Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Vulpine Visitor

I have a few minutes to do a quick blog post today, so I thought I'd share this beautiful creature who visited my yard yesterday.  In 2.5 years at this house, it's the first time I've seen a fox in the yard, even though we are surrounded by woods and I would think they are certainly about.  I can't say that one has never visited of course, because I don't spend my entire day scoping the yard, but I can say that I've never seen their footprints in the snow before, which would have been quite obvious.  

This one clearly isn't starving!  What a magnificent coat and tail.

I was a bit concerned to see it all the same, because the chickens would make a fine meal for a fox, but at the moment, the chickens aren't even going into their fenced side-yard because they do not like the snow at all.  The fox can't dig into the coop, and by the time the snow is gone, I'll be able to see if he or she has done any digging around the outer enclosure.

The fox did stop on the top of the brush pile to watch the sheep and goat, but foxes are not liable to take on full size livestock like that.  Here it is watching them.

I had to take the pictures through my home office window, so they're not perfect, but I'm glad I had the chance to see it.  That said, I hope it doesn't decide to keep visiting all that often - this is not a free chicken dinner restaurant! Run along little fox!  Thanks for visiting!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Long Time!

It's been a long time since my last post.  I feel as if things have been busy lately, which they have, but I also feel that I've been spending a bit more time on some craft projects, so that has been a focus and and blogging sort of took a break.  I'll try to do a little round-up today of the view from here.

First of all, we're in the grip of a really early winter.  Usually we have a couple of minor snowfalls in December but the real snow and bitter cold starts in January.  This year, things are all mixed up.  We have already had 2 significant snowfalls and have over a foot of snow on the ground.  It has been absurdly cold for this time of year - well below normal.  Temperature records have been set, as well as snowfall.  Many people in our area lost power in the two storms but we were lucky and retained power here.  Here's how the garden looks now.  It makes me pretty miserable.

Our menagerie of critters is well.  The chickens do not like the snow and typically stay inside the coop except to go out to the heated waterer.  They also like to eat snow.  Silly birds!  Not many eggs at this time of year, and I don't provide supplemental lighting to boost egg production because I think the hens deserve a break.  Here's a picture of some of them pecking at the snow. 

This year is expected to be an irruption year for finches on the east coast, and so far, that's proving to be true.  If you're not a bird person, you may not know what an irruption year is.  No, it's not a misspelling of eruption (those are for volcanoes).  An irruption is a significant migration of large numbers of birds outside their typical range.  Typically this happens as a result of food scarcity in the normal range.  Finches are particularly subject to irruptions when certain seeds are less available.  This year, seeds from conifer trees and birches are poor, so finches are poised for irruption moves.  If you're interested, here's some information on expected 2018/19 winter irruptions:

I'm very excited to have a regular flock of evening grosbeaks visiting my feeders, which is certainly not normal for this area.  I'm hoping to see some siskins and redpolls if I'm lucky!  Here's a male evening grosbeak.

I have noticed very heavy feeding on all my feeders (currently 6 active feeders) for birds in the past couple of weeks.  We have a lot of black-capped chickadees (more than usual), red-breasted nuthatches, goldfinches, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos and both hairy and downy woodpeckers.  Keep your feeders stocked - it's a tough winter for many bird species.  Here's the flock of grosbeaks at my tray feeder.

I've been busy with yarn-related projects too.  I'm quite pleased with how this plain-weave wrap turned out.  I used a lot of different warp yarns with a rayon weft. 

It's so important to focus on colour when everything outside is bleak, cold and white or grey.

I also finished the first block of a crochet project I'm working on called the Stained Glass Lantern Afghan from Lilla Bjorn.  I'm quite pleased with how that's turned out as well.

So, that's a little bit of an update.  I'll see if I can write a few more posts in the coming weeks to try to get caught up with all the things I've thought about writing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Frost-o Pesto

Tonight is forecast to have frost, which will be our first frost of the season.  I'm not very happy about it because I do not at all like the garden season coming to an end, and I really don't want to see winter.  Fall is a lovely season but it always comes too soon, and ends too soon, and then we're thrown in the deep freeze until May.

