Posts tagged outdoors

Romantic Spring Break Get-Away at the Queendom

I peeled myself away from the new chicks long enough to cast a glance out on our pond. What a treat this morning to find three sets of paired-up ducks of three differing species!

For about a month now, we have had a resident pair of mallards who fly in each morning and spend all day feeding, sleeping and floating around. The male mallard has done a pretty good job of keeping all other mallards away, chasing them off as soon as they land on the pond. But he has made exceptions for ducks of other species who often join them on their pond tours. (“Nice to meet you. Wanna flock?”) Accepted ducks are the diving variety so I guess sharing a food source is the main issue for him.

After weeks of seeing only one merganser, one bufflehead, one scaup or one ring-necked duck, today everyone brought a date.

Our resident Mallard pair. He stand guard 100% of the time while she nibbles, snoozes, preens and floats.  There has never been a more dedicated mate.

Our resident Mallard pair. He stand guard 100% of the time while she nibbles, snoozes, preens and floats. There has never been a more dedicated mate.

Although he has been a regular visitor to the Queendom, this was her first visit.  Welcome, M'Lady!

Ring-Necked Ducks.  Although he has been a regular visitor to the Queendom, this was her first visit. Welcome, M’Lady!

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Hooded Mergansers.  We have had a pair of female Mergansers who have frequently visited over the past year and, on one occasion before this, the male came and floated around in the pouring rain. Glad to see that he finally managed to nab one of the sisters!

I guess word got out that it is 2-for-1 admission at our pond. The atmosphere is romantic and the food is both delicious and plentiful (if you’re into choking down whole frogs and salamanders). Maybe I should inflate our little boat and ask FM to join me for Date Night!

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Burn Baby, Burn!

We have found an added bonus of having a large piece of property. Bonfires!

Last spring, during our long stint of yard work weekends, we managed to accumulate about five separate burn piles. These piles consisted mostly of the alders that we dug out and other random branches and brush that had been left by the previous owner or blown down in the frequent wind storms. Being law-abiding citizens, I inquired at the fire department about the fire regulations for rural properties. I was instantly handed a burn permit which allows burning any time between October and May. And so the fun began.

We started cautiously with a small fire of branches that were laying around an area that FM insisted needed to be cut and tended. Once we got the fire going, we began working hard at collecting all the nearby debris. In no time at all, we had a tidied up a large area and had earned our fire-roasted weiners.

Small, controlled and quaint

Small, controlled and quaint

The second burn was a huge undertaking. The previous owner had used his excavator to make a very high pile of branches, logs and garbage (?) which we decided was too large for us to handle and too close to some trees.  So we made a small fire ring at a safe distance and, all day long, we hauled stuff from his large pile to our smaller fire pit, separating out the nasty non-combustibles as we went. This bonfire was an all-day affair, leaving us both exhausted and sweaty by the time the sun went down. (Do I need to mention that we each lost all our arm-hair?) But this fire made the biggest improvement to our surroundings and, with each successive burn, we became more comfortable with managing the Queendom in this manner.

This photo lacks perspective because that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

This photo lacks perspective but that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

But the bonfire to end all bonfires was made by our landscaping crew (a series of blog posts not-yet-written). After clearing out a section of our pond that had tree stumps, branches and whole tree trunks in it, the crew made a bonfire that towered above us. This fire required a special permit, an excavator at hand and a water pump which could use pond water to extinguish it, if necessary. This fire burned for three days.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here

When a fire is this big, it can burn pretty well anything

It may not be the best thing for the environment and I’m sure I’ll get air quality comments from somebody, but it is the way we roll out here in the boonies.  Come on by and roast a weinie with us next time!

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Another Lesson from Nature

I went on wintery walk this morning to collect the mail and tour our little street. The neighbourhood consists of about 20 homes, set on 5-acres a piece. Some homes are set right on the street but others have long winding driveways disappearing into the forest with no sign of any building. The homes you can see seem to ooze character, with steeply slanting roofs and thin trails of smoke coming out of the chimneys. Many have quaint window boxes or raised beds covered in the snow blanket, with only the tips of kale sticking out the top.

I was struck (once again) by how raw our property seems to be. Although our house is set far back from the road, it is completely exposed from overlogging. How long will it take for the forest to reclaim our plot? Will we live long enough to see that picture?

A property only an owner could love

A property only an owner could love

As I wandered and wondered these things, I spotted a small nest in the low bare branches by the road. I got as close as possible without getting poked in the eye and took a couple of pictures. To my surprise, there was a tiny speckled egg inside. Being late December and barely one degree above freezing, this little egg must have been leftover from last spring. I will have to do a bit of research to see which bird laid and then abandoned this little treasure.

It was hardly noticeable

It was hardly noticeable

Is it a cluster of leaves or a nest?

Is it a cluster of leaves or a nest?

Is that what I think it is?

Is that what I think it is? (my fingers give reference to its size)

I'm pretty sure that it is a dark-eyed junco nest and egg.

I’m pretty sure that it is a dark-eyed junco nest and egg.

As I trudged on home, highly aware of the chittery juncos and warblers in the treetops, I decided that the birds don’t seem to mind the aesthetics of the Queendom so it must not be worth dwelling on.  Another lesson from nature.

