Weekend for the birds

20170218_103256This Great Backyard Bird Count weekend is unusual in more ways than one. To begin with, this is the first in which I wore shorts outside.

20170218_103128Today is Day 3 in the 19th year that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society have coordinated this international weekend of documenting birds. It’s a four-day snapshot of what birds are where. Some years, a few days after the count is over, I see a bird that wasn’t on our checklist and think, “I wish that had been here last week.” But that’s the point; as long as the species made someone’s checklist somewhere, all is well for now.

A breeze was promising to build Saturday morning, so I started out at 8 a.m. with binoculars. Cardinals, house sparrows, juncos, wild turkey, red-winged blackbirds, gold finches and this flock of mallards made themselves known visually.

Since I am not an audio birder, I recorded sounds at various locations in the nature preserve with the hope of blog-reader assistance.  Anyone care to share your identifications? Click on each photo to listen:

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NW corner of the back field

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SW field tree line, above oxbow

 

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Base of catalpa tree, south central back field

By 10 a.m., the wind was high. Birds took shelter, skittering into and through the woods. Eight people joined me the scheduled Quarry Farm 2017 Bird Count. All had binoculars and good hiking shoes.

Our party of nine walked the floodplain trail, past the quarry, up the main path to cross the back field. We looped back through the oldest tree groves, past the oxbow.

Fortunately, our party included a father and son who drove all the way from Jenera in the county to the east. They knew their birds by sight, sound and movement, honing their birding skills by challenging each other to car ride bird identification games.

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Springing moss at the oxbow

We documented 26 species and two other taxa. You can view this checklist at: http://ebird.org/ebird/gbbc/view/checklist/S34534270

Check out all documented species from “The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm, Putnam County, Ohio, US” at http://gbbc.birdcount.org including the entire number that we will file for February 17-20, 2017, and explore the worldwide count.

It’s now Sunday evening and there is an American Woodcock buzzing outside the window. That wish I mentioned before? One just came true.

Walk softly and carry a big tissue

20170204_093000Your accent is determined by where you live. More specifically, words are shaped by the temperature range in one’s part of the world. In North America, anyway.

I’m pretty sure that I’m right about this.

For example, people in the South speak with a drawl because the climate is hot. The further southeast you go, the slower the mouth moves because the lips have to from shapes against increased humidity. Move west past the Rockies and the load lightens, but it’s still hot enough for slow, lilting conversation.

The Great White North is famous for words like ‘about’ being pronounced as ‘aboot’. Frozen facial muscles can only stretch wide enough to form a small, round shape. Making an ‘oo’ sound retains more warm air inside, too, than a full blown ‘ow’.

I blame my Midwest nasal twang on the Great Lakes effect. Try as I might not to sound like badly-tuned violin, my sinuses are in such a constant state of flux that most words sound like mosquito in August. This year’s pitch and fall from cold dry wind to warm rain (thunderstorms this early February morning) make it especially difficult to round the tones.


20170204_111122Even the animals that graze on wintering roots and buried grubs in the floodplain run for higher ground when any door is opened. They are conditioned to sudden rainfall. We leave the outbuilding doors open, even on high blue sky days like yesterday.

Jimmy Toskr has no reason to speak at all. He snoozes comfortably in his hammock, stretching just enough to give the camera an eye that communicates well enough. There’s even an accent in there somewhere, one that will be quite vocal as squirrel hormones build outside in the treetops.

Listen and you shall hear

20170125_172422Water overflows in lower levels of the floodplain. Cranberry Run bubbles through the preserve, still held within its banks on its way to the Riley. There is a smattering of rain today but strong winds wipe away most of the drops before they make landfall.

That wind is gusting and swirling so that it’s difficult to say whether it’s blowing east of west, but the temperature is predicted to fall from the unusual balminess that’s been hereabouts this January. A hike is more of a slog right now and muddy boots and shoes are piled beside the front door. I saw a woman running last weekend, wearing just a sports bra and shorts as she clipped along, a site for July, not midwinter in Northwest Ohio.

The goats went all month without their coats. S’more shucked his after a week, but Mister Bill likes his fluorescent orange vest and kept it on until three days above freezing saw his tossed to the mud, too.

When the weather turns, they are quiet in their disgruntlement. Donkeys Buddy and Lucy are more vocal, hinnying plaintively. If that pitiful sound falls on deaf ears, they bawl and snort until apples are proffered. With mouths full and juice dripping from their chins, they snicker and quiet.

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Queen B holds court

Not so for the pigs. Rather, there is no common vocalization for all of the pigs that live here. Although the conversation usually has something to do with food, we know exactly who is sounding off.

