Category Archives: animals

Strictly for the birds

Well, not really... But I have a job ahead of me taming this camera/lens OR I need to get a new one that's up to what I want to do with it. Out of 70 pics, this is the only one I kept because it's not a blurry mess.

Jay with a peanut
Lightly edited Jay and his peanut. I absolutely love the blue stripes on their wings.

I know bird photography is hard, but even then the sensor isn't up to it with the shutter speed and aperture on this thing. Cameras have evolved since *checks* 2007/8 when this camera came out, and the buyer at the time did not have bird photography in mind in the first place.

Things I can try before chucking it all out and saving up for a new one:

  • use a tripod (need to find the right screw to attach camera to tripod)
  • clean the windows (they're not that dirty, honestly)
  • not take pics through the kitchen window (the birds won't dare to come close enough for the 150mm zoom I have)
  • trying out different settings

That last one would require me to go through the manual, and we all know how we feel about that, don't we? 😅

Have you succeeded in taking pics of the birds visiting your garden, and can you share them? Drop a link in the comments! I'd love to check out your pictures!

Two sunflowers close up

Backyard Wildlife College closes its doors!

But Collegium “Vanachter in den Hof” receives a boost with additional human caretaker!

The wildflower strip at Backyard Wildlife College; our bees and other creepy crawlies enjoyed this a lot.

On June 30 Backyard Wildlife College in Allentown, PA, closed its doors forever — we’re unsure if any new tenants at the human dwelling have moved in and kept up with the wildlife improvements, or if the wildflower strip (aka the salad and protein bar) disappeared when management prepared the property for a new caretaker human. In any case, some of the infrastructure went to neighbouring backyards. You can now find Café Colibri at the human dwelling to the left, and the heated birdbath, squirrel picnic table, and feeding tube right next door to the original location. You don’t have to travel far, and we carefully checked that the humans are wildlife-friendly.

The human caretaker has permanently relocated to Belgium, and has taken up the position of assistant caretaker at Collegium Vanachter in den hof (VIDH) in Flanders, with a side-gig as Orchid Whisperer (more about this in a separate post).

Some portraits from the star performers in summer 2023 at Collegium Vanachter in den hof.

We look forward to learning how European wildlife delights the humans near their dwellings in the Old World. We already received reports of sightings of Erik Brown (Squirrel), and of Freddy Fox barking deep into the night. Owl hoot-offs are a nightly occurrence. Over the summer the mosquito aerial combat team prevented most outdoor human activity and we are curious to hear how both parties will negotiate a truce next summer.

At the moment, the caretakers are spoiling the Feathered Division rotten with this fab new addition to the infrastructure, and bespoke mixes of fat, insects, and nuts and seeds. They are setting themselves up for a real challenging Big Garden Birdwatch (Flemish edition) to count all the feathered visitors in late January.

Bird tube feeder mounted on a tray, and covered with a big L-shaped roof, sits on a small round table on a patio. Four birds are on the structure.
New infrastructure at Collegium VIDH is a hit with the Feathered faculty, staff and students!

PSA: For continuity we will continue using the category BackyardWildlifeCollege for all garden-related wildlife adventures even after this relocation.

Good things come to those who wait

Thing 1:

Proof of that arrives every month again when I see a little purple package in my postbox, with my tea club inside. It's absolutely gorgeous: a feast for the eye, and the teas smell divine and taste great! It's like a little parcel of zen-moments, because these teas deserve to be sipped with care and attention.

Close-up of black tea in a box, with specks of blue and white
Clementine grey tea from Plum Deluxe - you should smell it!

A year-long subscription was my little reward to myself for surviving Quarter 1 of 2021 (including making it halfway through another semester from hell, and single-handedly at that!)

Although I know of purists who don't like their tea "adulterated" with flavours, I was a bit bored with the selection on offer in the local supermarket and I also suffer from decision fatigue because I already need to decide so many other things in my life/job. Outsourcing what goes in my (nearly) daily cup was a great decision I haven't regretted yet: every month I get two different flavours (other formats of the club available) and after three shipments I yet have to encounter a flavour to give away because I don't like it.

I first encountered Plum Deluxe years ago as a sponsor on the Knitmore Girls podcast. Give them a listen! (Another good thing that comes at regular intervals!)

