Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hidden Treasure Found

After 3 trips for bows to decorate the fence, finally I was at the end on this cold, wet, foggy morning.

What to find, but a beautifully constructed robin's nest, which had been hidden all summer by the surrounding woody vines -

Beyond the fence, it is delightful to see in bloom on this dreary day, Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma)

Around the corner, I re-discovered the old bird house in need of repair or replacement, which the blue birds used all summer

and above appeared suddenly in the thick fog, geese in formation, preceded by their calls -

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk Action

We have had a very active Red-tailed Hawk pair 
for several years and here is a moment captured where it is racing down 
to capture a mouse or vole. 

Liftoff after a tasty and successful meal - 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hot, and Dry bring Horseflies!

The horseflies this year have been notably numerous, 
perhaps because of the mild winter and hot and dry conditions. 

I see them everywhere - in limbs of trees, 
hanging on the window grooming,

or buzzing at my head when swimming and aiming to take a chunk out of my arm.

The females of these true flies can inflict a rather painful and quick bite with their razor sharp mandibles and are in need of a blood meal in order to reproduce. 

On a more positive note, 
they are also play a role in pollination as they also feed on nectar and pollen. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Breakfast with a Heron

Out of the corner of my eye, 
there was a flurry of movement
and I turned just in time to see
 a Great Blue Heron 
descend gently into the back yard. 

The blue ball in the pool must have captured his attention. 

He stayed for a few minutes to investigate. 
My dashing for the photo probably scared him away. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Just right in May - but for how long?

The recent extreme weather conditions beg one to search for more information. Hence, I turned to the U.S. Palmer Drought Indices which consist of three animated charts including short term, long term, and long term cumulative effects of drought and wet conditions. Our area was at a neutral point in May, with not too much or too little rain long term and for our reservoirs and ground water conditions. Is this still the case now in July? Hopefully, in the coming weeks, more rain will head our way.

Explore and see what awaits your area by clicking on this site for the animated charts: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/prelim/drought/palmer.html

Plants bees love.

I was crusin' the web and came across this image and passing it along for your information and enjoyment.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Bees, New Breeds!

On May 12th, we installed 2 additional hives we had purchased from Draper Apiaries. We were surprised to see they were actually from Weaver Apiaries in Texas and not bees raised in the north. We received a very early 6 a.m. call from the post office, urging us to stop by soon to pick them up. We installed the Buckfast bees into Hive C and the Weaver All American in Hive D and they looked vigorous and health. They have been building up very quickly and both queens are laying beautiful sheets of brood. 

There are approximately 6 basic bee stocks in the United States and include: Russian, German, Italian, Buckfast, Caucasian, and Carniolan. These stocks are defined by a loose combination of traits such as temperament, disease resistance and productivity and are divided by species, race, region, population or breeding line. 

The Weaver All American is an Italian bee that they have been improving for over 85 years. According to their website, these bees are gentle and easy to handle, have quick build-up, low swarming tendencies and excellent producers of honey. They are clean, adapt to all climatic conditions, and breed readily with other types. 

The Buckfast bee, largely from the Italian race, was bred by a monk at the Buckfast Abby in Devon, England in the 1920s, to withstand the endoparasitic tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi. These bees are good housekeepers, have excellent grooming behavior which helps reduce disease and produce good honey crops. If not tended regularly though, they can become quite defensive. They are well adaptive to cold winters and breed well with others. According to Weaver Apiaries and a 2 year test of 6 stocks of bees at the University of Minnesota, Buckfast bees ranked as follows:

Brother Adams at his Apiary in Devon

Nosema in Queens - none
Acceptance - BEST (100%)
Spring Buildup - BEST
Gentleness - very gentle (second just behind Midnites)
Swarming Tendency - very low (ranked second)
Propolizing - slight (All Buckfast colonies)
Longevity of Queens - TIED FOR BEST (87% after 16 months)
Wintering - TIED FOR BEST
HONEY PRODUCTION - BEST (during two years)
For more detailed information and excellent charts, summarizing this information,
see the following sites:


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bee Happy!

We are still awaiting our northern bred bee packages from Draper.

Our new girls from the south are finally settling in though. We will have 4 hives total - Hive A already lost a queen and we have since re-queened and we found this weekend some laying. Hive B is doing excellent as we have already added the 2nd hive body and she is laying beautiful sheets of brood and they are starting to create lovely honey arcs on each frame. We will have to keep a close eye on this hive to ensure space and discourage any swarming.

This year's spring was so early but now has been just meandering with temperatures in the 50s and 60s, cloudy with intermittent rain allowing for perhaps a a prolonged nectar run?

Those moments, 
when the bees are active, vigorous and there are sheets of brood, 
are something to behold and enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Xerces "Bring Back the Pollinators" Campaign

The Xerces Society has created this interesting and thoughtful campaign to bring awareness to pollinators.

