Posts tagged nature

Snow Day!

As the day winds down, the snow just keeps falling steadily. It has been snowing heavily for a couple of days now and the accumulations are shutting everything down. And, although the local forecasters keep claiming that the storm is over, we have proof that we are still in the thick of it. No end in sight, says me! We are sitting at 28 cm at our place so far. I’d like to break 30 cm, at least.

A thick white blanket covered everything!

A thick white blanket covered everything!

As the day wound down, FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest.

FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest. But it continues snowing!

The Queendom came to a stand still today:

No work – A district-wide snow day closed all the schools in the valley. FM decided not to risk a challenging drive in and attempted to work from home (between outages!)

No power – Truthfully we have had power some of the time but it was out for a chunk of the morning, out again for a few hours in the afternoon and then just as we were thinking about cooking dinner. Out here, no power means that our well water pump doesn’t work so our water supply is limited to what is left in the pressurized tank. It also means that our septic pump cannot pump UP to the field so you better limit your grey water and flushing. The good news is that the power outage was not due to one of our fallen trees. The other good news is that FM dusted off the generator in order to brew up a second espresso this morning!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful! We sipped tea and read in between walk-abouts.

No heat for the chickens. The two read heat lamps in the coop are out so it cools down pretty fast in there. These birds are hardy but Tweedle Dee is in a full moult right now and has lost most of her feathers. With sparse feathering on her wings and about half of her usual down, she is practically trembling. It baffles me that this would happen to her in the winter. I’m thinking of sneaking her inside beside our wood stove. (Don’t tell FM)

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see her bald patches and chicken skin showing.  Brrrr.

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see Tweedle Dee’s bald patches and chicken skin showing. Brrrr.

No light in the coop and this makes the birds CRAZY! A few months ago, the power went out so I headed out to check the chicks. There was mad flapping and crashing and begawking going on as they flew around in a panic. Ever since, I have left a battery-powered night-light inside which gives them a little glow.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

And on the fun side:

Snowshoeing instead of shoveling! Our driveway is LONG and there is no way we’d consider shoveling it but tramping the snow down with snowshoes was pretty fun. We managed to drive one car out to the end of the drive for easier escape tomorrow. The car acted like a snowplow and left a smooth center between the tire ruts.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

There is no way to shovel this on. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

There is no way to shovel this one. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

Hot Tubbing – Aren’t we glad we opted for the wood-fired variety! We spent hours in the tub over this snowy weekend.

It's hard to read but that thermometer reads 106!

It’s hard to read but that thermometer reads 104° F (40° C)!

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Creative Cooking – We had to pre-thaw a tub of homemade chili in the hot tub and then transfer it to a pot on the wood stove. We warmed up some of B’s Foccacia loaf and had a candle lit dinner for two.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub jsut long enough for it to loosen.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub just long enough for it to loosen.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides. FM is sipping a scotch while waiting for his rustic dinner.

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Forecast Interpretation 101

Today was a leisurely Saturday. This morning, without an alarm set, we eventually made our way downstairs to enjoy delicious home-roasted coffee and indulge in a few chapters of our books (typical weekend fare at the Queendom). Before the morning slid by, FM pulled up a local weather forecast and announced that a big wind storm was headed our way. With predicted wind gusts of over 100 km/hour, we decided that we had better head out soon for a run and enjoy the dry, overcast weather while it lasted. We figured that we could get a few hours of trail running in before heading home to brace for the imminent power outage and fallen tree event.

As we ran, the weather began to change and we were both soaked to the skin by the end. As we drove home, we noticed occasional snowflakes accompanying the rain on the windshield.

Funny. Snow was not part of the forecast.

Soon after arriving home, stoking the fire and donning dry clothes, the snow flurries truly began. With the temperature hovering just at the 0° C mark, rain and snow seemed to intermingle for the whole afternoon. But there was barely a breath of wind.

Twelve hours later, there were about 5 cm of snow accumulations on the ground and still no wind. 36 hours later, we had another 5 cm layer of snow but still no wind. The torrential windstorm that had forecasters running for shelter never materialized. Instead we have been treated to occasional snow flurries punctuated by crystal clear skies.

