I speak robin now. I’ve heard them singing outside my window my whole life. They wake me up and they lull me to sleep. It’s only this spring that I have finally been able to understand what they are saying.
The dawn chorus is easy. They are calling out to find a mate, to show they own a patch of forest or meadow. I am here, where are you? I’m the best, bet you are, too!
Right now the robins who nested in the red pine tree in our yard are busy all day finding food for their newborn floppy-necked babies. They still find the energy to sing morning and night. This is who you are, you are a robin. Every ounce of me honours every ounce of you.
In this time when we are thinking and talking about breathing and not breathing – don’t get sick, don’t make others sick, I can’t breathe – I stop breathing, and then I hear my life-long friend the robin:
Look up, this is all there is. Now, this is all there is. See, it’s gone, but you can catch the next now. Now.
We have always had “rabbits” in our woods, though they are really Lepus americanus, the snowshoe hare. Their lovely brown fur turns white in winter. They love to nibble clover on our lawn and tender plants in our vegetable garden à la Peter Rabbit. In the winter, they eat bark from young trees and tender spruce tips. Heavy snow is their ally as they can reach higher up on trees.
An increase in predators like bald eagles and coyotes in our area, combined with a natural cycle of population peaks, has meant that we haven’t seen hares for a few years, though I have found their tracks and droppings in snow. This little friend was sitting on my mother’s walk last night checking out the neighbourhood and wondering what to eat next (probably my lettuce!). Welcome back.
I saw the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season at one of our feeders last evening at 8:10. He left Costa Rica or somewhere in that vicinity earlier this year, probably flew across the Gulf of Mexico, dodged predators, vehicles and storms, and then finally crossed the Northumberland Strait to find our yard, perhaps having been here last summer. It gives me such a thrill every time.
Added a third bee to my list on Bumble Bee Watch. This one is Bombus perplexus, the confusing bumble bee. She is a queen, as are most, if not all, the first bumble bees you find in the spring.
The Bumble Bee Watch platform prompts you to identify what kind of bee you are submitting, and I guessed it was one I had seen last summer, Bombus vagans, but the verifier changed it to the confusing bumble bee. Well, that’s some expert, I thought. She’s not surewhat kind of bee I’ve found? Nope, it’s me that’s confused – again!
It is a happy coincidence that the return of seasonal garden and forest friends this year began at about the same time as spending time with human friends became more difficult. First to arrive just as “lock down” started were the grackles and red-winged blackbirds, loud and chatty as they announced their return and snacked at the feeder. Robins then started hopping across the few bare parts of our yard, and mallards, great blue herons, seagulls and now mergansers are all back on the river.
A pair of crows are building a nest across the creek, first plucking white pine branches off the lawn, and now gathering beakfuls of dead grass and moss for lining. They will be noisy neighbours as their fledglings are loud and constantly hungry, complaining that they are starving from dawn until dusk! I expect to find broken mussel shells on the lawn all summer as the parents sit in the trees, break the shells, extract the meat, give it to the young ones, and drop the shells. Crows and chicken keepers are good allies, though, as we are both afraid of the bald eagles and hawks that circle, and the crows will helpfully harass and chase them away.
Yesterday’s warm temperatures brought out the first bees of the year. Here’s a tricoloured bumblebee in a crocus, busy as a you-know-what.
I was in Summerside yesterday when our Acurite 5-in-1 weather station recorded a 255.9 km/h wind gust just before 2 p.m. Just glad the house is still standing and the chickens didn’t blow away. What powerful spirit could have flown by and gave the anemometer a spin? Maybe the gitpu (eagle) I spoke to earlier this week as she flew over our house checking out our hens. Message received.
Since I sometimes digitally clip bits and pieces from old newspapers and then file them without good descriptions, I shouldn’t be surprised when I ask myself questions I could already answer.
Earlier this month I mused about my great-grandmother’s prize-winning entry to a contest in a fishing magazine. I wondered how she remembered the exact details of a fish caught by her sons long after the event and where she got the photo that accompanied the story.
Seems she had already alerted the media to this story in 1936, and I had already read it and filed it away with the very descriptive file name “Guardian_Aug24_1936_fish”. Thankfully I stumbled upon it this morning.
News from the Atlantic Veterinary College of a necropsy recently performed on an ocean sunfish that washed ashore on PEI last November reminded me of a story my great-grandmother submitted to a Bluenose News contest and was published in their July 1948 edition. Bluenose News was a small free magazine published by the Drummondville Cotton Company of Montreal, makers of fishing twine.
Cecil and Everett were two of her seven sons, five of whom were fishermen (the other two were my grandfather, Wilbur, who was prone to seasickness so became a farmer and box mill operator, and Elmer, who was a renowned market gardener and poultry keeper).
I’ve always had many questions about this piece. How did Cecil and Everett “give chase” in the slow boats they had pre-1948, and how fast is a sunfish? How did Eva get her hands on a copy of the December 1940 edition of Australian Wild Life in tiny Freeland, PEI? Did Eva have a diary where she recorded oddities like the exact measurements of strange fish caught by her sons and, if she did, where the heck is that diary now?
As I examine this story more closely, I realise that this is probably not a photo of the sunfish caught by my great-uncles, as Eva says “they gaffed a fish like the enclosed picture.” The fellow on the left doesn’t really look like any of my family, and cameras were still pretty rare in the 1940s and certainly not carried around while people were working by the ocean, so I guess this is just something she found somewhere.
Eva loved to read. My mother remembers that when the weekly Family Herald arrived, Eva put her work aside until she had read every word, then she would tell everyone the tales and tips she had learned. Beyond her family’s memories, I only met one woman about ten years ago who remembered going to the Hardy house as a little girl to hear Eva telling stories.
Having a story published must have been a big thrill for Eva and receiving the handsome sum of $10 would have been most welcome, too! I’m sure she told this story again and again.
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:
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.
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!