Hummingbirds!

We received a hummingbird feeder as a gift in the mail (thanks, Mom!) and I put it out last night. It was almost dark by the time the water had cooled enough to put it outside, so we didn’t have any visitors; but this morning, as soon as we were up and having breakfast, the birds were too!

We read a bit about hummingbirds and it turns out that they fiercely defend food sources as soon as they find them. Sure enough, there was lots of action around the feeder this morning. The first bird to find the feeder had a good long drink, and as soon as she saw another bird approach, she darted after it, chasing it away. We also read that the females use their tails to make territorial displays — fanning and flitting them up and down to show their distinctive tail markings. We saw this over dinner tonight and I realize that I had seen this behaviour many times in the past, but always just thought the bird was stabilizing itself in the air.

If you’d like to get your own hummingbird feeder, the recipe for the nectar is really simple: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. I started with 1/2 a cup of sugar and added 1 cup of boiling water (having the water boiling helps dissolve the sugar). I then added a cup of cold tap water to cool things down. The feeder should probably not be put out until the nectar no longer feels warm. Do not put food colouring in the water. The birds are attracted to the little flowers at the bottom of your feeder, not the colour of the liquid. Colouring the water just exposes them to unnecessary chemicals. Birds don’t need these artificial chemicals which may even be harmful to them. (I’d also argue that we shouldn’t be eating food colouring either!)

Over the next few days I’ll try to snap a few photos of the birds at the feeder. In the meantime, here’s the view from one of our windows. (Oh yeah, did I mention we moved out of our temporary accommodations into a house?!) This garden next door is absolutely incredible. No wonder so many hummingbirds are hanging around here!

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Remote living skills: baking bread

I love fresh bread. About a year and a half ago, I started learning how to bake it myself. I was tired of soft, spongy, store-bought bread, which is not only bland, but also full of all kinds of completely unnecessary additives. Now that we live here, far from bakeries and grocery stores, I’m glad that I learned how to make my own. Here’s the secret to making your own bread at home: don’t be scared. It is easy and anyone can do it. And it doesn’t take much time either.

You don’t even need a recipe to bake bread, really. There are only 4 necessary ingredients, and as long as you have the amounts kind of close, you can bake a lovely homemade bread. I thought today I’d share generally how to make bread, and then over time, give some recipes that I like. (If you want to get fancy then you can follow recipes.) The four ingredients you need are: flour, water, yeast and salt. That is all.

Start by running water from the tap until it feels warm. Put one cup of the warm water into a bowl and sprinkle about a tablespoon of yeast in and stir until it is dissolved. (Just to emphasize that you don’t really need a recipe, any amount of yeast from one teaspoon to over a tablespoon would work). Add about a cup and a half of flour and about a teaspoon (or two) of salt. Stir this until you get a smooth, runny dough. Then add more flour. Probably about another cup and a half. Keep stirring and when it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl and the flour is all incorporated, it is about right. The dough should be kind of sticky (stick to your spoon), but not runny. If it is runny, or looks wet, add more flour. Make sure at least some of your flour is white flour – yeast really like it and the bread will rise better. If learning, I’d start by making a few all-white loaves before experimenting with different types of flours.

Now let it rise. You don’t have to knead it (gasp!). You really don’t. I’ve read so many recipes where people get all tied up in knots worrying about how long to knead dough (just long enough, but not overworked) that I think we should just forget about it all and not knead. So, to rise the bread, cover the bowl with plastic wrap tightly (if the wrap doesn’t make a seal, just put the whole bowl in a plastic grocery bag and tie it off with a twist tie. Leave the bowl in a warm place for an hour or two, until the dough has about doubled in size.

If you want, you can now get ready to bake the bread. If you’re busy and want to do something else for another hour, just squish the dough down, turn it over a few times until it is smaller, and let it rise again.

To bake the bread, first take the dough out of the bowl by pouring it onto a floured surface. Make it into the shape of loaf you want, and put it on a greased cookie sheet (I grease with either butter or olive oil). And let it rise again for a while. Preheat the oven to 450º and put the bread in. Immediately lower the temperature to about 375-400º. In about 30-35 minutes your bread will be done.  Easy. (You can get all more fancy than this, and be careful at a few steps to improve your bread, but not worrying too much and just trying it will pretty much always make a wonderful bread that is much better than anything from the store.)

Once it is out of the oven, let it cool on a wire rack (if you have one) for about 15 minutes. Enjoy with a lovely runny brie type cheese. Or with whatever you like.

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The raccoon came back

Last night, the raccoon came back to the porch. This time, he seemed to want nothing more than to be let into the house, or maybe given a snack! (Of course, there’s no way we were going to risk opening the door, or think about feeding him.)

He sat at the porch door looking very sad. When he saw me eating a piece of cheese, he stood on his hind legs to get a better look. He must of sat there for an hour! I imagine someone must be feeding him, given how unafraid he was.

I managed to snap a few photos, one with flash and the others without.

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Wildlife on the doorstep

It is wonderful to be so close to wildlife. Yesterday, three white tailed deer came charging up the road to our cabin and right by our window. It was amazing to see them in full gallop! Then, later at night, a raccoon found its way to our porch. It hung around for a good while and was curious of us. When we approached the window, it did too, and we stared at each other.

Photo by Sergey Yarmolyuk, wikimedia commons.

It licked the porch for a few minutes, leaving us wondering what was so tasty. Perhaps it was just having a drink, since it was raining and the porch did have a film of water on it.

Raccoons sure are cute – but it is wise not to approach or feed them. Their natural curiosity combined with their dexterity can make them real pests around homes. They break into garbage cans and sometimes into houses!