Beatrice is the queen. She is usually very quiet since she doesn’t need to speak in order to be obeyed. She prefers to voice her opinion physically by pushing her way through or smacking on the front door. If that doesn’t get the required response, she bellows an alto “wahhhhhhhhhhhr-huh” until a) the door opens and she gets to come in or b) she is told to go to an outbuilding and she says something that I can’t repeat, even in porcine.

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Bob and Alphonse

Bob Barker barks, or he used to. Since his arrival a few years ago, the toothy boar has mellowed. These days, he humphs softly while being stoked across the bridge of his nose. When irritated, he mutters “MEEeuuurf” with a head shake.

Alphonse arrived at the same time as Bob, from the same horrific circumstance. He shrieked then and he shrieks now, just not as frequently. We believe that the trauma of early abuse left him emotionally unbalanced.

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Carlton

Carlton is a whiner. When he was younger and smaller, he could hop up on any bed in the house. Now his pot-belly is much rounder and closer to the ground. A repetitive “eeeee-rrr hmf hmf hmf” translates “It’s too cold/my feet are wet/she’s/he’s/it’s looking at/touching me.”

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Nemo and her friend Larry

Nemo is big; still a baby, but big. Her gestures are large and much of her communications are physical. For instance, I wear a jacket with an elastic drawstring. She draws back that drawstring with her teeth and releasese it to snap me in the thigh. At first, I thought this was an accident, until it happened every morning that I wore the coat.

Nemo’s voice is big, too. Her gutteral “whaaa” builds to a full-on roar when she’s hungry, which is most of the time. It takes a lot of food to maintain all that beauty. She and Carlton are friends. When Nemo eats, Carlton is usually close by, quietly snuffling up the leftovers. This is one reason why he can no longer jump.

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Sophie

Nemo may be the largest pig, but she is intimidated by the smallest. Sophie is currently petite, but was 40 pounds overweight when she came here. Walking was difficult for her and no veterinarian would spay her until she lost at least 40 pounds. We put her on a diet, one that did not include the daily bag of cookies to which she was accustomed. She never forgot that she once had cookies, though, and whistles a high-pitched soprano that builds to a kind of “hu-EE hu-EEEEE” until her breakfast is served.

Sometimes, everyone gets a cookie, even if they don’t all say “please” in the same way. We are enriched by their teachings. That’s thanks enough.

 

Winter 2017 News

winter-2017-newsletter-1Download the Winter 2017 newsletter by clicking on the cover on the left.

There are two big walks–one to count birds for the international effort and a winter walk under a sky full of stars. Hope to see you in the Seitz Family Pavilion before each program.

When the frost is feathered

When the morning window trees are coated with a light sugar frost;

when the clouds are thick enough to blend the early sun into a mass of white from horizon to horizon;frost-on-turkeys-back

when the bird calls are muffled in the treeline below a fog so light that it’s as if someone lightly brushed the color from the top third of the tallest sycamore;

when the turkeys standing on the front porch, each with one eye peering through the halflight, have an icy dusting across their feathered backs;

there’s nothing for it but to take the camera for a run.mullen

Six-foot mullein stands along the roadside, the downy green leaves and yellow flowers freeze-dried by winter just like their tame cousins in the cabin gardens behind. In spring, the stalks with melt away and new plants will grow to feed bees, butterflies and birds. You can find encapsulated mullein on drugstore shelves and in teas as a remedy for diseases of the lung, as an expectorant and for skin problems.

This mullein is rigid husk with a melting white cap. Red cardinals, rosy house and goldfinches will peck at them through the coldish months.

The woods beyond the cabin and the floodplain below are free of frost. The warm breath of the trees still keeps the colder air high. Slate-colored juncos blend in with the gray and brown tree trunks, but you can hear them cheer to one another above the old quarry. The quarry itself holds water again. It had been dry for five months, except for a spring pool in the southeast corner.

The little creek nearby is also full, bubbling and churning its way to Riley Creek a quarter of a mile away. There at its mouth, Cranberry Run, buffered on either side for the latter length of its flow by trees, grasses and wetland sponges,  hits the sediment-laden Riley. Even with this week’s high water, the divide is prominent.silt-line

 

The flood was brief, here and gone. The mush is frozen and the flattened grass is crisp and crunchy with the frost and a layer of surface ice left suspended by receding river. Fresh fungi grow up and down the length of washed up log. It looks like fringe on a sleeve or some kind of elaborate hors d’oeuvres on a bed of straw noodles.shelf-fungi

“Which of these things is not like the other?” The Sesame Street song comes to mind.green-bottle-in-ice

A five-gallon bucket has washed up in the floodplain, too, so I wade through the ice to collect the bottle. Beneath the frosted plates I find cans, bottles, and fruit snacks wrappers. Some of the bottles are big brown plastic specimens that I’ve seen quite a few of late, discarded at least twice a week along the roadside here.

