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Friday, May 17, 2019

The past week, abbreviated

It has been a busy week with my work projects ramping up again, and lots of hours spent at my desk.  Here's a quick synopsis of the past week though, mostly from last weekend.

I did some new raccoon proofing of my bird feeders, because I was tired of this (my picture from 2017, we don't have leaves out here, yet!):

The seeds were disappearing at a great rate and the poles I had in place were often bent, which was getting very frustrating. I had a regular raccoon problem with several visitors - caught groups of up to 6 of them feasting some nights. I determined that my baffles on the shorter feeder poles weren't working in some cases because the raccoons could grab the undersides of hanging feeders.

So, I bought a metal ground spike for a 4x4 post, and a 7-foot long 4x4 post. I installed the post using the spike, and then slid 3 lengths of stove pipe over it. I used the 7 inch circumference pipe in 2-foot lengths. I read that some raccoons have successfully climbed 6 inch circumference pipe, so I decided 7 inch would be best. After the pipe was in place, I had a foot of the post exposed at the top, to which I added cross-pieces to hang the feeders, with little grooves for the hangers to keep them in place in the wind.

It's been a week and no more raccoons. My seed is lasting much longer, my feeders aren't getting dragged into the woods, and the birds are happy. I do still have one pole with my original baffle that has my tray feeder. I think it doesn't hang low enough for the raccoon to grab it, so the stove-pipe baffle is still effective on that post.

Speaking of bird feeders, the number of birds over the past week has been incredible. I've routinely had at least 15 American goldfinches at the feeders, with several purple finches, juncos, pine siskins, blue jays, grackles, mourning doves, and white throated sparrows as well. It's been very busy for them. I also have a pair of robins who started to build a nest under my eaves but the bits blew down in the wind so they may choose somewhere else.

Here are some synchronized goldfinch feeding team tryouts.

The female goldfinch is impressed, I think.

A whole lot of pine siskins with goldfinches in the background.

My running class took place on Tuesday and Thursday. I didn't go on Tuesday because it was snowing. Sometimes I really dislike our climate! More spring already! I went on the elliptical machine in the basement instead.

I did go on Thursday, even though it was raining. Marginally better than snow.

Our running takes place in the Sackville Waterfowl Park, but I can't take my camera for the runs, so I made another visit to the park with the camera last weekend. I was pretty excited to see a common gallinule, which is not at all common for this area. Here he is peeking out of the rushes.

All the way out!  Look at the colour of his legs - so vivid!

A lovely treat to see this unusual visitor.

This coming weekend is a long weekend here in Canada, but it looks like it will be raining for most of it. I'd like to get out in the garden soon but it's been really cold, and we had a frost warning yesterday, so it's too soon for most things. Fingers crossed it will warm up soon.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Saturday Morning Walk

My second "couch to 5K" session on Thursday wasn't too bad.  I didn't get drenched with rain, which was the best part.  I'm still the second slowest of the group, but that's OK I guess.  We did walk-one-minute-jog-20-seconds for the full length of our trail, which wasn't too bad, although by the end of it, my chest was feeling a bit tight and I was definitely out of breath.  I hope that will improve.

This morning I went for a more leisurely walk in the Sackville Waterfowl Park, which is one of my favourite places to be.  It's a beautiful park and so many birds make it their home - I feel really lucky to be so close to it.  This morning there were vast numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers (formerly named Myrtle Warblers) all over the park.  They're so cute and quite bold, so I can get relatively close to them.  I took a lot of photos, but they just captivate me.  I really liked this shot with the cattails from last year, even though he's not looking my way. 

The perfect little models, they are!

Imagine this one with a Scottish accent, saying "Och...the wind's blowin' up me kilt!"
 
Lady, can I have a little modesty here?  Please?

There are also Palm Warblers around - it's so good to see them again now that spring is finally here.


I love their little rusty coloured "hats."

A good number of sparrows are also out and about.  Some are bold and others are more shy. Here's a song sparrow—and they do have a lovely song!

This is the back end of a swamp sparrow who was being really reticent about having his picture taken, so I had to take him in two halves!

Peek-a-boo!  The front end of the swamp sparrow.

This one is a Savannah sparrow.

