pecking Order

Animals have their own way of doing things. We have ours and they have theirs, “we” being “humans” and “they” being “everything else” that understand each other as we bumble about convinced that we do, too.

The farm animal sanctuary residents eat their breakfast each morning then go about their day. We often go about our day thinking little of what they are doing. If it’s hot, as is ridiculously so now, they find shade. The mammals disappear in the bottom land, under the trees, to graze or to roll on the cool spring-fed earth. The birds chase insects across the yard. But each day, at the same time says Neighbor Casey, they meet under the same white pine in the south pasture. They gather for a half-hour, give or take, then the crowd disperses.

Sometimes there’s a crowd, perhaps enough that the meeting can be called to order with a quorum met.

PANDORA–Important announcements regarding Covid… latest news and precautionary steps when dealing with humans. (April 3, 2020, Casey reporting)

Sometimes it’s the Pecking Order, pecking order.

PANDORA–Agenda discussion: Food distribution and perching assignments. Open discussion and complaints regarding the new turkey referred to as Bruce. (May 17, 2021, Casey reporting)

Another year on and “we” still don’t know what’s really going on. But we can try, and enjoy ourselves in the process. I’m pretty sure that Casey’s right about Bruce being a topic of conversation, anyway.

Blowing 2020 out of the water

“Last year on May 20th we had 56 species and on the 21st we had 57.  Today we chewed those numbers up and spit out an overwhelming 68 species.  A phenomenal 18 warbler species and The QF is now at 134 species which is 2/3 of the species seen in Putnam County.  The Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat and the Canada Warbler are all new just since Saturday.  We saw 2 Wilson’s Warblers on the tree line way back in the prairie area and 2 Green Herons fly from the quarry.  One of the best birding days of my life. The light wasn’t good for photos, but I got a new one of the Wilson’s Warbler, a couple of Blackburnian Warblers and a Blackpoll Warbler.”

Spring Bird Migration Hike 2021

Tracking American Redstarts in the upland forest on May 15, 2021

Mary Poppins had a bird woman who drew birds in with feed. Cartoonist Gary Larson sketched a before-and-after of Screen 1) pigeons swooping in and leaving Screen 2) a pile of empty rags topped with a hat and a few tuppence.

The Quarry Farm has a bird woman named Deb. She doesn’t need no stinkin’ feed and l’m pretty sure she doesn’t deal in tuppence. She told me last week that she has plenty of patience and enough Advil to watch and wait for the birds to show themselves. As we stood on the curve of Cranberry Run, I asked her what bird was calling above. It was a Baltimore Oriole. I asked for another audio I.D. a couple of minutes later.

“It’s a Baltimore Oriole,” she replied without so much as a sigh. Apparently Deb has enough Advil to deal with hopeless birders like me, too.

Deb introduced The Quarry Farm to someone who speaks bird even better than she does. When David Smith tunes his ears to birdsong in the floodplain, a thrush becomes not just one thrush but both a Swainson’s Thrush and a Wood Thrush. All the yellowish bird shapes silhouetted against the sky become a variety of migrating warbler species.

Thanks to Deb and David, this year’s Spring bird hike checklist is whole lot longer than those of past years. They looked at their previous records and chose the 2021 date. This morning was clear, floodwaters from earlier in the week had shrunk to a couple of vernal pools, and 14 birders walked the trails to record 44 species. Most of these birds are just passing through, but not before Deb could take their picture.

Poetry in motion

Haiku Hike today (5)

April is National Poetry Month and April 17 is International Haiku Day. It seemed fitting, poetic justice even, to observe both with a weekend Haiku Hike in the nature preserve. Eight humans accepted the challenge.

Red Fox Cabin in
The woods above the quarry
Deserted homestead

Spring itself is a muse that inspires with emerging wildflowers, pale green hints of tree leaves and birds inviting each other to call. With honeysuckle hiking staffs and a memo pad between us, we called out and wrote down words and phrases that described what we were experiencing and used them to create haiku.

One-hour walk turned into two (7)

A sycamore watched us from the opposite bank as we descended into the floodplain. Cranberry Run is showing signs if nutrient overload, with early ropes of algae sounding the alarm. The algae will grow in the low warm water, clogging fish, mollusk, crustacean and insect habitat then decaying to leave them starved for oxygen. Algae was added to our streamside words that included “waterfall”, “nest”, “goose”, “rocks”, “shells”, “cardinal”, “sycamore” and “violet”.

