I’m enjoying the beautiful fall colors out my back window. I love the change of seasons, but I do begun to miss color during the winter.
Yesterday Neil pulled out the stops to celebrate my birthday. We had brunch together, played hooky at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, celebrated with Lindsay by eating sundaes, had a great dinner and then had drinks with friends.
One of the many highlights was this dapper blue heron walking around the koi ponds at the botanic gardens looking for lunch. Blue herons are my favorite bird, so this was an especially nice treat. He wasn’t bothered by all of us gawking at him. Herons have clued into the “fish in a barrel” aspect of these ponds. One of our friends saw a black crowned night heron swoop down and grab a fish.
On Thursday morning, Neil looked into the butterfly habitat and noticed that our little chrysalis friend had opened up and a beautiful butterfly was flying around the inside of the netting. It must have emerged early in the morning because its wings were already pumped up and ready to fly. In case you haven’t read as much on raising caterpillars as I have (and really why would you?, here’s a good site. When a butterfly emerges their wings are soft and they spend some time “pumping” them up. Visions of butterfly gyms are coming to mind, aren’t they? Soon they harden and the butterfly is ready to fly off. This is quite clearly a very vulnerable time for the butterfly.
This past weekend we went away to visit Neil’s parents. I picked some queen anne’s lace to bring back for our caterpillar to munch on. Lindsay and I looked and looked for it, but couldn’t find it. I was worried it had gone the way of it’s sibling, but then I spotted it.
You can see the little bungee cord threads it spun to secure itself to the parsley plant. These caterpillars can make either a brown or a green chrysalis depending on what plant they choose to latch onto. I think the green is prettier than the brown.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this little critter hatch (or eclose). We’re going away in the middle of August, so fingers crossed it will do it sooner. Otherwise, I will need someone to pupae sit for us.
Last week we got fennel as part of our CSA share. I made a yummy shaved fennel salad with a lemon dressing and tossed the ferny tops into my chicken scrap tub. When I went to take the greens out to the chickens I noticed 2 interesting caterpillars munching away. Upon checking the internet (what caterpillars are on my fennel?) I found out that they were Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars. I found this site to be particularly helpful.
I thought it would be a fun project to raise our caterpillars indoors. Besides fennel, they like anything related to carrots, such as parsley and queen anne’s lace. I pulled a parsley plant out of my garden, stuck it in a pot and laid the fennel greens on top of it. I also borrowed a Butterfly Garden enclosure to contain the critters. They really move around when you aren’t looking. I had a funny moment when I was looking at my parsley plants outside and thinking about these beautiful, exotic caterpillars that would *never* live in Brooklyn. Well, there was one sitting right on top of my parsley plant. I decided to leave that one in the great outdoors and concentrate on the 2 I had. After a day, one had doubled in size and the other one died.
The one we have left, which we affectionately refer to as chubby, keeps doubling in size and eating up a storm. I added carrot tops to the enclosure and it seems to be thriving. Here’s a video of the little guy munching away on the parsley. I shot still frames and made a kind of time-lapse video. It only took about a minute for him to eat all those leaves!
I can’t wait to see it transform! My sister raised some Anise Swallowtails in her garden. You can read about them in her blog here.
This year we finally got smart. Over the last 8 years or so we have had a neighbor’s mulberry tree drop berries in our yard. I have very fond memories of climbing mulberry trees as a child and eating the sweet berries. That was never possible with this tree. The tree isn’t in our yard, so it’s not possible to climb the trunk. And the branches are so high that you cannot reach the fruit. So by the time the berries drop, they are already overripe and starting to ferment.
I am not a fan of people complaining about “messy” trees. The leaves, needles, pollen they produce are part of the package. This mulberry tree has gotten so large in the past couple of years that it shades and overhangs more than 1/3 of my garden. The chickens eat some of the berries, but really cannot make a dent. I lay out landscaping cloth during the 3 weeks of berry drop to catch the berries. You may have seen me waging war in recent years.