Visit their website:

Here are some details:

Take the Pledge to Protect Bees

Bring Back the Pollinators is based on four principles: grow pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word. With these core values, pollinator conservation can be adapted to any location, whether you tend an urban community garden or a suburban yard, work in a city park or on a farm. Bring Back the Pollinators has already spread from coast to coast thanks to Rapid Refill. Now we are asking you to join in this campaign.

We make the commitment to you that we will work every day to protect pollinators and their habitat. Will you make a similar commitment to the pollinators? Will you sign the pledge?

  • Grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers that bloom from spring through fall.
  • Protect and provide bee nests and caterpillar host plants.
  • Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides.
  • Talk to my neighbors about the importance of pollinators and their habitat.

When you have signed the pledge, you may purchase and install our new pollinator habitat sign in your front yard, community garden, farm, or wherever you are to show your support for pollinators.

Together, we can bring back the pollinators!

Here are just a few things that Xerces is already doing to protect bees:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Maple Seed Bounty

The maple trees caught my attention this spring. At first, I thought they were sickly with brown leaves,

but then I realized it wasn't leaves but rather loads and loads of seed pods dangling from the limbs.

Maples seeds are everywhere. As I drive down the driveway, the dried out seeds crackle and pop. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of one whirling and spinning madly down to earth like a miniature helicopter.

There are piles too! 

So, why so many this year?
 Is this some sign of things to come?

We had a dry and warm winter and no damaging frost, which created excellent conditions for the trees to produce a bumper crop of seeds this year. Stress can also cause trees to produce large amounts of seeds. Is this the trees' last hurrah before they die in some impending drought?

According to the NOAA, due to a weak La Nina, our area will experience, through July, normal to cooler temperatures with average precipitation. The trees should be fine!

With all these seeds, you might consider eating them! Squirrels love them. Maple seeds are edible and can be eaten raw and might be tossed into a salad. When cooked, they apparently taste like peas.

Guten Appetit! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Resourceful Queen Carpenter Bee!

While John was cleaning up a honey beehive a couple of weeks ago in preparation of installing our new bees this weekend, he found at the bottom of the hive body, a queen carpenter bee. The hive had died and she had been feasting on the left over honey and had neatly eaten a large section on the bottom. John brought her in to show me:

I gave her some grass and wood to crawl on, some water and some honey to sustain her for another day. 

The following day she was the unexpected guest at a native pollinator presentation I gave. I released her the following morning. 

Carpenter bees are the largest native pollinators in North America and are distinguishable from bumblebees by their shiny black abdomens. 

They are excellent pollinators because of their large size, hairy bodies and early emergence in the spring. They also are early morning risers and work later into the evening and are especially important pollinators for eggplants and tomatoes. 

Using their large powerful mandibles, they dig holes into wood to create their nests, as pictured here: 

They don't eat wood but rather nectar and pollen. If a carpenter bee seems to be flying erratically, flying into windows or your head, don't be alarmed, he probably is just chasing after a female.

Carpenter bees, like all bees, are important for pollination. 
Just think, one of every 3 bites of food come to us from pollinators. 
So, the next time you are biting into an apple, or peach, pear or plum, strawberry or kiwi, 
thank a bee

Without them, these food might not exist and/or would require pollination conducted by hand by humans, which is done now in some places like China, where bees can no longer live due to pollution and over use of pesticides.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Love Is In The Air!

Temperatures soared into the high 70's this past week with the trees blossoming, bees buzzing and birds pairing up and feverishly building nests. 

A Bird's Nest Spruce is apparently a perfect place to build a nest and a mourning dove pair have been doing exactly just that. 

With great care, a male mourning dove gathers some twigs,

flies first to the roof to check to see if the coast is clear, then flies to a chair and checks again . . .

and then finally back to the bush,  . . .

where the female will meet him and construct a flimsy nest to hold a clutch of 2 eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs, which should hatch in 14 days.

Off in the background on the fence, more pairs are at work. 

A male house sparrow gathers some grass as the female watches and waits.

They will have a clutch of 3-6 white to green eggs, which will be incubated by both parents for 10-14 days.

And just down the fence, a Brown-headed Cowbird is strutting his stuff,

fluffing out his feathers and spreading his wings and trying to woo a mate.

He's gaining on her as she runs down the fence!

If he succeeds, she will be possibly laying an egg in the sparrow's or mourning dove's nest, 
so they better watch out!

The cowbird female may lay one egg per day for several weeks and will remove an egg from the "host" nest before laying one of her own. They are known to have laid eggs in over 220 species of birds. She may lay up to 40 or more eggs in a season.

In any case, we hopefully will be observing a lot of fledglings in the coming weeks. 

(Kaufman, Lives of Northern Birds, 1996)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

User-Friendly Deer Resistant Plant Lists

Spring is right around the corner and my eyes are now on the gardens. 

Ah, but my dear deer friends! 

What plants to plant? 

