Category Archives: Ducks and Geese

Daily Drama 82 Back to School

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Daily Drama 82 Back to School

Once upon a time, my days were simple. Dobby, the ducks and hens, the cats and I had a daily routine. I’d go out to the aviary, check food and water, come back in. I let Dobby decide whether or not to help. In the afternoon, I fed the cats and secured them in their section of the barn. The ducks and hens exited the aviary for their garden party in the back yard. Everyone shared some bird seed, and then Dobby and I went to the front yard. At dusk, everyone went to bed.

Dobby was the best helper, ever. And he knew it, too.

Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed. Dobby is gone. The sheep have arrived. One cat has departed and the other has diabetes. Two new ferals have arrived. One little hen has a heart murmur and lives indoors. We recently went off daylight savings time, blasting our days into darkness before cocktail hour. The Garden Party starts shortly after lunch and there’s never enough time for me to run out during the day to do an errand. There have been enough changes lately to disrupt everything and everyone, and it seems I am constantly training and reorienting the flock.

No no no, Princess! Not on the sink again!

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

She really is a princess. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

Poor old Kitty Hawk, before he moved into the infirmary. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess is fairly well trained, though we still think she can make it up to the bathroom by herself. But here I am trying to write this blog and my alarm for Kitty Hawk’s evening meds just went off. He is at my mercy for his insulin, and no amount of training can make him do it himself. This training is for me. Gone are the leisurely mornings over coffee and current events, checking my email. In order to give him insulin twice a day, evenly spaced, night owl that I am, I have chosen 9:45, AM & PM, for his injections. If I drag myself out of bed early enough, I can still enjoy my coffee and be out there for the morning “stabbing.” No, Kitty Hawk is not curled up on my couch, he’s out in the barn. Jacket on, boots on, cat food, duck lettuce and treats all ready to go. My chores take from half an hour to two hours, depending upon a million variables. It’s the evening stabbing, in the dark, that’s the most fun. That’s the one I just did. Kitty Hawk is doing okay, but lately he had a setback and is locked into the infirmary. He’s so wobbly I am afraid he’ll topple into Swimming Pool #5, currently deteriorating and barely functioning as a duck pond.

So how about the new feral cats? What kind of training do cats get? In addition to my usual chores, I spend about a half hour a day with the new cats. Considered unadoptable by the Alley Cat Project, I took them on. Half-Stache had done well with his foster owner. Before that, he had a dismal but not surprising feral response to adoption and refused to leave his cage. He was shy when he came here, but he’s been very responsive, probably because I am kind of stingy with the cat treats, so he had to beg for them. For this cat, it was an excellent strategy and we are best buddies, now. His partner, a female named Larry, had never warmed up to her previous owner or her foster. She’s so pretty, I think everyone tried to make her into a house cat. She got fat and frightened. Here, she is continuously on the prowl. She climbs trees and races around like a wild thing. I think she wanted to be an outdoor feral again, and she can be that cat here. Every day she approaches closer and closer to me, and I have even been able to pet her– under her terms, only. So there is that training, which is that both cats have trained me to allow them to approach on their own terms. On my side, I have some strict rules: they must allow me to lock them up in the cat barn during the garden party. The gates are open to allow the ducks and hens to return to the barn whenever they want to, but the kitty cats are not allowed to leave the aviary. They have been quick to learn the routine and I find them napping in there, waiting for their food, every afternoon. They have been extremely cooperative.

Hamish & Charlie (Photo by Briana Bell)

So guess who have not been cooperative? Charlie & Hamish, the ridiculous sheep. When I open the gate for Garden Party, the geese, ducks, and hens are supposed to come out into the yard, as they have been doing for almost twenty years. But the sheep are, well, intimidating, and they stand by the door. Nobody comes out. The sheep are not allowed to go in, so of course, in they go! I have some little fence panels* I arrange like chutes to keep out the sheep, but then the ducks can’t come out. So the sheep go in, then the ducks come out. Next, I race to close the barn door, because the sheep like to eat the chicken food. Dobby liked it, too, but his big schnozzola couldn’t really fit in the bin. The delicate narrow sheep noses fit perfectly. And they can eat enough chicken food in about five minutes to make them sick. Or so I have heard, but I don’t want to find out whether it’s four minutes or six.

