Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Composting in the Kitchen

  Some of you may remember a past post about my new outdoor compost bin I received earlier this fall. I'm glad to report that it's in use now and fulfilling its purpose. I've been adding lots of leaves, grass clippings and other garden waste to it. While it doesn't break down and form compost as quickly in the winter months as it would in warmer weather, I keep it stirred up so hopefully by spring I'll have a wheelbarrow load  or two of fresh compost to spread around.

While things were good outside, I was being somewhat fed up with the amount of compostable (is that a word?) stuff we were throwing out in the kitchen; so I decided to do something about it . Just recently I purchased (shown below) a kitchen compost pail. This indoor compost pail is small enough (7 qts) to sit on the counter, under the counter or hang inside a cabinet door. It includes an activated charcoal filter in the lid to absorb any odors that may be present.


I suppose you could use anything for holding food scraps but this little bucket seems perfect in every way. It's light and small, thus saving kitchen counter space and holds just enough. And to make things convenient I purchased the "bio" trash bags to go with it. These bags keep the pail clean inside and when your ready to empty your scraps you can throw it all into the compost bin - bag and all! These bio-bags are made from vegetable oil and cornstarch and begin to break down at about the same rate as other vegetable material, leaving no harmful chemicals or residues.

I purchased this compost pail from Lee Valley (currently my favorite garden supply co). It comes in a couple different sizes. Click on the photo to learn further details.

Compost pails


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Monday, December 29, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #18 - Mourning Dove

There have been lots of mourning dove visits to the feeders this week, so I decided to make them the BPW pick.



Mourning doves are very abundant in my area and are a common site throughout most of the US. Here in the US, they are the number one hunted game bird. According to the Virginia Department of game and Inland Fisheries (VDIGF) there are nearly 30,000 dove hunters that take about 400,000 doves each year in Virginia. It sounds like a lot but several new dove management programs have been initiated in recent years to help refine harvest management strategies:

"Mourning dove populations are monitored through harvest surveys and breeding population surveys. One such survey, the Call Count Survey (CCS), includes more than 1,000 randomly selected survey routes throughout the U.S., and has been conducted each spring for the past 39 years. The information collected from this survey, which includes both the number of doves seen and heard, is used to monitor dove population trends over time."

You can click here to read more.


If you want to attracting mourning doves to your backyard offer them a variety of seed such as corn, sunflower or millet. They are primarily ground feeders but will also feed on a platform type birdfeeder.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Movie 'Earth' - April 2009

My son and I went to the movies yesterday and I became very syked after watching the beginning previews of an upcoming movie called Earth. Disney will celebrate Earth Day 2009 (April 22nd) with the debut of Earth, the first feature-length nature documentary from its new production banner called Disney Nature. Earth supposedly captures some of the rarest and most beautiful imagery of the planet and wildlife ever videoed; and I believe it after watching the movie trailer on the "big screen". My favorite scene from the trailer is when the baby wood duck leaps from his hollow and falls to the ground.

Check out the trailer, it's MUST SEE!


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Friday, December 26, 2008


I hope Santa was good to everyone this year! I have to say that he was especially good to me. I received some really nice gifts - one of them being the Wingscape BirdCam.


This was a gift from my parents that included not only the camera, but the holiday package that included the mounting bracket, tripod and an extra 2gig memory card. I had it all setup and ready to go today but the rain held me back. Although this camera is weatherproof I decided to wait and break it in on a nicer day (hopefully tomorrow). Can't wait to start posting some results!!

And while we are on the subject of photography, my wife gave me a very nice Canon 300mm lens to go with my Canon XTi. Lots of photos to come!


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Coming Home  Painting by Alan Pulley - "Coming Home", 2008

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #17

But One of my favorite backyard birds is the Eastern bluebird. I'm fortunate to have these birds year around in my area. I can walk out into my yard and find them perching on almost anything that they can land on.

IMG_2280 These birds were are also a favorite of my Dads. I remember as a child how excited we would get when we spotted a bluebird in our yard. They were much rarer back then. But with awareness programs and the help of man made nest boxes, bluebird populations have increased in recent years.

Eastern bluebirds can be coaxed into coming to backyard feeders or any other type of food source that's laid out for them. Below is a male bluebird chowing down on some homemade Zick dough. During this time of year I try to keep this dough and a few mealworms on hand for those cold or snowy days, where finding some good nourishment can be tough otherwise.



Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sweet Potato Vine

I've been surveying my yard over the past couple weekends trying to catch up on some fall chores. One area that needed a little clean-up was a small rock garden bed located on the corner of my house. In that bed this summer I planted a couple ornamental sweet potato vines that did very well there. The frost killed them a few weeks ago so I decided to dig up the tubers. I was especially amazed at how big they had gotten this year.

Sweet Potato Vine tuber (2)

I told you they were big!

Sweet Potato Vine tuber (3)

Tubers are modifications of stems that swell up and store large amounts of carbohydrates - potatoes being the classic example. I dig these up not to eat, but to store and plant next spring. All that stored energy will help produce a much larger plant next year. You can eat these ornamental sweet potato's if you want, but I've heard they don't taste very well. Unlike the sweet potato grown in our vegetable garden, these oriental varieties are bred for their foliage, not flavor.

Sweet Potato Vine

I store the tubers (as is) in paper bags, or wrapped in newspaper. I'll place then in a small uncovered box in my garage and forget about them until next spring when all danger of frost has pass. These vines do well in pots or planted directly in the ground in full or part sun. From my own experiences they do well in most soil types that drain well. I mix a little compost in the soil when I plant them and add a little mulch and then I'm done. When the first frost comes along in the fall these vines will quickly die back. Soon after that is when I dig up the potatoes. It's always best to dig them up before the ground freezes.

More info:

They are very easy to root from cuttings also:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Feather Art

Check out these awesome hand painted feathers! A friend sent these pictures to me via email recently. I'm not sure who the artist is but I will try to find out. Aren't these great?

Such fine any picture to enlarge.





I wonder what they sell for?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #16

For this weeks BPW I'm flashing back to the  summer. Long gone now from North America and vacationing in South America for the winter is the purple martin.

This was my second summer hosting purple martins. I had six pairs that nested. Out of the six, five pairs were successful.


I've learned a lot in the two years that I've had purple martins. They are unique birds with a very distinctive sound. I feel fortunate that they choose to spend their summer with me. I encourage anyone that has the right conditions for purple martins to consider putting up a martin house. In the eastern part of North America they nest almost exclusively in man made nest boxes.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of Purple Martins. Their site contains lots of information about purple martins - from attracting and housing standards, to feeding and caring for orphaned chicks. The PMCA also has a great forum for asking questions or just posting your own experiences. Believe me, I've turned to the forum several times for help with various problems. I've always received quality answers from experienced personnel.

One other good purple martin reference is the Stokes Purple Martin Book:The Complete Guide to Attracting and Housing Purple Martins - I've found it very informative and turn to it often during the nesting season.



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Six Random Things...

Well, it seems as if my buddy Kyle over at "As the Mind Wonders" has tagged me with the "Six Random Facts" meme . I wasn't aware that such a thing was going around until I got tagged - thanks Kyle! Anyway, after reviewing the rules, it looks as if I'm supposed to share a little something about myself. I have to say that this little game reminds me of a recent training class I went to.  In order to encourage class participation,  the instructor had everyone write on a sheet of paper something about themselves that know one or very few new about. The instructor gathered all the papers and began to randomly read what was written. The class then had to guess who the person was. It was kinda fun once the guessing began. Oh well, enough stalling, lets get this going...

1. I enjoy listening to a wide range of music, and like many others, my mood normally determines what I listen to. But what a lot of people don't know about me is that I enjoy listening to classical music. When stressed, its the best tool for me in relieving stress  and helping me relax.

2. I'm not a big traveler. In fact, I have never flown before. For whatever reason I have a fear of flying - just call me the John Madden of the blogging community. I'm not saying that I never will fly, but I don't see it in my future any time least sober that is.

3. I am a big time procrastinator. I put things off all the time. I'm great at planning and organizing things in my mind on what needs to be done, but when it comes down down to it, I just put it off. Part of my problem is not laziness (well, maybe just a little bit), but the fact that I get distracted easy and often start on a new project before completing the last.

4. I am a sucker for technology and tech type gadgets. Whether it's just playing around or taking apart and fixing, I enjoy computers. I have been designated the tech go-to guy for my family and friends. In fact, before this blog I had a tech blog called "Bits & Bytes of Information"; however, it didn't last long.

5. Even though my blog is titled "Birds n' Such" I enjoy gardening as much as I do birdwatching. In a way I believe the two are tied together. I try to create/design my gardens in a way that's pleasing to me and benefits the birds and other wildlife at the same time. I also enjoy growing my own veggies. Nothing beats fresh vegetables for dinner! Look for more gardening related post in the near future.

