Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “Mallard ducklings”

Just ducky(s)

It’s turned out to be a beautiful Saturday – beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine, with a nice breeze, a few wispy-puffy clouds here and there.  The original weather report (yes, we northwesterners are obsessed with this topic – I’ve had more than one recent transplant remark about it; give it time is all I can think) was for clouds and showers, with some sun breaks.  Not promising.  So this is not only welcome, but unexpected.  A treat.  And I will strive to stay motivated, when all I want to do is grab a book and fall asleep in the sun reading it. 

The ducks are enjoying the sunshine too – though the clouds and wet are just fine with them, too.  They especially like it when I run the sprinkler in the sun, preferably over their pool – it triggers instant bathing and splashing; and shows how well suited they are for the wet.  I know that sounds patently obvious, and it is, but when you see it up close and personal, it really inspires awe at the perfection of design.  These little mallards are a marvel of engineering – they can swim, dabble, even dive briefly, and walk easily on land, and they can fly, taking off from a standing position and gaining altitude quickly.  It really is amazing to see the command of all three environments, like no other creatures.  Sure, they’re not going to hike for miles, with walking being their weakest skill, but they’re plenty capable on terra firma, as my rescue operation in May proved.  The flying part takes a little bit of growing and strength building, and “my” ducklings are mastering it as well – so well that I’m now down to four. 

Out of the nine little puffballs I rescued on Mother’s Day, only four remain here.  I have no idea if the five that left are okay – I have to assume so – and although I know it’s natural, it still bothers me.  I’d envisioned a different scenario for this part of the equation, one where I took the nine of them to a safe pond or lake and released them, in some sort of glorious, Born Free moment. But they obviously have other ideas.  And of the four that remain, three of them have issues that are keeping them here a little longer, if not permanently.  Let me explain.

On Sunday, July 3, I moved them out of their little pen – a.k.a. my chicken tractor – into a larger pen I created by fencing off a section of my back yard.  This area is approximately 25 or 30 feet wide by about 50 or 75 feet long, carved out of the hillside and enclosed on two sides by a rock wall approximately 4 feet high .  It’s kind of a cute little area and with a minimum of fencing (using the panels I had built for the sheep pen in May) I was able to enclose it and put a kiddie pool in there for them.  As expected, they loved the new pool (a great improvement over their repurposed cat litter pan pool – only 5” deep and only 1’ x 2’ in dimension – which only held three or four at a time) and the extra room.  What wasn’t expected was the immediate flying practice they began.  With the extra room (and no fencing overhead), they all started flapping their wings furiously and taking off for short, low flights – looking remarkably (to me) controlled in both the flying and landing.  All they needed was some strength building.  They did manage to escape several times on foot – the fence wire was obviously large enough for them to slip through, so I did a makeshift barricade along the bottom with 1×6 boards and scrap plywood.  It’s quite attractive.  (!)  The dogs were of course excited by the escapes, and Daisy in her enthusiasm to help (she actually had the herding instincts just right) cornered one roughly between plywood and rock wall.  I pulled her off him (as best I can tell, there were five females and four males in the bunch – subtle differences in markings and bill colors) and put him in with the others.  He was limping, but seemed fine otherwise.  Ducks’ legs are extremely fragile, for all their paddling strength, especially compared to chickens legs, which can be used as a temporary handle without harm to the chicken.  I hoped it was only bruising or a sprain – he seemed fine otherwise.

The next day was July 4th, and while they seemed a little edgy with the noise from area fireworks (cellular memory?  It sounded much like gunshot…) they did okay.  Late that night I made one last check on them before bed and did a double take; counting heads multiple times told me I was down by one.  Only eight ducklings remained.  Perhaps the firestorm of blasts from the bottle rockets, M-80s and various and sundry obnoxious banging frightened one into flying off.  Dang.  The next morning I checked for evidence of predation – one of the dogs (though they’ve mostly been good with the ducklings) or wild carnivore (which aren’t in evidence, and I assume hunt in quieter, dog-free zones, but I know a tasty, easy meal is quite attractive) or even an overhead hit by a hawk or owl would have left at least a smattering of feathers.  Nothing.  After work that day, later in the evening, I heard quacking across the street but failed to put two and two together until the next day – it was probably my missing duck.  As the sun set I could see the ducks getting agitated, like they wanted to fly (perhaps hearing their sister quacking).  One of them flew up and landed on the hillside; the dogs ran up and s/he flew back into the yard with the others.  I think the instinct to find a safe evening roost (a pond or marsh environment, safe from things like raccoons or coyotes) was telling them to fly.