Jump up and touch your nose, Hamish! (Photo by Briana Bell)

So the sheep are locked out of the barn, but gallivanting about in the aviary. The ducks are in the garden waiting for their birdseed and cracked corn that I have been giving them for almost twenty years. The wild mallards are patiently waiting on the roof of the house. The squirrels and crows are gathering for peanuts. The birdseed and peanuts are stored in galvanized garbage cans on the deck. I ever-so-quietly lift the lid off the can– gallopy gallopy and the sheep run out of the aviary and clatter across the deck and I suddenly have one set of ram horns under each armpit. Mind you, the birdseed and cracked corn can make them sick, too, but I can dole out a safe ration, and anyway this is for the geese, ducks, and chickens, right? I am still working on this, but I think they are training me to escort the sheep all the way to the front yard before I dole out the garden party treats. That means convincing the sheep to follow me through a gate, into the chute, through another gate, and then out another gate (this one stays open) and into the front yard. At which point I have to run back and close the middle gate. then I can open the chute so the ducks can go through. Now I can give the ducks their treats. As I lift the lid off the galvanized garbage can, I hear Baa (Charlie makes the classic sheep sound) and Aaaargh (Hamish sounds like an old man falling backwards off the top of a ladder). They heard the lid and came back from the front yard already, and are waiting for me at the closed gate. We’re still deciding who is training whom on this activity.

Charlie loves visitors. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Target training for the sheep is literally crackers, as in Saltines. They both touch their nose to the target on command, and after the training session they continue to touch their nose to it, “just in case.” Charlie does a very nice “turn around” while Hamish prefers the classic “jump up.” I’d like to weigh them, but getting them to operate independently is problematic. Using the target I can get anywhere from zero to eight feet on the scale, which is perfectly useless. I guess I need to work on “taking turns” first. I’m also working on halter training. They love to stick their mouth through the halter opening to eat crackers and are getting used to the feel of it on their head. Will I eventually be able to take them for walks? Runs, maybe. Sheep like to run and they are speedy!

Hamish thinks he is in charge, but Charlie is more patient and wins out in the end. (Photo by Briana Bell)

So, we’ve made it to the front yard, the sheep have done a few tricks and are settling down to eat the shrubbery (There’s a rumor going around that they eat grass, but so far, no.) I decide to sit down for a few minutes, close my eyes, relax. Quack quack quack! That’s my alarm going off. Time to give Princess her 4pm meds. She’s in the back yard and we are in the front. That means sneaking past the sheep and getting through that gate without them noticing. Even if I sneak in, they are always waiting for me when I head back out. And Princess? Takes her meds like a champ. She’s all trained.

Squirrel is getting a lot of attention these days. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Some events are easy and bedtime is one. Unlike human kids, animals seem to know when bedtime is, and are eager to settle in for the night. How refreshing! But I’m not through yet. Squirrel the guinea pig has toenail fungus, and needs a foot soak. I know, sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but it’s similar to ours. Soak the foot once a day for a month or two, and it might go away. He’s also losing weight for no apparent reason, so he gets a ration of oats, and he’s enthusiastic enough about the oats to sit still for the soaking while he munches away. He still likes to step on the dish and spill the soak solution, so we have a bit more training to do.

So here’s the nutshell version of the training schedule:

  • Morning cat stab
  • New cat orientation
  • New cat feeding and naptime lockup
  • Garden party shifts and treats
  • Sheep target training
  • Princess meds
  • Bedtime for outdoor birds
  • Princess bedtime
  • Squirrel foot soak
  • Evening cat stab

Hey, I’m looking for volunteers! Anyone want to come do the evening cat insulin injection? Pretty please?

*Lately I have observed Charlie calculating the height of the little fence panels and analyzing the length of the runway and landing strip on both sides. I don’t let him rest his chin there any more.

