Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Moth Season 2020 has Begun!

As anyone who has read my blog for a while will know, I'm a big fan of moths.  Each year, I look forward to finding new and different species of moths, along with enjoying the familiar ones.  It's kind of funny that I like moths, considering that I also use a lot of wool yarn, but there are only a few species of moths that actually lay their eggs on wool and other animal fibres.  I'm not very interested in those ones!

I'm also developing greater interest in bees (especially native bee species), beetles, and other interesting insects I find in the yard.  There is so much biodiversity just in my own yard.  I don't need to travel or even leave my yard to find a wealth of interesting species.  Today, I wanted to share some of the best of my observations of the past week.  I catalogue all of them on iNaturalist, and you'll see that as a running widget on my blog, but here are some of the highlights!

Here's a lovely tri-coloured bumble bee (Bombus ternarius) enjoying a dandelion.  I get a lot of these bees at this time of the year, and many right now are queens.

This is a three-banded lady beetle that I found in my greenhouse building.

This is a species of nomad bee.  They are solitary bees that lay their eggs in other bees' nests.  Bad behaviour!

Another kind of lady beetle, but this one is the fourteen-spotted lady beetle.  As you can see, it's white and black, rather than red and black.

One of my favourite moths is the ruby tiger moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa).  It's such a rich red-brown colour and has such a fluffy "mane" around its head.

This is a metallic flea beetle.  The colour is just amazing!  They are difficult to identify down to a species level.

This funny looking cutie is the American lappet moth (Phyllodesma americana).  I think it looks like it's wearing a dress.  This is an easily recognizable moth that is quite widespread.

This is the olive and black carpet moth (Acasis viridata).  No, they don't eat carpet!  I love the colours on this one also.

This colourful critter is the red cross shield bug (Elasmostethus cruciatus).  They feed on alder, and I have a lot of alder around here!

There are a group of flies called bee flies, which look like bumble bees in some ways, but they are smaller, and not at all related to bees.  This one is the pygmy bee fly (Bombylius pygmaeus).  It has a long proboscis (mouth part) like a straw for drinking nectar.  

This is a colourful zale moth (Zale minerea).  I know it's just browns and creams, so not exactly colourful, but the patterns are amazingly beautiful in my opinion.

This one is actually colourful!  It's a Comstock's sallow (Feralia comstocki).

I had never seen one of these beetles before today.  It's the ribbed pine borer beetle.

This is the otter spiramater moth (Spiramater lutra).  Again, it's a beautiful moth even though it's mostly just brown and black.  

Not everybody likes insects, but I think they're missing out on a lot of beauty if they don't stop to take a closer look sometimes!  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Garden Shed

Because my builder and his helper have been off their regular construction work due to Covid-19, I've been able to benefit from their down time because they've been available to get my own projects done.  In addition, they're getting paid because I'm providing some work.  It's a win-win!  Thus, on Thursday, following up on the greenhouse earlier this week, they began to build my garden tool shed. 

The tool shed will store all my smaller garden tools and needs, but it also has a potting bench inside. The bench was originally in the building Marc uses for his bike projects.  It is made from treated lumber, so I just hung onto it, knowing it would be useful, and now it is.

I asked my builder to create a hole in the end of the top bench.  This way, when I do some potting up, I can sweep all the potting soil off the bench through the hole.  I'll position a tote or trug under the hole, and collect all the sweepings, which will then go to the compost pile, or be otherwise re-used.  It's an easy way to clean up.  You can also just see that at the back of the bench, there is a space that will allow me to store my handled tools - the handles will go down into the space and the tools will all be visible.

The door handle is a piece of maple from the limbs that fell from my maple in last year's Hurricane Dorian.  I think it looks quite interesting, and it is very functional.  The door is an antique door that my builder found for me.

The octagonal window is also being re-used.  I'm not sure how old it is, but it's at least vintage.  I love the shape and I think it lends a personal touch to the shed.

The roof is recycled steel from an old barn.  On Friday, the front of the shed was covered with cedar shingles that had been left here by the previous homeowner.  Another use of existing materials that works very well for this project.

In addition, they re-installed my laundry line after its demise last fall in the hurricane. 

AND, they put up a much sturdier, new goat gate.  Miss Lucky Nickel was becoming quite adept at figuring out new ways to thwart the old wire gate, and it was warped beyond recognition and repeatedly fixed with baling twine.

Now, she has something new to bash her head on!  She's not impressed.  I can tell.

I am really glad to have all this new activity to improve the yard and its usability.  Having this new shed right next to the greenhouse is ideal.  I can easily pop into the shed to grab a tool that I need in the greenhouse.  Perfect!  I can also easily do transplanting and store any fertilizer or other plant products in the shed, ready for use in the greenhouse.  More raised beds will also be coming to the area in front of the buildings.

Marc also helped today by installing three new outdoor lights. They were on special at Costco so it was a good time to upgrade, and these are much nicer than the old ones.   