6. I have a 17 year old son with autism. He was diagnosed with autism when he was about 3 years old. As young parents, we were overwhelmed and really had no clue what to do. Over time with a lot of love, learning, patience, therapy, and everything else involved with having a child with a disability, he has developed into a fine young man. He is currently in a special education program at a local high school and is doing very well. Things aren't perfect, but I wouldn't want them that way.

...and while I'm talking about myself, below is a photo of me, my 4 year old daughter and my 17 year old son.


Here are the rules for Six Random Things:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Write six random things about yourself.
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Okay, as the rules state I must tag six others. No pressure if you don't want to participate, but  really, it's fun and there's nothing to lose.

Lets see...I'll try not to pick someone who's already been tagged.

1. Dawn at Dawns Bloggy Blog
2. Vickie at Vickie Henderson Art
3. Kathie at Kathies Birds
4. Arija at Garden Delights
5. Nancy at The Zen Birdfeeder
6. Mary at Mary's View


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Skywatch Friday - 12/12/08

Today's photos are of the sunset I took earlier in the week from my back deck. This time of year the skies are so clear and look so BIG!IMG_2274

This photo below is actually a reflection of the sky from my pool. You can tell if you look closely - click to enlarge.


Be sure to visit the Skywatch homepage. Have a great weekend everyone!


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Friday, December 5, 2008

Ancient Flying Reptile Discovered

It's a bird, NO it's a plane, NO wait a minute, it's a flying reptile!! How would you like to run into one of these while birding?? I know I wouldn't!


A flying pterosaur fossil, with a body about the size of an average car, is the largest of these extinct reptiles ever to be found and has forced the creation of a new genus, scientists recently announced...

Click link below to read more:


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Skywatch Friday - 12/5/08

Here are a few pictures that I took on Monday (12/1/08).  The first picture is of the moon in very close proximity to the two brightest planets in our sky, Venus and Jupiter.  Click here to read more.


...there was a cold front coming through the area as well. It made for some nice cloud formations and contrasting colors.


IMG_2267 IMG_2269 Be sure to visit the Skywatch homepage.


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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Very Clever Crows

Just how smart are crows? Well, they maybe smarter than you think!

These crows had a problem with their food source.  They wanted to eat some hard nuts, but the shells could not be broken with their beaks alone. Their solution is ingenious. Check out the below YouTube video to watch.


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Monday, December 1, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #14

This weeks pick for BPW is the prothonotary warbler. I took these pictures while birding this summer in the Great Dismal Swamp NWR.

Please excuse the quality of these photos...this prothonotary warbler was not cooperating with me. They tend to move rather quickly along the waters edge, moving from branch to branch, foraging actively in low swampy foliage, looking under leaves for insects.



Prothonotary warblers breed across most of the midwestern and southeastern US. They are one of only a couple warbler species that nest in cavities.

Prothonotary warblers were on the Audubon 2007 watchlist. Studies have shown that its numbers are declining in several areas of its range.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

More Skywatching...

Look to the southwest after sunset on Monday, December 1st for a close conjunction between three bright solar system objects: the moon, Venus and Jupiter.

This is a rare occurrence - read more here:

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I am thankful for…

This was sent to me by a friend at work. I'm not sure who the author is but thought it would be fitting to pass on.

I am thankful for…

the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrendered by friends...

the taxes I pay because it means I am employed...

the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat

a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home…

my shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine…

the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking…

all the complaining about our government because it means we have freedom of speech…

my large heating bill because it means I am warm…

the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means that I can hear…

the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means I am alive…

the piles of laundry and ironing because it means that my loved ones are nearby…

weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive…

and I am thankful for your friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

View Space Shuttle From Earth

For all you space buffs...this is pretty cool...