Photo Credits: Many of these photos were taken by my board member, Briana. Thank you!

 

Daily Drama 79 Sweet Kitty Hawk

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Daily Drama 79 Sweet Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk isn’t sweet at all. He bites and scratches me because I am never fast enough with the food. In fact, he bit the veterinarian and then the vet tech.

North Seattle Veterinary Clinic

Kitty Hawk pretends to be an innocent kitty cat.

Kitty Hawk is a barn kitty, a former feral tomcat who tested positive for FIV after he ended up at the pound. (He broke into a house, beat up the resident cat and ate his food.) He lives outdoors in my aviary where he is second-in-command to my serious rat catcher, Grover, another FIV+ former feral tomcat.

He still has plenty of energy and follows me everywhere, stopping to take a swing at the hen’s tail feathers if they don’t hop out of his way.

Diabetes is the reason why Kitty Hawk has gotten so skinny, even though he is eating twice as much food. Last week’s blood test told us the bad news and today he had his first insulin shot. Twice a day, evenly spaced, means that I get to traipse out there in the dark to give him his evening injection. It’s going to be inconvenient, expensive, and painful. For me, not the cat. He doesn’t seem to care. He likes his new food, and so does Grover.

The guinea pig room

Let’s talk about something more fun: guinea pigs! It’s great when kids grow up and leave home, because then you get an entire bedroom for your guinea pigs.

Brutus lives in this end of the cage, but where is she?

Squirrel lived alone for several years after his buddy, Stevie Ray, died. He was within sniffing and squealing distance from the others but he wanted a live-in buddy. Cookie Monster loves Squirrel, but Brutus is aptly named and will not tolerate Squirrel. So, Cookie Monster had dates with Squirrel but always went home for the night.

This is the middle apartment. Squirrel is hiding in the log cabin but you can see Cookie Monster’s white nose peeking out of a pigloo.

Daniel was supposed to be a dude buddy for Squirrel, but turned out to be Danielle. She was in a separate cage while I worked to introduce them, but like Brutus, she is very opinionated. Squirrel is a mellow guy and Danny is a speed demon, always rearranging her furniture so she can run circles around it.

Danielle is in her pigloo. Note the fence extension at the right, by the timber hideaway. You can’t be too careful with this maniac.

Brutus tolerates Cookie, but Squirrel adores her. I decided to make some changes. My large L-shaped cage has plenty of room for four, but I had to get clever in order to divide it into three spaces that each meet the minimum space requirements. I did the unthinkable: I put diagonal dividers in.

Here’s Brutus! The diagonal dividers make some odd corner spaces, and now this is Brutus’s favorite place. So I throw some hay in there and she munches away, watching her neighbors.

Squirrel and Cookie Monster have the middle apartment, and Brutus and Danielle each have end units. Brutus and Cookie Monster can still visit through the divider, and Danielle can continue to get acquainted with Squirrel and Cookie Monster. And Squirrel doesn’t have to live alone anymore.

Danielle has quiet moments, too. She is getting some dark pigmentation at her nostrils, like fancy nose make-up.

They still get floor time, of course, and we switch out the piggies to keep things interesting.

This day they had a box maze and wheatgrass treats.

The Funny Farm is getting ready for some new additions, but I’m not ready to spill those beans yet. Instead, here are some short news items.

The doves are pretending to be lovebirds. Every once in a while, I discover an egg in the nest.

The handicapped doves (one can’t fly, the other can’t walk) are, in fact, mother and daughter. Recently I added a soft little nest for The Pirate, the not-walker. Her mom, Snow White, joins her in the nest, and they snuggle on and off during the day. I had no idea that would happen, but it has totally changed the way they interact, and it’s wonderful to see them grooming each other and chatting.

Frieda lays tan eggs. Adelita lays chocolate brown eggs, and Angel lays pale aqua eggs.