Algae in the stream
Face on the sycamore tree
Saturday hike scenes

We are on a hike
Yellow purple violet
Spring rising from soil

“Shed deer fur” was added to our haiku toolbox. What with David’s land bridge guarded by a nesting goose and a gander in the southeast shallows, we trekked north around the quarry wetland through the mammoth log gateway. David’s honeysuckle-rooting maddock leaned against an old honey locust that he calls the Hand Tree.

Deer sheds in the woods
Goose sitting on land bridge nest
Guarded by her mate

Spring beauties, mayapples, buckeye seedlings and violets in three colors are coming to the light in the floodplain that just last year was overgrown with bush honeysuckle. More deer fur lay at the base of a honeysuckle skinned by rubbing antlers (more power to the whitetails!)

Honeysuckle cleared
Deer fur beside shaggy bark
Birds serenading

Up we walked, past the Settler’s Well and the tall grass prairie. A female bluebird gave us a glance and ducked into a woodpile. Fresh piles of dug soil indicated a activity in the ridge burrows downhill from Nature’s Classroom. As we tiptoed past the mama goose, she raised her head but allowed us to move along without incident. Two black-capped chickadees spun in a quarrel. We hiked up and out, ate donut holes and ambled south to visit the farm animal sanctuary.

Time flies with poets (5)

(Thanks to the creative, hiking poets who wrote the haikus shared in this post.)

A Fanciful Walk on the Plain

Click to Download the Spring 2021 Newsletter

It’s a chilly, breezy spring afternoon, and I’m crossing the Cranberry Run bridge. lugging a flat of purple violets dug up from the garden around Red Fox Cabin. I’m headed for the floodplain to the north between our Quarry-turned-wetland-pond and Riley Creek. As I follow the trail around the northwest corner of the Quarry, bullfrogs erupt noisily from the bank and plop-plop-plop into the water. Out in the shallow depths of the Quarry several beds of flags are pushing up spiky leaves. Their clear blue flowers will come later. On both sides of the path Spring Beauties are blooming, small and delicate.


Farther north on the trail, the Spring Beauties are sparser and the soil looks washed. Floodwaters flow down Cranberry Run from the south to cover this area at least once a year, draining slowly into Riley Creek. It’s here on the floodplain that I’ve come to plant some violets and see what might be starting to grow this spring. That’s of special interest because for years dense, spreading thickets of bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose, as well as wild grapevine tangles have effectively shaded out most vegetation. Until now.


As a result of David Seitz’s hard work this past year, the invasive scrub that had smothered the plain is now the stuff of several enormous brush piles, some given names for fun like the Giant Turtle Pile and North Turtle Pile. These mounds are providing wildlife cover, while sunlight filtering through the branches of hackberries, bitternut hickories, and sycamores will bring dormant seeds to life—for better or worse perhaps, considering what may have settled out of floodwaters and lain in wait for sunshine. The coming months will tell. Today I’m seeing tufts of grass and sedges and wispy sprigs of bed straw that may soon cover the ground like green froth—and twine around ankles.


As I head back down the trail, violets all planted, I imagine a time when they’ll form a purple carpet lifting above tall grasses. I imagine Dutchman’s Breeches, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Trilliums, Jerusalem Artichokes, Heliopsis, and other native plants migrating to the floodplain. I envision myself transplanting more native plants and flowers to the woods. I picture the native trees that Anne is going to plant soon grown tall and sheltering. Several times, I spot an enemy near the path and stoop to yank a leafy honeysuckle seedling.


—The Quarry Farm Gardener

Fresh out of titles

This photograph popped up on my Facebook feed, a memory to share from February 6, 2011. The term “polar vortex” was a year in the future for most of our vocabularies, but there was knee-deep snow that winter. We had just celebrated what was the last Christmas with my dad. He and Mom left for the Cleveland Clinic and would not leave until after his death.

Dad wasn’t at all well in the Summer of 2010. I found out later that he told my mother that he was pleased with what My Steven and I were doing down the road from their place. We had five years of wildlife rehabilitation training behind us and had just made the decision to open our acres to domestic species in need of a quiet place to live their lives. Chickens and geese had lived with us for a couple of years. Then in 2010, two two-year-old Nigerian Dwarf Goats road home with my child and me, from Cincinnati to Riley Township. We surprised a picnicking family at a rest area near Tipp City when we took Marsh and S’more for a walk there. Cellphones came out when we stopped to fill up in Sidney. The day after the goats began their sanctuary life, Dad drove his ATV here to meet them.

