The Battle over the Bird Feeders

When we moved to a rural property, it was hard to resist the prospect of getting a bird feeder given the many species of feathered friends that stopped in for a layover.

While the process behind bird feeders may appear fairly straightforward (get bird feeder, fill with bird seed, birds eat food, watch, enjoy, repeat), who knew that being restaurateur to an avian clientele would present such a learning curve?

Upon arrival, we noticed that the previous owners left behind a hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook in the garden. We thought that was a good starting point.

Upon closer inspection, the feeder needed a thorough cleaning, so I brought it in the house, let it sit in hot water for a while and then started scrubbing.

I googled “hummingbird feeder” to see what was recommended in terms of the liquid to put in it. To my great surprise, it was a simple solution of 1 part sugar dissolved in 4 parts water. I was quite thrilled that it would be this easy to get started, as I had never seen a hummingbird up close before.

However, when I poured the “nectar” into the feeder, I discovered that the old feeder was due for replacing as the liquid dribbled out all over the place.

On our next trip to Canadian Tire, we picked up a new hummingbird feeder to replace the old one, as well as a basic bird feeder and a bag of bird seed designed to attract smaller songbirds. The larger birds would have to fend for themselves for now, but I knew that they wouldn’t go hungry as they seemed quite content with the berries on some of our small fruit trees.

Once the new feeders were filled, we placed them both on the shepherd’s hook in the middle of our garden… and then we waited.

While I certainly can’t speak for the birds nor do I have any credentials as a bird psychologist, I think it would be safe to say that it takes time for birds to pick up the feeder on their GPS and to determine it is a safe place to stop for food. Maybe they have a bird-version of Yelp reviews to alert their colleagues of a good place to dine. Maybe they need to tweet the location to each other.

It took a few days but we finally started to see “clients” pecking at the bird seed, to our great joy. It really was one of life’s sweet and simple pleasures to feel like we were helping nature in some small way.

Their arrival sparked the beginning of a new game of “Name That Bird”, as we started to see varieties of all different colours and markings dropping in for a bite. In my sheltered life in the city, I had never seen such an impressive array.

I am certain you can imagine my great delight when I saw my first hummingbird, in our very own garden, maneuvering like a little helicopter, sipping the nectar out of the feeder. That alone was worth the price of admission into the world of bird feeders.

However, it didn’t take long for the rest of our animal kingdom to clue in to the availability of food.

The ants found their way to the sweet water of the hummingbird feeder. Meanwhile, the squirrels and chipmunks realized that around the bird feeders, gravity was their friend. They could have their own buffet from the seeds that fell while the birds were helping themselves.

But it was only a matter of time before our chipmunks became greedy little buggers. They wanted more.

For one in particular, I found myself laughing at Chippy’s early morning attempts to climb the shepherd’s hook, only to slide back down due to the morning dew that made the hook slippery.

A couple of hours later, when the hook was dry, Chippy returned and tried again. He figured out that all he needed was to climb half way up the hook and then jump over to the feeder to get access to the little holes.

I didn’t know whether to howl with laughter, grab a camera or to run out and shoo him away when seeing the chipmunk, face first into one of the holes in the bird feeder and feasting away.

Once that habit started, the bird seed went down quickly… too quickly. I felt bad for the birds who looked on scornfully.

The next season, we decided to step up our bird feeder game by getting a squirrel-proof bird feeder, thinking it would also be effective against chipmunks.

The way it works is that the bird feeder is surrounded by an outer cage that hangs on a spring system. When a squirrel jumps on the outer cage, the squirrel’s weight brings the cage down in such a way that the feeder’s openings are blocked. We felt renewed confidence that we had the upper hand in the matter.

Unfortunately, chipmunks aren’t heavy enough for the spring mechanism to activate, thus keeping our bird feeder open to unauthorized guests. To make matters worse, not only did Chippy stick his head in and eat the seed, he also chewed through the plastic that holds the seed within the feeder.

Maybe our next feeder will need to be an all-metal version, with baffles to make Chippy’s adventures even more challenging. But they are definitely badass enough that I wonder if it is only a matter of time before they figure it out.

The consolation with the battle over the bird feeders is that by keeping the chipmunks and squirrels fed with the bird seed, they seem to leave our vegetable garden alone… or at least they did last year. I hope this holds true this year as well.

Either way, we are not deterred (… yet) when it comes to offering dining options for our fine feathered friends. We know that this encourages them to keep an eye on the property and to take care of minor pests (i.e., insects).

So far, bird feeders have been a source of humour, sometimes a bit of horror, but overall great joy to be doing our little part for the eco system.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Backlog of Backlogs

I have to admit that when I first fantasized about what retirement could be, I had visions of truly kicking back and relaxing.