The six vintage hens that live in the aviary lay about a dozen eggs a week this time of year. They range from about six to ten years old. We had a raccoon in the yard yesterday afternoon, while everyone was out for their daily Garden Party. I ran out when I heard the ruckus, but the geese and ducks had already high-tailed it back to the aviary so I only had a couple straggling hens to march back in. It was a scraggly nasty looking raccoon, not a big healthy one like I am used to seeing around here. Garden Parties have been cancelled for a while.

Sneaky Pete (AKA Norman) nibbles the edges of a head of romaine lettuce.

Here’s silly Norman, stealing some lettuce. I take out a head of romaine every morning, and distribute it fairly among the geese, ducks and hens. I drop it into the sink until I am ready to fight my way through the spider webs to toss it around. As I throw it into little piles, Norman follows me and takes a little bite out of every leaf. What a guy.

The Bartender raised up the bench to paint it, making the job easier on his back.

The Bartender has been busy painting the Little Free Library. He also painted the old bench from the back yard to match.

Chock full of books!

It’s probably the biggest Little Free Library I’ve ever seen. I put a bunch of books out there at the beginning, but more books show up all the time! There are so many new ones I have been sneaking a few for myself! It’s fun to see people walk up to take a look, and I have even seen people drive up and park!

It looks great, doesn’t it?

Stay tuned. My next blog will be full of surprises!

Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

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Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

Yes, in fact Princess Blur is still living in my bathroom. She gets two different heart meds, three times a day, so it’s nice to have her conveniently located. At night we can hear the wheezing that is a symptom of her heart murmur. She hops up to her roost with ease, but has never in five months hopped out of the bathtub. The loose feathers redistribute when she flaps and I noticed recently that The Bartender has moved his toothbrush into another bathroom. She is well into her slumber when I go in to brush my teeth in the dark. I don’t want to disturb herby flipping on the lights.

Princess Blur evaluates the clean blanket prior to strategizing its fall from grace.

When I first brought her in, I toyed with the idea of making some chicken diapers, but I wasn’t that optimistic about her diagnosis. She hangs out with me as I work at my desk, but I am getting tired of washing unspeakably soiled fleece blankets. I guess diapers are my next project.

The latest hurdle was beak trimming. When you spend your days on fleece blankets instead of dirt, your beak will grow long and interfere with your bite so that it’s hard to take your meds. Trimming her beak was even less fun than it sounds, so the goal is not to ever have to do that again. Online, I learned that the common solution was to give her a brick. The Princess was almost as insulted by that brick as she was for the beak trimming itself! I took a walk around the house looking for a suitable brick substitute. If you have seen my house, it will come as no surprise to you that the perfect object was sitting on the same shelf where I put it in 2008 after I bought it in Mexico City. My pig-faced metate makes a perfect seed dish for Princess, and with any luck it will wear down her beak as she digs through for the sunflower seeds.

Samantha, looking perky at the prospect of an afternoon out of the infirmary.

And yes, Samantha, my Little Dead Hen, is still out in the infirmary, getting meds once every five days. An impossible regimen but it’s on my calendar and I usually remember. The lymphoma is ever-so-slowly taking her down, and she is painfully thin. She wants to be out with the flock, but she is so frail she falls over at the slightest breeze. And then can’t get up. In the infirmary, her food and water is efficiently located, she has a heated pad, and she can see and hear everyone, day and night.

She cries for me in the morning when I deliver her breakfast: a little dish of rice, pancakes, or her new favorite: corn muffins. She also gets yogurt, cottage cheese, scrambled or hard boiled egg sprinkled with probiotic powder. Topped off with frozen corn or peas, maybe some fruit. She eats less and less of it, to the delight of my hen Angel, who hops up for first dibs on yesterday’s leftovers. Still, Samantha looks forward to her breakfast every morning, and digs right in.

Samantha and Princess enjoy an afternoon snack together.

Suddenly, our late-season snow melted, the ice thawed, and the sun came out. When the flock invades the back yard for the afternoon Garden Party, Samantha takes over a small corner of Dobby’s old pen. She has a heat lamp, food and water, and nobody can bump into her. When it warms up nicely, I even bring out Princess. They are both lonely but essentially bedridden and they have fun chatting and sitting in their rocking chairs together. We’re still going to have wet and chilly spring weather, and I will have to decide every day whether it is worth the risk to put them out. I will be rearranging the furniture out there so they have access to a larger covered area, and I can add another heat lamp if they use it.

