Local insects and animals – Green tree frog

 
 

The green tree frogs are back!!! We haven’t seen them here for years. First the extended dry period then the massive fire season seem to have knocked the population down so much that spotting a tree frog is cause for excitement.

Green tree frogs were once so common here at the humpy that we had invasions of froglings hopping through the humpy some nights as they left their spawning dam and went out into the world in search of adventure. After finding a tree frog on the pillow at bed time once or twice, we invested in mosquito nets for the beds that were tucked under the mattress to keep them out. In recent years we have missed seeing them around. I am so pleased that we have a few popping back up.

They eat mostly insects, but have also been known to gobble up the odd gecko and sometimes baby mice. In return, a lot of creatures eat them, black snakes love the taste of tree frog, as do brown snakes and pythons. Our ducks will chase them if left to their own devices too (we have rescued more than one big frog from the duck pen). They are mostly seen at night moving from their day beds to the hunting ground, or around the dam when it is raining, looking for love in the karaoke bar.

I love the sound of tree frogs calling from hidden places in the afternoon, it always predicts that a storm or rain is coming. They call in the rain; singing a song of joy and coming fertility until the rain has no choice but to fall on them (and us).

 
Apparently, this poor frog is depressed. She is a brown colour which means her mood is not good. Who knew frogs are like mood rings?

We have plenty of places a tree frog can hide and stay damp in the humpy garden. If you don’t have any place for them to hide outside, they will find a way into your house and look for a place there; they are particularly fond of flush toilets (everyone wants a house with a pool), behind paintings and under pot plants. Outside they like plants that have big leaves, damp pots and piles of rocks or old wood.

This girl is in need of a good meal and a quiet pond to swim in.

I find tree frogs charming and quirky, I know some people are afraid of them and find them ugly, but I can’t help but see the stoic joy they find in settling into the perfect place for the day, the glee they exhibit when they find a huge moth to eat and the self satisfaction of their measured hop…hop…hop on a tin roof at night. Welcome back Australian tree frogs, we missed you.

Egg-bound quail – Finch

This isn’t a photo of Finch. Just a quail of the same species. We can’t find a photo of her.

We have a quail named Finch (don’t ask, we had a lamb named Kitty too), she is a King quail (confirmed with a quick call to my daughter) who lives in our aviary. She lays eggs in the Spring despite not having a partner at all. A few days ago, my daughter discovered that she was egg bound and probably had been for several days (it can be hard to tell with aviary birds).

Egg binding is really serious for birds, it kills a lot of them. Basically, the egg gets stuck in the oviduct and can crack and rot inside the bird. It can be hard to spot in the early stages, the bird might be just a bit slower than usual and off her food a little. Usually, they quickly progress to fluffing up, then death if nothing is done to help them.

Again, not Finch. This Xray shows what egg binding is.

We got Finch out of the aviary and gave her a warm soak in a salty water bath (think Sitz bath, for those of you who have had kids), then dried her off and put her in a quiet cage with a heat lamp and a soft towel. She didn’t manage to pass the egg, so we decided to see what we could do.

We turned her over and saw that the egg was ‘crowning’ and was unusually large (poor girl), so we greased her bottom up with lots of fresh aloe and tried to encourage the egg to pass (very, very gently). Eventually I used a razor blade to cut the part of the membrane that seemed to be over the egg, thinking this would clear the egg and let her retract the prolapse. It took a while, but we were able to work the egg out by greasing her with aloe, soaking in warm salty water and gently moving the egg back and forth to make the dried up membrane let go of the shell. The egg had a crack in it when we eventually got it out. The crack had been there for a while as the egg had started to rot. We immediately got worried; this is usually a death knell for egg bound birds. Another look at her behind showed that the prolapse was still swollen and sore looking. Under the lamp, we could see that she had another egg in there. This is not a good thing, and usually leads to a quick death, but I managed to encourage her to gently push the egg out by massaging her abdomen (the bit behind her hips, but under the wings). The fact that she had two eggs in the tubes, and one of them was cracked mean’t that we fully expected her to die within hours. We had given her a single drop of Meloxicam (a painkiller and anti-inflammatory for birds and other animals) before we began the operation, but we gave her another drop, thinking at least she would die in comfort. We put her in her enclosed cage with heat and water and some chicken crumbles (easy to digest for sick grain eaters) and left her to decide her own fate. Two hours later, she was still alive. She still seemed strong, so we added some oral antibiotic to her water and hoped for the best.

