Monday, 9 December 2019

Rudy (or Ruby) and Bella

A new eastern screech owl has started using the old roost box. This time, it's a rufous phase bird. In Canada, the grey phase predominates.

Ruby or Rudy? Regardless of gender, you are certainly a cutie.

Yep, it's me at the window with that darned camera again!

Oh, and thank you for helping control the mice population!

A few winters ago a female Red-Bellied woodpecker appeared in my back yard. It was the first time I had seen this species. I love her zebra stripe haute couture. She, or another one just like her, is back and on her own again. She spends a lot of time hiding food so I assume she intends to stay the winter. I've named her 'Bella'. I wonder if other folk have pet names for their backyard birds?

This old Manitoba Maple with it's peeling bark is a favourite foraging spot.

Don't worry Bella, I won't cut down all the trees!

Someone has already picked out most of the whole peanuts.

Daintily, she selects only the finest black oil seeds from the tray.

I'm sure there is strong competition from bird feeding neighbours but one attraction here is untidyness. (Normally not something one brags about.) Old trees, brush piles, overgrown vines, wild shrubs and weed-lined ditches are all good wildlife habitat. But since I do keep the lawn mowed around the house, I shouldn't get a municipal complaint just yet.

Monday, 18 November 2019

My Winter Friend

As dawn approached, I spotted a familiar wee face in the entrance of the old box that faces my kitchen window.

For the first time this season, an Eastern Screech Owl is using the shelter for daytime roosting and as a larder.

Prey birds are not nearly as happy as I am to see the little owl in their midst. They are swift to spread the unwelcome news to their fellows.

A Cooper's hawk checks the yard on a regular basis so the little owl is wise to stay hidden during daylight hours. 

Within their hives, my bees cluster and shiver their flight muscles for warmth. Their honey will nourish them throughout the winter as well as provide a delicious sweetener for my toast, salad dressings and drinks. In the event of a power outage, bees wax candles provide clear and fragrant light. But, perhaps above all else, I just love to see them humming from flower to flower, benefiting all.

The lawnmower is on winter vacation while the snow blower has reported for duty. Each season has it's own beauty. Now that I'm retired, I especially love to look out the window at gently falling snow. Snow that becomes an insulating blanket to those who sleep beneath.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Bitless And Blinkerless

I do appreciate when bloggers share tips on items they like. And so, here is one thing that I find highly enjoyable. Namely, YouTube videos by British driving horse trainer, Barry Hook. He owns Horse Drawn Promotions in Hampshire, U.K. Most of his videos are driver views and you can certainly imagine yourself perched up in the driver's seat and enjoying England's countryside as his trainees clip-clop along.

His latest video is of him training a pair of Shetland pony mares. Because the near (left side) mare has teeth problems, the team is being driven without bits. As Barry says, one must have the confidence of your horse for it to obey your voice tones. Normally, he uses soft rubber bits of his own design rather than metal ones.

Barry trains all types of horses and in assorted hitch configurations.  His motto is, "the horses must be safe, confident and happy in their work". (Ideal for humans as well.)

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Last winter was bitterly cold with no period of thaw until spring. One of my hives perished. So this year I'm adding more insulation. By mid-October, the bees in my most populated hive applied self-help to reduce their drafty top entrance. They had heartily gopped on propolis to reduce the opening.

 The honey bees tried to reduce their drafty top entrance with propolis.

To control drafts but still provide ventilation, I added a wee vestibule.

This reducer will also hold a wrapping clear of the bottom entrance.

In previous years I insulated the vent box under the roof with wood shavings. This year, as well as the shavings, I've also adding fiberglass insulation. In fact, I'm even wrapping the entire hive bodies with pink fiberglass insulation.

In each vent box, I've placed a wood shavings-stuffed pillow ...

... and placed pink fiberglass insulation over the pillow.

Perhaps overkill, I'm wrapping each hive with fiberglass insulation.

Before I could finish the job and wrap a final layer of tarp over the hives, the weather here turned inclement. I made a note on next year's calendar to complete this chore no later than mid-October! On a more positive note, I've already changed my car tires to winter ones. Oh, and the bird bath has it's winter de-icer element installed.

A jay enjoying a drink of tepid water on a frosty morning.

Friday, 27 September 2019

It's Now A Pleasure

Like many folk in the Northern Hemisphere, September is my favourite month.

Yard work that was heat and mosquito plagued during the summer is now a comfortable pleasure. Weed trees, over-grown shrubs and vines can be safely trimmed without fear of disturbing nesting birds. As a bonus, the exercise and fresh country air provide a good night's sleep. October should be almost as wonderful for outside projects! November usually has me scrambling to winterize.

Ellie Mae loves the jungle-like aspect of our grounds.

Hogging too much light from the veg patch, some of these trees will be culled.

Not yet migrated, this catbird was calling for most of the day.

Cedar Waxwings are currently enjoying the yard's mountain ash berries.

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My honey bee hives produced a nice crop of honey again this year. Since I take my share in July, the honey is light coloured and delicately flavoured. I especially love it on pumpernickle toast.

A honey bee gathering pollen from a fading anemone flower.

The hummingbirds have migrated but their feeder still attracts clients.

Harvest of 2019, a light coloured July honey. It was a very good year.

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In the comments section of the previous post, Verna G inquired about the handicapped mother raccoon and her children. Well Verna, I have not seen them for weeks now. I suppose they have mostly gone their separate ways to hunt for food. Nearby there are vast acreages of field corn and miles of ditches to forage in. Perhaps the smallest kit will stick close to her this winter. Judging by how well the mom could scramble up tree trunks and posts, she should be okay. I'll always wonder what could have caused those injuries.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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!