Category Archives: Nature

Citizen Science Notes

Hummingbird season here was May 12 to September 19. I still think of them making their way south after their first big task of crossing the Northumberland Strait in one go. I’ve read they end up in Mexico or Costa Rica for the winter, then make their way back here, year after year.

We used small feeders that stuck to our windows with suction cups for a few years, but switched to larger ones as the little ones needed daily refilling. The year after we switched, a couple of hummingbirds flew to each of the three locations where the smaller feeders had been the previous year, clearly showing that they were returning friends.

I joined Bumble Bee Watch in August after hearing Victoria MacPhail on CBC PEI encouraging Islanders to submit sightings. My guesses as to which bees I was seeing were way off, so I loved having my sightings confirmed by an expert (Victoria herself!). So far, I’ve recorded these two lovelies:

Bombus vagans – Half-black bumble bee (worker)
Bombus ternarius – Tri-colored bumble bee (worker)

I bought swamp milkweed seeds from Hope Seeds in 2016 and planted them in a few spots on our property. Last year they finally flowered, and this year we had our first monarch butterfly caterpillars!

I found one chrysalis, and it was fine for a few days, but I think a chicken also discovered it and gave it a peck, so that was that. Our milkweed patches are not large enough and that meant some caterpillars could’t get enough to eat, so I’ll plant more next year. Happily, I did see two monarchs, a male and a female, which is two more than I remember seeing in many years. I hope to register with Monarch Watch in the future.

Male monarch butterfly

In August, as I puttered in the garden, I heard what I thought was a hummingbird, and then this bizarre beast buzzed by. It’s a hummingbird moth, and it was hard to figure out at first if I was looking at an insect or a bird, which made it a bit creepy in a fascinating way! I’ve never seen one before, so perhaps my semi-wilding experiment is working…maybe too well!

Hummingbird moth briefly on some phlox, and forever in my nightmares!

Behold, the hummingbird moth in action!

Hummingbird moth, with the drone of crickets drowning out the moth wings.

Dorian

Just found notes I made while we waited for our power to be restored after Post-Tropical Storm Dorian (PTSD, which is what I had for a bit!). September flew by in a series of post-summer board meetings, keeping me from posting, so I shall post this post-haste!

  1. Power out from Saturday, September 7, 17:10 to Friday, September 13, 20:30.
  2. Internet outages: Saturday, September 7 ,17:10 to Tuesday, September 10 19:15, and Wednesday, September 11 09:00-20:00.
  3. I missed the Internet more than electricity.
  4. Our average electricity costs to this point in 2019 is $3.84/24-hour-day or 16 cents an hour. We ran our generator for a total 30 hours for those six days and we used 40 litres of gasoline, so that works out to .75 litres/hour. At a cost of $1.14/litre, our generator cost was about 85 cents/hour or (if we had run the generator 24 hours a day) $20.40 a day. Electricity is a really great deal!
  5. Plug-in carbon monoxide detectors with replaceable 9v battery backups are cheaper to purchase, but they eat batteries like crazy, so I will replace these units with a type with a 10-year non-replaceable battery.
  6. A chainsaw with a dull chain is almost worse that not having a chainsaw at all.
  7. After 15 years of faithfully putting on chainsaw chaps, even when I’m just doing a quick job, I found out they work incredibly well (see little white cut in photo below).
  8. Rainfall amounts Saturday, September 7 = 76 mm, Sunday, September 8 = 26 mm
  9. Asparagus ferns are the only wind-proof residents of my vegetable garden, even though they look the most fragile. Dahlias and sunflowers collapsed in the first hour of the high winds, even though they look the strongest. Lesson there to be more flexible in challenging conditions.
  10. It’s still very dark outside when all the orange and bright white street lights that have been plonked in the middle of the country are doused.
  11. A landline will not always work, despite the promises. This was a big surprise after hearing the message for years that retaining a landline in addition to a mobile telephone is important in case of emergencies as it will always work.
  12. Landline outage: Sunday, September 8 from approximately 09:30-14:00; Monday, September 9 from at least 05:30-14:30; Tuesday, September 10 from at least 05:00 – 10:45.
  13. Chicken eggs laid during outage = 24 (no electricity necessary!)
  14. Canadian Tire in Summerside sold an emergency order of 70 generators that arrived on the morning of September 9 by noon that day. Centennial Honda only had three chainsaws left on September 10, and were out of many parts. To make a fortune, corner the generator and chainsaw market before storms.
  15. CBC Maritime Noon should always be 2 hours, just like it used to be.
  16. Media people, including power company spokespeople, say “check our website for more information” a lot. It’s a reflex now, and one I don’t usually notice, except when I can’t access the Internet. Internet-connected devices and service are not affordable by everyone, nor can everyone navigate a computer, so they are left behind even when the power is on.
  17. Never seen before: round bale of straw floating down the river, bleach bottle that blew into our yard from somewhere.
  18. Injuries = 0. Trees on house = 0. Trees on power line to house = 1 huge spruce, still very much alive. Trees down in our forest = a lot more than at any other time in my lifetime, possibly because much of our forest grew up after the 1960 forest fire and isn’t that diverse (a lot of white spruce, poplar, and white birch). What looks to us like a big mess is the forest canopy opening up naturally to allow the next generation to thrive.
  19. I thought very little about the current US president, nor anything else, really. The world kept turning, I just worried about feeding my family, getting water, cleaning up the mess in the yard.
The colours of fall.

