Hey, I did end up getting a photo of Mr. Neil's common redpoll. I wonder how much longer this bird will stick around. It has been the only redpoll in his yard--separated from a flock further north. I'll be curious to see how long it stays.
Non Birding Bill went out with me to the beehives last weekend. There he is with a worker climbing up his fleece. We had the following conversation before we went out to the hives:
NBB: Aren't we going to put on bee suits?
BC: Nah. We won't need it.
NBB: What about the smoker, shouldn't we take the smoker?
BC: Nah. They'll be calm enough, we shouldn't need it. We're just going to put in a pollen patty for some extra protein.
When we got to the hive, NBB held his ear next to the hive to see if he could hear them buzzing inside the hive. We could see that the bees had been out in some of the warmer weather--pooping like crazy. Not all the little spots on the black insulation--that's bee poop! Bees don't go potty while they are in the hive to help keep it clean. That's fine in warm weather, but takes remarkable self control in winter. Then in spring when the weather is warm enough, the fly out to release all that they have been holding during the winter, these are called cleansing flight. Can you imagine having to hold it all winter long--and I'm not talking one of those southern winters, I'm talking a serious and long northern winter! Ah, bees, you never cease to amaze me!
As we were taking the hive apart to put in the pollen patty, we noticed that it was sealed with propolis and I regretted not bringing along the hive tool to pry it open. We did some knocking and that kind of alerted the girls. To hear NBB tell it, when a few flew out at us, I ran off squealing "Don't flail!" while running like a two year old and flapping my arms. I think I more dashed back cautiously. The few bees that flew soon fell to the ground and we tried our best to pick them up and put them back on the hive. Bill had one on his gloves and she tried to sting him. Fortunately, her stinger didn't get stuck in his glove so he put her back on the hive alive and intact.
The bees were in a loose cluster and when I was at the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers meeting was told that they could even have brood inside! Whoot. We put the Olga hive back together and I felt a pang of excitement that in a month or so I would be installing two new packages of bees. When I was at the meeting, I learned that lots of keepers up here lost hives over the winter, some to the cold temps like we did and some to possible Colony Collapse. I met one woman who said that she lost five of her six hives. I was incredibly grateful that we still had Olga--and SO grateful that we started our beekeeping adventure with two hives instead of one. It gave us a much better frame of reference. NBB and I also took home a couple of jars of the now defunct Kitty hive that Mr. Neil had extracted. My goodness did it taste good!
On our way back to the house, I found a hawk pellet. I'm pretty sure this is from a large red-tail that has been keeping watch over the fields at the front of the driveway. I can tell that this is a hawk pellet and not an owl pellet by the lack of bones--owl pellets are fun to take apart because they tend to swallow prey whole and and have weaker digestive acids than hawks so you find bones in the pellets. Hawks tend to rip and shred prey and when they do swallow bones, their stronger digestive acids dissolve small bones.
A calling card was left--but not from a bluebird. It looks like a downy woodpecker has been in here and pecking the floor. I'm thinking the woodpecker has been using this as a winter roosting box and not a potential nest site, but I'm going to leave it alone and see what happens in the coming weeks.
Well, speaking of calling cards, I find that a bunny left one around the dogwood. I didn't need the rabbit poop to confirm it, you can tell bunny damage by the perfect little cuts that their teeth make. For once, I disapprove!
Rabbits weren't the only pruning offenders. This one looks like it has both bunny damage and a bit of deer damage. Ah, the joys of planting for wildlife...sometimes the unintended wildlife eat it before the birds do.