posts tagged with 'wildlife'

a bird yesterday

Yesterday morning we noticed a striking bird on the top of the apple tree in our front yard. It was smooth and sleek and light brown, with a little crest on its head and black markings around its eyes that looked like super cool 80s wrap-around shades. It was the shades that made me want to look it up, and without a go-to birding resource we looked on the internet and found the All About Birds guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It took just a very few questions before our bird's identity was revealed: cedar waxwing. I still don't know very much about birds despite them begin all around us, so I was glad to find a resource for telling them apart. Of course then I wanted to go back and ID some other birds I've noticed over the last couple months, but I guess I didn't remember enough details because I wasn't able to pin them down. Also I had to register in order to do more searches, and then once I did the tool would load so I had to do the other searches in a private browsing window. I'll keep trying, but we could also always go back to the methods we've used in the past: texting our friends who own birding books.

don't you have your own food?!

The most frustrating thing about gardening is having animals eat the plants. A woodchuck has found a way inside the fence; those kale plants he ate half of? They'd been growing for close to two months, and he ruined them in one snack (he didn't eat half of the plants; he ate half of each plant). The lettuces have also suffered. Maybe most disappointing is the disappearance of so many of the strawberries. We have netting, but constant assalts by squirrels, chipmunks, and gray catbirds have revealed some weaknesses. Zion and I did what we could to secure it this morning, but I don't know how much difference it'll make. In that case, if they eat the strawberries all we can do is wait til next year! It's hard.

I don't begrudge the animals what they need to stay alive. And I recognize that my house and yard are taking up space that their ancestors may have occupied for tens of thousands of years before me. But I can't help but think they're getting a little spoiled, taking only the ripest strawberries or the most tender greens. Aren't there acorns or something for them to eat?!

natural enemies?

This morning a fox got into the yard and attacked the hens. It wasn't even that early—just around breakfast time. I heard the commotion and ran outside; before I even yelled the fox saw me and took off, dropping the hen he was trying to carry away (Springdot the Speckled Sussex). My first instinct was to call for the dogs, who were upstairs with Leah settling in for a morning of office work. They didn't respond instantly, which is probably just as well: unlike Rascal in his prime, Scout and Blue aren't trained to chase away foxes and ignore chickens. The hens were already panicking, and adding two excitable puppies to the scene would probably have made things worse rather than better. Oh well, we're working on it. And they did get come out a little later, once all the hens were safely locked up, to check out the scene of the crime and get their first scent of fox. Next time, they'll be ready!

eggs and chickens

I've written about our hens' winter cessation of egg production before, more than once, and I almost did again about a month ago. But this year the drought didn't last long, and it's even better to write about the return of home-grown eggs. We've had six already, all from the young hens—which I know because they never managed to secure a place in the henhouse for themselves and so laid them on the ground in what was meant to be the chick house annex, where they're still sleeping. Or were, until I closed it off: I can't be crawling in there every day looking for eggs. We have nesting boxes for that! We'll see if being denied any other option will get them sorted out.

Sadly, we now have only three young hens: one of them disappeared just before the new year. There's been a very bold coyote around, one that we're calling a wolf, because it's so big. I noticed the hen was gone when I went to let them out in the morning—they had been putting themselves to bed—and though I looked all around I couldn't find any trace of her. I can't imagine anything could take a hen on snowy ground without leaving remains, but a 50-plus pound wolf (if I were to take a guess!) would probably have as good a shot as anything. We're sad—the missing hen even had a name, thanks to Harvey's friend Jack. Penguin, you'll be missed—and so will your eggs.

Surprise update, January 10: Penguin has been found! A neighbor from the next street over came to tell us that she had a hen that had been living in her side yard—she'd been feeding it for the past week or so. So we went and got her... not without a struggle, since she clearly thought she'd found a new home. Now she's back where she belongs, and we're going to keep her—and all the hens—locked up for a couple days until she gets settled in again.

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wasp season

Today was the beginning of fall, and more importantly it was my dad's birthday! We celebrated together at my parents' house with a cookout—but we didn't get to eat outside. The weather was perfect, but as soon as we put the first bit of food out it was discovered by wasps. Not a ton of wasps, but enough to make some of us nervous. So we went inside. And now that I think about it, the nervousness might have been a little bit justified, because we've had some intense wasp experiences over the past few weeks!

Most notable was our last outing of summer camp back at the end of August. With a good group of kids we rode to Fawn Lake and set out to walk around it. Less then halfway into the walk the leading kids moved off the main trail to explore a peninsula. I was near the back of the group, and as I neared the spot where the path reached the water I heard Sam say, "I think something is stinging me..." Next came the screams.

