Hazards of the Job

My phone has been cutting out in the middle of conversations. Today the phone man was coming to check it out. I remembered then  that the yew tree we had planted to hide the phone wiring box had become rather overgrown and the poor phone man would need a machete to get in there. The picture below was taken AFTER I did a fast trimming job on the yew. It’s still about a foot higher than it should be.

But behind it, on the wall, you can see the phone connection box,and a surprise!

Just look at all the work some poor bird did to make a nest. So many trips carrying mouthfuls of leaves, grass, twigs, and soil. The location was perfect. Hidden, out of direct sun and wind, and up off the ground, this nest was safe and dry. I have no idea what kind of bird nested here, but it had to be something smaller than a robin.

If you look carefully at the bottom of the phone box just under the black wire, you will see why I could never be a phone repair person. I’m glad I didn’t see this eight-legged fellow, even though he’s dead and dried out, until after I had done the trimming of the yew tree.

Having to push your way to a phone box, through all kinds of brush and dead critters, is just one of the hazards of the job. My phone repairman was good about having to fight a few cobwebs today. Very brave of him to come out still smiling.

Tree Art

Yesterday I visited a friend who lives on Protection Island, a tiny island across from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. She gave me a tour of the place and my camera was smoking with so many photo-worthy things to record.

One of the more fascinating things she showed me was a gateway made by a local resident. If she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have noticed that unlike the tree on the left, the one on the right is not made of wood, but of metal. I thought it was very clever of the artist to anchor the metal tree so naturally on the rocks where it pretends to send roots into the ground. On closer inspection you might notice that the metal tree has leaves that tell me it might be representing an oak.

Ironically, I think the wooden tree has a metallic name. I believe it might be a copper beech.

P.S. (A few days later…) I’ve just had word from the owner that the tree on the left is in fact a Japanese plum, so the poem doesn’t quite fit, but I’ll leave it as it is. Call it poetic license. 

 The oak tree brags, “I guard the gate.”

He shocks the copper beech,

Who leans back, but defends himself,

“A lesson I must teach.”

“I’m  tough and strong, of iron made,”

The great oak lets him know.

His metal clinks, he smirks and sneers,

“My strength withstands a blow.”

“But I will grow,” the beech tree smiles,

“And birds in me do trust,

While you will chill their little feet

before you turn to rust.”

Cool Days for Baby Robins

Everyone knows what robin’s egg blue looks like. We often use that term to describe a pretty shade of blue, perhaps on some piece of clothing or a paint colour, but I think it looks best on the shell of a robin’s egg. I found this half shell two days ago on a cold miserable day when the little bird that hatched out of this shell probably wished he were back inside it.

It is a testimony to how tough the robins are, when they risk nesting so early. It is also evidence that they  need as long a growing season as possible for the young birds to grow to adulthood before the fall.

I took this picture of the egg shell when the sun was shining through the living room window for a few minutes that day.

Later I took another picture with the robin’s egg on a piece of white paper, next to a chicken egg as a size comparison. Somehow the “robin’s egg blue” colour looked more faded and greener. What a tiny egg it is, when you consider that the baby bird will grow to be the size of a robin.

“That’s my boy,” the robin chirps. “He’ll grow up to look just like me!”

As a point of interest, this photo of the robin in the dogwood was taken on April 29, 2016.

This year on April 25, this same dogwood tree is just getting tiny leaves and there is no hint of flowers yet. What a difference in temperature. It’s a very long, cold spring this year.

Brant Time

The arrow in the photo below points at the roof of our house, just above the white house on the hillside. From there we can see, with the help of a spotting scope, that the black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) are on the far shore of the bay.

They come here every spring to rest and feed and gather their strength.

We drove around the bay to the beach where the brant are congregating. A friend had told us that the day before, there were many more, and we think some may have left already on their long migration to the north to nest.

Here they are, sitting at the edge of the water in a place where they can see danger approaching from land or the water.

They come from as far away as the Baja coast of Mexico, and will go all the way up the continent to Alaska where summer daylight hours are very long and the food is plentiful for raising their young in the short weeks of summer, so they will be ready to make the long migration back south in the fall, to winter in Mexico again.Here, in one of many staging areas on the east coast of Vancouver Island, they gather at first in small flocks, gradually joining up into bigger flocks as they are closer to leaving for the north.

I’ve often wondered how they decide when it is time for the flocks of thousands to lift off and begin the journey. Who says, “Okay folks, it’s time for liftoff”? Looks like plenty of discussion going on here. The widgeon in the background are being kept out of the loop. See them in the background with their pale heads?

Notice that these geese are similar to the Canada goose but they don’t have the white cheek patches or the long necks. If you saw them side by side you’d see they are quite different.

If you go walking on the beaches at this time of year, please be sure to keep your dog on a leash. When the brant are disturbed repeatedly, it prevents them from feeding. They need daylight hours and low tides to feed on the eel grass they prefer above most other food. If they can’t feed, their bodies will not have the reserves they need for the long flight ahead. Emaciated birds don’t have healthy clutches and this results in weaker young and lower numbers of brant.

You can do your bit to help keep the brant population healthy. Keep your dogs on a leash at brant time.

Herring Time

When the herring roe fishery happens each spring on the BC Coast, the seine boats and herring skiffs congregate close to shore because that is where the herring can be intercepted as they rush the beach to spawn. At night when the boats have their anchor lights on, it looks like a floating city just offshore.

Sea lions and seagulls and eagles patrol the area in hope of some tasty bites.

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Photo courtesy of P. Knettig

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It’s a bluebird day. Hard to believe it was rough and windy just a couple of days ago. Still it was fishable and the herring filled the seine nets. Then disaster struck as an extra heavy net caused a boat to list  and not recover. The fishing community lost a fellow fisherman. His brother is quoted on CTV News:

“They had a really big set. The boat was listing and Mel went down into the engine room to turn the pumps on, and while he was down there the boat rolled over.”

It brings home to all of us once again, how dangerous fishing is. While the fleet mourns the loss of one of their own, the fishery goes on, as it must. The pretty night lights, and the bluebird daytime sky and sea belie the sombre mood and the heavy hearts of the fishing fleet.

Love! It’s for the Birds

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Wait until she sees what I’ve got for her for Valentine’s Day. She’ll love these special bugs from the maple tree.

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Oh darn it. I think she’s coming this way. I wanted this to be a surprise. I’d better hurry.

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Just stay there, dear. I’ll be there in a minute. (And then I’ll present her with a wonderful Valentine treat. I do so love that girl!)

Greedy Guts

This varied thrush is in the same family as the robin, but for some reason we see them here more often in the winter or very early spring. I think this might be Mrs. Thrush.

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Mr. Thrush, I presume? Either way, they are cooling their heels on the mound of snow that covers the top of a rhododendron. It seems Greedy Guts is hogging the feeder.

029aNo one else can get near the suet block. I can just hear that starling calling from the feeder, “Eat your heart out.” Sure, the starlings are hungry too, but they don’t care if the other birds starve. I don’t like that.

100 Europeans starlings were introduced (unfortunately, IMHO) to North America in 1890-1891. Now the bullies are everywhere. Pests, they are. They do have a talent for mimicking other bird sounds, which makes them interesting, but still not lovable.

My pretty little thrushes, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches,  and juncos are afraid of the starlings and have to wait until he goes away to burp or take an antacid pill, before they can have a turn at the dinner table.

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The starling’s coat is glittery

With iridescent shine.

His manners are atrocious, 

But he’s master of the mime.