Coffee Bean, Windy, and Angel are shocked to discover that Princess has magically reappeared. They hadn’t seen her for months.

I also have a little dove who commutes. It seems like every winter there is one who has a tough time and ends up on the ground. They came in as an established flock in 2008, so none are younger than eleven years old, and most are much older. Anyway, this little bird went into a heated cage in the barn before the snow, but she still isn’t flying much. Putting her straight back out with the flock was not successful, so I have fixed up a transitional cage out there for her. She first spent days there, returning to the barn at night. When it warmed up, she spent the nights in the outside cage. Finally, I have started letting her out during the day, and the flock is more accepting, though she still can’t fly very high. She’s trying harder now, so even though I am still caging her at night, I think she’ll soon be flying back up to the high perches.

Doves in a cage looking at a dove in a cage.

So now I have two hens going out to the backyard every afternoon, and a dove commuting between her flock and a night cage every day. Who else has cabin fever?

Fat Bonnie is bored.

How about Fat Bonnie? She used to join the Garden Party every afternoon. After she picked up three botfly larvae that had to be $urgically removed, I swore she would never see the outdoors again. That was several years ago, when the rat situation had reached epic proportions. The risk is much smaller now. So out she goes. 

Fat Bonnie, eating again, of course.

The Graveyard used to be her favorite place in the yard, and now it is conveniently fenced. This means that when it is time to take her indoors, I need only chase her around The Graveyard instead of the entire yard and aviary. Lucky me.

At dusk, send your thoughts and prayers to me as I herd the flock back into the aviary (and flush out the freeloading wild mallards), carry Samantha back to the infirmary, return the dove to her night cage, lift old Coffee Bean up to her favorite roost (Didn’t I mention that spoiled hen earlier?), bring Princess indoors, take a breath, and chase Bonnie until she allows me to lift her up and toss transfer her back into the kitchen. Then Princess gets her meds, and I am grateful to have a bartender on staff.


Gratuitous Dobby photo:

Peek-a-boo!

This invasion took place during a Garden Party, long ago. This is the rabbit palace, but they are out in the yard. A couple of hens and a marauding capybara have taken up residence.

Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

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Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? It was so fun to look out the front door and see bountiful snow: fluffy clean snow, looking like Crisco. It’s so quiet. I forgot about that part. You see, Seattle doesn’t get much snow. Not enough to justify snow plows or snow tires, so everybody takes the day off to enjoy the magnificence of it.

This was my front steps.

I got out my snow ruler: nine inches! (23cm) And started to watch the weather forecasts like a fiend. More snow? Freezing temperatures, too? Uh oh. I started to bring in the hummingbird feeders after dusk. Get up at dawn, throw on my flimsy robe, hang them back up, hummers buzzing at the empty hanger, as if to remind me where the feeder belongs.

My official snow ruler

The back yard wild mallards landed in the Crisco snow, rapidly sinking in up to their necks, trudging back up to the surface, flying back up to the roof. Over and over. So funny! I could be mean and toss their ration of cracked corn into the deep snow, but that would be wasteful.

View from the living room. You have to imagine the thunk! thunk! of the ducks landing on the roof.

They quickly learned that the wild bird buffet was being served on the deck, right outside the kitchen door, in dishes. They had the area trampled flat in no time. There are at least forty-two of them, after all. The original pair have been here daily for a dozen years, rain or shine.

Yes, in fact some of them do knock on the door.

Dobby would have been sequestered in the kitchen for two weeks by now. There’s still about six inches of snow on the ground. The bare patches are thawing and we’re supposed to have more rain before the temperatures drop again in a couple days and they start bragging about more snow. The Prince would have been perfectly miserable, cabin fever in spades. This is one of the many reasons why I am not considering getting another capybara. Our mild marine climate is no longer to be trusted.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

The graveyard‘s colors are muted, and the sun can’t illuminate the gems hanging from the arbor. The snow is so pretty, even the Dove dome is a masterpiece. That snowball in the foreground is a “Dogloo” turned igloo. The pigeon loft is behind it, and this morning I decided to take the eggs away from Phoenix and Cor-ten. Birth control is so easy for birds, imagine if we could lay an egg and simply walk away from it! Today there was a tiny fuzzy face looking out at me. I was too late. So they have a baby and I guess congratulations are in order.