Of course, none of those birds are waterfowl.  Here's an actual waterfowl—a green-winged teal.

I'll leave you with a whole series of tree swallow photographs, because I couldn't decide which ones to share.  They were being especially helpful with posing today! 
 
This one sat for a while just a few feet from me on the boardwalk railing.


There are houses on posts in the lake that they prefer for their nest boxes.
 

Some of them have a more distinct dark chest spot.

I think this one is my favourite shot - it's a swallow pretending to be a small, grumpy penguin.



Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Couch to 5K

I recently signed up for a recreation program here in my town called "Couch to 5K," which is a learn to run program for sedentary folks, like me.  I signed up for several reasons:

  1. I'm a bit of a slug.  I don't leave slime trails, and I do have a sit-stand desk, but I still sit for a lot of time every day, and all my hobbies are seated, so I feel it's important for me to try to get more exercise. 
  2. I turned 50 recently, which sort of makes you think about your health and your overall fitness level perhaps a bit more than you did before.
  3. I could stand to lose a few pounds, like 50 or so, and sitting isn't accomplishing that.
  4. I looked at the picture of a former "couch to 5K" class and there were people who were clearly even less fit than me, so I figured I would not be the worst of the bunch, and that was, admittedly, somewhat encouraging.
  5. It's good for me to get out and do things, because I tend to be a hermit.
So, I was pleased this morning when I woke up to a lovely, sunny day.  "Good," I thought to myself, "this will be a good day for my running program."  As the day progressed, there was a bit of a breeze, and I lay in my new hammock for a few minutes around lunchtime and thought about how that was a good thing, because it would be nice to have a bit of a breeze when running, in case I got a bit hot.

I planned my supper early so that I wasn't too full to go to the class, which started at 6 pm.  When I was eating, I noticed it was clouding over a bit, and I thought to myself "Well, that's OK, because it won't be too hot." (not that it was particularly hot in the first place, but one tries to see the bright side). 

So  I put on a light jacket of a sort of velour type fabric and headed out. I drove into town and went to the park where we were meeting, and I noticed on my way that it was quite a bit chillier than it had been and that there was quite a wind now.  "Well, that's OK," I thought "because I'll be warm as we are running or trying to run, and the cooler air will feel nice."  (bright side...but slightly less bright than earlier)

We met the young, exuberant and bouncy instructor, who is a 3rd year kinesiology student and I would be willing to put money on the fact that she has never in her life felt overweight, arthritic, uncoordinated, or slug-like.  I look around at the other people and realize that... oh dear, maybe I actually am the worst of the bunch.  I listened to the instructor do her spiel and tell us our route today, which was going to be mostly walking, because it was the first day.  I thought to myself, I can still do this.  So we head out onto the path that goes to the Fundy trail and it was right around that point that I felt the first raindrop.

Off we go, down the trail, with Ms. Exuberance giving us helpful tips about running, which I'm sure were helpful, but the sound of about 20 people's feet on gravel is noisy, and the wind is really quite blustery by this point, which made it hard enough to hear her because we're all in a sort of jumbled pack, and then, of course, the skies opened and the rain began in earnest.  So there I was, puttering along, shivering in the cold wind, drenched to the skin because velour-type jackets are not waterproof nor warm when wet, not hearing much, and thinking about how amazingly appealing my reclining chair would be at that moment, with a nice warm blanket and a bit of knitting and a hot cocoa.  

So our half hour walk (with a tiny bit of a jog in the middle) was essentially a wind and water bath and I arrived back at my car looking like a drowned rat (drowned slug?) and feeling utterly miserable.  Don't get me wrong, I'll still go back on Thursday.  It's twice a week for eight weeks, which is supposed to be enough to form a habit out of it.  But on Thursday, I'll bring my parka, my umbrella, a box of tissues, galoshes, and a personal flotation device, just in case. 

Not an auspicious start to my exercise program, but at least I did it.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

A few improvements

I am in a brief lull between major projects at the moment, so I have taken some time to make a few improvements for the summer season.  First of all, I purchased and assembled a handy plant stand that I plan to use for hardening off my transplants before I put them in the raised beds.  It has 4 shelves so there is plenty of room for me to use.