The following day (July 6), they again began their evening agitation, with one of the girls (same one as yesterday evening?) flying up and out, low, towards the woods behind the house.  I was in my office and saw all three dogs in a dead run after her.  I got up and ran too.  By the time I got outside there was no sign of any of them, duck or dogs – I did a quick trot along the back fence line and along the north side.  I saw Pal, jaunty and in normal “hunt” mode (he’s always looking for something).  As I came back toward the rest of the ducks, Farley came out of the woods with Daisy following him…with a duck stuffed in his mouth.  I could see the duck wasn’t floppy – it almost seemed to be looking around, it’s neck extended – and yelled at him to DROP IT!!  He of course trotted away from me, stumbling after him and yelling.  I continued after him, and hollering at him to do something that was the exact opposite of his instinct.  And, good boy, he did finally listen to me.  I ran up to her, still yelling (Daisy was interested) and she tried to get away from me.  She didn’t look mortally wounded, but very shocky and unable to move well, flopping along with her wings extended.  I caught her, and held her struggling body as I checked for injury.  Her heart was beating rapidly but her wings extended normally and there was no blood or torn flesh.  I picked her up and brought her to the others, putting her in the pool for a safer feeling as she recovered.  And now I have two limping ducks.  As of today (July 9) she seems better (as does the other limper), but she’s not flown since.

Early on Thursday morning I woke up to a very agitated Daisy, whining and barking and pawing at the door of her crate (she’s still too young to be trusted loose while I’m unconscious all night).  I thought she had to go to the bathroom, and got up to let all the dogs out.  All of them immediately ran out to the pasture, where two ducklings were walking around, looking tiny in the big field, but still managing to cover a lot of ground.  The sheep were interested, and chased them a bit but they were otherwise safe.  After much excitement from the dogs, I managed to coax them all back in the house and fed them breakfast, continuing with my morning routine.  When I left for work I checked on the rest of the ducklings in the pen – there were only five in there, so evidently three flew that morning.  When I got home from work that evening the two from the pasture were waiting to get back into the pen with the rest.  I was happy to reunite them by removing one of the low boards.  Still, I was down to seven.

Friday morning revealed that three more had left in the wee hours.  I resigned myself to the fact that this is what was supposed to happen, and how nature works.  It bothered me that they were leaving without an experienced adult to show them the ropes – I assume that if they were with their mother they would have stayed together and fledged as a group.  But maybe not.  And maybe if they had been raised in the wild all 9 wouldn’t have made it to this point.  There are lots of hungry mouths out there, and I know I kept them safe from that.

So this morning the same four were there – my two limpers, the girl with the funny wing, and a male.  Maybe this would be my core unit for a while?  I can hope.  Daisy spent most of the afternoon sleeping in the pen with them.  She loves to go in there to eat their food, and pays little attention to them otherwise.  It was cute to see her conked out (she had a busy day at puppy class) with them nearby and mutually oblivious. 

Update: Sunday morning dawned with one duck in the pasture, and another missing, and just two girls in the pen.  The one in the pasture had the dogs a little crazy.  I brought the dogs inside and watched as the duck walked out of the pasture, across the driveway, and found the little pond in front.  He had a grand old time in there for a while.  After an hour or so, I went out to herd him back to the pen with the other two, so I could let the dogs out without wreaking havoc.  He went readily and they are three.  He’s one of the limpers (from the cornering by Daisy a week ago) and is almost completely back to normal.  The other two are the girl with the bad wing, and I think the girl that Farley caught the other day.  (Her wing feathers got tweaked that day, so don’t lay as smoothly as they should.) If it is her, she’s not limping at all today.  We’ll see what tomorrow holds.  As it is, the longer they stay here the better – I can hear the hunters shooting in the  nearby wildlife reserve today.  I hope they aren’t training their gun dogs using my babies.


Juicy Jungle June

The best of intentions have been waylaid once again.  Life has a way of happening – time marches on and all that – and before you know it an entire month passes by.  There’s no question that the month of May into June is a busy one in the Northern hemisphere, and especially if you’re at all outdoorsy or garden-minded.  And here in the Seattle area, it’s almost like living in the tropics (well, except for the cool temps) – the vegetative growth this time of year is just phenomenal.  The jungle-like growth peaks in late June (solstice) and from here on out it will slow down as the flowers and seed pods begin to form, just as much going on but not quite so frenetic feeling as the juicy spring growth. 

This is, of course, a long winded entrance to saying that I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post here!  Despite my best intentions to stay more current and conversational with frequent short posts, I’m once again playing catch up here on interests, doings and updates.  A lot can happen in a month, and here are some of the things I’ve been up to (I’ll probably miss more than I’ll report on!). 

The weather continues to be a major player, with most of May being unseasonably cold, and plenty of the wet stuff too.  June followed suit, and while it is a skooch warmer, it’s been rainy and cool for much of the month.  The bees are hanging in there.  I had a scare a couple of weeks ago where I thought I’d lost my queen, but things seem to be okay.  I did an inspection were I saw no larvae at all (compared to my jam packed frames of mid-May).  A more thorough inspection (like, every single frame) the next day showed a handful of small larvae on one (just one!) frame.  The rest of the frames that had comb (only about 50 percent of the frames have comb built so far) were capped cells, with some burr comb that looked like supersedure (queen) cells.  I also saw a large number of dead drones on the stoop below the landing – obviously there’d been a good sized hatch at some point.  

