Early Eggs!

Here are the first eggs from my Silver Ameraucana pullets hatched 4/22/19.  The birds were 21 weeks old when they began laying.  Because there is a variation in the shell color between the eggs, I believe they were laid by two different birds.

Seeing these eggs in September is very exciting for me.  The silver color of Ameraucana chickens is notoriously slow to develop.  Last year the baby hens didn’t start laying until December.  They were 8 months old.  That is a long time to wait for new eggs, especially when you are paying to put the lights on in the coop at 4 am every day.  Hens need at least 12 hours of light to lay.  Here in Maine we get a lot less than that during the cold months.

Here are photos of some of the young hens.  I suspected the pullets might lay earlier than their mothers because their little brothers matured earlier than my past generations of Silvers.  Some baby cockerels started crowing at 3 months, well ahead of schedule.  When I found these eggs yesterday I was over the moon.  Finally, hens that start laying when they are supposed to.  Yay!

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Donnell Pond Reserve, Hancock Co., ME

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Donnell Pond Maine Public Reserved Lands in Hancock County near Sullivan are part of over 15,000 acres of barely touched wilderness.  There are many walking and ATV trails through the forest and several mountains to enjoy in addition to crystal clear Donnell Pond.  Above are two views that comprise a near panorama of Schoodic Bay from Schoodic Beach on Donnell Pond.  On the right is the foot of Black Mt and on the left, the base of Schoodic Mt.  The beach is unbelievable, with coarse yellow sand that extends into the water as far as I could see.  Even with the cloud cover and chill of early September in the air, I was tempted to take a dip in the pond.

This year for our annual mini vacation, we decided to stay between Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Peninsula.  Our home away from home was a lovely Airbnb in Sullivan. The post and beam house was right on the ocean with a gorgeous view of the bay. This is the sunrise over Flanders Bay from our bedroom window.
The first day of our stay, we climbed 1049 ft Black Mountain. It’s a good thing the sky was overcast because the climb would have been too hot for us otherwise. As it was, we got fairly sweaty by the time we reached the top. The trail is moderately steep and sometimes crosses bare rock faces or scrambles over boulders. We started at Schoodic Beach, passed through a thick oak and pine woods, then began the ascent. The tree species changed to fir, spruce, maple and beech as we gained altitude.

Many of the beech on the mountainside are afflicted by Beech Bark Disease that has been destroying the species statewide. The trunks become riddled with cankerous sores until the trees are killed. A scale insect accidentally imported to Nova Scotia from Europe in the late 1800s has spread through most of the eastern seaboard.  The insect opens wounds on the trees which are then invaded by a fungus.  The fungus kills or severely weakens the tree.

It is so sad to see the stands of silvery-barked beech that once provided nuts for the wildlife now reduced to standing rotting wood.  I hope some of the trees develop natural immunity to this scourge before all the beech are lost just like the chestnuts.  There is evidence that certain beech trees do have immunity and over time these trees should become prevalent in the woods.

Nearing the summit, the forest changes again to include large fields of reindeer moss (a lichen) and other lichens and mosses.  This year these plants are doing particularly well due to the abundant rainfall.  Another plant to benefit from the excess moisture is the fungus.  Mushrooms popped up all along the trail.  The most abundant were bright yellow species.
This small dead maple leaf was surrounded by tiny white mushrooms. I’m not a fungi scholar so I don’t know the names of the various mushrooms, but I do like the great variety of their shapes and colors.  The forest floor was also covered with laurel and wild low bush blueberry and cranberry. I enjoyed a few late season berries, yum.

The summit provided spectacular views of the surrounding area and also a pleasant breeze off the ocean, welcomed by two perspiring hikers.  We somehow missed a connecting trail at the top that would have taken us over to a small mountain pond.  There is always next time to see that.  We descended through impressive cliffs made of slabs of granite.  In places the stones formed natural steps.  The trail back to our car was relatively flat and passed through a lowland boggy area.  Cedar, spruce and maple towered overhead.  Moss and mushrooms lined the way.

The Black Mt trail is only one of many in this reserve.  Next door to the Donnell Pond Unit (as the State Forestry Service calls it) is another unit, the Tunk Lake Reserved Lands with more mountains, streams and ponds.  This area of Maine is particularly beautiful.  It is also not heavily used.  The scenery is very similar to Acadia Park without all the crowds.  We did not encounter a single soul during the several hours we spent around Black Mt.  Passing through the reserved lands is Black Woods Road, a designated scenic bi-way linking the towns of Franklin and Cherryfield.  This drive along Rte. 182 is well worth the time.

