By Diane Lockspeiser
My article last month was supposed to be titled “On a Wing and a Prayer.” Only one of those prayers was granted, but it was the most important one, so I am grateful. None of the other chickens came down with whatever that little one had. She died just a couple of days after I wrote that article. I buried her with all the bedding and sterilized the food and water dishes. I will disinfect the playpen before packing it away, and I always try to keep the chicken coop as clean as possible (not an easy feat, for they poop everywhere!) Still, I have been anxious because I read online about a disease that is wiping out whole flocks in California. There was even a warning posted on the new bag of feed I just bought.
I had also hoped for an end to the freezing nights, but we had a few more and that’s not unusual, so I wasn’t surprised. The young chickens handled it well, which had been my main concern. Many of the frost-resistant seedlings that I have planted, however, are not doing very well with the damp and chilly Spring we’ve been having. Fortunately, the perennials seem unperturbed. The daffodils have been lovely. I have started harvesting and cooking an abundance of rhubarb and the first of the asparagus is ready to pick as well. The sorrel I grow to put in salad has been lush and tasty —I think it actually likes this weather!
The robins seem to like it, too. A group of them always arrive as soon as the snow is pretty much gone, and one pair stays on for the whole season. They peck at the ground in the open field right alongside the chickens. The male also goes into my fenced-off garden area and is fond of sitting atop a fence post to survey “his” garden. He seems to think he owns it! Whenever I go in there to work, he sounds off his warning song. I don’t mind. I like his song, and I love that he chases other birds away. I love that he eats mostly bugs and worms, with only an occasional chunk out of the fruit.
One day I was working around the house, pulling off some old telephone wire, and I had to go into the bushes. I noticed a small, broken eggshell near my head. Reaching out my hand to get it to look at, I was startled by a bird popping out of the bush to fly away, so fast that I didn’t get a chance to see what kind of bird it was. I watched the bush later that day and saw that it is occupied by the mourning doves who often sit atop the nearby gazebo, cooing their distinctive mournful cry.
I hear the phoebes and the woodpeckers, and I watch the swallows swoop through the air at dusk, but I don’t know where they all nest. I know the robins nest in the hemlock; the woods uphill from our house are full of huge raucous crows; and the tiny finches usually nest in one of the birdhouses near our house. In a birdhouse near the kitchen window, a pair of chickadees have set up house once again. We have a lot of them that stay here throughout the winter, I’m guessing because of the abundance of pinecones, but come Spring I only see the one pair. Where do the rest go?
Occasionally a group of wild turkeys wanders through our yard, but this was the first year that a pair hung around for quite a while. Since some of my chickens are black, I sometimes mistake the turkeys for chickens out in the field. Evidently I am not the only one who makes that mistake, because one day one of the chickens strutted down to join them and promptly turned around to come back once she got near them. I loved hearing that pair “gobble gobble” from the upper woods and seeing them hang out in the field, but they seem to have moved on. I haven’t seen or heard them for weeks now.
I have decided that springtime this year was “for the birds” since they seemed the least bothered by all the exceptionally cloudy, wet, and chilly weather. You know it’s been way too cloudy way too often when you start getting excited every time the sun comes out for five minutes. Three cheers for some sunshine!~