Recent garden and forest pictures

Birds

Here is a junco eating weed seeds from my garden. The more it can get rid of, the better.

Junco eating weed seeds
Junco eating weed seeds

These mourning doves are looking quite peaceful.  They are much less so with other birds, chasing most of them away (except, of course, hawks). They don’t seem that tough, but even blue jays retreat if a dove wants them to.

Mourning doves
Mourning doves
Mourning dove
Mourning dove

There is a pond about 200m from our house, which is almost overgrown now with cattails (bulrushes). It’s not on our land so I can’t do much to keep it clear. Eventually it will get filled in and we’ll have no more snapping turtles as my garden ponds are too small for them.

It is home in the summer to about 3 pairs of red-winged blackbirds.  Here is what’s left of one of their nests. They are built on cattail clumps well out into the water.

Blackbird nest
Blackbird nest

I also spotted a muskrat lodge while I was looking for the nests.

Muskrat lodge
Muskrat lodge

Which gives the segué into:

Mammals

Here is a red squirrel in the garden.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel

In our back field, on the other side of the cedar woods, there are piles of rocks from when the field was cleared. The field is rapidly filling in with red pine and there is a clump surrounding one of the rock piles. The squirrels have a nest in one of the pines and use one of the rocks for an al fresco dining-room table.

Squirrels nest in red pine
Squirrels’ nest in red pine
Squirrel dining table
Squirrel dining table

Cedar Forest

The back forest is about 80% Eastern Red Cedar which, as I’ve said before, is not botanically a cedar but a juniper. Here is the path down to the forest. You can just see my new bridge at the bottom.

Path to woods with snow
Path to woods with snow

From standing on the bridge, looking downstream, it was frozen over last week. It almost looks like it’s still flowing in the middle but the ripples were frozen too.

Pigeon River frozen
Pigeon River frozen

Looking upstream from the bridge are some interesting ice formations on the rocks.

Pigeon River starts to freeze over
Pigeon River starts to freeze over

But two days ago, we got a torrential rainstorm and +5ºC temperatures, which got rid of the ice. From the same vantage point, in both directions again:

River upstream from bridge
River upstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge

The cedars are fast growing and resilient trees.  Like “real” cedar, their wood is rot-resistant. Because the forest is so dense, some trees don’t make it in their race for the light, so we are able to get wood for posts and the like without having to cut live trees. We’re not supposed to anyway because of the conservation rules, but we certainly wouldn’t cut them unless we needed to (e.g. to keep power lines clear) so I don’t bother asking permission.

Here’s one example of their resilience. One trunk grew straight through another. I’m not sure if it is two trunks of the same tree or if two seedlings sprouted very close together. Many of the trees have multiple trunks like this.

Self-penetrating cedar
Self-penetrating cedar

The next picture shows one that was struck by lightning a few years ago.  The blast blew a 5 cm (2″) wedge out of the tree from top to bottom, pieces of which landed 3 m (10′) from the tree. The tree recovered nicely, as have several others in the vicinity. It’s not hard to see that lighting strikes several times in almost the same place around here.

Cedar struck by lighting
Cedar struck by lighting

The soil here is very shallow and cedar roots are shallow in any case (no tap root) so they are very prone to blowing down. But as long a some of the root is still in contact with the soil, they just adjust to their new direction and keep growing upwards.

Cedar regrows
Cedar regrows

Miscellaneous

There aren’t many insects around at this time of year, but since the river keeps flowing, you can always scoop up a few rocks.  Here is a mayfly nymph, only about 7mm (3/8″) that will be emerging as a fly in the spring, if the trout don’t get it first. The tufts on its abdomen are gills, in constant motion. You can just see the curve of its jaws at the front.

Mayfly nymph
Mayfly nymph

I bought a yucca plant about 20 years ago.  It reproduced first through branches off its underground rhizome, which is over 1m down (4′) and about 5 cm (2″) thick. But then a few started showing up elsewhere, presumably from seeds carried by birds. It grows fine from seed in straight gravel. It is pretty hardy for a warm desert plant. Oddly enough, it usually survives the winter looking in great shape, only to show significant  damage with the last couple of frosts, presumably because it has removed the antifreeze from its sap in order to grow. Still, it recovers and provides some gorgeous, enormous flower spikes.

Yucca
Yucca

(Almost) Flying Squirrels

Somehow the squirrels managed to find a way to leap between bird feeders to get at the peanuts.  I can’t afford to feed them a bag of peanuts every day so, to make sure there were some for the birds, I moved the peanut feeder further away, on a silver birch I’d had to cut from under the power lines.

Not to be deterred, the squirrel, who doesn’t like suet, tried the “Tarzan” approach.  Drop down on one suet feeder,

Squirrel flying pt 1
Squirrel flying part 1

Leap across to the next

Squirrel flying pt 2
Squirrel flying part 2

and then try the huge leap to get at least the pole to the peanut feeder.  Unfortunately, it didn’t seem too familiar with Newton’s Laws whereby half the momentum change went into sending the suet feeder backwards and only half into sending the squirrel in the direction of the peanut feeder, with the result that it fell ten feet to the ground.  Luckily, a squirrel’s terminal velocity is not that high so it went round for another try.  Several times a day for a few days until it finally gave up.