Thing 2:

It turns out cats are like buses: you don't see one up close for 15 months, then suddenly you get to spend time with 4 in one weekend! I have missed the furry friends in NYC, because we don't visit due to Covid-precautions. And visiting other people's cats wasn't really an option until I was vaccinated. Right as I got to that point, my friends asked if I could look after their cat for 2 and a half days. And then their neighbours asked if I could look after their three cats as well, for two meals. Ooooh! I didn't realize how low I was on Vitamin C in cat-form until I had some quality time with these kitties. I even levelled up in cat-sitting skills, and can now add "feeding three cats at once" and "insulin injections" to my cat-sitting resumé. [I didn't ask permission to post pics of said cats, just imagine cute furry friends here 🐈 ]

Thing 3:

Flute lessons resumed two weeks ago! Close to five months after surgery I finally had enough muscle power to hold up a flute long enough make it through a 45 min. session. (I have a heavy flute, but it does sound great). And you know what's even better? Because my teacher and I are both vaccinated, we can meet in person.

Oooh boy. Scales. It's been a while since I climbed these!

We managed to do pretty well with Jamkazam, which like its open-source counterpart Jamulus cuts back on latency and allow for much higher sound-quality than your average video-chat app. (Flute on Zoom is a tragedy/travesty). But Jamkazam became a paying app, and we couldn't get Jamulus to work, and ... in person is much better. We're back to our regular flute-"disputes" about sound quality, such as "No, I didn't hear that." - "Well, it's what I tried to do." or "Which note was the weaker one in that run?" - "Beats me, I was just trying to get them all in the right order!", rather than chalking it up to the computer messing with the sound.

Good things to come:

  • swimming: not until a year after surgery
  • a visit to Belgium: no idea when because I'm stuck in a cross-over of pandemic travel-ban mess and green-card application waiting room hell that's too boring to explain here.

So please don't ask me about either of these two. I'll just keep waiting. They'll come, like the other good things, won't they?

Hourglass in front of a bookstand with a Chinese book

Newsletter from Backyard Wildlife College

"More than just fluffy bunnies"

(Backyard Wildlife College, Allentown PA, est. 2017)

Newsletter June 2018

Hello all, and welcome to the first newsletter of the Backyard Wildlife College!

As some of you may know from Twitter announcements, Backyard Wildlife College (BWC) is in the process of hiring a new Visiting Assistant Rabbit following the disappearance of the colleague of Professor Bunny. This position may be converted into a tenured one if the new partnership succeeds in attracting funding for the creation of postdoctoral positions for baby rabbits.

rabbit lying on the lawn

Professor Bunny enjoying a spot of sunshine

While it is impossible to get a grip on the current number of faculty in the Squirrel Department, the College is fairly confident that shortly there will be a number of postdoc positions added there, too, Continue reading

Squirrelmania- Dolle eekhoorntjes

Squirrels... Some of you have seen a few of them on Facebook, but it never hurts to see a few more of those fluffy-tailed flea bags, right?

Eekhoorntjes... Misschien heb je er al enkele gezien op mijn Facebook pagina, maar je vindt het wellicht niet erg om deze vlooienzakjes met pluimstaart nog eens van naderbij te bekijken.

This little lady came to visit a couple of weeks ago. She lay for a few minutes on the railing of the deck, as if ironed flat, then came a bit closer and proceeded with her morning ablutions before disappearing again. Apologies for the blurry quality, these are shot through the anti-mosquito screens and probably the windows could do with a clean.


Deze dame lag op een ochtend plat als een pannenkoek op de railing, een aantal minuten. Dan kwam ze een beetje dichterbij en begon zich uitgebreid te vlooien, alvorens er weer vanonder te muizen. Excuses voor de mindere kwaliteit, deze foto's zijn genomen door het muggenraam, en de ramen zijn ook al een tijdje niet gewassen.

Little black squirrel eating from the dish I put out for the northern cardinal. Left: as is should be, according to me. Right: as it should be according to him.
Zwart eekhoorntje eet van het bordje dat er eigenlijk voor de rode kardinaal staat. Links zoals ik het wil; rechts wat hij er van maakt.

They are all over the place on campus, too, and they are not at all scared of humans. One lunch time my reading was interrupted by this... Ze zitten ook overal op de campus en zijn helemaal niet bang van mensen. Mijn lectuur tijdens de lunchpauze werd onderbroken door dit boefje...

[flickr video=]

They also go diving in dumpsters. The Chinese name "Pine rat" for these creatures starts to make sense. Notice the tail sticking out of the bike stand? I wonder if he keeps his stash there. Ze gaan ook in de vuilbakken krabben. Plots snap ik waarom ze in het Chinees "Pijnboomrat" genoemd worden. Merk je de staart die nog net uit die fietspaal steekt? Hmmm, daar zit dus de geheime voorraad.


With a bit of training on both sides, we won't have to resort to this solution. Met een beetje training van beide kanten hoeven we niet naar deze oplossing te grijpen.

granny and squirrel