Blue food for blue birds

One of the most beautiful things about the rewilding experiment I am conducting on our property is the abundance of wild blueberries growing just steps from our house, which feed so many animals: wild birds, raccoons, chickens, us!

I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon watching bird families coming through for a snack. First the blue jays, with their noisy, begging teenagers that demand to be fed every ten seconds. The parents drop down, pick a few berries, feed the young ones, move along. Now there are four flickers yelling at one of our cats who is strolling by.

We used to cut the grass under the trees, rake all the leaves spring and fall, keep everything nice and neat. Now it is much less work, incredibly lush, and full of natural shrubs and flowers. It’s a bit wooly looking, but we live in a forest by a tidal river and this is the way it should look.

Imagine what the world would look like if every human made decisions based on understanding that we are just one of many species and not the top of the heap.

Gone

I went back to the nest at the end of our lane a couple of times after my first post. The three eggs hatched July 9, and I saw the babies a few hours after they emerged. Both mother and father robin were very clear that I should get lost, and the babies never woke when I moved the branch over the nest.

A few hours old.

Six days later, there was just one little baby. Birds grow so quickly!

One.

The nest was empty a week later, and no parents were around to scold me or to tell me if the baby fledged. I think it would have been too soon, but I’ll ever know. I’ve been hearing the robins close to our house singing in the morning like they do when they first return each spring. I believe they can nest a couple of times in a summer, so perhaps they are trying again.

Call Of The Forest

The excellent documentary about the work of Diana Beresford-Kroeger, Call of the Forest, is available to watch this weekend (July 13-15, 2019) on the website mercola.com. I was an Indiegogo backer and am so pleased with the film and its message. I hope you will watch it.

Beresford-Kroeger should be a household name in Canada, but isn’t quite yet. She has a unique way of combining science and traditional teachings that is captivating. The Global Forest and The Sweetness of a Simple Life are two of my all-time favourite books. I’m excited about her newest book, To Speak for the Trees, which will be released this fall.

Please plant trees. Worship them. Encourage those trees in urban areas who struggle to survive the air pollution while standing in compacted soil encased in concrete and asphalt. Touch a tree on a windy day and feel how it moves and bends. Pat one and say hello. Listen to the call of the forest, because that is our home.

What Nature Wants

I noticed last week the lily-of-the-valley at the end of our lane were in bloom. There is no sweeter scent in early summer, even though my plant book tells me they are highly poisonous. This morning I set off to pick some.

Many trees came down in wind storms last winter, some large ones that were very much alive (including one giant that just grazed the gutters on our house!). One completely blocked my path to the patch, but I figured I could just squeeze by it .

As I reached out to move a branch, a robin flew off, and there was the most perfect nest, about two feet off of the ground, containing three eggs. I hurried past.

Seems the flowers had hurried past, too, and were starting to turn brown, so I’d missed my chance. I snapped a quick picture of the nest on my way back, mother robin sitting nervously in a nearby tree. She started shouting, and her mate joined in. I sped off, and calm returned.

It is good forestry practice to not be active in the woods this time of year while birds are still nesting, and this nest is a good reminder of why. It would take me less than a minute with my chainsaw to cut this skinny spruce up so I could toss it aside. I should have done it in late winter, but something always kept me from it.

But, really, nature doesn’t want or need me to cut that tree. The green needles will turn brown and fall off next year. The lower branches will decay and snow will pile on top year after year, and the branches will snap off. In a few years, the trunk will be on the ground, and the insects and microbes would really take over. In a couple of decades, the tree will be gone, having nourished other plants and trees.

In cutting the tree, I’m shaping nature to suit my needs, and I need to always be mindful of that. For now, what nature wants is for those three eggs to have a safe home, and for me to walk around another way.

Perfect nest made of mud, straw, moss, birch bark, and seaweed

(Only as I am getting ready to publish this post do I realise my first two posts heavily feature eggs. I suppose a blog should have a theme, but I rather thought the theme would be “what I’m obsessing about right now.” Guess I’m taking the hatching of a blog rather too seriously!)