Thursday, 18 May 2017

What's With The Attitude?

On Tuesday morning I split my overwintered hive of bees into two separate colonies. I found the queen and recorded which box she now resides in. I made sure the queenless hive had plenty of brood, nurse bees and eggs which, when furnished with royal jelly, should produce a new queen. During this invasive operation, the bees were remarkably docile and a pleasure to work with.

One of the hive boxes was a 'deep' or brood box, which contained 9 9/16 inch frames. Because I like lighter boxes and only one uniform frame size, I cut the bottoms off to form medium frames (6 5/8 inches). These cut off portions were empty so I set them a short walk away to await wax rendering.

That evening, I took a stroll out to the beehives to see if everyone had settled into their new digs. As I passed by the little stack of cut-offs, I noticed a fist sized cluster of bees on one of them.  Thinking they were as gentle as they were earlier that day, I picked up the cut-off wax portion, bees and all and walked them back to the hives. As soon as I set them on the board on the hive stand, they let out a collective war whoop and attacked. Last year, I didn't get a single sting but now I could feel a half dozen jabs on my scalp and chin. A quick retreat to the house ended the onslaught. But I was puzzled. What's with the attitude, girls?

This morning I put on my protective gear and checked to see if the wayward bees had found their way back into the hives. They had not! I took a closer look at the still clustered and agitated little group. All was revealed!

Almost all of the stray worker bees on this comb had their abdomens poked into cells and were trying to lay eggs. They had become laying workers! Away from their queen and the scent of open brood within the hives, they decided to become queens themselves. These aspiring little workers could never be real queens. Their unfertilized eggs can only develop into drones, not more workers. Confusion/futility/desperation had made this little band of strays hot tempered. No wonder they had copped an attitude.   

The hive on the right contains a queen. It's neighbour must make it's own.

A frame cut-off has attracted a small wayward band of honey bees.

A close inspection reveals worker bees trying to lay eggs. No future there!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Welcome Back Vacationers

A familiar sound made me look up from my morning's porridge. Sure enough, perched outside my window was a Baltimore Oriole. Again she burbled out her question. Likely, she was merely keeping contact with her mate or checking her window reflection. But I imagined she had just returned from the south and was asking if jelly was still on offer here. Of course, I had to put aside my breakfast and hustle out with an order of grape jelly. Almost before I was back inside, she had a good feed of the sweet offering and was joined by her mate.

A female Baltimore Oriole eagerly samples freshly served grape jelly.

Her mate quickly follows suit. Grape jelly has been added to my grocery list!

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks have also recently returned from their southern migration and are making use of my feeders. 

A pair of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks reacquaint themselves with this old feeder.

Mrs. RBG looks very different from her conspicuous partner.

These migrating friends are certainly a welcome sight but I can't underestimate the charm of the local wildlife that enriches my yard the whole year long.

Flocks of bouncy American Gold-Finches are among my favourites and for them especially, I plant sunflowers and cosmos. Most of the males have now molted into their dazzling breeding plumage.

A venetian blind reflection subdues the brilliance of this male Goldfinch.

During this past winter, I never saw any rabbit tracks at all in the snow. I did, however, see lots of coyote tracks. Some of them were huge, looking more like wolf tracks. I've read that all coyotes in the eastern part of North America are now coyote/wolf hybrids. Last week I saw a very large one running across a field. It occurred to me that I have not seen any feral cats lately. Coincidence? So I was delighted to spot a smallish cotton-tailed rabbit munching on my lawn's dandelion leaves one morning. Well done, little chap. I'll gladly share my garden asparagus with you.

A young cotton-tail enjoying my lawn's dandelion leaves.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Backyard Crime

For the past few days I've been wondering why my Eastern Phoebes have stopped singing. A pair of them have recently constructed a lovely little moss clad nest under the roof of a tractor shed. This morning I saw something that explained the silence. Five little white eggs lay punctured and on the ground near their nest. They were vandalized.

Two of the Eastern Phoebe eggs found punctured and discarded on the ground.

The nest's eggs were almost certainly destroyed by a House Wren.

This Phoebe will have to start over with a second nest. Better luck next time!

What tyrant could have done such a mean thing? My main suspect is that cute and chatty little character, the House Wren. They are known to harass larger birds, to puncture their eggs and to kill the young and even the adults. No wonder squabbles and shrieks can be heard among the feathered community in breeding season. The neighbourhood is awash with avian crime. A defense lawyer could proclaim, "My client is pleading insanity due to instinct."

A House Wren stuffing apartment #4 with cedar twigs.

Mr. Wren is certainly cute and dapper but also aggressive and mercurial.

The Phoebes will likely re-nest and try again. And perhaps tonight a foraging skunk will be happy to find those eggs and enjoy a protein rich snack. Even misfortune can benefit someone.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Spring Beauties

Yesterday a window of fair weather opened in our otherwise lengthy stretch of rain. My camera and I took a hike to our bush lot. The trees were still mostly bare but the ground was carpeted with wild flowers -- primarily Spring-Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

Spring-Beauties may be one source of pink pollen collected by my honey bees.

A Brown Thrasher has been belting out medleys from my garden's tree tops.

His mimicry is impressive. Some songs are copied from species living further south.

A rabbit enjoying some young and tender dandelion leaves.

A male Tree Swallow staking a claim to one of my three dozen bird boxes.

Never used by Martins, for which this house was built, a House Wren shows interest.

He loudly chatters out an invitation to any and all ladies of his kind.