There is even a ghost story associated with the highway.  Back at the turn of the last century, it is reputed that a newlywed couple were traversing the road at night.  Their horse was frightened and their wagon went off a long drop.  To this day there are reports of motorists at night encountering a woman in white standing in the road who disappears.  Although I’ve driven that way many times both during the day and after dark, I’ve never met the ghost.  I have seen many miles of old growth forest and idyllic waterways.

Nectarines!

We did it!  We grew nectarines!  The first harvest is in.  Fifteen fruit.  They are delicious, tree ripened and juicy.  The flavor is reminiscent of peach combined with apricot, a touch of some sweet, fragrant flower and honey.  I had to toss out almost as many as I kept.  The bugs seem to really like nectarines, too.  Since I grow everything organically, I didn’t apply any sort of bug killer this year to see how well the tree would produce without any help.

The five-year-old baby nectarine tree set its first fruit this year.  It had an abundant crop.  In June after the tiny fruit were showing, I stripped more than half off the limbs.  Removing any fruit trying to grow toward the ends of the young limbs and thinning so no limb had a lot of fruit, I hoped to aid the tree in ripening a decent crop without putting too much strain on it.

The photo above was taken after I had harvested most of the fruit.  I made sure the heavy nectarines would all be supported around the central, stronger part of the tree.  The fruit only reached the size of large apricots.  I’m not sure if that is their normal size, or if they are small because there were still too many for the tree to handle.

I noticed early in the summer that some insect was biting the fruit and causing it to bleed.  Whatever did that didn’t leave any lasting impression.  There are no tunnels or misshapen places on the nectarines.  After the fruit was ripe, the bugs really closed in.  A small black beetle with yellow stripes busily chewed little holes.  The fruit wasps and fruit flies were quickly attracted to the open wounds.  While I was harvesting, a white admiral butterfly kept landing on the nectarines.  Butterflies like the juices of many fruits.  At least the deer don’t seem attracted to the tree.

Even with all the competition, we have a very satisfactory first result from this tree.  If we’re lucky, the tree with continue to thrive in our chilly, short season northern climate.  I’m hoping next year there will be enough fruit to make some nectarine jam.  Yum!

Little Fat Red Caterpillar

On August 20, my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a hike at Dodge Point Reserve in Newcastle, ME.  Previously I blogged about this place, a wonderful spot for getting away from it all.  The land was once a tree farm and has an abundance of old growth oak trees.

As we walked along through the forest, we noticed that something was hitting the leaf litter on the floor.  It sounded like rain.  The weather was bright, sunny and around 85F, not a rain cloud in sight.  After searching for a while to find the cause of the pitter patter, I realized it must be droppings from caterpillars munching on the plethora of oak leaves above our heads.  We were both amazed at the vast number of insects that must be at work up there to produce a constant rain of droppings.

After walking a bit farther, I came across this bright, plump bug on the path.  I took photos since I’d never seen a caterpillar like this before.  After some poking around on the Butterflies and Moths of North America website, the identification was fairly certain.  The little blob is Heterocampa umbrata, or the White-Blotched Heterocampa.  Apparently they come in red or green versions.  The peculiar long face and funny beady eyes are the best identification.  This species feeds on–oak leaves.  I assume the pink spud dropped to the forest floor to prepare for pupation since it appears well grown.  It will hatch out as a rather drab moth.  All the looks are in the caterpillar stage, for sure.

Here’s a link to the butterflies and moths website:  https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Heterocampa-umbrata

Cranes in Maine

Yesterday my husband and I were driving home from the coast.  We were between Sheepscot and Whitefield, towns well inland, when I saw a pair of big birds standing in a field of high grass near the road.  They were sandhill cranes.  We did not stop to take a photo so I borrowed one from Pixnio.  The cranes I saw looked quite similar to this pair.  I don’t know if they were greater or lesser sandhills.  It was extremely surprising to me to see these birds in Maine since I thought they only lived far west of us.

The birds were quite tall, over 3 feet, and a dusky brown color with some gray.  They were standing facing one another less than a foot apart, beaks lowered, like they were staring in each other’s eyes.  They may have been a mated pair or even rivals looking for a fight.  I wish now we had stopped and watched them for a bit.

A little research reveals that within the past twenty years, these cranes have moved into Maine during the summer to breed.  Last year I thought I saw a crane hunting at our pond one day, but it left quickly and I didn’t get a good look at it.  I figured it was really a great blue heron, although my eyes told me it looked like a crane.  Now I know I saw a crane!