Anyhow, this year instead of complaining about it, we decided to do something about it. We hired an arborist to prune the branches that overhang our yard. Seems totally obvious, right? Well, when you are a renter, there is a weird mindset about paying for stuff like this. Anyhow, we are thrilled with the job they did. They had phone lines, a fence and our chicken coop as obstacles, but they didn’t hit any of them. It is money well spent to be able to avoid 3 weeks of rotting berries dropping on our backs when we are in the back of our garden.
Although it was raining on and off today, my friend Ruth and I decided to take a walk through Central Park. We spent most of our time on the Northern end, which has fewer people and feels a bit wilder. There were signs of spring, such as snowdrops and robins and almost blooming daffodils. We saw quite a few different birds: pairs of bufflehead ducks, swans, a robin, bluejay, common grackles, downy woodpecker, canada geese, mallard ducks, starlings and 2 domestic white ducks. What?? I have an Audubon bird guide application for my iphone, so I was sure they weren’t wild ducks. I came home and searched online and found out that it is pretty common for people to get pet ducks (bunnies, turtles, etc.) and then abandon them in a local park. I thought the woman feeding the mallards bread was bad enough. Come on people! It should be a big decision as to whether or not you get a pet. And then once the decision is made, it is a big commitment to that animal. Domestic ducks don’t have flight feathers like wild ducks and cannot survive in the wild. Even the wild of NYC. The international bird rescue research center has a great site which goes into further detail. Now that I’m on my soap box, let me also mention that should you find some “abandoned” baby animals/birds this spring, please continue walking. The parents that you think have abandoned their babies are too terrified to come back while you are standing there.
When I returned home I let the hens out to peck around my back yard. I noticed that the few garlic cloves I planted in the fall are starting to sprout up. I eagerly looked for signs of my asparagus sprouting and when I went to that bed, the hens eagerly followed me. As I was pawing through the layer of leaves and mulch, the girls decided to do the same. Much to our mutual satisfaction, they found and ate about a dozen baby slugs. It was pretty gross to watch, but very gratifying. My future basil and I thank them.
This weekend promises to be a dreary, rainy weekend here. The perfect weekend to curl up on the sofa with a book and a pot of tea. Should this sound inviting, I will go so far as to recommend a book to read. Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
Lyanda lives in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Her vast knowledge of birds stems from working at Seattle Audubon, the Fish and Wildlife Service (researching seabirds) and working in raptor rehabilitation (She identified the hawk in my backyard as an juvenile Coopers hawk). Somehow Lyanda (or maybe her husband) found my blog and asked if I would like a review copy of her book.
Have you ever had a friend invite you to hear his/her band, or go see their art exhibition? I felt the same way while waiting for Lyanda’s book to arrive. Nervous and thinking, “God I hope it’s good, because what will I say if it stinks?” I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the package and saw the beautiful cover art by Daniel Cautrell. A mix of the lovely and the slightly creepy that totally appeals to my aesthetic. I also thoroughly enjoyed the book. Lyanda takes her reader on her journey to study urban wildlife (the crow in particular) as her way to connect to “every day” nature. The mix of her personal explorations, scientific research and folklore meld beautifully together.
Along the way I learned a lot about crows. I won’t spoil the book, but I will share one piece of learned crow wisdom…Don’t piss a crow off. They recognize individual faces and hold a grudge!
Anyway, I recommend the book. It’s a really thought provoking read. I also recommend visiting Lyanda’s blog The Tangled Nest. I am ready to share my copy with a reader (in the US). Please write your favorite urban/suburban wildlife encounter in my comments section and I will randomly choose someone on Wed. 3/17 to receive the book. Right now my favorite encounter was the hawk munching on the pigeon in my backyard. One less pigeon in the world!!
If you want to read a much more in-depth review of Crow Planet, please click here to see the LA Times review.
Have a great weekend, drink some tea and stay dry!
