Tag Archives: nature

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.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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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 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 Game of “Name Those Tracks”

animal tracks in the snowOnce we settled into our home the country, there has been no shortage of interesting discoveries when it came to the flora and fauna in the neighbourhood.

In winter, I find endless wonder and fascination in checking out the animal tracks in the snow in every corner of our property.

When I do, it turns into a bit of a CSI-style forensic game of “name those tracks”. While we have a number of regular visitors that make the short list of suspects, there are a few that stop by make one or two guest appearances, just to make the game more interesting.

Sometimes, the game is a bit of a throwback to primary school science classes when we learned about the wildlife that roams in this part of the country. I remember countless hours memorizing their unique characteristics, including the tracks that they leave behind.

The bird tracks are easy to pick out, as are those of our squirrels and chipmunks who must be suffering from insomnia this year as they aren’t really showing signs of hibernation. Their tracks are everywhere!

But there is evidence of other small animals that seem to visit us given the size of the tracks. I assume that they must be nocturnal critters, given how a morning stroll often yields new tracks to observe. Continue reading

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Exciting Field Trips… To The Dump

Who knew that a field trip to the dump could be such a source of serendipitous, joyful moments?

When I lived in the city, over the span of my 55 years, I think you can count on one hand the number of times that I visited a landfill site. Frankly, most of them would have been in my childhood days.

Over sixteen short months of enjoying rural life, I have already surpassed that number and I honestly don’t see an end in sight. Not only is it a great convenience to have a landfill site ten minutes away, but for the purposes of maintaining a country property, I am seeing how proximity is an asset (… but not so close that you can smell it).

It’s not that we produce huge amounts of garbage or anything. We are very much into sorting our recyclables and using our compost bin religiously. With those tools, we are able to keep our weekly output to well under one garbage bag per week.

For our overages above and beyond our two bag weekly limit, blame Mother Nature!

Between weeding and pruning the garden, dead branches falling off the mature trees and black walnuts littering the yard (for which neither we, nor our nearby petting zoo, have any use), we sometimes accumulate full yard waste bags at an astonishing rate.

We also know that the best defence in keeping rodents away from the house, is to not store yard waste for lengthy periods. Any accumulation of branches, sticks and garden waste is attractive shelter or nesting material in the eyes of squirrels, chipmunks and other small wildlife. The key is to haul the excess to the dump as soon as possible. Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 2)

After a few weeks of non-stop activities surrounding the apple tree that wouldn’t stop dropping bushels of apples, I finally got a day off thanks to thunderstorms.

I took a moment to realize what a struggle it had become to wedge in the apple picking, the sorting and the distribution, between everything else I needed to do and before it got too hot and humid outside. I had to suspend pretty much all other garden maintenance work when I had only a limited window to work with in the early morning.

With the apple tree still dropping apples faster than we could collect them and everyone’s hands cramping from peeling the apples we gave them, I was feeling stressed.

With bags of apples accumulating quickly, getting progressively larger and waiting for the next “disposal”, we were attracting more than our fair share of insects and possibly fauna as I kept spotting partially eaten apples showing up in random parts of the property nowhere near the apple tree.

Funny enough, I realized that in the recent rush of apple activity, I was too busy to notice that my legs and glutes weren’t burning anymore. I guess the body adjusted to the intense activity… hello bright side!

When I took to the Internet to do some research, I discovered that yard work can burn about 300 calories per hour. That seemed to bring a whole new perspective and positive mindset about the time and effort I was devoting to the apples. When stretching, squatting and moving bags of heavy and wet apples was part of my daily morning routine, who needs a gym work out consisting of stretches, squats and weights? Continue reading

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping. Continue reading

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The Move to the Country: One Year Later

Over the course of the pandemic, as working off-site became the new reality for a number of office workers, there seemed to be an apparent shift in thinking: If one can work remotely, is proximity to the office a must?

To my surprise, articles emerged about the beginning of a trend, an interest in migrating from the city and its suburbs to more rural properties. I guess we were just a little ahead of the curve when we chose this country property as the backdrop for our approaching retirement years.

For the record, it wasn’t a completely random choice. This is where my partner grew up and where his parents live now. While I may be a little farther away from my own mother and stepmother, to pay them a visit would entail little to no traffic along the way, which is a relief in itself.

I know that a few people in my immediate circle of family and friends wondered (… or should that be worried?) if I had made the right decision.

Even I will admit that I was very entrenched in city life. I liked being within walking distance to shopping. I was a heavy consumer of entertainment and cultural events. I appreciated variety in restaurants and food offerings. The vibrancy of the city and many of its amenities were always important to me.

But I think I surprised everyone, including myself, in terms of how quickly I took to rural living. I was definitely ready for the change.

During my years of city life, for the most part, I had delightful neighbours. Unfortunately, in my first apartments, I had to deal with a few self-entitled morons whose understanding of “quiet enjoyment of premises” as described in our rental agreements, held different interpretations.

For me, there were sleepless nights, not only from blaring stereos and surround sound systems at all hours, any day of the week, but from the constant internal struggle for the balance between being an accommodating neighbour and still being able to feel calm and relaxed in my own home. Continue reading

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The Language of Rural Life

Over the course of our first year following our move from the city to the country, it became apparent that I was lacking one asset: vocabulary.

For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?

The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.

Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.

The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.

For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.

Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate). Continue reading

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