Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Spruce Tree's Makeover

A good seventy years ago, my parents planted a small windbreak of pine and spruce trees close to our farmhouse. One of the white spruce trees is now a healthy looking specimen measuring five feet in circumference at my shoulder height. It's life expectancy is 200 years. Maybe not as long now. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have given it a dramatic makeover.

Large square holes resemble nesting cavities in the making.

On three sides of this tree, a half dozen deep holes were excavated.

Wounded deeply into the heartwood, spruce gum will surely flow.

Wood chips on the ground clued me to look further up.

 The mystery is why have this pair of pterodactyl look-alikes selected this particular tree? Our bush lot contains hundreds of dead trees that would be easier to excavate and much more private than this one located so close to the house. Are these young birds just practicing their carpentry skills?

Even if they don't follow through with nesting, in years to come other species will surely find the starter homes of interest.

The female Pileated Woodpecker ruffles her feathers as she suns on a spruce tree.

The wary male foraging on an elderly soft maple tree.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Backyard Sweeties

Sadly, my cottontail rabbit has disappeared. Neither hide nor 'hare' (pardon the pun) to be found. Sightings stopped at about the same time that we got a coating of freezing rain a couple of weeks back.

On a brighter note, an Eastern Screech-owl has been using both the roost box on the north side of my house and the one on the south side. A few nights back I thought I heard it's soft trilling vocalization. Such a little cutie! Understandably, the other birds in my yard don't share my affection for it.

A scolding Black-capped Chickadee points to the whereabouts of a roosting owl.

A White-breasted Nuthatch confirms the sighting.

An Eastern Screech-Owl peers from the box located on the north side of my house.

Only occasionally does it roost in this newer box installed south of my house.

Not a terrific photo because ...

... I was shooting through this ice-spattered window.

While foraging, this American Tree Sparrow kept slipping and sliding on the ice.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Bunny Buffet

Eastern Ontario is bitterly cold these days. And with extreme cold comes an increased need for calories. A wild rabbit is making use of my backyard's many hiding places as well as the nourishment from the black oil seed that I put out for the birds.

Yesterday, in addition to more sunflower seeds, I bought a small bag of rabbit pellets from the local livestock feed store. I've gotten rather attached to my cotton-tail neighbour and wanted to give it a special treat.

To keep the birds from interfering, I waited until dusk and then put out portions of sunflower seeds, rabbit pellets and peanuts. Soon bunny arrived at the buffet. It completely ignored the commercial rabbit pellets and the peanuts. For about fifteen minutes it munched on the sunflower seeds and then hopped over to where I had put carrot slices and ate a few of those. At dawn this morning, the pile of sunflower seeds had been reduced but the other two courses had been shunned. As bluejays became active, the peanuts soon vanished! The pellets remain untouched.

Bugs Bunny may love carrots, but this Cotton-tail merely finds them okay.

What stations do you pick up with those alert rabbit ears?

Rabbit pellets and peanuts are shunned by this picky diner.

Is everything to your satisfaction here, Sir or Madame?

Those peanuts really hit the spot! May I have some more please?

Even when my Eastern Screech Owl is hidden within a roost box during the day, I have reliable informants that let me know when it is in residence.

A White-Breasted Nuthatch announces that an owl hides within.

When the coast is clear, the owl appears and squints through partly closed eyes.

This morning's thermometer reading. Not exactly balmy, is it?

Hand-knitted by a skilled and generous cousin, these wool-blend socks are pure luxury!!

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!"