The vernal equinox is this coming weekend, but we started celebrating a bit early with a bonfire, beer, and a few rounds of darts. The dogs and cats figured out they would get some attention if they got between the throwing line and the board, so it took a while to play a few rounds. Luckily that day was one of our magical previews of summer, with temps near 70 and nature busting out all over. Some Wild Kingdom kind of nature was going on right next to us as we walked around, chatting about summer projects. A closer look revealed a female Merlin, hopping around the ever-renewed burn pile next to the fire pit. The brush pile serves as cover for the assorted native birds that frequent the seed feeder above, and apparently as a hunting ground for ravenous raptors. She kept jumping down into the branches, then popped up to look from different angles. She may have stashed a previous kill in the pile and was trying to get it, or had a live bird at bay, but we couldn’t see anything in the brush.
The weather turned challenging today though. Wet, windy and wild, like video from the bridge of a Bering Sea fishing boat. Our two resident Anna’s hummingbirds, one male and one female, have been taking full advantage of the feeders we now keep filled year round, but with today’s storm were even more in evidence. We decided to swap out the heated feeder for the jumbo cafeteria model, and not long after a soaked, tired & hungry newcomer showed up for a meal. We have another feeder under a south-facing garage eave, and the male Anna’s guards this like Smaug guards treasure. But for the bolder females, coming in under the back porch roof means being able to eat snug & dry, and not be chased off by the male. A few shrubs are starting to flower, red-flowering currant, quince, and oso, but having a back-up source of food is critical to these tiny critters.
Speaking of tiny critters, it’s finally time to dust off the incubator and get the next generation of laying hens cooking. Things have been a bit hectic, so we’re getting off to a later start than usual. So far we’re planning 3 hatches this year, with the first one being from Blaine, our golden cuckoo Marans roo, and 8 carefully chosen hens. We’re going for larger hens with good egg-laying conformation and good quality eggs. Since Blaine’s Marans genes should help add dark brown “paint” to the eggs, crossing him with hens that already lay dark eggs should mean daughters that lay even darker eggs. Some of the hens in that breeding pen lay olive eggs, ranging from deep bronze with brown speckles to glossy buttery avocado. The Marans dark brown gene should make for hens that lay bronze or deep olive, but only time will tell. We finally got around to trap-nesting some of our main flock, and documenting the results. All of our chickens have legs bands in combinations that reflect parentage and hatch date. We use different colors of zip ties on both legs, plus a master spreadsheet, to keep track. The notes in the picture above tell me that the egg on the left was laid by a hen with a brown zip tie on her left leg, and a blue one on her right. BCM x ehb means her parents were a blue/black copper Marans roo crossed with a hen called eagle-head black (a cross of an oliver roo and Welsummer hen with a white head like an eagle’s). The bottom line refers to her color, black copper, like a Marans. This information helps decide if we should use this hen to help build our future flock, and also helps ensure we don’t cross her with too close a relative.