I saw myself camped out in front of the TV, indulging in back-to-back game shows, soaps and talk shows, and occasionally drifting off for an afternoon nap despite the crunch of low-sodium potato chip crumbs that may have fallen here or there.

Idyllic, isn’t it? It wasn’t exactly a big dream, but in some ways, that was what I saw as my little piece of heaven.

Sadly, “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” are no longer with us. The full schedule of game shows that used to keep me company when I was home with a bad cold has been reduced to only a few classics. The talk shows are there, but regrettably, I don’t find a strong attachment to any of them.

When I came into the knowledge that writing was my life’s purpose and reading was something I enjoyed as passionately as TV, my retirement dreams changed significantly.

Just the same, in the grand scheme of things, no matter what I enjoyed, it was to be a more quiet existence than I experienced in my fast-paced career which demanded a lot of extrovert energy.

I wish I could say that after my first year of retirement, I feel recharged from my leisure and hobby time. Thanks to Covid-19, it’s been anything but. It’s been like squeezing years’ worth of activity through a funnel.

What I didn’t envision was having a backlog of backlogs to deal with first: Continue reading

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Building a Toad Hotel

In an effort to finally gain the upper hand in dealing with overgrown plants, very bushy bushes, and relentless weeds, we invested in professional help for our garden.

While I cannot speak to the reasons to how or why the garden got to this point, I can only say that the year we took over the house, a walk in our backyard was what I imagine might feel like a walk through a lush rain forest.

It was soothing for the senses to see Mother Nature at work like that, with so much greenery billowing in the breeze.

But the bottom line was that the garden was out of control with plants growing into each other or suffocating each other. It was like plant wars, witnessing the survival of the fittest first hand. Nonetheless, the potential for a really nice garden was definitely there.

Trying to stay on top of the weeds was the impossible dream for us, cautiously putting in an hour here and there, on weekends, weather permitting, when the mosquito count was low, without upsetting the delicate balance of degenerating back conditions. Aging sucks!

It was an incredibly validating exercise to see that it took three young people, a small tractor and two very full days to whip the garden back into shape!

By the time that the crew had completed the work, our gardens were finally a source of pride rather than a source of embarrassment. The curb appeal was returning and we expect it will improve further over time as new growth fills in the spaces vacated by the former plants having near-death experiences. Continue reading

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The Massage Therapist Auditions

a cat in a complete state of relaxationAbout twenty years ago, a received a gift certificate for my very first registered massage therapy (RMT) session.

It was a very kind and generous gift, especially at a time when I was dealing with the grief of my Dad’s passing. At the same time, I was recovering from the final sprint to the finish line for a major project at work. The timing was absolutely right for what I would consider my first real dose of self-care.

I admit that at first I was bit shy about the whole idea, but the massage therapist assigned to me took the time to ask me questions about my health, what I was looking for from therapeutic massage and to walk me through the process.

Any apprehensions I might have had disappeared within three minutes into the treatment. I relaxed and turned into a mass of jelly which allowed the therapist to gently work out some of the knots that had accumulated over time.

By the end of the session, I was a convert. I was so deeply relaxed, I worried about the long drive home and accidentally veering off the road, but I successfully made it home in one piece.

Sadly, the distance to this particular spa made it difficult for me to promise my return. But I was immediately hooked on that amazing feeling that followed, that “clean slate” sensation when the knots and kinks are eradicated. And so began what I called “the massage therapist auditions”, closer to home. Continue reading

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If at First You Don’t Succeed…

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.How many of us grew up with the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”?

And how many of us have had moments in life thinking that this societal expectation is… well… a load of nonsense?

I think it would be safe to say that for a kid endowed with only a modest helping of patience, the advice holds some degree of merit.

For an only child who was all too happy to throw in the towel and give up a game after one unsuccessful try, it might also be value-added.

For a short, academically-oriented kid for whom athletics was never in his wheelhouse, the advice was probably reasonable… to a point.

In all three cases, that was me!

But as an adult when we are more in touch with our likes, our aptitudes, our affinities and our passions is “try, try again” without any footnotes, asterisks or any sense of boundaries really good advice?

Shouldn’t there be a cut-off point, when there really isn’t a point to continue? Continue reading

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The Joy of Owning a Wood Chipper

I can’t say that many nick names have stuck with me over the years. The name André doesn’t really shorten all that well.

Some have tried calling me “An” which sounded awkward and too short for a nickname, if that is even possible. “Dré” gained traction with some of my friends and I would still respond to it today, but due to the pandemic, no one has called me that for some time.

