Guinea Freedom

Sigh, we only have two guineas left, but they are big enough to do okay in the main pen. So, today my sister was here for dinner and got to see them enjoy their first taste of freedom. It’s fun to share bird stuff with her.

Fancy Pants still knows she’s the queen. For such a bulky gal, she can really catch grasshoppers.

At first they ignored the open door. They’d just gotten fed, after all. Then they hopped around and got confused when Hedy went in to check on their food. Of course, I was watching too hard to remember to take pictures.

Finally, the gray one went out. Then she went back in. They did that a couple of times when they realized there was some scratch on the ground.

The first guinea is on the branch.

Suddenly, there was a frenzy. The brown one flew across the pen and landed on the branch. The gray one looked confused, then dashed over to join its remaining buddy, knocking a couple hens off.

Get out of the way, hens.

I think they will be okay. Now if anything tries to go after them, they can get away. I do hope that trap catches something other than Vlassic or Gracie, though.

Two guineas and poor Henley, trying to roost. Gracie is trying to find that delicious tuna she smells in the raccoon trap.

Birds Sure Are Resourceful

As hard as it is to find equilibrium these days, I’ve always found my bird watching greatly helpful. Birds just keep going, breeding, eating, being silly. Here are today’s examples.

Finch Family Time

You can’t get close enough to us to get a good picture, Suna!

Over at the Hermit Haus/former church office, I’ve been watching all the birds raising families. The mockingbirds have moved on, but the house finches are doggedly determined to produce offspring in the carport. They built one nest in one corner, but lost that little one. Wah.

But, lo and behold, the second nest they built has a little fellow in it. Yesterday I got to watch it waggle its little head around as its parents looked annoyed at me from the telephone wire a few feet away.

Can you see the little head?

When I arrived this morning, two finches flew away, and I realized a second pair was building a nest in yet a third corner of the driveway. I guess those little notches make house finches feel secure (and it IS hard for roaming feral cats to get to them).

The new nest, in the back of the carport, right by where I park.

Earlier Today

As you may know, the past few weeks I’ve been going over to the sad, grass-less horse pen to give Fiona and Apache hay to tide them over until their evening feeding. Well, Big Red, the only hen remaining from my previous flock, has figured this out. She didn’t get to be the only one left by being a slow learner.

Most mornings, there she is, barreling toward me, wanting her sunflower seeds NOW. The only morning she didn’t show up, Chris found that she had laid a sad egg with no shell (she’s old), which has inspired me to get her some actual chicken food this weekend to go with her seeds.

Today, she didn’t charge at me, because she was busy. I’d actually been wondering where she got her water, because I’m not sure her old water trough made from the cabin’s air conditioner runoff is still there.

chicken balanced on a water bucket
I may be old, but I’m still quite flexible!

Well, there she was, on the edge of Fiona’s water bucket, drinking away. It was so cute. That inspires me to keep filling the bucket all the way up!

A red hen
The water was great! Now I’m ready to have my sunflower seeds.

Once she was done, she strode right over and requested her morning ration. I just love that hen.

I’m sending love and hopes for understanding for each of us. Remember, everyone you meet is pretty stressed out right now and probably not at their best.

Mostly Good Animal News

I hope all of you who celebrate Independence Day in The US have a safe and fun holiday. And now for the news update.

Guinea Drama Part 2

I went out to feed the birds yesterday, and lo and behold, there were only five guinea keats. I fed them and was confused. So when Chris got home, I asked if we weren’t supposed to have seven. He said yep. Crap.

I then looked more carefully at their cage. Since it got put in the chicken pen, it’s been on grass. That made what WERE small holes into bigger holes. Two of the little dickenses had escaped.

The five remaining ones, nicely arranged.

About that time, Alfred skipped by looking very happy. Well, there was one keat. We still haven’t found the other.

Henhouse Happiness

As we were standing around lamenting the loss of the guinea fowl, Lee asked when we could combine the two chicken groups. I said now, I guess. So everyone is together now.

