Never Fear ~~ just gopher snakes. They are welcome here, where we are plagued by the blasted rodents, that have been known to take down 5′ tall sunflowers and small trees. In the last 26 years, we have seen only a few gopher snakes… about 3 or 4 feet long and very skinny. But in the span of 2 weeks recently, our cats have drawn our attention to HUGE gopher snakes! This one climbed the fence to avoid our cats, who were on both sides. Couldn’t believe it pulled itself up on the fence, and stayed there for quite some time. We think that the first one is bigger than the second one we saw, although it was in the same area. What amazed us was that they climbed so high off the ground, over 12 feet into the trees!
No longer sequestered to the spare bathroom, Lottie is nosy and curious… and keeps up on what’s going on throughout the household 24/7. She has had all her shots and has been spayed, and is very active, healthy and happy. Although she has access to the great outdoors, and loves to stalk birds and hunt for gophers, she stays inside more often lately, following Shelly around like a dog. She plays well with the other pets (for the most part), and likes to bathe and snuggle with them. A former TP shredder, she still loves to bite paper and cardboard. This box is super-fun! It was so cute when she discovered the fish in the TV tank.
Sharing the heating pad with Rose. Her little tummy looks like a parker house roll where they shaved her. Interesting how her feet are white like Rose, but all of her pads are black instead of pink.
This tiny little kitten survived more than three week living in the rose bushes in the median…in the middle of a busy parking lot. Obviously dumped there, it never ventured far. After sitting on the curb trying to catch it with a can of cat food for hours, we set a live trap and captured it. Starving and traumatized… it stayed in our spare bathroom for a week before we could hold it. She checked out at the vet a few days later and we decided to keep her and name her Lottie for her harrowing adventure. Three weeks later, she is super lovey dovey, purring instead of hissing and growling and she is silky soft and healthy. She is slowly getting introduced to the rest of the house and our other pets…and has already wormed her way into our heart. She has a wonderful life ahead of her as an indoor/outdoor cat in the country. Stay tuned for more Lottie adventures…
Since allowing our hens to free range resulted in a hawk getting a free chicken dinner, we now keep our girls locked up tight. Chickens are very industrious and will turn their yard into dry bare dirt in no time. I wanted to encourage more biological activity (aka bugs and stuff). So we’ve put in some 2.x 4s topped with wire. Separating the chickens from the ground will build the soil instead of letting it erode. Underneath is compost and grass seed. It’s starting to come up nicely and the girls are keeping it freshly trimmed and fertilized. On the lower level, we’ve added oak leaf mulch (which is abundant around here), to create a nice deep litter level. I tossed some diatomaceous earth and ashes in with the dirt in the corners where they like to take a dust bath to help with mites and fleas. Happy hens lay delicious eggs!
The raised vegetable bed is doing fabulous with all the winter rain. Harvesting this month: Swiss chard, cilantro, lettuce, kale and green onions. Colorful aeoniums are spilling out of the milk can lamp post. A pair of ducks have moved in across the way, enjoying ‘Lake Perkarsky”. This cozy little lake only happens during years with above average rainfall. Such a pretty little red centipede! Found it snuggled up under a piece of driftwood. The chicken shed is being engulfed in succulents.
Last January, we added a new coop behind the chicken shed. It is a nice covered shelter with 2×4 roosts up off the floor. This made room for more chicks and provided an easy way to collect eggs and chicken manure for our compost pile.
The four new hens have just started laying and we obviously need another nest box. The girls were making such a racket trying to share this spot! So I added another hole that opens into the inside cupboard, by cutting a board and adding some trim. Complete with a divider and plastic tub of hay ready to go. The new girls (4 out 6) love the new coop and roost in here every night. But the older hens still like to sleep in the original nest box where we brooded the new chicks last summer. The tarp on the floor catches the chicken manure for the compost pile.They started using the third nest box right away. It’s so easy to collect the eggs from the inside cupboard. Every hen lays a specific size, shape and color, so it’s easy to tell the difference.
Since our owl nest box overflowed with litter in 2011, we stared cleaning it out every year beginning for the babies of 2012. It became a tradition to empty it out every year at Thanksgiving, after the young owls had moved on, in preparation for use in the spring. This last year on 11/24/16, we got a surprise. When we started lowering the box, an owl flew out! We thought it was roosting in there because of the cooler weather. But when the box tilted we heard two cracks against the side. Shocked to see eggs inside, we put it right back up…. and waited to see what happened. The eggs were due to hatch at Christmas time.The mating behavior continued through early December and the female owl stayed in the nest box every night. Since they normally lay 3 to 5 eggs, we hoped that even if the two were damaged, it would be OK. The female was nervous after that… leaving the box and making noises in the palm tree when we weed whipped below. The weather since then has been rainy and cold… frosty even. After receiving 6 inches of rain in the last week or so, I was finally able to sit out and listen last night. It’s official! There are definitely baby owls in there. The female flew out to hunt with her mate, leaving the young alone for awhile. I could hear at least 2 or 3 baby owls screeching inside.
