Archive for Visitors to the Queendom

A Ducky Day

We spent most of today at the window, looking out onto the pond, taking turns with the binoculars and the bird scope and referring to the wide range of bird references that we have accrued.  Three lovely ladies of three different species spent time with us preening, feeding and enjoying a long overdue rainless day. All three were diving ducks. After much research, misidentification and correction, we have agreed that this is who we had today.

Hooded Mergansers – These ladies are not showing their russet mohawks which made them difficult to identify. They spent the better part of the day finding large salamanders and swallowing them whole (with a fair amount of difficulty)

Bufflehead – Initially we thought that this was the male Barrow’s Golden Eye, but after looking at the placement of the white patch, we decided it is a female bufflehead. She was quite skittish initially, flying back and forth from end to end of the pond, but eventually decided that she was hungry enough to ignore us.

Barrow’s Golden Eye – We are not 100% sure of this identification because she lacks the golden eye, but all other features match the descriptions we have. She is quite petite, compared to today’s other ducks.

What a treat to have so many ducks visit!  Considering that the pond was dug within the past 2 years, it is amazing to think that there is enough food to make it worth visiting.  I would love it if some of the migrating trumpeter swans and snow geese would stop by – but maybe that wouldn’t really be such a  treat noisewise.

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Gremlin Sighting

Ol’ FM doesn’t miss a thing. His observation skills are finely tuned. He senses changes in wind direction and temperature without any instruments. He can spot a small rearrangement of furniture and even knows when I have used his carefully placed tools. Since moving to the Queendom, he has shown an amazing ability to spot wildlife and get the camera out before I can even say “where??”.

“Look!  What is that?”  he asks, as we sit enjoying our lunch on the sunny porch.

He has indicated something across the pond. He hasn’t given me much to go on so I look for ripples in the water and look farther across to the opposite shore. He leaps up, locates the camera and gets ready to take a photo before I have found the mysterious creature.

Zoomed in pretty close here so it”s a bit blurry. He sure looks like a small beaver to me.

He was fast and he didn’t stay around for a photo shoot, but we had a good look.

It doesn’t stay for long but we both saw enough to identify it. It is a sleek black furry mammal who swam and dove elegantly. As he exited the water, he was smooth and had a shape similar to a ferret. He was small – about the length of a cat – but low to the ground. We guessed ferret, weasel, ermine, river otter, mink and wolverine.

photo credit to http://kaweahoaks.com

What he would have looked like if we’d staged a photo shoot.

What did people ever do before google image searches?  We hauled out the laptop and determined that we had seen an American Mink. We know they are common around here because so many chicken farmers dread the damage that they can quickly do to a flock. Our neighbour told us that in one night, mink killed 16 of her 25 chickens, by puncturing their jugular veins and flinging them around wildly. In the morning, the chicken coop was a bloody mess of carcasses and feathers.

But this little guy hardly seems capable of such atrocities. He is as cute as a button – until the fangs come out! Kind of reminds me of those adorable creatures in the 1984 movie hit “Gremlins”

Cuteness with fangs!

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Brotherly Love

The stars fell into alignment at the end of August. My three brothers and most of their families all arrived at the Queendom for a weekend. For some readers, this kind of family gathering is a regular occurrence but, for us, this is a rare event indeed. I can probably count on one hand the times that all four of us have been together in the past 15 years. I may even have some fingers to spare.

It isn’t that we avoid each other or that we don’t get along. We actually truly enjoy being together and always wish that we could do it more often. Probably because of our shared history, we are quick to pick up the threads and carry on as if no time has passed.

By the time dinner rolled around on the first day, we were already laughing about Mr. Payne’s trees and backpacks full of bottle rockets. Memories were stirred up and new truths were revealed. Some past decisions were regretted and others were applauded. Sometimes great philosophical observations were made and, in the next minute, the laughter blotted out all else.

I guess there is truth in the saying that spending those formative years together creates lifelong bonds. Although we are usually geographically separated, it is easy to slip back into the comfortable past with these guys. But I have to wonder how well I really know them as adults. We were so young back then. These grown men are not the kids that used to torment me or the ones I tried to manipulate. They are not the same boys that taught me how to slow dance and how to keep secrets. Each of us has changed and evolved so drastically since those good ol’ days. How could we still have anything in common?

But we do.

You can tell we do by the ease with which we talk about the difficult and unpleasant things that need to be discussed. You can tell by the manner we approach and advise each other on the challenges and choices that each of us are quietly facing. All these years later, I still value their opinions and their views more highly than any others. This weekend will go down in my memory as one of those treasured times when we drank deeply from the fountain of youth. Refreshing, invigorating, rejuvenating!

Until next time, bros!

Oh – and thanks for splitting and stacking more than 2 cords of wood!

Sandy – the eldest. Don’t even ask what he is doing here. It was all part of the fun! Sadly his bride couldn’t make our little reunion due to work commitments (so we talked about her endlessly!)

Me – in the middle – and nephew Jasper drove the tractor around and cut the grass while everyone else chopped wood.

Johnny – also in the middle. You have to work hard when you are a middle child.

Mike – the youngest.  Does it show?

Tanya – my sis-in-law. Dr. T kept us all a-runnin’ while she deftly worked the log splitter. Idle hands, and all that.

When he wasn’t shooting photos of everyone having fun, he was preparing a salmon dinner for 10.

Spidey got caught in a sticky situation. You’ll have to wait for the movie to see how this turns out.

My niece Emelia – She patiently tolerated all the antics of her uncles and aunt without complaint.

My nephew Alex – the kindest and most gentle superhero that you ever did meet.

My nephew Jasper – his ability to control all the adults in the room with a single word was captivating. He will go far!

Tanya, Jasper and Mike, enjoying a brief moment of relaxing beach time.