The dove cage has never looked prettier.

When the snow first falls, the cats test it. Curiosity satisfied, Kitty Hawk rejoins his smarter half in the barn. The hens are smart enough to hunker down in the barn until it goes away. The ducks and geese have fancy feet and don’t mind the cold.

Goose and cat. Kitty Hawk is some kind of fool.

Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.

Gentle Norman. He didn’t sign up for this.

Even when there is snow, the ducks and geese prefer to sleep under the stars. In the morning, I can see where each one slept by the thawed  dirt ovals they create with their downy blankets. They pull their feet up inside the feathers, tuck in their bills, and they’re good for the night. In the photo below, you can see two ducks sleeping on the ground, and to the left, two thawed ovals where their friends slept the night before.

Tony and Vinny, snoozing midday. They are in the middle of the photo.

In the photo below, you can see the aviary netting is starting to sag under the weight of the snow. Look at the top rail of the fence, straight and true. The roof netting should be uniformly higher than that top rail, but you can see a droop near the center of the photo.

Observing the aviary from the kitchen deck after the first onslaught of snow

From inside the aviary it looked like this. I tried to smack at the snow from below, to get it to drop off the netting, but it was so light and fluffy it wouldn’t fall through the big holes of the 2″ chicken wire. Seattle snow usually falls straight through to the ground. Only deep dry snow falling quickly onto the thin frozen wires will cause significant accumulation. Even so, our usual quick return to 40 degree weather melts it away.

Crisco everywhere: above, below, even on the vertical wire fence

We had deep fry dry snow, frozen temperatures, and frigid nights. Most of the hens sleep in the barn on heated pads. Adelita still prefers her roost, next to where Conchita and Jello used to sleep. The geese and ducks still preferred the frozen ground to the cozy barn.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got a couple more inches of snow. The net is relaxing under the weight of it. The duck pond is frozen. Beyond the fence, wild mallards gather the troops, ready to beg for cracked corn as I pass by for inspection.

Beyond the pond and fence, wild mallards accumulate with the snow.

The heat lamps come out and the Muscovy ducks come in. They are a South American breed and not as hardy as my other domestics. Their feet and caruncle can get frostbite and they love the heat lamps. The shavings in the barn don’t seem to freeze as long as they are dry, but like a fool, I provide drinking water in the barn during freezing weather and the ducks take care of the “dry” problem. It’s still nicer than the pile-up of snow outside.

新年快樂

The perennial Chinese New Year’s decorations are suddenly timely. Last night the barn lights didn’t come on at dusk. D’oh! They are on a timer and we had a six hour power outage. They have probably been cycling on in the middle of the night for the past week.

Her drinking water never froze.

About a week before the storm, I brought this little dove into the barn. She wasn’t flying up to the perches, and so I fixed her up with a cage that has a perch on the ground. Usually a week or so of R&R perks them up, but I’m also glad she wasn’t in the big dome during the storm. She’s cooing to her buddies in the dome so they all know she’s okay.

After all the snow, everyone was excited to finally see rain. It is Seattle, after all. It rained all night. In the morning, I was surprised to see robins gaily hopping in and out of the aviary. They are too big to get through the aviary netting, so that meant they had found a hole. It turned out to be a hole the size of a Mack truck. Several of them, in fact.

Coffee Bean and Grover learned to share this heated carrier.

Meanwhile, everyone became used to moving into the barn every night. When I gave the signal, Norman would march everyone in. When the netting collapsed, I realized the cats would be able to walk right out, so I locked them into the smaller portion of the barn during the day. Norman’s non-flighted flock would be okay waddling around in the wrecked aviary during the day while we worked on repairs.