The first sandhill cranes were spotted in Maine in 1999.  Since then sightings have increased and breeding pairs have been found.  The birds breed May-July.  The pair I saw could be summer residents or just passing through on the beginning of their long flight south to spend the winter in the southwestern US or Mexico.

It is unknown if the birds once populated Maine and just died off due to human pressure, or if sandhill cranes are moving into new territory.  There are no reliable historic records of sandhill cranes in Maine.  It may be that the global warming trend is making our chill northern state attractive to cranes.  In this state we do have lots of wetland and farmland, the birds preferred habitat.  I hope one or two or even a whole flock land here at our farm pond so I can get a good look at them and maybe even some pictures.

In the July Garden

It’s July, with lots of heat, humidity and showers, so the garden’s growing fast.  The wax beans have taken over their area and are full of blooms.  In about a week I should start harvesting beans to can for winter.  The corn did better than knee-high, it was belly button high for the Fourth of July!  The stalks are beginning to tassel.

The field pumpkins, pie and mini pumpkins are all enjoying the long, warm days.  They are rapidly spreading to fill any empty space in the garden.  I’ve seen a  few squash bugs and cucumber beetles, not as bad as some years.  Could be the plentiful rain does not agree with them.

I just finished the first thinning of the carrots, much to the rabbits’ delight.  The carrots and rainbow chard are coming along nicely.  Soon I will enjoy the first chard harvest.  Excessive rain when the chard was sprouting caused it to germinate spottily.  I will seed the empty space in the row with carrots.  They still have plenty of time to mature before fall.

The strange tendril peas are very happy growing up along the garden fence.  They are covered in blooms and will soon make the most delicious fresh peas for eating right in the garden.  The peas rarely make it up to the house to be cooked.  They are too yummy raw.

Purple peppers are starting to grow well now after a slow start.  Two were chewed off by something.  Both stems continued to live and are putting on leaves again.  Hoping to get at least one pepper each from those two damaged plants.  As you can see, I still have plenty of weeding to do!

This year the tomato patch is nice and orderly, not a jungle at all.  The plants climb up inside their cages, supported off the ground.  They already are producing lots of fruit.  I can hardly wait for my first taste of garden ripe tomato.

Now, if only the sunny weather with adequate rain continues.  And no hail storms wander our way as they did up in northern Maine a few days ago.  Quarter-sized hail hammered the area just below Moosehead Lake.  That kind of hail is devastating to gardens (and everything else in its path!)

Big Day In The Barn

Today is a big day in the barn!  The baby barn swallows are leaving the nest.  Mom and dad swallow have been working their feathered butts off catching enough bugs to sustain themselves and five babies.  We have a lot of bugs.  They must catch tons of mosquitoes and black flies.  The birds did a good job because all the babies are grown and ready to spread their wings.  In the above photo, the nest, made of dried clay and lined with hay and chicken feathers, sits on a support just under the ceiling of our hay barn.  Two babies have flown about five feet to rest on an electric cord.  One baby is off the nest and sitting on the support.  Two babies peek from the nest.

Here are mom, dad and one baby.  The parents continuously fly in and out of the barn, bringing food for their huge babies and giving encouraging chirps to the young ones.  Probably telling them all about how to use their wings and what to watch out for.  The parents also screech and dive-bomb any threats to the nest, such as a farmer trying to do chores.

The barn swallows have nested in our barn for as long as it’s been there.  I recall climbing up to peek in their nests as a child.  Every spring we go through the exciting (and harrowing for the parents) day when the young ones leave the nest.  After this first brood is out, the pair will start another clutch of eggs.  They like to do two hatches each year.  The second one tends to run into haying season.  We have to use special care not to interfere with the birds as we bring the hay crop in the barn.

The parents will spend several days teaching the babies to fly and catch insects.  Then the babies disappear for hours on end, feeding themselves and exploring.  Mom and dad start the second hatch.  The first babies return regularly to visit and sleep around the barn area at night.  When the second hatch leaves the nest, all the barn swallows hang around for awhile.  There is a veritable swarm of birds swooping and chattering over the barnyard.  Before long the nip in the air at night signals time to fly south.  Usually by the beginning of September the barn swallows have left for lower latitudes.

This year we only have one pair nesting in the barn.  Sometimes we have two or more!  The daily scolding and swooping of the parents can really get on a person’s nerves when all they are trying to do is feed chickens and rabbits, not molest swallow nests.  But, we put up with their foolishness just to be able to share the excitement of a day like today.