The brothers were a delight from the get-go. Marsh was a sweet, huggy sort who charmed visitors while his more aloof sibling S’more graced everyone with a snippet of presence before moving on. S’more had a strange habit of arching his neck and twisting his nose in a circular motion. Marsh had a number of health issues that took his life a few years ago. The twist was S’more’s only hint of physical weirdness. He lived until this morning, a year longer than the average lifespan for his kind.

It seems like I have been recalling a lot of these memories recently. I told Steven this morning that I feel strange because I don’t cry. “That will come later,” he said. “Right now, we’re busy.” S’more died this morning, just as S’more would, on one of the coldest days of the year when the ground is frozen solid and the forecast is calling for single digits as the week moves ahead. This morning was busy with feeding everyone with high caloric feed, laying in more bedding, readjusting coat straps, hauling water, figuring out what to do with S’more’s body, and calming the living due to the strangeness of his absence.

Dad never got to meet the pot-bellies or their giant cousin Nemo. When we visited him in the Cleveland Clinic, he liked hearing stories about Bernie the rooster who hated the red lawnmower and my red running jacket (even when I was wearing it.) And I am grateful. My father could a put face to a name when we told him the latest antics of a chocolate-and-graham goat who did things his very own way, in his very own time, with a twist.

It Took a Blizzard

Download Winter 2021 Newsletter

The other day I stopped my car beside a roadside juniper to watch a flock of small birds feeding on frosty blue berries fallen on snow. The scene reminded me of a more somber one of 42 years ago: The blizzard of ’78 had struck with icy fury. The deck where my husband and I kept several feeders drifted so rapidly that soon frantic, hungry birds couldn’t reach their food. Lashing snow drifted high and fast on the sliding doors and froze solid in the near zero-degree temperatures, effectively blocking our attempts to help them. When the blizzard finally quieted, countless birds had starved and frozen to death. Bodies of blue jays and other species littered our deck. Farther out in the countryside, populations of quail and other seed-eaters like the jays were decimated. The quail have never recovered around here (habitat loss hasn’t helped), and it took a long time for jays to come back in any numbers.

The shocking images of those birds losing their battle against insurmountable odds made a lasting impression on my husband and me, causing us to see our pleasant pastime of feeding the birds in a more serious light. Doing a good job that matters to their survival, we understood, takes more than throwing out buckets of birdseed. While not every winter produces a catastrophic blizzard, even in a mild winter, birds face challenges and the more accurately we can meet their food needs, the better their chances. Scientific studies from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other institutions, observations from the Audubon Society and the legions of birders like Quarry Farm Board member Deb Weston continue to enlighten us about such issues as how to feed the birds with specially adapted feeders (an interesting subject for another time), what foods are most nutritious—and what we shouldn’t feed them. For example, we’ve been told that bread, fresh or dried, offers no nutrition to birds and can be deadly if it contains mold; and table scraps can be sickening.

Thanks to the studies, a lot of sound information is available now about what to feed birds throughout the year. In a recent online search I found several detailed articles about the best foods for the birds we see in our NW Ohio backyards right now, when they especially can use the help. The food considered the best for the most species is black oil sunflower seed. One writer calls it “the hamburger of the bird world.” The shells are thinner than those of striped sunflower seeds, making the nutritious, high-calorie content easier to reach. Another good high-fat bird food is suet, raw from the butcher shop or rendered and formed into blocks containing seed mixes. The blocks tend to last longer than raw suet, which can melt and become rancid more quickly in warmer temperatures.

Small finches love thistle seed (also, nyjer). Something to keep in mind when feeding thistle seed is that it can quickly become moldy and rancid when wet. A sure sign of thistle seed gone bad is that birds stop eating it. Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice, and to a lesser extent finches and cardinals, like peanuts—shelled, dry-roasted and unsalted. Birds will go for peanut butter (not peanut “spread”), as well, rubbed into bark, packed in pine cones, etc. Many small ground-feeding birds such as juncos, sparrows and doves like the starchy content of white proso millet. Cracked corn appeals to sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves (and squirrels) and many other birds.

