...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


stocking the pond

Mother nature has stocked our pond
with various frogs, water bugs, dragon flies, and water snakes...
And some cattails, too.  

We've added irises, water lilies and some other greenery around the edges. 

Then I found Turtle, and put her in.
Then Boo found another turtle in the road right by our house.
So we've got Myrtle and Yurtle.

We think Myrtle might have left, but Yurtle is hanging out.
He's a much more chill kind of turtle.  
I love him!
He floats and basks for hours on end. 
He seems very happy here.


So, end of story?
Oh, no.  Not a chance.
You see, I have this problem... 
where I'm always daydreaming about what else we can do.
And I thought, well, we have a pond, 
why not have some fish, right?!

So we talked with some fish folks and 
they told us we could definitely stock our pond with some fish.
Our pond is not big enough (deep enough, cold enough) 
for the types of things most anglers look for - trout and bass.
But it is perfectly good for channel catfish, hybrid bluegills,
and nishikigoi....  (koi!)

First came the channel catfish, bluegills
and some fathead minnows 
(they're food for the other fish...  c'est la vie, it's the food chain, baby!)
We're lucky to have a place like  Fish Haven Farm so close by.
All you have to do is show up with your cooler, and they do the rest.
They bag up the fish you choose, 
give them enough water / oxygen for the ride home and you're all set to go.

We give the lamest names to the creatures sometimes.
Obviously - Myrtle and Yurtle.  
And all of our chickens have pretty wacky names.
And now, the koi.
Above you will see
Orange Cap, Big Daddy, Orange Face, and Whitey.

Then we got another batch of koi and gave up naming them.  
They look way too much alike, and they move too fast in the water.
But every night when we go out to feed them, we try to count and see if we see all 12... 

They're so much fun to watch!
Sometimes we can see them just swimming 
throughout the day when we walk over and take a peak.  
They really add another level of biodiversity and enjoyment to the pond.  

The various fish are bringing in more bird life, that's for sure.
Today I saw a belted kingfisher perching by the pond!
(Maybe he was after some crayfish... or minnows?)

A birder friend warned me that the new fish might catch the eye of some beautiful predators...
Apparently herons really love to eat koi. 

We actually did get a visit from a green heron the other day,
but I think the larger koi are too big for the green heron.
But the smaller koi we got might fit the bill  pun intended!)
Certainly the minnows would.
Or the crayfish that migrated over from the neighbors massive pond.

We shall see.
It's the cycle of life, and I certainly wouldn't complain to get to see some herons at our pond...
but we definitely don't plan on feeding them such expensive dinners!

Even the smallest individual koi is $8.  The next size up is $15.  
There's a whole world of crazy collectible rare koi out there - 
some are thousands and thousands of dollars.

We'll stick with the budget variety, thank you very much.

Oh, and I nearly forgot!:
Besides the fun of watching them, an unexpected benefit of koi
seems to be that the water snakes are not a big fan of co-habitating with them!
Since we got the koi, we rarely see the snakes anymore.

Three cheers for nishikigoi!


egg carton labels and more!

I was cleaning out the fridge the other day,
and it struck me how lame our egg cartons are.
Sure, we're green girls around here.
We keep reusing the same egg cartons over and over and over
until they all but fall apart.

But they're so blah.
Plus they're total misnomers... saying they're organic from our local supermarket
or from our local farmer's market.

Yeah, from like 4 years ago.   

Any which way you shake those egg cartons,
They're totally unacceptable storage containers 
for the spectacular eggs that our flock of girlies give to us.

So, I decided it was time to make some labels.
The girls will appreciate the extra recognition.
Maybe they'll even lay more frequently 
knowing that their eggs are going into a special carton.
 At the very least, when we open the refrigerator 
for some eggs,
whether we're frying, scrambling, poaching, boiling, or baking
the cartons will bring a smile and remind us
just how lucky we are.

We almost always have hard boiled eggs around for a snack, or to add to a salad,
so we needed a container for them, too.
 They're the rough and tumble types, you know.
Not the kind of egg you'd want to meet in a dark alley at night,
even though they might be perfectly harmless,
it's always a good idea to have some salt or a little hot sauce 
in your pocket to throw at them
in case they get sketchy.


I had such a fun time making the egg carton labels that I thought, 
Well, heck!  Why not make some labels to spruce up our daily chicken chores a bit?

