Sunday, 28 July 2019

Evening Sightings

Fireflies (also called Lightning Bugs) were really flashing last night. Atop bushes, they looked like hundreds of cigarette lighters randomly sparking on and then off. One could almost expect a concert to begin.

But before the firefly light show commences, a mother raccoon and her five kits begin their evening forage. Causing her to limp, the mom has an injured right paw. She has, however, no trouble climbing. She also has an injury to her right eye. The smallest of her five youngsters sticks very close to her. The others are much more independent.

A mother raccoon accompanied by her five youngsters.

Her right paw and her right eye are injured.

The lily pond is always interesting to these foragers.

Her smallest and clingiest baby is always the first to follow her.

Mom frequently pauses to scan for any sign of danger.

*  *  *  *  *
I have to laugh at the way I sometimes mishear things. On YouTube, I was watching a beat officer give a guided tour of the homeless in their city tent settlement. I thought the fast talking officer said, "That woman right there was cleaning silver for three years ..." Well, that's positive I thought. She was gainfully employed. But my brain slowly corrected my ears by re-interpreting, "That woman right there was clean and sober for three years ..." Sadly, he went on to explain that she fell off the wagon when someone offered her crack cocaine. I do hope that she can someday manage to again pick up her can of Silvo and polishing cloth.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Summer Mystery

My honey bee colony that managed to survive last winter's brutal cold has now expanded to three. The hive that attempted to swarm earlier had made two queens.

This year's bee yard has three honey bee colonies.

Honey bees harvesting algae from the sides of a stock tank.

I have several watering stations and in this hot weather the honey bees frequent them all. There are two bird baths, a water lily pond and a stock tank. (I no longer keep livestock but the tank is kept filled with water for the vegetable garden.) The worker bees are especially fond of the algae which forms on the insides of the tank. Researchers claim that the freshwater green micro alga chlorella is an important source of protein and nutrients for them. My honey bees love it! Strangely, the native bees don't seem interested at all.

*  *  *  *  *

Now to the subject of this post: A couple of weeks ago I proudly showed off my vegetable garden to a neighour friend. I had worked extra hard with weeding and watering. My two 18 foot rows of beets and swiss chard looked lush and promised many tasty harvests. Then, a few days of showers saved me from having to water the garden and I focused my attention elsewhere. When the weather cleared I took a stroll out to the garden with my weeding kit. Surprise!! My lovely beets and swiss chard were no more! My precious three to four inch seedlings were simply gone! They were all nibbled completely down to the ground. Since I had been running my rotor tiller between the rows, the ground was soft and weedless, so deer tracks should have shown up. There were no visible tracks of any kind. So I don't think the deer were to blame.

In previous years, Boat-Tailed Grackles were my main garden pests. In fact, I no longer plant sunflowers because Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds devour too many seedlings. Grackles also pulled up and ate all of the leaves and stems of some pond lillies I once tried to grow. Anyway, grackles are at the top of my suspect list. But also, there are wild turkeys, rabbits, groundhogs and deer.

I may just plant tomatoes and flower seeds next year. Fussing with garden fencing or nets just doesn't appeal to me any more.

A father Boat-Tailed Grackle with his youngster.

This rabbit has lost the sight in it's left eye.

My dear, did you dine on my garden greens?

*  *  *  *  *

Here are a few snaps of my perennial border at the moment. Some plants have already had their day and others are yet to blossom. (A bit like people, really.)

The stand of bee balm (Monarda) spreads a little more each year.

Creeping Bellflowers make elegant and long-lasting cut flowers.

Phlox blooms wait until the evening to release their lovely scent.

A very tiny native bee (at top of flower) took a long drink of lily nectar.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

-- mosquitoes, that is. These days the little buggers here are unbearable without a good repellent. But my choice of mosquito discouragement does not come from a pharmacy. It resides among my beekeeping equipment. The smoker works just dandy for chasing away biting insects. Back in the good old days, when we harvested firewood from our woodlot, dad always started a small fire to 'smudge away the mosquitoes'. Worked beautifully! When the chainsaw was started, it seemed to produce just enough smoke to keep the operator protected as well. I like to pass my hat and gloves through the smoke. The fuel I burn is wood shavings (the same bedding preferred by pampered ponies) and I must say it is not unpleasant. Fondly reminds me of campfires and fishing trips.

