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The “dog days of summer” are now with us. By that term is meant those hot, sultry days that are typical of the second half of summer, (second half of July, August and early September, in the Northern Hemisphere, second half of January, February and early March in the Southern Hemisphere). The Romans believed that this hot, sultry period was due to the influence of the star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog) and that made Sirius the “dog star.” However, the term “dog days” was used earlier in history by the Greeks.
The summer of 2013 here in the Fraser Valley, located in the south west corner of British Columbia, Canada is shaping up as the hottest, driest, sunniest summer on record. The upside of this is that we have enjoyed the continuous sunny, blue skies and warm temperatures. Events planned for the outdoors have therefore taken place without the risk of rain to dampen things and the general mood of the population has been upbeat. The downside of such a summer is that the lack of rain has been a challenge at times to those in the agriculture industry, increasing the need for irrigation. As well as the large farms, the modest gardens and lawns of the average householder have been affected. The City of Abbotsford, where we live, had to put water use restrictions in place to ensure that water would be available for higher priority needs. The watering of lawns by sprinklers has been restricted to twice a week, on specified days and only between the hours of 5:00am and 8:00am. The result is that the vast majority of lawns, including our own have, this year, not been proudly displaying the usual, luscious BC green but instead, Californian brown.
In our vegetable area I planted produce as usual but it has required daily and disciplined watering in order to keep things going. There is no restriction on watering provided one is actually holding the hose when it is being done so more time than usual has been taken up keeping things well irrigated.
As is our custom, we have maintained seed and suet block feeders for the wild birds, some of whom are all year round residents and others are the migrant song birds who fly up from the south to spend summer here. The humming bird feeder is also kept freshly supplied with nectar for the beautiful little “hummers” that are a delight.
I have put together a collection of pictures below to give you an idea of what happens in our yard, garden and community during the summer. By the way, in Canada the word “garden” indicates an area in which only vegetables are grown; the word “yard” refers to everything else – lawns, flower beds, rockeries etc. Most of the pictures were taken by myself but in some cases, e.g. some bird pictures, I have imported from other sources. Another thing before I start the picture show – the collection of photographs contains some that were taken in earlier years, not just 2013.
As all gardeners know, spring is an important time of preparation. This consists of spreading compost or manure, application of lime and fertilizer. The time also comes for us when we must go to a local nursery and purchase supplies, including hanging baskets and small plants to transplant. Here is a picture of one of two hanging baskets of fuchsias that have hung in our front porch throughout the summer.
These are pictures of our rockery that has matured over the years.
This 8’ x 16’ vegetable patch never fails to provide us with a good supply of home grown vegetables. We vary each year what we grow to some extent but scarlet runner (pole) beans are a regular favourite. Grace blanches and freezes enough so that we are able to enjoy them right through the winter. We have had very good success with potted tomato plants on the sundeck and are thinking we shall grow four plants in containers next year and not plant any in the vegetable patch.
Last year we decided to build a raised flower bed next to the north side of our house so that we could grow some fuchsia plants. They are shade loving plants and it seemed a good location. We bought and planted seven small plants which settled in and gave us a modest display of flowers. At the end of the season I followed the instructions given to me at the nursery to help the plants remain healthy through the winter (I’ll spare you the details – write and ask if you want to know). This summer, their second season, they have exceeded all expectations that we had for them and have been truly magnificent, as the two following pictures show.
We are now beginning to harvest the tomatoes as well as the scarlet runner beans. The rhubarb is finished and quite a supply is frozen in the freezer for future use. Carrots, beets and parsnips will be ready later.
This hydrangea grows in the middle of our front lawn and the picture was not taken this year. The poor thing has struggled in the continuous heat of 2013.
I must tell you that the next two pictures were not taken on our property, but within the family nevertheless. Our next door neighbours are our nephew Huw and family. His wife Pam planted this Hibiscus bush a few years ago when it was a small plant, straight out of the nursery and it has been more beautiful every year. This year it is magnificent so I decided I would share it with you so you can enjoy it as we have.
A few years ago I planted some dahlia plants in the rockery and the display we had was really lovely. I took some pictures and thought I would include one of a particularly lovely bloom. Due to the expansion of the other occupying perennials of the rockery I have not been able to grow dahlias there since.
Now I want to turn our attention to our cute and delightful little feathered friends. As I mentioned above, some are permanent residents so we look after them through the winter too. One of the early signs that we have that winter is beginning its departure is the evidence of bird migration. We often hear it before we see it. Huge flocks of migrating geese, swans and other species can be seen and heard. The honking of the geese or swans is often the first thing that gets our attention and we will go out on the sun deck and look up. There we see the beautiful “V” formations heading north to their Arctic breeding grounds, flock members carefully keeping their places in the formation. I wonder about the honking. Are they chatting to each other or are the honks orders from the leaders in connection with the journey or a slight change of course coming up? I have to tell you we never cease to be filled with wonder as we behold this incredible sight. I regret that I do not have a picture to share.
Down on the ground, one of the earliest arrivals is the north American Robin, who can be seen locally as early as late February. The Robin is carnivorous, worms being a staple in its diet so we do not see it at our feeder. But, after digging the vegetable area the Robins will come and rummage there looking for worms. I do not have a picture. At the time that we begin welcoming the spring and summer arrivals we actually say a temporary farewell to the Junco, which spends its winter here but goes north for the summer. The Juncos return late September.
The Chickadee is a charming little bird. For a wild bird it can be quite tame and I am told that if one is willing to put in the time and patience it will take seed right out of one’s hand. Its name derives from its call – “Chickadee dee dee.”
