June 27, 2011

The other morning, we had the very unusual experience of waking up to find that overnight we'd gone from two baby guineas to three! While this sounds like it's going to be a happy story, I'll go ahead and warn you that it's not. The reappeared third keet was obviously weak and lagging behind its siblings. By mid-afternoon, I found the baby over by the chicken pen sprawled out on it's side, eyes closed, looking quite dead. When I picked it up, however, I noticed that it was still breathing. I assumed I would be holding it for its final few breaths, but 15 minutes later, it was still breathing. So, I switched from hospice mode into intensive care mode. I have absolutely no idea how to care for a baby bird, but for a while it looked like I might be doing some good. I brought the baby inside, gave it a warm, safe place to recover some strength and attempted to get some fluids into it every so often. Within a couple of hours it was up and frantically trying to get out of its dishpan prison. It could hear the other guineas outside and was quite desperate to rejoin them. I took it back outside and set it in the yard near Silver and the other two babies. For a moment, there was a joyful reunion, but when Silver started to wander off it became obvious that my little patient was not going to be able to keep up. Silver kept looking back over her shoulder, but she seemed to have realized it was a lost cause and was moving on. At this point, the baby seemed to give up as well. It was still alive at bedtime, but it did not make it through the night. So, we are back to two babies. Here are a couple of photos of the forlorn little baby. You can really see what I mean about them having bright orange feet!

Are you my mother?

June 22, 2011

Starry StarPod Nights

There is definitely something magical about sleeping in the starpod. You can feel every breeze, see every star, watch the clouds and the airplanes roll by, and hear every noise. People think that living way out in the country is quiet, but the night is actually quite noisy. There are the standard nature sounds such as crickets, frogs, whippoorwills and occasionally coyotes. Then there are the "domesticated nature" sounds like cows mooing, dogs barking and guineas squawking. Finally you have the actual human noises, such as cars, radios blaring, and redneck shouting matches (Yes, unfortunately the starpod is situated in a unique sound current that carries all the noises from one of our nearby neighbors - a family swarming with cats and shirtless teenage boys that all got kicked out of a local trailer park for causing trouble. Comforting, eh?)

Joe is one-hundred-percent head over heels in love with the starpod. I'm pretty sure it will take below freezing temperatures to convince him to ever sleep inside again. In fact, I sleep in the starpod half because I truly enjoy it and half because it's the only way I get to sleep with my husband anymore. Joe is also completely immune to all of the nighttime noises and will literally sleep through anything. Last night, for instance, we had cloud cover rather than the usual stars. Somewhere in the middle of the night, that cloud cover turned into serious winds, lightning and thunder and just enough rain to cover the bottom of a bucket (yay!!). Whereas the glass roof kept all the rain off of us, the screened walls let all the wind through and it was quite an experience to have lightning dancing right over my head! I was tempted to abandon ship and head back to the house, but I actually managed to fall back asleep. I was woken again later, after the storm had passed and the winds had died down, by very loud and insistent guinea squawking. Guineas are known for "sounding the alarm" so to speak, but they are (mine anyway) also known for crying wolf a lot. I tried to ignore them and go back to sleep, but thoughts of the vulnerable little keets got me hiking back down to the house with the flashlight. Of course, as soon as I got down there, all the birds got quiet and I didn't see anything going on. The squawkers were three of the adult guineas perched in a locust tree, and nothing seemed to be harassing them in particular. So, back to the starpod I went to finish out my night's sleep uninterrupted.

This morning I was very sad, but not at all surprised, to find that Silver only had two babies trailing behind her. I have read in several places that guineas are not good mothers. That does not at all seem to be the case. They are very devoted mothers, but their barely-domesticated personalities put them at the same risk as every other wild mother out there. I just looked up a wildlife study done in 2005 that estimated a survival rate of 1.1 poults (baby turkeys) per wild turkey hen. It's a tough world out there!! When you're a juicy little nugget (depending on your perspective) the size of a golf ball, you hardly stand a chance. I'm amazed that any wild baby birds make it to adulthood, and my guineas are no different. They just happen to be the "wild" baby birds that run around my yard, so I am keenly aware of the trials they face. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that at least 1.1 of these little guys makes it to adulthood.

June 21, 2011

I don't have a rain gauge, but we are in the middle of what appears to be our weekly rain event measuring "not enough to cover the bottom of a bucket". All morning long I have been watching the dark clouds roll past...just to the north of us. Yet again, Blacksburg is literally stealing our thunder. The storms are SO close this time that I actually hear the sounds of downpours just behind the house. It seems the radar maps have teemed up with the Verizon Wireless service area maps and put a tiny white square directly over our property that signals a no service/rain zone. Yep, in the time it has taken to write this paragraph, the rain is over and the blue skies are here. As you can tell, I'm a little bitter about this whole extremely localized drought thing, so we'll move on to happier topics now.

I've been adding buckets of water to the pond lately to keep it from disappearing, and these little guys are very glad that I have! Even frogs go through that awkward development stage on the precipice of adulthood. These little guys still have tails, but they're climbing out of the water to test their new lungs and legs.

