Old Dog Days

IMG_2053.jpgJune put us through the wringer. It started out all flowers and bees. And then, as the world drama escalated with violence, Brexit, and the everpresent Donald, our world contracted to one sweet old dog–Zoe. IMG_2121.jpg
She had been showing her age this spring. Her arthritis was worsening and she became increasingly unwilling to do much of anything in the hot weather (Alaskan to the core, she has never liked the heat). The vet thought it was laryngeal paralysis, related neuropathy, and some aspiration pneumonia.

Zoe went on antibiotics and we drove to Portland, an hour-and-a-half away, for an assessment as to Zoe’s suitability for surgery for the laryngeal paralysis. Before we could even schedule surgery, however, Zoe’s condition precipitously declined. A cliff-dive of hurt. She ran a continuous fever, was in pain, and was becoming increasingly lame. It got so bad that she could barely stand up and when she did, she tented her legs and looked at us pleading “please help me” in her eyes. Eventually, she refused breakfast. Not good. Zoe always eats.

IMG_0874.jpg

Last month

Throughout this we had several veterinarians, here and in Portland, trying to figure out what was going on. Even in her wiped-out condition, she charmed them all. After multiple trips to Portland, a stay in the doggy hospital, rounds of antibiotics, IVs, and numerous tests, it looked as if she had a fast-moving and incurable cancer. We tried to be resigned for the worst when, happily, her bone marrow test came back negative for cancer.  When Zoe then responded  well to steroids, the prime suspect became an immune-mediated condition.IMG_2052.jpg
We brought her home and she’s been gradually, but steadily, improving. Not quite the old Zoe, but good, nonetheless. Her blood tests today–a week later–showed improvement, so we are cautiously optimistic.

IMG_2228

Smiling again

Zoe was always what you would call a good eater and the steroids have made her even more enthusiastic. She is sleeping lots but still enjoying the pleasures of food and lying in the sun. She’s been reluctant to leave the house, even for a survey of the yard. But the past few days, she has seemed more like her old self. Whatever happens, to be honest, we did not think she was going to live past last week. So, for now, we are simply enjoying her wonderful presence. IMG_2188.jpg
In the meantime, life goes on around us. IMG_2221.jpgOur swallows have a second brood hatched and we sit with Zoe on the porch to watch the parents feeding their ravenous chicks.

IMG_2261

I took this photo for the clouds but caught a swallow parent swooping toward the nest box with food.

The poor parents are going continuously and I’m hoping that our cabbage worm population is going right in the mouths of those chicks.

IMG_2260

Checking out the world

IMG_2199

Feed me

IMG_2213

The blur at the right is an insect in the parent bird’s bill.  It doesn’t look like one of my bees (although I’m sure there have been some casualties).

IMG_2269.jpg

Our bluebirds may have a second brood, we’re not sure. Whatever they are up to baby-wise, they are still hanging around and wonderful to watch.

IMG_2160

Anchoring himself in a strong wind

The garden is dry. We are woefully short of rain. But we are harvesting our early vegetables, the corn was on track with “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” green tomatoes are forming, and the potatoes are going nuts. IMG_2071.jpgI’ve neglected the perennials. IMG_2167But, of course, they continue with their lovely blooms, despite whatever else happens in the world.IMG_2063.jpg
So July starts as June did with more flowers, bugs, birds, and summer skies.

IMG_1954

Gorgeous hummingbird moth

IMG_0661.jpg

Cedar waxwing

IMG_0883

IMG_1913.jpg

IMG_1981

Face in the cloud

IMG_2080.jpg

Something has twice wound the suet feeder up into the tree for easier access (maybe?). IMG_2054.jpgWe suspect the brown thrasher, who seems to find the suet and the hanging rope to be a personal challenge. IMG_0806Our birdbath has an evening line of birds waiting to enjoy a little cool-down.IMG_1703.jpgIMG_1705.jpgIMG_1656.jpg
Zoe enjoys a little cool down too.IMG_2253.jpg

Sweet Symbiosis

IMG_1835A teacher at my beekeeping class this spring warned us that, once we had bees, we would never view plants in the same way again. He was right. I love plants. I like to grow them, observe them, smell them, eat them, identify them, revel in them, and occasionally talk to them. But now, I also see them as allies in keeping my bees healthy and happy.IMG_1193_edited-1
The relationship between bees and flowers is more than just mutually beneficial–they need each other for continued existence. To reproduce, most plants must transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma–a difficult task to pull off alone when you are rooted to the ground and cannot move. That is where wind, animals, and–mostly–flying pollinators come to the rescue. Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and birds do the job that plants cannot do for themselves. IMG_1755They spread the riches. And, at the same time, take home some for themselves. A neat arrangement developed over an unimaginable amount of time. A sweet symbiosis.IMG_1851
My daily walks and garden checks have taken on a bee-like perspective. I have become keenly interested in exactly what is blooming, what pollinators are attracted to those blossoms, whether the nectar is flowing, and where my bees are foraging. I have a whole new appreciation of the intricate dance between plants and their pollinators. IMG_1314
After the apple blossoms faded, we had a long spell of dry weather. Although the honeysuckle was blooming, the nectar didn’t seem to be flowing and there were only a few dump-truck-sized bumblebees tumbling around. IMG_0894.jpgWe finally got much-needed rain, after which the flowers and pollinators went into high gear. IMG_1125.jpgIMG_1141_edited-1.jpgIMG_1400Our bees wasted no time in finding our neighbor’s lupines. The bees stretched open the bottom petals to get at the nectar.   Fascinating.IMG_1229
IMG_1235IMG_1234IMG_1237Many of our showiest blossoms are not honey bee magnets.