I've put some 4 degree row covers over the remaining plants in the raised beds (except the carrots and parsnips which should be fine).  I'm hoping that I'll get another week or so out of the tomatoes.  We shall see how bad the frost is.  After 2 nights, it is supposed to go back to "normal" fall overnight temps, which are not below freezing yet. 

Today I made pesto cubes with the remaining fresh herbs from my raised beds.  I didn't want them to go to waste in case the frost is significant.  I had a lot of basil and parsley, and also some sage, although the sage is a perennial type and doesn't mind a bit of frost.  The basil and parsley would not do well at all in frost.  It was time to make frost-o pesto!

I don't use my food processor all that often, but I do use it for pesto because I find it really does the job well.  I suppose a blender would be good for it as well.  I have a Braun food processor - this is my second one and the first one I had lasted for a long time.  I find it works very well and is reliable.  I use the regular blade for pesto.

I put the herbs that I'm using into the bowl after giving them a thorough wash and spinning them out in the salad spinner to remove most of the water.  You can use any blend of herbs you want, and you can also use garlic scapes.  I make the garlic scape pesto earlier in the season.

I use sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in my pesto because Marc is allergic to nuts.  I don't think he has actually tried pine nuts, which are the traditional nut used in pesto, but I don't want to risk it. I also recently managed to get some very fine Lucques olive oil from France at 50% off .  It is a really high quality olive oil, which I think is important to use in a pesto.  Sometimes I add parmesan but I didn't do so today.  I can always add parmesan to the dish when I use the pesto.

I can't tell you exactly the amount of seeds I use - probably a cup or so.  I just do it by eye.  Then I drizzle the oil all over it and start the processor blade.

Initially, I have to use a scraper to move all the material around in the bowl to get things evenly chopped.

As I continue, I increase the speed of the blade and the chopping gets faster and the pieces are smaller.  I keep scraping it down.

Eventually, it starts to look more like a paste than a mess of chopped leaves.  I added a little more olive oil at this point.

Another minute or so, and I call it done.  It's essentially the consistency of chunky peanut butter.

At that point, I scoop it out of the bowl and into ice cube trays.  I gently press the pesto into each compartment and then pop the trays into the freezer.

In a day or two, I'll pop them out of the trays and put the cubes into ziploc bags in the freezer.  Then I can pull out a cube anytime I need one.  They add a wonderful taste of summer to dishes throughout the winter.  Sometimes I use it on pasta, but I also use a cube or two in soups, casseroles, on baked fish, or other dishes.  It's a great way to use the end-of-season fresh herbs. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Vacation: Bird Round-up

My vacation was a great opportunity to photograph some birds that I don't usually see.  In particular, there were a lot of water-loving birds that I don't usually encounter.  I really enjoyed some long walks on the beach that allowed me to photograph some interesting bird species and to watch the activities of new-to-me birds.

As expected, there were a wide range of gull species spending time on the beach.  I managed to get this picture of four different gull species together.  From left to right, you can see a juvenile ring-billed gull, a herring gull, a juvenile great black-backed gull, and in the foreground, a Bonaparte's gull.

The ring-billed gull is easy to identify because of the black band around its beak.  It is one of the most common birds in North America.  It's the gull you might see in parking lots, scavenging dropped food items.  The herring gull is the typical "seagull" that people talk about, and is also a very common bird along the shoreline.

The great black-backed gull is the largest gull in North America.  It's often found with other gull species and is an aggressive bird which can benefit other birds that breed in the same area.  The one in the picture above is a juvenile, not fully dark yet.  Here's an adult with the full dark plumage.

My favourite of the gulls I saw was the diminutive Bonaparte's gull.  It's not named after Napoleon - rather it is named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences in the US during the 1820s, who made significant contributions to ornithology.  The gull is quite small and dainty in comparison to its larger brethren.

