Canada Geese – How I Entertain the Birds

Many birds have arrived here in the past few days. They won’t migrate any further north because this is where they normally spend the summer. I told you about the geese and the ducks a few days ago. Today I spotted a hawk in a tree in the woods. I thought I would tiptoe over to see it up close.

Close is a relative term depending on the type of bird. The Ducks are skittish until they get to know me. Right now they fly away with no provocation at all. The Canada Geese are bold and brash. They hold their position on the top of the rock, confident that I won’t wade out to bother them. The Robins have no fear, and in the summer they will hop along beside me when I am weeding the flower beds, darting in to pick up any delicious goody I unearth as I shovel. The Magpies, our rats with wings, are raucous but cautious because they know they are not the most welcome birds.

The Hawks, my favourites, keep the mice and gophers under control. They nest somewhere nearby, and when their babies fledge, the whole family flies down onto the fence posts in the field behind our house. It is a convenient place to park the babies while the parents catch their meals.

So today I left the warmth of the house to photograph the hawk. He or she was sitting in a tree in the woods. I kept taking pictures as I crept closer. But the camera was confused by the branches and the heavy snow flakes – the hawk came out all blurry.


So I moved down towards the pond, and edged back towards the stand of trees by skirting the water. That was when I discovered that the ground around the pond was not all that frozen any more, and my quiet footfalls through the snow changed to the sucking sound of boots in mud. The hawk took to the air, as did the ducks, which left just me and the geese looking at each other.

geese snow

At first the geese were quiet, then they started to honk quite loudly. I believe they were discussing my skills as a photographer, and I think they said I Suck…

The Feather Files
Name: Canada Goose
Species: Branta canadensis
Native to and Migration: Resident to long-distance migrant. Canada Geese breed throughout North America, except in the high Arctic and in the extreme southern parts of the United States and Mexico.
Date Seen: April, 2011
Location: North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Few Days of Honking and Quacking

There is a row of big rocks in the field behind our place. They arrived on a sheet of ice during the last Ice Age – 12,000 to 18,000 years ago. The departing Glacier, tired of carrying these big freeloaders, simply dropped the rocks and retreated to a more hospitable climate.

In the spring a Seasonal Pond forms in the depression around the rocks. It is home to frogs and mosquitoes mostly. In very wet years the pond has been large enough to appeal to several species of ducks who set up housekeeping and raise a family.

Every spring a pair of Canada Geese arrive to check things out. They land on the rocks, where they are often joined by a few  Mallard Ducks. Much honking and quacking ensues. I originally thought the geese might be discussing the possibility of moving into the neighbourhood, but then talk themselves out of it because they don’t want to live with a group of rowdy ducks. But there is also the possibility that the geese are actually Realtors and all the honking is just the geese telling the ducks that this would be a really great place to live.

Whatever the story, it is fun to listen to, and is a nice change from all the Honking and Quacking of the Politicians in the run up to our Federal Election

Tree Bark – in Early Spring it is the Only Interesting Plant

It is April – a time when we have all had enough of Winter. I went outside to see if there were any signs of spring – Nothing… I’m ‘barking up the wrong tree’ I guess.

If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice it’s knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.
– Matthew Fox –


I like the me who talks to trees to let them know how well they are doing and how good they are looking. I like the me who wakes up in the morning feeling joyful that there is so much to do instead of burdened because there is so much to do.
– John Robert McFarland –


As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ — probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.
– Woody Allen –


If you plant a tree, don’t keep pulling it up by the roots to see how it’s growing.

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.
– Bill Vaughn –

Alberta April Storm and We’re Snowed Under

Good morning, world. I’m sitting at the Forever Winter weather station here in Canada. In what can only be described as cruel and unusual punishment, the Snow Monster has unleashed it’s fury yet another time. As I write, 10 inches of heavy snow blankets the ground outside. And it is still coming down. Visibility has been reduced to just beyond the fence, and The Car Guy has been forced to abandon all plans of going to work. Well, he is working, but it is from the seat of the John Deere, pushing snow around the yard in an attempt to find the driveway again.

Before dawn, I braved the cold (well, not really all that cold) and attempted to dig a path from the front door to the Jeep. I had just achieved the front fender, a distance of only about 35 feet, when I felt a little ping in my lower back. In a single moment I went from being an able bodied person, to being an unable one. I retreated to the house, took a couple pain killing capsules, applied a cold pack and collapsed into the comfort of my favourite chair. I will be here for much of the day, should anyone be looking for me.

Jeep Blinking in the Dark

John, of the Deere Family, discussing the weather with The Car Guy 

Pansies and the First Flowers of Spring in Alberta

I hesitate to call it Spring because there is still a lot of snow on the ground. But a few species of migrating birds, like the robin, have arrived, so I thought maybe I should go outside and see what is going on.