IMG_1890

No bees yet.

The honey bees have avoided the rhododendrons and peonies, and have shown little interest in the iris or oriental poppies.   Here’s a bee-less poppy through all it’s stages.IMG_1275IMG_1278

IMG_1555

IMG_1633

All that pollen. Some bees have been bringing in dark pollen like this, but I haven’t seen them visiting the poppies.

IMG_1902IMG_1904

The bumble bees, in contrast, love the rhododendron and irises.IMG_1296IMG_1389

I discovered the honey bees instead, often deep in the woods, feasting on the inconspicuous green bittersweet blossoms and drifts of raspberry brambles.

IMG_1828.jpg

Bittersweet

IMG_1376

Wild bee on a wild raspberry blossom.  I haven’t learned to identify the wild bees yet.  Next year.

Our honey bees are not the only pollinators, of course. We have plenty of wild bees, butterflies, wasps, and birds doing their part. IMG_1465

IMG_1474

He sips lots of flower nectar, too. I just haven’t caught him with the camera.

As an update to previous posts, we have had three active nests in our bird boxes. The bluebirds seemed to have successfully raised their chicks. One day they were coming and going with slugs and worms for their little ones and the next day they were all gone. We missed their departure from the nest.

IMG_0916

Swallows nestbuilding.

But this morning we watched the tree swallow fledglings emerge from another box to take their first flight. They almost crashed into George. Exuberant, glorious things. We still have wrens nesting in the front yard box.IMG_1658
And George built Zoe two ramps. IMG_1563.jpgShe’s appreciative.IMG_0867

A Bidding War

IMG_8748George and I have sold five houses and, every time, we go through the same dance.  We work like mad to make it more attractive to the (likely not as quirky as us) buyer.  Once we put it on the market, we obsessively track every development.  Each time someone looks at the house we gauge their interest.  A quick look or long?  Was there any feedback?  What can we do to attract more buyers?  When will we get an offer?  And on and on.

Selling a house to a bird is much the same.  We put up three birdhouses in during the third week in March.  They sat empty and unwanted.  Not even a nibble.  We thought that perhaps we had put them up too late and missed the prime spring house rush

Until a week ago when all hell broke loose.  Tree swallows showed the first interest.  After much flying around (they are lovely acrobats) and musical gurgling conversations, they appeared to settle right in. IMG_8745 It’s a largish house, so big enough for the swallows.  Apparently another swallow thought so too, because once the first pair established itself, he started to show an interest.IMG_8787  IMG_8788After an afternoon of warding off the dive-bombing interloper, the swallow pair left. IMG_8796And who should appear but a bluebird?  IMG_9061He checked the box in and out and staked a claim. After some wing flapping atop the house, a female joined him. IMG_9087IMG_9128IMG_9131I put out mealworms hoping to entice them to stay.  They were dried worms, not live ones, and the bluebirds were decidedly unimpressed.  Fortunately, they overlooked my gaffe and after lots of going in and coming out, the female started gathering nest material.  IMG_9085IMG_9080.jpgThe male stood guard.  IMG_9588He needed to, because the tree swallows still had an eye on the place, watching from a nearby dead tree. IMG_9135And so began the bidding war.  The bluebirds and swallows have been squabbling for days.IMG_9108IMG_9111First one pair takes up residence, then the other.  IMG_9226IMG_9210IMG_9586As of today, the bluebirds seem to have won. IMG_9546 IMG_9548All this fuss and there’s a perfectly good empty nest box in our front yard.  Apparently the neighborhood isn’t as attractive as the back yard.

IMG_9123

The tree swallow even checked out the wren box. 

IMG_8560

I swear the goldfinches were egging on the house hunters.

In the meantime, our fox family absconded last week.  Watching them had been such a treat.  Fox stuff-127.jpgIt turns out there were six kits and they had expanded their territory to include our yard.

Fox stuff-121

Playing keepaway with a piece of surveyor’s tape.

The little alpha kit dragged a gray squirrel outside our front door one morning and enjoyed a good meal of squirrel head before exploring the other side of the house.  IMG_8482We may have prompted their leaving by our nearby tractor activity, although it didn’t seem to faze them.  Fox stuff-132Apparently, they often leave the birth den at this age and move to a different den with more territory.  We miss them.  I hope we’ll have a new litter there next year.Fox stuff-107