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A day on the West Side

Bamfield is divided into a West and East side. The Bamfield Marine Science Centre is on the East side. To get to the West side, you have to take a boat; there are no roads to get there. Today we decided to head over to the West side and visit the beach there — Brady’s Beach.

We called the local water taxi and the friendly captain picked us up within a few minutes. We shared the ride with two tourists who were carrying a map that showed a new trail to Brady’s Beach. The usual way to get there is to take a fairly round-about route on the West side roads, so we were decided the new trail might be a fun short-cut.

Along the wooded and muddy trail, we saw several exciting wildlife signs: two fresh piles of bear scat, and deer tracks that followed the trail for a good distance. To be conscientious visitors in bear territory, we made sure to make noise as we walked and kept aware of our surroundings. I grew up in BC bear country, so while bears don’t scare me (and I’m generally very happy to see a bear at a distance), I know the importance of staying aware. (As a side note, does anyone else remember this awesome BC Ministry of Forest video about bear safety? It was a legend among BC camp counselors in my camp days, and perhaps still is.)

Needless to say, we arrived on Brady’s Beach NOT eaten by bears, but feeling a bit hungry ourselves. We built a small fire and roasted some smokies. Yum! Then, we made bannock — another throwback to my camp counselor days. Bannock a la camp counselor is a very simple recipe. Get some Bisquick, and mix in enough water to make a sticky dough. Wrap the dough around a stick and roast slowly over the fire. When it feels hard (no longer squishy), it is pretty much done.

Almost always, there is still a little bit of gooey dough left on the inside uncooked, but that’s just the way bannock over a fire goes. Carefully pull the bannock off the stick, and drop a bit of jam into the hole from the stick. Enjoy!

After our lunch, we walked back along Brady’s Beach.

Once we got to the boardwalk, the centre of activity on the West Side, we got a few groceries at the store, and walked down to the Boardwalk Bistro and had a lovely afternoon snack. The boardwalk is beautiful because the rhododendrons have been blooming (they’re almost finished). A lovely finish to a relaxing day.

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Ready to plant!

Earlier this week, I was at our plot in the community garden, preparing the bed to be planted. I turned all the soil and added a bit more fresh soil. I was hoping to go back the next day and plant the seeds, but it started raining. Not that rain bothers me, but I haven’t heard of people gardening in the rain — do all the seeds get washed away if you plant during the rain? I’m sure the local gardeners would laugh at me. It rains so much here that I imagine that people must garden in the rain.

In any event, yesterday and today have been pretty rainy, but there have also been a few dry breaks throughout today. I took one of these moments (the sun even shone through for a moment!) to go down to the garden, with the sole intention of planting out the only vegetable seedling that I brought from the mainland: a zucchini plant.

When I got to the garden I discovered that the tools necessary to set up a grid for square foot gardening were all in the communal shed! So I got to work and strung up a grid of 9×3 feet (with an extra 3 half-feet at one end). There was no ruler to measure feet by, so I estimated that a foot would be about the length of my fore-arm. Really, I don’t think it has to be precise. I noticed that across the short side of the raised bed, about three of these estimated feet would fit. So I took a bit of string and “measured” the short side of bed. I then folded the string into three equal sized pieces and these were my “feet”. I made a mark on the string at “foot length”  and then used this string to measure even spaces for bent nails along the long side of the bed. Then it was just a matter of stringing line through the bent nails and the squares were made. (A quick aside: I first heard of square foot gardening when Dave installed a garden as one of his projects when we lived in New Brunswick.)

I stuck the zucchini plant in one corner and will make up a plan for the rest of the squares. Hopefully later this week I can go back and plant my seeds!

Shortly after I left the garden, the rain started again — and this time it was a downpour! I know I’ve mentioned the rain several times in this post, so I just want to set the recored straight: I absolutely love the rain; it is what makes this place so beautiful.

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Back in Bamfield – Welcomed by Barred Owl

I arrived back in Bamfield last night after two weeks on the mainland. It was a successful trip; I came back with a Kia Sportage, a moving van full of new furniture (well, new to us), all of our boxes, enough food for a few weeks and many other bits and bobs needed to set up our new house. We’re still in temporary accommodations for now, but hopefully get to move in to our house soon.

It is wonderful to be back. Last night we were awoken by strange and beautiful owl sounds. While I have no experience identifying owls by their calls, it was pretty easy to figure out which species was making these distinctive sounds. On previous trips to Bamfield, I had seen Barred Owls in the woods surrounding Bamfield Marine Science Centre, but I had not heard them vocalizing. But since I knew these guys resided here, I looked up the sounds on the internet. (To be safe, I looked up a few other common owl sounds as well.)

The Barred Owl call can be remembered using the mnemonic “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all”, and consists of eight hoots, the last of which is longer and descends in pitch at the end.

In BC, this owl was first found in 1943 and its populations have increased since then. It is found throughout almost all of BC, and in some places its range overlaps with the critically endangered Northern Spotted Owl. There is some concern that Barred Owls may be displacing Spotted Owls, or that hybridization may be occurring.

Barred Owls nest in existing cavities in trees and therefore are called secondary cavity users (since they don’t make the cavities). They can either make use of holes in trees, or in depressions made when the tops of dead trees have broken off. Barred owls use many different types of forests, including the Douglas-fir—western-red cedar forests of Bamfield. Their ability to be so versatile means that they’re also able to make use of sites that are disturbed by logging or by development. Perhaps this adaptability is one reason that they are able to out-compete Northern Spotted Owls, which only nest in old growth forests.

Perhaps this evening I’ll take a walk around the woods at twilight and see if I can catch a glimpse of these beautiful owls. I’ll bring my camera along.

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