The frames all felt lighter than they did just a few weeks earlier, but at the advice of another beekeeper I waited and did another inspection a week later (rather than run out to purchase a new queen to introduce).  He felt that perhaps the lack of larvae was just the fact that the queen had nowhere to lay eggs – yet.  As a new hive this year, the bees have been working around the clock to build comb, as well as tend brood, collect pollen and nectar and all the other myriad things they do to keep the hive going.  On my next inspection I found more larvae and even eggs (normally hard to see) in many open cells.  The capped brood had hatched and there was now room for more laying.  More hatch means more bees to build more comb and collect more nectar, etc.  The collecting nectar part has been a little weak, due to the previously mentioned wet, cold weather.  The bees can handle one or the other, somewhat, but the combination keeps them in the hive and grounded.  

A chance conversation yesterday with another beekeeper at the local hardware store (I knew one of the employees there had hives, but hadn’t run into him before) made me realize that my bees were hungry.  I took out the feeder back in May when they were going great guns (lots of brood and lots of honey being made), but the ensuing wet weather, large hatch, and lack of available nectar had them surviving on the honey stores they’d just begun to make.  The light bulb came on as he talked – my frames were so light…no wonder!  I put a pint of sugar water out there yesterday evening and it was drained by midday today.  I checked to be sure it hadn’t just leaked out (nope) and filled it up again.  This weekend has been very wet, though today it’s been merely overcast, not raining.  As long as they’re draining it like this, I will continue to feed them.  We’re a couple weeks out from blackberry blooming – the annual nectar bonanza for bees in this area – and by then I’ll hopefully have plenty of healthy bees ready to maximize the abundance and store enough honey to see them through the winter months. 

The garden is coming along slowly too.  I finally got all the compost spread and planted some seeds a few weeks back.  When I planted what seeds I had, I realized how gi-normous the garden plot is (~765 sq. ft); while I’ve had larger vegetable gardens before (I’m thinking of the Jack-and-the Beanstalk bounty of when I lived along the Issaquah Creek – fertile bottomland where you basically just dropped a seed and stood back), but this one is my first with ‘just me’ and exclusively for veggies.  Most of my gardening in the past decade or so has been medicinal herbs and edible landscaping beds versus a true vegetable garden plot.  I have it about half planted now, and need to get a few more things in the ground before it gets too late.  I have some stuff for fall planting, too, so there’s time, but with solstice just a day away, it feels more urgent.  And of course there’s the maintenance of weeding and pest control.  Slugs have been dining on my lettuce sprouts, as well as my pumpkin and green bean seedlings.  I go out at night with a flashlight and collect the offenders, then feed them to the ducks the next day.  

The critters are all doing well – the sheep are happy on their green pasture and plenty of browse.  The pasture needs mowing right now, as they tend to ignore all the seed heads in favor of tender sprouts and leafy browse (the mowing is scheduled for next Saturday).  I let them out to graze the rest of the property too, though they usually end up on the front lawn.   The littlest sheep, Pebbles, is especially goatlike in her foraging.  I see her standing on her hind legs trying to get up to low hanging branches of the maples and fruit trees.  She loves any pruning trimmings, and of all of them seems happiest with the variety of browse to graze.  My friend Susan came by a few weeks ago and loaded up Bo and Curly, the two horned boys.  She’s the one who kept them for me last summer until I got my pasture fenced.  It’s a win-win for us both – she gets her steep pastures mowed and my pasture isn’t overgrazed.  And the other three – Pebbles, Cinnamon, and Conan (Coco) – aren’t bullied by the two more aggressive ones.  When they come back from their summer mowing job it’s likely that one or both will go to the butcher.  Bo can be a jerk – butting the others over food as well as the fence, gate, wall, etc.  After a couple months in the confinement area (during the winter they are off the pasture to prevent overgrazing) he starts making moves at me too, which will earn him a trip to the freezer this year.  Since he’s super aggressive with the dogs, they can have the last laugh dining on him all winter.  

The ducklings have been growing and thriving – they’ve been out in the chicken tractor for several weeks now and are loving it – a fresh patch of grass every day or so, and a pan of water to swim and play in.  They are beginning to look like ducks, feathering out and are even growing wings now.  Chicks grow wings pretty much immediately – within the first week or so they have feathered out wings and usually tail feathers too, even while the rest is just fuzz.  Ducklings’ wings are just useless stubbies until about four or five weeks, when they start to grow longer and even grow wing feathers.  Right now they have juvenile plumage, which means that they all look like females.  They are all still mostly peeping, but every once in a while I hear a quack, so I know there’s for sure at least one female in the bunch (male ducks don’t (can’t) quack). They continue to be very wary of me, but the dogs don’t faze them.  Pal loves to point on them, when he’s not pointing on the chickens or hunting moles (he’s a champion mole hunter – at least two so far! – he’s lucky I don’t mind the pits he digs on his hunts. 

One or two other things I’ve been up to…

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