But now, if someone decided to call me “Chip”, it would be totally justified, thanks to my favourite new garden tool: our electric wood chipper.

If someone had told me just a few years ago that someday I would own a wood chipper, I would have recommended that they seek medical attention or to review the dosage of their meds.

From my vantage point, there was no way in the world that this city boy would ever own a wood chipper. To me, that was a tool reserved for properties in the deep woods and as props in movies like “Fargo”.

Never say never.

Here we are, living in the country, and I am now the proud owner of a wood chipper. Continue reading

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The Curious Inconsistency in Clothing

an antique cash registerA few years ago, a group of friends and I went factory outlet shopping to a picturesque location a couple of hours away.

During this trip, I bought two 3-packs of a popular brand of underwear, in the same brand, style and size as I was actually wearing at the time. What could possibly go wrong?

When I returned home a couple of days later, I ran them through the wash.

Even though I didn’t do anything differently than I did with the underwear purchased previously, when I tried on my new skivvies, I had to look at the packaging again to make sure I didn’t accidentally buy boy’s size medium. My legs were choking from the lack of circulation… And my waistline… well…

It is true that as I got older, my weight did see slight fluctuations, but definitely not enough to graduate to the next size up in undergarments.

I also admit that it only takes one salty meal to have me retaining water like a sponge. But then again, not to the point of going beyond the allowable stretchiness of a poly-cotton blend.

Unless I could suddenly lose something like 40% of my body weight, there was no way I could make use of these new undies.

My emotions ran from sadness to irritation (and not just from the underwear that was chafing as I breathed). Continue reading

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Let Me Explain… No, Never Mind

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.It is rather funny the habits we pick up along life’s journey, especially the ones that become less relevant at a different stage in life.

For me, it is the need to explain… to justify… to contextualize… to rationalize.

It is an impulse with very deep roots that I find somewhat challenging to reprogram.

Over the span of my 33 year career, many of our day-to-day transactions needed to be supported by a business case and more often than not, a justification. Frankly, I didn’t mind too much, as justifications seemed, for lack of a better word, “justified” in the business world.

That being the case, in learning to write for the public sector, the development of well crafted, logical justifications was a recurring task. It was the way to bring an issue to senior management and to seek approval to proceed with a proposed solution. And, might I say, what a great learning opportunity for an aspiring writer!

When I received confirmation that a business case or a justification I wrote (or co-wrote) was approved, it always took me back to childhood. It felt just like it did when I received a gold star on my report card.

To see an idea come to fruition was always so gratifying. Continue reading

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The Glitch of the Week

A close up shot of a computer keyboardIs it just me or have some eCommerce systems suddenly gone glitchy?

Just as I started settling into retirement, enjoying more free time to relax and to enjoy life, I regret that some of that reclaimed time is getting gobbled up, cleaning up after glitchy systems.

It seems that at least every week or two, I am on the phone (or communicating via chat-boxes) with different companies about system issues.

For example, I had an order cancelled without notification to me (and I was still waiting for it, weeks later). I had an order shipped to a nearby store location, but no notification that it had arrived (and was soon to be shipped back). I had several orders marked “undeliverable” when a given company had delivered parcels to our house countless times before.

Of course, none of these situations were catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. There are far more serious problems in the world, and I do try to maintain a level-headed perspective in light of these situations.

I completely understand that mishaps happen and I am always willing to offer the benefit of the doubt. But when there seems to be surprising regularity to these mishaps, not isolated to a single company, it does make one wonder what is going on in the world of system development.

Have systems been ramped up too quickly to handle the onslaught on online shopping during the pandemic?

Are systems properly designed for every eventuality? Continue reading

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When Food is Flying

Back in my working days, I used to think of myself as the king of batch cooking. On any given weekend, I would roll up my sleeves and slice, dice, chop, fry, bake, roast or braise any number of food items in preparation for the work week ahead.

I would place the completed meals into small microwave-safe containers, label them and then freeze them. It often felt like cooking for a platoon, preparing two or three recipes at the same time and ending up with 12 to 15 prepared meals, but it worked for me. As a result, during the work week, I barely had to think about lunches and dinners. To me, it was a pretty efficient system for cooking for one.

During those marathon sessions of cooking, I picked up the habit of cleaning the kitchen as I went along to avoid a mountain of dishes and a bad case of “kitchen claustrophobia”. Just the same, when food prep day was done, I could do one final kitchen clean up and then toss whatever I was wearing into the laundry hamper.

The reality is that despite my meticulousness when cooking and cleaning up, I often ended up wearing some of my ingredients. Call me an enthusiastic chef!

After moving to the country with my partner, I quickly adapted to cooking for two, as we took turns in meal preparation. Continue reading

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