North American Goldfinches fly up from the south. The males have a bright, canary yellow plumage in the summer. The females not so – they do not want a splash of colour to attract attention while they are sitting on their eggs. The males lose their bright yellow livery for the winter.
Pine Siskins are members of the finch family, about the same size as the Goldfinch. They commonly flock together.
The Black Headed Grosbeak is a very attractive bird that spends winter in southern California and Mexico and comes north for the summer. They have been daily visitors to our feeder for a number of years now. Again, the plumage of the male is striking, that of the female much more suitable as a camouflage while sitting on her eggs.
The picture shows three male Goldfinches and a male Grosbeak (left) and a female Grosbeak (right) foraging in the grass underneath one of our seed feeders where some seeds have fallen. The purple flowers are chives.
Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers with striking, speckled plumage. Their main diet consists of small insects like ants and beetles but they also enjoy sunflower seeds and therefore are regular visitors to our feeders. Compared to the little finches they are huge but we have never seen any signs of aggression towards the smaller birds. They often feed happily together. In the spring the males mark out their territories, and attract the attention of females with “drum rolls” on metallic objects like furnace stacks on the roofs of houses. Some years ago we were awakened at 5:00am one spring morning by what sounded like the loud ring of a telephone. It was a Flicker on our furnace stack. He did the same thing on the tops of all the metal street lamps on our street.
The friendly, cheeky House Sparrows are not indigenous to North America but were introduced here by early European settlers. They are used to living around humans and are seen mainly in urban areas and only rarely out in the country. At the time of writing this blog post (late August) our feeder is thronged daily by House Sparrows with their new fledgling families.
Here is another very attractive bird. The Towhee is actually a member of the sparrow family and is an all year round resident, so we have them visiting our feeder through the winter.
The Red Winged Blackbird is a pretty bird and has a protective quality in its character. By that, I mean that when it spots a creature it considers may constitute a threat it issues warnings to any birds nearby. When I take a container of fresh seed out to the feeders I approach slowly, so as not to give a sudden fright to any birds that are there. If a Red Winged Blackbird is there it immediately begins warning the other birds to be careful because a human, who may not be friendly, has just appeared. It builds its nest in the reeds that grow around the edges of lakes and ponds. There are many of them at Mill Lake near the centre of our town. When the female is sitting on her eggs, “Dad” is always nearby perched in a place where he has a good view and can keep guard over “Mom” and the eggs/babies.
This is a picture of a Rufous Hummingbird, the variety which is the most populous during the summer here in the Pacific Northwest. It is a truly remarkable little flying machine. It can hover as the one in this picture that I took is doing, it can fly backwards and when it has finished taking nectar at the feeder it flies away at great speed and is a hundred yards away in but a few seconds. Its length is just over three inches but it has incredible stamina. It migrates from its winter quarters in Mexico to Canada where it can be found in the summer all the way from the border with the US right up to and including Alaska. Just think of the return journey that it makes every year. The ones that go as far north as Alaska travel over 3,900 miles each way and involves a journey that can take them up and over mountains higher than 10,0000 feet. According to the experts, when ones takes into consideration the size of their bodies and the distance travelled, it is a greater migratory accomplishment than the famed and legendary Arctic Tern. In recent years, the Anna’s Hummingbird has been staying in Washington State and southwest BC over winter instead of going to Mexico. For three or more winters now we have had Anna’s residing in our blue spruce tree and feeding at our nectar feeder that we now keep freshly replenished through the winter months. I put a post on this blog (December 1st 2010) with pictures and video, taken on November 25th 2010 about Hummingbirds in the winter. If you have not seen it and are interested in doing so, here is a link that will take you to it: https://martinandgracegouldthorpe.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/hummingbirds-in-winter/
The Fraser Valley is the major place in Canada where soft fruits – strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are grown commercially. We do not personally grow any of these ourselves as they are easily obtainable from local farms. Over the years we have taken advantage of “U-pick,” a service offered by many fruit farms where customers can pick their own berries which they purchase at the cheapest available price. We don’t do that anymore but now pay the extra and buy berries that have already been picked. Here is a picture I took this year of 50lbs of blueberries that we purchased. Grace freezes them in small containers which we use as necessary through the winter.
Canada Day is always celebrated in the summer because it is on July 1st and commemorates the day (July 1st 1867) when three colonies (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada) were united into one dominion/kingdom within the British Empire. It is a federal statutory holiday and one of the highlights of Canada Day in our town is a parade. Here are just a few pictures.
The Honourable Ed Fast is our local Member of Parliament and is a cabinet minister serving as the Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. He is a committed Christian who seeks to serve our community and country with integrity and in a manner that honours God and the Canadian people.
“Strings and Steps” consists of some of the members of the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra which performs regularly under the creative leadership of Calvin Dyck, its Director and Conductor.
The Screaming Eagles is the high school marching band of the Mennonite Educational Institute (MEI). Its performances are polished and professional. It is also in great demand at major sporting and other public events. It was chosen to be featured in the opening episode of a new TV detective/crime series named, “Motive,” which is filmed in the Vancouver area and aired earlier this year. In the next picture you will see a member of the band who is also a member of our family. Lucas is the second from the left, wearing a yellow cap and playing the drums.
As summer wanes, autumn approaches. On September 3rd, just eight days away, the schools will open for the new academic year. The Fall colours will be in full display in just a few weeks. My closing picture was taken last autumn, a short distance along the street, of a young Maple tree with its foliage in glorious red, autumn display.
Canada – the wonderful country in which we are privileged to live, serve God, our family and our community.
Acknowledgements and thanks for sources of information and few pictures: Wikipedia, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, nwbirdblog, allaboutbirds, ds-lands, nawwal, topnews.