We’re taking over!

The older ones definitely are the bosses, but they aren’t attacking or anything, other than Clarence, showing what a manly rooster he is. He and Bruce are okay.

Gracie wanted to help Bertie and Ginger eat grass.

This means we can add our new nesting boxes and expand the run some more. We’re working on that, and more shade, today.

The new hens clustered for a while but it’s better now.

How’s Apache, You Ask?

I’ve been walking him a little bit every day. Today Chris came over to observe his gait, and we are pleased to report he’s walking pretty normally.

Grass! Yay!

So we let him and Fiona enjoy some green grass and loving for a while. They’re so good, just relaxing with us.

Happy to be out of that pen.

And you can sure tell Apache has lost weight. That’s one fine butt with no belly showing through!

His best side?

And of course we need to end with the cutest thing ever.

Do you have a treat?

Murder, Most Fowl

It’s a chicken pun, and a guinea story.

Ah, ranching. It’s never dull. So, a couple of nights ago, something got into the guinea pen and did away with two light ones and one dark one. Damn.

It’s a real murder mystery, because whatever it was got into the pen somehow and broke their necks. One’s head was out of the chicken wire, but the rest weren’t. It’s as if something got them but couldn’t get them out!

They were way off the ground!

Whatever it was either had to climb up high to get in, or fly, because they were on a shipping crate. And the holes in their cage were small.

In any case, they gave up, but left a scent that the dogs all smelled, especially Gracie that morning.

We like the new water fountain!

The panicked flock is now well inside the chicken run, where Bruce is guarding them, along with his gals. They are happy to have grass and bugs to enjoy, and they can bond with the chickens.

Thanks for our new digs!

Those are all fine. Clarence is very happy now, and filling out nicely. His green tail feathers are so pretty.

Clarence the cockerel

The old ones do seem okay with their dude now.

We want to go out and chase grasshoppers. Even that big new interloper.

The new ones are getting more and more accustomed to us feeding and coming in. They run around after bugs and away from Bruce.

Bruce corralling his gals.

They don’t eat out of my hand like the other three hens, but Patty is especially friendly. She’s also very beautiful, even though she’s still the smallest.

Pretty and friendly Patty.

We hope to finish their nest boxes soon, since they are maturing, and to join the two runs. Next is another expansion. Chicken World will be glorious.

You just want to paint those nails! Pandemic activity!

Book Report: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

What a joy it has been to read What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing–What Birds Are Doing and Why, written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley (as I said to Anita, yes, THAT Sibley). The man responsible for the many Sibley field guides has just published this labor of love, a large-format book with beautiful, often life-size illustrations.

book cover of what it's like to be a bird
It’s a big, beautiful book.

The accompanying text is organized in a fun and interesting way, where slowly but surely, you’re able to learn all about how birds “work,” mentally and physically. I learned something new on nearly every page, and I thought I knew quite a bit about birds! There are many fascinating diagrams of how birds fly, digest food, lay eggs, and so much more, too.

It’s fun to learn the difference between birds whose eggs hatch fully able to get around and do things (precocial), like chickens, and birds whose eggs hatch all naked and vulnerable (altricial), like purple martins (photo below is from a Master Naturalist blog post I just sent out, by my friend Donna).

newborn purple martins
These little dudes can’t do much other than open their mouths and ask for food.
a page from a book
A sample page, showing how pelicans catch fish. It’s not how you imagined, I’m guessing, unless you’re an ornithologist.

I spent a long time just looking at the illustrations, and plan to keep the book out on the coffee table, so I can leaf through it when I need some inspiration. I can see many other uses for the book. It would be fun to share with younger folks, who can look at the pictures while an adult tells them how birds sing or how a woodpecker keeps from getting concussions while pecking. If I had grandchildren, that’s what I’d do!

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive guide to the birds of North America. Sibley chose common birds seen throughout the region as exemplars of various bird traits, though he did do his best to show examples of each type of bird, from water birds to songbirds. If you want ALL the birds, buy one of his guides. But to learn how birds “tick” from an educated lay person’s point of view AND enjoy some amazing artwork, you cannot go wrong with What It’s Like to Be a Bird.

