While out for a morning walk in Santa Ana CA, we had the good fortune to come across Nancy and Tom Larson who have been hosting honeybees in their ceramic elephant for the last ten years or so. The only entrance was a tiny hole in the back of the saddle. The bees were happy to pollinate their flowers and fruit trees, but since there was no way to open the elephant, the Larson's had never tasted the honey. Not only are these two beekeepers and bird lovers, but Tom also builds elevated raised beds (to make it easier for the elderly volunteer gardeners) and grows organic vegetables which they donate to food banks. Thanks for inviting us for a tiny apiary tour. Lovely to meet you!
The effect of the drought is very apparent when walking around the neighborhood; several homes had replaced their lawns with native plants and their lush, low-water habitats were brimming with lizards, bugs, and birds. Other yards have not fared as well, and it was sad to see the dead trees and brown lawns (though I would rather see brown lawns than green). Lots of yards in transition.
February, you were brutal: high winds, wintery mix, snow, rain, below freezing temperatures...
you've whip-lashed my garden, my bees, and my spirit.
I indulged in several winter blues-busting field trips, including the Seattle Aquarium and Volunteer Park Conservatory. It works!
This juvenile Cooper's Hawk swept into our bird feeder to pluck an unlucky finch (?) out of the air; we were sitting at our kitchen table with coffee and were in awe at how quickly it happened. I was able to get these shots from a perch in my upstairs studio.
In the twenty years that I have been feeding birds, this is the first songbird snatching I have witnessed. I must admit that I would much rather know that wild raptors are catching an urban songbird on occasion, as it is part of the natural order of things--unlike the pervasive devastation wrecked upon backyard birds by feral cats in the US.
Thanks for keeping it wild on the hill Cooper's Hawk!
2018 is starting off strong for moon-gazers: tomorrow, January 2, we'll have the chance to enjoy the year's first full moon/super moon; then, on January 31st, it's a blue moon, super moon, and a lunar eclipse! According to Space.com, along the U.S. West Coast, the total phase will begin at 4:51 a.m. PST. The farther east you go, the closer the start of the partial phases will coincide with moon-rise.
When is a full moon called "blue"? It turns out it has nothing to do with color, but rather it is thought to come from an old English term meaning "betrayer"; this term is used to describe two full moons that occur in one calendar month, and usually happens on average every 2.7 years. There will be no shortage of full moon/blue moons this winter season, as we'll have another double in March (no full moon in February).
In 2015, we were treated to a Super Moon Lunar Eclipse, and I captured the above image from my backyard. This YouTube re-post from 2015 explains the celestial clockwork behind the magic.
cards and prints from Pamela Zagarenski
Winter Tidings by Jashna Vashti, of Portland OR : Etsy
Love and joy come to you,
And to your wassail too
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year!
Wassail is a hot mulled cider punch. Waes hael means "be whole" or "be healthy". In Medieval times wassail was a drink made of mulled ale or mead, curdled cream, roasted crab apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar (but that competes with our Dr. Byrne’s Eggnog).....
Here is a modern apple-cranberry Wassail recipe to help you celebrate the return of the sun and to keep your spirits in good health. Waes Hael my friends and Cheers!
It was crazy! We had blue sky and sunshine for an hour today at lunch, and I had probably over 100 birds and at least a dozen different species visiting my bird feeders, eating grass seeds, pecking bugs in the garden, sipping the borage and pineapple sage flowers, and bathing in the birdbaths.
In the backyard flock we had a noisy and voracious round of robins, a flutter of bushtits, a banditry of black-cap chickadees, a crew of dark-eyed juncos, a lone Stellar's Jay, one Yellow-rumped Warbler, the first goldfinches of the season, plus a melody of song sparrows, a shimmer of Anna's hummingbirds, a host of purple finches, a drumming of Northern Flickers, and an (unwelcome) chattering of starlings. (No-show regulars: crows, Bewick's wren, and Spotted Towhee sweethearts.)
Hot Tip: one of our newest additions to entice birds is chili-pepper suet. Yes, that is "Sizzle n' Heat Suet" in our feeder, and guess what? The squirrels won't go near it = YAY! Since birds evolved to eat and spread capsium annuum seeds, they get to enjoy a squirrel-free dining experience.
We also have a couple squirrel-proof seed feeders with weight-activated seed ports, and I highly recommend them. It is so satisfying to feed birds without having to outsmart those pesky squirrels, and they still have PLENTY to eat in the yard with all the berries and seeds to keep them happy.
Bonus Bird: a Cooper's Hawk near the corner of Thomas and 11th Ave...
Check it out if you are out and about on Capitol Hill. I saw him twice: first as predator, attacking a worried flurry of chickadees at a feeder, and the second time as prey, hassled by crows.
I love seeing hawks in the city!
I realize that because I have an affinity for backyard bugs, it is easy for me to recognize the difference between a bumblebee and honeybee. It is a combination of repeated experience and keen interest. (FYI, I am quite useless when it comes to identifying sports teams, cars, or types of deep sea mollusks :^)
I have had this handy Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees booklet available on my Biodiversity page, and I thought I would highlight it here as a free download (or, you can take yourself over to Amazon and pay $27 for it. Seriously!)
This 48-page gem is full of lovely drawings and jam-packed with interesting tidbits. A gift to you from Pollinator Partnership, the USDA, and the US Forest Service. Make friends with your backyard bees.
Mymaridae. Fairyfly. Fairy wasp. Chalcid wasp.
Lately, I have been researching insects that are so small, you probably haven't seen them before. Just last week, whilst looking at a few of my honeybees with my stereoscope, I discovered what appeared to be a miniature wasp tangled up in the bee-fur. What?
Yes, that is a honeybee, Apis mellifera, looking like a giant compared to the tiny wasp (next to the point of a pin). The first thing I tried to do was to take a photo of the little gal (clubbed antennae, not feathered or threadlike) so I could do an ID. This involved some pretty tricky gymnastics with my headlamp, tripod, "real" camera and close-up filter...but I still could not get close enough! I ended up pointing my iphone camera through the stereoscope to capture the best images, and was then able to begin the process of identification.
I found some matching images that led me to believe that I was in possession of a fairyfly, or Mymaridae. Most definitely a chalcid wasp. Let's have fun with Mymaridae, shall we?
What makes Mymaridae so cool, besides being goofy fliers and practically invisible?
Some species of fairyfly live underwater, others mate with their siblings before they hatch, and in one super-tiny species the males are so small that "they do not have wings or eyes, their mouths are mere holes, and their antennae are simply spherical blobs. The ends of their legs have been modified into suction cups for clutching at females long enough to fertilize them. They are so small, their entire bodies are smaller than a single-celled Paramecium."
As my daughter succinctly stated "Insects are such weirdos!"
Check out my latest feature article (and two web exclusives) published in the
Autumn 2017 Pacific Horticulture magazine!
Main Article Bellwethers of a Healthy Environment
Web Exclusives Avian Dinosaurs
and Resources for the Back Yard Birder
Warning: Birds are a gateway species and may be habit-forming. While birds themselves are not addictive, learning about them may result in a total redesign of your back yard :^)
An enormous Shout-Out to Peter Pearsall for his incredible eye and all his gorgeous bird images!
Tree Swallow ©Peter Pearsall
Pacific Wren ©Peter Pearsall