In our cramped little garden potting / chicken supply / beekeeping shed
we have some galvanized pails that we keep feed and treats in:

They make the chores a little more fun,
though giving the girls treats is always lots of fun anyway!
They come running from the far corners of the fenced yard 
when they hear the pail lids clanking.  

Aw shucks.
Makes a girl feel loved.


and a failed broody hen experiment

There's a lot going on here in the chicken department.

Commie and her chicklets are 8 weeks old now - hard to believe! 
They're all up on "the big girl" perch. 
 Their Aunties are still being bitchy about them being on the perch,
so there's a bit of a ruckus every night for about 5-10 minutes 
until everything gets sorted out.  
We can't bear to watch it.  
The whole pecking order business is just not nice.

If the chicks were kids at my school, 
we'd be filling out DACA forms for them.
(Dignity for All Chickens Act, of course).


Anyway, not long after Commie "had" her babies, Jerz started to get the mothering itch again. 
The crazy biological business took right over her, and rendered her temporarily insane.
It wasn't very temporary, actually.  She was nuts going on 2 months.   
Just sitting and sitting.
And puffing up her feathers and making warning sounds if you came too close.

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile 
will probably remember her as the "other" mother to the ducks, 
the one who gave up shortly into the experiment.  

To her credit, she sat and sat and sat and she did hatch them.  
But once they were hatched she started getting weird.  
She acted motherly for a couple of days and then threw in the towel.

We thought *maybe* that was because she wasn't into the ducks.   


My big softie of a partner kept anthropomorphizing about Jerz being broody for so long.

"Aw, look how much she wants to be a mamma..."

 "She's just sitting and sitting on those unfertile eggs.."

"We gave Commie babies, it's not fair to not give them to Jerz, too..." 

"What if she broods so long she just up and dies from lack of sunlight and nutrition?"

I responded:

"But she wasn't really a very good mother to the ducks...  don't you remember...?" 
Ahem: one died and then she abandoned the other one and let Commie do the mothering..."

"But we've never had more than 7 hens, now we have 8 with the new chicks
and it's starting to get a little cramped in the coop... The pecking order will be more intense..."

"What if it doesn't work like it did with Commie?  
Do you really want to be hand raising chicks in the house for several weeks?"

"Let's not make life more complicated, or add more chores, please..."

Sigh again.

She wore down my resolve.

Last Monday morning I logged onto My Pet Chicken and bought us 4 more day-old baby chicks. 
Just 28 hours later, they were peeping at the post office and heading home in the car.


We had coordinated with someone we know who had broody hens to join in our experiment.
We would keep two and give them the others.

Well, I just need to tell the chicken-lovers out there that sometimes
a broody hen is just a crazy-a$$ broody hen and cannot be trusted.
Jerz did not adopt the babies.  Neither did the other person's broody hens. 
This time it was a complete flop all around.

We did everything exactly like we did with Commie.
We put the babies gently under her at night.  
The next morning they were still alive under her, 
but it was like she didn't even know they were there.  

Then she finally noticed them.
As soon as she saw the two little fluff-balls that the overnight mail stork had delivered, 
she freaked out. 
"Are you kidding me?  
I'm supposed to take care of those things?"
"Oh helllllllll no!  
I don't remember signing up for this...!"

She wasn't having it.  
At all.  
She walked away from them and flew up onto the perch, checking them out from afar.
You could almost hear her thinking out loud.
And all she was thinking was 

Thank goodness for the chicken camera,
because Boo noticed that the two little babies were peeping like crazy, 
shivering in the nest box all by themselves.

Out to the coop to rescue them, 
and pop them back into our emergency in-house brooder
(i.e. a plastic bin with a heat lamp)


And then Boo says,
"Well, maybe we should try it again..." 

Oh yeah, right.   
How dense are we?  
Just because Jerz is normally one of our sweetest hens,
she was in a state of hormonal madness.  
Live and learn.

After Jerz went back down to her broody nest box,
we stupidly tried one more time.

I took one of the little babies and put it near her, so she could see it this time, 
since not seeing them seemed to upset her earlier.
She puffed up like it was an intruder,
a threat to her now non-existent eggs 
(we removed them all from under her the night before).
She gave the baby one hard, fast peck and warned it to stay away from her.
Poor little girl.

The closest thing to a chicken mother she'll ever have 
and she was rejected not once, but twice,
and attacked!

