Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Baby birds

Boy am I blowing it.

You might remember a few weeks ago we found a killdeer nest at the side of the garden.

I was careful to avoid the nest, and one day everything was -- poof -- gone. No eggshells, nothing. By this I'm assuming the babies hatched and took off when I wasn't around, and the family lived happily ever after.

But recently another killdeer has taken up nesting space smack in the middle of the garden. I'm in the garden several hours a day now, and apparently causing distress to the poor mother.

But though I knew a nest must be somewhere, it was devilishly hard to find. Those eggs are amazingly cryptic.

Here's the mother launching into the classic "broken wing" display in an effort to draw me away from her eggs.

But where were those eggs?

Finally I stood back at a distance and zoomed in the camera, scanning until I found the mother. There she was, setting on her eggs. Uh-oh. Notice where she is? Right next to hoses and a wheelbarrow. That's what I was afraid of.

Closer investigation revealed two eggs. Not four, two.

This means I had carelessly dragged the hoses across the nest and smashed two of her eggs. I felt terrible.

Can you see the eggs amidst the tangle of hoses? Well guess what, neither did I.

Here they are.

I removed the hoses and wheelbarrow and laid a stick nearby the nest so I could see it more easily from a distance, and since then I've been tiptoeing around the mother bird. However I still need to do lots of work in the garden, notably watering (we're just on the tail-end of a hot spell). To her credit, the mother seems to think I mean her no harm, and will settle herself on her eggs when I'm just a few feet away.

And yesterday I saw -- three eggs.

Then this morning, there were four.

I don't know how the extra eggs will do, since they're developmentally behind the other two eggs. But I figure the mama knows what she's doing. Now it's my job to keep the bleepin' hoses away from her nest.

Now you might be wondering how our baby robins are faring. If you recall, we have a nest under the awning in the barn, and I've been checking on the baby birds every few days, watching them grow.

We have magpies around here, and magpies are known to eat baby birds, so I was feeling protective about this brood. Several times I've heard the "chuck" alarm calls of robins, and went outside to see robins and other birds mobbing a magpie and chasing it away. So far my pair of robins haven't lost any babies.

May 23:

May 27:

As usual I climbed the ladder to get a view from above (May 27):

May 28:

Then I made a grave error in judgment. I went to check the babies yesterday, May 30. All four chicks were still in the nest:

But when I climbed the ladder to photograph the babies from above, as I'd done several times, the babies exploded out of the nest, to the distress of the parents who were just swooping in with worms in their beaks.

The babies were fairly strong, if inaccurate, fliers, and they fluttered all over the barn with the parents squawking around in concern (and probably cussing me out as well).

Fledgling robins still need to be fed by their parents, and while the offspring would have been out of the nest shortly anyway, I feel terrible that I prematurely scattered the brood simply for a photograph. (I'll offer this platform to publicly apologize to the parent robins.) The babies left the barn shortly thereafter, so I sincerely hope the parents can keep up with their half-grown babies and keep them all alive.

And do you remember we have a hen setting? Well, the eggs are in the first stages of hatching even as we speak (Wed. morning, May 31). Unfortunately the mama hen is off to a bad start, as I found a fully-hatched baby chick dead beside her.

The baby still had bits of eggshell adhering to it, but it was quite cold when I found it, so it probably didn't survive the hatching. Sadly, that's not uncommon.

I removed the dead baby and put an old firescreen around the mama to keep her protected during the vulnerable hatching.

So as you can see, it's been a mixed bag of bad and good news as far as baby birds is concerned. Life is never dull.

And I promise never again to try to get too close to a robin's nest when the babies are fledglings.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

10,000 new head of livestock

Our farm has 10,000 new head of livestock this week: two new "nucs" of bees.

Because I picked them up in an enclosed vehicle (versus the open bed of a pickup), I put the nuc boxes inside larger boxes. I didn't want bees buzzing around me while driving.

Before setting up the new hives, we removed the feeders from the old hive and added a super. Then we were ready to set up the new hives.

Unlike "packaged" bees (essentially, a queen and workers in a box), nucs already have brood frames. It's a simple matter to transfer the frames into the hive box, then adding some additional frames from our own stash to fill out the box.

We kept the empty boxes and lids outside the hive overnight so all the stray bees would make their way into their new home, which they did.

The next day we added the feeders filled with fresh sugar water to the new hives, then closed them up to let the bees settle in. In the next few days, we'll add supers to the new hives as well as another super on the old hive.

Meanwhile it's lovely to see three beehives! The girls seem to be doing well, and with the abundant rain we've had this spring, they have flowers galore to explore.

UPDATE: A reader reminded me to mention yellow jackets, since our hives were viciously attacked by the little nasties last year.

A few weeks ago, Don hung ten baited yellow jacket traps in a wide circle around the bee yard in hopes of catching queens.

A few days ago we passed one trap near the bee yard and saw this very large and annoyed lady inside:

A queen? I sincerely hope so.

So far no attacks on the hives. Unlike last year, we have the hives within sight of the house and pass them several times a day. If yellow jackets attack this year, at least we'll know immediately.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Nesting robins in the barn

Lately, in an effort to discourage wandering early-morning coyote attacks on the chickens, I've taken to setting up my computer in the barn for a couple of hours when I release the birds just after sunrise. So far it's worked to thwart additional attacks. (But no opportunity for a clean shot, however; there's a reason coyotes are termed "wily.")

Setting myself up in the barn isn't quite the hardship it implies. Early mornings have always been my favorite time of day anyway, and since the weather is finally warming up, the mornings are pleasant. The air is fresh and clean. The birds are singing. The early sun shines on the budding leaves and flowers. I bring my computer speakers so I have my Baroque music quietly playing. I have hot tea. Life is good.

This early-morning time allows me to capture some nice pics of the chickens I might not otherwise get, including the obligatory "rooster on the compost pile" shots...

...though since the compost pile elevates the chickens, it also allows them to spot the coyote early, when he (or she) is slinking around the edge of the woods, casing the joint. Paying attention to their alarm clucks is important (situational awareness!).

The nice thing about camping out in the barn for couple hours each morning is the little things that take place right under my nose I might otherwise not have noticed. Case in point, the robins who are nesting under the awning.

Robins have always been among my all-time favorite birds, so it's fun to watch both parents work hard to bring food to their offspring.

Look at those gaping gullets.

But I wanted to see the babies, so I leaned a ladder against the eave.

The mother flew away in alarm and watched me suspiciously from nearby.

Nests really are amazing construction.

Here's what the hatchlings looked like on May 19:

And on May 22:

I sometimes catch the robins in moments of leisure, such as this fellow grooming himself between warbling his "teereyo" call.

Sometimes the mother dozes while waiting for the father to return with a meal.

Then when he shows up, she steps aside so he can feed the babies.

Then -- I wasn't sure I was seeing this right until I confirmed it online -- after feeding, the parents remove the babies' waste. According to Wikipedia: "Waste accumulation does not occur in the nest because adults collect and take it away. Chicks are fed, and then raise tails for elimination of waste, a solid white clump that is collected by a parent prior to flying off." I've watched this, but to be honest it looks like the parents swallow the waste globule, not fly away to dispose of it. I've seen this over and over.

This nest is located in a wonderfully sheltered spot, away from wind and rain. But we have magpies around here, famous for eating nestlings. I've seen bluebirds and robins lose their broods in the past, which is so sad. I'm hoping this family is successful in raising their babies.