As to why they are breeding during the winter, I have a theory. Our last brood of young owls left last June. We also have a neighbor with owl boxes that had several babies during that time, so there were lots of owls looking for new territory. In late July, there was another couple of owls that were trying take over the nest box and our resident pair were very upset! There was fighting like I’ve never seen before. Screeching (even during the day) and going after each other like crazy! I think that this may be a new couple, and they wanted to breed and make the box their own as soon as possible. Be sure to stay tuned…
The five baby owls that hatched this year have all fledged and are roosting in our palms trees. The first three started early, and the youngest two struggled to keep up. Our front yard is still ‘home base’ for the young owls as they continue to improve their flying techniques. It’s obvious they love each other as they twitter and snuggle… encouraging one another to try new things. The parents aren’t far away and one occasionally stops by the nest box with a dead rodent and the babies let out a screech and fly there to get it. Whoever grabs it first, hops from branch to branch, trying to keep it away from its siblings, until it can swallow it. This brood of owlets have been pretty quiet so far, which indicates they have been well fed. That should change soon, as the parents withhold food as incentive to teach their babies to hunt their own prey.
Yesterday was the first day that the female owl didn’t roost in with the young ones. She was seen here during the day this past week, on the lookout for predators. The usual suspect being our cat, Buddy. Check out the video of her screeching at him. The babies seemed well behaved last night… pretty quiet without their mother around all day. She had been leaving at sunset for the past several nights to help her mate hunt. That tells us that the smallest owlet can swallow a mouse whole now (yipee!). We’ve been hearing them a lot lately… at least three distinct voices when they screech and hiss. They will be poking their heads out soon, and stepping out to practice flapping. Stay tuned…
Since we had to move our fence over recently, it seemed like a good time to do something different with this spot on the back side of our chicken shed. So began the chicken coop upgrade project.Plans began for a small attached coop when I came up with the brilliant idea of cutting through the back wall and use the existing shelves for nest boxes. We cut a hole and put up wood strips to cover the cracks in the old shed wall, and added a section of fence on the other side. The ground was leveled and covered with wire, with block walls on both sides. Salvaged wood and fiberglass was used for the next steps.A couple of 2 x 4s with smoothed edges went up for roosts. The floor was covered with straw and we added a ‘dust bath’ tub of wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Hens naturally take dust baths in dry dirt to keep away pests like mites. This tub will stay dry in here during the wet winter.
The shelf worked out beautifully for next boxes, where eggs can be gathered from inside. The large door on the downhill side allows for easy access. The hens are hesitant to use the coop as it’s new and different, but we’re optimistic that they will love it. Then we can more easily introduce new chicks in the future, using our old community nest box as a brooder. We’ll just divide the chicken yard with wire until the chicks are old enough to mix with the older hens.
Getting a huge root-bound Giant Bird of Paradise out of its pot was not an easy task. Back on September 13th, we pulled and tugged and rolled it around and around. When it finally came out, in the bottom of the concave mass of roots were two salamanders. Poor things were probably shaken up! Then we noticed what looked like a mass of eggs. We thought that they usually laid their eggs in water, and because the pot hadn’t been watered in awhile, it was barely damp. We cut off the bottom third of the root ball that held the salamanders and eggs and put it back in the pot, topped it off with a layer of leaves and a saucer to weigh it down, watered it.. and hoped for the best. A couple of weeks later, about ten teeny, tiny baby salamanders could be seen in the bottom of the pot. Recently, these three below have made an appearance on top of the leaves under the saucer. They have grown quite a bit and still are only about an inch long.
The new batch of nesting wreaths are bigger and better than before. Made with mosses, dryer lint, pet fur (freshly washed), strips of material, dried flowers and seed. With your feathered friends in mind, it’s wrapped onto a vine wreath with a wire hanger (no glue). Nesting wreaths start out as holiday decoration for your door or mantle. After the end of the year, it can hang outside, where the sunflower heads and amaranth will feed hungry birds, and then provide them with nesting material for spring.
A few weeks ago, one of our two black & white Barred Rock chickens started trying to crow in the morning. Then the other one joined in! Our neighbor verified that one was indeed male, and was growing spurs on his legs. There’s a chance this could happen when buying sexed chicks from the feed store, but it’s our first time in 20+ chicks over the years. Our chicken shed is close to our bedroom, so we don’t want a rooster, and found him a good home.
Meanwhile, the verified female chicken continues to crow every morning (see video). Hopefully when they start laying later this month, she will figure out that she’s not a rooster after all. Update 10/01/15: So much for verified female… the rooster was a late bloomer and was finally getting spurs on his legs. The crowing got to be too much and too loud. He went to a good home where he can be as loud as he wants.
The chicks are about a month old now, with just a little fuzz left, showing through their new feathers. They stick together most of the time and all five made it up onto the ‘big hen’ perch in the corner of their yard. They are getting the hang of putting themselves to bed at night, in the nest box where they were brooded. The shot below was taken through the chicken shed window and shows an interesting reflection… looks like the nest box has a window too!