Not only did the aviary netting seams rip open, each of the support posts poked a hole. The important central support was a tree that had died and was now rotten enough to splinter into several spongy logs. The central support cables tightly gripped the one remaining sound portion of the tree which was now dangling a few inches above the ground. We removed the other supports so that the netting would be easy to reach and repair.

It’s an eye test: can you see the pink flagging?

I built my first aviary in 1984 out of recycled fishing nets. Holes would rot out of it, unpredictably. The second one, in 1988, was smaller and I used Toprite aviary netting. Squirrels chewed it where it attached to the fence. I used sturdier Toprite for my third aviary, in 1991. It was an effective net, but the small holes clogged with snow quickly, necessitating hourly snow removal during the storms. A fallen fir tree once took the entire net out, ripping it to shreds. This 2001 aviary “roof” has a chew-proof stiff wire mesh edge with a 2″ chicken wire infill. For eighteen years, the snow has fallen through the netting, except where it is covered with twigs and autumn leaves. A yearly cleaning was all it took. Until Snowpocalypse.

No aviary repair kit is complete without a thousand zip ties.

I have a bartender on staff, and his job description is a moving target. I flagged all the holes with bright pink survey flagging. Where I could reach, we worked together to zip tie the holes. Then he went out the next day, like John Henry, and zipped the rest of those suckers right up. They didn’t have a chance.

Eye Test #2: Can you see the zip ties?

We put the supports back up, and Bob’s your uncle! Everything’s back to normal, and Norman can take a break. Sure, there’s still six inches of dirty ice encrusted compact snow on the ground, but I’m fairly certain it will go away. Someday.

Then I walked out to look at the still pretty clean snow in the front yard, and discovered that the core of my multi-trunked Flame Amur Maple had shattered. All of the branches have splayed out and collapsed to the ground as if a malevolent giant stomped on it. Oy vey, how is The Bartender going to fix that?

Daily Drama 69 – April Goes Wild

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Daily Drama 69 – April Goes Wild

Even without Dobby and the rescues, it would be wild and crazy here, especially in April. The songbirds are singing, the hummingbirds have migrated from the feeders to the flowers blooming in the yard, and I listen for peeps that might mean an imperiled duckling.

There are at least a couple hundred geese in this flock. They are probably Snow Geese on their way up to Mount Vernon.

Distant honking caused me to look up at the kitchen skylight in time to see a flock of geese flying back north. I have seen a few “V’s” fly by, but this is an entire flock.

Click on the photo if you can’t see the three deer. Our World Famous Mailboxes are stage left, out of frame.

Half an hour later, my neighbor knocked on the door. (WOW! I have forgotten what 9 months pregnant looks like!) She saw three deer walk out of my yard, and knowing how wild it can be here, wanted to make certain they weren’t escapees of mine! (Note to self: invite her over, let her boys feed the guinea pigs, give her a tour and a dozen eggs.) The deer were down at the end of the street, and I’m sure we have all seen better deer photos than this, but after 18 years here, I am stunned at the idea of deer wandering through. Over the fences. Eating Dobby’s grass and maybe even his bamboo!

Not the boot print, silly! The deer hoof print. This is on a narrow Dobby-trail in the front yard.

Sure enough, deer hoof prints all over the yard. There are other prints, too, out at the street by the garbage cans. Who was this?

Guess now, and I’ll let you know who I think stood around here in the mud.

We have coyotes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, songbirds, hawks, owls, herons, and six kinds of woodpeckers. And ducks. Mallards are common, but I have had a Wood Duck drop by in the winter. A Bald Eagle swooped through here a month ago. No Mountain Beavers yet, but I keep hoping. I think it’s too flat and wet here.

There were two aqua eggs in the nest when I checked. The duck nest is the brown swirl of junk, lower middle of photo.

