Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Grim news

Or I could say the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.

Not only birds are active in the fall. Raccoons are venturing beyond their usual boundaries; and for the first time in the seven years I've kept chickens here, one came into my yard and tore through the netting and wire over the top of the chicken pen.



It happened at about five in the morning. I woke hearing Miró hurry down the stairs to the main floor.  I heard one faint, distant noise from outside. It could have been a dog or cat; it could have been the person who delivers newspapers to the few of us who still subscribe. It was not at all like the noises chickens make when disturbed at night or when attacked. I listened for a while. Everything quiet. Because Miró, who barks at everything, kept silent, I figured all was well. I don't know if Emily even moved.

Really, Miro has some explaining to do.


 This raccoon tore out the throats of four chickens and disappeared.  A couple of days later I ran into a neighbor from across the street who also kept chickens. She said theirs had been killed two days before mine. Same modus operandi: no noise, throats torn out, dead hens strewn across the pen.

When my husband was alive and we kept chickens in a more rural area, we lost a bunch to predators; but no animal ever killed all the chickens and we (or I, since he could sleep through anything) always heard something, though the distance from house to pen was greater there than here.  It's very unusual to have happened so quickly that the chickens had little or no chance to squawk. Maybe there was more than one raccoon.
Edna, Old English game bantam

Most chickens live short lives and die violently, making R.I.P. inappropriate. High praise for chickens would be: they laid well.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday bath for birds

My house came with a "water feature," a series of debris-gathering pools. The water fountains into a square pool at the top terrace, spilling over onto a series of smaller pools down to the larger one at the bottom where there's a motor to recirculate the water. Naturally, the motor stopped working not long after I moved here. I have to muck everything out several times a year. I'm sure I'd like the whole thing very much if it worked and didn't require perpetual and expensive maintenance. It's useful for one thing.

A little while ago, the yard was full of twittery sounds instead of the usual crow-jay battle screeches.

 Robins, juncos, and flickers took turns for Sunday bath. Photos are from the kitchen window. (It was clean, honest! The blurring is reflection.)

This last one looks like a juvenile starling, an invasive species. After these photos, I went outside by a side door, hoping the birds wouldn't mind if I stood some distance away; but the mere hint of human movement was too much for them. I stood still for a loooong time, waiting, reflecting that this standing around is why I'm not a bird watcher, though I support the Audubon Society.

Later, as I sat at my desk upstairs to upload the photos, a flicker stopped right outside to clean the gutters.

I might tweet an ad for birds: Sherry's back yard, all hotel services provided: bath, fine dining, comfortable beds, and no cats.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

See that red dot? It's a scarlet macaw!

I went to Costa Rica with only my phone for a camera and joked with other phone-only photographers about what we'd say when showing friends our photos. No casual tourist could have captured our best sighting of the macaws when they suddenly appeared high above the Tarcoles River, the sun flashing off their brilliant red, yellow, and blue as they flew quickly over the trees. Later we saw them perched in distant wild fig trees at Punta Leona Beach Resort on the Pacific coast.

The upper center red dot is the bird; the lower red dots are hibiscus.
Here's what they really look like, photographed in the same kind of tree. Because the photo is from www.upload.wikimedia.org, I think it's open source.

I was on a 12-day ecotour. Every time the guide pointed out a bird, reptile, or mammal, we went "Oooo" and "Ahhh." Every time the guide pointed out and talked about particular trees, we listened attentively and then asked each other, "What did he say that was?"
I got close to Green Violetear hummingbirds at 7,000 feet.
Tropical rainforest with iguana.

Returning home, I sighted a couple of these:
Temperate rainforest dog.

Canis messus.
They greeted me with three seconds of jumping excitement before turning to sniff the suitcase, needing no words to convey, "Great to see ya. What'd ya bring me?"