Squirrel flying pt 3
Squirrel flying part 3

I’m not sure if the blue jay is applauding.

Why didn’t the squirrel just climb the pole?  All my feeders and nest boxes have a stove pipe around them, so non-flying animals can’t reach them.  The stove pipes are too smooth to climb.

Cardinal love birds and other garden scenes

Squirrel nest and dining room, cardinal mating rituals and bluebird guarding its nest.

The pair of cardinals that live in our garden have their bonding rituals.  Each time they come to the feeder, the male offers the female the first seed.  After that, she’s on her own.

Cardinal kissing 1
Cardinal kissing 1
Cardinals kissing 2
Cardinals kissing 2

The bluebirds are nesting again.  The male stands guard on top of the pole to which the nesting box is attached.

Bluebird
Bluebird

Now for small mammals.  In our back field there are some stone piles from when the field was cleared.  Now it is growing over again and there is a clump of pines around one of the piles.

A red squirrel has made its home there.  Here is the nest:

Squirrel nest
Squirrel nest

And the stone pile provides an excellent dining room, complete with table:

Squirrel table
Squirrel table

The table is the larger rock in the middle towards the back. The brown stuff on the top that looks like leaves is actually the remnants of all the pine cones that the squirrel has been eating. Here it is closer up.

Squirrel table 2
Squirrel table 2

The cones are shredded to get at the seeds; you can see an almost intact one centre-left.

Small mammals seem to like rocks.  We keep a “small mammal sitting-rock” on our deck because they seem to like the view and perhaps some heat from the rock.  Today it was the chipmunk’s turn:

Chipmunk on sitting-rock
Chipmunk on sitting-rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January freeze and thaw

We’ve been having weird weather recently, alternating between + and – 12°C with a few dips down to -20.  During one of the upswings, the snow on our roof had enough ice that it was able to form sheets hanging off the roof.  With our new(ish) steel roof, it tends to slide off all at once with a loud noise, a mini avalanche.

Snow overhang
Snow overhang

As it warmed up, the squirrels came out of hibernation.  Here’s a black one; they’re a local variant on the grey ones.

Black squirrel, white snow
Black squirrel, white snow

There was a red one later but I was on a conference call so couldn’t take a picture.  I don’t get to do too many these days because it’s dark when I’ve finished work, even if I’m home and not freezing in -29° in Regina.  As well as not sleeping because they’re clearing snow from the parking lot outside my hotel room. Here’s a blurred picture from my cell phone camera:

Regina parking lot
Regina parking lot

I think the parking lot operators in Regina have more snow removal equipment than most of England; there are two loaders in this one picture.

Back to the garden.  Here are some juncos, feeding against a snowy background.

Juncos in the snow
Juncos in the snow

There are a couple of finches in there.  Then the next night we had torrential rain, so they had a different background:

Juncos no snow
Juncos no snow

Even the gnome looks happier.  It must have warmed up enough for the grubs to wake up in the dead wood I use to edge the path, the woodpecker got a change of diet.

Woodpeckers
Woodpecker

 

 

 

Heaven scent

I have had this house plant for many years but one day, a few years ago, at this time of year, I noticed a strong perfume throughout the basement and it took me several days to track it down.  It was this plant, which was at the back in my winter plant room, where I bring in the tropical plants to overwinter until the greenhouse is warm enough again.

Dracaena fragrans
Dracaena fragrans

It’s not much to look at, but the perfume is very pleasant and fills the entire house from this one little spike. It’s quite tall, you can see it is up to the roof; about 2m.  It is very easy to grow; I don’t water more than about twice all winter and it could probably do without even that.  You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, we have had such a mild winter that the squirrels didn’t really hibernate.  I’ve also mentioned that, unlike my former home in the U.K., the reds and greys (here they’re black) seem to get on fine together.  But here’s evidence that perhaps they get on only too well.  This black seems to have a red tail:

Black squirrel with red tail
Strange bird for you to identify

The caption is a nod to @GrrlScientist – if you like birds or politics you would be well-advised to follow her – because this strange bird is shovelling up all my bird food which I put on the ground for the various ground-feeding birds like these juncoes.

Juncoes
Juncoes

I haven’t seen the snow buntings recently.

Finally, back to plants.  This orchid blooms several times a year for me and lasts about 6 weeks.

Oncidium
Oncidium

This time, though, it has been infested with scale insects.  I’ve had these for several years on another Oncidium variety but there has never been more than a few so I never did anything about them.  Suddenly, this year, they are all over several plants and the plants are dripping honeydew from them.  Luckily, this seems to have attracted ladybirds/ladybugs (I’m still bilingual) and I am picking them off by hand.  They don’t move visibly so I should be able to catch up with them.  Most plants seem (so far) immune.

Scale insects
Scale insects

It’s not easy even to tell they are insects as they soon grow a hard shell and settle down to feed.  You need a strong magnifying glass to see the baby ones which are more insect-like.