The entire stand is covered with a reinforced covering that has 2 zippers down the front.  You can roll up the middle section to have access to the shelves, and then close it to give them extra protection overnight.  I'm sure it will be useful at other times of the year as well.  I will probably bring it inside over the winter and use it in the basement as added storage space for garden pots and such.

The next improvement I put in place was to construct some pea and bean frames for vining peas and beans.  They aren't exactly works of art, but they serve their purpose! 

I used 2x4 lumber for the uprights and 1x3 for the cross supports.  I used deck screws to attach the cross pieces to the upright frames and sandwiched the netting in between.  Now I have great vertical space for my peas and beans.  I actually planted some peas as well.  It's early, but they can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked. 

My contractor and general construction guy brought new soil this past weekend to fill the raised beds back up to the top, since they had subsided a lot over the last season and then the winter.  Now they are ready to go.  I had planned on using some of our own compost pile but it isn't well composted enough yet.  Next year. 

Then, I needed to think about outdoor relaxation, so my final improvement was to assemble this fabulous double hammock on a deck stand.  The instructions were fairly simple and although it said you should have two people to assemble it, I managed just fine by myself.  The slightly hair-raising part was when I had to balance the overhead cover supports on my head when putting in the first screws.  Fortunately, I have a hard head and a decent sense of balance, so I managed to get it done quite quickly. 

I have already had a couple of rest sessions on the hammock.  It does take a wee bit of coordination to get in and out of it, but I'm getting the hang of it.  I think this will be a lovely treat during the warmer weather.  I do plan to get a mosquito net for it.

Soon the weather will allow me to re-plant my deck containers and hanging baskets and then deck will be ready for summer.  I can't wait to get the raised beds growing again!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

More birds returning as spring progresses

I've been enjoying watching the birds for the past couple of weeks as more species return after their long migrations.  This spring in particular, I've had a lot of purple finches at the feeder.  I have had them on occasion in the past, but never quite so many.  Last week I had a day with 8 of them at the feeders at once.  The male purple finches are such cheerfully coloured birds and I do enjoy watching them.  I took a lot of pictures - here are some of the better ones.

Keeping an eye out for danger.

The flock at the feeder. 

Hey lady, are you looking at me?


I've also had more pine siskins this year, including some during the winter.  I love the flash of yellow on their wings.  Here are a group of them at the feeder.

Here's a pine siskin enjoying a sip from the bird bath.

The robins have returned and I do hope that they will build a nest in the area.  I've had a pair build a nest under my eaves for the past 2 years, but I haven't seen any nest building activity yet.  Here's a watchful male robin who could probably see me taking pictures of him through my home office window.

I see you!

The white-throated sparrows are also showing up now - I love their song and their lovely little golden head spots.


I think he saw me too!

I didn't see as many pheasants as usual this past winter, but I did see this female earlier this week.  They are so good at camouflage.

Finally, I have a tailless song sparrow that has been visiting regularly.  No doubt it was nearly caught by a predator - perhaps a cat or a larger bird of prey.  Its lack of tail doesn't seem to hamper it though.  It flies with no trouble at all. 

I think I'll name him "Stubby!"

So lovely to have spring finally appear with a greater variety of birds in my yard!

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Leucistic Junco

Today I happened to be looking out the window and caught sight of a dark-eyed junco with some unusual characteristics.  They are common birds for my area, so I'm used to seeing them, but this one was different.

Here's a "normal" dark-eyed junco.

Here's the one I saw today.  Notice that it has a crescent-shaped white marking on its chest.  This is not at all a normal feature.

In addition, it had several white bars across the back of its head, as shown in the following pictures.


Those white patches are definitely not a standard feature on the dark-eyed junco.

These unusual markings led me to the conclusion that this junco has a touch of leucism.  Unlike albinism, which is a complete loss of pigmentation, leucism is a partial loss of pigmentation.  It can occur in skin or hair, as well as feathers.  It can also be widespread across the animal's body, or just in small patches, as is the case with this junco.

I'm hoping that the junco will return to my yard on a nicer day.  The photos I took were in the rain, through my home office window, so they are not nearly as clear as I would like.  Unfortunately, we have rain in the forecast every day for the next week or two.  Spring showers...although it's a bit much for my taste.  I've already seen 2 mosquitoes and the snow isn't even fully melted!