July 16, 2014

Pink Peonies

I am feeling grateful for the kind wishes & healing thoughts that have come my way after my medical "patching up" last week.  I've felt better each day and greatly improved overall, almost back to normal (getting there.)  Mostly, I'm amazed at the remarkable difference physically and wish I'd had this taken care of years ago!  

I'm eager to get out paddling on summer waters here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 
And in northern Ontario, too.. we'll be slipping off the grid some random time soon.

Lilly's pink peonies bloomed a couple of weeks ago.  They're so beautiful, yet I always find them difficult to photograph in a way that pleases me.  Before the blooms were spent (we had strong winds that didn't let them linger long), I got one shot I liked and indulged in some photo editing .

Peace, wonder, & pretty petals,

Blogger Tricks

July 15, 2014

Northern Flicker

I spied a Flicker in the backyard the other day.  I find them strikingly beautiful.
Notice there's lots of white clover flowering in our yard right now too.  The bumblebees are reveling in it.
While Flickers live in hollow trees in woodland areas, the bulk of their diet consists of ants, which brings them to the yard.  They dig for ants with their nifty curved bill, hammering at the soil the way other woodpeckers drill into wood.
The insect diet of Flickers plays an important role in the control of insects pests.  They eat more ants than any other bird species in North America.
I'm happy to see them feasting on anthills.  Less ants raiding our strawberries nearby!

Ours' are the yellow shafted variety, very flashy in flight.  
Off he goes.

They're only here in Minnesota for the summer.  (Unlike other woodpeckers, who winter with us, too.)
Flickers are common, widespread across the continent, but I read that their populations have been steadily declining for several years.    
Are there Flickers where you are?

Sharing with Stewart's Wild Birds around the world today.

July 12, 2014

10 Things I've Learned about Keeping Chickens | a chicken update

Lilly got two new young chickens for her birthday at the end of May. Joining Chiquita and Bandita (two of last year's birthday chickenistas),
we welcomed Boosul and Clementine to the coop.
After a few days of drama & hen-pecking, they smoothed things out & now the four of them go about as one happy little sisterhood.   

Chiquita & Bandita (one-year-olds):

Boosul & Clementine (babies):

Boosul means "beautiful" in Romani gypsy language, according to a book I read. 
She's black with iridescent blue & green in her feathers; a beauty for sure. 
She's going to be big.  She had already passed up the mature hens in size while she was still peeping like a chick.  What big feet she has!
Clementine is the youngest, named for the orange (inspired by her color.)
These two charmed me when we got them.  They would follow me, cheep-cheeping, and lay down next to me in the yard or garden.. just plop over on their sides & stretch out their gawky chicken legs.

All four of them are a happy sight to look down on from my window on summer mornings. 
It's one of my favorite things. 

The other day I looked out & saw Lilly having lunch with her chickens - had to snap a picture through the window screen.

I'm far from an expert -we've had our ups and downs in the poultry & foul department over the years and I'm still learning.  But here are
10 Things I've learned about Keeping Chickens

1. There are more chickens living on earth than people. 
We've found that four chickens are just right for the seven of us.

2.  Around 95% of all chickens raised in the U.S. spend their entire lives in small cages.
But when given enough space, chickens will run, jump, play and sunbathe. 
Ours love to free range the daytime hours away.  They have a favorite sunning location where they all go for siestas.  They're curious and amusing when they chase after butterflies & moths.  They're also curious about what we're up to & come running if they think we have treats. 
I've read that chickens can become bored and will start pecking & fighting when unable to access a varied environment, much like kids in a long car ride together.  Our four liberated ladies are pleasant to have roaming our yard. 
3.  We live in northern MN where there are plenty of predators.  The most common threats for us are fox, coyote, skunk, raccoon, weasel, owls & hawks.
It's important for chickens to be protected, particularly at night.  They go back in the coop to roost every evening and we close the door to keep them safe.     Their outdoor run is fully enclosed top & bottom when they are confined.  And when out & about by day, they tend to stay close to cover where they aren't vulnerable to daytime hawks overhead. 
Chiquita & Bandita, unsure what to make of a chipmunk below them:

4. Chickens are omnivores.
When living in their natural environment, chickens will spend the day foraging for bugs and slurping down fresh blades of grass.
I love to see them working bug and weed control in the garden & around the edges of the yard.
Our hens get kitchen & garden scraps.  They love to peck smoked ribs clean!  
During the summer months they've eaten almost no store-bought feed.  (Though it's available to them if they want it.)  They fill up on free ranging.
5.  Multiple studies have found that hens raised on fresh pastures boasted twice as much vitamin E and 2.5 times more brain- and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as standard supermarket eggs had. Other tests show pastured eggs also tout four to five times the vitamin D of regular eggs, along with 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, seven times more beta-carotene, and 2/3 more vitamin A.  
All that pretty much means our chicken eggs are awesome!

6.  Some hens like to lay their eggs in private. 
Usually ours go into the coop to lay in a nesting box during the day.
One day recently we thought Bandita, our crowing hen, was missing.  She wasn't with the other three, and she wasn't in the coop.  After a few minutes, she popped out from a raised bed in the middle of our yard loaded thick with day lilies, as if to ask what the fuss was all about. 
The next day Johnathan found that she'd built a nest in there in which he discovered seven eggs. 
It's a funny sight watching her circle around then hop up and duck into hiding.
Bandita's hideout can be seen in the photo below.

7.  Chickens have all kinds of different combs.  Chiquita's is a classic single comb, bold & spikey.  Bandita's is small & simple, maybe a mixed rose comb?   (They are mixed breed chickens.)
Boosul is developing a nice red comb, which tells us she may begin laying soon, if she hasn't already.  Clementine's is just starting to grow. 

8.  We bed our coop with coarse pine sawdust, a natural bi-product of Mitch's sawmill.  It works well for us and seems much neater than shavings.   The chickens have never complained.

9.  About that crowing hen:  Who knows?  She is definitely a hen, we know that.  Her crow sounds a little awkward, like a young rooster still working at perfecting his cock-a-doodle-doo.   She doesn't do it every day, it's random.  Maybe she'll outgrow it, but we don't mind either way. 
We had a rooster many years ago, but have no interest in having another at this time. 

10.  Lastly, we learned that the chicken is the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus-Rex! 
This statement is paleontologist approved.

(I tried to get them all to look up and strike a pose at the same time... They're learning, too.)