05-pansy-iceA clump of rather battered and forlorn looking pansies were daring the snow to get any closer.


05-foliage-snowA brave bit of green something was peeking out from under the weight of winter.

05-mousetrailsA bare patch of grass shows the activity of the wee mice in winter.

05-snow-treeAnd a tree in the woods asks when it will be freed from its blanket of snow.

Browser War – Keeping the Deer Out

We’re being attacked by a group of cunning Browsers. Yes, we are being invaded by a herd of White Tail Deer.

We have a fenced area behind our house. It is about half an acre in size, and  I try to grow vegetables, ornamental trees and flowers. For many years, the White Tail Deer respected the fence, with only the occasional delinquent crossing into My Space to feast on the tulips in the spring, or the garden in the summer (beans are their first choice).  Then, this winter, they decided that My Space is their space, and they have started to camp out in the backyard. They are browsing everything in sight.

They show no timidness, venturing right up onto the patio on many occasions. When I fly out the door and bear down on them like a crazed Banshee (the stunningly beautiful woman, not the ugly, frightening hag), the deer cast me a glance that says, “I dare you.” Which causes me to pause for a moment, and wonder what would happen if he/she turned on me. We stare at one another for a few moments, and then one or the other of us retreats.

We investigated the cost of Deer Deterrent #1 raising the fence from 4 feet in height to 6 feet. $15,000 seemed a bit high for a fence that still might not be, well,  high enough.

That is when Car Guy started testing Deterrent #2 – the Motion Sensor Bright Glaring Light to ward off the evil deer at night.

The Car Guy and his dad decided to make use of the old phrase about “Deer in the headlights”. But instead of stunning the deer into inaction and inadvertently mowing them down with the car, a light system is intended to startle the deer as they raid seed from the bird feeder. After several seconds of thoughtful conjecture, hopefully the deer will decide to leave the yard.

On the top of the post is a motion sensor, and below it are two bright spotlights. Rather nicely done, isn’t it? The deer usually arrive shortly after the sun goes down, so the lights should be quite bright. And certainly unexpected.

It may have worked at night, but it didn’t stop the day incursions. Next he put some energy into designing a solar powered, motion sensor, bright glaring light with siren. This project has gone from design phase to purchasing, but is now stalled on the work bench.

Deterrent #3 was a Paintball Gun. Loaded with white non-toxic balls, the Paintball Gun has been shot several times at the deer  that were tasting the lilacs.  Paintball Guns are not particularly accurate in the hand of a novice. Not a single deer has acknowledged it has been hit – yet. But the deer are a bit more motivated to move along when The Car Guy, a 6 foot 2 inch man with a weapon in his hand, bears down on them.

Recently arrived in the mail is Deterrent #4 – two sets of a product called Wireless Deer Fence. These work like a mild cattle prod. The Car Guy (and his friend Airplane Guy) will attest to the fact that a cattle prod isn’t something you test on a friend more than once…

These units were installed several weeks ago on the paths the deer frequent. So far there are no deer tracks in the snow around the units to indicate the deer have encountered them. But there are also no new deer tracks in the snow inside the yard. We hypothesize that perhaps other people in our neighbourhood also have used these devices, and the smell they give off is warning the deer to stay away. (The smell is supposed to attract the deer to the device and then give off a mild electric jolt when they touch it.) We are cautiously optimistic.

Deterrent #5 could be beefing up the chain link fence with electric fencing. I think The Car Guy is quite enthusiastic about this. He has always thought he would like to protect our house (from unwanted incursions by two footed mammals) with the judicious use of cattle prod technology.

The Wild Child draws a deer

Deterrent #6 is a starters pistol. I have found that if I slam the screen door shut a few times, it makes a sound like a gun going off. If the deer are close enough, they take off. A starters pistol should do the same thing, and save the screen door from being destroyed. If the effect of the starters pistol wears off, then the person carrying it can resort to running after the deer, brandishing the gun, which seems to have some effect too.

Deterrent #7 has something to do with venison. I think The Car Guy was just joking about that. He knows our deep freeze is way too small.

I am very thankful to The Car Guy for all his efforts to keep My Space free of things that eat up everything I plant. Gardening in this part of the world is challenging at best. With 112 frost free days, but only 80 days of productive growing season, gardeners don’t have a second chance at a crop if rabbits or deer eat everything in sight!

Update July 2014 – Success! We raised the chain link fence to 6 feet. The deer have not tried to jump it!

Sunflowers – From Seeds to Flowers

I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers.
– Vincent van Gogh –

Just about my favourite flowers are sunflowers. Big sunflowers. So bright and bold and brash. This year I planted 6 giant sunflowers in the new planters on the front patio. They grew well, soon dwarfing the grasses I had planted.  But would the sunflowers bloom before they were bitten by the first hard frosts of the fall?



