Thursday, June 30, 2005

Secret egg deposit revealed

No wonder I thought the hens had stopped laying.

My husband had put some excess hay in a big box, to get it up off the ground while he hosed down the shop porch. Then, as things tend to happen around here, it just got left there.

Somebody else (it might have been me) put some more empty boxes on top, to keep them above Jasmine-munching level. Said someone then never actually got around to moving the boxes the next week, after the near-overflowing garbage can had been emptied.

Turns out that was much more inviting than some old lovingly handbuilt nesting boxes in a super-deluxe chicken coop.

But now that someone moved the boxes that made the roof of this cubbyhole, it's apparently not so inviting anymore. They've moved the secret stash somewhere else. I haven't found it yet.


We've been losing critters again, I think to coyotes. One of our muscovies and several chickens. My favorite chicken. The only one we had left who was laying the green eggs. We have lots more Easter Eggers but they're still young pullets.

Leghorns start laying incredibly fast, at about four months of age. Our Ameraucanas/Easter Eggers were late bloomers, not laying until they were six to eight months old. Now that they're all gone, it'll be two to four months before we see green eggs again.

I've come to the conclusion that Jasmine thinks her job is to guard us instead of the animals. The chickens make it worse by insisting on staying in the woods, where it's cooler, but where Jasmine can't see them, and where the coyotes can pick them off with ease.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I promise I'm not going to post pictures of our new kittens every day.

I'm starting to think that Ginger (left) is a male rather than a female. My husband thinks Ginger isn't a proper boy's name. "Ginger Baker," I keep saying, but he doesn't know who that is.

He doesn't know who anybody is.

"Tom Cruise."


Well it's not that bad, but almost. Celebrity Who's Who is not something he's spent much time studying.

"Nicole Kidman."

"Who? Never heard of her."

"She used to be married to Tom Cruise. She played the mother in that movie The Others, remember?

"Oh yeah."

On the other hand, I tend to remember useless trivia, such as:
Denis Lawson played Wedge Antilles (Red Two) in the original Star Wars movie. According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), he inspired his nephew to go into show business. His nephew is Ewan McGregor, who plays the young Obi-wan Kenobi in the newer series of Star Wars movies.

My husband can't remember Ewan McGregor's name though, he just calls him Obi-wan.

Sometimes we have nutso ideas for little projects. Once we decided to have a meal featuring the cuisine of whatever country the Formula One race was in that week. For some reason that one never got off the ground.

Another time we decided to see all the films that a certain actor or actress was in. Since we had just seen Attack of the Clones and Black Hawk Down, we decided that Ewan McGregor would be a prime target - we were already two movies up without even trying.

It's a harder thing to do than you might imagine, though. Ewan McGregor has made an awful lot of movies. I think we saw 17 of them before we gave up on that project too. (But if you ever see that The Pillow Book or Killing Priscilla will be showing on one of the movie channels, let me know.)


Edited to add: All the celebrity talk reminded me of this hilarious post I read the other day: Jennifer Aniston Is Controlling My Brain. Actually the whole blog is great. Beautiful writing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

More from Sunday stroll

The two types of native hydrangeas were growing side by side.

Oakleaf hyrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), with Flower long-horn beetles (Typocerus velutina)

Every Smooth hydrangea I saw a had pair of those doing that.

Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are the favorite flower of my sister-in-law, who was kind enough to wait with me while the guys disappeared into the distance up ahead. (As I mentioned yesterday, they don't understand that you can't take pictures while walking.)

My sharp-eyed nephew, on leave from the Army, spotted this damselfly. It looks a bit like a female Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta), but I'm not sure since it's so nondescript. This is the only photo I managed before it scooted away.

While looking up the latin name of Fragrant Sumac (it's Rhus aromatica), I was surprised to find so many references to the stinkiness of the crushed leaves. I find that the young leaves have a very pleasant scent!

Ladies tresses (Spiranthes sp.), a member of the orchid family. Unfortunately these are leaning over after my brother-in-law stepped on them. (I think we need to supervise him more closely on future walks.)

When we got back we spied an Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) in the yard.

I wonder if this is the one who ate my lettuce.

I also got a shot of an Indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), but not very close, hence the blurry quality.

While trying to figure out which bugs were on the hydrangeas, I came across this very helpful page: Insect Visitors of Illinois Wildflowers. A great way to jump-start bug identifications, even if you don't live in Illinois.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sunday stroll

I had to be pushed into walking during the heat of the day. It was cloudy but very muggy.