Animal Farm Report

No, this is not a report about a book I read in high school that’s eerily reminiscent of today. I’m just updating on the ranch animals.

How’s Apache?

We continue to monitor the heck out of him. He’s walking fairly normally, so we will slowly start exercising him. Yesterday Sara and I walked him around for about ten minutes. And yes, he stuffed as much green grass in himself as he could.

Still eating hay.

He’s on a different feed, new supplements and the Buteless herbs. And he gets his coronal band painted most days. Pampered!

As for Fiona, she loathes sunscreen. Sigh.

Today we’re going to get a lot of straw that we can leave out for them to chomp during the day, since Apache and Fiona are in the dry lot a while longer.

The Other Horses

Today I tried a real ride on Lakota, the dreamy palomino. It was interesting to ride such a well trained horse. He sure backed up well, and he trotted over obstacles!

The ride was helpful for me, because I was able to convince him eating grass was not on the agenda. And my use of the reins got better, thanks to Sara’s help. Making strides!

Spice is getting fungus medication and it’s making her look worse, so far. But that may be appropriate. She and Lakota are now eating down the grass in the small paddock, so it will be bad enough for poor Apache, eventually. Ugh.

And Birds?

The guinea keats are growing like crazy and starting to lose hair on their necks, as you can see here.

We think we’re cute.

They’re still pretty ugly, but will be beautiful adults.

No more fairy eggs! The ones on the left are from yesterday.

Clarence the rooster has finally been accepted by Bertie and Ginger. He’s usually out with them now. I just hope he starts fertilizing them soon. Poor Fancy Pants keeps brooding.

At least we’re in the same general vicinity.

The others are developing personalities. Hedy seems to be the boss. I see her eating oyster shells, so I hope that means she’s a hen. Her tail is suspiciously attractive.

Pretty Hedy

And Bruce never ceases to amuse me. He’s bossing like a boss and fluffing his crazy feather variety all the time. And trying to crow (no luck yet from either rooster).

I think I’m cute.

Cute Animals for Scary Times

Really, I do understand why people are being cautious these days. The rate of coronavirus infections in Milam County has skyrocketed. I have been limiting where I go, and even wearing my mask to cross the street. I ordered a lot of new masks today, too, since I’m wearing them more and getting them dirty.

Question mark butterfly
This question mark butterfly is stunningly beautiful, and was right outside my office door.

My family and the companies I am affiliated with are all being very careful. There have been two people die who work for my Austin employer, though I do not know what caused it. Sure makes you pause and want to hug your loved ones, though you can’t.

Sleeping white dog
For the past three nights, Carlton has been lying on top of me until I get to sleep. Dogs are so loving.

What I can do is tell you some fun/mildly interesting stories about animals and share some pictures! Okay!

A house finch nest
Mama Finch says she likes it on THIS side.

First, all the birds around our Cameron offices have been continuing their festival of babies. The mockingbirds finally left their parents this week. I miss them, but Lee says now we have a carport squirrel. The swallows are down to two babies who are about ready to fledge. And the every-valiant house finches re-built their nest on the OTHER side of the garage and are sitting on eggs.

I love that nature just keeps plugging along. Some things just don’t change.

One thing that doesn’t change is Alfred and his abundance of hair. We had him pretty well cleaned out, but yesterday we noticed Harvey was getting lots of hair out of him. So, Kathleen sat and patiently removed hair for about ten minutes, before Alfred ran out of patience.

Large pile of dog hair and two dogs
I’m not sure I like this…

The rest of the night, if Kathleen even LOOKED like she was heading toward him, he ran away. Not much makes him run. We laughed a lot, and laughing is good. I hope some day we can work on his other side!

A jackrabbit in Milam County, Texas
Just chillin in the pasture.