Breakfast of champions.m6-bridge

By the time the bank intersects the historic Mallaham, a rare wrought iron arch truss bridge, the bucket is full. The human condition is one of waste and despair, I think, at least until I look up and see a bald eagle, returned in my lifetime; flip one of the bottles over and see the ‘recycle’ symbol.

Baby steps.

I pick up my bucket and run back home to sort paper, metal and plastic.

An astronomical page-turner

In 2016, the Bluffton Public Library organized a hike on the trails of The Quarry Farm. Next month, another hike will take place–this time, under the stars.

Star Walk @ The Quarry Farm
Thursday, Feb. 23 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm (“Cloud Date” Feb 25, same time)
The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve
1/8 mile north of 14321 Road 7-L, Pandora
Park along the road and meet in the shelter house. Bring a flashlight and be sure to dress for the weather, including good walking boots/shoes. (Sorry, no infant strollers allowed.)

Grab a cookie and chat for a bit as everyone arrives, then take a guided walk to the preserve area to gaze at the stars. Please sign up by Friday, Feb. 17 to let organizers know you are coming and to get details of potential “Cloud Date”:

Bluffton Public Library
145 S. Main St
Bluffton, OH 45817
(419) 3585016
www.blufftonpubliclibrary.org

Group in FieldDetails for Star Walk @ The Quarry Farm “Cloud Date”

Please refer to www.weather.gov the morning of the Star Walk and check the forecast for Pandora, OH. If the forecast for the evening is clear or mostly clear for that evening, the program is a go.

Who’s in this name?

Outside is frozen again.

waterThe morass of Boxing Day mud and not-mud is navigable on the farm animal sanctuary. We need some snow to make it all pretty again, and to keep Cranberry Run flowing. The little creek, reduced to sparse puddles during this dry summer, is on the move enough to water wildlife, but the old quarry is still much drier than it should be, with the wetland reduced to the southeast springs. Without precipitation in some form, bulbs of blue flags, dragon’s tongue and beard will become dormant again.

I know we’ve talked a lot about osage oranges here, and I’m going to again. Yesterday, we noted that the whole fruits are now reduced to trails of Chartreuse and ochre meal, leftovers from the forages of squirrels and other herbivores who are foraging for anything to raise their fat reserves.

For so many reasons, I wish they could eat bush honeysuckle and lots of it. We humans will have to keep chopping away at that…only fair, since our kind brought it here.

Inside artificially heated four walls, we welcome a new resident. Thanks to the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitation Association and the Stark Parks Wildlife Conservation Center, a Virginia opossum will venture into classrooms and programs as an educational ambassador with The Quarry Farm. Like Captain John Smith, another North American marsupial “he”, this Nature’s garbage collector will help people learn more about the vital role his kind plays in world health and balance.

Here’s the thing. We can continue to call him “he”, “the Virginia opossum”, “OP2” or other nonspecific things. As he is an adult, with a guesstimated age of one year, the short anticipated life expectancy of Virginia opossums means he may not be with us for more than a couple of years, max. But don’t you believe that he deserves more than that, whether he cares or not, as long as we keeps the scrambled eggs, cat and dog food, veggies and fruits coming?

So as with the Captain, we invite you to submit potential names for the new guy. Reasons behind your nomination are welcome. After all, we walked away from the last contest with a wonderful American History link as well as a memorable name for a memorable soul.

img_0088Here’s what we can tell you about this little man. He was found by a Stark Parks visitor. This animal was approachable (not normal), wasn’t thrilled about being picked up (normal) but allowed it (not normal.) The easy catch was probably because he had, sometime in his recent past, suffered from head trauma, likely hit by a car while scavenging on or along a road. Because of the injury, he doesn’t move quickly and has permanent head tilt. He does, however, like his grub and was able to find it long enough to allow him to heal in the wild. Luckily, a kind, potential predator found him before a determined actual predator did. On December 17, we drove to Hartsville, Ohio. He made the journey to Putnam County, Ohio with us that same day.

There’s a Quarry Farm apron or t-shirt (winner’s choice) in it for the winning entrant. Please submit names (and stories; who doesn’t love a good story?) to thequarryfarm@gmail.com by the time the ball drops on Jan. 1, 2017.