It has been a delight to watch how devoted these two guineas are to caring for their babies. The whole flock of guineas even get involved at times. The other morning, they bravely worked together as a group to distract and even slightly intimidate our neighbor's dog, Hank (aka the world's largest dog), while Silver herded her babies into the cover of a thick stand of weeds. (Hank regularly makes early morning visits, and I can always count on the guineas to announce his presence. This is a good thing because while he is really a sweet, goofy giant, he does have a history of chicken killing. Yikes!) Despite the expert parental care, we are down to five keets at the moment.

Finally, and at the risk of being late for work, here's a photo of our peach tree harvest! We had to fight the worms for the best parts, but what we did get was delicious!!

June 15, 2011

Well, it turns out I do remember how to pull weeds. This is a good thing because the weeds did not take a vacation from growing while we were gone. Overall though, the garden looked great. It seems to have survived the week without us, and the lack of rain, just fine. The potatoes are starting to look kinda rough. I'm not sure if they're just finishing their cycle (early, it seems) or if the potato beetles are taking a toll. There don't seem to be a serious enough infestation to be causing the lack of vigor, but who knows. The strawberries have definitely finished their peak. They are "Everbearers", so hopefully we will continue to get a moderate amount through the summer.

When I was out picking the strawberries yesterday evening, I had a wonderful surprise! As usual, the whole group of chickens and guineas was hovering outside the garden fence waiting to snatch up the rotten berries I toss out, but this time Silver was there as well...and she brought along her new keets (that's the technical term for baby guinea)!! There are six babies in this batch, three of which are light colored like Silver. If you haven't seen one in person, it is hard to describe how adorable a baby guinea is. They are half the size of a baby chicken, like a fuzzy little golf ball with bright orange feet. Silver seems to be a very calm, confident, capable mother. Last night I woke up to the sound of at least two barred owls hooting very loudly and rapidly to each other. It sounded like they were on the front porch! I was very nervous for the new babies, but this morning there were still six. Whew!

I'll try to take some good keet pictures, but in the meantime, here are some beach photos, courtesy of Anne Elise and Olga.

Anne Elise and Kerry, two very pregnant beach babes!

Our gracious hosts.

Lots of gourmet cooking went on at this beach house. This was pizza night!

Wait a second....

She's walking!

June 10, 2011

Beach Week

Once again, my wonderful boss and his family invited us along on their beach vacation. This time we were at a beautiful house in Duck, NC right on the beach. You didn't even need flip flops to get to the ocean. We spent three full days and four nights enjoying the sand, the sun, the company and the delicious food! When you combine the cooking skills and creativity of all our beach-house-mates, you couldn't find better food at any gourmet restaurant.

The ocean was down right ice cold in the early morning, but warmed up nicely by the afternoon. The waves were calm, so we did a lot of playing in the ocean. Joe even dusted off his rusty surfing skills and had a blast!

Since we were only two hours from Va Beach, we decided to split our week in half and come visit Joe's family. On Sunday, we head back to the mountains. This week has totally spoiled me. I haven't done one single productive thing in days! I don't know if I'll even remember how to pull weeds when I get home. The only downside to this trip has been leaving Wilson behind. I am definitely looking forward to seeing that lousy beagle again. (Wilson is under the impression that lousy is a compliment, so don't tell him otherwise.)

Even though I did bring my camera with me on this vacation, I've been too lazy to even take it out and use it. Hopefully I can filch some photos from one of my vacation companions.

June 03, 2011

I DO have tadpoles! They are small and spend alot of time hiding under all the lilypads, but they are there. I'm pretty sure they're wood frog tadpoles. So exciting!

This brings me to answer the question my cousin Ashlee asked me, and probably many of you are wondering - "Why exactly do you want frogs in the pond? Just to have more animals around?" Good question, Ashlee.

Well, I guess the general reason is that I do love animals. I get immense enjoyment from my dog, my cat, my chickens and guineas. I'm easily entertained, and I've spent countless hours engaged in the sport of chicken watching. Even without tadpoles, I find my little pond mesmerizing and will sit beside it watching the honeybees come to drink. (Maybe this is what happens when you don't have TV.) It makes me happy to find snakes in the compost pile or hear a family of coyotes yipping at the moon. I have a degree in wildlife sciences, and although I don't currently use it for any gainful employment purposes, I love living amongst a thriving wildlife population (despite the occasional conflict in interests, but I'd love it if the local tick population wasn't quite so thriving [make that any blood sucking, disease transmitting critter, and squash bugs too because I just don't like them] .)

The slightly more specific reason is that the farm I've worked on for seven years now has a beautiful, terraced rock garden, and in the middle is a little pond. It is always FULL of leopard frogs of all life stages, and lots of lily pads and flowers. I've always loved it and wanted to have one of my own, and now I do! Complete with tadpoles. :)

June 01, 2011

Somewhere in this mix of fluff balls are my new chickens! My friend and I combined an order, and she is taking care of them all until they are big enough to come home and join the rest of the flock. It's impossible to tell who is who at this point. They are living at the farm I work on, so I'll get to watch them grow. So exciting!

Check out this ferocious lion I found down at the watering hole! ;)

Sadly, it looks like another year without tadpoles in the pond, but I do have these beauties to enjoy.