They usually get irritated with me anyway, because I'm always stopping to take pictures

of important things like wild petunias (Ruellia sp.)

and Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) butterflies.

And besides, none of them understand how exciting it is to find a Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Weekend food blogging

After talking to a couple of people last week about Heart-healthy Spa Chicken I had to make it again myself.

I usually make a recipe as written the first time, then make changes if I like it enough to try again. I now use double the amount of black beans, and about one and a half times the salsa of the original recipe. (We like it saucy.)

I love this recipe because
1) it's easy,
2) it's healthy,
3) it's tasty,
4) it's quick to prepare (although it cooks about an hour).

You can use canned beans and salsa, or get all Martha and make everything from scratch if you've got the time.

This one is my husband's creation. You need:
deep pie shell
6 eggs
diced tomatoes
diced onion
shredded cheese
about 1/2 Cup milk
small amount ham

Pre-cook the pie shell 15 - 20 min at 350 degrees. Scramble the eggs, mix with other ingredients, and pour into the shell. Cook about 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until firm.

He used about 2 slices of tomato and one slice of onion chopped up.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Lots on the schedule today so instead of anything original I'm going to send you to visit the Ontario Wanderer, who has just started a blog.

Besides showing me up on my false tree ID two posts ago, the Wanderer has added insult to injury by posting a photo of a hummingbird... on the nest! If you're a nature nut like me, you'll want to bookmark the site.

Also check out his excellent wildflower page. (I'm assuming that the Wanderer is Dean, but it's possibly one of his partners in crime.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005


The Birmingham Post-Herald this evening has a sad story about Linda Reynolds. She was Guntersville State Park's most excellent naturalist for many years, and has continued to volunteer there after her retirement, leading the park's popular winter Eagle-watching tours, among other things.

Until now. Until she spoke out against tree cutting in the park. (In prime wildlife nesting season, no less.) Then she was dismissed from her volunteer job.

According to the article, the State Parks Director says the "forest management system" will make the forest "healthier". That the logging is not for financial reasons.

I have serious doubts. I don't know Linda Reynolds very well - just enough to know that she is extremely knowledgeable. If she and Paul Franklin (a well-known Birmingham area naturalist) say that the cutting is unnecessary and destructive - I believe them.

I wonder if they'll add that to the Volunteers In Parks (VIP) program handbook: "Real naturalists need not apply."

Trees & the vines that love them

I believe that this is one of the Viburnums, probably Viburnum prunifolium a.k.a. Blackhaw. (The blooms are from a couple of weeks ago.)

Edited to add: So, not a Viburnum! I'm a rank tree-identification amateur and got it wrong. Thanks so much to the Ontario Wanderer who pointed out that this is actually a type of Dogwood. (I'm thinking it's a Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), but the ID requires more examination of the tree than I have time for this morning so will have to look over the weekend.

Edited for a second time to add: My husband had to call to tell me, "I told you that was a dogwood!" Now that I think about it, he did. I just wasn't paying attention to him. (He would say, "as usual".)

The flowers up close.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) tries to take over the world.

Often mistaken for Poison Ivy (which has three leaves instead of five).

Some tree links:

Trees of Alabama and the Southeast

100 Trees of Alabama

Some southeastern U.S. trees and woody plants
(Takes a while to load even with zippy DSL. They have other regions too.)

Key to the Gymnosperms of the Southeastern U.S.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Father's day

On Father's Day, my niece learned to tell fish stories...

then later caught a big one, once she stole her Dad's fishing rod.

The bream's close-up.


My Dad died in 1989. I miss him every day.

My Dad, very young. He lied about his age to join the army before WWII. He was probably about 17 in this picture. His father, who played the saxophone, was his Captain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Duck huddle

The decoys have become unmoored.

One still has a little listing to starboard problem.

I suspect that Magazine Man may be right - it's the duck equivalent of mooning everyone. How rude!


In other news, we have DSL!

I had to run and rub Hick's nose in it, since she also lives in the country, and also has a dog named Jasmine.

But she evidently hasn't pleased the high-speed internet gods like I have. Or she doesn't live near a highway, or something.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Chicken chronicles - June edition

I'm not sure if it's the chickens' dust bathing area or Jasmine's.

I guess they made it right by the front door so that our guests would feel welcome to use it too.

Poor little Baldy, looking half-plucked:

I wonder if she'll get sunburned before they grow back.

I'm beginning to suspect that some of my pullets are in fact cockerels.

