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Friday, May 30, 2014

Bear Attacks Chicken Run (Blog 192)

Last week, I wrote about Sweetie Pie's panicked escape and our three-hour search for her.  A few days later, Elaine and I learned why the hen and the rest of the flock were acting so stressed last Tuesday.

We found bear paw prints on the compost bin that borders the chicken run, and we also saw where a bruin had bent down the top of one side of the fence, torn off the netting that covers that side, and left claw prints on the wood support.  The only thing, we believe, that kept the bear from entering the compound was the fact that it must have been repeatedly shocked by the solar powered fence (two wires about eight inches apart run around the perimeter) as it tried to break in.

The day after the attack, the chickens refused to leave the henhouse and neither Boss nor Johnny crowed.  It was as if every bird was trying to hunker down and stay inside for safety.  The quartet only came out after much encouragement from me.

We have taken a number of precautions to keep our birds safe in terms of fortifying the run, but nothing we have done has been as important as constructing the solar powered electric fence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Return of the Prodigal Chicken Hen (Blog 191)

Sunday when our son Mark was visiting, he and I were outside working in the backyard.  It was time to put our four heritage Rhode Island Reds back in the run, so I called out "Let's go home" to the quartet, and the chickens immediately walked back inside the enclosure on their own.

Mark expressed amazement at how well trained our chickens were and asked "Do they always behave that well?"

Turns out, the answer is no.

Tuesday, Elaine and I observed the opposite of good behavior in our birds.  We let our flock out at 4:00 P.M. and at 5:00, I called out "Let's go home."

Boss, Johnny, and Baby headed back toward the run with Sweetie Pie lagging behind.  As the first three reached the doorway, one of the trio gave the alarm cluck which sent Sweetie Pie into full-blown panic.  As I shut the door on the lead three chickens, Sweetie Pie ran into the woods to the right of the driveway.

I quickly followed her into the woods, meanwhile calling to her and calling out to Elaine to come help.  But this woods was clear cut four years ago and has grown back extremely thick.  Soon I lost sight of the hen.

For the next hour we called to Sweetie Pie but she never responded. Our son-in-law David came over and he, Elaine, and I searched in vain.   I then had the idea of playing a tape of a rooster crowing, the hope being that Sweetie Pie would come to that sound - a forlorn hope as things evolved.

Then we asked our neighbor Kim and her daughter Sarah to come over with two of their dogs for tracking purposes.  That scheme failed as well. I did glimpse Sweetie Pie one time in the thicket, but when I called to her she went the opposite way.

Knowing that Sweetie Pie was unlikely to survive a night in the woods (given all the predators about) and with just about 15 minutes of daylight left, I had one last gambit to play.  That is, Elaine and I would continuously circle the clearcut with the hope that Sweetie Pie would panic and begin alarm clucking when she realized that she was all by herself in a darkening woods.

Sure enough, Sweetie Pie did begin alarm clucking, and I ran to the sound.  I spotted her through the undergrowth, and deciding that calling would be futile, I scudded toward her.  She bolted and I chased her for about 40 yards until I made a leap over a deadfall and ran her down.  Tucking her tight to my stomach, I held her firmly as Elaine and I walked back to the chicken run.

We opened the top of the henhouse and deposited Sweetie Pie inside, where Sweetie Pie once again emitted the alarm cluck.  Johnny walked over to her and pecked her three times hard on the head.

"Serves her right for misbehaving so much," said Elaine.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Elaine at Quilt Camp (Blog 190)

My students at Lord Botetourt High School often, as the weekend approaches, ask what my wife Elaine and I will be doing.  When Elaine goes away to quilt camp as she is doing this week, and I give the students that information, they almost always laugh at the thought of quilters going on  a getaway.

As much I miss Elaine when she is away at quilt camp (and she usually goes on four or so of these outings per year), I am thrilled that she can do so.  Elaine enjoys so much the camaraderie of the other ladies, plus she is able to work - and receive advice - on her many projects.

Elaine will return around noon on Sunday, and I will be overjoyed to see her.  And she will have so much to tell me about the events of the long weekend, how much she learned and accomplished.  It is great that she enjoys this hobby.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Strutting Turkey Hen (Blog 189)

This past Monday, I witnessed something while turkey hunting that I had never seen before - a strutting hen.  I had placed a decoy out in a Botetourt County field and was yelping and clucking.  When out of the corner of my right eye, I glimpsed a turkey marching - and marching is the right word - directly to the decoy.

The turkey was all "puffed out" in full strut.  I eased up my 12 gauge, clicked off the safety, and leveled the gun on the bird, which I thought was a gobbler.

Fortunately, I waited to have a better view of the bird because when the turkey reached the decoy, it was very clear that the bird was a female.  No beard and a dark colored head, plus a fairly small body clearly indicated that the turkey was a hen.

The hen then proceeded to circle the decoy, angrily clucking at it.  Soon the hen was finished displaying that she was the alpha female in this part of the world, and she left in triumph.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Scarlet Tanagers and American Redstarts (Blog 188)

My Virginia spring gobbler season has been very unsatisfactory so far, as I have not punched a tag.  But the spring woods have been as glorious as ever.

Today, the closest I came to a gobbler was around 11:00 A.M. when two toms wandered by some 80 yards distant.  But for much of the day, I experienced the joy of watching some beautifully colored scarlet tanagers and American redstarts on a hunt in Craig County.

Last week, I heard my first scarlet tanagers of the year, but did not actually see one until today.  Most of the time this tanager is a creature of the tree tops, but today I observed several of these birds, which sport a scarlet body with black wings, feeding on the ground.  What's more, they were quite close and I watched them flitting among the leaf litter.

Several times, American restarts came by as well.  This bird, which has a song like a squeaky wheel, was busily going about eating insects from small trees.  The species' combination of orange and coal black is a rather unique color scheme - for sure there is nothing in the Virginia mountains that looks like it.

I also heard my first worm eating warbler of the year.  On a sad note, though, I have not yet heard a whip-poor-will or a chucks-will-widow.  Their population declines are very alarming.