Pine Siskins and Bonfires and Bees

Just a reminder: The next Birds and Beers is this Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 6pm at Merlin's Rest.

This weekend was kind of a blur, I'm still trying to catch up. This early winter weather is just perfect for a one last hurrah before the hardcore cold temperatures force us inside. Non Birding Bill got Mr. Neil to host a bonfire gathering.

We had a great bonfire going and we burned some unusable beehive frames which made for some spectacular pyrotechnic effects with the old wood. Speaking of frames, we still have some frames full of honey to extract and a big fancy extractor. I thought that maybe we could do some extracting at the bonfire gathering--lots of friends over, "Hey, don't you want to be a junior beekeeper and extract some honey?" We could all take turns, running the crank. Alas, much like all the beekeeping equipment out there, NO INSTRUCTIONS (beekeeping equipment manufacturers--that sucks and makes me not like your products and is off putting to new beekeepers).

So, little was extracted and we now have a fancy extractor that we are not real clear on how to use. Lorraine has gone to the cheesecloth method for some of our frames.

This morning we woke up to a dusting of snow and LOTS of finches at the feeders--the long tube feeder almost had all 20 perches were full. Non Birding Bill and I headed out to our remaining hives we are going to over winter--Kitty and Kelli. We were going to screw in the metal entrance reducers so the girls would have less area to defend and to also keep mice from moving inside.

When we arrived, we found paw prints which looked remarkably like skunk at the entrance of both hives. This snow fell in the early morning hours. That jerk skunk had just been there a mere few hours before NBB and myself. Skunks knock at the entrance of a hive. This makes the bees angry and they come out to attack, the skunk eats them, apparently unfazed by the stinging. We have carpet tacking around the entrances to prevent this (when the skunks come knocking, they get pricked by the nails), but it's gotten strewn around this past bee season. So NBB and I rearranged it to give that skunk a few good pricks if it comes back. Hanz (the guy who does yard maintenance) built our bees a wicked bad electric fence to keep bears out, Lorraine is going to ask him to add one more line of electricity, closer to the ground and closer to skunk height to encourage the b@stard to look for food elsewhere.

NBB and I put our ears to both hives and heard contented buzzing from within each hive. Love that!

Early plans for next season--six hives! We'll divide Kelli into 2 hives (cause she's gonna swarm and if we divide her, we can control the swarm), 3 new hives, and Kitty...well, that's our angriest hive and we're just gonna let her do whatever she wants to do. If she wants to swarm, then she can swarm. I'm not gonna argue that hive.

There was a constant flow of goldfinches all morning. None of them were banded, so it was just a steady stream of hundreds visiting. The day before, I had noticed a couple of pine siskins and the more I watched the goldfinches...

...the more I would see streaky pine siskins mingle in among the flock. Which is right on target according to the Winter Finch Forecast: "A conifer seed specialist in winter, most siskins should leave the province this fall because the spruce cone crop is poor in the boreal forest. It is uncertain whether the huge white pine seed crop will keep some siskins in central and northern Ontario this winter."

I put some fine ground sunflower hearts and thistle on the tree stump. Goldfinches flew in for it, as did juncos and (of course) pine siskins. In the above photo, you can see some of that yellow edging on the wing feathers of the siskins. If you have goldfinches in your yard and you've never noticed a pine siskin before, take a closer look at your finches. Pine siskins can be easily mistaken for goldfinches in winter plumage. But look at the breast. If it's clear, it's a goldfinch, if it's super streaky, it's a pine siskin.

Once two or three siskins were on the stump, more moved in. It wasn't too long before the siskins outnumbered the goldfinches! I didn't get a photo of it, but we did have one crazy pine siskin going to the no melt peanut butter suet. I'd never seen a siskin on suet before, I thought they were strick seed eaters.