This type of forecasting seems to be typical here in The Valley. For two years we have searched but not yet found an accurate place to check on the upcoming weather. We have found four different sources of weather forecasts which often predict different weather, but none is ever accurate. One site even claims “A poor time for outdoor activities” every single day! Really!

The good part is that most forecasts err on the dismal side. They show a week of rain coming our way but, in reality, the rain never comes or comes in short spurts.

When we lived in the Lower Mainland, the forecast always predicted rain and it was always right. Rain clouds would roll in and would actively rain for weeks at a time. But here, on the island, in the valley, the weather is completely unpredictable. No one is able to predict the amounts of snow, the gusts of wind or the number of  beautiful sunrises each week.

The lesson is, if you want to know what the weather is, look out your window. If you are heading out on an adventure, prepare for everything, because that is what you will get. Don’t wait for some website to claim that it is a good day for outdoor activities because you will never leave the couch.

So with candles, snow shovels and raincoat at the ready, I am off to stoke the hot tub fire in anticipation of the storm! Or maybe we’ll get a glimpse of that fabulous full moon!

** next day update ** While we soaked in the hot tub last night, the stars came out and the moonlight brightened the snow-covered grass but still no wind storm. Some forecasts still predict its arrival but, I for one, am not holding my breath.

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Build It and They Will Come

Last year, we had a flock of swallows pass through the Queendom, but their stay was short. I really only remember them visiting for a day or two, swooping and eating thousands of bugs during their short visit. I was ever-hopeful that they would stay and eat pond insects all summer long. But alas, they carried on their migration and weren’t seen again.

Definitely a Violet-Green Swallow on the hydro wire.

Definitely a Violet-Green Swallow on the hydro wire.

This year, once again, they made their stop at the Queendom, but this time FM was ready to take action. The day that we noticed them darting around, FM headed into the shop with swallow nest box measurements and, as quickly as you can say “Are those Violet-Greens or Trees?”, he had produced the ideal nesting box and had mounted it at the roofline of the workshop.

Within an hour or two, a couple of pairs of Violet-Green Swallows were checking out the new digs. One would hang out on the exposed roof rafters while the other went inside and peeked out to report.

This is a one-bedroom fly-up loft with a fabulous view and its only a short flight to fine dining.

This is a one-bedroom fly-up loft with a fabulous view and it’s only a short flight to fine dining.

We were sure that our new neighbours had come to roost. But, unfortunately, they didn’t jump at the opportunity. A week went by with barely a sighting.

Swallows

Awaiting residents

Just yesterday, while having some quality Chick Time, I noticed that the swallows were back. And this morning, there is a flurry of nest-building going on inside the new house. In fact, it seems that two pairs of Violet-Green swallows are getting very territorial about the new real estate. FM has plans to build another nesting box to accommodate the other couple. We are very hopeful that a new crop of insect-eating machines will hatch just in time for mosquito season and that they will return for years to come. Stay tuned!

And we have take-off!

And we have take-off!

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Left For Dead (almost)

It was a glorious sunny Saturday and we spent the entire day outdoors, either reading and sipping coffee on the porch, admiring our free-ranging chicks or puttering about the Queendom. But all afternoon, we were bombarded by the screeching of two adult Ravens. The screeching seemed to be mostly taking place over the back fence of our property but these ravens circled and cried from a wide variety of treetops in the neighbouring properties as well.

Around 4 pm, FM went on a fact-finding mission. As he wandered along the back fence, the ravens’ cries became much more alarmed. As expected, we soon spotted a baby raven, a fledgling, hopping along a pile of fallen trees on the far side of our pond. Taking heed to its parents warnings, it hopped and attempted to fly away but ended up in the pond. With wings a-flapping, it managed to climb onto the shore and hid at the base of a tree. FM skirted widely around the fledgling and retreated to the house. We surmised that the little one must have either fallen out of her nest or was just a slow learner when it came to flying. The screeching calls lessened as the evening wore on and we didn’t give it much more thought.

The next morning, I awoke from a lovely lie-in and looked out onto the pond just as FM, in his house coat, was walking purposefully across the island bridge, carrying a big black bird by one wing tip. It was the baby raven. FM had been trying to read on the front porch but those adult ravens were cawing so ferociously, it had caused one of our resident mama ducks to panic. FM went to investigate and found the baby raven completely submerged in the pond with only part of her head out of the water. He pulled her from the pond and found that she was completely stiff and most likely drowned.