Sam had stepped on a wasps nest, and the wasps were streaming out and stinging everyone in sight. So we ran! (actually, the kids didn't run until I yelled at them to). Unfortunately, the peninsula we were on is kind of swampy and the path is vague, so in our hurry to get away we went the wrong way, which I realized when we came to a stream that the littler kids couldn't get over. I picking them up to basically throw them across I dropped my backpack and Zion's shoes. Then we ran some more. After a few hundred yards we stopped to catch our breath, and immediately noticed that the wasps were still with us: a few in the air around us and lots more on—or in a few cases under—our clothes. So we ran some more, with a few breaks to kill the wasps clinging to the kids. Half way around the pond from the nest we finally felt safe to stop.

With all that, we weren't absolutely destroyed. Nathan, who hates bugs the most, got the most stings—maybe six. Nobody else got more than two or three, and a few of us—me included—escaped without a single one. But everyone was a little shaken up. Needless to say, we didn't linger long at the pond; and one of the five-year-olds was heard to announce that he's never going hiking again (don't worry, he already has). To recover we all went out for ice cream.

It seems like there are more wasps around this year than usual. Lots of them are interested in our compost, which means they're also interested in our food when we eat on the back porch. Even with the stings they got at the pond the kids aren't particularly worried about wasps attacking them, but it's still disconcerting to have five or six of them buzzing around your head when you're trying to eat and, often, landing on your food. They might not want to sting us, but I bet they would if we bit one by accident. So we haven't been eating outside as much here, either.

But now that it's fall we'll be free of them soon. I'm ready!

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that stings!

So we have a playhouse, only it's not quite finished. That's why I haven't written about it yet. I will when it's done, which on current pace may be when the grandchildren come visiting (we're currently on year two of construction). That's not to say it isn't any use now; it's mostly done, and definitely inhabitable. In general, that is—right now it's not, because of wasps. I first noticed them yesterday, and knocked down their nest with a two-by-three and a great deal of care. This morning I saw that they were still hanging around the fallen nest, and knocked it down more, again emerging unscathed. Then in the afternoon I checked one more time and, seeing no signs of the wasps, went to move the two-by-three out. Which is when they came attacked! I only actually got one sting, but it hurt more than it would have otherwise because of how surprising it was! And the worst part is, now I don't know where they're hanging out, so any further construction work will need to be postponed until we can get them sorted. That's not what this project needs!

turkey talk

A new addition to the early-morning chatter of birds in our neighborhood is the low, musical chortle of a tom turkey. Despite how much it really does sound like "gobble-gobble-gobble" I actually wasn't sure what it was at first; then on a walk I saw the turkey in action to dispel all doubts. It's a low and musical sound at our house, but not so much up close. He's been calling from the same spot all week, which is basically under Harvey's friend Jack's bedroom window. This starts at maybe quarter to five. I haven't had a chance to ask Jack what he things about it. But for me, already awake and ten houses away, it's nature at its finest!

who says we never do anything?!

Yesterday we at a picnic lunch and a picnic dinner, in two separate state parks. That wasn’t the plan for the day; I had thought to have a pretty quiet day at home, working and playing here like we’ve been doing a lot of the time lately. We did have an early-morning trip to to the grocery store planned, and I expected that that would be all the excitement I could handle. Only then friends invited us to join them for a walk at Great Brook Farm state park. On such a beautiful day, how could we resist?!

Harvey and Zion playing by a pond

out and enjoying life

It was indeed lovely; we played around the pond, looked at the livestock, and took a walk through the woods and fields. Then to top it all off we got ice cream—one small dish per family, to share. Hey, we're not made of money! Everyone was worn out and satisfied as we headed home.

But we didn't stay there for long. Harvey just got new swim goggles the other day, and he's been trying to arrange our first summertime trip to Walden Pond. I mentioned in passing that we might be able to head that way at dinner time—some day, when we hadn’t already spent nearly four hours exploring the great outdoors. But no, he was determined. So not much more than an hour after getting home from Great Brook we’d packed another meal and took to the road again. I was worried, with everyone but Harvey—me very much included—showing signs of dangerous tiredness, but the nearly empty beach was just what we needed and the boys ran, swam, and played for a solid hour and a half. Me, I lay on the beach and tried not to fall all the way asleep when they were in the water.