In breeding plumage, the head is entirely black and the legs are bright red.  At this time of year, they are migrating and their plumage is just white with a characteristic grey spot on the side of the face.  Their legs fade to a pink shade as well.  Bonaparte's gulls actually nest in trees, unlike most other gull species.

There was a large group of common terns spending time on the beach with the gulls as well.  The little terns make the Bonaparte's gulls look big!

Here's an adult common tern with a couple of juveniles who are still growing their adult plumage.

Naturally, the shore birds range from large to small, and there were a diversity of smaller birds as well.  These included the unmistakable semipalmated plover, a much beloved shore bird in this part of the world.  This one has a bit of a breeze blowing up her skirt.

They run up and down the sand looking for little crustaceans and other ocean dwelling treats.  They often investigate little piles of seaweed, where I'm sure little creatures get caught, just waiting to be found by the plovers.

The semipalmated sandpiper was also common on the beach, also running so fast you can barely see their legs move.

This little group includes, I believe, a least sandpiper on the far left, which can be identified by its yellowish-green legs.  The semi-palmated sandpipers have black legs.  The other three may also be least sandpipers or semi-palmated.

This little bird is a sanderling.  It breeds in the Canadian high arctic but migrates along the shoreline and winters along both coasts of North America.  This one appears to be a juvenile based on the plumage.

The adult non-breeding plumage gets quite pale.

On the last day, I saw a new-to-me bird of prey, which I had some trouble photographing due to its swooping and diving behaviour.  It is easy to identify the female Northern Harrier from its distinctive barred tail and the white flash at the point where the tail meets the body.  My pictures aren't great because I was at some distance and the movement of the bird made it tough to focus, but the tail is clear.

Here you can see the underside of the Northern Harrier, along with the distinctive barring on the underside of the wings.

I'm not sure what she ended up catching, and I didn't really want to see.

It was a lovely vacation for birding!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Vacation Day One

Last week, I went on vacation.  This was, in and of itself, a sort of milestone.  The last time I went on a proper vacation was in 2008.  What do I mean by a "proper vacation?"  Well, I had gone on a couple of trips in the past 10 years to the US to visit friends, but I also took my computer with me and worked, regularly, on those trips.  I also took a few long weekends for spinning or knitting events.  I don't count that as a "vacation" because (a) it's just a long weekend and (b) I sometimes took work on those events and (c) I was often there to do workshops and learn things, which can be a lot of fun, but it isn't the same as a do-what-you-want-when-you-want vacation.  Last week was one of those weeks, and it was marvellous!

I went to Prince Edward Island, which is the province next to mine, to spend the week in a lovely seaside cottage which I shared with my parents.  Marc also came for the first day and a half of the vacation, which was good because he doesn't usually go on vacation either, but he also wanted to use some of his time off for his own projects in the garage, so he only stayed for a short time.

I have all sorts of things I want to blog about, but I'll just blog today about the first day of our vacation.  On Monday morning of last week, we headed off under sunny skies to the Confederation Bridge.  That's a bridge that goes from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island.  I was driving the car and Marc was on his motorcycle, so I couldn't take pictures of the bridge, but here's one from Wikipedia for you.

The bridge is 12.9 kilometres long (that's 8 miles!) and is a multi-span balanced cantilever bridge that ranges from 40 to 60 metres (131 to 197 feet) above the water.  It's the longest bridge in the world that crosses ice-covered water (obviously not at this time of year).  It takes over 10 minutes to drive across it.

We didn't have to be at the cottage until 4 pm, so we decided to visit a historical site called Roma at Three Rivers.  It's the site of a French trading post that was established in 1732 and which was unfortunately burned down by the British in 1745.  Not my ancestors I hope!  We enjoyed lunch there and toured around the buildings and the heritage garden site.  The building where we had lunch is built in the style of the original main building which would have been the original sleeping quarters for about 70 settlers.

There is a replica of an Acadian "chaloupe" - a type of fishing boat used in the original settlement.

I enjoyed looking at all the plants in the garden, and I liked the sturdy fence. The restaurant had a lovely herbal iced tea made with bergamot (bee balm), lemon balm and something else from the garden...I think it was rosemary but I'm not sure.

