Monday, October 17, 2016

Western White Clematis, also known as Virgin's Bower

      I have finally discovered the name of the most likely source of my unexpected fall honey crop.  A friend from church advised me that the mystery vine, covered with white flowers is none other than Western White Clematis, also known as Virgin's Bower.  Once I had determined the name of the plant, I went on line to learn more about it.  Several web sites listed it as a minor honey plant, indicating that there usually isn't enough of it in one place to make a major contribution to the bees honey crop.  In our location it is quite plentiful along the river and the canal.  Every time I looked at it in late August and throughout September the blossoms were being worked by lots of honeybees.  It is very possible that there were other plants the bees were also working at that time, but I didn't notice any.  I took the dogs on a walk down by the canal almost every day that I was home so I have about six weeks of observations as to how much the bees seemed to like that particular blossom.

Western White Clematis, aka Virgin's Bower
    There is one way I can remove all doubt as to the source of my August and September honey harvest.  I can mail a sample of the honey along with a fifty dollar check to Texas A & M University.  They have developed a pretty accurate method of determining the floral source of any given honey sample.  They first determine the pollen content of the honey.  I'm not quite sure how they do that, but every floral source leaves a pollen fingerprint. When the bees are collecting nectar they can't help but get some pollen in the nectar. Based on the percentages of the various types of pollen found in the honey, the scientists can determine what the floral sources were.  Normally I am not sufficiently curious such that I would pay someone to determine the floral source of the honey my bees had collected.  Due to the fact that we are living in a new place and I am unfamiliar with what is available for my bees, I'm a little more willing to pony up the money to get a definitive answer.

After pollination the blossoms develop a hairy look similar to the Truffula trees in The Lorax 
            Another interesting thing about our new home is that there are lots and lots of praying mantises on our property.  I've found large green mantises and large brown mantises.  I've also found a lot of mantis egg cases in all sorts of places.  A month or so back, I was downstairs talking to my mom when I heard a blood curdling scream from upstairs.  I ran upstairs only to find Linda doing the praying mantis version of the bee dance with a very large praying mantis clinging to her shoulder for dear life.  Apparently,  the mantis had climbed onto her shoulder when Linda had gone out onto the front deck to water some plants.  I think it was a pretty traumatic experience for the both of them. I was able to rescue the mantis and return her safely to the outdoors.

The very mantis which terrorized Linda so much

A Mantis Egg Case

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Meeting a Mink

    On my daily walks along the canal with the dogs we often see wildlife.  The list thus far has included deer, a beaver, a muskrat, bullfrogs, a turtle, Canada Geese, Mallards, Kingfishers, White pelicans, California Quail, and Mourning Doves.  Ali particularly enjoys "pointing out" the quails.  So yesterday morning I'm walking the dogs and we had just crossed the bridge to turn south on the canal road when Ali drops into the most beautiful point.  I was puzzled at first because she was pointed in the direction of the canal.  Just across the canal is a place where there are often quail, but Ali usually ignores the birds that aren't on our side of the canal.  After a moment I realized that she was pointing at a little mink on the canal bank not six feet away from us.

      At this point Oreo lunged after the mink which then moved down the bank to hide in the horsetails growing there.  Oreo was extremely lucky that I had a firm grip on his leash and he wasn't able to have his heart's desire at that very moment. If he had gotten loose that little mink would have probably rearranged his face and caused him some serious injury.  The expression "Wild as a mink" has a very firm basis in fact. They are very much like a weasel with bigger teeth and claws.  Fortunately, I kept my grip on his leash and Oreo still has his rakish good looks.

     The close encounter with the mink got both of the dogs seriously excited.  Ali was in serious hunting mode for the remainder of the walk.  I am amazed at her energy when she gets into hunting mode. It is hard to reconcile that with her 13 years of age.  Oreo often tugs hard at his leash, but usually settles down by the second half of the walk.  After meeting the mink, they both drug me along all the way back to our driveway.

      I looked up minks on wikipedia after we had finished our walk.  I didn't realize they lived in our area. I expected that they would more likely be found living in the mountains.  As it turns out minks eat a lot of fish, frogs, and tadpoles and like to make their dens along rivers and creeks.  In fact minks will often attack and kill muskrats and then take over their homes.  Our canal is absolutely full of small fish, frogs, and tadpoles so I guess that was a perfectly natural place to find a mink.

     Speaking of Ali's age. I found her pedigree as I was preparing to take her to see the vet.  Her full name is Miss Ali Girl, born on July 3, 2003, the daughter of Valley View Bandit and Valley View Debby.  Since English Setters are hunting dogs, the pedigree actually lists how well her immediate ancestors had performed in hunting field trials.  Neither of her parents had participated in the field trials but it appears that her maternal grandparents were serious hunting dogs.  Her maternal grandfather, Whiskyndick's Lad Duffy, had placed 16 times in field trials, while her maternal great grandfather, CH I'm Dick Too, had placed 51 times in field trials.  However, the most serious hunting dog on her family tree was her grandmother's father, Tomoka's Smokin Mike, who placed 120 times in field trials and produced 49 winners among his numerous progeny.  With that sort of family background it is no wonder that Ali has such strong hunting instincts and knows just what to do when she sniffs out some quail.