Oddly enough, the first sunflower to bloom was the shortest one and the one that got the least sun. After that, they bloomed in succession, with the one that got the most sun each day blooming last. This isn’t a very good plan on the part of the sunflower world, because the tallest sunflower stood a very good chance of being snuffed out by winter before it got a chance to produce seed…

We eventually chopped off their heads and laid them near the bird feeder. It wasn’t long before the flickers and jays found them and started to feed. The birds always lose a few seeds, and these escapees sprout in spring and start the circle again.

Mosquito be Gone – Trying out a Few Products

3-mosquito1Apparently some people give off a smell that masks the odour that attracts mosquitoes. Some people  build up a tolerance to mosquito bites and hardly notice they have been bitten. (This would describe my spousal unit.) Some people attract mosquitoes within 15 seconds of stepping outdoors, and the bites they get swell up to itchy red blotches the size of quarters that bother them for a week or two. That would be me.

Mosquito season is just getting into full swing this year, and I am already getting tired of itchy spots. It is clear that I am allergic to these  bites. Yesterday I visited my pharmacist, and she suggested two things. The first is a test run of an antihistamine, in this case Desloratadine. The second is an after bite cream – Hydrocortisone.

Of course, the first lines of defense are repellents, and adequate cover up clothing. The mosquitoes that attack me laugh at both of these things. If there is a square centimeter of unprotected skin, a mosquito will find it. And normal repellents? Not very effective on me for very long.

Friends suggested I try some botanical repellents.  So, today I tried out a new mosquito program. I started out with an anti-histamine. Then I lathered my exposed skin with a hand lotion made with grapefruit and lemon.  I headed out into the bug war zone… Within seconds the first wave had arrived – and they headed right for my husband. They left me alone. Clearly citrus based products were making me invisible to mosquitoes!

Later that morning the lotion must have worn off, because I got my first bite. I was far from home (and my grapefruit/lemon hand lotion), so I tried my nephews bottle of  Off! Botanicals. That worked for a while, but I didn’t like the smell as much. Towards the end of the day, and far from my grapefruit/lemon hand lotion and the Off! Botanical, I tried my daughters Off! Deep Woods. This was reasonably effective, but a bit greasy feeling. By now I had a couple of bites, so I  tried the Hydrocortisone Cream, which was very fast acting and effective. Later that night, I put some more cream on. For some reason it didn’t work at all. The next morning I realized why. My little tube of hydrocortisone was missing, but a very similar looking tube of toothpaste was sitting in its place…

Many studies have been conducted to determine repellent effectiveness. Some of them were very scientific, like the one done by The New England Journal of Medicine. They studied 7 products in a controlled laboratory.  Some studies were less scientific, like the one related at Bug Off! They tested 9 products and lots of beer. And one study, mine, was haphazard at best, but made me feel like I was going to get through mosquito season more comfortably than last year.

3-waspJust when I thought I might be able to get through this summers mosquito season, I disturbed a wasp. It took exception to my presence and stung me. That was two days ago. The area around the bite is now an angry red welt about two inches in diameter. It certainly puts mosquito bites into perspective…

Mosquito be Gone – The Downside of a Prairie Pothole


The Prairie Pothole Region was once the largest expanse of grassland in the world – the Great Plains of North America. 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers from the last ice age receded, millions of shallow depressions were left behind. They are known as prairie potholes.

Though the potholes are important waterfowl breeding habitat, they are also excellent sources of mosquitoes! There is nothing more pleasant than a summer when this pothole is dry and the mosquitoes are few and far between.

Sunflower Essences and Dark Chocolate

One of my favourite flowers is the Sunflower and the various members of that family. I particularly like the ones that randomly appear in my yard from seeds that were in the bird feeders. My husband is very diligent about keeping the feeders full. Some of the smaller birds don’t want the sunflower seeds, so they simply pluck those seeds out and drop them on the ground. The blue jays spirit the sunflower seeds away, and hide them in caches in the ground. Blue Jays apparently hide more seeds than they ever eat, so each spring I get a new crop of sunflowers in these odd locations.


The sunflower is actually made of many tiny flowers called florets. The outer florets are large yellow petals. After pollination, every little flower or floret produces a seed.

The Essence of Sunflower is said to increase self-esteem and encourage optimism. I’ve never made a flower essence, but apparently it involves brandy, so I think it would taste quite nice.  I guess I would have to ration myself as to how many sips of essence I took each day. I already have to ration how much dark chocolate I eat each day, so perhaps I could combine the essence sipping and chocolate nipping.  I can certainly see how my self-esteem and optimism would increase with these little rituals.

Update – June 2013 – I continue to reinforce my self-esteem with the daily twice daily big time consumption of dark chocolate. As you probably know, dark chocolate contains some of the same disease-fighting antioxidants as red wine, fruits and vegetables. It is also thought that cocoa flavanols found in chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation, and even the effects of aging.