I got a new animal sighting today, too! I saw my first jackrabbit in Milam County, right on the ranch. Someone had said they saw a really big bunny, so I think this was the one. Those are some big ears, but I felt a lot better with my ID when a couple of local friends confirmed my sighting. I am happy to see them and hope their population grows.

In horse news, Apache is walking close to normally, for which we are all very grateful. He, Fiona, and Big Red the chicken are all getting tired of living in the tiny pen not sure why Big Red is always there, but maybe she thinks shes part of the herd.

Big Red, Apache, and Fiona
Good morning. We would like to eat now.
Ginger the chicken
I did not ask for a husband.

And in bird news, the guinea fowl are growing like crazy, and the new chickens are, too. The ladies are growing in their combs. Clarence, the newest rooster, has not won over Ginger and Bertie Lee yet, but its getting better every day. Thank goodness!

We think Bruce is about to get his crow going, which will be fun. At the moment he makes some funny sounds we cannot really identify.

So, that is the non-COVID news from around here. Office update soon!

Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Pampered Chickens? Nah. (Book Report)

I was a little worried that we are pampering the chickens and guineas. For example, I wandered out into the woods today to make more perches and shade for the chickens.

Hedy and Hedley are on the new perch.

And Chris made a new shelf and perch for the guineas. They have really grown since we got them!

The perch in front and the shelf in back. They still haven’t figured them out.

I feel much better now, though. I got two books of chicken projects at Tractor Supply, and they had some of the most indulgent yet cute projects imaginable. One has 40 projects; one has 50. I guess their editors had the same idea.

One of the authors, Lisa Steele, who is apparently a big chicken blogger,* puts curtains on all her hens’ nest boxes, because some are shy. Lordy. And she makes them salves and feeds them herbs. And builds many adorable hen swings.

We only got to have our shelf because Chris added chicken wire to the top of our cage so we can’t get out.

I did enjoy the projects in both books (Janet Garman is a little more serious but also obviously LOVES chickens) and got some good ideas, like making a low perch for the Jersey Giants. Right now Hedy loves it the most, followed by Henley and Bruce. The young hens do love all the new things. They still like to play.

We love our new perch, say Hedy and Henley.

Oh! I forgot to share that last night I let Ginger and Bertie run around and chase grasshoppers for a while. Lee and I were mighty entertained. Those gals are good! Even Clarence came out and caught some. I got them all back in pretty easily once they had their fill.

I hope we can let them out more often. As long as the big dogs are inside, they’re fine. Vlassic and Gracie just watch like we do!

Nope. Our chickens aren’t pampered. Just fun.

*Like I can talk. I’m a not-big sort of ranching sort of venting blogger.

Sure, We Need Another Rooster

Our friends the Lands had a crowded chicken pen and one too many roosters. So, this evening I headed over to their amazing Victorian house, which they are renovating one room at a time.

Clarence! The Big Man

I was sort of unprepared, because I thought our chicken transportation box was in the garage, but it had been taken to the dumpster. Sara suggested I take one of the feed buckets and cover it (by the way, Apache seemed a little better today).

Once I got there I realized the bucket was not going to work. Luckily, Kris had a moving box, so he set about to catching the rooster. There were a lot of chickens in the same size coop as our white one and they all hid in the back. So I stomped around and scared them to the front. In the box the Rhode Island Red went, and I drove him home.

Rooster box

We wanted to separate the rooster (Clarence) but our piece of fence had been used in the new pen. So, we tried putting him in with the young chickens.

Dude, who are you?

That did not work well. Bruce was not happy. The pullets kept getting jumped on. Not good.

Come over here, says Bertie Lee.

So Chris just picked Clarence up and put him in with the older chickens. That went way better. He ate some and said hi to the hens. Soon Ginger let him know that she is Boss Chicken.

I’m in charge here, bud.

All the big chickens then proceeded to chase Gracie. They did teamwork! A bonding moment.

See Clarence, we chase this.

By the time we left, Clarence had discovered he can fly, and was happily on the roost branch.

King of the roost.

I think it will be fine.