My trusty old smoker reliably deters mosquito attacks.

The 'off switch' is simply a few blades of grass stuffed into the spout.

For shorter term weeding/watering chores, the veil is the thing.

My jam feeder continues to be a hit with the sweet-toothed set. If I don't refill it quickly enough, a female Baltimore Oriole peers into my kitchen window as if to say, "Hey, where is my waitress?"

The alarm calls of this Gray Catbird sound much like a distressed young kitten.

Honey bees hover as a Baltimore Oriole takes a hearty helping of jam.

The abdomen of this honey bee is looking stretched pretty full.

Barn swallows were declined in recent years but I'm happy to see that last year and this year they are again constructing their mud nests. There is a pair nesting in the barn and a pair starting a nest on a rafter of my garage. They add mud and then let it dry for a bit before adding another layer. When they take little breaks from nesting and hunting mosquitoes (yay-y-y for Barn Swallows) they like to perch on my clothesline and burble sweet conversations with each other. In flight, they are acrobatic marvels! I absolutely love them!

A Barn Swallow's nest under construction in my garage.

Perched on my clothesline, a Barn Swallow burbles a message to it's mate.

Please, pretty please Ellie May, do not harm my bird friends!

Thursday, 30 May 2019

A Swarm Of Bees In May

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly!
(17th century bee-keeper's saying)

This morning I noticed masses of swirling, very plump honey bees in my bee yard. They filled the air and formed dense clusters on the hive stand and on the ground. They were quite plump because they had filled their crops with honey in preparation for a journey to parts unknown. I've heard that once a colony decides to leave, not much will alter it's plan. Anyhow, they had not yet decamped so I had to try something. I added an empty box of frames to the bottom of the swarming hive and moved it a few feet to the right. With a dust pan and bee brush, I gently swept the larger clusters onto the landing board at the new location. Typical of a swarm, they were completely docile -- perhaps owing to full tummies. Almost immediately dozens of bees started to fan nasonov gland pheromone to beckon their airborne sisters back into the box. An hour later, the swarm had moved into the slightly newer location. Whether or not they will stay home is questionable. Time will tell.

In the early part of May, I had split my one surviving colony into two. I moved one half to the East hive stand and gave it the overwintered queen. The remaining hive stayed at the old location on the north stand -- queenless but with plenty of brood, nurse bees and young eggs to make a new queen. It appears they have now made a new queen and were preparing to fly off with her, but leaving behind backup queen cells and a small workforce to carry on. In a day or two, I'll inspect both hives and make sure they have lots of wiggle room.

A swarm in progress at the North hive stand.

An empty box added to the hive seems to have curtailed the swarm.

The East hive stand houses the overwintered queen with a portion of her workers.

The tray leaning against the left hive is acting as a bee ladder.

On a happier note, about a dozen Baltimore Orioles are back here for their breeding season and demanding handouts of grape jam. By the end of each day, their feeder is empty but still being licked over by these beautiful songbirds. Each morning as I put out a fresh supply of their sugary treat, they give me a little song of appreciation. Or so I imagine.

A dazzling male Baltimore Oriole concentrates on his treat.

A female prefers to grip the hanger while feeding.

Both raspberry and grape jams were on offer here.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks also enjoy the jelly tray.

This green frog is welcome to all the mosquito larvae it can catch.

Monday, 22 April 2019

April Fooled On Earth Day

April Fools Day is weeks in the past and in fact, today is Earth Day. But it is still April and I was fooled just the same.