Way to go.

Finally, after all of that trauma,
we realized that Jerz is totally unreliable.
Not to be trusted.
A loose cannon.

If she were a person, I'd have to call the mandated reporter hotline.

Oh, Jerz.
What in the world got into you?


So it turned out that the ultimate cure for breaking Jerz of her broodiness
was being confronted with the reality of an actual baby.
She didn't want any part of that responsibility.

Now she's back in the flock trying to be a normal chicken,
acting as if she never lost her ever-lovin' mind,
but she does have some natural consequences to pay for all of the broodiness.  
Along with her mind, she lost her spot in the pecking order 
and now she's down at the bottom.

Commie, the consummate mother hen, and queen of the flock,
is really dishing it out to her lately. 

Anyway, at the end of the day, we're filling in as the surrogate mothers to the new baby chicks.
The other folks participating in the experiment returned their two to us, so we've got all four.
That will bring our flock up to twelve when we ultimately integrate them.
That's one chicken experience (integrating birds) we haven't had yet,
 so I guess we'll have to figure that out.

A quick internet search leads to lots of different tricks and tips,
but overall people saying it can be pretty challenging.

We've got our work cut out for us, that's for sure.

We'll have to renovate our existing coop to make more roosting space.
And when these little chicks are big enough to be outside,
luckily we have a small second coop (it was going to be a retirement home for older hens)
we can fix that up and put the new babies in,
fencing them off separately so the big hens can't hurt them 
until they're truly big enough to hold their own.

While initially I was quite grumbly about this whole ordeal,
I think it will be for the best.  
The older layers are slowing down and some days we only get one egg.  
So these (7!) new girls we've added since May will keep us eating eggs for 
a good long while to come. 


Without further ado, here are the latest additions.

 Betty White, a white plymouth rock:

Goldie, a gold-laced wyandotte:

Emmaline, an Easter Egger:

and last but never least... little Ms. Wellie
short for the anti-depressant Wellbutrin (just kidding) -- she's a Welsummer!

Welcome, little peeps!
Sorry your adopted mother was a deadbeat!
Don't take it personally 
and know that we love you even if she didn't!


finding chickadees in unexpected places...

I really love chickadees.
They have so many wonderful qualities.
 They're friendly and curious...
and possibly the bravest little songbirds. 
Plus they tough it out in our climate all year long.
They're friends through all kinds of weather...  
And for a birder with not the greatest ear,
I appreciate that I can easily tell their song.



This summer I have a favorite chickadee.
Such a sweet little friend.

I don't know if it's a he or a she... 
male and female black-capped chickadees look so much like,
birders often rely on their vocalizations to differentiate them.

I'm going to call my friend a he.

Let me introduce you to him.

Every night, he roosts in the Arcosanti Soleri wind bell 
hanging from our oak tree right by the house.

I can see his tail hanging out from under the lip of the bell 
from where I sit with my computer.

I can see that he's there 
and say,
"Goodnight, Chickadee"
before I head up to bed.

If we're out checking on the chickens at night,
I can even walk right next to the bell and he rarely flies away, 
he just peers down at me.

Yes, it's just me again.  
Good night my little chick-a-dee friend.


green caterpillar thing with fake eyes...

We were checking the bee hive one evening 
when I noticed this funky thing hanging out on a nearby tulip tree leaf:

the fake eyes are sooooo cool!
and the periwinkle dots all around, what a work of art!

I did a little googling and I think it's a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar.
They eat leaves and as they get bigger, drink nectar from things like
joe-pye weed, jewelweed, honeysuckle and milkweed -- 
all things we definitely have in our little habitat here.

Apparently they do this amazing mimicry thing.
When they're larvae, they are dark brown and "look" like bird droppings, 
so no predators are enticed to eat them.
When they're closing to pupating, as this one is,
those fake eyes and swollen thorax  makes them look kind of like a green snake...
 That seems like a bit of a stretch.
I didn't have trouble telling that it wasn't a snake,
but I guess your average predator might make mistake the identity.
They're too busy scouring for food sources to take the time to really examine them, maybe.
 When these caterpillars feel threatened, they rear up 
and expose their tongue-like thing which is red and forked, helping out with the snake illusion.

Nature is just so groovy, eh?


a gift from the orioles...

One night about three weeks ago,
Boo saw a little fluff of something in the grass. 
Turns out it was a sweet young Baltimore Oriole!