Over the weekend, Neil looked out our kitchen window and spotted this beautiful hawk. It has visited our backyard before and it is always very special to see such a glorious bird here in the city. It generally sits in this tree, which grows above our chicken coop. Fortunately this time the hawk was too engrossed with the pigeon it was eating to notice the chickens. Conversely, the chickens were still in their covered run, so they didn’t see the predator sitting right over them. You can see what’s left of the pigeon on the branch the hawk is sitting on.
We have friends who live right around the corner from us who have seen and named this hawk (Hank). They have a view of our yard from their apartment, so I called them and helped them to spot the hawk. We live along a street that became a restaurant row about 10 years ago. It’s been interesting to see how the abundance of food has affected the natural world in our neighborhood. We first started noticing rodents. Sigh. Then we got raccoons. And now we have hawks feasting on the vermin that’s been attracted to the area. I was very happy to see the hawk eating a pigeon. Hopefully our friend decides to hang around.
Last night we were having dinner with friends in our garden. It was about 7pm and our chickens had gone inside their coop for the night. All of a sudden there was a commotion and the hens clamored out of their coop and into the run. I have a larger run attached to their secure run that isn’t 100% predator proof. I lock the door between that run and the secure run every night. I hadn’t done it yet and I have to admit that I have forgotten entirely some nights. I had heard that there have been raccoon sightings in our Brooklyn, NY neighborhood, but never saw one myself. Until now.
I walked over to the chickens to see what was going on and standing about 5 feet away from me behind the wire run was a raccoon. It saw me and promptly flipped me the bird. It wasn’t scared of me in the slightest. The chickens ran into the larger run and were totally freaked out. Since I wasn’t scary enough to make the raccoon leave, we pulled out our garden hose and sprayed the raccoon with jets of water. It didn’t like that and climbed over the fence. About 30 seconds passed and it climbed back into the yard. We sprayed it again and it eventually went away. But it climbed on top of the secure run and tried to reach through the wire of the larger run. I’ve heard of raccoons grabbing and killing chickens by reaching into a run. Gah!
Neil threw rocks in it’s direction. He doesn’t think he hit it, but it again casually went away. Actually it scaled the 2-story building that adjoins our yard by climbing up the ivy. It kept peeking over the roof at us. Not only were the chickens freaked out, but our daughter was really upset as well. I was upset because I know that this critter is going to come back. It wasn’t afraid of us *at all*. We also live right along a very popular restaurant row, so there’s really no end to the tasty trash cans filled with food nearby.
I’ve spent the morning reading various chicken sites and doing google searches on raccoon control. I’ve come up with the following possible solutions:
1. Get a hav-a-hart trap and bait it with cat food. There are several unsavory outcomes to this solution involving relocating, drowning and shooting. Relocating wild animals is not a very successful endeavor. You are dropping your problems on someone else and the animal doesn’t know the natural resources, so can just starve to death.
2. Pee around the perimeter of your yard. I’m guessing that the raccoon, who wasn’t at all scared of me, will not be scared of our pee. And besides, I’m already the crazy chicken lady, I don’t need to add another layer to that!
3. Put down coyote urine. Yes, you can buy predator urine to discourage animals. My in-laws ordered synthesized fox urine online for a groundhog that was digging in their foundation. There’s a website called predatorpee.com. Love the internet! I’m not sure any of these raccoons have seen or smelled a coyote for the past several generations, so I’m not sure if the smell of coyote urine would register fear with them.
4. Hot sauce bombs. The mad-scientist/cook in me loves this one. You take jumbo marshmallows, poke a hole in one end and fill them with the hottest hot sauce you can find. (Wear gloves) Then scatter them around the yard. The raccoons eat them and then won’t come back. This option appeals to me for a few reasons. I like DIY aspect. I like that I’m not actually physically harming/killing the animal. And I kind of love the immature 15 year-old revenge fantasy part of it.
In any event, I’ve set an alarm to remind me that dusk is approaching and I need to lock up my hens. Raccoons generally only like to eat the chicken’s crop (filled with yummy grains), so it’s a gruesome death. Plus you get the added bonus of finding a decapitated chicken left behind.
Wish me luck! Maybe I’ll make Rice Krispy treats with the leftover marshmallows.