This is a mallard nest by my front door. I watched her drop from the sky and scuttle into this nest. It looks the same whether or not she is in it, her camouflage is so perfect. She abandoned this nest, leaving two pretty blue eggs. She’s been hanging in my back yard for maybe 12 years now, before Dobby came. She’s brought her brood into the house, taking the front-door to kitchen route that Dobby craves when he begs by that door. Everyone knows that route exists, like the Northwest Passage, but only Mrs. Mallard has had the privilege of using it. No wonder Dobby is jealous!

Proud Mrs. Mallard with six ducklings

This year, I can see her next door with her precious brood. You can count six in this photo. There used to be seven, and I chased “seven” back to her more than once when I found the little explorer in my creek. Alas, nature does not reward the babes who stray. No ducklings survived here last year, and neighbors later told me that Bald Eagles got them all. The angst can destroy you. Take a deep breath and do what you can, let the rest go. Yesterday she had only two ducklings. I’m afraid to look today.

Mr. Mallard is never far away.

I put out cracked corn: proper poultry food gets sour and moldy the moment it touches ground. Wild bird seed attracts “undesirables” and it is available in my back yard for “Ducks In The Know.” The food I put out is mostly for the momma ducks, anyway. The babies just mess around. They ate their proper baby duck food already. It’s called “duckweed.”

Western Redback Salamander (Plethodon vehiculum)? Can anyone confirm this?

I suppose they eat other stuff, too. Connor was here today and carefully moved some wood in the front yard. Sure enough, there was a salamander under it. In this neighborhood, life lurks in out-of-the-way corners, and you might as well anticipate it. Inches away, the Creature From the Black Lagoon watches us.

Pacific Mudback Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris pacifica)

Dobby has a mucky wallow in the front yard. Sometimes it’s a little pond, sometimes it’s a mud hole. It depends upon the groundwater, which, in turn, depends upon the rainfall. It suddenly dried up today. He was so disappointed!

“Come here!”

Instead of rolling in the mud, he traipsed through it and then led me back to the Duckling Viewing Area. He used to sit back there and gaze at the pond, but he has been too busy to do that lately.

Really?

Well, how about that! Mr. Opossum is at the Duckling Viewing Area. Harumph! Move along, dude! He skedaddled to the Opossum Highway on top of the fence, and headed toward the back yard. Terrific. All my hens and ducks are out, but Norman the Goose will watch out for them. I know this guy, anyway, and all he ever catches is eggs, empty cat food cans, and occasionally he massacres a discarded corn cob overnight.

Route 66 at Stacy’s Funny Farm

Dobby and I checked on the ducks and still saw six ducklings. This momma Mallard now has two drakes watching over her and her brood. Whatever it takes, I don’t judge.

To tell you the truth, Mr. Opossum is too slow to catch a duckling. (Note woodpecker holes on the tree trunk.)

Mr. Opossum wasn’t easily deterred, and I saw him in the back yard a while later. He’s perched on Opossum Highway, but outside the aviary. There’s a bushy evergreen growing through the fence and it creates a nice little observation platform. I wonder how often he perches there, watching my flock. He’s going to be sad when he discovers a nasty wad of chickenwire jammed in there.

Those were my footprints out by the street.

Dobby is back inside the aviary, sitting in another lovely mudhole. So perfect.

Jaunty stripes courtesy of Fergus the Fig Tree

Next, Dobby went into the hot tub to get clean, with a fan club cheering him on. It’s also slightly possible that they were waiting for him to get out so they could get in.

Shamrock, Cubicle, Emilio, and Carmen Miranda

If you don’t get all the way in, and don’t scrub or use soap, bath results can vary.

Nice job, Dobalob.

Oh well, I guess he wasn’t through testing all of the Funny Farm mud holes. This one offers tender new raspberry sprouts. When he eats them, I don’t get raspberries later in the summer. That’s why I carefully fenced them off.

Nice fencing, Farm Manager.

Wait! What about the hot tub? Don’t you want to go back in before you go into the kitchen? Please don’t shake! Dobby? At least it’s only mud this time. That’s how bad he is: I’m relieved that he’s only covered in mud. If you have to ask what’s worse, then you haven’t read his book! You can also follow him on his secret Facebook profile.

There’s a capybara underneath the patina.