Aloe, cut up and ready to smear
Finch in her heat lamp cage

That was two days ago, and I wish I had taken photos of the operation, because she is a miraculous bird. She has sucked all but a tiny part of the prolapse back inside and is shedding the dead parts of her oviducts. She is eating small amounts of crumble and canary seed with pain killer added to it. We are soaking her bottom in salty water once a day to clean off the gunk and slathering her up with aloe twice a day to keep infection down and help with the inflammation too. She may still die (it’s hard to tell what’s going on inside there), but she has survived beyond all expectation and proven herself one tough little bird.

Finch getting ready for a soak
The prolapse after 2 days, during the soaking process

Afterword; Finch died at day 5. She probably had an infection inside and damage to her oviducts. She hung on longer than I thought possible and has my respect for how tough she was. She is now a part of the funeral forest.

A new home for Finch’s tough spirit

The funeral forest – sort of gardening

In the front yard of the humpy is my funeral forest. This is the place we keep the memories of our lost family members close. When a family member dies, we either bury them directly into a pot with a memory plant in it or we send them off for cremation and bury the ashes into a pot (in the case of large family members). For example; Sid the sheep weighed in at 71kg when he died, too big to put in a pot, so we sent him off to be cremated and when he returned we planted him in a big pot with a dwarf mandarine tree. All our lost family are here in these pots, and I love to sit at my little table, light a fire in the fire pit and visit with them.

This little oasis of green is sanity for me. There is a sprinkler on a pole in the middle of these pots. It is designed to spray water over the walls of the humpy and the garden beds and pots if a fire is close. We have set aside a 24000 litre tank to spray the humpy and animal shelters, which leaves us a little short of water for day to day living, but it may help when the next fire threatens.

As you may have guessed (or possibly hoped), the family members we bury in our funeral forest are our feathered, furred and scaled members. I wish we could include the human members as well (not right now, but in time), but there are rules about where humans can be buried.

In Western Australia there is a new innovation; a memorial forest where you can bury your human family’s ashes under a tree. This seems like a great idea to me; these funeral forests will be considered sacred by just about everyone, the trees will never be cut down for timber or dozed out because they drop limbs or to build a house. They will provide homes for a multitude of native animals and a seed bank for local plant species. Why don’t we have one of these in every council area? I would love to be buried under a tree, to become part of that tree and it’s ecosystem.

Darby the goose update

It has been a while since I did an update on Darby. So I thought I would fill you in on the nature of our life as a goose family.

This photo says it all really.

Adopting animals into our family can be hard work, it can be heart breaking (especially with short-lived species) and it can be the greatest joy… ever. It allows us to get to know a species (or an individual from a species) very well and to be able to communicate with them to a limited degree. Darby is no different.

While growing up, Darby exhibited male characteristics we had seen in the outside geese; chasing the dogs protectively (our poor dogs had a steep learning curve there too), herding family members and honking into the air at odd moments. We began to call Darby ‘him’ based on this. Recently however, my daughter patted him on the back and he immediately squatted and spread his wings; indicating that he is definitely a female. Only a female would squat to mate. It will be hard to change the pronoun, but we are up to the challenge. It also indicates that she may be a little too imprinted on humans.

Darby has traveled around a bit in the car, going to the vet, going to school with me, going into town to get the mail. Geese are social animals and get very distressed when left alone, so we have to take her with us if we are all out. Also the chances of disaster happening when a goose is left unattended with the dogs and all the indoor birds are quite high. Geese are curious and smart birds; they can open gates and find switches and cords that a toddler couldn’t.

Darby lives in the humpy for the most part, walking along with my daughter when she feeds the outside animals, supervising vegetable cutting and cooking in the kitchen, sitting in the sun in the front yard or in front of the fire at night. She sleeps beside my daughter’s bed (or mine when she is away) with her beak resting on the blankets so she can feel the breathing (sleeping) human. Geese love their families and are very protective of the family unit.

Television watching (in the form of streamed movies) is a favorite activity, and we have discovered that geese can laugh (at least it sounds like laughing). She is a fairly vocal family member and is always up for a chat or chiming in with an opinion.

Darby seems to be very happy to continue living in the humpy with us, and we have become used to her being there. In fact we enjoy her company.

Goodbye Prim

This post has been a long time coming. I had to heal a little from the loss first; Prim was a very close family member.

Prim joined us in January 2017. She was a baby then and she grew up in the humpy, she never decided to leave and join the wild lorrikeets, as I think she formed such a close bond with our family.

Her relatively short life (only three years instead of the average 20 years) ended when she contracted a respiratory infection. I believe that the stress of being evacuated due to fires and being exposed to unknown pathogens in many new atmospheres knocked her immune system down and led to her death. I will miss her very much, but the time she spent with us is a time I want to remember.