As he set her on our kitchen porch, we tried to figure out what had happened. We looked for a wound or some indication that she had been killed by a mink or raccoon, but we could find nothing. She was completely rigid, as if rigor mortis had already set in. Her neck was at an unnatural angle, tilted up so high that her head lay on her back. We looked at each other, both thinking “what do we do with a dead baby raven?”.

And at that moment, her wing twitched. She wasn’t dead but she was well on her way. She must have accidentally flown back into the pond either last night or this morning. We can only guess how long she must have been stuck in the pond water, struggling to swim to the edge and eventually submerging with exhaustion with her wings fully spread. She had managed to keep her beak above the water level but that made her neck cramp and stiffen as she became hypothermic.

FM picked her up and we walked far away from the pond, onto a grassy section of our front yard. We set her down, got a micro-fibre towel and focused on drying her chest down as much as possible. Then we left her, upside-down, stiff and spread eagled, in the full morning sunlight in the middle of the grass.

For the next 30 minutes, we kept our distance, sipped our coffee, watched her and listened to the wild cawing of her parents. They were keenly aware that we were touching their baby but they never dive-bombed us. We looked up to see the baby on her back, still stiff and spread-eagled, but kicking and struggling to move. When we got closer, we could see her eyes looking sharp and bright. FM got a small cloth and covered her eyes in hopes of reducing her sense of panic. Her down had dried and she was looking much more bird-like. She had a bit of mobility in her wings and, with help, was able to fold them. Again we left her to warm up in the sun.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

A while later when we checked on her, she was clawing at the air and flaring her tail. As we approached, she made her first noise – a loud and alarmed caw. She was unable to right herself and kept rolling onto her back. Her feet were flailing around, trying to get a hold of anything. I put my finger on her foot and soon found that her grip was very strong! I picked her up and repositioned her but she was still unable to hold herself upright. I tucked the various blankets under her breast and managed to prop her up, manually placing her feet under her. Her position wasn’t stable and I thought that she would probably topple over so we left her to get a larger towel that could support her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

From the kitchen, we could hear her calling out and soon her parents returned and began call back. Before we could even get a towel, she began hopping away.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

She hopped towards taller grass and small shrubs and then began her trek down the driveway, with her parents encouraging her all the way. We last saw her at the end of our drive on her way towards the 25 acre property across our not-busy street.

What an amazing thing to witness! Surely she would have died if FM had not pulled her from the pond. Her miraculous recovery, from drowning and hypothermic to regular chick, took all of two hours. That’s another win for the Queendom!

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A Makeover for Our Pond

The pond is the crowning jewel of the Queendom. Our front room looks out over it and, from the comfort of our couches, we can watch the birds, ducks and other beasts who frequent its tranquil waters. It is approximately 1 acre in size and is home to salamanders, water scorpions, at least three species of frogs, thousands of aquatic bugs and, most recently, a red-eared slider turtle. FM and I have spent many a summer evening floating around it in our inflatable dingy, enjoying lemony G&Ts.

When we arrived, there was a pathetic-looking sunken dock that the previous owners built to encourage swimming and launch kayaks. The dock was fixed to the shore and could only be accessed by negotiating a steep, slippery bank. As the water level changed throughout the year, the dock varied in its level of submersion.

Barely Afloat

Barely Afloat (no surprise, considering the downpour!)

Sometimes it appeared to float, tempting you to venture out onto it, only to have your weight cause the entire far-end to sink and cast you off balance. From quite early on, FM and I decided that the dock was a hazard and we chose not to use it.

Neither useful or beautiful, this dock had to go.

Neither useful nor beautiful, this dock had to go.

But the dock had one redeeming feature – ducks and birds love it. A mama Mallard taught her brood of 13 to clamber up onto it and preen in the sun.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A kingfisher used it to spot salamanders.

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A female Kingfisher rests between feedings.

A Lesser Yellowlegs rested there during a migration.

A sandpiper stopped by on his migration in 2012 and 2013

A Lesser Yellowlegs stopped by on his migration in both 2012 and 2013

An enormous American Bullfrog sunned himself there (until he was humanely evicted).

