. Already, my backyard birds are enjoying this contraption.

Six little sticks that once held beeswax sheets in honey frames have a new calling.

Frame strips see the light of day as a deluxe feeder perch and beak wiper.

A Downy Woodpecker kindly puts seeds in reach of a young Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Into his moult phase, father Rose-breasted Grosbeak appears rather bedraggled.

The cage excludes seed tossing bigger birds but admits these American Gold Finches.

The City of Ottawa just waved farewell to 'La Machine'. This was live theatre entertainment from France in which two gigantic robots (a spider and a horse/dragon) stalked the downtown streets with it's own orchestra and special effects.

Very clever and entertaining, but I have my own version of huge metal beasts prowling outside. The road beside my home has been ripped up and massaged for a new roadbed and surface. There are gravel trucks and graders and water tankers and roller/compacter machines that shake the earth, including the foundation my house. Dishes rattle on the counter and coffee dances in my cup. I must admit, it is beginning to wear a little on my nerves.

At end of this operation, I'll have a lovely new road to travel, but I'll be glad when the machinery finishes the job and moves elsewhere. The novelty has worn off!

The roller/compactor machine I call 'Bone Rattler' retires for the evening.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Soggy Summer

So far this year, Ottawa has seen 95 days with rain (out of 191). That's the most precipitation since Environment Canada started record keeping. I certainly cannot recall a wetter year. Between rains, I scurry outside for a walk-about and to do some yard work but the mosquitoes are extra bad this year, and also seem to be extra ravenous.

The record rainfall rendered my vegetable garden's clay soil too soggy for the rotor tiller this Spring. Consequently, poppies and other self seeding flowers are growing wild where there would typically be Swiss chard, beets, peas, onions and lettuce. Well, I did manage to plant some tomatoes that I started from seed in the house in late winter, but whether they get enough sun to ripen is another matter.

Poppies and wildflowers (weeds) have taken over my vegetable patch.

I expect a reduction in my honey harvest as well. Rainy days prevent the bees from foraging. Instead, they stay in their dwellings and consume their groceries. And I can relate to that, myself!

The flowers are thriving with all this rain. Cheerful looking hollyhocks.

My flower border's Monarda looks especially perky.

This cherry tree was planted decades ago by my father.

It's sweet fruit pleases Robins, Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings and, of course, myself.

Sumac bobs are now plump and colourful.

2017 is not the best foraging year for my honey bees.

Another rainy morning as a dainty visitor browses through my garden.