Prim in her oxygen tent the night she died.

It is hard to express the pain we all felt at losing Prim, it has taken me six months to even write about it. I still shed tears at her memory. I will miss you Prim, I hope your next life is as loving as this one has been.

Goodbye Big rooster

Big in his younger days

It rained last night…we got about 20ml in a storm just after dark. The joy around the humpy was unbelievable, every animal is celebrating this miracle. Except Big the rooster, he has had a very painful leg condition for months now and our attempts to treat him have all failed. Yesterday afternoon we decided that he is in too much pain to keep trying to save him and we called the vet for an appointment to put him to sleep. At least he got to see the rain and hear all the happy chooks one last time.

Big eating his last breakfast

We don’t have many photos of Big; he was always in the crowd but not often on his own. He was about nine years old and had the most amazing nature (just like his dad; Ryan); he would look after babies, not just chicks but ducklings and rabbits too. Hearing Big call over babies and hens to eat was the high point of many days.

He slept inside almost every night of his life, just because he felt the cold and he often had babies to care for. The silence at 4:30am, where Big’s joyous good morning crow used to be, will sound deafening and I would rather hear him crow and know that all is right with the world than have the silence with no happy greeting.

He fathered a lot of babies in his long life, and we are happy to have his grandson as our current flock rooster; Pickett. Big became our retirement cage rooster for the previous few years where he kept the older or disabled hens company. Until this morning he had Delilah (a sussex with a broken hip) and School chook (another sussex with a broken hip) as his girls. Over the rainbow bridge, on the other side of death, there are a multitude of wives waiting patiently for him. I hope he enjoys the reunion.

We will miss him a lot, but at least he is no longer in pain. Goodbye Big, good luck on your new journeys.

We planted him in a big pot with a red paw paw planted in it. He will have a new life as a plant now. He joins Lizard the chook as a lemongrass plant and Sid the sheep as a mandarin tree.

Processing wool from Eli

Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.

Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.

The pink spots are antiseptic spray on the areas where he was grazed by the shears.
Eli is all angles and loose skin under the fleece.
Frieda came out of it looking like a black and white ball.

Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.

This is the fleece before scouring.
I used soap nuts to wash the fleece, the wool comes out so much softer and very clean.
Eli has been collecting dust and dirt this year.
Didn’t the fleece come out white and fluffy?
Carding it was a breeze; two passes over the carders and it was ready to spin.
The singles spun up smoothly and seem to want to be fairly thin. I think it will make about a sport weight yarn, once plied.

Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.

Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.

Meet Darby- the goose

In the middle of preparing for yet another possible bush fire threat we had a happy event; one of the female geese started to hatch her four eggs. We are trying very hard to not let any of the animals breed this year as the cost of feed for them all is getting way too much. We have been picking up all eggs we find and carefully following ducks and chooks who wander off into the bush with the telltale nonchalant, meandering gait that includes quick glances over the shoulder to be sure nobody is looking (if only ducks could whistle). We have picked up every egg (or so we thought), until one of the female geese was discovered with a nest under the washing machine beds. We hadn’t even seen her sneaking off to lay.

As I am against late term abortion (at least in my house), and she had been sitting for a while by the time we found her (getting off to appear as usual with the flock when she heard us coming, it seems), we let her set the four eggs.

They began to hatch one afternoon and by the next morning there were two sweet little fluff balls. Mum stayed on the nest until a third baby was hatched and dry, then she got off, leaving only one egg unhatched.

My daughter bought the last egg in for me to see; it had a small chip through which a beak protruded and gave sad little squeaks now and then. We saw that the membrane around the baby was dried and tight, so we carefully chipped some of the shell away and wet the membrane a little, being careful to not get water in that little beak (chicks drown that way very easily). We gave the little goose frequent rests to get used to the idea of being born, but continued to chip the shell away in a circle around the egg. We were trying to mimic the pattern the chick follows when breaking out of the egg.

Eventually the new baby could push free from the egg. We were very careful to not rip any of the membrane that looked like it still had blood flow (you can see veins in it when it is still alive), and waited patiently for the baby to absorb the blood from the membrane and yolk (what was left of it).

We let her dry off and kept her on a soft towel for the night. Because she saw my daughter and I first (before seeing her mum), she imprinted on humans. This means she will be unlikely to breed in the future as she thinks she is human. She is also not happy away from people, again because she has the instincts of a goose, but the self image she has is people shaped.