The only one who's supposed to be a male is the one with no tail. (The other chicks conveniently plucked it all out for him.) But the long tail and saddle feathers on this Marans (the black and white one) and Easter Egger (the black and brown one) are making me suspect that the hatchery owes me some money back.

We were supposed to just be fostering the Rhode Island Reds. But the guy never wanted to come get them (or pay for them), so I guess they're ours. I never would have ordered them, but as it turns out I like them quite a bit. The no-tail cockerel is one of the friendliest chicks in the bunch, but I don't imagine he'll stay that way... RIR roosters are notoriously mean.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Guess what else

I have no willpower whatsoever.

They are all females, I think. The yellow one and the calico from yesterday are siblings. The other one is a little older and is very mischievous.

Still no names for any of them yet. (More suggestions welcome.)

Jasmine has met the bigger one. She seemed interested, but the kitten was not impressed. (Hiss, spit, hiss.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2005


A Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica). Bad news. Alien invader, rose-chomper, crabapple defoliator. Off with them to a bucket of soapy water. Die, die, die!

Not a Japanese beetle: an Emerald Flower Beetle or Emerald Flower Scarab (Trichiotinus lunulatus).

Yo, bug party at the Queen Anne's Lace. (Be there or quadratus estó?)

A big thanks to Thingfish23 for the Emerald Flower Scarab ID!

No, I never took Latin, feel free to correct me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spiny softshell

It seems to be a turtle kind of a week.

A spiny softshell turtle was looking for a place to lay her eggs, but Jasmine spied her and had other ideas.

The latin name is Apalone spinifera, or The Turtle Formerly Known As Trionyx spiniferus.

Built-in snorkle!

It wasn't until later that I read that their jaws are razor sharp and can inflict a painful bite. In blissful ignorance I sat on the ground to get a turtle's eye view. Luckily I didn't get bitten.

Maybe she was too busy laughing at the muscovy who thinks he's my boyfriend.

The lumps on the shell mean she's a spiny instead of a smooth softshell.

I could see why they're called the pancake turtle. It's harder on the top, but around the sides the shell was pliable like leather.

Supersized! Males only reach about 9 inches, so this one is definitely a female. They're supposed to grow to 18 inches, so she must be pushing maximum poundage. I read that a large female can live 50 years!

I used the shovel to convince her she'd be better off in the ditch, away from the dog. She was much lighter than the snapping turtle I'd shoveled earlier in the month. Later in the day I saw her in the small pond.

It was a herp-filled day yesterday. We also saw a medium sized rat snake (that we relocated to the other side of the creek), a jillion baby frogs, and some small basking turtles.

While looking for info on the turtle, I also found a Checklist of the amphibians and reptiles of Alabama.

More info on the Spiny softshell is here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Turtle egg mystery

Near the pond, a critter unearthed and feasted on turtle eggs. The evidence was originally scattered several feet from the hole - I gathered a few of the shells back together for a picture.

Eggs in another nest nearby suffered a similar fate. I'm guessing that the culprit was a raccoon, skunk or opossum, but other turtle egg predators apparently include the fox, armadillo, mink, otter, and weasel.

I tried figuring out which species of turtle these eggs had belonged to, but didn't get very far. Here's where the (as yet to be invented) portable DNA analyzer would have come in so handy.

Several species can be ruled out since the eggs were spherical rather than elliptical, but other than that I couldn't find any key to turtle egg identification.

The eggs may have belonged to one of the two snapping turtles I saw recently, although they seem a bit small for that (not quite ping-pong ball size).

Undisturbed turtle nest.

In researching the turtle egg mystery, I came across an interesting story about a snapping turtle hatchling at the Hilton Pond site, where nest building is also discussed.

And found some more great snapping turtle pictures. (Eating a snake! Eating a fish!)

Even more good snapping turtle info.

Monday, June 13, 2005


I run a small handmade soap business. Once a year, Alabama soapmakers convene for education, shopping, gabbing, and eating too much. This is known as the "big meeting". There are regional lunch meetings throughout the year, as well as a large social gathering in January. It's a friendly bunch. We started out many years ago as a group of strangers on the internet, and have now become so much more than just colleagues.

We are fragrance junkies.

There's always lots of stuff to spend money on.

We teach each other how to make things.

Vendors provide samples, catalogs, and door prizes.

The unofficial uniform includes overalls, pearls, and a tiara...

Not your run of the mill overalls.

The pearls and tiara are optional for men. We have had a few male members in the past, but somehow we've managed to run them all off.