The future looks bright!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Sir Francis Drake

A reader pointed out to me on the post before the last one that I had not previously mentioned Sir Francis.  I'm a bad blogger, or just a busy one, and I realized that I had never introduced my blogosphere to Sir Francis.  So here we are. Let me start by saying, I have a duck.

This duck was not a duck that I actively sought out.  Rather, he came to me the way many critters have come over the years, an unexpected offer from somebody who knew I might enjoy having him.  And my soft heart, which is powerless at resisting, said yes.

Sir Francis is a male duck, and the term for a male duck is a drake.  Obviously, therefore, his name is a nod to the Elizabethan gentleman, Sir Francis Drake, who lived from 1540 to 1596, and was an English sea captain and explorer.  He carried out the second circumnavigation of the world from 1577 to 1580, during which he claimed what is now California for the English.  Kind of a bummer that they didn't keep it.  Oh well.

In any case, meet Sir Francis Drake II, who is a male call duck.  Call ducks are bantam (i.e. small sized) ducks that are primarily raised for pets, but are also used in hunting to attract wild ducks.  Obviously, that's not on the table for this duck!

He has lovely iridescent feathers and can show shades of green and blue depending on the light.

He currently lives in a large dog crate in the home office, but now that spring has more or less arrived here, an outdoor enclosure is in progress.  He will eventually have a little duck hut and a fenced area with a kiddie pool.  He will also have 1 or 2 girlfriends to keep him company.  Right now he has a plastic tote for a bathtub.   Here's the hut in progress.

Sir Francis has a tendency to chatter a bit during conference calls, which leads to some delight on the part of my colleagues, who think that having a duck on the call is good fun.  As you can see he also sports a white spot on his chest, and a wee touch of brown on some of his feathers.  He's very handsome.

 So now you know.  I have a duck.  No big surprise there really.  Keep quacking and carry on!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Chick Progress

This is a picture-heavy post, but just for interest's sake, I've matched up the pictures of the chicks today with their day 1 pictures.  Some of them are quite firmly in the awkward adolescent stage at which they have lost their fluffy cuteness and have progressed into semi-feathered semi-cuteness, with a touch of teenage angst.  There are some major size differences (which is expected based on the egg sizes they hatched from) and some clear roosters showing up.  I'll give my best guesses here.  I put a mini hand sanitizer bottle in the pictures today for scale.  It's the little travel size.  I realized, looking at the pictures, that I've had it for more than 8 years now, since it's from Walgreens (we don't have Walgreens in Canada) and has no French on the label.  Thus, I must have brought it with me from Iowa!  Amazing how these things are found in the back of the drawer as needed!

Three of the current brood were hatched later than the rest and are still quite small.  They are easy to identify.  It is a bit early to guess on gender but these 3 might be hens if I'm lucky.

Cinnamon Chipmunk, Day 1 (far left)

Day 14, Best Guess: hen

Chocolate Chipmunk, far right, Day 1:

Day 14, best guess: hen

Solid black with white chin, middle, Day 1:

Day 14, best guess: hen

There is a wee bit of brown speckling on some feathers.

Chocolate Chick, Day 1:

Day 25, best guess: hen 

She's a little darker than I expected but has a lovely ring of golden neck feathers.  Her feet and legs darkened a lot.

Day 1: Black with a white eye marking

Day 25: Best guess: hen
She has some white wing feathers and more speckling than I would have expected on her underside.

I think she might have cheek muff feathers, which means she has a bit of Ameraucana in her. I think her mom is one of my Ameraucana bantams.

Day 1, yellow and greyish chick with light beak, back striping:

Day 25:  Biggest bird, very mixed feathers and patterns.  Quite interesting.  Best guess: roo
Definitely at an awkward stage!

Day 1: Pale coloured chick, light beak

Day 25:  Seriously?!  Best guess: Roo
This bird really surprised me with the extent of dark colour in the feathers, including on the head.  I thought it was going to be nearly solid white at hatch time.  It's also very large now.  The slight pink tone to the comb area makes me think it's a rooster.  Darn it!  A pretty bird.

Day 1: Chipmunk with gold tones

Day 25, best guess: roo
This is a really beautifully feathered bird with great colour, but the comb screams roo.  Possible head crest feathers too.  Grumble...

Day 1: Chipmunk chick

Day 25: Interesting!  Best guess: hmmm..... 
Honestly, I'm not sure.  There's a bit of comb swelling, but no pinkish tone yet.  Might be a hen.  Really neat feather patterns and interesting colours.  Quite a stocky bird. 

Day 25:  Sorry, this bird missed its chick pic!  I'm sure it's a rooster though.

Day 1:  Tiny black chick with feathered legs
This one was the smallest of the batch.

Day 25:  Head crest!  Best guess: roo
This one has some grey tones in the feathering and quite a head crest forming.  It has silkie toes, which explains the head crest.
 I'm not sure if it's a roo, but I suspect...

Day 1:  Solid black, including beak

Day 25:  Smallest one (of the initial batch), best guess: hen
I'm not entirely sure, but she acts like a hen and has no comb swelling.  Silkie toes.