Tree swallows are back and swooping around their nest boxes. I knew I had better get a move on and clean the mouse nests from their boxes. Perhaps this is the year Eastern Bluebirds will again try their nesting luck here. So this morning, I hoisted my bird house cleaning kit and set off to the far reaches of my property. On my two hour trek, I did not see any sign of the hoped for bluebirds. However, I did imagine I could hear snatches of their soft melodious warble. On my walk back down the lane towards home, all was revealed. I'd been punked! The bluebird song was interspersed with other bird sounds and even -- this really astonished me -- a rendition of a dog owner calling "Come he-e-ere, come he-e-ere, come he-e-ere. Good boy-y-y, good boy-y-y, good boy-y-y". High up in an Ash tree, I saw that it was a Brown Thrasher performing these clever impressions. Sometimes you just can't believe your own ears. Canada has talent!

A Brown Thrasher belts out a convincing medley of sounds from other species.

He takes a performance break to explore a brush pile.

A squirrel has enlarged the entrance to another bird box.

A lovely Earth Day to sit by a stream and enjoy the sights, sounds and scents of Spring.

... waitin' round the bend, my Huckleberry friend ...

Only one of my two honey bee colonies survived the severe cold of last winter.

Both native and honey bees are visiting my patch of lawn crocus.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Going Nutty

Last summer, I left one of my screech owl boxes unaltered. A pair of starlings moved in and raised a family. This year, a pair of white-breasted nuthatches have put an early claim on the box. Because they have kept me company over winter and because they are just so darned cute, I've given them my tenancy blessing. I think of them as the 'McNutty' couple.

Starlings have now returned from the south and want to re-nest in that box. I intervened. On went my home made starling excluder.

Sorry Mr. Starling, but I'm leasing to other tenants this year.

The female of the 'McNutty' pair is happy with the addition.

Starlings can no longer enter the box and the nuthatches are happy. Business as usual, right? Wrong!

Soon, a gray squirrel made her intentions known by chewing out a larger opening. Arh-h! Back to the drawing board!

A gray squirrel decided to enlarge the entrance and move in.

I shooed her away and installed a new excluder, this time covered in wire mesh. To prevent injury to the McNutty couple, I applied a thick coating of hot glue over the sharp points of the entrance cut-out.

The addition of wire mesh appears to be keeping out the squirrels.

I thought it looked neat and it felt smooth and comfortable to my fingers. But despite good intentions, the McNutty pair were not happy. They still entered the box but pecked compulsively at the rim of glue, trying to remove it.

Mr. McNutty tried in vain to remove the rim of glue.

Back to the drawing board! With a brushing of rubbing alcohol, the glue rim came off cleanly. In it's place I nailed down a small circle of wood.

A new wooden porch protects against sharp wires.

Within minutes, Mrs. McNutty inspects and approves the upgrade.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Farewell To February

The month has been cold, snowy and very icey. I certainly made good use of the ice cleats that strap on over my snow boots. Note to self: Buy a larger stock of salt/sand for next winter.

For a couple of weeks now, I have not seen my resident blue jays. As usual, they disappear from my yard at this time of year and prepare for their nesting season in a more secluded area. Consequently, my Eastern Screech Owl, who has been keeping me company this winter, is emboldened to sun bath in full view on her roost box's door rail. I presume it's a 'her' because of her size which is always larger than the male.

Through partly closed eyes she tolerates me taking yet another picture.

Screech owls have been using the boxes I made since 2004. But disappointingly, only for winter roosting, never for nesting. Lucky for owl fans, the Jollyville screech owl live camera is again keeping tabs on their stars, Olivia and Alton in Austin, Texas, USA. Last year the pair hatched five eggs. Live feed video of these owls can be seen at:

House mate/cat friend, Ellie Mae is an excellent reporter when something unusual appears outside. From one of her window seats, her body language says, "Hey, get off that couch and look at what's outside." At dusk a couple of weeks ago she pointed out a red fox that was running up our laneway. It's tail was bare except for a short piece of fur on the tip. Mange is a terrible thing. The poor creature ran up my drive and then away down the public road on a desperate mission of some sort.

This morning Ellie Mae pointed out a happier scene --a mother wild turkey followed by two of last year's poults. 

Mother Wild Turkey strolls about my ice laden yard.

One of her two accompanying poults follows her lead.

Sorry gang, the squirrels have already polished off the bird seed.