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So Long, Stumpy

Blacktail Deer are a daily sighting out here at the Queendom. In fact, I would dare guess that the deer population of the Courtenay/Comox area is equal to the human population. Some people lament the damage that deer do to their flower and veggie gardens, spending exorbitant amounts of money on deer-fencing. But most people don’t mind the deer and even catch themselves smiling when they spot one in the woods or by the road.

The Queendom is a deer haven and we like it that way. Our property is an open clearing which allows our  hoofed buddies to roam around and graze. But if danger is sensed, the deer easily hop our 4 ft fence and are able to disappear in the thick forest that surrounds us on three sides.

On our first morning as new caretakers of the Queendom in April, we met three of the permanent residents. We deduced that this was a mama deer with two of last years fawns.

Mama Deer with her two yearling fawns in April

Stumpy and sister and mama

We could spot these three every morning at first light and every evening at twilight. They were initially frightened of us but, over the months, they became only slightly wary of our presence.

We play a daily game of Where’s Waldo with our deer

Soon we could see the personality of Stumpy emerging. He was definitely a young buck and he spent much of the early summer tormenting his sister and playing ‘king of the castle’ with the dirt piles during our excavation work. He would tirelessly chase and run and kick before collapsing for a snooze under his mama’s watchful eye.

Stumpy earns his name with his mismatched, two-prong antlers

Soon enough we could see his fuzzy antler buds and noticed that his left antler was stunted. The name Stumpy seemed fitting and it stuck. More and more throughout the summer, we saw Stumpy on his own, as his mama distanced herself and forced him into independence.

In September, things began to change. We spotted Stumpy standing at the edge of the pond, glassy-eyed and foaming at the mouth. He stood in the same spot, statue-like, for hours and his stance was awkward. His belly was bloated and his rear-end was tucked under. You could almost feel his abdominal pain just by watching. He had a racking cough. It was a wet, mucus cough that made his whole body convulse. It was terrible to watch.

Stumpy’s painful stance with his distended belly, glassy eyes, foamy mouth and heavy head. We have named this section of the pond ‘Stumpy’s Beach’.

For about two weeks, we surveyed him and the only change was for the worse. Soon, he began to bed down at the very edge of the pond so that he could drink without having to get up or move.

Not knowing what to do, I made some inquiries with the local animal rehabilitation centre  After describing his symptoms, a veterinarian wrote to me with a diagnosis of ‘high lungworm loads and pneumonia’. She said that there was no treatment for this and that he needed to be put down. She told me to contact the local Conservation Officer who would come and euthanize Stumpy.

Feeling absolutely sick, I called the Conservation Officer. When I described the situation and the diagnosis, he laughed at me. He told me that one sick deer was hardly a concern for him with a local population of +/- 50000 deer. He wasn’t going to come all the way out to the Queendom unless the animal was practically dead. “Call me when he can no longer get up and no longer has a fear of humans” he said. I asked him, if Stumpy dies, would his department come and collect a dead deer. “Nope,” he said.  “If he dies on your property, then you would be the proud owner of a dead deer”.

And so. Let nature run its course. We kept a daily watch on Stumpy and occasionally we would walk close to Stumpy’s Beach. Each time, Stumpy would slowly get up and hobble away from us, showing that his fear of humans and his will to live were both still strong. He even hopped (ungracefully) over the fence once when I got too close.

About a week later, I noticed that Stumpy had moved to a different area and he was grazing! He started to bed down in different areas and returned to his regular pattern of early morning/early evening visits. His body stance changed back to normal and he was far more alert. He had survived his illness and was on the mend!  I felt such relief, knowing that winter weather was around the corner and he needed to be strong to survive this first winter on his own.

Stumpy sightings became scarce. I always kept an eye out for him but only saw him once or twice over the past month.

Yesterday, FM told me that there was a deer lying on the side of the main road into town – about a kilometre from our place. As we returned from some errands in town, we stopped and had a look at the road-killed deer. It was Stumpy.

The two-pronged antler and the stumpy antler were enough proof for me. Recovering from a terminal illness doesn’t mean you’re invincible.

It is a sad day indeed. Stumpy has lived on the Queendom longer than we have. He was probably born there and spent much of his youth playing there. He could have waited out his sickness anywhere but he chose the Queendom as a safe place that had all he needed with no imminent dangers.

FM and I have never had pets together. Although we each had a dog when growing up, our spontaneous travel lifestyle and FM’s allergies have prevented us from jumping on board the pet owner train. This is the closest we have come to taking on a pet.

Peace Out, Good Buddy!

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A Salmon Stream Nearby

Living on the wet west coast, salmon are common and accessible.  They are fished in streams and on the ocean, depicted in art, raised in classrooms and served in restaurants 365 days a year. They are a luxury that we take for granted.

But today I had my eyes opened to their magnificence once again. While on recess duty, I had the treat of watching Chum salmon begin to nest in the stream that borders the school grounds.  My new school is situated on the edge of a salmon spawning stream. In November, the Chum start running up the stream to lay their eggs and you can watch it all happen a mere 50 steps away from the staff room.

Here are  two videos and four photos taken from the stream bank below the bridge.  Enjoy!

This pedestrian bridge is only 50 paces from the school entrance. We walk here everyday and check out the salmon. It gets pretty stinky at the end of November with all the dead ones! The pics below are directly under the bridge.

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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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