Day 1:  Last one!  Black with white shading, dark beak mark

Day 25, best guess: roo
Interesting head feathering.  Again, it has the look of the lacing on my Ameraucana bantam, so I think that's the mom.  No silkie toes.

I just love barnyard mix birds.  They're fun to hatch because you really have no idea what you're going to get.  The feathering is always a bit of a surprise.  I am happy with this set of hatchlings and hope to have some lovely hens.  The extra roosters will unfortunately be for soup stock, but they'll live their first year happily digging in the dirt. So far it looks like 5 roosters for sure, which if that number holds, 8 hens would be quite lucky out of 13 birds.  I'm sure others will declare themselves though!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Garden Update

All is continuing busy-busy-busy around here.  I often think about doing a blog post and then don't get around to it, but here's a brief update on a few points of note, and then a longer discussion of some garden updates.

My World in Brief:

  • COVID-19 status in New Brunswick is excellent.  We have had 2 new cases over the past 3 weeks, and there are still no deaths.  Some things in the province have begun to reopen, carefully, with proper distancing and other precautions.  I feel very lucky to live where I do.
  • Sir Francis the duck continues to do well in the house, but his duck hut and enclosure are in progress outside.  I hope he will soon be able to make the big move!
  • I hatched 13 eggs and have another 17 to go.  Will do another chick post in future, I think.  All the initial hatchlings are thriving.
  • Saw my first warbler of 2020 in the yard this weekend.  Yay!
  • Moth season has begun but many nights are too cold for them, so it's starting slowly.
  • Seedlings started in the basement for this year's garden.  All doing well.
  • Knitting a few projects at the moment but don't have as much time as I'd like.  Status quo!
The Garden Update:

This year, I wanted to make some improvements in my yard.  This was in my plans for a while now - it's not because of COVID-19.  I know that's making some people turn to more home based food production, but this was a long-felt need (want?) around here!  The part of my yard that my home office looks out onto was mostly scrubby space that nature had taken over.  I love nature as any regular reader will know, but I also love to use my yard for gardening, so a balance is needed.  Much of my yard is woods and other natural habitat, so the scrubby area was designated as space for my garden expansion.  Here's how it looked on Friday.  The shed to the right is my hay storage shed.

Here's the left side of the area, which joins up with the covered chicken run.

Here's the piece of equipment that showed up to do the work!  You can see a lot of logs in the foreground.  Those are from the large-toothed aspen that fell in Hurricane Dorian last September.

The equipment had what is called a mulching head on it.  Here it was getting started.

And here's how it looked a few hours later.

A huge rock was discovered during the work, which they positioned (at my request) near the bird feeder area.  I think I will plant flowers around it.  

The same piece of equipment was used to dig a large hole and install a new post for my laundry line, since that also came down in the hurricane last fall.  The pole is in but the line isn't up yet.  I was worried about any wildlife that had nests in the scrubby area, so we checked carefully for critters but didn't locate any.  After the work was done, this poor little Northern short-tailed shrew showed up and was rushing about and trying to dig into the cleared area.  I have a bad feeling that we might have destroyed its home, but I hope it will relocate into the woodsy area and forgive me at some point.  

Today, after a rainy weekend, the crew showed up to start building the greenhouse-type structure that I wanted to put in place.  This will help me get a head start in our short growing season, and hopefully will ensure earlier tomato harvests.  It was really exciting to watch the progress through the day.  A base and a wall went up.

More walls went up.

And suddenly a frame was nearly complete.

Then the heavy poly began to be stapled in place.

Nearly there!

Ta da!  The nearly-finished project was completed early afternoon, with some ventilation screen ports in place and a door has been made.  The hinges will be purchased and the door installed later this week (after the predicted rain has come and gone).  Some compost and soil will be brought in to add to the base soil (which has a lot of mulched wood in it from the clearing process) and I will add some of my own chicken manure.  The building is angled so that the low side of the roof faces south for maximum sun.
The guys also assembled these small 4 x 4 foot raised beds that I bought from Costco.  I plan to put in some more raised beds soon.  

Next will be the addition of a small garden tool shed (between the greenhouse and the hay shed) and then an extension of the outdoor chicken run.  I also plan to install some posts and wires for some raspberries, blackberries, and grapes.  I'm really pleased and excited about the possibilities that this development opens up for me.  I'm thinking a couple more fruit trees will go in, and perhaps an area for additional berry shrubs - currants and bush cherries perhaps.  I do love having gardening space!

So I'll sign off for now with this winter firefly (Ellychnia corrusca).  Unlike the summer fireflies, the adult winter firefly doesn't glow, but the larvae do.  You might see the adults in the early spring in your area - they're about half an inch long, and easy to recognize with those red "parentheses" on their heads.  They lay eggs in April and May and then the adults die off.  The larvae take 16 months to fully mature, which takes them into the following fall.  The adults will then overwinter and emerge the next spring.