Although he made every effort to be part of it all, Jasper eventually was bored to sleep with all our adult conversation and reminiscences.

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Would the real Kit Kat please stand up!

Upon taking possession of our new abode, we found a note from Mike, the previous owner. He gave a few details about the house, some contact information for him and a vague mention of a lost cat. He said that his outdoor cat, Kit Kat, had been on a walk-about for a few weeks and would eventually turn up. Please call him (Mike) when Kit Kat came back and he would drive right over to collect him.

I should mention right away that FM is no fan of cats, being highly allergic to them. If ever we visit a home with a cat, the cat will undoubtedly make a beeline for FM, attempting to wind between his legs, and FM will make a beeline for the door. It was news to us to hear that a cat had lived in this house and instantly told us that we would have to be even more diligent in our cleaning before we settled in.

After a few days, we spotted the cat on the island in our pond. It was a grey long-haired cat with a black face. It sat ever so still making it easy to mistake it for a stump. The mystery of how it got onto the island continues to puzzle us but there it was. We didn’t contact Mike right away because, with no bridge, there is no way for a human (or a cat) to get to the island without getting soaked.

Who are you anyways?

Who are you anyway?

One afternoon, I spotted the cat near the kitchen porch. Thinking I could lure it nearer, I stepped outside and made tsk tsking sounds, believing that this is cat talk for ‘come here and get some lovin’. I know very little about cats myself, having been attacked at a young age by “Friendly” and wisely keeping my distance ever since. Well, my presence made this cat move at lightning speed across our property and through a fence. Kit Kat was playing hard-to-get and didn’t seem too interested in the fact that his family had relocated.

A few weeks passed with daily sightings of Kit Kat on the island but no progress in getting him to his rightful owner. One evening we had some friends over (cat people!) and, as they pulled up the driveway, a cat met them at their car door and made all the mewing sounds typical of a pet. But this cat was not the black-faced cat that we had been monitoring. This was a tabby with tortoise-coloured fur. As they entered the house, it took a concerted effort to keep this new cat outside. After we closed the door on him, he proceeded to caterwaul and throw himself at the windows. He launched himself at the window screens, tearing them as he fell to the ground. It became evident that this new cat was the missing Kit Kat, who had just returned from a long journey and was very keen on getting some lovin’ and some food. Sadly, he found no warm reception with us in the house and was obviously pissed off at the lack of attention.

After a long night of listening to Kit Kat wail and cry (despite the bucket of water), I emailed Mike in the early morning, saying “Kit Kat is back. Come at once!” Mike responded right away and arrived within 15 minutes. As I stood back and watched in awe, he somehow managed to grab this feisty pet, get it into his pick-up truck and drive away, dodging scratches all the while.

That was the last we saw of Kit Kat. I guess he figured that we aren’t worth visiting. But the other cat, the long-haired grey with the black face, can still be seen every so often, wandering on the far side of the property. We don’t know who he is but we know he isn’t Kit Kat.

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Things That Go SCREECH In The Night

At 2 am, I was jolted out of sleep by a noise.  As I tried to wake up and focus, I noticed that FM had also woken up and was starting to get up.  Play both of these audio clips at the same time to hear what we heard.

[audio http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_Barred_Baby.mp3] [audio http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_Barred_Monkey.mp3]

My initial thought was that there a coyote howling, but soon enough we realized that the sound was coming from the roof, right above our bedroom.  FM thought that it was a peacock – since he had seen one on his bike commute earlier in the week.  As we cleared the fog of sleep away, our guesses became less crazy.

The sound was irregular, with a minute or so passing between calls.  We went out onto the small balcony and tried to crane our necks to see what was perched above us.  Our movement disturbed it and then we saw two shapes fly over to the trees on our pond island.   At that point we could see that there were two owls watching us.  They continued calling but we were unable to identify them with the distance and the dark.  Neither of us had ever heard the sounds before.

FM took this photo a few months after I wrote this post. The owl flew in and surveyed the pond in full daylight in October. Fabulous!

The next morning, I did a little research to try to figure out which owl it could have been.  The Owl Pages is a great website, complete with multiple sound bites of each species.  The clip at the top is exactly what we heard – an adult and a juvenile barred owl, calling together.  In the dark and being sleepy, I thought that the sound was one animal.

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Tyrone the Bear

With the endless rains we have been having, the property is terribly wet and mucky. We have both admitted to having waves of anxiety about it. It is too soggy to even walk across without boots so how in the world are we ever going to make it attractive, let alone walk across it to plant something. No plant would survive out there.

So on the rare rainless weekend, we sit outside for lunch or dinner, turning our backs to the bog and facing the pond instead. At least the pond is supposed to be wet and mucky.

But on this occasion, since it was cool out and I needed a full sunbeam in order to make sitting outside possible, we sat on the kitchen porch steps. I sat up on the top step, facing the pond, and FM faced me and could see the boggy wetlands beyond. Suddenly his attention was directed over my shoulder.

“A bear!” he whispered.

Beyond the dirt pile and the burned stump, Tyrone the Black Bear ambles along the front of our yard.

I turned to see a small black bear slowly making his way across the muddy front of our yard, close to the road.  He couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old and seemed content to meander along, sniffing at various plants and dirt as he went. FM found the camera and took a number of pictures. Although it seems close, it is about 100m away from us. He easily negotiated the fence bordering the neighbours and was gone.

Finding beauty and tasty eats wherever he goes, Tyrone is unaffected by the lack of aesthetic appeal in our front yard.

I can take a few lessons from this experience. (1) What we find unappealing can be very attractive to someone else.  (2) If you always turn you back on obstacles, you may miss a chance encounter.  You can bet your nickel that I am always looking over toward the front of the yard now, in search of another sighting of Tyrone the Black Bear.

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