All the cute little thing wanted to do was close its eyes and go to sleep...
It didn't attempt to hop or flap away when we approached it. 

We were worried that it had fallen out of its nest 
or maybe its parents had died or abandoned it.

Upon closer inspection, it didn't seem injured... 
but because it also wasn't attempting to go anywhere, we weren't sure.

What do we do?  What do we do? 

It was late, getting on 8:00, and we were supposed to have severe thunderstorms...
We couldn't imagine leaving the sweet little vulnerable creature out there all alone all night.
How could it possibly survive?  

We decided to take it to the Cornell Wildlife Health Center to be on the safe side.
They told us that if the bird wasn't clearly injured, they wouldn't take it,
and that if it was a fledgling, the best thing to do was to put it right back where we found it.

The little bird kept crawling deeper into my partner's lap 
and clinging with its feet to her finger...  
It clearly just wanted to nuzzle in and sleep.

Even though it felt so wrong to leave what seemed like a totally helpless bird
down on the ground with thunder and lightning quickly rolling in,
she pried it off of her finger and put it down.
Tough love ain't for sissies.
Mother nature doles out a lot of it, though, 
and we reluctantly rise to the occasion.

It's never easy for us.
I mean, come on, we knit sweaters for chickens!  

Tough love?  
Do we have to?  
Are you sure? 
Oh, fine.     
Alright, alright already.


We needed to feel better about leaving the little bird alone out there in the elements 
so we did a little more research.
It turns out the Cornell folks were totally right, at least according to a basic google search.

We determined that it was a fledgling, not a nestling 
because of the way it gripped our fingers like a perch.  
Most likely it fledged a little too early
and its parents were there watching over it to make sure it would be okay.  

So, if you ever find what seems like a lone baby bird in the ground, 
don't jump to take action.
Let nature take its course.  

Step back from the scene and watch from a distance:
-  when you are more distant, do the parents come in to assist?
Most fledglings get up the strength to do what they need to do sooner or later.

If you find a younger bird (more fluff than feathers, and no gripping of the feet)
 it's best to put it back in its nest, if you can find it and do that safely... 
or simply place it up in the nearest tree.

If it's injured and you have a wildlife rehab near you, 
that's when you can intervene.

Oh, and one more thing about this:
I was actually told that it's illegal to try to rehabilitate a wild animal yourself,
(which just adds to the otherwise long list of ridiculous laws in my opinion)
but be forewarned that besides being "illegal," 
raising a nestling is also SO MUCH WORK.  
They have to eat like every 20 minutes. It's a very demanding task.
Sounds exhausting. 
That's one situation when I might be quite glad to let nature take it's course!
Sleep interruption and I don't mix well at all.  Just ask Boo.


As far as we know, the story has a happy ending!
We put the fledgling oriole near where we had found it, 
and tried to shelter it a bit because of the pending thunderstorms. 

The next morning, we saw that it was still alive,
and it had made it a little bit further from where we placed it.   

And later that day when we went back to check, 
there was no sign of it at all, 
and also no sign of  "foul play."  

We initially felt badly about our misinformed but well-intentioned efforts to intervene, 
but were relieved to have what seemed like good closure.  


But, the story for us got even better!  
A week later, I stumbled upon this in our driveway:

It's not unusual to see chunky things in our driveway 
since it's our dog Clara's favorite location to relieve herself.
From a distance, I thought this was just another pile of dogdoo.

I was utterly delighted to see this oriole nest... 
so exquisitely beautiful and intricate!

My magical thinking immediately said, 
"Oh wow!  It's a gift from the orioles!
... for caring for the fledgling...!!!"  

While it's probably just pure chance that an oriole nest dropped onto our driveway a week later,
I must confess that I enjoy magical thinking at times.
It's a boon to the spirit, so why not?

The nest seems to have fallen out of this cottonwood tree next to the driveway.
I spotted adult orioles in there earlier in the spring.

The cottonwood drops (surprise) cottony catkins that the orioles wove into the nest.
Elms are the preferred nesting trees of orioles, but with elms on the decline from disease,
the cottonwood is another favorite nesting tree.

You can see the dried catkins woven in:

I don't have a super fancy camera 
and I'm not a skilled enough photographer to adequately convey it's beauty,
but here are some shots to give you an idea:  

Thank you, orioles!