I was checking to see if Itea virginica or Virigina Sweetspire is deer proof and I found these 2 amazingly helpful lists you just have to view:

1. This first one created by Rutgers is so very user friendly:
Landscape Plants Rated for Deer Resistance

2. This site not only provides a deer resistant plant list but also helpful planting information too:
Gardening in Deer Country - Resistant List

I have my own test garden - check out a previous post from September 27, 2009.

Happy Planning!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Late Winter Beekeeper Report

After 3 years of beekeeping and even a mild winter, we lost our 3 hives. After closely examining the hives for clues of why, we have determined it was not from Chalkbrood or Foulbrood nor starvation as there was eventually plenty of honey stores.

Earlier on, after a very wet and stormy fall, we were concerned the bees didn't have enough honey stores so we gave them heavy sugar syrup into November and probably caused Chilled Brood. The hives looked strong in late July but they started to look weaker as the fall went on.

One culprit is probably mites even though we did treat for mites starting in July with Apiguard. For Nosema we used Fumagillin adding it to their heavy sugar starting October 24th.  Perhaps, this was too late considering we had snow on Oct. 29th. To address this for the coming year, we will be giving them winter patties and perhaps trying winter menthol-oil treatments, but we need to research this more.

Honestly, we are glad one of the hives died as it was very aggressive and never produced honey and we tried to re-queen with no success. The hive that produced over 100 lbs of honey last year will be very much missed though.

We have ordered 2 Italian bees packages coming from Georgia being delivered by Jim Bobb at his farm, Worcester Honey Farm on March 31st. (http://www.pabeekeeper.com/) Our first classes for Beekeeping were led by Jim and we have bought from him for the last 3 years and have appreciated all his advice and help along the way.

We would like to experiment with Northern bred bees this year to see if we have more success, so we ordered one package of Buckfast and one package of All American from Draper's Super Bee Apiary (http://www.draperbee.com/beesupplies/Package_Bee_Prices.htm) to be mailed to us in late April.

We will keep you posted.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Got Fire!

There is nothing more comforting and relaxing than a hot fire in the winter. 

After we purchased our home, we discovered that our propane fireplace appliance produced soot and was not useable. 

We researched options including vent-free, wood inserts, masonry stoves and finally, wood burning stoves. We decided on the wood burning stove option which required removal of our double sided fireplace, completed by Chris Tor of R.P.T. Fireplaces. It really opened up our room.

We then had installed a cast iron Cumberland Gap Quadra Fire wood burning stove with a fan kit from Ambler Fireplaces in Colmar.

It works well and we are still learning how to use it the more efficiently. When it is burning at its peak, it can produce 63,900 Btu/hr and burn up to 15 hours. We achieve a toasty 85 degrees in the family room and the heat radiates throughout the house, raising the temperature as much as 5 degrees. We tried burning some older damp wood - big mistake - it is very important to have dry well cured wood. We hope for warmer cozier winters and less dependence on propane.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Wintry Bluebird Kind of Day

Over the weekend, 
we had very blustery weather and even some swirling snow showers.
Oh, how I have missed the snow this year.

Tucked out of the wind, a shy blue bird greeted us first thing in the morning. He was knocking at the window trying to come in.

He took one look at us though and dashed away, but then returned, perhaps because he enjoyed the break in wind he had found or perhaps, was curious about us. He did this for hours and provide us delightful entertainment.

He reminded me of a cheerful little book from my daughter, 
called "The Bluebird of Happiness" 

and this quote, 
"This is the best day the world has ever seen. Tomorrow will be better."

You can't help but smile, when you see a bluebird.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our Observations and Results for the Great Backyard Bird Count!

For the past 2 days, John and I have been observing birds and taking notes for the Great Backyard Count. We revisited a few pointers for identification such as with the woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker has a short beak, white back and black dots on the white outer section of the tail whereas the Hairy Woodpecker, which looks very similar, is bigger and has a longer beak. Can you figure out which one is which from these amazing illustrations from online?

Then, for the iridescent black birds. The European Starlings are smaller and compact with short tails and yellow beaks this time of year and usually fly in quick moving flocks whereas the Common Grackle is larger with a long keel-shaped tail and dark beak. Which one is which?

Finally, here are the results of our Great Backyard Bird Count:

Locality: 18901, Doylestown, Bucks County, PA
Observation Date: FEB 19, 2012
Email: shiverjh2002@yahoo.com
Start Time: 9:30 AM
Snow Depth: No snow was present
Total Birding Time: 4 hours
Location Type: Yard
Party Size: 2
Skill: good
Weather: good
deciduous woods
Number of species: 14
All Reported: no
Turkey Vulture3
Red-tailed Hawk1
Mourning Dove3
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker1
Blue Jay3
American Crow3
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee2
European Starling12
Song Sparrow3
Dark-eyed Junco13
Northern Cardinal3
Common Grackle3
House Finch1

There is still one more day to observe. Wow, I see a Northern Flicker on the feeder. Got to go!