A couple of weeks ago, our two remaining hens went up for adoption. Our neighbor has several older chickens that are living out their life, being spoiled next door. It’s time to start fresh with some new chicks. This is the the fourth set of baby chicks here and this picture shows the latest Nest Egg Gardens brood on their first day. Three Rhode Island Reds, and two Barred Rocks. In 8 or 9 months, they will start laying brown eggs (the dark shells blend in better when composted). Once you eat eggs that fresh, store bought eggs just don’t compare.
Our dog Reo is framed nicely behind this amazing Epiphyllum in bloom.
There are a total of three baby owls this season, and all are flying very well. There weren’t any crash landings or other mishaps as far as we know. Each one can fly back and forth to the pine tree branches with ease. Then they take test flights around the neighborhood, practicing their take offs and landings. Last night only one came out of the nest box… the other two were roosting in the trees. This batch of owlets are still more quiet than normal, which is a good thing.
This young owl was stretching and admiring his wing, when he almost fell off the perch (see video).
It’s unusual for the young owls to come out of the nest box during the middle of the day, but this one came out in the afternoon for a look around and to use the facilities… potty trained already! (see video)
After sunset last night, the first baby owl came out to practice flapping its wings (they look so big already!). Two more babies tried to get out there… they were all trying to stay close to the door and flap at the same time, and they got all tangled up in each other. The next morning these two were still out at 6am… too excited to go to bed (see video). These siblings speak to each other in strange soft high pitched lyrical sounds. That’s different than prior years owlets, who preferred screeching loudly.
The largest baby owl watches me walk around the yard in the mornings. When I talk to it, it bobs its head sideways… so cute! (see Facebook feed for video).Â They have been a pretty quiet batch this year, which means they have been well fed. Yesterday a huge vulture was perched on top of the nest box. It scared the baby owls and we shooed it away. Being scavengers, it was unlikely it would attack, but you never know. Could it have been attracted by some uneaten rotting vermin in there?
The baby owls are getting big. We’re still not sure how many there are… it sounds like 3 or more. They are flapping their wings and running around in there (see video on Facebook Feed). After dark they have been seen tentatively stepping out onto the porch. It won’t be long until they start learning how to fly!
We can see the baby owls peeking out of the nest box now. They are fuzzy looking with darker faces, and are getting so tall! Mama owl stays close by while her mate hunts for dinner. He could be seen delivering a big rat a short time later. He just threw it in there and the owlets tore it apart.
Mama owl roosted in the palm tree for the first time in a long time. She has been in with the baby owls for weeks, and comes out every night about 8pm to stretch her wings, before flying out to hunt. But tonight, she was heard screeching at our cat, Buddy about 7pm. It was too early for her to be out… plenty of daylight left, but she was nervous about him walking around under the nest box, and had flown down to tell him all about it. I thought she may be over-reacting, but reconsidered when she dive-bombed him, and he jumped up about 3 feet off the ground to take a swipe at her! Buddy has kept the squirrels out of our apple trees, and is a good mouser… but our barn owls are off limits! We are planning to lock him up at night when the babies first start to fly… just in case. After we brought the cat in, Mama owl calmed down and flew back up into the palm tree. Later she flew back down to the pine tree and was followed by her mate a short time later.
04/20/15: We can hear little owl voices in the nest box in the evenings and the mother owl can be seen sleeping in there with them today. She has been the only owl flying in the front yard lately as we haven’t seen her mate in over a week. Because barn owls mate for life, it’s very unusual that he is not roosting in our palm trees… and we fear that something has happened to him. There are Great Horned owls in the area and they are barn owl predators. Hopefully the young owls are old enough to be uncovered for lengths of time while she struggles to provide enough food as a single parent.
Update 04/23/15: The last couple of nights, we’ve noticed another owl sneaking out the back side of the palm tree, heading in the opposite direction. So, the male owl is around after all! This behavior is different from past owl couples… where the male owl checked in with the female before going out to hunt and communicated more in general. She seems nervous and over protective, and he is fairly aloof. But the babies sound louder… indicating they are growing, so we think all is well.
Last year was the first time in 6 years that barn owls did not raise babies in our nest box. We’re not sure why they didn’t lay eggs last summer. Maybe the drought affected them? Or it was nature’s way of controlling the population? We’ve watched them raise 21 baby owls in 5 years in our box, plus there was another pair that laid eggs in a tree around the corner in 2013. That prompted a neighbor in that area to put up an owl box. There was a lot of owl activity in both of our boxes last year… but no baby owls. This year looks promising. The female has been roosting in the box since February 11th. The male has been feeding her in there, so we think she’s laying eggs. He swoops down from the palm tree every night at sunset… goes inside and they make noises and move around for a minute before he takes off down the canyon to hunt.
More about owls
An amazing program on KQED