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The bad girl's guide to foraging

Hi. Emily Dickins here. It's fall. That means things fall from the trees. When I investigate and eat those things, Mom yells. The first things I found were berries, or maybe they're plums growing on the neighbor's trees that overhang our fence. Birds ate them. When Mom saw me eating them, she gave a bunch to the chickens to see if the chickens would get sick or die. She said that if the chickens died, she'd lock me indoors until all the berries were gone. Is that dumb or what?
This is what they look like:
She squished one to see the inside. Disgusting. Nobody eats that way.
The chickens were not totally thrilled with the berries, but they ate and did not get sick. Every time I went outside, I searched along the fence for fallen berries until EVIL MOM cut down just about every overhanging branch with berries on it. Good thing the neighbors can't see that side.

Still feeling peckish, I found something else to chew on after yesterday's windstorm. Now Evil Mom is even more upset. These green berries fell off a type of redwood tree, and she tried to pick them all up but no way is she going to be able to keep up with all the falling berries in the next couple of months. They don't taste great, but I like chewing on anything--indoor and outdoor wood, shoes, Miro's collar, Miro's tail, hair....
This is the tree. That's the pooper-scooper leaning up against it. Does Mom know how to take a photo or what?

And these are the chewies that fall from it. I hope somebody knows if they're really bad. Otherwise Mom might tear out all her hair and there'll be none left for me to chew on.
Forty-two pounds of bad.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Doggie biscotti

The Pacific Northwest has been enjoying the world's best summer, sunny day after sunny day, most with cool breezes in the morning and temperatures rarely above 85 F in the hottest part of the afternoon. During one of the rare rainy spells, I decided to do some cooking that involved turning on the oven--not for myself, which is boring, but for the dogs. I made some changes to a recipe for pumpkin biscotti for dogs and came up with the kind of hard, crunchy biscuits appropriate for Miró and Emily's "bedtime biscuit," the phrase that gets a reluctant Emily running inside from her evening explorations. Below are the ingredients I used; they're easy to alter, especially for Airedales who are not picky.
1 c pureed pumpkin (not pie filling)
3 Tbsp molasses
2 eggs, beaten
1/8 cups canola or olive oil
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 c ground flax
1/4 c coconut flour
1-2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large cookie sheet with non-stick spray.
Mix all the wet ingredients together in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Using an electric mixer or wooden spoon, slowly combine the dry ingredients into the wet. Do the final mixing by hand, kneading the dough into a ball in the bowl. You can add water or flour as needed, but the dough needs to be firm. Divide the ball into two parts, place on the cookie sheet, and pat each down to a rectangle about 1 inch thick. How long or wide the rectangle depends on the size you want the biscotti to be.

Place the loaves at least 2 inches apart and bake 35 min until firm. Cool the cookie sheet and loaves on a rack for 30 min before slicing, but that time is approximate.  Lower the oven temp to 300. When you feel like it or remember that you've left this project on the kitchen counter, place the loaves on a cutting board and slice to the desired thickness, generally half an inch. Some people have the ability to slice both loaves to a consistent thickness. I do not.

Lay the slices on the cookie sheet (and a second one if you don't have room on the first), bake at 300 for 20 min. Turn the slices over and bake for another 20 min until the biscotti reach the hardness that you want. When making people biscotti, I sometimes take the easy way out, making small, thick biscotti that can stand up so that I don't have to turn them over half-way through the cooking time.

There are healthier snacks, of course, usually involving liver that stinks up your whole house; but these are no worse than the common biscuits you buy at the store--and you know for sure what's in them.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Emily the Mouseketeer

This morning I left the house in a hurry, forgetting that I'd left a mouse for Matilda the Snake defrosting on a kitchen counter. Later in the day I received this text from my son:
"Puppy was whining at dead mouse. I moved mouse to center of counter. A few minutes later crying stops. I check. Mouse is gone."

I guarantee the mouse did not walk away on its own steam. A search of the area revealed no clues.

Emily's new nickname is "Mouse-Breath."

Innocent as the day is long?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Unwelcome guest

You know the type. They're not invited. They mess around in your bathroom so long that you don't even want to enter it. They ignore requests to leave. And they show up every year.
 I am guarding the perimeter and am not responsible for what shows up in the tub. In fact, the tub is to be avoided.