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.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer Solstice

For anyone living north of the equator, today is our longest day of the year. My patch will receive sixteen hours of daylight. Perhaps that explains why I wasn't sleepy last night. My internal clock is in summer mode.

And, of course, the summer solstice brings summer delights. A large and modern new grocery store has opened in the nearby village of Winchester, Ontario. It's parking lot not only has a fresh and smooth paved surface but an eye-catching new landscape feature. Beautiful roses are planted throughout. I was smitten by the gorgeous purplish-pink double blooms and simply had to stroll over and take a sniff. Their fragrance was wonderful! Amid the thorny stems, a single metal tag had escaped the landscapers. It read, Rosa rugosa 'Hansa'. Lickity split, on my next foray into Ottawa, I bought three pots of it from a garden centre. And even before I planted the roses, my honey bees had found the pots and were checking out the yellow stamens amid the magenta blooms.

Front and back views of a tag on my new rose acquisition.

Speaking of honey bees, last week I opened the hive split that did not receive a queen and was happy to see that it had made one of it's own. I did not actually eyeball a queen, but there was solid evidence that one was in residence. The hive workers were relaxed and hummed contentedly. The sight of eggs in new comb was conclusive queen-right proof. A single egg had been placed precisely in the bottom and centre of each new brood cell. Only the long abdomen of a queen could perform this technical feat. All is well in my little apiary.

Also among the pleasures of summer are lovely, fresh bouquets. Presently, these are provided by peonies, planted by my mother many decades ago. Not only outrageously showy, they produce an exquisite rose-like fragrance.

I can picture this magenta beauty decorating a girl's summer party hairdo.

The wonderful fragrance of this pink peony would rival any rose.

Fresh bouquets of peonies grace my kitchen window sill. Thank you, Mom.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A New Customer

Wild elderberry shrubs have sprung up in several places around my grounds. They have pretty white blossoms that develop into sweet little berries. Gray Catbirds love these berries and quite likely have deposited the seeds that formed the shrubs in the first place. So it was no real surprise when I noticed the fruit loving catbirds checking out my grape jelly feeder. They feed from each little pot in turn and then head off somewhere, presumably to share with a nesting female. My orioles and catbirds have already polished off one 500 ml bottle of Welch's Concord Grape Jelly and are well into a second one. Word has spread among my feathered customers and business is brisk!

A Gray Catbird arrives to check out the grape jelly feeder.

You can almost see a smile on it's beak!

Yum-m-m! Even sweeter than the elderberries!

A female Baltimore Oriole wolfs down her share.

Good stuff, eh? I like a little on a cracker and cheese, myself!

Friday, 2 June 2017

June Treasures

I try to limit the number of pictures for each post to five or seven. But this time, I couldn't pare down those of my treasures to less than ten. Note to self -- post more often!

Another showery morning and Ellie Mae ponders how to spend the day.

On a nest hidden by virginia creeper vines, a Mourning Dove eyes my passing.

When she flew off, her treasure was revealed.

Nearby and hidden in the grass, a pair of Tree Sparrows tend three tiny speckled eggs.

A kind gift from my sister, this little hanging bird house harbours a House Wren nest.

It looks like bluebird feathers were used to cushion the cinnamon-brown eggs.

On a St. Lawrence River inlet, Canada Geese parents chaperone 21 fluffy babies.

Stretches of my grounds contain wild strawberries. I can almost taste them now!

My honey bees vary in colour as seen on these two workers using Mountain Ash blossoms.

At least a half dozen Baltimore Orioles frequent my grape jelly feeder. What dazzling colour!!