On November 14, the space shuttle Endeavor blasted off on a new mission to deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Depending on your location on the Earth's surface, the spacecraft's position in orbit and the time of day, you may be able to see either the shuttle or International Space Station (ISS), or both, as they orbit about 240 statute miles above the planet. NASA has all the details on their site:

Click here For further instructions on how to see the shuttle and space station from the ground. And to get a schedule in your area for when and where to look for the space shuttle go here. Sighting opportunities section will be on the left side of the web page - from there select country, state  and then city for a detailed listing of possible sighting times. Due to cloudy weather here recently, I haven't been able to spot it, but I still have a few more days.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count 2009

  Just the other day I received an email from the Audubon Society (as many other birders did) with a reminder of the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count. For those not aware, the GBBC is a citizen science project that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds. Anyone can participate in this 4-day event. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds. I have participated for the last few years and it has been a lot of fun. The details from the email are as follows:

The 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 13-16, 2009. The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are calling on everyone to “Count for Fun, Count for the Future!” Participants did just that in record numbers for the 2008 count, submitting more than 85,000 checklists and identifying 635 species.
GBBC Ambassadors Needed
   As always, we rely on volunteer ambassadors to help spread the word about the GBBC and engage more people in their communities. Your contribution could be as simple as hanging up a few flyers or as ambitious as pitching the event on local radio and TV stations. You can use the new GBBC news release posted on the web site.  You’ll also find an updated version of the slide show for use in GBBC workshops and other events.
   For more ideas on how to promote the GBBC, check out Get Involved on the GBBC website. You can fill out the online ambassador sign-up form and specify the kinds of activities you’d like to do.

Project FeederWatch Season Begins
   The 2008-09 season of Project FeederWatch began this Saturday, November 8. You can sign up at any time. FeederWatchers keep track of their birds through the winter and report their tallies each week.
   Watching birds benefits science, but it can also be a healthy part of your routine. Hundreds of studies have verified that time spent watching nature can reduce stress. So why not slow down and watch the birds?
   Visit the PFW web site to learn more and to sign up. New participants receive a kit with a handbook, a bird-identification poster, calendar, and instruction booklet. There is a $15 fee ($12 for Lab members.) If you live in Canada, please visit our partner, Bird Studies Canada, or call (888) 448-2473.
Take the Healthy Yard Pledge!
   While you’re getting ready to feed and count birds this winter, make sure you’re maintaining healthy bird habitat in your yard by taking the Audubon Healthy Yard Pledge.
   The Healthy Yard Pledge is part of Audubon At Home, which focuses on managing backyards and other natural areas to help birds and other wildlife. Visit the website to learn about 16 key elements that make up a healthy backyard habitat—how many can be found in your yard?
   To learn more about the Audubon at Home program and take the Healthy Yard Pledge, visit

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly - Chipping Sparrow


My choice this week for BPW is the chipping sparrow. I had several pairs that nested in my yard this spring. Chipping sparrows,  one of the smallest sparrows, prefer  to nest in small evergreen shrubs or trees.


I have an abundance of evergreen shrubs/trees nearby that provide nesting habitat for these birds - two main ones being leyland cypress and elaeagnus shrubs.

These sparrows are known for their neat trilling song. Click here to listen.


Friday, November 7, 2008

The Sphinx Moth

Sphinx Photo by L. Todd Spencer / The Virginia-Pilot

Check out this cool sphinx! These moths often fool me into thinking I'm looking at some kind of weird hummingbird at first, when actually it's just a huge moth. Their arrival in fall is always a pleasant surprise for those lucky enough to spot them. Suddenly they arrive, floating around flowers, often in numbers, and their graceful hummingbird like behavior never ceases to amaze.

Sphinx moths aren't difficult to spot, but many people miss seeing them see them because they usually don't appear until dusk. They are often drawn by bright fragrant flowers - their favorite being moon flowers and ginger lilies. These two varieties normally bloom into late fall, when the moths typically show up.

The sight of these big pink, white and brown moths often causes a double take. They aren't what they seem to be. They hover with whirring wings, feeding on nectar deep in a flower's center, behaving like a hummingbird. Instead of lapping up nectar with a long tongue the way hummingbirds do, sphinx moths use a proboscis, about as long as their bodies, that's coiled up under their heads. They unroll the slim feeding tube right into the center of a long-necked flower and suck away as if the tube were a straw. Check out the short video below:

Sphinx moths come from the hornworm caterpillar.

Click here to view a large variety of sphinx moths.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My New Compost Bin

I wanted to write and share new product (new to me at least) I recently received as a gift that has me excited about composting again - not that I didn't compost before, its just now I have a cool new bin that keeps it all together and looks good to!

This new compost bin idea  is very simple, looks neat, and has functionality all at the same time. It's modeled after one designed by Sir Albert Howard, a 20th-century English gardener often referred to as the "father of composting". The bin itself is a simple structure consisting of metal corner posts onto which you attach boards to. Here is a picture of the corner post from Lee Valley, where mine was purchased:


All you have to do is supply and attach 1" X 6" boards to form your square bin. The boards should be made of of rot-resistant lumber. 


