As much as I love our hens dearly, sometimes they can be very annoying. This particular tale concerns a couple of our ‘saved’ hens, Honey and Perky.
In mid-September, Honey went missing for almost a week. Then on two mornings in a row, Ben spotted her eating pellets in the barn with the other hens – as if she’d never been away. Then she’d disappear again.
After some sleuth work (which involved spying and following), we found her in a grassy hollow in the back paddock, sitting on a mountain of warm eggs. She’d been sneaking back to eat at intervals, then returning to the (impossible) task of waiting for the eggs to hatch.
She was well into broody mode, so we had to remove all the eggs and separate her into the back hen enclosure for a few days. When we tested the eggs using the ‘does it float or not?’ test, they all looked a bit borderline so we disposed of them. (Ben later remarked that they didn’t look good when he broke them, so I’m glad I wasn’t involved with that process.)
Honey has stayed around since then, and has built a new nest in amongst the pile of dry kindling in the barn. And for a time, Perky, and our older hens started laying there as well. So there were generally 3 or 4 eggs in that particular nest when I’d check them each day.
Hens don’t usually lay an egg on every day of the week, so when the number of eggs in that nest dropped down to 2 or 3 on most days, I didn’t think too much of it.
Yesterday, I was deliberating on the fact that our total daily egg tally still looked a little low. I’d still have expected to see 4 eggs in that nest every so often. And we remembered that the week before last, we’d had to rescue Perky when she got herself stranded between two fences along the edge of the back paddock. (I still have no idea how she got there. It was raining and she was as wet as a shag.)
Missing eggs + Perky behaving suspiciously in the back paddock = one conclusion.
Testing the Theory
Last night, Ben shut the gate to the hen enclosure and let the girls out early this morning so that he could see if any of them ran off somewhere.
Sure enough, Perky headed out (the long way) to the back paddock and settled herself down amongst the long grass. Ben found one egg all by itself nearby and left her there to finish laying. When he went back an hour or so later, he found a nest with an additional 19 eggs! Not again! So he brought all the eggs inside and left a fake egg in their place.
At least we know to look there now, and at least Perky hasn’t shown any signs of broodiness. It seems she’s been content to lay an egg on that huge pile, then join her sisters for the rest of the day.
I’m going to check the 20 eggs for freshness, and I may end up discarding a few of them, just to be on the safe side. And if I do… well, that will be the annoying part. The waste of all those beautiful big eggs.
We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed. The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us. We do sometimes get a nor-easterly. While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing. But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.
When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment. It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.
I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree. This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden. But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.
I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.
When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.
And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit. At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.
Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind. It’s still laden with fruit.
The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well. I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.
We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.
Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.
It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before. The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind. I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat. And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that. I really have no idea.
It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.
The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one. It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest. We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush. We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.
The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind. This nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.
Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season. The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me. Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.
With her second batch I had noted the following: –
19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
20 November: 4 hatched
02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
03 December: Nest empty
It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.
I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site. It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days. The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.
The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things. There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing. We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …
We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel. Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.
I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas. I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter. I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.
Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again. I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.
I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases. Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.
I haven’t written for a while, but items of note include the harvesting of the maize in the paddock next door, way back at the beginning of April. The big machines came powering through, collecting the complete plants, discarding the husks and stalks, and feeding out golden maize kernels into the waiting truck.
Left behind is a flattish, spiky field, stretching into the distance. We’ve had no strong winds from the North or West since then, but when they do come, we’ll miss the shelter that the maize provided for the plants and shrubs we are trying to establish along the fence-line.
The months of March and April were incredibly dry, after almost no rain since January. Patches of bare soil were beginning to crack all across the garden.
There wasn’t much happening in the vege garden – only silver beet, pumpkins, a few lettuces, some jalapeno and habanero chili peppers, basil, beetroot and carrots. We had switched to lake water to conserve the water in our tanks and were using the latter for drinking, only.
Surprisingly, our Autumn fruit has been more productive than at the same time in 2013. We ate the last of the pears, and the feijoa are still dropping, even a month later. They are very sweet and juicy. There are also red cherry guava and yellow guava – which attract the Kereru. Our macadamia nuts are also on the point of being ready.
The hens still spend a great deal of time bathing in the dust, or lying under the shade of the trees. They continue to make huge basin-shaped hollows all through my gardens. But they are very cute and I’m still intrigued to watch them taking their dust baths.
The above photo was taken of the edge of the lawn where it comes up to the flower garden below the Feijoa trees. I use the word ‘garden’ very loosely, thanks to the hens and the lack of rain.
The Orpingtons don’t tend to take their baths in the same place or at the same time as the Red Shavers. They’ll often wait until the older girls are finished, then hop in after them.
The good news is that the Orpingtons are now laying, but the bad news is that Lottie (one of our red shavers) has gone. She had a bad habit of disappearing across the road to – goodness knows where – on a daily basis, and one day she just didn’t come back. I fear the worst – run over by a milk truck or caught by a hawk or dog, but perhaps she has merely found a better place to live.
As far as the eggs are concerned, the small eggs weigh about 50 grams, whereas the eggs from Lulu and Leila weigh around 75 grams. I have been very disappointed that the White Orpingtons don’t lay pure white eggs – I was so sure that they would.
Our small Pine Nut tree is finally producing some cones. We’ve had this small tree since we lived in Titirangi. It was purchased in a pot for a Christmas Tree, and fared very badly under all the kauri trees due to the paucity of sunlight. Pine Nuts take about 8 years to produce cones – which would be about right. Apparently the cones take two full seasons to mature. It’s very exciting!
There has been scattered rain in May, and the days tend to start out sunny, before fat cumulus clouds build up in the afternoon. The temperature in May has ranged from around 13 C overnight, to low 20s during the day.
We have swum in the lake as recently as a week ago – which is quite unexpected for this time of year.
My current daily garden tasks involve tidying up all the vegetable garden beds in preparation for planting garlic and sowing more seeds. I’ve recently sown lettuces, leeks, spinach, carrots, beetroot, rocket, radishes, parsnips and celery. I raised seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and have since planted these out. It was too hot and dry to sow the seeds directly during March / April.
I’ve also planted a dozen Egyptian Walking Onions. I was delighted to see bulbs for sale recently as I used to grow them years ago in Dunedin. Perhaps I’ll have more luck with these than I have with trying to grow regular onions from seed.