the three boys playing in the water

peaceful evening swim

Besides all the fresh air and exercise over the two excursions, we also got to see all kinds of amazing wildlife. At Great Brook the pond was full of tiny frogs, bullfrogs, and fish—including a catfish that came up to strike a cheerio one of the kids through in. We also saw lots of chipmunks and observed ants and dragonflies; Zion found a snakeskin to bring home. Walden Pond had less variety, but more excitement when a bald eagle flew across the pond to land in a pine tree down the beach. (“I didn’t see it!” Lijah tells me. He has a hard time seeing his shoes when I point them out to him, never mind a bird moving fast several hundred yards away.)

a frog in the pond

ribbet

It was all super fun. And exhausting. It took til this evening to finish washing all the tupperwares. But as we loaded the things into the car in the beautiful cool of the evening, I reflected that, some days at least, following the moment wherever it leads can be pretty nice too.

Harvey, Zion, and Havana walking in the woods

getting away from it all

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our perilous mornings

Once again, we had an exciting morning with the local wildlife. No sooner had Leah let out the hens than a fox dashed in to grab one. Hearing the commotion we drove it off empty-handed (-mouthed), but then I couldn't find the hen who had been attacked even after an extended search. After half an hour I was convinced there were two foxes in on the raid—or more!—and one of them had carried her away. Because it turns out we're surrounded by fox dens: there's one under our across-the-street neighbor's shed, and I've noticed another couple kits playing every morning outside a shed a few houses down through the back. Or maybe they're the same two, with a second home?

a pair of fox kits seen at a distance

kits taking the air

Happily, our poor hen had only fled the yard in panic, and before too long she wandered back in. Unlike last Sunday's victim, she's rather the worse for wear, with all the feathers missing from the back of her neck—clearly the Plymouth Rock breed isn't fluffy enough for complete protection. Still, I couldn't see any blood; and while she was clearly shaken for a while after the attack she seems to be entirely back to normal this evening.

It's a little stressful, I admit, having to be on guard like this. But the need for vigilance is at least motivating me to spend my early mornings outside, where besides getting to enjoy the loveliest part of the day I get to put in some serious work on the garden. Just the thing ahead of a day at the office (I don't have very many of those so I'm not really good at them).

I don't know much about foxes. Will they move on once the kits are big? Or will they all find homes around the neighborhood and continue to terrorize our flock—now with even more hunting adults? I don't have a plan in the latter case, except to keep up with the early-morning gardening when I have the energy, and when I don't leave the hens penned up until it's too bright and lively for foxes to be out and about. They might complain some, but as a creature with forethought and awareness I'm going to say that, considering the alternative, their temporary annoyance is something they ought to be able to bear!

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our exciting Sunday morning

Yesterday morning I was up early to let the chickens out before we had to go to church. As we were getting ready there was a tremendous burst of alarmed clucking from the yard—the sound the hens only make when they're running from something. I had just come downstairs so I was ideally situated to run right out the door, and right away I saw all the hens in panicked flight from a fox. Well, all but one, who was firmly grasped in its jaws.

some feathers on the grass

an alarming sign

Sure it was too late but determined not to let the fox eat my Buff Orpington, I dashed down the stairs, grabbing up a stick as I went. The fox headed for the woods with me maybe 15 feet behind, and it slowed only a moment to dive under our fence—but in order to fit through the gap, it had to let go of the hen. Who, to my complete surprise, hopped up and ran the other way! On the other side of the fence the fox paused, but when I went through the gate it took off again. I chased through a couple yards before giving up; I figured I'd do better to check on the victim!

Who turned out to be much better than I expected, than anyone would have any right to expect: a little shaken maybe, but otherwise unscathed. The Orpingtons are our fluffiest hens, and it very well may be that all the feathers kept the fox's teeth from doing any actual damage. A lot of them sure fell out—it looked like about two chickens-worth scattered over the lawn in three or four clumps.

a lot of feathers on the grass

that's a really lot

We got all the hens into their run—it took some doing to find the last one cowering in the lilac bushes by the driveway—and I was a little disappointed to see the other hens didn't show the slightest bit of consideration for their sister who had just escaped, literally, from the jaws of death. She's pretty far down the pecking order, and as they squabbled for the scratch I tossed into the run they didn't hold back from pecking her away from her fair share. As we were leaving, she sensibly retired to the roost to recover.

I half expected to find her dying when we got back, but she was still fine; she was fine all day today—totally normal in fact, and not even much thinner for having lost so many feathers. So all's well that ends well—better, even, for the house sparrows and other little birds who snatched up all the downy feathers for their nests. I only wish I'd gotten a photo of the fox, who was a fine-looking specimen; as it happened I didn't really have time.

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