This is an invasive species of frog that is descimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

This is an invasive species of frog that is decimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

The fact that the dock was water-logged, sat barely at the water level and a bit of an eye-sore made it useless to us but enticing to many others.

On a sunny day in the fall, when the pond level was low, FM somehow managed to pull the dock out of the pond. We let it sit on the bank and dry out for sometime. Next, the decking boards were removed from the frame in the beginnings of a complete demolition. But, as it sat there on the shore and we kept looking at it through the winter rains, we realized that the dock frame was the right length to make a perfect bridge over to our inaccessible island.

By using a number of round pencil posts, I was able to roll the whole dock frame over to the narrowest crossing and, together, we were able to muscle it into place without falling in. The decking boards were reattached and *alakazam* we finally had access to the island.

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

In no time at all, we were digging up that colony of alders, tending a bonfire and making plans for an island sitting area.

But what about the ducks and birds that used the dock? FM had the ingenious idea of building a waterfowl viewing platform that we could see from inside the house. Initially he attempted to pull out the one post that had secured the dock but he was not able to extricate it from the muddy clay bottom of the pond. He decided to build a simple cedar plank platform with a hole in the center which fit over that post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

Et voila – the waterfowl viewing platform came to be. Already we have had a family of wood ducklings and another family of Merganser ducklings snuggle and sleep there under their doting mothers.

A female Wood Duck with 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

This female Wood Duck with her 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

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And Then There Was One

Four days ago, early on Saturday morning, FM and I gazed over the pond while sipping our freshly brewed coffee and we noticed a new brownish lump on the far side. Upon closer inspection with the birding scope and binoculars, we discovered that a Mama mallard duck was snoozing on the bank with ten ducklings beneath her.

Mama and her ten ducklings on their first field trip to the Queendom

Mama and her ten ducklings on their first field trip to the Queendom (apologies for the blurriness)

Snoozing on the shore

Snoozing on the shore

Needless to say, the rest of the weekend was taken up with watching the little ones jump, swim, snooze and eat. By our estimates, these ducklings were about a week old. They had probably hatched by the pond next door and were out on their first field trip. Already quite independent and given a wide range, they could often be seen at the opposite end of the pond from Mama.

The brood doing laps of our island

The brood doing laps of our island

Late on Sunday afternoon, the new family trekked back over the bush to their old pond and FM watched as a bird of prey, perhaps a hawk, swooped down in their direction. He could hear the panicked squawking of the Mama duck but couldn’t see what was happening. After the main ruckus had ended, he could hear Mama duck making a new sound – a pained or injured kind of quack. FM quietly climbed over the back fence and began a stealthy bushwhack through the brambles and marshy gloop that edges our property. Eventually, he was able to see the Mama duck hunkered down in the brush with a number of ducklings around her. His guess is that she got injured while trying to protect her brood.

Meanwhile back at the Queendom, there was one duckling swimming alone on our pond. Having ignored Mama’s call to head back home, he had continued swimming circles in our pond, oblivious to the drama happening to his family. After a time, his plaintive peeping could be heard, but there was no answer. Mama duck didn’t return for him and, as night fell, we could no longer see or hear him.

Not a duck or duckling was seen on Monday and we both feared that Little Gaffer had not survived the night. Although temperatures have risen a bit over the past few days, we were scraping frost off our cars less than a week ago and we have not yet reached the frost-free date of the Farmer’s Almanac. It would have been a cold night to be out there alone, dressed only in fluffy yellow down.

You can only imagine the delight I felt this morning when FM hollered, with a mouth full of toothpaste, something that sounded like “He’s back!”. Sure enough, there was Little Gaffer, scooting around the pond, hunting bugs and jumping clear out of the water. Somehow he has survived two nights on his own. There is still no sign of Mama duck and his nine siblings and he continues to appear oblivious to their absence.

Little Gaffer's Big Adventure

Little Gaffer’s Big Adventure

But, just as I have been writing this, our resident pair of Mallards – childless this season – have flown in and begun their ritual of dabbling and preening. Maybe they will take pity on Little Gaffer, adopt him and teach him the ways of the duck. (Or maybe they will become all territorial and chase him off). Either way, today is a day to celebrate survival in the wild!

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