Once cut to length (48"), the boards are angled inward and attached to the corner brackets with the supplied screws. This angled design helps funnel the rain into the bin, and there's sufficient space between them to allow for good air flow.


The top three boards at the front of the bin are not attached so they can be easily removed to access the interior of the bin and to keep it stirred.




It's empty now, as you can see, but believe me, it will be filled in know time!

It helps to have the compost bin conveniently located and it also needs to be clear of trees, whose roots will invade the rich material and suck the nutrients out of it. Placing the bin near a water source is a good idea as well, because periodically you'll need to give it a shot of water when it gets dry. Finally, it needs to be in a spot that gets at least a half day of sun for it to heat up properly.

To learn more about composting and to view other do-it-yourself plans check out the links below:

Composting 101

Kathleens composter from a garbage can

Lowes - Building a compost bin

Backyard Gardener - Compost Site

Riverside County Waste Management

VA Coop Ext - Making compost from yard waste


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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Glowing Caterpillar" - Wordless Wednesday


Photo by Alan Pulley (2008)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Migration Miracle

Thought I would share some interesting news I came across this week dealing with bird migration.

It seems that recently some tiny sensors were placed on a bar-tailed godwit to monitor their migration patterns. What they found out was amazing! Follow the link below to see a short video clip from ABC Good Morning America (give the video a few seconds to begin playing):


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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bodie Island Lighthouse

   Today's skywatch post is of the Bodie Island Lighthouse of North Carolina. Earlier this summer my family and I spent some time there.


The Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced body) is one of three historic lighthouses on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The lighthouse was built in 1872.


 Some Bodie Island Lighthouse Facts:

Height: 156 feet
Height of Stripes: 22 feet
Stairs: 214
Beam Range: 19 miles
Ownership: transferred from US Coast Guard to the National Park Service in 2000

Here is a picture from inside the lighthouse looking up:


There's a nearby nature trail that we were going to hike on until my wife saw this sign below...I ended up hiking alone.


Although we didn't have the time, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a great place to go birding. Nearly 400 species of birds have been sighted within its surrounding waters. This impressive number is due to several factors: its location on the Eastern Flyway, varied habitats, and strong winds and storms that often bring in exhausted vagrants.  They have quite an impressive bird checklist.

Areas of the Cape Hatteras shoreline is also a breeding area for the endangered piping plover. If interested, you can view last years Piping Plover Report.

I hope to do more bird watching there next spring!


To learn more about Bodie Island and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore check out the links below:


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

MonarchLIVE Distance Learning

I wanted to make this aware to those who have or educate children that beginning this month (October), children from the United States, Mexico, and Canada will tune in to watch the kickoff of MonarchLIVE.

MonarchLIVE is an exciting conservation education project that uses satellite broadcast and Web technology to bring the magic of monarch butterfly migration to classrooms and children throughout the Western Hemisphere. The project is available for free to classrooms. While the main audience targets grades 4 thru 8, the project provides a wide range of extensions that will support both younger and older students. It is estimated that more than 400,000 thousand children across the country will participate throughout the 2008-09 school year.

For more details about MonarchLIVE, visit to watch a 2-minute video or visit the project Web site at

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


  I was originally going to post this photo as a Wordless Wednesday post, but decided I just couldn't stop there.


Here is my daughter Morgan lovin' on her pet rabbit Thumper. I know, it's not a very original name but its the only rabbit name that she knew, and her mind seemed made up. Who am I to argue with a 4-year old little girl?

She got Thumper as a gift from my Dad about a 1-1/2 ago. She has always enjoyed letting Thumper out of his hutch to play with him in the backyard. This was never a problem as a young rabbit, but now that Thumper is older, and much faster, he's not so cooperative when its time to catch him. Tame or not, Morgan hasn't quite caught on to that fact. All she knows is that when she's done playing, daddy's the one that has to chase him around the yard.

We tried the leash thing with Thumper (below), but he never seemed to like it too much. He would always squirm out of it some how, so we gave up on that idea.


So after some thought, Morgan and I came up with a compromise that would benefit us all - a rabbit playpen (partially shown in the 1st picture above). Basically it's just a 6' x 6' portable pen I constructed where she and Thumper can play together while he benefits from exercise and eating grass; and dad (me) can easily catch him when its time to go up . It's working out great so far.


Here she is feeding him a carrot from our garden - safe and sound in his hutch.



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