If you feed a seed mix, as I suspect most of us do, read the label to make sure it’s a good one with large amounts of the seeds mentioned here, and very little junky filler. Or you can buy the individual seeds in bulk and mix your own.

There is so much more to know about helping birds survive the extremes of winter and mounting pressures of other kinds. The rewards of making the effort are great for all of us.

—The Quarry Farm Gardener

 

Walking with Fergus

I asked Fergus—floppy-eared Muppet dog, as Steve calls him—if he wanted to go for a walk this afternoon. He treated the question with great suspicion. He rolled his eyes and curled more tightly into the kennel under the stairs, one with a broken latch that seems to be considered a safe cave for cats, dogs and fox, probably because the door is always open. It was Ferg’s nap space today and the leash in my hand probably said “trip to the vet” instead of fun.

I didn’t realize that Fergus had never been for a walk on the trails. He is one of those dogs with twitchy legs that, if given the opportunity, will run and run on the trail of scent and excitement until he stops…and has no idea where he is. When he does make a trip outside the gate, it usually is for a medical reason. So it took some coaxing to get him to the gate today. There was slight hesitation outside the gate, then he found his feet and nearly took me off mine.

We skied the snowy hill down to Cranberry Run. Then there were three bridges to conquer. Fergus’ legs shook as he stepped over the slats, just like most people do. He paused halfway and watched the water flow below. But adventure in the form of a running fox squirrel were incentive enough cross to the opposite bank. Coburn’s Bottom Trail led us to David’s Turtle Pile of bush honeysuckle brush where a deer and a flock of turkeys flushed and melted back into the trees.

We followed turkey tracks up the hill past Sycamore Point and saw the deer and turkeys in the upland grasses. Then they spotted us and disappeared into the snow, sunlight and stands of black walnut, sugar maples, and honey locusts. A white-breasted nuthatch gave us a good piece of its mind, but we never heard the deer or the turkeys again. I’m sure they knew exactly where we were, and kept themselves hidden an hour later when my mom hiked the same trails to enjoy this Day-After-Christmas snow before it melts away with a new work week.

Later, Fergus curled up in his bed and snored softly. I thought my arms were tired from keeping him in check. Turns out that it is exhausting for a hound dog to pull his human up and down hill, through woodland, grassland and back again.

Little so big

Elora died today. She is buried on the north slope between the pine groves, under the sky that is as wide open as her expression was.

Elora came here in February 2013, from less than ideal circumstances in the Kent area. She rode here in the back of my Scion xA, a tiny roller skate of a car that had plenty of space to transport Elora and two other Pygmy goats. We wrapped Mardigan’s long horns in a towel to protect the upholstered ceiling. Willow, the eldest, was fairly stoic, despite the fact that she was sharing a hatchback with Mardigan—a smelly, intact male—and Elora, who observed her curious world with much vocalization.

Willow and Mardigan died within a months of each other, just last year. Neither death was a great surprise. The veterinarian believed that Willow had suffered bone breaks and a severe lung worm infection in her past life. When I asked if euthanization was the kindest future for her, the doc said, “She’ll keep going until she doesn’t.” And that is what she did. Same with Mardigan. The legacy of his youth were those 12-inch horns that, while magnificent, should have been removed when he was a kid. They grew heavier with age. He whapped them on something one too many times and had a stroke.

But Elora was forever young to me. There wasn’t a brilliant mind below her wonky horns—one short and straight; the other curved down like a slicked side part—but there was such sweetness. She bleated “Hey guys, where are you” when left behind, just out of sight. She was lost without her Willow, even though Willow kept her own counsel most times. There was great joy when Molly and Missy arrived in 2019 and allowed their goaty twosome to be joined by a tiny, round Elora. She raced after after them, bleating pleadingly until Missy stopped to wait for Little Elora to climb the hill.

Yesterday the vet told us that Elora’s third stomach wasn’t processing food as it should. Treatments of steroids and vitamins provided a brief boost. This morning she was down. The goats and donkeys kept their distance. Carlton the potbelly curled up near her. We drove to town. When we came home, Carlton was whining in the doorway.

Tonight the wind is high and no stars shine. It’s the sort of night when a little red fox would rather be curled up on the bed beside me than tossing her toys in the yard. It’s a night when the small bleat of a little black goat with mismatched horns rides the air higher and higher until that voice is never alone again.