cold weather

Free Lunch!

Since December, this usually balmy part of the world has been experiencing spasms of cold weather — cold and windy, cold and frosty, even a bit snowy. Being at home during the day now, I’ve been observing bird activity on the premises. I’m not a “birder,” but I can’t help but notice the birds that hang around the place, and what they’re up to. Given the weather, I decided to provide some sustenance for the little dudes.

After a bit of internet research, I supplied the following: black oil sunflower seeds in a hanging tube-shaped feeder with little perches, a block of suet with embedded seeds of some sort, white millet seeds scattered on the ground and a hummingbird feeder with a correctly prepared sugar solution. (Before anyone objects to this as out of season, I’ll just point out that Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents here). The hummingbird feeder is close to a kitchen window.

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Anna’s hummingbird

 

Observations so far: even though black-oil sunflower seeds are recommended as suitable  for a large variety of birds, the only ones I’ve seen partaking of them here have been chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up now and then. I figure I have enough sunflower seeds for the next 20 years.

The suet is preferred by gangs of bushtits and a couple of Bewick’s wrens, as well as some sort of tiny, yellowish green bird I haven’t managed to identify. I’m especially fond of Bewick’s wrens, because of the pair that nested in a shoe on the back porch a couple of summers ago.

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Towhee and junco

 

Seeds on the ground, which may include spills from the hanging feeder, and suet crumbs, are popular with juncos (winter residents here) and what may be golden-crowned sparrows, as well as a solitary towhee. Strangely, the resident house sparrows don’t bother with any of this largesse. I have no idea where they get their food.

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Male hummingbird?

Hummingbirds have started visiting their feeder. I’ve noticed one hanging out in the apple tree and coming over to sip the sugar solution at intervals. I’ve also seen him chasing another bird away, which I gather is typical of hummingbirds. Later, what appears to be a different bird turned up — possibly a female?

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Female hummingbird?

All this is rewarding for everyone concerned, a win-win, but there is some responsibility involved on my part: replenishment of feed when needed, and cleaning of feeders to prevent fungi and other nasties. At night I haul the clothesline from which the seed tube and suet are suspended close to the house, to keep everything out of any rain or snow. Then there’s fretting about the temperature at which the sugar solution might freeze… Always something to figure out and “manage.”

 

 

 

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One Way Mirror

We took down our Christmas lights today. No more blue glow from the porch this evening.

A day or two after Christmas, the world changes — completely. Christmas trees and decorations are still up, but seem less relevant with every passing minute. Shame on anyone who dares to play (or hum or whistle) a Christmas tune. The excitement that started building in November has reached a climax and dissipated. The deadline of Christmas Day is dead, and new ones appear on the horizon. Valentine’s Day. Birthdays. Spring break. School holidays. The wheel of the year must trace an entire revolution, through budding, blooming and fading, before those coloured lights of the winter solstice look right again. The only way to get there is forward, through the raw brightness of the new year.

For some reason this abrupt shift was especially acute this year. It may be because on New Year’s Day a strong northeast wind came up, bringing a week of cold, dry weather. OK, it wasn’t true Canadian cold, but cold enough for us West Coast types — minus 5 degrees C (23 F) at the nadir, which came last night after the wind finally dropped. But air hovering around the freezing point feels murderously cold when propelled by a 30 or 40 knot wind. That wind seemed to blow Christmas and its trappings right out of town, intensifying the effect of the annual post-holiday shift.

Another slightly disconcerting thing was a feeling that I should be going back to work, as though the nine months since I retired on March 31st were just an extended holiday, now over. I have to say I’m happy to reassure myself that it’s not so, emphasized by the fact that the first new items of clothing and footwear I’ve acquired since then are without question “loafing clothes.”

Cozy lounging sweater (with hood) and purple felt slippers.

Cozy lounging sweater (with hood) and purple felt slippers.

Remember those geraniums (pelargoniums) I resolved to pull through the first episode of cold weather several weeks ago? Well, I added extra insulating materials and covered everything with a tarp. When I unveiled them today they looked alive, but I’m wondering if they’re actually green zombies that will eventually show their true deadness by turning brown.

Pelargoniums tucked in against the cold.

Pelargoniums tucked in against the cold.

The (Abandoned) Garden in January and Early February.

All right, so in January and the first part of February I was too preoccupied with the writing side of my life, re-launching the Herbert West Series, to pay attention to the garden. Moreover, for the past week we have been in the deep freeze here (that’s -5 C or 23 F) and I didn’t want to look at the sad, collapsed mess that many of my “winter interest” plants have become. The bergenias flopped, the hellebores and their emerging flower buds looked like someone had let the air out of them. Today, finally, the cold snap has ended (8 C or 47 F this afternoon) and the plants seem to have recovered.

Just before the cold episode began, I managed to do this year’s quota of magnolia pruning. This magnolia (whose name I am too lazy to look up) is a lily-flowered variety with dark pink, rather floppy flowers. It does look quite impressive in full bloom and exudes a rose-like perfume, but it’s a huge shrub with a tendency to grow sideways. Therefore, I have been judiciously removing two or three major branches every year to reduce the bulk and heaviness that result when the plant is carrying its full load of leaves in late summer. Having read that magnolias are susceptible to diseases that enter through large pruning wounds, I paint any cut larger than 1/2 inch with green wound paint.

Magnolia after pruning

Magnolia after pruning

Another thing I managed to do just before the descent into minus temperatures was prepare a small pot with seed-starter mix and scatter seeds of Meconopsis, produced last summer, over the dampened medium. I left it on the hot water tank for three days, then put it outside to experience freeze/thaw cycles for the next couple of months. This has resulted in good germination in past years. It has certainly gone through one such cycle now.

Otherwise, my observations have been pretty skimpy. One night I noticed the wonderful, deceptively spring-like perfume of winter honeysuckle, and possibly that of the little green flowers of the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola). Neither plant is much to look at, and the spurge laurel is an invasive alien here, but they certainly add a hint of glamour to winter nights, triggering feelings of longing and nostalgia (at least in this gardener).

Winter Honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)