Marc enjoyed investigating the huge clay oven that is in daily operation at the site.

Since we had almost 2 hours to spare, we decided to go on one of the walking trails at the site.  We chose a 3 km trail that we thought would be easy to complete with time to spare to get us to the cottage.  Unfortunately, vandals had broken and obliterated many of the interpretive signs along the trail. However, the trail itself was a beautiful, peaceful walk through a forested headland.

There was a remarkable array of mushrooms through the woods, including some that were obviously boletes (which are edible).  I was captivated by their massive size.  Here's a picture of some of them with my lens cap for scale.

 I loved the massive tree trunks and couldn't help but embrace my tree hugger personality on the trail.

After a while though, we ran into a lot of trail obstacles - downed trees from various storms, areas of difficult walking, and a few other issues, so we decided to take a shortcut.  On the map below, we were on the white line trail "B" on the right hand side, expecting to do the full loop.  Instead, we crossed at the orange marked trail that cuts the northern portion of white trail "B" out, and leads back to the start.

Well, we crossed that orange trail expecting to see the white tree markers that indicated the other side of trail "B" but unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found.  We wandered around in circles desperately seeking the trail to no avail.  There wasn't any signage to be found.  I tried to use my cell phone to find the trails on the map, but no dice.  Growing increasingly concerned, we had no choice but to double back, taking the orange trail back across the middle and returning to the start via the same part of trail B that we started on.  It was quite a long delay and involved me losing a shoe several times in the boggy area at the bottom of the orange trail, and both of us getting quite flustered.

This resulted in us being more than an hour later than expected for our arrival at the cottage, which no doubt caused some concern to my parents who were expecting us at 4 pm, but at least we didn't get entirely lost and spend the night in a bog.  And I got a lot of really great pictures of interesting fungi.

More about the rest of the holiday soon!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A visit from my parents

It was lovely to have my parents visit me for a few days earlier this month.  My work schedule allowed me to spend most of the time with them rather than worrying about work commitments, and we had some great weather during their visit which allowed for outdoor pursuits.

We visited our favourite local walking spot - the Sackville Waterfowl Park.  The park is lovely at all times of the year.  This time of year, the water levels are a bit low, and the water is often heavy with duckweed and algae.  The ducks don't mind!  We saw some wee mallard ducklings - a late brood of 8 with their mom.  So cute!

My mother took some time to commune with a beautiful mature birch tree.  I am so thankful to her that I learned to love trees, and all of nature, at an early age.  She and my father are most definitely the reason that I, too, hug trees. 

I managed to snap a shot of a cedar waxwing while we were at the park.  They can be a bit difficult to photograph, being a bit flighty and elusive, but this one obliged me.

As always, my parents lent a hand to any task I had that needed doing.  My mother spent time weeding and helping me harvest from the vegetable beds.  She also did her usual (more than) fair share of the cooking.  She was so enthusiastic with weeding that she accidentally "weeded" one of my Rudbeckia "cherry brandy" plants.  Fortunately we were able to locate it in the compost pile and get it re-planted.  It has not suffered from its temporary uprooting!

My father, meanwhile, did a marathon job of sharpening a variety of my garden and kitchen tools.  He was able to do the work out in my screened porch, giving him lots of light and fresh air, but keeping the mosquitoes at bay.  He did an amazing job de-rusting, sharpening and oiling my pruners and snips. 

Some of these had been almost untouched since my move from Iowa 8 years ago, and the rust was dreadful.  I sprayed them with vinegar before their visit, to get the cleaning process started.  My father used sharpening stones to really sharpen the blades and get them into good working order.

He also took care of the sharpening of my loppers.

I have two large pairs of loppers and around here, with all our trees, they are well used.  I am so glad to have them sharpened and in good order.

I am so grateful that my parents are still able to visit me and that they are so willing to help with tasks that I can't always find the time to focus on.  

I've read about storing garden tools through the winter in a bucket of oiled sand.  This prevents rust and keeps the blades sharp.  I might give that a try this winter.