Saturday, October 25, 2008
I arrived home the other day to find the verge swarming with very small peeps... the first hatch of guinea fowl of the season! And a very special hatch indeed. You may recall some months ago I told you about arriving home just after we'd been married to find a new flock of guineas in the garden, and how they'd sung to us. Well, it was the same crowd. A double blessing.
I drove in, parked the car, grabbed the camera and dashed outside, leaving the side gate open. And as I snapped, so the small peeps all hurried through the gate... the parents calling them in from the top of the wall. That was on Monday and since then I've been a veritable Mother Hen.
I think I've learned more about guinea fowl behaviour in the last six days than I have in seven years of living here.
One sad thing, which I've long known, is that the mortality rate for guinea chicks is very high. Predators aside, it's like the little spark just goes out in some of them and they simply keel over. I've already buried one who did just that. Resultantly, the hen lays a huge number of eggs, up to 20, and if the flock is lucky, they'll raise three or five to adulthood. As it was, this flock started off with 19 or 20 (they are very tricksy to count!) and we almost immediately went down to 17. Numbers seem to have stabilised for the moment, but not without some intervention on my part.
For example, the other day, the whole lot hopped over the little wooden poled garden border into the shrubbery, except for one small peep who just couldn't make the 12cm jump. And when he did try, he promptly managed to hang himself in the gap between two poles. Poor mite just hung there as I rushed out, gathered him up (peeping furiously) and returned him to his family.
The pool is always a worry, it's a death trap to small creatures at the best of times, and I'm constantly checking it to make sure no one has fallen in. It was bad enough having to fish out a very drowned shrew this morning.
The greatest threat comes from the black sparrowhawk who hunts doves in the garden. He's a young male and has already figured that there are fine pickings to be had. Yesterday morning he swooped and circled, coming in really low to eye out the chicks. For now, I imagine they're too small to be of much interest, but as soon as they reach dove size and bigger, they will be at huge risk. I don't mind the sparrowhawk feeding on plump, corn-fed and peanut-buttered doves, but I am going to have serious views about him picking off the guinea chicks!
The male guineas in the flock of five have become terribly territorial and the guineas that usually feed in the garden are having a particularly hard time. Fights break out whenever other males get too close and one poor female, who seems particularly broody but has no young of her own, gets seen off with some serious pecks. The pair that seem to live here, have moved from the main garden to the driveway where they are looking decidedly sorry for themselves.
I've also discovered that guinea chicks in need of a nap go up to mum and butt her chest with their heads, much in the way puppies or lambs nudge their mothers for milk. At this point the mother settles herself down and all the chicks crowd beneath her. How she manages to fit 17 littlies beneath her wings, is beyond me. And every evening, she gathers them up, heads for the corner of the herb garden and buries herself between the asparagus fern and the ivy and settles in for the night, not a chick in sight.
As for the squirrels, well, they've been trying to work out what it's all about. The young males are really not sure what to make of it, or even how to get round a mass of guinea chicks. Yesterday one, in a fit of consternation, simply took one huge leap and jumped over the lot!
The lizards seem to be the worst affected... One poor critter was chased out from under the lavender and narrowly escaped with his life (by taking refuge behind the potted geraniums) as then entire guinea family descended on him, sharp beaks pecking furiously.
As for my garden... all the seedlings I planted two weeks ago are scratched and squashed. I'll be lucky if a single foxglove or dahlia makes it into being a full grown plant - it's a good thing that as of last year I opted to forego bedding plants and put in mostly small shrubs and perrenials. As for the lawn, it is in dire need of mowing and the paving in even more dire need of sweeping, but for now, I'm letting it all go a bit wild so as not to disturb my guests.
As I type this, the family are clustered at the patio door, peeping and chirping and singing. I imagine that pretty soon one or two small peeps are going to venture indoors - and that will mean more fun and games!