Wildlife Wednesdays: Common Morel

To say it has been pretty rainy around here is an understatement. We're currently poised to surpass the record for the rainiest month ever recorded in our area. I think this wet weather has contributed to our really cool find - a nice patch of Common Morels (Morchella esculenta).

Morels are associated with ash, sycamore and tulip trees. Those are the primary deciduous trees in our woods. And, a study in Missouri correlated the fruiting of yellow morels with warm weather, precipitation and tree species. It turns out, our woods, this spring, have provided the perfect environment for morels!

Common Morels are prized by gourmet cooks, especially for French cuisine. Minnesota has adopted the morel as its state mushroom. And, throughout America, morels are hunted for cooking and the fun of it.

I'm sure our morels are not false morels because their stems are hollow inside. False morels contain a cotton-ball looking substance inside their stem.

For now, I'm not sure whether we'll eat our morels or just admire them. But, we will hope for sunny weather.






The First Chickens?

Over the weekend, I visited the museum of natural history with my family. As we walked through the dinosaur gallery it amazed me, as it always does, that dinosaurs are really early chickens. In fact the sign says, "Modern scientists now accept that modern birds have evolved from, and are themselves, small theropod dinosaurs!"

I guess we chicken enthusiasts are really dinosaur fans. Go figure!


Allosaurus fragilis

Custom Dyed Easter Eggs

Easter greetings from our chicks to yours! We dyed our farm fresh eggs today using a recipe we found on the blog at communitychickens.com. It was liberating not to buy an egg dying kit at the store. Instead we mixed our own custom colors using regular food dye, vinegar and water. The colors turned out beautiful and brillant; especially when we left them in the mixture longer.

Happy Easter to all!

Wildlife Wednesdays: Cool Tree Fungus

I couldn't resist this cool tree fungus. It's like an ever blooming flower in the woods.



A Broody Hoppy

Spring has sprung. Flowers are blooming. Leaves are unfurling. And our Partridge Cochin, Hoppy, would like to raise some babies. She's gone broody.

None of our existing flock is really pre-disposed to go broody except Hoppy. And we all find it funny when she does. I should have recognized the signs. For the past few weeks, Hoppy has been laying more eggs than usual. I just thought she was "old faithful." But, really, she was trying to build up her clutch.

Then, two days ago, I noticed Hoppy wasn't out much with the flock. That's when I knew exactly where to find Hoppy. She was in her nest box and that's where she'll stay for the next few weeks.

In an effort to get Hoppy some exercise, I always gently remove Hoppy from her box and place her outside the coop so, at least, she'll have to walk to get back to her box. Hoppy is such a gentle soul that she's never mean to me when I do this. But she does express her displeasure by emitting a low, throaty growl, putting her wings out slightly and puffing up all her feathers. Now, Cochins are big birds. And when Hoppy puffs up, it's really an impressive sight.

Once out of the coop, Hoppy always swings her beak back and forth on the ground letting everyone know to stay away. She'll usually scratch around a bit and then run back into the coop with lots of growls and puffed out feathers.

I do feel a little sorry for Hoppy because she'll never really have a family to raise. I know she'd make a great mother and I would love to see those cute little chicks poking their heads out from under her immense girth. But, without a rooster, I guess we'll settle for picking out chicks from a store or catalog.


Just a Little Peck...

The Culprits


Patches the cat.

The New Hampshire chick.

The Story

Our house cats are really tame, especially our three-year-old brothers, Bob and Patches. They are rescue cats and have been with us since they were about six weeks old. They don't have a huge interest in hunting and aren't especially curious about the chicks being in our basement. The only time they show any interest is when we open the coop door and hang out with the chicks. At that time, it's common to have Bob or Patches peek around us and sniff.

Yesterday, my oldest daughter was saying her morning goodbyes to the chicks before she left for school. She was sitting "criss-cross-applesauce" in front of the open coop door. One of the New Hampshires was hanging out at the door getting some attention. Patches came over to check out the situation. As he moved slowly forward, the New Hampshire went totally still. Patches started stretching his head closer and closer to get a better look. All of a sudden, the New Hampshire reached down and pecked Patches on the nose. Patches jumped backward and the New Hampshire flew back in the coop. I think they were both quite startled.