Most animals that care for their young will imprint to some degree; mammals are pretty good at it, but water birds have a really strong imprinting instinct. Little Darby will be introduced to her siblings over time, but she will be an inside goose for a while yet. We need to introduce her to other goslings so she doesn’t decide to imprint so strongly that she wants to mate with a human. That scenario leads to really aggressive and dangerous geese who get so frustrated that they attack any human they see.

For the moment, she is one happy little goose. We will enjoy the baby stage with her, while making sure that she gets to see her siblings often. Then when the teen aged angst begins, we will look for another goose companion for her and see if we can move her to the flock (slowly and without rejection). I think that a lot of animals become angry and hurt when the family they thought they belonged with rejects them by making them sleep outside the territory (the house) and doesn’t spend time with them anymore. We try to make the moving away process a gentle one here, by giving the animal in question a new friend or set of friends and making it clear that they are still part of our family, even if their lifestyle has changed.

Eggs everywhere- it sure is Spring

There are three people living in the humpy at the moment; one can’t eat eggs, one won’t eat eggs, then there is me. We have 8 laying hens, about 6 laying ducks and 2 laying geese; we collect about 8 eggs a day, or about 66 eggs a week. If you compare both sides of this scale you can see that a lot of eggs get wasted, and I hate waste.

I do attempt to use all our eggs, but have failed miserably in the task so far. Some of the methods we use are;

Fried eggs on weekends (for me)- this uses up about 4 eggs a week

Trading them to friends for veges- about a 12 a week

Using them in baking – about 6 a week

Making quiche (not every week)- about 8 a week

Giving them to a friend with an incubator- about 6 a week

All that gives me a total of, at most, 36 eggs used. I did freeze 2 dozen for use when they all stop laying, but that was a temporary reprieve. I don’t want to sell eggs (too many regulations) and most of my friends have chooks and are in the same predicament as I am (but if you live close and want eggs let me know, especially duck eggs).

So, to address some of the extra eggs, I went looking for egg recipes that could be made then frozen. That way we use the eggs and I have another meal that can be heated up for dinner. This is what I found;

Scrambled eggs, beans and sauce in a burrito; love the sound of this one.

Blueberry scones with icing; sounds delicious

Baked French toast sticks; okay we’ve drifted away from the idea of dinners, but they do use eggs.

Egg and vegetable noodle slice; freezable and good for lunch or dinner.

Halloumi, cheese and egg hot pot; sounds good, but I’m not sure it will freeze.

Broccolli and feta strata; whatever that is.

I’m not going to try all these recipes in one day (I do hate to cook), but I think I can manage one each weekend. That should fill the freezer with breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first frantic weeks of school.

We also take some of the excess eggs out to the edge of the firebreaks for the goannas and possums. In these dry times all our native animals are searching for food and water. The sheep water troughs and the occasional water tray around the outskirts of the humpy provide water for wildlife and the excess eggs provide just a little nutrition for struggling beings.

I know this sends a mixed message; we don’t want goannas in the house yard and the possums can be very destructive too. I do it because I can see a day, not too far in the future, when animals that are common now will be rare and endangered. I do it because I don’t want any being to suffer and if I have the means to ease suffering, it is my duty to do it. I do it because I love to see the variety of animals who show up to take advantage of the free food.

Eggs show up in the strangest places.

Goodbye Sid

Last week we had another family crisis; Sid, our wether, had another kidney stone block his urethra. He tried to jump a fence one morning (after possibly being chased by feral dogs) and probably dislodged a large stone in his bladder. We took him to the vet as he looked very uncomfortable. The vet said she would try to remove the stone, but she wasn’t very hopeful. We said our goodbyes that evening, just in case.

Our wonderful vet managed to dislodge the stone and push it back to the bladder, but it was blocked again the next morning. We had to make the decision to end his suffering as another operation was not likely to be successful. When he had the operation we knew he may only have a few months left to live and we tried to make those months enjoyable. He has lived a good life with us; full of friends, food and fun (which is all sheep care about).

I will miss my friend; the sound of him calling out to me when I got home always made my day. I will miss his social nature, that made him come over to meet every visitor with a friendly face. Sid was a calming influence in our sheep herd and always friendly. The other sheep will miss him too; they called for him for a few days after he went to the vet for the last time, and they are still subdued and quiet.

Because the ground is so dry and hard at the moment, we decided to have Sid cremated and plant him in a large pot with a fruit tree. We have planted many smaller family members this way and it is a good way to honour a life. Sid will become a dwarf mandarin tree and we will continue to care for him and remember him.

Even though we only knew him for four years, Sid was a part of our diverse family and he will be missed.

A dwarf mandarin tree and some calendula are Sid’s new home. His ashes are in the pot.