It was really one of the funniest things I've seen. It certainly gave my daugher a great story to share at school!

Wildlife Wednesdays: Our Wild Chicken Chaser?

One of our three outdoor cats, Beth enjoys chasing the chickens (I don't mind since she can't catch them and she needs the exercise!) and even lounging around with them. They don't seem to mind her either!

Beth and two of our Barred Rocks in perfect formation.

Chicken Personalities

As most of you know, this is our second time raising day-old chicks. Many of the day-in and day-out duties with these chicks are the same as the last time. But we have noticed one big difference; at five- weeks-old our new chicks are much more attached to us than our first flock was at this stage.

Whenever we visit them in their brooder, they rush the door and are eager to get to us. They try to preen us by running our hair through their beeks. They sit all over us. In fact, they even like to fly up on our heads and shoulders.

Now, I'm not saying our current flock is unfriendly. In fact, they're quite the opposite. But their attachment to us came later. These chicks are insistent on being with us. It's almost like they view us as their parents.

So, here's a theory my husband and I have discussed many times while chickens climb all over us and groom our hair.

Our first flock came from our local feed supply store. They were in big brooder tubs and someone else had already shown them their food and water. Customers had already looked at them and, maybe, handled them.

These chicks were ordered from our local hatchery and picked up when they were just a day old. I took each chick out of the box and showed each one her food and water. We were the first ones to handle them and really to see them. They were also younger since they didn't have to be shipped anywhere first.

So, our theory is that these chicks bonded to us faster since we are the only "parents" they've ever known.

Maybe next time we'll have to try it both ways and see?



Wildlife Wednesdays: Coltsfoot


COLTSFOOT
Tussilago farfara

You may have seen these yellow flowers, that look a lot like dandelions, popping up in your yard or woods. While its flowers are pretty, this plant is actually named after its leaves which resemble a colt's foot in cross section. The leaves don't appear until after the flowers have died back, so in the spring, the flowers appear with no apparent leaves.  Coltsfoot is a native of Europe and Asia and was introduced here by early settlers because of its medicinal values. In fact, this species was so highly regarded as a medicinal plant that the outline of its leaf was used as a symbol for apothecary shops in Europe. 

So, if you come across a patch of Coltsfoot this spring, take a moment to admire it for its beauty and interesting history.


Decorah Eagles!

I found the coolest web link on Friday and have been watching it ever since. Be warned, if you are an avid bird watcher, as I am, you will be hooked!

As you read this, there is a pair of bald eagles in Decorah, Iowa who are hatching their eaglets. They laid three eggs back in February and early March and on Friday night, the first eaglet pipped. By Saturday morning that eaglet was fully hatched and a second eaglet followed on Sunday. The third egg has not hatched yet. (But, don't worry, it's still on track.)

The web link I mentioned streams live video from the eagle's nest. You can see everything happening in real time. In fact, yesterday, I was very worried as dad accidentally tossed one of the eaglets out of the nest bowl. The eaglet sat there for a long time until mom came back to the nest and scooted it back into the bowl. Whew! That was a close call.

Actually this pair of eagles has successfully hatched and fledged eaglets for the last three years; 2 in 2008, 3 in 2009 and 3 in 2010.

The streaming video cam is part of the non-profit Raptor Resourse Project which was established in 1988 and specializes in the preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks, and owls.

So, if you're interested, take a moment to follow the links below. You'll be treated to an up-close look at bald eagles as they raise their young.

The first link is the live streaming video. The second is the YouTube link for the accidental tossing of the eaglet.

Enjoy!

Streaming video of Decorah Eagles

Eaglet Tossing You Tube Videos



Chicken Thoughts

I was watching the chicks in their new brooder. (I can sit on the ground with the door open and be right there with them.) For all intents and purposes, they've had no real chicken mother. But, when our indoor cat, Maggie, walked up to me and wanted me to pet her, they knew just what to do when a predator approaches. One of the Brown Leghorns made a shrill peep I'd never heard her make before. Immediately everyone else stopped what they were doing, stood still and made no sound. It's amazing to see that protective instinct in chicks with no real mentor. Nature is definitely incredible!

Watching out for predators.
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